Before the 2011/12 season had even ended the debate surrounding Jordan Eberle's performance had already begun. As you probably remember, that was the season when Eberle scored 34 goals and finished the season with 76 points and was rewarded with a six-year contract extension as a result. To some, Eberle's sophomore season was the start of something amazing, consistent 35 goal/90 point season were just around the corner. Others pointed to Eberle's very high shooting percentage (18.9%) and on-ice shooting percentage (12.7%) and suggested that maybe the numbers were a bit of a mirage. Since that season Eberle's percentages have returned to more reasonable levels and his production has followed. He's still a very good hockey player, just not what some had expected based on his second season in the NHL.
This article isn't about who was right in the Great Eberle Debate of 2012 though, it's about lessons learned. That season of Eberle's should have served as a prime example of how of a player's counting numbers can be misleading, and why providing some additional context can help all of us to better understand what's real and what is not. But two years very little has changed.
By the box cars Taylor Hall is having an impressive season, 19-35-54 in 49 games played, a rate nearly identical to what was a great fantastic strike shortened 2013 season. Everything is great then, right? It depends entirely on who you ask. Some will say everything is a-okay with Hall, and others look at Hall's Corsi% - currently 43.5% - and suggest there may be a problem, and even though the goals and assists are still there but something is amiss with Hall's game and that the numbers aren't what they appear to be. And as you might expect, those on both sides of the debate remain largely unchanged.
I'm a person who tends to trust the underlying numbers, and thanks to Twitter I've been able to discuss this with a number of fellow Oiler fans who do share my point of view. Yesterday Jason Gregor wrote something on Oilers Nation which provided a nice summary of the argument against Corsi as an indicator that Hall is struggling this season:
The suggestion from those supporting Corsi is that Hall can't keep producing at ES with a 43% Corsi, and that eventually the points will decrease because of it. My question is why hasn't it happened already? It has been 55 games and despite a lower Corsi than last year his point totals are virtually identical.
I think it is great to have more avenues to look at, but I feel we need to look at all angles, instead of just one to get a more accurate picture. If people only looked at Hall's Corsi they'd think he was brutal, but his scoring chances for/against and actual production shed a different light.
To be clear, I'm not criticizing Gregor here, I've seen similar comments from fans on Twitter, it was just his post that made me decide to write this. And I think his question is reasonable: If Corsi is really a valuable tool then why hasn't Hall's production dropped along with his Corsi%? He also touches on a way to answer that question when he says "we need to look at all angles," so let's do that.
What might help to explain the discrepancy is Individual Points Percentage (IPP). IPP is a calculation of the number of times a player gets a point relative to the number of total goals scored while he's on the ice. Right now Hall's IPP is 106.5% (somewhere along the way he was on the bench and managed to get credited with an assist). Every time the Oilers score a goal 5-on-5 and Hall is on the ice, Hall gets a point. That simply is not going to last. Over the previous five seasons no player in the NHL has an IPP above 85%. It's very unlikely that Hall, whose IPP over the first three years of his career was 77.9%, is doing something that nobody else does that allows him to have an IPP this high. Like Eberle's shooting percentage two years ago, this is unsustainable and it's masking the fact that Hall's season is not as good as it looks.
But does all this matter? If the points are still there who cares? I think this table shows that yes, you should care.
Hall's individual production might still be there but for the Oilers it's not. With Hall on the ice this season the Oilers' goal for rate is down 19%. To me, that's a big concern. He's the best player on the team and when he's not firing on all cylinders the Oilers aren't as good of a hockey team. And it appears to me that Hall is not as good this year as last regardless of what his point total is.
Saying there is a problem and isolating the problem are completely different animals though. I have my thoughts and plan to do some digging in the coming weeks. It could be a related to the strategy of a new coach - Tyler Dellow has already started looking into this. It could be a nagging injury. It could be both, or it could be something else entirely, right now we don't know.
Gregor's right, you shouldn't just look at Corsi and determine that Hall is brutal. But you also shouldn't look just at points and think everything is okay.