For many hockey fans, the first step they take in assessing a hockey player’s value is to look at their goals and assists totals. And why not? Scoring is the objective of the game, right? But do goals and assists truly give you an accurate assessment of a player’s value to a team?
One way to tell a players role on a team is to look at their offensive zone shift start percentages. Offensive zone start percentages is exactly that – the percentage of shifts a player starts in the offensive zone.
A player with a low offensive zone start percentage likely indicates that the player is providing more of a defensive role on the team, deployed in their own zone to provide defense, more often than not. The same is true for the opposite. Players with high offensive zone starts are looked to for scoring.
The first chart plots the offensive zone shift start percentages for each of the Capitals skaters for the 2021-22 season. [Click to enlarge].
To no surprise, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were deployed in the offensive zone the greatest percentage on the team, looking to make the most of any and all scoring chances.
The opposite is true for the Capitals 4th liners of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway, who had the fewest offensive zone shift starts last season. Laviolette depends on the line for defense, and they were often deployed to face the opposition’s top line.
Goals For Percentage (GF%)
A good stat to use in tandem with the offensive zone shift start percentage is goals for percentage (GF%). The stat is simply the percentage of total goals scored for a player’s team while that player is on the ice. For example, if a team scores 6 goals while Player A is on the ice while the opposition scores 4 goals while Player A is on the ice, Player A has a goals for percentage of 60%. That’s really good. In fact, anything over 50% is good. That means Player A’s team is scoring more goals than they give up when player A is on the ice.
The following chart plots the goals for percentage (GF%) at even strength for each of the Capitals for the 2021-22 season. [Click to enlarge]
Now you can begin to see why Capitals’ head coach Peter Laviolette loves his fourth liners, as he should. While Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway had the fewest offensive zone shift starts, the trio had the best goals for percentages on the Capitals last season. That means they are flipping the ice, moving the puck out of their own zone and into the opposition’s zone, often against the opposition’s best players/line.
By Jon Sorensen