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Behind The Numbers

Durability, consistency key to Eric Staal's success

Wild forward reached 800 NHL points, 1,000 remains possible

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

Eric Staal of the Minnesota Wild got his 800th NHL point in a 3-1 win against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, becoming the 157th player and 13th active player to reach that mark.

Staal is the first member of the Wild to reach the milestone since Cliff Ronning had his 800th point in a 4-3 overtime victory against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 22, 2002.

Staal's scoring achievement was made possible by his versatility, durability, consistency and high shot volumes during a long period of time, and not from a temporary peak. 

Video: STL@MIN: Granlund pads lead with an empty-net goal

That isn't to argue that Staal didn't have a peak. The high point of his NHL career began with the 2005-06 season, when he had 45 goals and 100 points, and was named to the NHL Second All-Star Team. Statistically, a player's peak is based on three seasons, and Staal had 252 points from 2005-06 through 2007-08, which is the 14th-highest scoring peak among active players.

Though impressive, that scoring peak was not responsible for Staal reaching 800 points 27 games into his 13th NHL season. This milestone was reached by averaging 65 points per season during his first 12 seasons. He is one of 14 active players with 10 seasons of at least 50 points and one of 10 with at least seven seasons of 70 points or more, according to Hockey Reference.  

The keys to Staal's consistency have been his durability and versatility during his NHL career. He has missed 22 games in 13 seasons and has been effective on the man-advantage, in each zone, in all game situations, and against all opponents.

That has given him a lot of ice time to contribute offensively. Since the start of the 2005-06 season, Staal's total ice time of 17,880:00 ranks second among NHL forwards to Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (18,380:32).

Video: EDM@MIN: Staal dekes, slips home backhand in SO

Another factor in Staal's scoring success is his notably high shot-based game. Although he wasn't necessarily more of a scoring threat on any particular play, the high volume of shots he takes and/or sets up has made it a sheer numbers game to reach 800 points. Staal has 2,986 shots on goal since 2005-06, second to Ovechkin (4,337) among NHL players.

Modern shot-based metrics have helped make Staal's contributions that much more clear. Since 2013-14, the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, and Wild have had 4,165 shot attempts while allowing 3,484 at 5-on-5 when Staal is on the ice. That results in a SAT of plus-681, which is 21st in the NHL during that time.

Putting it in other terms, his team's share of all shot attempts improves from 49.5 percent to 54.45 percent whenever he is on the ice. Those higher shot volumes have provided Staal with many opportunities to score and get assists.


Reaching for 1,000

Does Staal have time to reach 1,000 points? Based on a historical comparison to his statistical peers, it could be close.

Staal is enjoying all the same advantages this season that have led to him reaching 800 points. He is being used in all man-advantage situations, in all zones, and is coach Bruce Boudreau's top forward when the Wild are protecting a one-goal lead.

Playing primarily with Charlie Coyle and either Zach Parise or Nino Niederreiter at even strength, Staal is generating high shot volumes. The Wild are outshooting opponents 369-357 when he is on the ice at 5-on-5, for an SAT differential of plus-12 that ranks fifth on Minnesota.

Staal's 19 points in 27 games lead the Wild, after having led the Hurricanes in eight of the previous 12 seasons.

Video: MIN@PIT: Staal slams home rebound to take the lead

At age 32, can Staal keep it up long enough to reach 1,000 points? Most NHL players reach their scoring peak by age 24, and then maintain that scoring rate until experiencing a decline in their 30s. Staal has been no exception. His scoring rate dropped from 1.10 points per game in 2012-13 to 0.77 in 2013-14, 0.70 in 2014-15 and 0.47 in 2015-16 before going back up to 0.70 points per game this season.

Using his new scoring rate as a basis, post-1967 NHL history was searched to find 63 forwards who had comparable era-adjusted scoring totals at the same age. The majority of those matches played for at least four more seasons; Staal is in the first season of three-year contract.

In those four seasons, Staal's peer group scored an era-adjusted average of 141 points in 262 games, allowing for possible injuries. If he matches that, it would place Staal at 922 points.

Because of Staal's superior defensive contributions, it's possible that he will continue to play for at least another two seasons beyond the point at which his peers typically retire. If so, that could result in another 57 points in 123 games, to reach 979 points. Only three of his 63 statistical peers continued to play at age 38 and beyond.

Every individual is different so there is a wide range of outcomes, so it is impossible to predict whether or not Staal will reach 1,000 points. However it's within reach if he remains healthy and/or his scoring declines no faster than expected.

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