Stat Hack: Jame Neal

January 11th, 2019 | Posted in Commentary | By: D'Arcy McGrath

James Neal isn’t scoring in Calgary, this isn’t news to anyone.

But why?

Some obvious reasons come to mind;

*he’s playing on the third line and not the second
*he’s somewhat snake bit
*the quality of his linemates are likely down a notch from the past two seasons in Nashville and Vegas
*or he’s in a quick decline due to too much playoff activity.

But what do the stats say?

James Neal

Ice Time: Minutes per Game

5 on 5 Powerplay Total
2016-17 Nashville 15.3 3.0 19.3
2017-18 Vegas 15.6 2.7 19.1
2018-19 Calgary 14.1 2.6 17.1
Calgary as % 91% 91% 89%

A player moving to the third line isn’t going to get the same ice time that a player in the top six would enjoy. However the disparity isn’t as great one would think. Neal is getting just over 90% of the ice in Calgary that he got on average in his stops in Nashville and Vegas. He’s down, but not to the same degree as his scoring.

Shots on Goal: Shots / 60 Minutes

5 on 5 Powerplay Total
2016-17 Nashville 8.9 12.2 9.7
2017-18 Vegas 9.7 8.8 10.0
2018-19 Calgary 8.0 9.5 8.5
Calgary as % 86% 90% 86%

The best way to look at shots on goal when a player is getting a little less ice time, is to look ratably over the course of 60 minutes of play in all situations. When we do this the next layer of erosion becomes evident; James Neal isn’t shooting the puck with the same frequency that he did in his previous two stops.

He’s only getting 86% of the shots on net than in his previous two seasons averaged; 8.0 shots / 60 minutes vs 9.4 shots / 60 minutes on average the previous two seasons. Less shots certainly equals less goals, or so the hockey equivalent of Yogi Berra would tell you.

His powerplay lag isn’t quite as pronounced, but further adds to the decay of production.

Shots Attempts (CF): Shot Attempts / 60 Minutes

Maybe a lot of shots are getting blocked? Could it be that Neal is just as productive in loading up the gun, but too many shots just aren’t getting through forcing goaltenders to make saves?

In a word, no.

5 on 5 Powerplay Total
2016-17 Nashville 15.5 17.9 16.2
2017-18 Vegas 17.1 16.9 17.7
2018-19 Calgary 14.6 14.8 14.9
Calgary as % 90% 85% 88%

Once again shot attempts, like shots on goal are off when ice time is normalized between the three stops. This time the bigger hit is on powerplay, as the Flame’s second unit has been worse than bad this season, affording none of the unit’s component players the opportunity to pad their stats while up a man.

Neal is off 10% five on five, and 15% when on the man advantage when putting the puck towards the net (shots, shot blocks, shots fired wide).

Scoring Chances (SCF): Scoring Chances For / 60 Minutes

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Scoring chances are the summation of shot attempts made within the homeplate area in any situation (off the pass, deflection, straight shot attempt).

5 on 5 Powerplay Total
2016-17 Nashville 8.1 14.2 9.3
2017-18 Vegas 9.7 11.3 10.6
2018-19 Calgary 8.2 9.5 8.8
Calgary as % 93% 74% 88%

The good news? James Neal 93% of the five on five scoring chances that he did in Nashville and Vegas despite his deployment in Calgary. The real culprit of a leak is on the powerplay, where he’s down almost 25% compared to his days wearing brash yellow and the charcoal grey of the Knights.

But what of high danger chances?

High Danger Attempts (HDCF): High Danger Attempts / 60 Minutes

High Danger Attempts are loosely defined as scoring chances above that come in a more dangerous fashion; that is off a deflection, on a rebound, or off of a pass. They don’t include a player skating directly into the home plate area and firing a puck on a goaltender that is set and seeing the play coming.

5 on 5 Powerplay Total
2016-17 Nashville 3.2 6.8 4.0
2017-18 Vegas 3.4 7.5 4.2
2018-19 Calgary 2.9 3.7 3.1
Calgary as % 88% 51% 76%

Just like the scoring chance totals, James Neal is off about 10% five on five in chance generation, but look at the powerplay totals! At 3.7 high danger chances per 60 minutes he is literally trucking at 50% of the impact he was generating in his previous two NHL seasons. The inability of the second powerplay unit is clearly hurting Neal’s (and the other second unit players) production totals, without even considering the effect on some man advantage production on five on five confidence.

Shooting Percentage

The biggest piece of the puzzle remaining is clearly shooting percentage.

James Neal has a career average shooting percentage of 11.7%, and averaged 11.9% in his last two seasons before coming to Calgary. Five on five his shooting percentage was 9.5% in the last two seasons. A completely different story this year.

5 on 5 Powerplay Total
2016-17 Nashville G/ Shot 9.4% 11.6% 9.2%
G / CF 5.4% 7.9% 5.5%
G / SCF 10.4% 10.0% 9.5%
G / HDCF 25.9% 20.8% 22.2%
2017-18 Vegas G/ Shot 9.5% 17.9% 9.7%
G / CF 5.4% 9.3% 5.5%
G / SCF 9.6% 13.9% 9.2%
G / HDCF 27.4% 20.8% 22.9%
2018-19 Calgary G/ Shot 4.8% 0.0% 3.8%
G / CF 2.6% 0.0% 2.2%
G / SCF 4.7% 0.0% 3.6%
G / HDCF 13.3% 0.0% 10.3%
Calgary as % G/ Shot 51% 0% 40%
G / CF 49% 0% 39%
G / SCF 47% 0% 39%
G / HDCF 50% 0% 45%

The first thing you notice in the two previous years is the consistency. A 9.4% 5 on 5 one year, 9.5% the next year … Goals per high danger chance both exactly 20.8% in both seasons before coming to Calgary. Percentages for total ice time are almost identical between the two years.

In Calgary though all the five on five percentages have dropped in half.

The powerplay numbers are not even registering as he has yet to score a powerplay goal.

What Does This Say?

Some good and some bad.

Every single factor is going against the player at the moment. He’s playing less, is playing on a terrible powerplay, and is generating less opportunity than he did in his previous two stops. That says the problem to some degree is here to stay.

The silver lining though comes by way of his success rates on scoring chances. A player that scores on 12% of his shots on goal hasn’t forgotten how to score over night. He’s getting less chances sure, but that still shouldn’t mean his kill rate on said chances should also be falling apart.

Simple math says he should have 7.9 five on five goals to date based on straight shooting percentages five on five. If you run the percentages against high danger success rates it’s a little higher at 8.2. Based on shots on the powerplay he should have 3.2 powerplay goals this year, if you run the math against high danger chances he should have 1.5.

James Neal at 10 or 9 goals to date would create a lot less angst from Calgary fans watching a big contract go up in smoke.

Get some luck, and fix the second unit … should be enough to get him back on track in the second half of the season.

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