Thursday, July 10, 2008

Laich-ing The Chances Of Another 20-Goal Campaign?

Now that Brooks Laich is locked up for the next three years (a little longer than I'd have liked, but presumably the Caps didn't want to risk losing in arbitration and being forced to choose between a larger cap hit this year and walking away from a player that is one of the squad's emerging young leaders, especially with Chris Clark still not at 100%), let's take a look at what to expect from him (on the ice) in 2008-09, specifically his goal total.

Laich's breakout 2007-08 saw the former sixth-round pick crack the 20-goal barrier for the first time since juniors and finish third on the team in lamp-lighters. The keen observer will note that Laich's 17.2 shooting percentage was 13th in the NHL, which is nice, but unlikely to be repeated. How unlikely? Of the top ten shooting percentages of players scoring between 20 and 39 goals (inclusive) in each of the first two years since the lockout (parameters which would place Laich in sixth this past season), the average decrease in shot percentage in the following year is 6.72%, and every single one of the players had at least a 2.64% decline.* Along with the dip in shooting percentage, these players saw their goal totals drop by an average of 8.4.

Using the past performance of a small sample to predict an individual future outcome is pretty lousy statistics, but let's have at it any way. Assuming that Laich has an average (6.72%) drop in his shooting percentage and takes the same number of shots in 2008-09 as he did in 2007-08 (a rather generous assumption, considering both the potential return of Cap'n Clark and the fact that Laich didn't miss a game last season), he'll score 12.8 goals. If he equals that smallest drop off (2.64% - Alex Tanguay from 2005-06 to 2006-07, incidentally), he'll score 17.8 goals. To get all the way back to 21 goals, Laich would have to fire 201 shots in the first scenario and 145 in the second (and the most shots on goal he's ever had in a single season as a pro is 150 with Portland back during the lockout).

If you're starting to get the feeling that Laich isn't going to be back in the 20-goal club next year, this might seal the deal for you - thirteen of Laich's 21 goals last season came in a 26-game stretch from early February through April Fool's Day, a span during which he had just 50 shots on goal for a 26% shooting percentage. Take away that hot streak and Laich scored 8 goals on 72 shots, which is a sustainable 11.1% (coincidentally right around his 17.2% minus the 6.72% average drop off and also Bryan Smolinski's career shooting percentage, for a point of reference), and just under a 12-goal pace for a full season. Of course, take away any player's hot streaks and his numbers are going to look pretty awful, so consider those to be the basement floor... or not.

The point of this whole exercise certainly isn't to bash Laich (who brings a lot to the table other than goal scoring) or to piss in your Cheerios if you're excited about the signing (which I certainly am), but rather to be realistic in our expectations. Either Laich made "the leap" after Groundhog Day, or he'll regress some in the goal department. My bet? Well, since we're talking about betting and 21 (and his 21 goals), I'll say that the dealer holds on 16.

* Why between 20 and 39? Any fewer gets a bit more fluky and any more and you're undeniably in legit goal-scorer territory. Also worth noting, neither Chris Clark's nor Steve Sullivan's 2007-08 totals were included due to so few games played.


Natty Bumpo said...

i ate this up. it's official, i'm a complete hockey addict. the season still seems so far away.

thanks JP, keep 'em coming.

Marky Narc said...

I wouldn't pencil Brooks in for 20 goals, but I don't think expecting 15 is too demanding. As long as he remains a good two-way player and doesn't pull a Pettinger on us in the goal department, I won't be disappointed.

maruk said...

I think there are other things to consider here. One, ice time. He got about 8-12 minutes of ice time through the first few months of the season. By season's end, it was 14-17. Two, dude's only 25. He's getting better and his confidence is growing. Lastly, I think he has earned the right to be plopped in front on the net on the 2nd pp unit. I'm pretty sure he got little, if any, PP time at the beginning of last season.

I'd be willing to bet he hits 20 again.

luke said...

16 goals?

ill take that bet

bottom line, he gets the goals cause he drives to the net.

yeah, he'll have to play wing, but he is very likely to play with a talented center and a shooting winger...

pencil my bet at over 20 (pro-rated in case of injury minimum 20 games)

~Mark said...

No Brucie-boost JP?
It seems everyone improved after Boudreau came in. Isn't that worth at least worth an on-par performance over a whole season with Bruce?

NS said...

really depends what line they put him on. considering our strength down the middle offensively (sans Steckel, although wasn't he also supposed to be a good scorer?), I like his chances of scoring 20.

agreed - he earned the right to play on the PP.

rananda said...

Laich's PPP/60 was an astonishing 5.39. Anything over 4.0 is pretty good. To put that in perspective, Backstrom and Ovechkin were at 4.59 and 4.55, respectively. Laich only got 1.22 TOI/60 on the PP, compared to 5.31 and 4.23 for Ovechkin and Semin, respectively. It's going to difficult for him with Nylander and Fedorov back in the fold, but Laich needs to see more PP time, particularly right in front of the net. If he gets up over 2.00 TOI/60 on the PP, his goal totals should be up. The guy has some very good hands around the net. A beautiful player all around, really. I couldn't be happier about this signing.

CapsKremlin said...

I'm calling about 15 goals. Laich benefited from Clark's injury because he got time on the PP units in the slot shoveling in trash goals. Personally I love Laich and his SUV bench pressing ways, but he is more or less a great "glue" guy, not someone who lights the lamp consistently.

But then again we have 3 top centers and that could really change the make up of the team. (calling a huge turn around for Flash if he lines with Fedorov)

SkateFreeOrDie said...

One of the major reasons his shooting percentage is so high is because he stands in front of the net and gets garbage goals. Some guy named Esposito lived on those.
His goals went up when he started standing in the crease. While the percentage will probably go down, he'll be standing in front of the net for a lot longer this season. I wouldn't be shocked to see him pot 30 this year.

JP said...

Good stuff all. I think the big variables here are ice time overall and PP time (and to both of those ends, Chris Clark).

But if you think that he suddenly found his game and will continue to score on one out of every four shots he takes, I think that's a little overly optimistic (the point on Espo is well taken, but even he had "just" a 14% shooting percentage for his career).

I'd buy 20 goals. 30? That's pushing it, imo, unless Chris Clark and Viktor Kozlov miss enormous chunks of time.

I'll stick with my 16 and hope to be pleasantly surprised. On a related note, I think a reasonable comparable, career-wise, might be Steve Konowalchuk, who had two 20-goal seasons and another four in the 15-19 range.

Burgh said...

You nailed it with the Kono comparison, that's exactly the guy I was thinking of as well. I think that Brooksie will have a few 20G seasons under his belt by the time his career is over. He's pretty much the perfect 3rd liner / 2nd PP guy we need.

NS said...

random: chances a rookie takes over Flash's spot??

Marky Narc said...

ns: that's something we'll just have t wait and see, but I have doubts. The organizations obviously has confidence in him (hence the 2-year contract); he's going to be up on that second line unless he goes all Rob Pearson-y on us.