Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wrongly Predicting Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane

At the start of the year I made some predictions for Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane in terms of scoring totals based on how they compared to other similar players. The guys I used as comparables based on a number of criteria were Sidney Crosby, Vincent Damphousse, Patrick Marleau and Tim Connolly. Each of them increased their point production (in terms of points per game) between 12.3 and 30.2 per cent. This meant that for Gagner I was targeting between 0.70 to 0.81 P/game and for Kane I was targeting 0.99 to 1.15 P/game. Gagner's actual production was 0.54 P/game down from 0.62 P/game last season. Kane's actual production was 0.88 P/game, identical to his production last season. In short, my predictions did not come to pass.

So what may have gone wrong? To start, Patrick Kane played 18:39 per game this season (3:55 on the PP) compared with 18:21 (3:39 on the PP) the year before while Sam Gagner played 16:45 per game (3:02 on the PP) compared to 15:40 (2:44 on the PP) the year before. I suspect the other four players may have averaged a bigger increase in ice time year over year though I only have actual data for two of them. Tim Connolly's minutes went from 16:18 as a rookie to 20:02 in his second year. Crosby went from 20:08 to 20:46 which is actually less than the increase Gagner saw. Both guys also saw a marginal increase in time on the PP so that shouldn't be used as an excuse for either one. If nothing else this may help to explain some of Kane's shortfall since his overall increase in ice time was very small.

Another impact may be the shooting percentages. If the on-ice shooting percentages were quite low for either player then that might help explain why they did not score as often as expected. Gagner's on-ice shooting percentage at EV was 8.9% almost bang on team average. Kane's, meanwhile, was 6.8%, over a full point under the team average and well below average in the NHL. Again, this seems to explain why Kane didn't score as much as expected but doesn't do nearly as well for Gagner who actually underperformed more.

Another reason for the laspse in performance may have been an increase in the quality of competition. Gagner went from -0.01 and 7th among forwards who played at least 40 games in his rookie year to -0.04 and 7th among forward who played at least 40 games this year. Kane went from 0.02 and 6th to 0.02 and 4th. This doesn't look like a plausible excuse for either player since I imagine that it's normal for most young players to take on a bit more responsibility in their second season. That said, only Kane looks to have actually done that this year, and even then the difference is quite marginal.

I think there is enough here to suggest Kane is on the right track offensively and fits well with this group of players. A combination of ice time and especially bad fortune caused him to fall short of his peers as a 19 year-old. Gagner's case is a bit different. First of all, he played through an ankle injury and that may have had some impact. He may also have focused more on becoming a more well-rounded player. Last season he was a -14 at EV compared to this year's +4. There has been some clear improvement in his game in terms of what he's giving back. This is a wonderful thing in terms of his ability to help the Oilers win games. Nonetheless, I think it's fair to say that this improvement may have come at the expense of some of Gagner's offensive creativity which led to fewer goals (at both ends of the ice). This quote from Gagner may well point in that direction:

"I do take risks from time to time, but earlier, I was taking unnecessary risks where I was making blind passes and different things like that. I've changed that. I'm just playing a more solid game."

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