The shot quality debate in the NHL has run the gauntlet. Some teams believe that the quality of the shots they take and give up makes a difference, while others believe that having the puck as much as possible is the key.
Shot quality has to exist to at least some degree. Look at the difference between shooting percentage 5v5 versus the power play from 15 teams last year:
5v5 and 5v4 Shooting Percentage in 2014-15
|New York Rangers||8.84||10.36|
|New York Islanders||7.79||11.36|
*stats courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com
With more open lanes on the power play, the ability for players to get better looks at the goaltender from close to the net increases too. Though shot quality intuitively makes sense, it's only relatively recently that major statistical projects have launched to try and examine how much the eye test matches what the data says.
So if not all shots are created equal, which players are the best at capitalizing on the shots they do take?
Maintaining a consistently high shooting percentage in the modern NHL is very difficult. Most players have a shooting % that fluctuates throughout their entire careers. In 2013-2014, Brendan Morrow, Tyler Bozak, Matt Stajan Val Filppula, Gustav Nyquist, Adam Henrique and Joe Pavelski lead the league in shooting % (for players who appeared in 50 more games).
In 2014-2015 however, Alex Tanguay, Jiri Hudler, Benoit Pouliot, Henrik Sedin, Mike Cammalleri, Stephen Weiss and Erik Cole were the leaders. Matt Stajan was the only player that did not fall more twenty spots in the rankings from year to year. Players' shots on goal numbers vary much less year to year. According to QuantHockey.com, the average NHL shooting % has hovered just above 9% in the Salary Cap Era.
The Elite Shooters
But certain players have been able to maintain a shooting % much higher than nine during their careers. Stamkos, Toews, Kovalchuk, Gaborik and Sidney Crosby come to mind, but up there with them are Hudler, Tanguay, Andrew Brunette, Mathieu Perreault, Kyle Wellwood and David Desharnais.
In fact, the leader in shooting percentage from 2007-2015 is Alex Tanguay. Here are the top 100 ranked players from that time interval:
*All players have played in 138 or more games
A few players have established themselves as virtual outliers and there is a drop-off around 15%, where the numbers start evening out more. The elite players at 14.9% and above from 2007-15 are listed below:
To find some of the biggest names in the NHL, we have to go down the list a bit further. Some NHL notables include:
It is not surprising that elite shooters like Ovechkin, Perry, Crosby, Iginla, Toews, Gaborik, Stamkos, Malkin and Taveras are in the top 100, but the fact that they are not at the top of the list is. Maybe the pure shot volume of a player like Ovechkin makes him less likely to score every time than someone who is shooting more selectively, like Kyle Wellwood.
Also of note is that no defenseman made this list, which lends more credibility to the idea of shot quality. Shot quality could be the next frontier in analytics. The answer to the success of players like Alex Tanguay, Andrew Brunette, Kyle Wellwood and Nik Antropov could change the way teams evaluate players.