Tracking Phil Kessel Shots on Goal

It’s finally reached the point where the chatter to trade Phil Kessel is getting so hot it’s lighting the kindling for the bon fire that’s coming. Forever maligned as a piece involved in a fateful trade, Kessel will burn his name into the annals of Leafs history, or scorch a path out of town.

There’s merit in trying to maximize asset value and get a decent return for a goal scoring threat, perhaps from a team with a need of scoring help and is willing to pay for it.

That’s also contingent on whether the Leafs are inclined to move him.

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I don’t believe in the value of a player fluctuating such wide variation over short periods unless there is a fundamental change in the player’s makeup, a bad injury perhaps. Hockey personnel already have a vibrant profile of every NHL player knowing their skill sets and capabilities under the right circumstance.

Supply and demand has more to do with actual value of the player than short term fluctuations in production.  For instance, just because Kessel hasn’t scored yet, doesn’t diminish his value at all. Impending free agency after 2013-14 or players available on the trade market (along with his skill set) determine Kessel’s value. If a team is looking for a goal scorer in their prime – and maybe even willing to lock him up long term–now may be the best time to explore that option.

If there was any reason to move him, it would be to forever cut ties with the eternal comparison to Tyler Seguin and as a package with Dougie Hamilton. It’s a chance for a fresh start for the Leafs, not necessarily for Kessel. The commentary of comparison will never cease.

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(Ed note: Seguin’s goal was an empty net tally)

Even if he’s moved, that comparison would dog him for the rest of his career. I feel in Toronto the pressure would become overwhelming, even with top notch scoring results.

Lupul Loss is an Opportunity

The loss of Joffrey Lupul, however, provides a very special window in which to assess the 25 year old sniper, if teams were so inclined to do so. Scouts are already watching with intent. Interest doesn’t have to be initiated by the Leafs, and a team knowing the player can possibly hit free agency is likely to use this period to seriously assess whether he is a fit, now and in the future.

For other teams, Lupul’s injury could be a great opportunity if they have interest in Kessel.  All alone, as a true test, just what can he do on his own? I’m not suggesting lofty expectation of carrying the team on his back, but rather, what does he do with the limited talent around him? Does he become more individualistic and handle the puck more or use his linemates and find distribution options?

Kessel showed in ‘11-12 that he can pass the puck fairly well, and with head up carrying it into the zone, he wasn’t just taking the shot all the time. He included his linemates on a more regular basis, pushing back defense and causing havoc with the open space at the top of the zone. He altered his assessment of the play and changed up his typical shooting from the wing.

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The worst case scenario is that he becomes predictable. Not individualistic, carrying the puck too long, or hogging the puck, but doing the same thing over and over, the signature move from 2010-11, stepping over the blue line, pushing back the defense for a shot from the faceoff circle. Regardless of how good the shot is, that’s a low percentage play from the outside wide, where he can drift at times. As soon as defenses pick up on tells, they won’t back away and give him the space to take that shot – especially if he reverts to solely shoot first and abandons his distribution game. He has to be able to revert to his playmaking skills off the rush and continue to get to dirty areas without the puck.

**A side note on the absence of Lupul, perhaps a fit with Matt Frattin up front. Both play a similar physical and forechecking game, work along the boards and can be that net presence on Kessel rebounds. Frattin has some touch too. An experiment perhaps?**

I went back and took a look at Kessel’s shooting so far this season and I broke it down by game. I was more curious to see how the shots came about. Did he create the shooting opportunities, was there help? Some shots may be missing because … well .. they don’t exist. The game sheet indicates a shot on goal at that particular time, yet there is no video evidence to indicate a shot at that time. It’s a couple of shots and it doesn’t make the difference, it’s about what he’s doing, not the final results. As Cam put it in his piece about variance demons.

Versus Montreal

Against the Canadiens are three shots on goal that show Kessel’s range, the drive to the net in the first instance, the second from a broken play and lucky bounce, and a burst of speed, splitting the defense for a shot on goal. In the season opener, he also contributed a shot on goal that became the rebound for Bozak to score.

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Versus Pittsburgh

There’s the inside drive on the first shot as he’s coming from the off wing with the better central angle as a right hand shot from the left side. The second shot ends up as a broken play leading to a shot on goal with traffic in front, however of note, notice the outside drive, trying to get around the defenseman wide. He trailed the play on his third shot on goal, after a Bozak attempt was stopped, a good trait, something he will need to do more so in the absence of Lupul if the Leafs can’t fill that left wing slot.

Versus Buffalo

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They meet once again tonight, this time in Buffalo where the Sabres get the benefit of the last change.

Versus NY Islanders

Kessel started to become a factor after the Islanders went up 5-3 in the third period. I was in attendance and as a test was tracking controlled zone entry locations and found the period after the Isles went up 5-3 the Leafs obviously came out with more offensive force. The image below represents all the zone entries from the third period, to about 2 minutes left in the period where I stopped tracking.


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There are five entries on the right wing, one of them is James van Riemsdyk and four are Kessel. Only one turned into a proper shot on goal. Some other points in that game, 14:21 left in the 3rd period, his shoot first mentality led to a shot on goal and transition out of the zone while an open Bozak didn’t receive a cross ice pass he was ready to receive. I thought the play was to make the pass. With 12:56 remaining in the 3rd he takes another outside shot, with his body moving to the outside taking a weak shot easy controlled by the goalie. At 9:46 mark, he does the same thing going to the outside. With 9:10 remaining he took a shot that resulted in a turnover and break the other way, as he rushed his options instead of looking for the playmaking route, where he had alternatives.

Versus NY Rangers

This was a general breakdown by the team as a whole. Kessel has the puck stripped off a rush – once again going to the outside – and then in the second shot, he’s cutting up the middle, your see him move off to the side before taking the shot. The third shot was more of a dump in than an attempt at a shot on goal, but it was tallied as such.

I tried to get as many shots on goal as possible, but I may have missed a few. Essentially, until the New York game, Kessel was showing differing ways of getting the puck to the net. That is, until the Rangers game, where I feel he took more of an outside drive.

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Predictability is a disastrous trait. A good goal-scorer will always find different ways to score. Kessel has show that diversity to remain successful.

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  • I love Kessel but I’m wary of a 7M contract for him. Yes that is the going rate for an elite sniper but I think in the long run, this will limit the leafs ability to pay for quality defensive centers where I would rather spend the dollars on.

    Also building a team around a forward that is at times a defensive liability is concerning, especially given Phaneuf boat load of a contract. Again Phaneuf is a great player but like Kessel he has defensive limitations (granted to the degree of Kessel). Both players are improving but they will never be elite defensively. And so having these two expensive and offensively gifted players be who the leafs are building around raises questions of team defense in the long run.

    • From an asset mgmt perspective, I don’t care about how bad defensively Kessel is. That goes for any goal scoring forward in this league. Scoring goals is hard, HARD work. It involves energy sapping treks into difficult scoring areas, taking lumps.

      As long as the defensive consciousness is apparent when the play is coming back the other way, as a winger, his job is to cover the points. He doesn’t need to tighten up defensively, that’s the coach’s responsibility to find the pieces around him to cover that up, allowing the goal scorer to do what he does best, score goals.

      I don’t think Kessel is a build around forward. He’s more of an addition to a solid core group of players, bring more scoring touch, not a cornerstone of any franchise.

    • I has the same worries about the leaf defense but ever since Carlyle added Kostka to the top defensive pairing and pushed down Gunnar down, the leafs defense has improved dramatically. This works because Phaneuf benefits by having a player like Kostka clean up for his mistakes be them bad pinches or poor positioning choices etc. They are a very solid 1/2 defensive pairing.

      • Funny, I thought the same thing about Phaneuf, covering up for all of Aulie’s bad pinches and over reactions to plays. Aulie kept Dion in check defensiveley, but it hindered his overall offensive contribution too.