Are There Enough Shots For Rick Nash and Jeff Carter?

One of the few negative commentaries about the addition of Jeff Carter was the notion that both he and Rick Nash are shoot-first guys, and that they won't work well together because of it. And, there are numbers to back that up (all stats are regular season stats from 2010-2011):

Rick Nash: 75 games, 305 shots, 4.1 shots/game - 32 goals, 10.5% scoring%
Jeff Carter: 80 games, 335 shots, 4.2 shots/game - 36 goals, 10.7% scoring%

To go a little deeper, the Blue Jackets had 2506 shots last season, for an average of 30.6 shots per game. This means that Nash's team-leading 305 shots were roughly 12.2% of his team's total shots. The next closest was R.J. Umberger, with 220 shots. Likewise, the Flyers had 2605 shots last season, for an average of 31.8 shots per game. This means that Carter's team-leading 335 shots were roughly 12.9% of his team's total shots. The next closest was Danny Briere, who had 246.

On first glance, that's a lot of shots to be putting side by side! But, let's delve a little deeper, do some clever math, and examine some other stats. Because guess what: I don't think that these two can't co-exist, and instead I believe that Rick Nash is the type of player that will make this kind of line flourish.

First of all, there are some easy ways to look at the changes to Nash's line. We'll make the assumptions here that Nash's line last season was Nash--Brassard--Voracek. I know that wasn't always the case, but for the purposes of this discussion it works.

Derick Brassard: 74 games, 183 shots, 2.5 shots/game - 17 goals, 9.3% scoring%
Jakub Voracek: 80 games, 183 shots, 2.3 shots/game - 14 goals, 7.7% scoring%

Now, let's factor in one more guy:

Vinny Prospal: 29 games, 61 shots, 2.1 shots/game - 9 goals, 14.8% scoring%

Let's do some math, then. Last year's top line averaged 8.8 shots per game. Math: 305+183+183 = 671 shots. 75+74+80 = 229 games / 3 = 76.3333 games. 671/76.33333 = 8.79 shots per game, or 8.8.

The new-look top line looks like this, using those same calculations: 11.4 shots per game. Math: 305+335+61 = 701 shots. 75+80+29 = 184 games / 3 = 61.3333 games. 701/61.3333 = 11.42 shots per game, or 11.4.

What was the point of all of that, you may ask? Well, I wanted to show the numbers broken down. The shot totals of both Nash and Carter are high, yes, when looked at as an entire year. However, when you consider the per-game numbers, and also consider the changes in the make-up of the line, the discrepency doesn't seem so big. In essence, the big "issue" is that between the three of them Nash, Carter, and Prospal have figure out a way to share that extra 2.6 shots per game in the flow of the offense.

Or, better yet, maybe Columbus can just live with generating 2.6 more shots per game. I know there have been a countless number of times over the past few years where I've been known to yell the words "Shoot the [bleep]ing puck!!" It certainly wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, especially when you look at this stat:

Last year's top line Scoring % - 63 goals on 671 shots, or 9.4%
This year's top line Scoring % - 77 goals on 701 shots, or 11.0%

If you factor that in, two things come to mind. 1) You can certainly live with more shots if your top line is canning almost two percent more of them, and limiting goalies to an .890 save%. 2) Logic dictates that, with higher-percentage shooting from his linemates, Rick Nash theoretically won't need to shoot as much because his linemates will be scoring more frequently. In other words, his passes will end in goals more often than they did last year, Nash won't feel the need to try to be a one-man wrecking crew, and therefore he'll be willing to shoot less and pass more.

And this is the other aspect I wanted to touch on: let's not overlook that Nash had 34 assists last season with his linemates converting at or around 8.5% on their shots. It's obviously not a simple correlation, as he wasn't always playing with them, and assists don't always equal passes. We can, however, take a look at a few stats and see what bears out with some tinkering.

For the purposes of this exercise, I'm throwing out time shorthanded as Nash had no points short-handed this past season. We'll look at some deeper numbers, courtesy of the Behind the Net:

EV - .79 primary assists/60 mins; .62 secondary assists/60 mins

This means that, for every 60 minutes Nasher played at even strength last season, he notched 1.41 assists. Not too shabby, eh? Do some quick conversions and extrapolations (this is of course not 100% accurate, given that he wasn't *always* on the ice with Brassard and Voracek at even strength), and that means that, with his linemates converting on 8.5% of their shots he averaged 1.41 assists per 60 minutes. We can then arrive at this interesting notion that Nash was involved in roughly 16.6 "scoring attempts" not from his own stick for every 60 minutes he was on the ice at even strength:

x = "scoring attempts"
.085x = 1.41
x = 1.41 / .085
x = 16.6

Let's plug in the improved conversion percentage of Carter and Prospal--or, 11.4%--into that equation:

a = assists per 60 minutes of EV
.114 * 16.6 = a
a = 1.89

In other words, just at even strength we're extrapolating an increase in more than a half an assist for every 60 minutes that Nash plays. In addition, we can then reverse-engineer a number of primaries and secondaries per 60 minutes:

EV (projected) - 1.06 primary assists/60 mins; .83 secondary assists/60 mins

Now, this next part might be where I lose what's left of any realism, but stay with me; I'm going somewhere with this. Just suspend your disbelief a bit.

Upon first glance, one expects that Nash will also play with those same two forwards on the Power Play, as well. Thus, the same ratio for assists would apply (remember, we're talking purely in the theoretical, here). Combined, Nash averaged 18:38 per game of ice time both even strength and on the PP, or .311 of a 60-minute segment. Using that number, we can extrapolate that Nash will earn .59 assists per game:

apg = (.311 * 1.89)
apg = .59

Thus, if Nash again plays 75 games with these two, by our hand-picked math his assist total comes in at 44... without making any changes to his game.

Here's where I'm going to try to wrap this all up.

Here's what we know. Nash played most of last year with below-average linemates, purely in terms of their shot-conversion percentages. It's not a one-to-one comparison, but we can logically extrapolate that this means that Nash's passing wasn't rewarded as much, since the two guys he played with predominantly didn't finish.

What we have also showed here is that the guys projected to be on Nash's line this coming season are much, much better finishers. What I've tried to show is that, by playing the exact same type of game he played last season--but with improved linemates--Nash's assist total should jump up... in our example, by 10.

Here's where I'm going to editorialize. Having watched Nash for his entire career, and having interviewed him many times in the past year, one gets the sense that he has played the way he has simply because he was his team's only option during the times he was on the ice. To that end, his shots are up, and he's more inclined to try to make something happen himself than to be a facilitator.

But, anyone that's ever talked to the man knows that he's NOT a selfish player, and not a selfish human being. He's quite humble, and when interviewed he's almost to a fault a player who doesn't relish in his own stats and who values team success over individual success.

He's getting a new linemate who will be the purest goal-scorer he's ever played with in the NHL in Jeff Carter. He's getting another linemate who also has a career 10.5% shooting percentage in Vinny Prospal. It is my belief that, once Nash has the experience of having more space to operate because of who else is on his line--and once he has the experience of seeing his setups converted at a noticeably higher percentage--he will be more than willing to cut back on the number of shots he takes for the greater success of his line and his team. And, when you start adding that kind of play in, that 44-assist number could go up even higher. When asked in a chat, Aaron Portzline suggested the same, giving Nash 48 assists to go with 42 goals for Carter.

So, in the end, this is all pure speculation (it is, after all, late July), and admittedly is also me using some cherry-picked stats to back up my argument. However, we've all always wanted a team and scenario in which Nash isn't being asked to do all of the scoring himself. I think we're there, friends. And, I think because of that, Nash will show us how complete a player he can actually be.

Thus, it is my belief that this "issue" of putting two guys who led their respective teams in shots last season together--and then wondering if there will be enough pucks to go around--isn't even really an issue at all.

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