Two months into the 2022-23 NHL season there was a national media narrative going around that the Kraken’s early season success was driven by an unsustainable shooting percentage and that it was just a matter of time before they would drop toward the bottom of the Pacific Division. That scenario never played out, and the Kraken finished the season with 100 points in the standings. Seattle ultimately turned out the second-highest shooting percentage in the league at 11.6 percent, behind only the Edmonton Oilers.
One would think the 82 regular-season games and 14 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs would have been enough of a sample size to recognize the Kraken were not lucky, they were good. However, this offseason, the concept of a shooting percentage regression is starting to bleed into the conversation again. We could just dismiss this criticism as somebody viewing the team from afar, but I thought the best thing to do was dig into the numbers myself.
Power play contributions
The first thing I thought about is if the Kraken’s high shooting percentage is being propped up by a disproportionate number of power-play goals. The theory here is that because teams have a higher shooting percentage on the power play, a disproportionate number of goals on the power play could have inflated the Kraken’s shooting percentage to the rest of the league.
That was not the case last season…
Seattle had the fourth-lowest percentage of its goals scored on the power play. This was driven by a lower-than-average number of power-play opportunities and poor power-play conversion by the Kraken. They were ranked 21st in the league in both opportunities and conversion. The Kraken’s shooting percentage on the power play was close to league average, thus not inflating their overall shooting percentage. Conversely, Edmonton had the highest shooting percentage on the power play across the league.
The below visual also illustrates that the Kraken had the highest shooting percentage at even strength.
The Kraken’s high shooting percentage is not being propped up by the power play.
Their strength was their depth
The story of the 2022-23 Seattle Kraken was that their strength was their depth. I have often described the Kraken as a team with three second lines and one third line.
With that context, my theory is that the Kraken’s high shooting percentage is attributed to the fact their third and fourth lines are better than most team’s third and fourth lines. Therefore, we did not see a drop-off in shooting percentages that most other teams in the league had deeper in their lineups.
To investigate that theory, I would need to classify all players into where they fit in their respective lineup. Since depth charts are subjective and can often change throughout the year, that is next to impossible to come up with a clear rule around defining lines for all 32 teams. Instead, I am ranking the players with the most minutes played for the team and then bucketing them into groups of three for the forwards and groups of two for the defensemen.
As such, these are not “lines” in the traditional sense, but more tiers of contributions by minutes. For example, the first group for the Kraken is Alex Wennberg, Jordan Eberle, and Yanni Gourde because those three forwards logged the most minutes for the Kraken, even though Wennberg played most with Jaden Schwartz and Oliver Bjorkstrand throughout the season. It is not perfect, but it is a fair proxy for overall contribution when comparing across teams.
Forwards shooting percentage
This might be stating the obvious, but forwards generally have a higher shooting percentage and log more shots compared to defensemen, so it is important that we evaluate them separately. When we look at each group based on their total minutes played for their team, Seattle’s first forward group ranked as one of the lowest in the league for shooting percentage. But, as you can see below, the Kraken ranked in the top seven for shooting percentage for all other forward groups.
This would support the claim that the depth of this team is its strength, and therefore contributed to its relatively high shooting percentage.
For more context, this is how the groupings played out using the logic explained above.
Note that Eeli Tolvanen, who was acquired on waivers halfway through the season, did not have enough time on ice for the Kraken to make it into Seattle’s top 12 for time played. Tolvanen ranked second in shooting percentage behind Jared McCann for players with over 10 games for the Kraken.
Defensemen shooting percentages
On the defensive side, the Kraken’s top two pairs rank in the top four in shooting percentage.
The defensive contribution pairs align to the actual depth chart pairs for most of the season.
Individual skater shooting percentages
Another area we should evaluate is which Seattle Kraken players had a shooting percentage in 2022-23 that was above their three-year-average shooting percentage. Was this a case where most of the players were shooting above their average? Or was the team constructed of a collection of better shooters compared to other teams?
Here is how the individual shooting percentages break down against players’ three-year averages, with the blue bars representing shooting percentages above a player’s three-year average and the orange bars representing shooting percentages below.
Of the forward group, six players had higher than their three-year average, while six players had below their average. On defense, four out of the six defensemen had above-average shooting percentages. Attempting to be objective, it is conceivable and probably likely Jared McCann, Schwartz, and Tolvanen will see a regression in their shooting percentages, but conversely, it would be equally likely that Bjorkstrand, Andre Burakovsky, and Gourde see improvements in that category. In Bjorkstrand’s case, he seems positioned to improve his shooting percentage. Remember, he took some time getting used to his new team and was ice cold early in the season, only to hit his stride in the second half of the year.
On the blue line, it is likely that Jamie Oleksiak and Justin Schultz see regressions as well, but keep in mind they only accounted for 3.7 percent and 6.6 percent of the Kraken shots respectively. So, a drop in their shooting percentages won’t impact the team’s overall shooting percentage compared to a drop in Eberle’s, for example, who accounted for 11.7 percent of the Kraken’s shots on his own.
Most Kraken fans might have noticed that the fourth group of forwards in the table above is made up exclusively of players that are no longer with the Kraken. Ryan Donato (CHI), Morgan Geekie (BOS), and Daniel Sprong (DET) have all signed with other teams this offseason. On the surface, that is a significant number of goals to replace in the lineup.
Let us put aside the shooting percentages for a moment. Collectively, the three departing forwards had 44 goals, and the Kraken will need to replace a good portion of those goals to replicate last season’s success. A full season from Burakovsky should add 10 goals, and the new addition of Kailer Yamamoto should add at least 10 goals as well. The remaining 20-goal gap will need to be filled by a mix of Shane Wright, John Hayden, Kole Lind, Tye Kartye, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Who of those five players draw into the lineup is probably the biggest question heading into the season, with Lind and Kartye being the most natural goal scorers of the group. It is also still a question if AHL success for players like Lind and Kartye can translate to the NHL for a full season.
Yamamoto’s 10.3 percent shooting percentage last season is lower than all three of the Kraken departures, but his career shooting percentage is 13.9 percent, so we should anticipate a rebound. The other players looking to crack the lineup are less predictable, since most of them have limited NHL experience.
Wrapping it up
When you hear people talking about a shooting regression from the Kraken, take it with a grain of salt. If it does happen, it will most likely be driven by the departure of the Kraken’s fourth line of Donato, Geekie, and Sprong. All three of them are good shooters, and it was reflected in the numbers. Yamamoto should be able to replace one of them, and the Kraken hope to get a full season of Burakovsky and Tolvanen, both of whom have above-average shots that will offset some of the loss of the other two fourth-line players.