Nazem Kadri’s coming regression, and why it will happen

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Hey, did you know that since the 2007-2008 season, Nazem Kadri’s 2012-2013 season was the 9th highest points scored per 60 minutes among players with at least 40 games played? No fooling. The players ahead of him on that list are Sidney Crosby (thrice), Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Eric Staal, and Henrik and Daniel Sedin.

That’s intense, and puts Kadri in some pretty good company among former MVP winners and scoring title winners. It is, of course, important to put into context that while Kadri’s huge 2013 season was influenced in part by talent, luck had a role to play in it as well.

According to that, with Kadri on the ice, the Leafs took 22.3 shots per 60 minutes of play, and scored goals on 3.8 of those shots. That’s a shooting percentage of 14.4%, the highest on the list of these players in the Top 20 (though Daniel Sedin’s 2010 campaign is close).

If you scroll down this list of players, you’ll see that in the second column from the right, the “SF ON/60” which indicates those shots for, Kadri and the Leafs are pretty low compared to most of the stars appearing on the list. In fact, he’s the highest on that list until Ilya Kovalchuk in 2008, ranked 83rd. Kovalchuk’s Atlanta Thrashers took just 21.5 shots per 60 minutes of even strength ice time.

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Kovalchuk is a good hockey player. So is Kadri. His low shot totals are not fully on him. They’re partly due to playing with players who have suspect offensive abilities often last year, such as Nik Kulemin, Leo Komarov and Matt Frattin, neither of whom take a lot of shots at goal.

On-ice shooting percentage is a bit of a contentious issue. Here is a list of players that have registered an on-ice shooting percentage of 13% or higher since 2007-2008:

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SEASON NAME TEAM GP TOI/60 P/60 GF On/60 SF On/60 On-Ice Sh%
2009-2010 Season DANIELSEDIN VAN 63 14.61 4.04 5.15 30.6 14.39
2009-2010 Season HENRIKSEDIN VAN 82 14.79 3.96 4.65 29.5 13.62
2012-2013 Season NAZEMKADRI TOR 48 13.26 3.21 3.77 22.3 14.44
2012-2013 Season CHRISKUNITZ PIT 48 13.67 3.20 4.66 30.6 13.21
2007-2008 Season PAULSTASTNY COL 66 14.26 3.12 4.15 27.0 13.29
2008-2009 Season EVGENIMALKIN PIT 82 15.03 3.07 3.75 24.6 13.23
2012-2013 Season PASCALDUPUIS PIT 48 14.37 2.87 4.52 29.5 13.30
2007-2008 Season MARIANGABORIK MIN 77 14.36 2.77 3.47 22.8 13.22
2012-2013 Season MATTCULLEN MIN 42 12.23 2.69 3.74 24.1 13.45
2008-2009 Season TIMCONNOLLY BUF 48 12.29 2.64 4.07 27.1 13.07
2009-2010 Season NIKANTROPOV ATL 76 14.05 2.59 3.77 25.1 13.04
2008-2009 Season ALEXTANGUAY MTL 50 11.56 2.39 3.32 22.1 13.06
2012-2013 Season NIKOLAIKULEMIN TOR 48 13.73 2.00 3.19 21.0 13.16
2009-2010 Season MIKEGREEN WSH 75 17.20 1.77 4.46 28.4 13.58
2010-2011 Season DARRYLBOYCE TOR 46 10.47 1.62 3.61 20.7 14.87
2012-2013 Season CODYFRANSON TOR 45 14.60 1.46 3.65 23.6 13.42
2012-2013 Season MARKFRASER TOR 45 14.78 0.72 3.97 23.0 14.72

You may have noticed something odd: not a single one of these names repeats itself. On-ice shooting percentage, or a particularly elevated one, is not a repeatable player talent. There are a lot of skilled players in the game such as Crosby or Malkin that can sustain very high rates (over six seasons, Crosby has an 11.7% on-ice shooting rate, while the league average is closer to 8.5% or 9.0%) while the lowest, Samuel Pahlsson, is at 5.8%. Over 4000 minutes, there’s enough information to surmise about the shooting qualities of those players.

Over a small season though, there’s an awful lot of noise. The second thing you may notice in the chart above is that of the 17 names that appear on the list, 7 of them come from the most recent 2013 campaign. There are six seasons of data, but only one where the maximum number of games played was 48, which amounts to just over half of a regular 82-game season. The chance for outliers is much greater, much like if you flipped two coins, you would have a much greater chance of both coins landing heads (25%) than if you had flipped four coins (6.25%).

None of this is meant to lead you to the conclusion that Nazem Kadri is a bad hockey player. Quite the opposite: he is excellent. He had an 11.0 Relative Corsi and one of the highest drawn penalty rates in the NHL. He does a lot of things right at both ends of the ice. There is one problem:

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Nazem Kadri’s scoring was unsustainable

It gets its own section. Expectations are very high for Kadri this year. With Mikhail Grabovski out, Kadri gets a job as a top six centreman right out of camp. He will play with good linemates in Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson, in all likelihood, and he begins a two-year question to convince Leafs management he is a star and get a long-term, big-money contract in the summer of 2015.

But expectations run very high, of course, and most commentators don’t exactly pay attention to things like on-ice shooting percentages because they’re boring and it’s harder to spot outliers using only your eyes. It’s not Kadri’s fault he has a high on-ice shooting rate. He got lucky, and there’s no shame in saying that he was lucky in 2013. A lot of players get lucky, but it is less likely that will happen over an 82-game season, and the chances are astronomical that Kadri’s scoring of near-point-a-game dips to around the 55-60 mark.

This leads to the question…

Toronto has a lot of good hockey writers. Toronto is home to probably some of the best hockey writers going, writing for local and national platforms. But this is because there are lots of hockey writers in Toronto, not that they are all talented. There are a lot of lazy, bad, grumpy hockey writers in Toronto that write things lazily in a broad sense, ignore historical data, don’t catch up on the inconsistencies of their arguments, and attribute greater meaning to things that can be easily explained by luck.

Two writers, each writing for the Toronto Star, Dave Feschuk and Damien Cox, have already got a head start on questioning Kadri’s commitment issues to the Maple Leafs. It’s almost as if both columnists had written their stories about Kadri skipping out on training camp, then when they heard the news that Kadri had re-signed the day before camp opened, hastily changed around a few details, but kept the broader point.

Feschuk seems to think that the club’s unwillingness to put Kadri’s likeness on a season ticket package given to the Star is an indication of an eventual falling out between Kadri and the Leafs:

The knock on Kadri, after all, has always been that the breadth of his obvious talent isn’t matched by professional-calibre work habits. It was around this time last year, don’t forget, that Kadri raised the ire of Marlies coach Dallas Eakins by showing up to AHL training camp out to shape. Even if you’re not as much of a stickler for body-fat percentages as the fitness-focussed Eakins, it’s important to remember that Kadri was a healthy scratch for under-performance in the AHL as recently as last November. And Kadri, it’s also worth noting, was used far more sparingly by Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle in the playoffs than he was in the regular season, the low point coming when he logged less than 11 minutes of ice time in Toronto’s Game 5 win over the Bruins.

While Cox noted that Kadri’s tweet about re-signing with the Leafs wasn’t full of enough excitement, and that the Leafs have previously been burned by talented players before:

He might be the most talented offensive player the Leafs have drafted since Vincent Damphousse in ‘86. Or at least since Brad Boyes in 2000.

But Kadri and the Leafs are like bone rubbing against bone right now. The only former top Leaf pick with a similarly problematic relationship with the team who comes to mind would be Al Iafrate, who struggled under a weak organization and with his own insecurities and only truly blossomed after he left Toronto.

Iafrate never believed that the team appreciated him, at least not as much as others. You sure get that feeling with Kadri.

Cox goes on to suggest that the likeliest scenario is that “[s]ometime in the next 2-4 years, Kadri will be moved elsewhere the same way Boston moved Tyler Seguin this summer. The Leafs, in calculating fashion, will extract what they can from Kadri’s abilities, then move him for maximum value to another team.”

He adds “a great deal would have to change for this to become a happier, long term relationship.”

Forgive my eyeballs rolling out of my head and onto the floor. Cox wrote last month about how “the Habs will be happy to pay up” for P.K. Subban after a bitter contract dispute lasted into Subban missing games this past season.

So what have we learned from the Star? Well, we’ve learned that Kadri and the Leafs hate each other, and that the Leafs do not approve of Kadri’s off-ice habits. Surely, once Kadri’s scoring rate has dipped from Hall of Fame-level to merely very good, we can learn again that these off-ice issues are related somewhat to the slump. Kadri’s inability to score down the stretch and into the playoffs may be invoked.

After all, in the sports’ sabremetric world, we make forecasts. Sometimes they’re pretty easy to make, especially when you’re dealing with storylines from members of the hockey media. This is mostly a prediction, but Cox and Feschuk’s audience are now primed with the information that Kadri and the Leafs don’t see eye-to-eye. That’s going to make criticism a lot easier for those two this coming season.

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  • “This is mostly a prediction, but Cox and Feschuk’s audience are now primed with the information that Kadri and the Leafs don’t see eye-to-eye. That’s going to make criticism a lot easier for those two this coming season.”

    It won’t make criticism easier for me cause I read this post.

    However, not being a leafs fan, I can only feel some sympathy for Kadri and I need to hang here so that I am informed enough to taunt my neighbour.

  • LeafHead2154

    Cam, I have stopped reading Feshuk and Cox for a long time now. Both of them are what I call ‘sail boat’ journalists – they just sniff out the direction of prevailing general opinion and put that on paper.

    They can rarely produce any stats to back up their opinions.

    On Kadri, I agree with all the stats that you have come up with except for one important fact. For whatever reason, Kadri has never got a chance to play a full 82-game season. Who knows, he may be able to adjust his game to consistently produce points? I would be happy with a .75 PPG season from him at this juncture.

    • .75 PPG puts him at the upper reaches of the 55-60 point range I think he’s at.

      Depends on ice-time, powerplay time, health of his linemates, obviously. Lots of factors, but I think we can all agree the on-ice shooting percentage drops.

  • You have been wrong before, Cam.

    When was the last time David Booth had a decent shooting percentage? Years, sir, years.

    I’m obviously just trolling. What you say is reasonable. Kadri really is a good player though, I hope he can continue to improve.

  • Back in Black

    I agree with Cam on alot of the points. Kadri’s on ice shooting % WILL drop, and he’ll probably finish the year around 55-60 points.

    As Cam noted, however, Kadri’s reduced PPG will lead to idiots like Cox claiming that he probably got satisfied in the offseason and stopped training like he was supposed to. Feel bad for guys in that scenario; come off a year where the pucks just found their way in, and when they can’t reproduce that kind of scoring, they’re apparently garbage.

    And of course, Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson won’t put up the same kind of points as Kadri, yet that’ll be deemed ok by the Leafs writers because Bozak and Clarkson “bring something to the table that Kadri doesn’t”. Yea, their overpaid butts

  • Back in Black

    Does shooting% take into account where you shoot the puck from? Or if you’re on the PP, or what he situation is (breakaway/2 on 1) Maybe he’s just really good. If Kessel passes to him at the last second on a 2on1, Kadri gonna score 9 out of 10 times. Outside of a a 20 foot radius from the crease, Kadri is looking to dish, because he is a table setter. If most of his shots are in close, in the slot, high slot or on odd man rushes (ie, he passing the rest of the time) then he is more likely to score and thus have a higher than normal %. If you added up all the goals from between 20 and 30 feet, Kessel would win that hands down, thats where most of his goals come from. Most Of Kadri’s goals that I remember were from in close, if you only shoot from the slot, because you’re looking to pass, up until then, more of your shots are going in. And if he gets 80 pts, does it matter even if his % drops? It means he was directly involved in 80 goals. You can’t say this stat was too high, so it must drop, the only other stats we have were from when he was on the wing, playing every now and then, small minutes. Put him on the 1st line/1st PP, and 19/20 minutes instead of what he averaged last year and he production goes up, even if his shooting percentage goes down. IF after game 48 this year, kadri has the same 44 pts, but only 12 goals, does that mean the slide has started? To me it doesn’t matter because either he is going to score, or he setting up a player to score, and in both of those scenarios, the Leafs have scored, the more we score the more we win. You make this needlessly complicated. These adstats can’t predict the future, you can’t tell me which player on the Leafs will have better stats, and which ones will have lower stats nor can you say by how much the stats will change. YOu’ve cobbled together some states and made a 50/50 bet. His shooting % will go up, or it will go down, but that doesn’t tell you what his production will by or why. It’s interesting….some what, and I’m being honest I can’t wrap my brain around most adstats, but this shooing % theory has all kinds of holes in it. What will you say if they stay the same or, gasp, rise? Is there a metric for that?

  • While it’s easy to say that historical data point to an upcoming regression, as usual, stats don’t tell the whole story. Much like blocked shots, on-ice shooting percentage is not a reliable guage for a player’s success. Cam proved this point himself by writing:

    “(a high) on-ice shooting percentage is not a repeatable player talent”. To which the obvious counter-argument is: high goal and assist totals is a repeatable talent.

    • Back in Black

      Well, no, actually if your on-ice shooting percentage goes down, then high goal and assist totals are not repeatable unless the number of shots goes up to match. It’s pretty simple, really.

      Now shots-on-goal, that tends to be a repeatable talent…