Ryan Smyth and Shooting Percentage

There were really two seasons this year for veteran forward Ryan Smyth.

There was the October/November season, where Smyth played tough opposition and spent a lot of time in his own end. He fired the puck 65 times in 25 games (2.6 shots/game) and scored a remarkable 12 goals. People lauded his effort, his performance, and the general awesomeness whenever he stepped on to the ice.

Then there was the December-April season, where Smyth played tough opposition and spent a lot of time in his own end. He fired the puck 129 times in 57 games (2.3 shots/game) and scored a remarkably bad seven goals. People decried his lack of effort, his poor performance, and the general miserable mediocrity whenever he stepped on the ice.

The simple fact is that Ryan Smyth didn’t forget how to score goals. He didn’t suddenly decide every shot had to be off a wraparound – he was doing that earlier in the year too:

The answer lies in no small part in shooting percentage. Here is Smyth’s shooting percentage, month-by-month:

Month Games Goals Shots SH%
October 11 5 30 16.7
November 14 7 35 20.0
Oct/Nov Total 25 12 65 18.5
December 12 2 33 6.1
January 13 2 30 6.7
February 13 1 23 4.3
March 15 2 38 5.3
April 4 0 5 0.0
Dec-Apr Total 57 7 129 5.4

Ryan Smyth is not a guy who will score on one shot in five over the long term (i.e. 20.0 SH%). He is also not a guy who will score on one shot in 20 over the long term (i.e. 5.0 SH%). He will have and has had good months and bad months. He will have and has had good years and bad year.

In 1995-96, Smyth’s first full season as an Oiler, he scored two goals in 48 games. He didn’t shoot as much in those days – just 65 shots – but at the end of the year his shooting percentage was a miserable 3.1%. I’m guessing there was significant concern about the sixth overall pick’s offensive game at the time; I’m also guessing it was erased the next year when he scored 39 goals (establishing his career-best in his second NHL season) and fired at a 14.7% clip.

In 2006-07, Smyth’s last year in his first tenure as an Oiler, Smyth scored 31 goals on 161 shots for the Oilers. He slowed a little bit after finishing the season with the Islanders, but still converted shots at a 17.1% clip.

We’ve seen these variances before. They’re a simple part of a complex game – sometimes the puck goes in, and sometimes it doesn’t, for reasons that don’t always have a lot to do with the shooter.

On his career, Smyth is an 11.6% shooter. The last four seasons – including this one – he’s finished within 2.0% of that mark. If I were guessing what his shooting percentage is next year, I’d guess it’s that.

The point is that a huge chunk of Smyth’s decline in performance is directly attributable to simple variance in shooting percentage. He was never going to be as good long-term as he was to start the year. He’s almost certainly not going to be as bad long-term as he was to finish the year. Shooting percentage bounces around; it always had and always will, for players both better and worse than Smyth. Sidney Crosby’s an 11% shooter this year. Last year, he was a 20% shooter. On his career, he’s a 15% shooter.

The dip in shooting percentage is a good thing for the Oilers, as long as they take advantage of it. It helped a going nowhere team finish as low as it did. It will drive Smyth’s contract demands down. It also means that he’s probably going to surprise a few people when he starts scoring at his usual rate next season. If the Oilers are smart, he’ll be doing it for them at a reduced salary.

  • Talbot17

    If tom renney is kept around they better manage Smyth’s minutes continuously now, as a 3RD line player and nothing more. Smyth was just flat out gassed and even last night in Vancouver he looked it

  • Or, Smyth has finally hit the wall at age 35 after a lot of hard miles and his shooting percentage reflects that.

    If Smyth is used up 25 games into a season as he was this year because he empties the tank to compete — battle for loose pucks, get to the net, take a pounding — at the levels he used to for entire seasons, a bounce back to previous career levels is far from a foregone conclusion.

    • But his shot rates dipped only a little, Robin. And shooting percentage typically dips slowly over time, rather than hitting a wall and dropping (unlike goalie performance, which does exactly that). The chart linked above shows guys dropping from 12% to 9%, nothing as drastic as a player going from 11% to 5%.

      I do buy that he was gassed to some extent – the extent we see his shot totals dropping. I don’t buy that he suddenly became half as efficient a goal-scorer.

  • Agreed Smyth looked gassed, ~ but remember he had to carry those plug’s Horcoff and Jones around with the occasional stint with that waste of space Belanger, all while having to dig the puck out of the corners because the defense is to soft! Belanger and Horcoff don’t hit to separate the puck from the opposition, while Jones is hovering around the blue line looking for that stretch pass from Whitney after Smyth dig’s the puck out, but wait… Smyth has to recover because Whitney’s ankles gave out, so Smyth has to dive face first in front of a wide open net because that geriatric drunk went and blew out his groin again!~

    Yep, That sound’s just about average shift right there.

    • Reg Dunlop

      I have to agree. A rebuild should include opportunities for hungry, young players. Better to rebuild with youth and be a lottery team than play the crap out of used up blue-hairs and still be lotto bound. Heres to Harti,VV, Teubert,Pitlik,etal playing a role next year. If we finish last, oh well, we’ve been there before. We can only get better.

        • Reg Dunlop

          How about 1 more year. Nathan Mckinnon anyone? Actually, I have had enough of being a laughing stock, but 5 years of Smitty? Seriously? Maybe VV is a bad example; how about [God forgive me for saying this] Grig?

  • Semenko and Troy

    When Smyth first signed, we were all excited to see him. He was the one to link and infuse Oiler blood and tradition into the next generation. Maybe even point out the spot to the young’uns where he picked his chicklets off the ice like the minor inconvenience it was.

    No one thought he would come in and put up the numbers he did early in the season and it raised our expectations.

    But on the heels of another disappointing season for the team, where secondary scoring all but dried up, Smyth now has much to prove.

    I will no longer be scouring my alphagetti for a ninety-four sighting, it’ll have to be on the ice.

  • Reg Dunlop

    I think you can contribute a lot of the decrease in shooting % to the fact that he spent almost 40 less minutes on the PP this year.

    In fact, this season was the least amount of PP time he’s had since at least 97-98 (NHL doesn’t have a record of it before that).

    He played 82 games this year and had less PP time than years where he’s played 55.

    If you want to look at the biggest culprit for his decline in shooting %, I’d look at that first. If the Oilers aren’t going to give him more PP time, he’s not going to raise his sh% to his prior levels.

    That doesn’t make him bad, he’s still a useful ES player, but that’s going to hurt his counting numbers going forward.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Despite Penner’s issues, I for one would rather have him than Smyth (as much as I consider Smyth the eternal Oiler). Penner brings size and skill that demands the RD has to pay attention to him so that Penner doesn’t establish position in front of the net.

    That opens ice, as well of the fact that Penner is a capable fighter. He may not fight a lot, but he has kicked B a few times, and that is known.

    Given he wants to stay in the league and wants to make a good effort next year to keep his career, I think he would be a nice fit for RNH and Eberle.

    In the position to decide I also would have a serious look around and see what is going on with him at the moment, and what the scuttlebutt going around the Kings is.

    There is always information available to those who are listening and interested. Young guys with a lot of bank can make poor decisions, have in the past, and continue to do so.

    A team looking for long term success should be interested in guys with the life skills to keep up the discipline necessary in the NHL these days. Maybe Penner has learned a bit recently.

    • Cervantes

      Penner was going through a breakup and divorce this year, and he is a heart-on-his-sleeve kind of guy. You could see it when he was here, when he’s happy he’s great, and when people are ragging on him he’s miserable and a poor player. Personally, I’d be very happy to have him back, because I think a calm and intellectual coach like Renney would be perfect for him. No calling him out in public, understands how players tick and works with it, etc etc. He’s a hard guy to coach, but do it right and you get 20 goals.

      That said, he’s also exactly what he seems. He’s not going to be a fighter, he’s not going to be a consistent crashes of bodies, he’s not your fourth line tough guy, and everyone’s disappointments with him as a player almost always seem to be not based on what he is, but what you wish he would be. Accept him as a big middle six player who will sometimes coast, sometimes be good, and sometimes get cranky and smash the other team to bits, and everyone will be happy. By all accounts, he’s great in the room, a good teammate and a good friend, and if his lousy points this year mean we can get him for nothing, then he’s worth a shot. More of a shot than barker was this year, that’s for sure. I can picture Tambo seeing him as a cheaper option on lw than Smyth, though I’d rather take both. A lw of Hall, Penner, Smyth and Harski is pretty good and also interchangeable based on performance, with Eager there to mix things up when needed.

  • Cervantes

    The Mullet took a hit this year, sure, but he was still a useful contributor. His point production was on par with Gagner and Jones, but with absolutely harsh qualcomp and zonestart. Basically, he was brought in to do heavy lifting, shelter the kids, take the hit on points, and he did exactly that. Given how hard his minutes were, I’m not at all surprised to see him dog tired, but that’s what sheltered the kids and gave them their solid point totals.

    Really, the vet to be disappointed with is Belanger, who went completely off the rails. His utter black hole of point production meant that Horcoff had to take on an even harder role, and sucked down players like Jones. And yet his contract and status meant that a kid like Lander, who rightfully deserved to be up on the third line by midseason, had to be down with fourth line minutes and mates.

    If Smitty can put up another 40-50 points while doing pk and shutdown duty, we should be really happy. Frankly, I think next years bottom six should be Smitty/Horcoff/Jones and Eager/Lander/Petrell, assuming we re-sign Tambi and thus make no actual meaningful moves in the offseason.

    Bottom line, if we want depth scoring, we have to take some of the heavy minutes off those guys. You can’t get 55 points each while taking on the other teams top 6 and also doing all the pk duty and d zone starts. If the kids can handle harder minutes next year, I think you’ll see a significant bump in our secondary scoring as a result, and a third of guys like 94-10-28 is perfect because any one of them can move into the top 6 for injury or poor performance, and also any one of them are moderately effective on the pp.

    I have the sinking feeling that the mighty Oil brass will screw it up though, not offering 94 a decent contract and dumping Petrell, and then wonder why they’ve lost some heart and grit. Personally, I’d be fine offering Ryan 2-2.5 for two years. 40 points is still a lot, and you need vets to show the kids how to be proud professionals. But the guy who let him walk a few years ago is now the GMs boss, so… Yeah. It’s gonna be a rough summer.

  • vetinari

    Smyth is a useful player and great role model for the kids, but don’t count on him to provide 20+ goals a year anymore. Likewise, I think that giving him anything more than a one or two year deal at this stage of his career would be a risk.

  • Reg Dunlop

    At this point its impossible to tell what Smyth will do next season. It is just as likely the tank is empty as it is he will bounce back to his historical shooting percentage.

    And that is why the Oilers would be absolutely crazy to sign Smyth to a deal longer than 1 year. (Which means Lowe will see he gets a 3 year deal on an overpay).

    Regardless of the offensive output, Smyth was an effective player. If they can sign him for 3rd line money, then it makes sense to bring him back on a 1 year deal. He can slide up the depth chart if injuries occur and help hold the line against the toughs on the 3rd line otherwise.

    His value to the team goes up if Horcoff is bought out on a contract amnesty play.

    let’s hope we have a new coach next season that uses him wisely.

  • BigE91

    35 and playing his heart out for the team that he never wanted to leave. Skillwise this isn’t the same Ryan Smyth that we remember yet he is still the hardworking, gritty type forward the Oilers need. Top 6 forward not anyomore, not everygame anyway but I think that we are talking about a guy that can contribute on the third line, play special teams and move up the depth chart on occaision.

    Smytty’s career is on the decline but certainly not over, Seeing him finish it as an Oiler would mean a lot to the organization and his fans.

  • vetinari

    When the blade of your hockey stick is shaped like a deformed snow shovel and your average goal deflects off of your right ass-cheek, how does that factor into shooting percentage? Smyth has hardly scored a goal from more than 6″ outside the blue paint in the last 10 years.

    His problem is that he is worn out. Does someone mean to suggest that he couldn’t recover from the first 20 games in the last 60? Someone at the cardiac care unit at the Mazankowski wing should be checking him out if that’s the case.

  • Spydyr

    Smyth is done.The writing is on the wall.

    Sad to say,he was one of the best Oilers for a decade five years ago.Time marches on and it has for Ryan.

    Time to move on.