Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Rattled by the Rush: A look at Kessel's Numbers

When rumours first surfaced that the Leafs were interested in Phil Kessel there seemed to be three big concerns:

  • Would the Leafs overpay (Kaberle and Kadri);
  • Was Kessel's above average goal production the result of playing with Marc Savard; and
  • Was his shooting percentage sustainable?
I'll leave the matter of value and overpayment for another day (my thoughts on this are pretty well documented already).

The charge that Savard was the catalyst for much of Kessel's production was pretty much dismissed when Kessel potted 10 goals in his first fifteen games. A comprehensive video review of each and every one of Kessel's 2008-09 goals by Arhimedies over at Leafs Blog Pension Plan Puppets also punched a pretty big hole in any suggestion that Kessel was dependent on Savard.

The third concern, unfortunately, has emerged as a real issue at the half-way point of Kessel's first season with the Leafs.

In Kessel's breakout year in Boston, when he notched 36 goals (pro-rated 42G/82GP), his shooting percentage was 15.5% and his goals scored per 60 minutes was a very impressive 1.97. On average, he directed 3.1 shots per game at the opponent's net, and hit the net 71% of the time.

In his first 38 games in Toronto (small sample, I know) Kessel's on pace for 28 goals (pro-rated 32G/82GP) his shooting percentage is 8.7% and his goals scored per 60 minutes is down to 1.2. On average, he's directed 4.5 shots per game at the opponent's net, and he's hitting the net 68% of the time.

Also of note: Kessel is averaging 3 minutes more ice time per game in Toronto, yet his production has declined.

Or cleaned up in and put in a boring old chart, it looks like this:
PP TOI/G2:223:37
Total Shots216171
Missed Shots6254
Shots on Goal154117
Shooting %15.5%8.7%
Goals/60 1.92 1.2

There are many possible explanations for Kessel's numbers in Toronto to be trending down:
  1. His teammates aren't getting him the puck in prime scoring areas like Savard may have;

  2. The lack of depth among the Leafs forwards means teams can key in on and defend Kessel;

  3. His production on the power play has always been minimal. He's averaging 3:37 a night on the PP, that's 1:10 more perr game than he played in Boston and that extra minute is entirely non-productive ice-time;

  4. He missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from off-season shoulder surgery;

  5. Some combination of the top 4 plus others than I'm not clever enough to think of.
Regardless of the reason for the decline in his production, I have a feeling Kessel will improve his shooting percentage - both in terms of hitting the net and, more importantly, scoring. (Ironically, in a post populated by numbers, I base that on nothing more than gut. And as a cup-is-half-empty Leaf fan, it feels really weird to be predicting something good.)

One way to get Kessel jump started might be to re-allocate his ice-time.

Kessel is so unproductive on the PP it seems to me he should skip the PP and take extra shifts at evens (or at least move to PP2).

**Based on a couple of emails this post generated, let me be clear here: I am not questioning Kessel or saying he's a problem or part of a problem. I honestly find these stats interesting, I was genuinely surprised when I pulled the numbers this afternoon. I really hope he puts up huge numbers in the remaining 32 games of the season and well into the future.**



  2. I would love to have seen those stats after his first 15 games. He would have been on pace to shatter all his Boston numbers. These last 15 or so games have killed him.

    I think you've covered off most of the reasons he could be slumping but there's one more you didn't mention specifically - and that could be "fatigue". I know, a 22 year old getting tired after a few months of hockey sounds ridiculous, but when you consider he wasn't on any of the conditioning programs that his teammates endured this summer, nor did he have the chance to progressively build up to the season through training camp, it's not out of the question that his body is feeling sluggish. Not sluggish in the way most of us understand it (I sit at a computer all day, I feel sluggish getting to my car some days), but rather in comparison to his teammates. Toronto may be a lot of things, but out of shape they are not. This is a very fast and energized team and they have been conditioned to play at this intensity deep into the season. Kessel has not.

    He is definitely step behind as far as his personal achievements, as evident in the numbers, but maybe it's because he's a step behind all the players around him - both friend and foe?

    Last night's chance to split the defence was case in point. He simply didn't have the gas. His slamming the bench door after that shift tells me that on a good day he knows he could have made that play.

    I think we'll see a more fit Phil Kessel come next October.

  3. Great analysis. I think the issue is really about playing with a bad team. Despite the glimpses of decency, the stats for the Leaf team don't lie. They are one of the worst teams in the league. One player, no matter how good, won't change that. The Leafs will improve (they have to, they can't go down) and Kessel's numbers will improve along with this. I share your positive gut feeling.

  4. Oh, and thanks for the post. Good one.

  5. Excellent post, MF. Kessel's a Leaf now, which means his shooting percentage was destined to drop by half. He's just trying to fit in.

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