Sidney Crosby has been the best hockey player in the world for nearly a decade, and he’ll be one of the best two players for at least the next couple of years. And this season, he is scoring in a way that gave rise to one of the worst graphics HNIC has carried in a while.
Crosby, going into Saturday night’s game, had 21 goals in 25 games. This is very good. He was scoring on 25.6% of his shots, which is very high—pucks were going in for him much more than they usually do for him, or for anyone else. Crosby has shot 14.8% for his career; the highest he’s kept up for a full season is 17.1%, in 2009-10. These are still really good numbers, but they’re lower than 25.6%, which means Crosby is probably getting a bit lucky, and he has more goals than he might normally.
Why does this matter? If Sid keeps getting the same number of shots the rest of the way, and he shoots 25.6%, he’s going to finish with about 63 goals. This would be the most of anyone since Ovechkin in 2008, and would be incredible.
If he shoots his career average the rest of the way, he’s going to finish around 46 goals. This would still be fantastic—hell, it might still win him the Rocket Richard—but it is less exciting.
The stat nerds--although in all honesty, this is really, really simple math—think Crosby is more likely to shoot closer to his career average of 14.8% than his current super-sniper rate, because guys do not tend to suddenly spike in shooting percentage at age 29, and because nobody who takes a lot of shots sustains 25% anymore.
Short version: More pucks are going in for Crosby than usual. If we’re guessing what he’s going to do the rest of the year, we figure it’s more likely the pucks will go in at his regular rate, and he won’t score 63 goals. He might! But he probably won’t.
Tonight on CBC, the HNIC broadcast decided to rebut these naysayers with a graphic during the game.
So the HNIC broadcast just climbed on the "Crosby might sustain this, just look at these guys" hill pic.twitter.com/LqbMoJbMDV— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) December 18, 2016
The conversation around this graphic was “look how high these guys shot! Of course Crosby can keep scoring on 25.6% of his shots.”
There are several things wrong with this.
1. The biggest one by far is that, as you might notice, all five of these examples are from the 1980s. Goaltending has gotten so, so much better since then, and everybody knows that.
The flip side of shooting percentage is save percentage. If more shots are going in for skaters, it means more shots are not getting stopped by goalies. Hockey Reference doesn’t have a league average for 1980-81, but for the other years listed:
- 1984-85: .875
- 1985-86: .874
- 1987-88: .880
- 1988-89: .879/
The league average save percentage this season, so far, is .914. It’s been either .914 or .915 the last three seasons, so that’s right where we’d expect it. Shots, for everyone in the league, are going in around two-thirds as often as they did in 1985. Why did these players sustain huge shooting percentages in the 1980s? Because everyone had higher shooting percentages in the 80s!
2. Another problem, related to the first one. Part of the reason we expect Crosby to shoot close to 15% is that we’ve been watching him play for a long time, and over all those games he’s played, he’s averaged out to shooting close to 15%. If Sid defied his era and actually kept shooting 25% year-in, year-out, we would sooner or later admit that this seems to be something he can do regularly. But he hasn’t. All four of the guys in the graphic had higher shooting percentages than Crosby for their careers (at least 19%, going as high as 22.3%). They were still having really good shooting years those years in the graphic, obviously enough. Crosby is probably going to have a really good year. But there’s a big gap between what he’s doing and what he’s done.
3. The real problem with this: do you think for a second whoever put this graphic together for CBC didn’t know it was bullshit?
To be clear, the facts in this graphic are accurate, and there is a chance Crosby will shoot the lights out and clear 60 goals. I’m not arguing that it’s not possible, because it is. I just wouldn’t bet money on it. But this argument wasn’t “hey, there’s an outside chance!” It was just, “here, look at these numbers that look like Crosby’s numbers!” with no acknowledgment of how those numbers came about.
Anyone who watches hockey at all knows goaltending has improved enormously in the last thirty years, and glossing over it on purpose is disingenuous as hell. If you want to make a case that Crosby is likely to keep this up, do it fairly.
It’s probably a sign of progress that arguments about shooting percentage are at least filtering into the mainstream. But an HNIC broadcast should do better than silly misuse of numbers in puffing up our national golden boy.