Nothing to See Here

Patrick Sharp: Big Yellow Taxi?

This is what is has come to for Blackhawk fans: facing the delicious and agonizing prospect of a best of three showdown for all the marbles, we decide to while away these anticipatory hours in idle speculation over off-season roster maneuvering.

This was the collective wisdom
on the Score, AM 670, this morning. I suppose I should indulge such
speculation, since these guys, when talking about the actual series,
cannot get past the facile, tired, and erroneous narratives (Quenneville
is a nut, the series should be 3-1 Tampa at least, TWO SHOTS ON GOAL IN
THE FIRST PERIOD? SERIOUSLY? Why you make me almost pee myself in the
third period?) that float freely and effortlessly across the universe internet.

Anyway, like I say, maybe it’s best that these guys steer clear of actual hockey talk and stick with the much more inclusive topic of next year’s roster.

Sharp is gone. Unanimous. He’s
slowing down, losing his shot. Can’t get the good looks. (This is Sharp
we’re talking about here, Mr. Good Looks)… Throw in a hint of hound
dog/ locker room discord, and voila!

Do we have to do this now?

It’s an unpleasant topic.
Because anyone who thinks about it realizes it will come down to Sharp
or Crawford next year (Bickell, Oduya, and Roszival also being cut
loose, as are Vermette and Richards absent some discount).

Sharp or Crawford? Who wants to
talk about that right now? The Hawks are trying to win a Stanley Cup,
and I reckon they need both Sharp and Crawford to play some great hockey
over the next week for that to happen. Very unpleasant timing for the
topic, jarring to me as a fan, but it’s out there, it’s conventional
wisdom, and it screams for a thoughtful rebuttal. So, here goes:

To the numbers!

Let’s talk about the playoffs-
this year’s playoffs, in particular. I mean, the most recent data surely
confirms the narratives about Sharp dropping off, amirite? How he has
become superfluous to a Hawk team loaded with forward talent? And anyone
who follows this team knows that playoff performance, playoff success,
is the yardstick for champions.

Check this out: it’s shots on
goal per 60 minutes for Blackhawk forwards in THIS YEAR’S PLAYOFFS. The
freshest, hottest off the presses data we got:

Now, juxtapose this with the widespread bleating above (TWO SHOTS? TWO?) and explain to me how a guy who has been firmly entrenched as an elite NHL shot generator for a decade, and who continues, in the most recent data, to be the premier shot generator on the team by a wide margin, in a series against a team with an excellent track record on shot suppression, is somehow superfluous to this team’s DynastyQuest.

Career Arc Stuff

To which you may reply: “Shot quality! It’s all about goals, man. Sharp’s age is catching up with him.” Hmmm, maybe. Anyone who’s played around with hockey statistics knows that shot quality is an elusive beast. There is some evidence, over the longer term, that Sharp’s shot quality has declined, however. (it happens to the best of them.) Here are combined (regular and post-season) shooting percentages for Sharp during his Hawks’ tenure:

Clear downward trend here. Of course, the trend may well be accentuated by simple ‘bad luck’ (shooting percentages fluctuate from year to year for all players), and part of Sharp’s struggles this year may be attributable to injuries and subsequent line-juggling.

But yeah, maybe he’s lost a little something. I’ll acknowledge that. The question is: how much, and how much does it matter?

Putting The Biscuit in the Basket

Jumping back to this year’s playoffs, we see that Sharp’s prolific shot generation hasn’t translated to goals. Here’s the list of goals per 60 minutes for Hawk forwards in this year’s playoffs:

I mean, 0.73 goals per 60 minutes is still pretty solid – note the clear drop-off between Sharp and Hossa. Offense is hard, and Patrick Sharp, despite a low shooting percentage, remains a key piece in the Hawks ability to put the puck in the net.

By the way, here are the shooting percentages for Hawk forwards in this year’s playoffs:

Looking ahead to the last two or three games in this series, it seems like a better bet to me to look for some ‘mean reversion’ in shooting percentage from Richards, Sharp, Hossa, and Versteeg, rather than Vermette or TTST (Teuvo “try shit” Teravainen) hitting on 1 in 5 shots. But that’s just me – we’ll see.

The tables above are also suggestive of an “arc” among a goal scorer’s career. Note the similar pattern observed among Sharp, Hossa, and Richards (other former elite goal scorers). Still generating a lot of shots, low shooting percentage, middling goal production. Clearly, though Hossa and Richards are farther advanced along this arc, with Sharp generating goals at a 30-40% greater clip than the other two.

An Apple A Day

If you’ve made it this far, you are ready for the punchline. Let’s widen the lens and look at total point production (goals plus assists) in the 2015 playoffs:

Suddenly, Sharp doesn’t look so superfluous, does he? (As an aside, I love Brandon Saad and what he means to this team, but please meditate for one minute on the production beleaguered Sharp has had compared to exalted Saad in THIS YEAR’S PLAYOFFS.) Obviously, the result above is due to assists, shown below:

Well, I’ll be damned if those crafty old veterans (Hossa, Sharp, Richards) are up to something after all. OK, crazy theory here, but perhaps, just perhaps, there is a connection between (a) getting a lot of shots on net, (b) generating a low shooting percentage, and © picking up assists.

Here’s a somewhat stronger statement: generating shots on net, per se, increases the number of goals a team scores, even if the shots have a low shooting percentage. (SHOOT!!! TWO SHOTS? REALLY?)

Like I say, I’d prefer to punt the whole conversation to the off-season, but people are pretty clueless about Patrick Sharp, so I thought I’d chip in my two cents.

– cliffkoroll

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