I saw this tweet:

Which is just some guys joking around, and you’re not required to have statistical accuracy in your jokes. But the joke stats reflect the commonly held wisdom that Americans are majority right-shooters. If you do a google search on this topic, you’ll find a lot of blogs and articles and tweets repeating numbers similar to those above without ever saying where they came from. Some do refer to a New York Times article from 2010, but most just flat out assert without evidence a percentage that often ends in a zero or a five.

One article cited hockey stick sales, although it didn’t clarify the source or the scope of that information:

Why the top hand is the most important when holding a hockey stick

It also cites some stats for the NHL and discusses the way handedness in hockey and natural handedness interrelate. At the same time, every place you look, the assertion is made that 90% of people are right-handed. This is one of those obvious approximations like the rest of the numbers in the article linked above, so I’m sticking with saying the overwhelming majority of people are right handed. In my lifetime it was common in Canadian schools to force left-handed people to change hands, so any number is wrong. But what’s the right number for how players shoot?

I happen to have handy the full NHL rosters as of Friday, September 16, so let’s find out what the real numbers are for handedness. The NHL rosters now, in the offseason, contain everyone with an NHL SPC who has not been loaned to another team yet. For the Leafs that’s 46 players, including all the juniors, players who will be cut to the minors and the regular NHLers. The only players not there are Topi Niemelä and Roni Hirvonen. Players on ATOs or PTOs are not included. In total, there are 1304 players, ranging in age from the just drafted and signed to the oldest player in the NHL (Craig Anderson).

And speaking of Anderson, the first thing to do with this pile of player data is to take out the goalies. Let’s look at them for fun, though:

Who are those 11 unicorns?

Right-Catching Goalies

Louis Domingue30CANNew York Rangers
Taylor Gauthier21CANPittsburgh Penguins
Brandon Bussi24USABoston Bruins
Charlie Lindgren28USAWashington Capitals
Yaroslav Askarov20RUSNashville Predators
Pavel Francouz32CZEColorado Avalanche
Cal Petersen27USALos Angeles Kings
Karel Vejmelka26CZEArizona Coyotes
Michael Hutchinson32CANVegas Golden Knights
Logan Thompson25CANVegas Golden Knights
Isaiah Saville21USAVegas Golden Knights

I don’t think 11 players is enough to draw any conclusions from about the national origin of catching right. I also think it might be just a coincidence that Vegas has three of them, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe they think it’s an advantage in a backup.

With the goalies off catching left, we can look at all skaters:

That means 62.8% of the current NHL-rostered players shoot left.

Breaking that down by nationality, we get this:

NHL Skaters by Nationality

NationalityCountLeft Shooting

It is true that Americans are more likely to be right-handed, but the difference is not as dramatic as the conventional wisdom would have it. Or at least it isn’t right now. To really be rigorous, an examination of every draft class over time would be in order, and then of course, comparing the results to female players might be interesting as well. Is this partly a factor of the elitism of the NHL? Let’s get some real comprehensive stick sales data for children’s sticks. Those are projects for another day and for another person who wants to do something fun. (The world doesn’t need another xG model, but it can always use more social science and fun.)

If we collapse everyone who isn’t from North America into one group, cruelly adding that Australian in with them and calling them European, this is what we get:

NHL Skaters by Region

RegionCountLeft Shooting

As every Leafs fan should know, few things obsess the hockey world like the handedness of defencemen, while forwards playing their off-wing goes largely unremarked. Some forwards like it for specific reasons related to their game style, and some hate it. Some seem to switch at will, and some don’t. Confirmation bias will tell you if William Nylander is as good on the left side as the right, so no analysis need happen there. Splitting out the defenders and forwards should tell us if the defender obsession is interlinked with these numbers.

Forwards vs Defenders:

NHL Forwards by Region

RegionCountLeft Shooting

NHL Defenders by Region

RegionCountLeft Shooting

Just to clarify, these numbers are all based on the NHL data on which way a player shoots, not what side they play.

Some things to note: America has produced more defencemen than Europe as per the current NHL rosters, so bin that factoid about all the defenders coming from Europe now.

Every region has more right-shooting defenders proportionally than forwards. But the difference is only large enough to be other than randomness for Canadians.

Why is this happening? That’s the big question. And there are as many answers to that as there are imaginations to make them up. Most people seem to naturally put their dominant hand on the bottom, and therefore the majority would shoot right, so something has to be driving the swing in the other direction in the first place and the regional differences second. Some of the ideas I’ve read are:

  • the influence of baseball playing in children
  • tradition
  • you play with the stick your older sibling gave you, and they got theirs from your parents
  • coaching beliefs about the value of shooting with the “weak” hand/

Most of these explanations have the feel of retroactive constructions to me, but there might be truth in them in the aggregate. That ESPN article that puts forward ideas about creating better players by having them shoot left rests very heavily on a difference of two months in the time it takes to make the NHL as a righty or a lefty and doesn’t consider the desire of NHL coaches to have right-shooting defenders, even if they take more work to get NHL-ready.

One thing that I wonder is, if that stick sales data is true, are stick manufacturers contributing to the disparity by making it harder to buy a right-handed stick? Is this a case of the supply of a product following demand, but then eventually setting demand by its availability?

P.K. Subban has said that his father insisted his boys be defenders (Malcolm said no) and that they shoot right because that’s how you get an NHL job when the NHL might not be all that thrilled to have you.

It’s still good advice. But maybe parents should start considering the desire for depth centres who shoot right for d-zone draws. Regardless, make your kids who are goalies righties if you want free trips to Vegas.

If you play hockey, do you shoot...