Hit The Net, Phaneuf!

The other day on Twitter the question of whether or not Dion Phaneuf misses the net more often than other players came up. I decided to dig into it a bit and using numbers from Behind The Net I posted the missed shots percentages for the Leafs defence and a bunch of their forwards last year. Using that data, Phaneuf looked pretty average. But that was just one team during one season. What about using data for the whole NHL? Once again I hit up BtN to gather some data, and I calculated the 4 year average (2007-08 to 10-11) on missed shots for defencemen to be 32.3%. Phaneuf's 5 year average was 32.2%; he misses the net at an almost perfectly average rate. There you go, post finished. I think in newsrooms they call that "burying the lede". [All stats in this post are even strength numbers only.]

But I can hear you crying out for more data. "More data!" you cry! Well, OK then, I've collected a bunch more data about the Leafs and I'll post it as well. You may be wondering why I've used a 4 year total for full league numbers but 5 for Phaneuf (and, later, the rest of the Leafs). It's because the master BtN spreadsheet of individual shot data doesn't include last season yet, but it was relatively easy to add that info in for just one team.

One thought I had early on, and this turned out to be true, is that defencemen miss a significantly higher proportion of their shots than forwards do. This is almost certainly due to shot distance. I haven't looked into this in too much detail, but shot distance seems to bear some relation to individual rates of missed shots for forwards as well (that is to say that if a forward shoots from closer to the net his missed shot % is lower relative to players who shoot from further out).

To that end, I've split out the data here for defencemen and forwards. The first chart here will include all 6 defenders currently on the Leafs who also played for them last year (so no Schenn and no Holzer). The second chart will be all of the forwards on the Leafs who are typically considered "top 6" forwards (so yes to Connolly, no to Frattin [sorry not norm <how many parenthetical remarks can I embed at once? {I think this is the limit}>]).

First up, here are the numbers for the Leafs defence for both last year and for the last 5 years combined:

Player 11-12 Miss % 5 year Miss %
Phaneuf 32.6 32.2
Gunnarsson 30.8 30.7
Liles 31.0 29.0
Gardiner 41.5 41.5
Franson 33.3 31.8
Komisarek 34.0 35.1
Leafs D Average 33.8 32.1
NHL D Average X 32.3

There's some variation year-to-year for many of those guys that doesn't show up in the roll-up. For example, Franson's missed shot % has bounced around between 28% and 36%. I'm not numerically inclined enough to calculate exactly how reproducible a talent missed shots are, but when I look through my data it appears as though there's a fair amount of yearly variation but most guys wind up pretty close to league average over the course of a few years.

Gardiner's number for last year is actually a pretty big outlier. Other than Komisarek, who really does seem to miss the net at a higher-than-normal rate, the two worst miss %s for defenders were 36.1% (Franson) and 34.3% (Phaneuf). I'd be willing to wager that Gardiner will hit the net a lot more frequently over the next couple of seasons.

Given how impressively average Phaneuf is, why does he get hit with the tag "guy who can't hit the broadside of a barn"? Because in absolute terms he does miss the net more. Carl Gunnarsson has missed the net 61 times in his NHL career. Dion Phaneuf has missed the net 60 or more times four out of the past five seasons. Phaneuf misses the net so often because he shoots so often: he had 184 shot attempts on the net at even strength last season, roughly as many as Mikhail Grabovski or Joffrey Lupul (but only 2/3 as many as Phil Kessel with nearly 300). We remember Phaneuf missing the net a lot because he does miss the net a lot. But he doesn't miss the net at a high rate, which is the relevant number.

With that out of the way, let's take a look at a bunch of the Leafs' forwards:

Player 11-12 Miss % 5 year Miss %
Kessel 23.6 26.0
Lupul 26.2 24.4
Bozak 31.4 26.9
JVR 19.6 25.1
MacArthur 21.8 23.4
Grabovski 27.3 31.6
Kulemin 43.4 32.1
Connolly 35.3 26.4
Leafs F Average 28.0 27.0
NHL F Average X 26.1

We see a lot more variance among the forwards than we do with the defenders. I'm not sure how statistically significant these results are but the spread between MacArthur and Kulemin (8.7%) is larger than the gap between Liles and Komisarek (6.1%). The gap between Kulemin and MacArthur isn't meaningless at the full season level, but it is pretty minimal: using per-82-game shot totals over the period looked at here, using MacArthur's career shooting %, he gains roughly an additional 2 goals per season on account of how much more frequently he hits the net than Kulemin. The effect is even smaller for other players.

That MacArthur's number is so low is interesting. That it's actually driven up by one outlier season with a miss % of 29.8% is even more interesting. MacArthur's career SH% of 14.03% is very high. Using BtN's "shot quality" data, we find that Clarke MacArthur has a SH% 2.2% higher than would be predicted based on shot locations alone (which is very good). Combined with his very low missed shot numbers, and I think we can say that Clarke MacArthur has something like true talent shooting (which is to say that he has a better/more accurate shot than other players). Maybe someone who's better with statistics than me can chime in on whether this is as significant as it seems to me.

One other interesting thing jumps out at me here about the forwards, which is even more noticeable in my season-by-season spreadsheet: Grabovski and Kulemin miss the net a lot. Both players miss the net at rates normally associated with defencemen, not forwards. Further, Clarke MacArthur's one bad miss rate season was 2010-11, the year he played almost exclusively with Grabovski and Kulemin. Does that pair have some kind of ability to drive up missed shot percentages? I have no way to prove it, but it's something that jumped out at me while looking at the numbers.

So, to sum up: MacArthur - great shot; Phaneuf - totally average. is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of

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