Editor’s note: All numbers are courtesy of corsica.hockey and are 5v5 unless otherwise stated.
Anze Kopitar signed an eight-year, $80 million contract last January. Given that he was 28-years-old at the time, some fans pondered if it was a good idea to award the Slovenian native with such a long contract given the cap crunch the Los Angeles Kings have faced over the last few years (and will continue to face in the near future). With lengthy, hefty deals handed out to Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, fans were justified in their concern when considering a stagnating (or worse, shrinking) salary cap.
But when referencing Kopitar, is he an overpaid under-performer, or is he simply unlucky? Last year, he scored 25 goals and tallied 74 total points in 81 games. It was his ninth straight year of leading the team in points scored in all situations (he made his NHL debut in 2006-07). This season, though 33 games, Kopitar has managed a meager 3 goals and 14 assists. Not impressive for a $10 million man.
Did Kopitar suddenly forget how to play hockey or is there something else at play here? Let’s take a look at his numbers from the 2009-2010 season through 2015-2016. In just over 7600 minutes at 5v5, Kopitar is third on the team in Fenwick For% (unblocked shot attempts), clocking in at an aggregate 57.29%, right behind Justin Williams (58.24%) and Jake Muzzin (58.30%). His Corsi For% (all attempts) was 57.66%. Basically, for six years, Kopitar has been one of the best forwards at generating shots-for while actively suppressing shots-against. (He’s fifth overall in the NHL and fourth among forwards who have played at least 4,000 minutes.) It seems unlikely that all of a sudden, Kopitar, who has put up no fewer than 60 points in a full season ever in his career, has seen his production fall off a cliff just because he turned 29 -years-old in August.
Is he doing anything differently so far? Well, not really. Among players with at least 350 minutes, Kopitar is unsurprisingly leading his teammates in CF%. On the surface, his 57.56 FF% might suggest that he’s either missing or having more of his shots blocked, but it’s not very far off from his 57.89 CF%, so it’s not like he’s constantly shooting into legs or bodies.
If his shots aren’t being blocked, perhaps Kopitar’s problem is average shot distance. Currently, his average shot distance is 25.33 feet from the net, which is the third closest it has been in his career. In the two years where his average shot distance was smaller, he scored 41 and 33 even-strength points. For what it’s worth, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Connor McDavid (three of the highest point scorers in the NHL), all have shot distances between 22 and 23 feet. Is 24-36 inches enough to make a significant difference? On the surface, it seems plausible but if that were truly the case, shouldn’t Jesper Fast (17.12 feet) have more than 15 points?
Distance may not necessarily be a significant hindering factor as shot location. Consider this, from Greg (@theninjagreg) of hockeystats.ca:
This is a heat map of all the even-strength shots on goal and those that have been saved. The red dots are goals. The majority of these are scoring chances (based on the loosely defined “home plate area.”) The data is about a month old so it’s obviously not completely accurate but it does give a general good idea of what’s happening.
Now consider this:
Of the 37 shots, only 24 were scoring chances. While this data is slightly outdated, Kopitar has only tallied an additional 10 shots on goal in the last month. Compare and contrast with a very similar player, Patrice Bergeron:
Bergeron only has 12 points in 36 games this season. Yet, Boston Bruins fans have largely been quiet about the center’s offensive numbers thus far. His extremely cap-friendly deal with an AAV of $6.875 million and the Bruins holding down a playoff spot are probably two significant contributing factors. Then again, Bergeron isn’t a newly minted captain. Interestingly, the average distance of Bergeron’s shots is 30.35 feet, which is farther out than Kopitar.
The biggest issue with LA’s top center appears to be lack of shots on goal. In keeping with the comparison to players who have played at least 350 minutes this season, the Team Europe captain is sixth from the bottom in shots on goal (SF), with a mere 47. Granted, he did miss five games with a minor injury but in the same amount of games played, Tyler Toffoli has 68 SF. Both have 10 points. It doesn’t seem like blocks are the problem as noted earlier by the incredibly small difference between his FF% and CF%. What does this mean? Possibly a lot of deflections, as we saw with Brent Burns at Staples Center on New Year’s Eve or he’s simply missing. The good news is that the Kings’ fearless leader is fifth in both individual scoring chances and scoring chances per 60. So while his individual shot rate may be a little lower than it usually is, the lack of scoring mostly seems to come down to luck. (And a bunch of posts.)
That’s right, at the end of the day, Kopitar’s scoring woes are affected most greatly by random variance. His shooting percent is 5.7%, the lowest it’s been since 2008-09 (and maybe in his entire career - though the data doesn’t stretch that far back). His PDO (Sh% + Sv%) is, as expected, low, hovering around 98.14. If Kopitar keeps shooting and creating opportunities, his critics will probably have to find something else to complain about. For now, time and patience are required until that elusive mistress Lady Luck graces Los Angeles with her presence.