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San Jose doesn’t need to trade for a scoring forward

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If the Sharks want to score more, they need to work on getting closer to the net first.

San Jose Sharks v Arizona Coyotes
Tomas Hertl’s shooting talent hasn’t shown through this season
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In an article in The Athletic in November, Tyler Dellow posits that scoring is up this season in part because “of teams being a heck of a lot more efficient from a 650 square foot patch of ice. This patch of ice goes from seven feet above the goal line to nineteen feet above the goal line, extending 25 feet in either direction.”

Below are heatmaps of the Sharks’ 5v5 shot locations during the DeBoer years. I roughly annotated that “650 square foot patch of ice” Dellow discusses in each of the shot charts. This year’s chart — the chart on the far right — was at a slightly different scale on the website, so I changed the size to fit the strip. That’s why the rectangle doesn’t line up with the rectangles on the other two. It’s still marking the same area of the ice.

San Jose Sharks shot selection 2015-2017
The Sharks are just a liiiittle bit farther away this season
hockeyviz.com

These charts show two things:

  1. In DeBoer’s first two seasons, the bulk of the team’s shots from in close fell right into the middle of that rectangle. The team was generating lots of shots compared to league average from a dangerous area of the ice. Since his first year as coach during the 2015-16 season, the red mass of shots has slowly moved back, away from the upper bound of the rectangle and away from the goal mouth. San Jose still generates lots of shots compared to league average from the slot, but they haven’t done as good a job the past two seasons at getting shots where they really count.
  2. Brent Burns shoots a lot. That red blob near the right point is nearly all Burns. However, you can see that as the seasons under DeBoer have progressed, the team has taken more shots than league average from both the left point and along the blueline between the two points. Those are the two likeliest culprits behind the Sharks’ inability to turn expected goals (for which they rank near the top of the league) into actual goals (for which they are struggling).

The following charts show the migration back away from the goal. @Crowdscoutsprts put these together.

NHL team shot distance 2015-16
The Sharks’ skaters shot from dangerous areas in 2015, generally
@crowdscoutsprts
NHL team shot distance 2016-17
Moving backward
@crowdscoutsprts
NHL team shot distance 2017-18
Uhoh
@crowdscoutsprts

San Jose Sharks’ skaters average shot distance from net (at 5v5):

San Jose Sharks shot distance 2015-2017
San Jose’s forwards are far away

San Jose’s defensemen shot at a fairly constant distance during DeBoer’s first two seasons. This year, the defense corps is shooting, on average, nearly three feet farther away from the net. The forwards are feeling the distance, too. This season, they’re shooting from two feet farther away than they did during their best PDB season, in 2016-17.

San Jose must resolve to improve from within

Micah Blake McCurdy found that offense and goaltending matter the most in predicting playoff success.

Scoring talent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Scoring talent shouldn’t be at the top of the Sharks’ trade radar
http://hockeyviz.com/txt/regularToPlayoff

The Sharks are still doing a good job of creating dangerous chances. As we saw earlier this season, the team’s shots for, shots on goal for, expected goals for, and high-danger chances for rates are all top-10 in the league. Yet, if the team continues to see protracted scoring slumps, we can expect the calls for a shake up in the form of a scoring winger to become deafening. However, trading the farm for a shooter likely isn’t the right solution, unless he’s a player particularly adept at helping teams generate shots around and near the goal.

Instead, the Sharks should focus on having their defensemen shoot less, instead opting to rim the puck back around deep to help the forwards generate passes from behind the net, an underused tactic shown to produce more goals. This kind of play should help the team fix their shot distance problem and, subsequently, fix their goal-scoring problem.

Most of the pieces on this team are in place, and a few small tweaks could take the team from underperforming into the league’s top tier. Trading assets for a one-player fix isn’t going to address the issue of a system that seems to encourage shots from the point. Instead, the team should make a new year’s resolution to get a little closer to the net.