There's a fascinating discussion over at Tyler Dellow's site (well, fascinating for me) that spurred me to take a look at how much ability individual players have to impact their team's shooting percentage when they're on the ice. We already know that players can impact their own shooting percentage either through positioning (e.g. Andrew Brunette in front of the net) or skill (Kovalchuk, in the past, and Tanguay.) But can players impact the overall shooting percentage of every player who's on the ice with them?
Here are the top ten players in even-strength on-ice shooting percentage over the last four seasons. This list includes missed shots - the league average is around 6.36%:
This list looks pretty suspect with Todd White and Jeff Finger in there, but the top 25 looks a bit more reasonable. We're talking about thousands of shots, so randomness isn't the main factor here (unlike at the season level), accounting for maybe 25% of the total spread.
So are these totals 75% skill then? Let's do a quick check on how many goals that skill would be worth: 1000 on-ice shots/season * 2.5% above mean * 75% = 18.75 goals above average. Double that to get to an approximate replacement level of 37.5 goals or just over six wins. The current price for one win on the free agent market is roughly $3M, so we'd estimate Gaborik's offensive value at more than $18M.
Needless to say, anytime you come up with a metric that says a player should get paid $18M, you have to go back and check your math. I did that by splitting the last four years into two two year periods (2007-08/2008-09 vs 2009-10/2010-11) and comparing on-ice shooting percentage among players who had 1000+ on-ice shots in each period. I found that player on-ice shooting regressed 80% to the mean from the first set to the second, which puts Gaborik's apparent talent closer to $5M.
Of course, not all of that apparent talent is actually Gaborik. There's arena bias, plus his teammates drive his results, and, more importantly, his opponents (particularly at home) are selected to give him and his linemates a better opportunity to finish. This is a key point, of course, and one that may not come through when we talk about team-level effects or try to figure out the value of individual top six forwards: when a #1 line plays against a #4 line, their shooting percentage goes up relative to when they're playing power-vs-power.
Bottom line: our bread-and-butter at this site is betting against continued high shooting (and save) percentages. Gaborik's high percentages don't merit a bigger contract than what he already has.