We’ve covered the defense and the goaltending so far in re-hashing everything that went wrong with the 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks season. Now, it’s time to focus on the other end of the ice.
While there were plenty of other areas where things went wrong on offense this season (hey there, power play), two players bore much of the criticism for a Chicago offense that ranked 22nd in goals scored this season: Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad.
These two players spent over 700 minutes of even-strength ice time together, each serving as the other’s most frequent linemate this season. In crunching the numbers of the seasons for Saad and Toews, one common element kept emerging:
Both Saad and Toews were plagued by shooting percentages that were well below their career marks.
Saad’s CF% was 56.04 this season, which is line with the numbers from the prior five years (in order: 57.13, 57.73, 53.65, 49.90, 54.58). The quality of chances looks relatively similar as well. Saad played at a rate of 13.01 high-danger chances per 60 minutes this season, again in line with the last five seasons (12.93, 13.34, 13.11, 14.42, 12.46). His offensive zone start percentage of 59.0 was not out of line with any other seasons. Really, the only number that is largely different for Saad this season is the shooting percentage of 7.6 percent, which is miles away from the 11.8 mark Saad had prior to this season. Take that percentage and apply it to the 237 shots he had this season and Saad finishes with 28 goals in the 2017-18 NHL season. And then we’re probably not having this conversation.
There is precedent for players rebounding from a woeful shooting performance during one season. In 2011-12, Patrick Kane shot at 9.1 percent, far from his career mark of 12.0. In the next season, he rebounded up to 16.7 percent and matched his goal output (23) while playing just 47 games. Need more? Here’s more. In 2009-10, Patrick Sharp shot 9.4 percent, scoring just 25 goals. He responded with 34 goals on 12.7 percent shooting the following season. New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello jumped from 15 goals on 9.7 percent shooting in 2014-15 to 26 goals on 15.7 percent shooting the following season. Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog just finished a regular season when he jumped from 18 goals to 25 goals thanks to a three-percent spike in shooting percentage (10.7 to 13.7). Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher made an even bigger leap, going from 10 goals in 64 games to 31 goals in a full 82 while enjoying a percentage boost from 5.3 to 11.2.
Saad turns 26 next October and still very much in his prime, so expecting a rebound performance doesn’t feel as far-fetched as would be for an older player like, say, Jonathan Toews, whose overall production has steadily declined along with his shot percentage in the last few seasons.
Similar to Saad, nothing in Toews’ possession metrics points to a season-long issue. In fact, his rate of high-danger chances per 60 minutes jumped from 10.29 last season to 13.74 this season. This past season produced Toews’ highest percentage of expected goals based on Corsica’s metrics. The only conclusion for Toews’ lowest goal output of his career when looking at the numbers is to point to shooting percentage, which has dropped from 15.6 in the 2015-16 NHL season to 10.6 and 9.5, respectively, in the two seasons since.
But all of the players who enjoyed shooting percentage-fueled turnarounds were significantly younger than Toews, who turns 30 this Saturday. If there’s hope to be obtained, it’s in the 2017-18 renaissance of Anze Kopitar, who compensated for his 12 goals on 8.0 percent shooting in 2016-17 for 35 goals on 17.5 percent shooting this season (his career shooting percentage is 12.6). Toews hasn’t cracked the 30-goal plateau since 2010-11, though, so expecting that much of a turnaround feels unrealistic. But if Toews can finish up around the 25-30 goal range next season, though, that’ll help quiet the noise surrounding the Captain.
It’s hard to find any other explanation for what plagued Toews and Saad during the 2017-18 NHL season. And if progressions to their career means occur in the 2018-19 season, the criticisms that have been so prevalent for these two players may cease to exist.