This is something that I’ve kind of been wondering about, given that Steve Tambellini is about to make a decision about the appropriate price to pay Ales Kotalik, assuming that he wants him to come back. In order to understand how valuable Kotalik’s skill at putting the puck in the net during the shootout is, you need to understand how often NHL players as a group can do this. The particularly relevant group are the players who a coach will be choosing as his options in the event that he doesn’t have Kotalik available.
David Staples linked to a piece on NHL.com the other day with some quotes from Tambellini and Jim Rutherford about the shootout that’s worth taking a look at. There were a couple of paragraphs in particular that caught my eye:
NHL General Managers are in agreement that if a player wants to keep his job in the League, he can’t only excel as a shootout specialist, but it sure helps his market value if he can score consistently in the breakaway competition.
In most cases, shootout prowess has become a small part of the player evaluation process.
“I think you could carry a guy on your fourth line that you consider a specialist, a real solid fourth-line player that can be a difference-maker in the end,” Rutherford said. “It would kind of be like in baseball where you have the pinch-hitter. He doesn’t play every day, but he’s a guy that can come off the bench and make a difference in the game.”
The chart at left summarizes the shootout results by spot (not round, although OBVIOUSLY 1 and 2 are Round 1 etc.) in the shootout since the introduction of the shootout in 2005-06. I haven’t seen this before but this, in my mind, is the critical piece of information in figuring out when a guy starts adding value to your team in the shootout. The last column, “Over”, deals with how the shootout is finished after that shooter in the rotation. So, for instance, you can see that 12.7% of shootouts are finished after four shots and 38.8% of shootouts are finished after five shots. Obviously, 26.1% of shootouts ended precisely on the fifth shot.
There was some discussion in various places about the decision to shoot first and I suppose that I could see some argument that it makes sense to choose one over the other if your goalie is very good or very bad at it – if the shootout can be finished with your team having a disparate number of shots and your goalie is either way above the norm or way below, it seems to me that there’s some argument that you want to maximize/limit his exposure. As you’ll see from the chart, 26% of shootouts are ended with the fifth shot. With that said, I haven’t gone and checked to see if the numbers add up and I kind of suspect that there’s no difference, or that it’s negligible.
In any event, what really interested me was the exceedingly small difference between shooters 1-6 and shooters 7-12. Shooters 1-6 scored 1153 goals on 3423 shots (33.7%); shooters 7-12 scored 234 goals on 708 shots (33.1%). There’s some dropoff after that – shooters after the twelfth shooter scored 42 goals on 182 shots (23.1%) but they appear pretty infrequently – only one game in twenty goes beyond twelve shooters. As the average team plays 10 or 11 shootouts annually, that’s one shootout that extends beyond twelve shooters every year or so.
To come back to what I was really interested in though, my sense is that the replacement level for the shootout is probably pretty high. If I was trying to put a value on Kotalik’s contribution in the shootout – and I have some ideas about that – I’d probably be starting from the perspective that I could get 33% shooting from someone else. My preliminary analysis comes up with a 50% shooter being worth something like .7 points or so above what a 33% shooter is worth, assuming 10 shootouts a year and that he’s healthy and available for all of them.
To come back to Rutherford’s point above, that there’s room for a solid fourth-liner type who can get it done on the shootout…I’m not even sure that he’d have to be a solid fourth-liner. A guy like Kotalik, as long as he can play on the fourth line at a replacement level and maintain his shootout performance, he’s a useful player.