With the season drawing closer and closer, it's about time we started looking at individual projections for the Hurricanes players and as usual, we will be starting with the captain, Eric Staal. Staal has been the Hurricanes leader in just about every statistical category since 2005 and is still only in his late-20's, so he should have plenty of good years ahead of him. It is fair to speculate how much longer he can be a top-line player because most player see their scoring numbers decline as they enter their 30's, but there shouldn't be much concern for Staal as far as next season goes.
Staal is considered one of the better play-makers in the league and he has scored at a 70+ point pace in eight consecutive seasons. Given that he was playing with less than ideal linemates in many of those years, some were not surprised to see him score at a 90-point pace after the Hurricanes added elite winger Alexander Semin last year. These two along with Jiri Tlusty formed one of the best first lines in the NHL and Staal was on-pace for his best season since 2005-06 where he recorded 100-points. This line was a threat to score whenever they were on the ice and were the most dangerous unit the Canes have had in years. Having these three return for another year will be huge, but can they repeat what they did last year?
We know that Tlusty will see his goal-scoring numbers go down and so will Semin's on-ice shooting percentage, but how much of an effect will it have on Staal? He also benefited from some lofty percentages and could see his numbers come back down to Earth, especially at even strength. There is some evidence which suggests that both him and Semin are good enough to maintain a high on-ice shooting percentage but can he have another 85+ point season or was last year just a flash in the pan?
After the jump, we will look at what some reasonable expectations are for Captain Staal this year.
When I made my projections last year, I used this chart from Eric Tulsky of Broad Street Hockey to break down everything that goes into a player's point total. These components include a player's shot rate, shooting percentage and his team's shot rate while he was on the ice, both at even strength and on the power play. Mind you, that it is very tough to make a prediction based on this because only two of those components are repeatable on a year-to-year basis (player & team shot rate), so the best thing you can do when making projections is to come up with a range based on a player's career averages.
For instance, instead of projecting a forward to score 23 goals and 54 points in a season, you would project them to score somewhere between 47-55 points after taking shooting percentages into account. His point total being near the higher end of the spectrum if he shoots above his career average and vice versa if he shoots below it. Last year, Staal clearly went above his career averages at even strength.
Even Strength Production
After two years of failing to score two points per 60 minutes at even strength, Staal scored 3.44 points per 60 minutes at even strength last season. Both his goal total and assist rates took a huge spike upward compared to the last two seasons and he recorded more assists at even strength than he ever did before. A large part of that was a direct result of Tlusty's career season. Staal's been able to record assists at a high rate in past seasons, but what he did last year was just absurd.
The graph above should tell you that Staal will likely cool down next season, but finding how much of a role percentages played in it will give us an idea of how much he could regress.
5v5 Team Sh%
How much of a role did luck/percentages play? An enormous one. Despite the addition of Semin, the shot rates of Staal and his teammates did not increase that much and the only thing that changed was how often they scored. Staal posted a career high shooting percentage at even strength and his teammates did the same thing. Semin is someone who can elevate the shooting percentage of his linemates, but is he good enough to make Staal shoot like he is Alex Tanguay for the rest of his career? That seems doubtful. The same goes for Tlusty scoring on over 19% of his shots, which will impact Staal's on-ice shooting percentage and the number of assists he gets.
Staal is also shooting the puck less often and has been a negative possession player in recent years, so this likely means that he is due for some major regression at even strength unless both of these pick-up. It's certainly possible when you consider how good Semin is at driving the play, but there are only so many shots to go around between these two and Tlusty so I don't expect a big change.
The power play is another story.
Power Play Production
Normally an excellent power play guy, Staal had only nine points with the man advantage last season and scored only two goals while playing five-on-four. He recorded barely any secondary assists and had his worst season on the power play in recent memory. He wasn't the only one who had this problem though because as a whole, the Canes power play was terrible but a lot of Staal's troubles there seem to be rooted in bad luck rather than his own performance.
PP Team Sh%
The amount of good fortune Staal had at even strength seemed to disappear with the man advantage for whatever reason. Staal continued to play about three minutes per game on the power play and I wouldn't expect this to change much next season. What I would expect to change is him scoring on more than 6.1% of the shots he takes. Staal's shot rate didn't change much and he isn't someone who fires blanks on the power play, so he should have more goals there next season. Another interesting observation is that the Hurricanes were better at creating shots with him on the ice than they were in previous years (thanks Alex Semin & Jeff Skinner), but it didn't result in him recording many assists. I would bank on that improving next season.
The power play personnel hasn't changed that much (at least in terms of forwards) and Staal typically records an assist on 30-35% of the goals he is on the ice for. If the Hurricanes score on more than 9.4% of the power play shots they take next season, Staal should have better numbers on the power play.
Staal should continue to lead the team in ice time next year, so he will get plenty of opportunities but I would still expect his even strength production to go down quite a bit. That's mainly because he produced at such an absurd rate last year and most of it was powered by unsustainable shooting percentages. He should be able to score at a high rate because the Hurricanes produce such a high volume of shots with him on the ice, but it's more likely that he has 15-21 goals and 20-22 assists at even strength rather than the 72 points he was on-pace for last season. If the Hurricanes first line is better at controlling territorial play and Staal record more shots on goal per game then this is a different story, but I'm keeping my even strength expectations reasonably low for now.
I have much higher hopes for Staal on the power play, though. Over his career, Staal has typically been a player who can produce 20+ points on the man advantage every year. He was on pace for only 15 last season and a lot of that was due to poor shooting percentages. Given that Staal plays over three minutes on the power play per game and the Canes created over 54 shots on goal per game with him on the ice, it's fair to expect him to return to that level this year.
If the Hurricanes continue to create 54-56 shots on goal on the power play with Staal on the ice and he sees his on-ice shooting percentage regress toward his five-year average (about 12-13%) Staal could easily have 20 points on the power play again. Of course, the amount of shots Staal creates himself will also play a factor in this because he also had a career low shooting percentage and is normally a 14.7% shooter on the power play. Assuming he creates about 12-13 shots on the power play per 60 minutes, I would expect him to have 9-12 goals with the man advantage next year.
In the end, I'm going to project Staal to have 62-73 points in the upcoming season if he plays all 82 games. His performance at even strength will likely go down, but he should be able to make up for some of it on the power play. I'm hoping Staal can record more points at even strength but unless they become a stronger territorial unit, I don't see that happening next year.
Stats courtesy of Behind the Net & Hockey Analysis