Earlier this week, I released a method for estimating player shot assists at Hockey Graphs. If you’re not familiar with shot assists or why they’re important, check out Ryan Stimson’s work on the subject. To summarize, shot contributions (shot assists + shots) are better predictors of future scoring than points themselves for skaters. And further, the passing sequence before a shot is a significant factor in whether or not the shot becomes a goal.
If you want to learn more about the math behind these stats, I encourage you to explore the links in the articles above. For this piece, we’re just going to have some fun looking at how Tampa Bay Lightning players have performed this season using these metrics as a guide.
Shot contributions in this context are purely a measure of offensive play. We’re not accounting for defense in this analysis. In each of the following charts, we’ll look at how often each player shoots and how often the model estimates they are passing this season in 5v5 situations. An interactive version of the chart is available here if you’d like to view other teams.
To start, the forwards show us some things that we would expect and some things we might not. The first thing that stands out to me is how balanced the team is in shooting. No player sits high up on the y-axis as someone who takes a disproportionate number of the team’s shots. Nikita Kucherov is the most frequent shooter and even he isn’t in a place that anyone would call “shoot first.”
Instead, we see a balanced team that likes to pass the puck. Steven Stamkos appears to be enjoying playing with Kucherov and Vlad Namestnkikov this year and is taking that opportunity to create chances for others instead of being a volume shooter as he has been in the past. Namestnikov is shooting more this year but his position here shows that he is still more of a distributor, which fits perfectly with how he’s played in the past.
The most interesting player to me on this graph is Alex Killorn. He doesn’t get enough credit for his playmaking ability and has been a major contributor in a role on the third line with rotating linemates all season. Some players would struggle in that role, as Tyler Johnsons did, but Killorn embraced it and his versatility has produced positive results consistently this year.
The numbers for defenders are even more interesting than the numbers for the forwards. Seeing Dan Girardi in a similar location to Anton Stralman is surprising. Girardi has been a positive impact player so far this season by every meaningful metric and part of that is likely him contributing to the build-up before a shot.
Mikhail Sergachev sits among the league leaders here as he does in many categories for defenders this year. He’s been spectacular. He’s shown plenty of confidence in his shot and has also shown unique skill in the offensive zone to set up teammates. He seems to have a well-rounded offensive game and the numbers reflect that.
Victor Hedman has started this season slowly. He’s getting shots at 5v5 but I expect to see him move to the right on this chart as the season progresses. He’s too good of a player to not be contributing more offensively. He’s had a rotating set of partners including Girardi and Andrej Sustr while Jake Dotchin has missed games so that could be contributing to his lack of production.
Overall, we see most Lightning players in the right areas of this graph. That’s to be expected given how well the team has performed this season. They’re playing a team game built on passing and trying to find the best shots. The roster is top heavy with highly skilled players like Stamkos and Kucherov but instead of trying to score all the goals themselves, they get the rest of their teammates involved. That makes for fun, pretty hockey.
Estimating shot assists gives a glance into an area of the game that isn’t captured in traditional statistics. I’ll be using them this season to try to tell a more complete story of how the team is playing. So far, the story for the Lightning has started like the beginning of a collaborative epic quest. And they’ll need to continue in that mindset if they hope to reach their goals.