Gilbert Brule & The “Kill Floor”

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 3:  Center Gilbert Brule #67 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrating his goal against the Calgary Flames in the second period during an NHL game on October 3, 2009 at Rexall Arena in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Jimmy Jeong/Getty Images)

The title for today’s post is in reference to David Staples’ comments the other day on Gilbert Brule, a player he expects to continue scoring goals – because he fires the puck from close to the net.

I’ve made my thoughts on Brule clear here before, and I don’t want to re-hash an old debate or beat a dead horse, so I’m not going to re-visit those. Instead, I wanted to address the specific point that Staples made in his post: 

If you look at all of Brule’s shooting stats from this past season, there are a few good signs. Some hockey commentators like to focus on the number of shots a player gets in trying to determine how many goals he might score, and while I don’t disregard that notion, the more important thing is the quality of those shots.

For instance, was the shot from the kill floor, right in front of the net?

That’s the kind of shot that Penner took this past year, which is why he scored so many goals. His shots were from close in, just 26 feet away from the net on average according to Behind the Net, third best on the Oilers. He also screened the goalie and tipped in shots to help score more goals than any other Oiler. Other players fired shots at the Oilers net at a higher rate, including the likes of Patrick O’Sullivan and Ethan Moreau, but while O’Sullivan and Moreau inflated their shooting totals by launching outside shots at the enemy net — essentially turning over the puck to the other team each time they shot — Penner made his living crowding and crashing the goalie.

And indeed, a quick check of Behind The Net shows that Staples is correct; Gilbert Brule did fire the puck closer to the net than any other Oiler. Brule narrowly edged out two other goal-scoring forwards: Dustin Penner and Mike Comrie. So this should be regarded as a sign that Brule’s shooting percentage is sustainable, right?

Unfortunately, no. Behind the Net also offers us the ability to break down Brule’s five-on-five shots by type – slap shots, snap shots and wrist shots, and a look at that data is revealing:

Type of Shot Goals Shots Distance SH %
Slap 5 17 39.8 17.9
Snap 3 16 29.0 13.0
Wrist 3 34 24.5 6.4
Total 15 92 25.6 10.7

The shots included in the total but not broken down by category include one back-hand and three deflections, which Desjardins doesn’t track at Behind the Net, and thus aren’t listed above.

It’s an interesting list, because Brule’s most frequent shot (a wrist shot from in close) had the worst shooting percentage. He had good success with snap-shots, and fabulous success with slap shots – despite the fact that those shots came from far out. That suggests to me that Brule is riding at least a slight shooting percentage bubble. Brule was one of only six players to score five or more slap shot goals at even-strength, and none of the other players – Kovalchuk, Semin, Zajac, Modano and Marleau – had a better shooting percentage than him.

The NHL has links to three of those five slap shot goals, and video of a fourth on their Brule player page:

I’m not sure what the standard success rate is for those shots from the far side of the faceoff circle; I’d guess it isn’t good, though. Certainly Brule’s been snake-bit there before; in the only other NHL season we have a record for he went 0-for-16 with his slap-shot.

Now, there’s an argument to be made here that Brule has a high enough calibre of shot that he can score those goals on a continuing basis. As I’ve indicated, I’m sceptical of that but I don’t have evidence either way and so I’m not going to debate it, and if readers are on the other side of the fence from me all I can say is that I hope they’re right and we’ll get a better idea next season.

The one thing that I think is clear is that last season Brule didn’t goose his shooting percentage by firing from in close.

  • @ OilBaron:

    None of those things you quote show me damning Brule for his success. There’s a reason for that; the reason being that I hope Brule does enjoy success. He’s had enough struggle early in his career and he’s done things – I’m thinking about the Maddox Flynn donation – that make me want him to succeed.

    But I’ve looked at a lot of players over the last few years, and the reality is that shooting percentage fluctuations are unstable. This article and this article and this article and especially this one are all good points of reference, although there are plenty more. Shooting percentage goes up and down from season to season, and it generally regresses the following year.

    It’s nothing personal; it’s just the pattern most NHL players follow. And your say-so doesn’t change the evidence supporting that point of view.

  • Bucknuck

    I am glad that you wrote this article. Building up false expectations is where fan favourites turn into “bums”.

    I like Brule a lot, but I believe all those folks thinking he will get 25 goals next season are going to be soundly disappointed Then what? Everyone will wonder what is the matter with him, when he is in fact being the playe he is being paid to be.

    • fuck off

      20 goals is soundly reasonable and 25 respectfully hopefully. GB was “on pace” for 21.45 goals over 82 games versus his 17 in 65 games (due to injury). If he doesn’t produce less than a 0.25 goals/game clip, then there is reason to be critical. Otherwise the boy will be doing just fine.

      • Bucknuck

        I expect Brule to contribute between 12-15 goals. More than that is bonus, but I don’t want to build false expectations.

        It’s like I expect Cogliano to get between 15-20 goals, and I expect that I won’t be disappointed this season with that expectation. I expect 70 points and 68 games from Hemsky. As a fan having reasonable expectations makes it so much more enjoyable, and also helps you feel amazing when the players exceed them (like in 2006).

        • fuck off

          Personally, I just watch the games and observe rather than following the stats as they develop all season long. However this will be the first season that I’m watching the Oilers and being a part of ON as I just recently joined (cred to Blueblooded). So maybe I’ll join in on the stats frenzied neuroticism of the obsessive Oilers faithful hockey geeks. Or I’ll relax and enjoy my game night “cheep pints” and bitch about the fallout thereafter.

          Who knows! Drunken posts most likely to follow though…

  • Off topic, but I thought at least a couple people might find this interesting.

    I trying to find out what numbers the new players are going to be wearing because a couple friends want new jerseys.

    I just found out that the mass firings this summer put number assignments into disarray and the reason we don’t know their numbers is because no numbers have been assigned for next season yet.

    I found out that they just started assigning numbers today (possibly yesterday) so we should hear soon what the new guys will be wearing.

      • Oh I’m sure that most guys know what they will wear, but they just started officially assigning numbers now. I got the impression vets were getting their numbers now with the younger guys to come soon. I do know for sure that the veterans they picked up are just getting their numbers now. (e.g., Vandermeer, Foster)

        Yeah most of the guys want Hall or Eberle. I’m considering a Pajaarvi jersey, mostly just to buck the trend.

  • fuck off

    Brule needs to keep his FISTs thinking Snap, not wrister when in close and otherwise GB should rip the slapper from wherever he damn well likes!! That or he needs to develop a quick release by meshing his snap/wrist technique. Seems like that isn’t anything some focused practice can’t deliver.

    After Brule’s signing I took the time to watch every goal highlight of his and it is true that he has one hell of a shot. However I do think that it’s more his snap than slap that will earn him consistent bread and butter. So I expect him to be able to keep up a solid % if he does consider your thoughts in this article; which btw is excellently done even though I tend to disagree with you JW (especially about JDD).

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Brule’s shot last year reminded me of Stoll’s shot improvement during the Roadrunner year. I think Brule will have a solid 2010-11 and continue to improve.

  • I’ve refreshed this article three times now, and I get four different goals every time. The tags from refer to the four slap shots I mentioned, but if you’re seeing different goals than those four (three perimeter shots against Anaheim, Toronto, and Calgary and one from the high slot against Toronto) it’s an issue with, not Oilers Nation.

    • fuck off

      I’m getting the exact same 4 goals using a Mac with Safari as my browser:

      Video 1 is the Anahiem hash mark slapper. Video 2 is the Toronto slot one-timer. Video 3 is an off the rush slapper against Toronto tipped by Kabrle. Video 4 is a PP deflection vs Detroit.

  • fuck off

    I’ve never understood the hate for a player doing his job, doing his job in his role, having success, and playing to the expectations of his high draft. Damn him and his good play. Damn him and doubt him for no reason… perspective, he is still a growing player and he has attributes that few other Oilers have.

  • OilBaron wrote:

    I’ve never understood the hate for a player doing his job, doing his job in his role, having success, and playing to the expectations of his high draft. Damn him and his good play. Damn him and doubt him for no reason,

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    One of the few positive notes for the Oilers this season was the emergence of Gilbert Brule as an NHL player. He scored a career-high 17 goals and 37 points and played with a nasty physical edge as well.

    I’m glad that Brule’s emerged, and it’s nice to see him finally playing well after injuries derailed his early career in Columbus.

    You’re misrepresenting my position. I’m not sure if you’re just reading what you want to read or if you hope to convince others by attributing a line of reasoning to me that I’ve never pursued, but it’s a dishonest tack to take.

    • fuck off

      I don’t know if OilBaron even knows what exactly he was trying to say by his post! Personally, I’m not even sure what he meant despite the fact that I have a very high reading comprehension.