Here's Exhibit #8734652349 in the file of "why you don't react too much to one year's worth of surprising results."
At this time last year, the question about Scott Hartnell was whether or not his career year in the 2011-12 season was worthy of a contract extension. As you probably heard, he got said contract extension.
Now, after a 2013 season featuring significantly worse results and injury troubles, the question among a lot of fans seems to be how long until his new contract runs out -- or, for some, whether he's a candidate for a compliance buyout.
So how are things looking for Hartnell as he heads into the first year of his new deal? Let's break this into three questions and find out.
1. What worked last year for Hartnell that didn't this year?
Before Hartnell signed his extension, Eric wrote the piece linked above that talked about how Hartnell had improved last season. In essence, it came down to a drastically improved shot rate on the power play. That jump, coupled with a slight increase in Hartnell's already-high power play shooting percentage, helped him along to his career year, while his even-strength numbers had actually remained fairly constant to years past.
This year? Let's start on the power play. If we add another row (and column) to that table from last year...
|Year||5v4 TOI/G||5v4 goals||5v4 shots on goal||5v4 shooting percentage||5v4 shots per game|
His shot rates with the man advantage weren't quite where they were last season, but they were close, and well above the mark set in any season prior to last season. His shooting percentage was down a bit, but over the span of 19 shots that'd only cost him a single goal over the span of 32 games. So the high shot rate is still fairly encouraging.
The even-strength numbers, though, are a bit less optimistic.
Hartnell's rate production at even strength was by far the lowest it's been in a while, and given that even strength is, y'know, the state at which hockey games are mostly played, that's the biggest explanation as for why his numbers fell off. We all saw Laviolette shifting him around lines a lot this year -- from the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek to the second line with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, with a few trips to the third and even the fourth line here and there -- but no matter who it was, none of his five most frequent linemates (sorted below by 5v5 ice time with Hartnell) really got him going on the ice this year the way Giroux and Jaromir Jagr did last year:
|Linemate||Hartnell's P/60 with linemate|
He also lost 16 games to injury thanks to a broken foot, which isn't something that typically happens to him given that he'd missed all of three games in his five-year Flyers career heading into 2013. Not to mention, he came back from that injury a bit quicker than I think most of us anticipated, and it looked like it may have slowed him down some on the ice.
2. Can we expect him to bounce back?
We sure can. We've already discussed how individual and on-ice shooting percentages affect scoring rates, and how that affected one Flyers forward already this season. Turns out Sean Couturier wasn't the only one bit by the shooting percentage bug this year:
|Year||5v5 Shooting %||Points/60|
You can see how Hartnell's percentages dropped substantially from what they've been in recent years, which obviously plays a huge role in his struggles this season. While we know that shooting percentages can drop as players age, Hartnell's only just finishing his age-30 season, and to expect that his numbers will drop four percentage points at this point in his career isn't realistic. Even if he's not shooting around 10% at 5-on-5 or 28% on the power play, his percentages should creep back up a bit and his scoring totals should as well.
We'd have more to worry about if he was putting significantly less shots on net than he was in the past, but that's only really the case if you look at last season. Across all situations, Hartnell tallied 2.31 shots on goal per game this year; that mark -- despite being well behind last year's mark of 2.83 -- was the third-highest single-season number in his six-year Flyers career. If that had dropped off, we'd have some reason for concern, but the fact that it didn't leads us to think that the majority of his dropoff this year was based on the percentages.
And it's worth noting that he's not likely to miss significant time due to injury again. Sure, anyone can, especially a player in his 30s, but Hartnell's injury history (or lack thereof) gives us reason to think he'll likely not miss much time the way he did this year.
3. Where are the signs that he won't bounce back?
As we said last year when it was signed, the biggest question with Hartnell at this point is pretty much with how he ages through the length of his contract. Guys with similar patterns of production generally don't put up excellent numbers through their 31 through 36 seasons, so it's true that Hartnell's not off to a great start if he's hoping to avoid that aging curve.
If you think his drops in shots and shooting percentage are due in large part to his additional year of age, then yeah, you probably think that his performance this year is a good predictor of what's going forward. (For what it's worth, I think that captures maybe a small part of it, but certainly not all of it.)
Ultimately, I think that the thing to ask there is what exactly you would mean by "bounce back." If you're defining that as what he did in his 37-goal, 67-point year in 2011-12, you might end up disappointed. But if you're looking more at his 82-game averages in recent years of around 26 goals and 26 assists, there's a good chance that he'll find himself around there next year if he stays healthy.
It all comes back to last season, his career year, and that contract extension, which was obviously based in large part on his career year. A look at the percentages and numbers last year would've told you Hartnell probably wasn't going to put up 67 points again; unfortunately, things swung almost completely in the opposite direction, which led to a lot of the disappointment that fans seem to have with Hartnell.
As for the contract, the big concern there -- as we wrote at the time -- was for the last two or three seasons of it, when Hartnell will be in his 34 to 36-year old seasons where productive wingers like himself typically fall off the map. Those concerns are still there, and yeah, the down year this year doesn't do anything to quell them.
However, if he can find some better luck, better health, and some semi-consistent linemates, we should expect this season to be more of a blip than a sign of things to come -- at least in the next couple of years -- for Hartnell.