In baseball, a .261 batting average isn’t considered to be spectacular or noteworthy but it’ll certainly keep you in the Majors if you can do it over a career.
If you think hitting for a high average at the top level of baseball is tough to do, you’re right.
So how does a similar stat compare in the National Hockey League? It might surprise you and it might not, but shooting for a high percentage in hockey is actually much more of a futile exercise than it is in baseball. For that reason, what Curtis Glencross has done the past few seasons is certainly worthy of a second look.
After action on Tuesday night, Glencross' shooting percentage was an even 26.1% this season, the highest total among regular NHLers.
Consider for a second that the 2011 mean batting average in Major League Baseball was .255 and the 2011-2012 mean shooting percentage in the NHL falls at around 7.55%, or a rounded up .080 number at the plate if we were to look at it that way.
Now I know they’re completely different sports and in no way comparable, but knowing how baseball has been called “a game of failure”, I thought it was a good way to frame the shooting success of Glencross this year.
“It’s definitely one of those things where I know I have a good shot,” Glencross told me last week. “Guys around the league know I have a good shot.”
Many other people are taking notice as well. And how can you not? When a guy is more than tripling the league average in any one stat over a full season, it’s going to start catching attention.
But there is a negative way of looking at a high shooting percentage as well: it’s unsustainable. The best example of that I can think of is Jonathan Cheechoo between the 2005 and 2007 seasons. Cheechoo put up 87 goals in two seasons with the Sharks and then completely fell off a cliff totaling just 30 combined in the next three seasons. He hasn’t played in the NHL since? So why the massive drop off? It’s simple, Cheechoo’s shooting percentage was unsustainable and regressed to, and then below, the league average over the course of a few seasons.
Cheechoo certainly isn’t the only player who has seen this happen to him but is the most dramatic example of a rapid regression to where things should be. An argument could be made that Glencross might go in a similar direction, but I don’t necessarily see that happening.
Instead of high shooting percentages normalizing for Glencross over the course of four seasons, he's in fact gone up incrementally over those four campaigns. Curtis' first season in Calgary saw him shoot a respectable 8.6%, a number that rose by more than four percentage points one year later and almost four more for the 2010-2011 season.
This happened for one main reason in my eyes. Glencross has seen his ice time increased over those four seasons, specifically in offensive zone time and powerplay usage, giving him more and more opportunity to unleash his extremely accurate shot.
Glencross is making a case for himself having one of the most accurate releases in the NHL, and the fact that he places in top five among regular NHLers in shooting percentage over the last three seasons only backs that up.
Now with 23 goals on the season, the former Brooks Bandit knows he could probably maximize on his pinpoint accuracy a little more.
“I probably don’t shoot it enough,” Glencross said. “You’d think it’d sink into my head sometimes to shoot the puck more, but sometimes you’re just looking to set other guys up too at the same time or making the pass you shouldn’t make or something like that.”
It’s something that plenty of NHL players have struggled with during their careers. Alex Tanguay has talked plenty about his tendency to look to pass before shooting at times. Funny enough, Tanguay is also one of the NHL’s most accurate shooters in recent memory with a career shooting percentage of 18.5%.
But as Glencross says, it’s not always as easy as it looks to us when watching from afar.
“Things happen so quickly in a game. Sometimes you think with the goalies nowadays unless you think you’re in the perfect spot or something like that to take that perfect shot, you feel like you might have a better chance of dishing back to somebody who’s going to, maybe, have an open net or something like that.”
Glencross will likely never get back to his crazy high shooting percentage numbers from this season, but it’s not as if we’re talking about a guy in danger of being completely unproductive in the near future.
He’s one of the NHL’s most accurate shooters, and that’s something that won’t just disappear into thin air.