After posting two consecutive seventy-point seasons, including a 2009-10 campaign that saw him post 50 assists, Ryan Kesler’s offensive production dropped by about 20 points during the 2011-12 NHL campaign. If you asked fans of the team, one of the major reasons for Kesler’s drop in production (outside of the fact that he rushed back from an injury, and was hobbled throughout the final three months of the regular season) was his seeming reluctance to pass the puck. The most common criticism I’ve heard: "Kesler has fallen in love with his shot."
In January, with the Canucks’ possession numbers cratering and secondary scoring nowhere to be found outside of Cody Hodgson, headcoach Alain Vigneault publicly called out his two-way ace for hogging the puck. According to his coach, it was imperative that Ryan Kesler "use the players around him more," a public accusation that Ryan Kesler bristled at.
Looking over some new data on "Puck Hogging" posted by Benjamin Wendorf over at NHLNumbers.com, it appears that Kesler’s annoyance at Alain Vigneault’s criticism may have been entirely justified.
Read on past the jump.
Here’s how Benjamin summarized his methodology and findings over at NHLNumbers on Wednesday:
I was looking across forwards with 20+ games the last five years and decided to add a metric, where I took the shots attempted (technically, it would be like "Fenwick attempted"; shots plus missed shots) while a player was on the ice and determined what percentage of those shots were attempted by the player. This percentage of attempted shots (%AttSh) was my way of saying, "Okay, I don’t care what line you’re on, or where you start on the ice…how many of the shots are your doing?" At the time, I was more interested in seeing if it was a stable metric for fantasy hockey prediction; if it was, I could consider it a marker of player behavior, or talent, and use it to predict how many shots a player might take. I was also interested in labeling people "puck hogs."
In summary, Ben was trying to figure out the frequency with which a particular player takes shots relative to his teammates when he’s on the ice. He looked a bit deeper and found that "puck-hogging" – or the act of an individual skater taking a disproportionate number of their teams shots, relative to their teammates when they’re on the ice – is something that players tend to repeatedly, season after season, like a bad habit.
Ben then broke-down which players dominate the shot-count the most when they’re on the ice, and Ryan Kesler didn’t crack the top-25. However, one of his line-mates did: shooting percentage outlier David Booth. By the numbers, Booth took the 18th highest percentage of his own teams shots when he was on the ice of any player who has played 20 games over the past five seasons.
Kesler didn’t show up in the top-25 at all, though he did make it onto another one of Ben’s list, and this one may surprise you. Ben looked at every players shooting percentage relative to the shooting percentage of their teammates, and attempted to crudely figure out which players were shooting too often (to the detriment of their team), which players should’ve shot more, and which players were right in the sweet spot, expertly picking their spots. Kesler, despite the criticisms of his performance last season from Canucks fans and Vancouver sports media, made the third list.
Realistically, Ben’s numbers don’t account for things like "the player tried to weave through three defenders and turned the puck over" or "ignored a teammate on a two-on-one," but I still find his findings compelling. Ryan Kesler’s wrist shot is legitimately dangerous, and there’s no doubt that he’s a better shooter than the likes of Mason Raymond, Chris Higgins and David Booth (his most frequent line-mates last season). So why shouldn’t he be taking the bulk of Vancouver’s shots when the second line is on the ice, really?
Moreover if we use Ben’s "shots attempted" stat, it looks like Ryan Kesler’s newfound "puck-hogging" habit is neither newfound nor real at all. In fact, the evidence would lead me to suspect that the "Kesler is a puck hog" narrative is entirely a figment of the collective imagination. Here’s Kesler’s shots attempted broken down over the past three seasons:
|Ryan Kesler||Canucks AttSh||Kesler AttSh||AttSh%|
As you can see, the numbers suggest that Kesler was actually more generous with the puck at even-strength in 2011-12, than he was during his 50 assist campaign. Those amateur psychoanalysts who think Kesler has exhibited a "do it all myself" mentality since singlehandedly defeating the Nashville Predators in the 2010-11 Western Conference Semifinals, might want to give it a rest.
My best guess here is that Kesler grated on the nerves of Canucks fans last season for other reasons, mostly his propensity for diving. In an effort to channel this frustration, fans and media may have looked for other areas of his game to critique and settled on the notion that he’s "hogging the puck." Peeling back the layers of data however, the numbers suggest that Kesler’s game hasn’t really changed from a "puck distribution" perspective over the past three seasons.
So Kesler may not be a puck-hog, which is good news. After all if his linemate David Booth caught wind of the notion that Kesler might be an animal belonging to the Suidae family, well that might put Kesler’s personal safety at grave risk.
Read Ben Wendorf’s excellent take on "hogging the puck" here.