Shot quality is a tired subject in the world of hockey analytics because there hasn't been much proof that it exists other than what the eye test tells us. We know that high shooting percentages usually regress to the mean and vice versa, but there are still a lot who believe that some players have better shooting talent than others. This is a topic that should be relevant to Carolina fans interests because the Hurricanes first line had one of the highest on-ice shooting percentages in the league during 5v5 play last year. Basic math tells us that they will regress next season, but how much can we expect them to fall off?
Any line scoring on 12% of the shots they are on the ice for in a full season is unrealistic because only 40 players have been able to do it from 2007-12 and neither Eric Staal or Jiri Tlusty have clicked at this high of a rate before. The same can not be said for winger Alexander Semin, though. Semin has posted on-ice shooting percentages of over 10% in four of the last six seasons and has one of the highest on-ice shooting percentages in the NHL during that time, as well. It's been said that this trio "creates their own luck" by creating a higher quality of shots and the addition of Semin on this line could be a big reason why.
The fact that Semin has consistently posted a high on-ice shooting percentage at even strength shouldn't surprise anyone who has followed him, though. He has always been a great goal-scorer and Carolina fans saw how good of a play-maker he was last season, so that probably factored into him being on the ice for more goals. It has been shown that some players have the ability to boost their line-mates shooting percentages and Semin could be one of those, based on his career numbers and his skillset.
What we don't know, however, is how much of it comes from his play-making skills and how much of it comes from him his own shooting talent. How many extra goals per season does he contribute from this? Is it enough to significantly affect his team? There is also a possibility that his high on-ice shooting percentage is being driven by playing with strong linemates rather than his own ability, although that hypothesis could go out the window when you see that he has the 5th highest 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage over the last six years.
After the jump, we'll use the same method that Eric Tulsky used on Henrik Sedin to see how much of an impact Semin's had on his linemates shooting percentage over the last four years. We'll also look at what might be causing it and which players have benefited the most from having Semin on their wing.
I basically did the same thing that Eric Tulsky did his piece on Sedin and went through every single shot on goal that Semin was on the ice for during 5v5 play over the last five seasons. During that time, Semin was on the ice for 1687 shots on goal, not counting his own, with 62 different teammates. If you take the 5v5 shooting percentage of each of those teammates over the last five years, you would "expect" them to have about 145 goals, which would equate to a 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage of 8.6% over five seasons. These players actually scored 172 goals when they were on the ice with Semin, which would equate to a 5v5 shooting percentage of 10.2%.
This is without factoring in the goals & shots that Semin contributed himself, so his play-making skills alone elevated his on-ice shooting percentage by 1.6%. That would equate to 27 extra goals or a little over five goals per season. Given that, it's fair to say that Semin definitely helped raise the shooting percentage of his linemates and his play-making skills are very underrated. When you factor in the 100 goals on 788 shots that Semin contributed himself, you get an on-ice shooting percentage of 11%, which means that .8% of his shooting percentage came from his own goal-scoring skills. That would equate to about 13 extra 5v5 goals over five seasons.
Based on the numbers I compiled, Semin's on-ice shooting percentage during five-on-five play was 11% over the last five seasons. 8.2% of that comes from the league average while he added 2.4% to it from his own play-making and goal-scoring skills. The remaining .4% comes from his teammates shooting ability, so it can be concluded that Semin's high shooting percentage was driven mostly by his own doing and that's a very good sign for the Hurricanes going forward.
Placing hope in high shooting percentage is something I'm never comfortable with, but Semin has been able to do this for most of his career and he could maintain this level of production for the next few years. Will it be as high as it was last year? Probably not, but his line could still contribute at a high rate if he stays healthy & his play-making skill stay this good. Also consider that he had a down year in terms of his personal shooting percentage, so that's likely to rebound when you look at his career numbers.
Who has benefited the most from playing with Alexander Semin, though? A couple of familiar names show up on the leader board.
Surprise, surprise, Jiri Tlusty and Eric Staal had their goal totals increased from playing on a line with Semin for most of the year. I said earlier that these three were known to "create their own luck" and that certainly seemed to be the case with most of Tlusty's goals. Semin was the primary puck handler on this line while Eric Staal's main job was tying up defenders or being the secondary puck-handler. Tlusty occasionally played this role, but his main niche was finding the soft spot in the defense and cashing in on perfect passes from one of Staal or Semin. Half of Tlusty's even strength shots that Semin was on the ice for were considered scoring chances by area and most of them were around the "home plate area" of the ice. Semin had a similar impact on Eric Staal, where 54 of the 84 even strength shots he took were scoring chances & many of them were pretty close to the net.
Based on that, we can say that Semin definitely drove "shot quality" on his line, but how repeatable this is remains to be seen. That's the one lingering issue with "shot quality" that has yet to be proven and banking on Tlusty to score on nearly 20% of his shots isn't a safe bet. However, when you look at the information presented above, it's hard to deny that Semin play a huge role in creating scoring chances. The question is whether he can do it over a full, 82-game season and repeat it on a year-to-year basis. That seems doubtful, but he was able to do similar things with his teammates in Washington, one of the most notable being star centerman Nicklas Backstrom.
With Semin on the ice during 5v5 play, Backstrom saw his shooting percentage increase by over five percent, which added about six more goals than he would have if he shot at his career average during the same time span. Was this just luck, or did Semin have a similar impact here in being able to create scoring chances? That is sort of tough to say because we're looking at multiple years worth of data, but if you look at the year that Backstrom had the most success with Semin (2009-10), you'll see a similar pattern in terms of where Backstrom shot the puck.
According to Greg Sinclair's Super Shot Search app, a lot of Backstrom's even strength shots that Semin was on the ice for came from the "home plate" area, so it's possible that Semin was able to have a similar effect this year. That wasn't so much the case in Semin's three other years with the Caps where he was on the ice for only six of Backstrom's 5v5 goals, though. However, he was also on the ice for fewer than 30 of his shots in each of those years, so I'm reluctant to draw conclusions on that due to a small sample size.
It's the same reason why I don't want to put a lot of stock into his numbers with Mathieu Perreault & Sergei Fedorov even though those two appeared to strike gold whenever they were on the ice with Sasha. They weren't the only ones who Semin had this effect on, though as players like Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and Marcus Johansson also saw their shooting percentages go up while spending signficant time as Semin's linemate. The only ones who saw their shooting percentages decrease were either defensemen or forwards who weren't on the ice for that many shots with him.
Again, I'm always reluctant about placing hope in high shooting percentages, but I think we've seen enough here to say that Semin is an elite play-maker and that he can post shooting percentages that are above average in future seasons. Some people say that the Hurricanes were taking a risk on him by signing him to a one-year deal last year, but when you look at everything that Semin brings to the team, it's hard to believe that he wasn't picked up sooner. Enjoy the next five seasons.