The Big Four and Scoring Chances

An interesting tweet was sent to me this morning, amidst all the talk of Mitch Marner’s agent spilling the largest supply of tea the world has seen in 345 years. We’ll talk more about Mitch on his own in another post (maybe not immediately, but soon – I want to research this properly), but the question posed was too fun to pass up:

As it turns out, there is a metric for high danger scoring chances generated! Natural Stat Trick calls it… High Danger Scoring Chances. Generally, scoring chances are regarded as those scored taken in a home plate area near the front of the net, while High Danger chances are classified as attempts taken in the goal mouth:


So, let’s have some fun and take a look at scoring chances generated. We’ll grab the individual rates and the on-ice rates for each player, and for the sake of answering Kevin’s question a little better, we’ll invent our own stat – Teammate High-Danger Chances, which will just be on-ice subtracted by individual chances.

We are also going to expand this idea to the whole “big four”, including William Nylander and John Tavares. This will make sense as we progress through the post.

First and foremost, John Tavares is a Toronto Maple Leaf and I still can’t believe that this is a thing we’re able to say. Tavares is generating net-front shot attempts at an unreal pace, both individually and in total. William Nylander, who started off slow on the stat sheet despite good underlying numbers and is finally catching his scoring groove now, continues to impress.

Interestingly, Matthews is at the bottom of the on-ice category, and Marner the individual, though Matthews remains a strong individual generator and Marner is still on the ice for a ton of his teammate’s own chances. My next step was to look at the previous two years for the big three (and, for reference, the Islanders version of JT).

Marner once again continues to suffer here individually but also falls back on his teammates’ chances. Matthews returns to form, Nylander becomes the main distributor, and Tavares looked very good in Long Island.

A viable question from here becomes – what effect do Kevin’s unmentioned stars have on the ones he is most curious about? After all, two marquee players are better than one, and it’s possible we learn something about who is driving and who is riding shotgun on these lines.

Some interesting patterns emerge in this year’s data, which admittedly comes from a small sample (especially for something like Dangerous Attempts, which can be swayed by goaltending effects like rebound control). Tavares seems to be able to hold the fort without Marner, as does Nylander without Matthews, and Matthews without Nylander. But Marner falls off a cliff, not getting any outside support from his teammates and seeing his on-ice generation cut in half. This is relatively consistent with Marner’s other with/without results concerning Tavares and shot share this year:

With this in mind, I wonder if the biggest influence in Marner’s “driving of play” and his spike of offence at five-on-five is the new combination of linemates he has at his disposal. James Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak were money once they were in the slot but weren’t great at actually getting there, and even his next duo of Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau, while an improvement in all-around ability, aren’t really slot specialists either.

In Tavares, Marner was afforded one of the most intelligent and creative danger-area players of our generation, and he was also given Zach Hyman. You might laugh at the latter’s inclusion, but over the past three years, only Tavares has generated more dangerous on-ice chances relative to his Leafs peers, and only Tavares and Matthews have taken more close-in shots individually.

Hyman’s ability to forecheck, win puck battles, and get to the slot while his other linemates do the juggling has made him a positive influence on dangerous offensive chances for all of the big four, but especially Marner, who goes from one of the team’s worst to one of their best with him at his disposal. I do wonder if losing Hyman has been a part of why Matthews has taken a step back this year, especially considering how much time he spent with Patrick Marleau, who is a negative driver of those types of chances.

The question from here is how important you think all of the above is. A guy like Matthews, for example, might not need as many close shots, or to even be as close, because he has that once-in-a-lifetime deadly wrister that can find corners from distance. Theoretically, a player like Marner should be able to use his ability to hold the puck for a perfect pass to create higher-quality close shots (there is some evidence of these ideas in the data, using on-ice shooting percentage of high danger attempts, but the sample isn’t sufficient enough to trust it).

But as far as “driving” goes, in the ability to make scoring chances happen and to turn them into goals, I’d suggest that the centres on both lines one and two are stirring their wingers’ drink. Specifically, I think that Tavares is driving Marner’s success in this regard more than Matthews is driving Nylander, but that Matthews has shown more capable than Marner to drive – not to mention, is more capable of during that shot into his own goal.

Oh, and we need to respect Zach Hyman more. He’s great at his role.

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