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Behind The Numbers

Stats suggest Sharp, Giroux, Gallagher should bounce back

Forwards among those poised for better season

by Rob Vollman / NHL.com Correspondent

Forward Radim Vrbata led the Arizona Coyotes last season with 55 points (20 goals, 35 assists) in 81 games at age 35 before agreeing to a one-year contract with the Florida Panthers on July 1. That came after he had 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 63 games for the Vancouver Canucks in 2015-16.

This was an excellent example of a bounce-back season, when a player rebounds from one or more disappointing seasons to get back to his previously established NHL scoring level.

There are any number of explanations when a player's scoring drops, like injury, a role change, a natural decline with age or just some bad bounces. A player's underlying numbers often can help identify which explanation makes the most sense and establish the probability of bouncing back.

Here are five players who should bounce back in 2017-18:

 

Patrick Sharp, LW, Chicago Blackhawks

Some ice time in the offensive zone alongside forward Patrick Kane might be all Sharp needs to return to his form from 2007-16, when he averaged 56.4 points per season, including the 48-game 2012-13 season. 

Sharp, who agreed to a one-year contract with the Blackhawks on July 1, had 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) in 48 games for the Dallas Stars last season. He was impacted by most of the notable conditions that can reduce a player's scoring: He missed 34 games, his usage was shifted to the defensive zone, and his team's shooting percentage dropped when he was on the ice, as did his own.

Sharp, 35, started 233 of his 5-on-5 shifts in the defensive zone last season and 174 in the offensive zone, for an offensive-zone start percentage of 42.75. That's a sharp decline from his offensive-zone start percentage of 62.47 from 2009-16.

The Stars' shooting percentage when Sharp was on the ice at 5-on-5 last season was 5.2; his team's percentage was 8.7 the previous seven seasons (he spent the first six of them with the Blackhawks). And Sharp's all-situation shooting percentage was 5.5 in 2016-17, down from 11.1 for his NHL career entering last season.

Video: Patrick Sharp discusses his return to the Blackhawks

 

Claude Giroux, C, Philadelphia Flyers

Though he never won the Art Ross Trophy, Giroux was the highest-scoring player in the NHL from 2010-16. With a little more shooting luck for the Flyers, he can be again.

Over those six seasons, Giroux, 29, led the NHL with 443 points (141 goals, 302 assists) in 448 games.

But his production regressed the past three seasons, and he was tied with Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty for 17th in the League with 198 points (61 goals, 137 assists) in 241 games since 2014-15. Giroux dropped from an average of 1.05 points per game from 2010-14 to 0.82 the past three seasons.

Because Giroux's shot volume has increased from 2.7 shots per game from 2010-14 to 3.0 in the three seasons since then, that means shooting percentages primarily are to blame for his reduced scoring. He scored on 12.2 percent of his shots (94 of 771) from 2010-14 and 8.5 percent (61 of 719) the past three seasons. That means that he was 69.6 percent as likely to score on any given shot the past three seasons as he was from 2010-14.

The same pattern holds for the Flyers. At 5-on-5, they scored on 8.4 percent of their shots from 2010-14 and on 7.0 percent from 2014-17.

Video: MTL@PHI: Giroux nets wrister through traffic for PPG

 

Brendan Gallagher, RW, Montreal Canadiens

Because of their consistency, shot-based metrics can be an excellent indicator of which players may have been victims of bad luck and are due to bounce back.

Gallagher, 25, has had excellent shot-based metrics throughout his five-season NHL career. Montreal has a 5-on-5 shot attempts percentage of 54.45 with Gallagher on the ice (4,550-3,806). That's 6.2 percentage points better than how they have fared with him on the bench (48.25 percent). That relative SAT percentage of plus-6.2 is seventh in the NHL among those who have played at least 50 games the past five seasons.

So what happened in 2016-17, when Gallagher had 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 64 games, after three consecutive seasons of 40 or more points? He had a 5.3 shooting percentage, far below his 10.2 NHL career mark entering last season. And the Canadiens' 5-on-5 shooting percentage with him on the ice fell from 8.6 during his first four seasons to 6.3 last season.

Video: NYR@MTL, Gm5: Gallagher roofs PPG from the slot

 

Travis Hamonic, D, Calgary Flames

Hamonic, 27, had 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 49 games for the New York Islanders last season, his second-lowest total for a full NHL season. That works out to 0.29 points per game, his same average from 2015-16.

Traded to the Flames on June 24, the veteran of seven NHL seasons could return to his scoring level from 2010-11, when as a rookie he averaged 0.42 points per game, or his NHL career high of 0.46 points per game, set in 2014-15.

A big reason for Hamonic's drop-off was his usage. With the Islanders, he was called upon to play the tough minutes at even strength, and he averaged 33 seconds of ice time per game last season on a power play that typically included four forwards and one defenseman.

In Calgary, the defensive duties are spread more evenly between the top two pairs, and the defensemen are a bigger part of the offense at even strength and on the power play. 

Last season, TJ Brodie averaged 2:46 of power-play ice time per game, Mark Giordano averaged 2:35, and Dougie Hamilton averaged 2:15. Given that Hamonic's 5-on-5 scoring rate of 0.94 points per 60 minutes last season, according to Xtra Hockey Stats, exceeded Brodie's (0.67) and Giordano's (0.63), he may see more time on the top power-play unit alongside Hamilton (1.56).

Video: CBJ@NYI: Hamonic one-times home Chimera's feed

 

Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers

Few active defensemen established themselves at as young an age as Ekblad, who won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL in 2014-15, when he turned 19. He had 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 81 games that season and followed it with a solid 2015-16 season, when he had 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) in 78 games.

Ekblad, 21, had 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 68 games last season. However, he took far more shots than usual -- 225, an average of 3.3 per game. That was up from 2.1 in 2014-15 and 2.3 in 2015-16.

As with Gallagher, the culprit was shooting percentage. Ekblad scored on 7.7 percent of his shots (27 of 352) in his first two seasons and on 4.4 percent (10 of 225) last season. 

The Panthers' 5-on-5 shooting percentages also dropped when Ekblad was on the ice, from 8.3 in his first two seasons to 4.9 in 2016-17.

Video: NYR@FLA: Ekblad wrists home PPG to cut into deficit

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