Quantifying the Value of a ‘Shootout Specialist’

This is an article guest written by Andrew Kerison of Original Six Analyitcs. You can follow Andrew @OrgSixAnalytics or visit his website at originalsixanalytics.com

Troy Terry. Jonathan Toews. T.J. Oshie. These names are all recognizable in part because of a heroic shootout performance they each have put on for their country. Troy Terry was the most recent, scoring three goals in the USA World Junior semi-final win over Russia, and ultimately being the sole scorer in the championship game, winning Team USA a gold medal over Team Canada. 

Due to shootouts being the subject of many conversations over the last couple weeks, I found myself wondering: for an NHL team, what exactly is it worth to have a shootout specialist in your line up? Should every team have one? Or is it a ‘nice to have’, merely a secondary consideration when evaluating players? 

So let’s see if we can figure it out. 

Quantifying the Value of a ‘Shootout Specialist’

In order to answer this, I have looked at three areas:

  1. Simulated outcomes of two league average teams in the shootout
  2. Simulated outcomes of adding a ‘Shootout Specialist’ to a league average team
  3. Estimating the resulting win probability improvement, and quantifying it in terms of standings points/contract dollar value

In order to answer these questions, I have drawn data about the league average shootout (SO) Sh% and Sv% from the last three full seasons courtesy of Hockey-Reference (2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16), summarized below: 

  • 31% SO Sh% (% of shot that are goals) 
  • 69% SO Sv% (% of shots that are saved, or (1 – 31%)

In the next two sections, I will look at a hypothetical team and their Shootout Win Probability %. Let’s call the team in question ‘Team A’, and for now we will treat both Team A and their opponents as league average. 

League Average versus League Average

Given shootouts, like wins, are zero-sum (i.e. same number of wins and losses), the average winning percentage on a league-wide basis will always be 50/50. As such, as a starting point, I have created the table below summarizing the round by round probabilities to reach that 50%.

Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 4.57.38 PM

As you would expect, the probability pretty cleanly comes out to 50% winning probability for Team A. If we define a ‘Round Win’ as when one team scores more goals in that round than their opponent, then we get the following distribution in each round:

  • 21% chance that Team A ‘wins’
  • 57% chance of a ‘draw’ 
  • 21% chance that the Opponent ‘wins’ the round 

Now, naturally this is pretty straightforward, as the overall outcome will inevitably be 50/50. However, if we want to know what happens when we start changing players – and having these probabilities update dynamically – it gets a bit more complicated. To address part (b) – adding a Shootout Specialist to Team A, in the next section – I created a tool that simulates the outcome of a shootout, given a particular Sh% and Sv% for each team/goalie. 

After running 1000+ simulations, the probabilities here represent the average outcomes, and I am happy to provide more detail on the actual calculations if anyone is interested.

Adding a ‘Shootout Specialist’ to Team A

Now, looking at ‘regular’ SO shooters – i.e. those who have 10 or more attempts in the sample – I will define a ‘Shootout Specialist’ as the players who are in the 90th percentile of these ‘regulars’. Here are all of the players who meet this level over the past three seasons:

Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 4.58.55 PM

I will come back to the specific individuals, but as you can see, this cohort of players will score on roughly 52% of their shootout attempts – an impressive number. 

So let’s imagine that Team A decides to go out of its way to sign or trade for a Shootout Specialist – what happens if  we add him to our prior probability table? 

Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 4.59.52 PM

With the simplifying assumption that a team will put their specialist in frequently (i.e. every shootout), you can see that a ‘Shootout Specialist’, or a top 10% shooter in the league will increase his team’s likelihood to win a shootout from 50% to 58%. This increase is a far cry from a guaranteed win, but also not an insignificant jump.

Now what exactly is that worth?

In order to convert this 8% improvement to standings points, and ultimately a contract dollar value, there are a couple more steps. Given 2016-2017 is one of the first seasons where the 3-on-3 is well-understood and teams have clearly formed strategies, let’s use the first half of the 2016-2017 NHL season as our proxy for a ‘typical’ year going forward. This half has shown roughly 4 games going to shootout per team so far – giving us ~8 or so for the year. 

Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 5.00.36 PM

So assuming teams will typically be in ~8 shootouts over the year, and that a shootout specialist will increase their probability of winning by ~8% (50% to 58%), this illustrative scenario implies a shootout specialist would contribute an additional 0.68 shootout wins per season

Given a shootout win is worth a single standings point, adding a SO specialist to a league average team is worth approximately 0.68 standings points; or about 1/3 of a win ‘win’ per year. Using @Behindthenet’s win value estimate of $2.80M per win (against the salary cap), this skill set is worth about $950K in contract value. 

Going back to our first question, of ‘if every team needs a shootout specialist?’ – I think the answer here is likely ‘no’. On a big picture basis, NHL teams should have higher priorities than finding their own Troy Terry or T.J. Oshie – especially since teams shootouts are only relevant during the regular season. However, I would also say that SO capabilities are an important secondary consideration that teams and agents should still absolutely have in mind when negotiating player contracts. 

For anyone who noticed the lesser known names on our list of specialists – like Brandon Pirri and Jacob Josefson – these guys might just be examples of ‘Moneyball’ contracts that New York (previously Florida) and New Jersey keep around in no small part for their shootout capabilities. Although both are RFAs, each team has them signed at low risk, 1-year contracts worth $1.1M for each player (Source: CapFriendly). Putting aside Josefson’s injury issues – assuming these guys contribute almost anything in the typical run of play – at #3 and #4 in the league in Shootout Sh% at 56%, they each are likely paying for their cap space in Shootout goals alone. 

Other Considerations

Before closing, I should add a couple last qualifiers to my analysis, above:

  • For teams that are currently well below league average in shootouts, the ‘marginal’ value of a specialist is significantly greater than I have shown above, as their ‘baseline’ starting point is much lower
  • Further, any team who has focused on acquiring one or more Specialists should naturally be playing to their own strengths – potentially employing a more conservative strategy in 3-on-3 OT in order to drag extra games into shootouts (again – creating additional value beyond the average 8 games shown above)

Some areas for analysis that others may want to explore further include the value of other ways a team could go about increasing their shootout win %. What if a team had three specialists? Or what if they found a strong shootout goaltender? While each of these merit much further research, my short answers are that:

  • Adding a goalie will naturally have a dis-proportionately large effect, because he gets to face every shot against. However, given that teams have only one starting goalie (versus 12 forward roster slots), the shootout is less likely to be a goaltending priority
  • If a league average team were to have multiple Shootout Specialists, their win percentage in my analysis above would jump even further. My current estimate is that this would reach 66% with two specialists – meaning 1.3 shootout wins over a season, 1.3 standings point, or an aggregate $1.8M in salary cap value

Conclusion

In conclusion – while being a Shootout Specialist certainly increases the value a player adds to his team, I wouldn’t say it is a characteristic that every team ‘needs’ to have in their roster. That said, the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils may have made some stealth, intelligent signings between Pirri and Josefson, who are some of the highest-value ‘depth’ Shootout Specialists a team could add. Further, when very high caliber players like T.J. Oshie (or Troy Terry down the road) head into their contract negotiations, I certainly would recommend both teams and agents do some work to understand exactly what they should be paying for this skill.