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Why Patric Hornqvist's new contract is a steal

Reaction from the Nashville Predators fan base to today's Patric Hornqvist signing has been at once filled with celebration (at the fact the deal got done) to concern (over the price of the deal, $9.25 million over 3 seasons). Somewhat understandably, some observers are worried that after a breakout 30-goal season, David Poile may have paid "for promise, not performance" as Hockey Hillbilly said, and Jeremy at deems the contract "a little alarming." Amanda at Predlines goes right to the scare tactic: "is there any chance of Hornqvist becoming the next David Legwand?"

Relax, folks - this is a great deal for the Nashville Predators.

When you dig inside the details, you'll see that Hornqvist's 30-goal season was no fluke, and that significant upside potential has yet to be tapped. If anything, this contract could look like quite a bargain after just a few months...

Goal-Scoring Flukes Do Occur

Now, there are indeed fluky seasons out there, such as Jason Blake's 2006-7 for the Islanders, when he hit the 40-goal mark for the only time in his 11 NHL seasons, and Mike Rebeiro's 27-goal high point with Dallas in 2007-8. Neither has come close to matching those totals since then, because during those lucky seasons their Shooting Percentage was abnormally high. For Blake, an 8.1% career shooter, he scored on 13.1% of shots during his banner year, while Rebeiro topped his career average of 15.2% with an absurd 25.2% scoring clip during his big season.

Hockey is a game with a lot of bounces, and we shouldn't be surprised to see a few players each season benefit from the randomness, lifting them to career years.

The best analysis indicates that shooting percentage can be influenced in part by a player's ability to take shots from dangerous areas of the ice, but the random aspect of the game results in year-to-year shooting percentages which vary above or below this "expected" percentage which is driven by that player's efforts.

Patric Hornqvist did not benefit in such a fashion last season. His overall shooting percentage was 10.9%, a very typical rate for a forward. I dug through data from Behind the Net, bringing together the shooting data just from 5-on-5 play (which represents the bulk of the action) for forwards with at least 40 games played, and 10 minutes of ice time per game.

The average shooting percentage in 5-on-5? 9.9%. Last season, Hornqvist scored on 8.3% of such shots. No fluke there, or cause for alarm.

It's all about the shots

Where Hornqvist does excel is in his ability to consistently put pucks on net, and that's a skill which does indeed persist strongly over time for a given player.

Last season, he came in 14th in the NHL with 275 shots, despite just 15:41 of average ice time per game. If you look at the 13 guys ahead of him, they all had at least 19:07, and most were over 20 minutes.

EDIT: A little additional background on Hornqvist's shot-creating talent in the next two paragraphs...

Last season, Hornqvist had only two games in which he didn't register a shot on goal, and in one of those he suffered a broken hand, leaving in the second period.  By comparison, Nashville's incumbent offensive wingers were more inconsistent.  Martin Erat had 10 shot-less games, and Steve Sullivan 14.

The best news is that Hornqvist's prodigious shot production is something he's been able to carry forward at each step along his professional development.  In 2008-9, he led the Milwaukee Admirals in Shots per Game (3.28), and the year before that he led Djurgardens in the Swedish Elite League (as it happens, with the same 3.28 Shots/Game figure) and ranked 6th league-wide by that measure as a 21-year-old. Simply put, the guy shoots a lot, which is a very, very good thing.

Regardless of whether Matt Lombardi will be a more productive center for Hornqvist than Jason Arnott (I have serious doubts about that), there's a simple formula to explain his scoring prospects:

More ice time = more opportunity = more shots on net = more goals.

With his new contract, you can bet that Hornqvist will get that ice time, and the opportunity that comes with it. If I had to peg an over/under figure for the upcoming season, I'd put him down for 36 goals. The bounces could skew things either way, but there's no reason to believe that his goal campaign of 2009-10 was just a pleasant dream.

And by the time he racks up another 30-goal season or two, that $3 million annual salary will look like an absolute bargain.

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