Statistics are up to date as of games played on November 8th, 2011. All statistics mentioned are at 5 on 5 unless otherwise specified, and are from the wonderful website behindthenet.ca.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it folks. From a fantasy perspective, Eric Staal has been nothing short of awful this season. The numbers speak for themselves. 15 games. 3 goals, all on the powerplay. 2 assists, one on the powerplay. And worst of all, a -16 rating. For those of you keeping track at home, that is a grand total of 1 point at even strength. As it stands, Staal has recorded 0.29 points for every 60 minutes of ice time. As you can probably guess, this is dead last in the NHL among players who have actually bothered to record a point – looking at you Blake Comeau. This is a far cry from the Staal who recorded 100 points way back in 2005-06. But don’t worry; all is not lost with our favourite Staal brother.
I’ve touched on this here before, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time, but the majority of Staals’ problems have been due to shooting percentage. He is shooting 5.5% overall (obviously much worse at even strength), and when he is on the ice the team as a whole shoots 4.7%. This is criminally low, and ranks 285th among forwards with at least 10 games played. There is no reason to suspect that shots won’t begin to go in at twice their current rate, which is good news for his point total.
Now, on to that gaudy plus/minus rating. Corsi Rating is a better predictor of plus/minus going forward than current plus/minus, so let’s take a look at how Staal is doing in the shots for and against category. His Corsi is currently at -1.71, which while not great, is a far cry from his -16 plus/minus rating. There are two reasons for this. The first is obviously he and his linemates inability to put the puck in the net. The second is the rate at which they are allowing goals. When Staal is on the ice, his team boasts a .860 SV%, which I don’t think I need to tell you is 12th worst in the NHL.
So how do these numbers compare to years past? Last season, the Canes shooting percentage was 8.9% with Staal on the ice and their save percentage was .907, which when combined with a Corsi Rating of 5.50 led to a plus/minus of -10. Two seasons ago, those numbers were 10.9%, .901, 0.29 and +4. I imagine there is a fair amount of noise in these numbers year to year, but I think it is fair to say that Staal is closer to the player we saw in 151 games over the last two full seasons than the one we have seen through 15 this year.
Now the million dollar question is what can we expect from Staal for the rest of the season? First of all, his respectable Corsi Rating and the unsustainable shooting and save percentage numbers tell me that Staal is not going to finish the season with a -82 rating (surprise!). His true talent level is more in the -5 to -10 range over 82 games. While his Corsi alone indicates that he is an even player, it simply can’t be ignored that over the course of the last 166 games, the Canes are pushing a sub .900 SV% when he is one the ice. That is not a good number even if we are taking into account shorthanded data – this is just 5 on 5.
As for the point totals, expect the painfully low on-ice shooting percentage to improve, and Staal to produce about .75 points per game overall. Obviously all of these numbers are subject to linemates, so cross your fingers that he spends more time with Jeff Skinner (1.98 Corsi last season) on his wing rather than Tuomo Ruutu (-0.11) or Jiri Tlutsy(-3.28).
While this piece focuses on the statistical aspect of hockey, these are humans playing this game, so I also don’t think we should discount the mental impact of the fact that he may have played a large part in ending his younger brother’s career last February. However, that is a can of worms I’m not going to touch.