Shootout stars: The best forwards in the ‘skills competition’

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If you ask many hockey snobs, the shootout is a vile device. In a way it’s the hockey equivalent to a hugely popular but critically reviled rock band. Think of it as the Nickelback or Creed of hockey; millions seem entertained by it, yet admitting as much can bring you shame.

That being said, the shootout is a necessary evil that NHL teams must acknowledge. Considering the razor-thin margin of error you’ll often find in the battles for final playoff spots, franchises have every reason to research ways in which they can increase their chances of success in what many call a “glorified skills competition.”

Last weekend, Adam Gretz tabbed Jarrett Stoll’s 9-for-10 run from the 2010-11 season as the best single campaign in the history of the shootout. Gretz based that determination on percentage, which allowed Stoll’s 10-11 run (90 percent) to best more prolific but less efficient campaigns by Wojtek Wolski (10 for 12 in 08-09 for 83.3 percent) and Jussi Jokinen (10 for 13 for 76.9 percent).

That being said, Gretz presented the biggest problem with dealing with single season results: it’s such a small sample that the findings aren’t very useful. Gretz demonstrated that dynamic by pointing out that Wolski made the best and worst lists. With that small sample size in mind, I wanted to know a little more. To be exact, I wanted to know which players have been the best overall. The shootout has existed for six seasons, so that gives us a more plentiful sample size.

To answer those questions, I’ll tackle forwards in this first post and goalies/teams in the second one. I’m going to look at quantity alone and provide the leaders in two different stats categories supplied by NHL.com: 1. total goals and 2. “game deciding goals” (which appear to be the shootout equivalent to a game-winning goal).

Here’s a table of the top 10 goal scorers in the shootout since its inception. Home attempts, home goals, road attempts, road goals, shooting percentage and game-deciding goals are also provided for your enjoyment. (Total goals are in bold)

Player Home A Home G Road A Road G Goals S% GDG
Jussi Jokinen 28 12 32 16 28 46.7 9
Pavel Datsyuk 25 11 29 15 26 48.1 9
Brad Richards 31 14 29 11 25 41.7 11
Radim Vrbata 25 12 26 12 24 47.1 10
Brad Boyes 25 10 27 14 24 46.2 8
Erik Christensen 20 12 23 11 23 53.5 11
Mikko Koivu 27 16 25 7 23 44.2 10
Ales Kotalik 18 9 26 13 22 50 11
Wojtek Wolski 22 10 28 12 22 44 5
Rick Nash 29 12 29 10 22 37.9 6

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Total goals rank as the most relevant stat, but for all of its faults, shootouts can be exciting when a player is given a chance to win the game with a great move. (We all remember the triple deke from “The Mighty Ducks,” don’t we?)

With that in mind, here are the all-time leaders in game deciding goals.

Player GDG
Sidney Crosby 13
Phil Kessel 12
Brad Richards 11
Erik Christensen 11
Ales Kotalik 11
Radim Vrbata 10
Mikko Koivu 10
Martin Erat 10
Jussi Jokinen 9
Pavel Datsyuk 9
Zach Parise 9
Alex Tanguay 9

***

One can only imagine some sportswriter somewhere will find a way to shoehorn Crosby’s 13 GDG’s into a narrative about his “clutch-ness” (while ignoring Kotalik’s name on this list in the process). You may notice a few names that appear on both lists; Jokinen, Vrbata, Koivu, Datsyuk, Richards, Kotalik and Christensen were in the top 10 in both categories. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, but it does support their overall mastery of the shootout.

One other thing that stands out is Erat’s penchant for scoring important shootout goals. Ten of his 14 career shootout goals decided games and his overall shootout shooting percentage is 37.8 percent. Does that make him the Chris Drury of shootouts? (For supposed “clutch factor” … not getting bought out after getting injured and being paid too much.)

Overall, it seems like Jokinen might be the king of the shootout, although Richards, Datsyuk and Vrbata could make legitimate claims to the throne as well. Either way, NHL teams should keep tabs on which players are most successful in the shootout (and agents might want to keep those stats handy, too). You never know when that might make the difference in a playoff run … just ask the 2009-10 New York Rangers about that.

Rangers are ‘right on the cusp,’ says Shattenkirk

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Since missing the playoffs in 2010, the New York Rangers have made it to the Eastern Conference Final three times, and to the Stanley Cup Final once.

A championship, however, has eluded them. Instead, they’ve lost to the L.A. Kings in the final and watched their division rivals from Pittsburgh win it twice in a row, even losing to the Penguins in the first round in 2016.

This summer, however, has brought considerable change to the Blueshirts through a blockbuster trade with Arizona, buyouts and a retirement.

Derek Stepan — gone.

Dan Girardi — gone.

Kevin Klein — gone.

Antti Raanta — gone.

Oscar Lindberg — gone.

There has been substantial change on the blue line. The Rangers went after prized free agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk with a four-year contract worth $26.6 million. They re-signed Brendan Smith, a late-season acquisition. They brought in Anthony DeAngelo in that deal with Arizona.

Read more: Optimism replaces pessimism after changes to Rangers defense

No surprise here, but Shattenkirk had an optimistic outlook when describing the Rangers, a team he believes is “right on the cusp,” according to a conversation with NHL.com.

“I think we have that capability of playing with a team like that,” Shattenkirk recently told NHL.com.

“We have great goaltending (Henrik Lundqvist). Our defense is fast and we can make plays, but I also think we have a little bit of edge as well. Up front, I’m sure we’re one of the fastest teams in the League. You look at how Pittsburgh is built, and that’s the way that they’ve won. We have some great depth on our team, and I think that’s what it really comes down to at that point of the season: How deep are you?”

Their success next season may also depend on which teams rise and fall in the Metropolitan Division.

Columbus took a big step forward with a franchise record-setting season and will look to replicate that beginning in the fall. The Penguins were the Penguins, advancing past Washington and Ottawa in seven-game series despite a plethora of injuries before besting Nashville in the final. One has to wonder how much of a toll the grind of two Stanley Cups will take on that club. The Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy but faltered in the playoffs, ushering in change to their roster with all the unrestricted free agents — including Shattenkirk for the playoff run — they had.

Can the Islanders get back into the playoffs? Same question for the Flyers. Will Carolina, with Scott Darling in net, get the necessary upgrade at that position and take the next step toward the playoffs? What will New Jersey, with an upgraded offense in addition to Taylor Hall, be capable of when the season begins?

The number of changes to teams in the Metropolitan may be enough to shift the balance of power in that division this upcoming season. The Rangers have seemed like a team on the cusp at least three times in the last seven years.

Shattenkirk mentioned goaltending, as well, calling it great. That’s an accurate description of what Lundqvist has been for many years in New York. However, at the age of 35, he’ll need to bounce back from what was a down season for him in 2016-17.

“I think everyone’s probably all going to judge [the window] based on Lundqvist, and everyone is talking about, ‘Well, how long does he have left?'” continued Shattenkirk. “We have a lot of young players on this team, though, to counterbalance that.”

Jayce Hawryluk could be intriguing prospect for Panthers this season

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Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has talked extensively this offseason about giving young players an opportunity to play and trying to create a faster, more up-tempo, aggressive roster.

One of the young players that might get an opportunity to make that sort of an impact is 2014 second-round draft pick Jayce Hawryluk.

Throughout his junior days in the Western Hockey League, Hawryluk developed a reputation for being the type of player you to have on your team and absolutely hate to play against — in other words, a classic pest. But one that can also play. Really, really well.

“We have high hopes for him,” Tallon said, via the Panthers’ official website this past week. “He’s a kid who plays with a lot of passion, a lot of energy. He’s got not only speed and skills, but he’s got a lot of grit.”

The speed and skill part is what really makes it all work for him as a prospect.

He was consistently a point-per-game player for the Brandon Wheat Kings and in his last year with the team exploded offensively with 47 goals and 59 assists in only 58 games. He made his pro hockey debut this past season with Springfield of the American Hockey League where he scored nine goals and added 19 assists in 47 games.

Had it not been for an injury early in the season he probably would have already made his NHL debut for the team. Given the makeup of the roster at this point, especially after the exits of veteran players Jaromir Jagr and Jussi Jokinen this summer, there should be plenty of opportunities for him to make the roster this season.

Obviously until he plays in the NHL we won’t know for sure what he is capable of but if he can turn out to be a Brendan Gallagher type of player (or a poor man’s Brad Marchand) that would be an extremely valuable asset for the Panthers both in the short-and long-term.

Red Wings would like Jimmy Howard to play 50-55 games

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Due to injury and losing his starting job, Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard has appeared in just 63 games the past two seasons, starting only 57 of them. For a goalie that was once one of the better starters in the league it has been a difficult couple of years.

Based on some recent comments from goalie coach Jeff Salajko, the Red Wings not only seem prepared to give Howard his starting job back at the start of this season, but also would like to see him nearly match his games played total from the past two seasons.

Here is Salajko talking about the team’s goaltending situation — including the expected roles for Petr Mrazek and Jared Coureau — to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press.

 “We’re very comfortable with Jared as a third. I have no problem with him being the backup goalie, either. If we can keep Jimmy Howard healthy to play 50-55 games, I was comfortable with Jared in a role like that. But we obviously have Petr back – Vegas didn’t have interest in him, so I’m hoping he comes in with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.”

Mrazek entered this past season as the Red Wings’ starter but really struggled in that role. The Red Wings were reportedly frustrated with his attitude and ended up leaving him unprotected in the expansion draft, but the Vegas Golden Knights opted not to select him.

When Howard was healthy this past season he played some of the best hockey of his career, finishing with a career-best .927 save percentage. It represented quite a bounce back for him after three consecutive years with a below league average save percentage.

Howard returning to that level of play would certainly be a boost for the Red Wings. Not only because their roster is probably the weakest it has been in decades and is going to need great goaltending to compete, but because between him and Mrazek they have more than $9 million invested in the position. For a team that is already pressed to the limits of the salary cap getting anything less than above average play out of that duo would be pretty devastating to their chances this season.

Zibanejad looking for $5.35 million from Rangers in arbitration

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The New York Rangers and restricted free agent forward Mika Zibanejad are scheduled for an arbitration hearing on Tuesday if they can not come to an agreement on a new contract before them.

On Sunday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the numbers both sides are looking at heading into that hearing and they don’t seem to be too far apart. According to Friedman, Zibanejad is seeking a $5.35 million salary while the Rangers have countered with an offer of $4.1 million. If the two sides were able to meet in the middle that would be in the neighborhood of around $4.7 million per season, which probably seems about right given Zibanejad’s performance and some of the contracts that have recently been signed by the likes of Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat (both will make a little more than $5 million per season, while both have been more productive).

Zibanejad, 24, is coming off of his first season with the Rangers after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators in the Derrick Brassard trade.

He was limited to just 56 games due to injury, scoring 14 goals to go with 23 assists. He scored at least 20 goals in each of the previous two seasons.

With Derek Stepan gone to Arizona Zibanejad figures to take on a bigger role this season for the Rangers.

The Rangers still have $8.4 million in salary cap space to work with, via CapFriendly.