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

Jul 18, 2011, 4:52 PM EDT

Marc Andre Fleury, Jussi Jokinen AP

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

***

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.

  1. abrienza428 - Jul 19, 2011 at 8:16 AM

    Wouldn’t the “clutch” factor be influenced by the coach’s strategy?
    For instance, Erat always goes third in the line up (I’m not sure if this is the case; just speaking hypothetically)
    A guy who shoots first has a much smaller chance of getting a GDG.

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