Where Art Thou, Alex Burrows’ Goal Scoring?

A sight for sore eyes.

These days people have differing opinions on the state of the Vancouver Canucks. Which is fitting, quite frankly, given the team’s topsy turvy performance this year. Some feel obliged to call for coach Alain Vigneault’s head once they see lackluster efforts like the one the Canucks submitted against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Others see performances like the one against the Los Angeles Kings, and say to themselves, "hey this makes sense, this is a top-5 possession team!" I’ll let you guess which of the two camps I reside in.

Nonetheless, one thing we can all agree on is that this team has had their share of troubles scoring goals of late. Over the past 7 games – a stretch in which they went 2-3-2 – they managed to score 15 goals. Keep in mind that 5 of those came in one game. Now the team sits at 17th in the league in goals/game, a far cry from their top-5 finishes in the past two seasons.

Yesterday, Thomas Drance highlighted the issues on the power play. It also wouldn’t hurt their cause if first-line winger Alex Burrows started converting on some of his chances.

Read Past the Jump for More.

Despite the fact that Burrows is – sometimes justly, sometimes not – known for his agitating style of play, and occasional embellishment, he has been a significant contributor on the offensive end since being paired up with the Sedins in 2008. He has averaged roughly 29 goals a year over the past four seasons, with his best coming in the form of a 35-goal campaign back in ’09-’10. 

While Burrows was unextended and headed into the last season of his bargain basement four year eight million dollar contract this summer, I looked at what he has been able to do stacked up against some of the other players who have been fortunate enough to hop along for the ride with the Sedins. There’s no doubt that he should be buying them dinners, quite routinely. But believe it or not, he has actually done his part in elevating their play, too.

One thing the third member of the Canucks first line has enjoyed over the years has been an elevated shooting percentage. I’ll attribute this to the Sedins being wizards with the puck, putting their linemate in ideal situations for putting the puck in the net. Coming into this year, these were Burrows’ shooting percentages since his career took off: 16.0%, 16.7%, 17.1%, 14.1%. Those seems like clips that are due for a steep regression, until you realize that it’s what the Sedins do. As a slight aside, Anson Carter shot 22.6% with them, while Taylor Pyatt was at 15.3%. That’s enough of a sample size for me to believe that Burrows should be somewhere in the mid-teens.

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Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case this year. Burrows has converted just 5 of his 77 shots on goal, for a 6.5% clip. As always, let’s fall back on the underlying metrics to see if there’s something else going on here. Here’s a nice little chart for you visual learners out there:

Chart via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.

His individual shot, fenwick, and corsi rates are all quite significantly higher than they’ve ever been in the past. In fact, he has registered 3.35 shots/game thus far; his previous totals were 2.13, 2.55, 2.11, 2.48. He’s getting the puck on net, and doing so quite often. In his past 10 games, he has personally taken 21 scoring chances, yet has just 1 goal to show for his efforts. He’s also logging 3:13 of power play time, which, like the rest of the numbers I just layed out, is a significant step up from the past (and part of the reason his shot rate is inflated this season).

Sometimes players have outlier seasons that wind up being blips in the radar. It works both ways, though. As we saw with Ryan Kesler two years ago, shooting percentage outliers can work in a player’s favour and bring a guy whose true talent is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 goals per season up to forty of more. But given his opportunity and the conisstency with which he’s scored goals while shooting an elevated percentage, I would be shocked if Burrows didn’t turn this thing around sooner rather than later.

I tweeted yesterday that I’d set his final total for goals scored at 14.5, and I’d feel pretty confident in taking the over. You may look at that number and scoff at the idea that 15 goals over a 48 game season is a big deal, but to accomplish that he’d need to score at a 33 goal pace (over an 82 game season) the rest of the way.

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I’ll always continue to preach patience and process when it comes to these sorts of things, because the results will eventually come. We know that. Which is why I’m not getting overly worked up about Alex Burrows’ goal production through 23 games. There’s a hot streak where he scores something along the lines of 6 goals in 5 games looming. At least the Canucks, and their fans, find themselves hoping there is.