You see it often: “Player X should put up 40 points on the third line” or “20 points just doesn’t cut it for X player.” All sorts of scoring projections get tossed around, but those projections don’t always seem to have a basis in reality.
Thanks to Evolving Hockey, we have data from every forward who played at least 400 minutes in a given season from 2013 through 2019. That information gives us a rough idea of how many points per 82 games everyone scored, on average, given their ice time.
- First-line forwards (17.4 minutes and more): 63.7 points
- Second-line forwards (15.2 to 17.3 minutes): 42.8 points
- Third-line forwards (12.8 to 15.1 minutes): 29.6 points
- Fourth-line forwards (12.7 minutes and fewer): 17.6 points
With this in mind, we can turn our attention to the 2020-21 San Jose Sharks. Plenty of players remain from the 2018-19 Western Conference Finals run. Filling in around those returnees are undrafted free agents, mid-level prospects, and journeymen NHLers.
When you combine aging veterans and mostly unheralded up-and-comers with an intriguing but mostly unproven staff, you’re sure to engender some bizarre results, especially in a shortened season. If the season ahead is full of unpredictable peaks and valleys, how can we predict what might happen? It may be as easy as estimating Sharks forwards’ ice time. Forward ice time is highly correlated with 82-game point-scoring rates.
Because of the looming uncertainty, it will be difficult to pinpoint exactly how much ice time forwards will earn. Average playing time from the Boughner regime last season is as good a start as any. With Natural Stat Trick data, we can examine the second half of the 2019-20 season in detail.
Today’s roster has some familiar faces. It also includes a number of newcomers. Using last year’s ice time allocation, we can make a rough mental model for the upcoming season’s distribution. We’ll set two basic parameters:
- For guys who were on the team last year, we’ll use their ice time rates as a baseline.
- We will estimate that the Sharks’ total team ice time will be closer to league average (50 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time per game, and five minutes each of power play and penalty kill time).
Then, we can adjust based on what we currently know of the team’s forward lines. For example, with Barclay Goodrow and Joe Thornton gone, it seems reasonable that some of the team’s existing top-six forwards, like Timo Meier and Logan Couture, see a bump in 5-on-5 playing time. Noah Gregor’s 2018-19 ice time may provide a blueprint for John Leonard’s 2020-21 season. Though Gregor skated on the team’s first line near the end of last season, he didn’t play in many high-leverage situations (close games nearing their end). As a result, his 5-on-5 ice time was nowhere near that of his linemates, Couture and Evander Kane. Unless Leonard blows the doors off the building, he’ll probably play on Tomas Hertl’s line until the game’s tensest moments, as Gregor did last year with Couture.
We can see how players with similar ice times have scored, historically. For example, forwards who played around 19 minutes per night scored, on average, at a 63-point pace. That figure equates to a 45-point pace over 65 games and 0.77 points per game.
Again, this entire exercise uses very rough measurements. I created relatively arbitrary cutoffs when averaging the historical scoring rates. And, each of these historical scoring rates is an average of anywhere from 50 to 300-something forward seasons. That means that each forward here has a range of scoring outcomes centered on the rates in the table. Players who have averaged around 17 minutes of ice time have scored anywhere from 26 to 70 points over 82 games.
Plenty of Sharks players will earn different amounts of playing time than our rough projections show. Not all of them will play in all 56 regular-season games. Others will over- or under-perform their scoring projections. Consider Meier, who has scored at rates of 0.44, 0.85, and 0.7 points per game over his last three seasons. This, all while averaging no more than 17 minutes of ice time in a given season.
The point, however, remains: Scoring is very closely intertwined with playing time. Sharks fans may want to adjust their expectations, especially for rookies who are more likely to be affected by the decisions of new coaching staffs. Even if we assume that the coaching staff is well equipped to get the best out of this roster—this writer is bullish on their ability to do so—plenty of these players will tally point totals that feel underwhelming.
If John Leonard averages about 12 minutes per night, he’ll probably only register a point every few games. New-look third-line center Noah Gregor may only register 20 points this shortened season. That’s to be expected given what his peers have done with similar ice time before him.
By the same logic, our bold predictions are truly bold. Unless Meier receives 20 minutes of ice time per night, it will be challenging for him to average close to a point per game, let alone more than that. Noah Gregor scoring 10 or more goals doesn’t feel so far off after this exercise, but this exercise has also awarded him top-six forward minutes, which is likely a stretch goal.
Hopefully this breakdown shows what realistic scoring rates look like given a player’s role, at least on average.
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