What’s wrong with Johnny Gaudreau?

It’s been a rough season for the Flames’ most dangerous player. 

With 11 goals and 35 points in 49 games, Gaudreau is on track to put up his worst goal per game (0.22) and points per game (0.71) pace since entering the league. He has just two goals in his last 22 contests and was recently demoted the fourth line for a few periods after a poor turnover that led to a goal against. On top of all that, he’s an unsightly -18. 

A lot of theories have cropped up to explain Gaudreau’s struggles. Eric Francis and Brian McGrattan suggested the team isn’t tough enough to protect Gaudreau, leading to less scoring. Many fans have pointed to Glen Gulutzan as the culprit, with the notion that the new bench boss’ systems are suppressing his stars’ scoring. I’ve also seen the theory that the league has “adapted” to Gaudreau and he has to find new ways to generate points or that the player suffers from off-ice issues.

Out of curiosity, I took a look at Gaudreau’s numbers to see what they could reveal. Have his coach or teammates somehow failed him, leading to fewer chances and shots? Has the league figured out how to keep Gaudreau away from the dangerous areas? Is he partying too much?

Spoiler alert: Probably not.   

The assertion that Gaudreau hasn’t actually been worse this year is a bit shocking given his results. Even by eye, he seems less dangerous and more prone to error. Follow me through a few layers of numbers to understand why I think he’ll be okay in the long run. 

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Yup, Gaudreau’s even strength counting numbers are pretty bad this year relative to expectations. He is scoring just 1.59 even strength points/60 minutes, the lowest rate in his career to date. His GF%, or goals for and against ratio at 5on5, is just 37%, which explains that ugly plus/minus rating. Previous to this year, the Flames enjoyed positive goal ratios with Gaudreau on the ice (54% and 53%, respectively). 

Shot attempts

All of that seems pretty damning, but if we dig deeper, we find something surprising: almost all of the Gaudreau’s other underlying numbers have actually improved this season. I’ve broken the information up into three tables to give proper context. We’ll start with the shot attempts and expected goal rates:

Player Season GP TOI CF% FF% SF% xGF60 xGF% xFSh% SCF60 SCF%
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 20142015 80 1115.12 46.49 47.17 47.48 2.31 47.39 5.98 7.8 46.93
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 20152016 79 1184.96 49.55 49.63 50.99 2.49 48.97 6.15 8.41 48.68
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 20162017 49 694.41 51.29 50.98 52.19 2.62 50.53 6.32 8.21 51.63

(All numbers from Corsica Hockey)

I have included Gaudreau’s results from his rookie and sophomore seasons for comparison purposes. Skip the next two paragraphs if you are familiar with these stats.

This table contains corsi ratios, or all shot attempts at the net (CF%); fenwick ratios (FF%), which excludes all shots except blocked attempts; shots on net (SF%); as well as two scoring chances measures (scoring chances for per 60 minutes of ice and scoring chance ratio). 

The metrics with an “X” in front of them are expected rates based on shot volume, type, location, etc. Meaning xGF60 is expected goals for per 60 minutes of ice according to this model. xGF% is expected goal ratio and xFSh% is expected fenwick shooting percentage. 

As mentioned, almost all of Gaudreau’s underlying numbers are better this year. The team gets a higher ratio of shot attempts with him on the ice and a greater percentage of scoring chances as well. In terms of expected goals, the Flames are expected to be scoring more often with Gaudreau on the ice this year than they have previously (2.62 GF/60) and they have a higher expected fenwick SH% as well (6.32). The only measure that is slightly down is scoring chances per 60 at 8.21. But even then, that’s a higher rate than he managed as a rookie (7.80). 

This seems almost unbelievable. By many of these measures, Gaudreau should be having his best NHL season to date, not his worst. What’s behind the poor results?

The percentages

Player Season GP CSh% FSh% Sh% Sv% PDO xPDO
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 20142015 80 5.31 7.4 10.6 91.86 102.46 100.05
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 20152016 79 5.21 7.13 9.6 91.07 100.66 99.84
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 20162017 48 2.91 3.97 5.31 90.43 95.55 99.79

This table is simpler. It is Gaudreau’s on-ice shooting percentages and PDO (SH% + SV%) for each season so far.

The culprit behind Gaudreau’s bad half season becomes clear here. For his first two seasons in the league, the Flames scored on about 5.25% of the total shots they took on the net when Gaudreau was on the ice. This year? Less than 3%. That’s also true of fenwick SH% (3.97% versus over 7%) and typical shooting percentage (5.31% versus 10%). 

Essentially, pucks are going in at about half the rate they have previously with Gaudreau on the ice at even strength. That’s despite the improved shot numbers and expected goals metrics we noted in the first table.

Which brings us to PDO and expected (xPDO). As you can see, Gaudreau’s PDO is a putrid 95.55 this year, way below the league average of 100 and his own PDO before this season (about 101). His expected PDO is pretty much right in line with league norms, but for whatever reason, the bounces haven’t gone his way this season.  

Individual shot attempts

So far, we’ve looked at team/line based stats. I also wanted to include Gaudreau’s individual even strength metrics to see if there was any indication of poor play or problem areas. 

Player Season Team GP TOI iCF60 iFF60 iSF60 iSh% ixG60 ixFSh% iSCF60 Avg.DIST
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 20142015 CGY 80 1115.12 11.14 8.29 6.19 11.3 0.59 7.09 2.04 25.31
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 20152016 CGY 79 1184.96 12 9.32 6.84 13.33 0.62 6.7 2.18 26.04
JOHNNY.GAUDREAU 20162017 CGY 49 680.62 12.19 9.85 7.78 7.78 0.66 6.65 1.9 23.29

This table contains individual shots/shot attempts, as well as expected goals. The final column includes his average shot distance for added context.

Once again, we see career average or better metrics almost across the board. Gaudreau is managing more total shot attempts (12.19/60), unblocked shot attempts (9.85/60) and individual shots on net (7.78/60) than ever has before. His expected individual goals per 60 is 0.66 this year, again the highest it has ever been. He’s also shooting from about three feet closer to the net than previous in his career. 

The main problem area is, of course, a big drop in shooting percentage. Gaudreau was a better than 12% shooter at 5on5 up until this season. In 2016-17, he’s scoring on less than 8% of his shots. 

The only other indication of a downward trend is individual scoring chances for per 60, with his own chance attempts falling to 1.90 from a previous norm of about 2.10. Given all the other data we have, that’s not nearly enough to be worried about. 

Conclusion

Johnny Gaudreau’s performance metrics are uniformly in line with his career norms to date, except for shooting percentage. From shot rates to expected goal rates, Gaudreau’s numbers suggest he has been as good or better than ever before. Unfortunately, the puck is not going in for either himself or his linemates this season for whatever reason. The Flames have better shot ratios, better chance ratios, and better expected goals ratios than in Gaudreau’s previous two seasons, but his offensive output and goal differentials are lousy. 

This is obviously frustrating, but it’s actually good news. We know that things like shooting percentage and PDO can vary randomly over shorter samples, meaning this dry spell is unlikely to last over the long term. If Gaudreau’s shot and chance metrics were also down there would be need for greater alarm and other explanations for his output to date (like bad coaching or poor off-ice habits). However, given that the only thing that’s down this year is the percentages, we can expect Gaudreau to rediscover his form as a matter of course at some point. 

Some may wonder why Gaudreau also looks poor if many of his underlying numbers are improved or stable. The answer is that bad results and lousy percentages will make any player look bad because we both consciously and unconsciously evaluate guys by things like goals for and against. When the puck isn’t going in for a guy who is supposed to score, his faults become magnified and his strengths muted. 

Once Gaudreau’s on-ice shooting percentage regresses to the mean, he’ll start to look like the player we’ve come to know and love in Calgary. 

  • Newbietwo

    In no particular order

    First Round

    – Ryan Poehling
    Puck carrying centre and left wing that plays physical and is strong and gritty with a scoring touch.. a little Sam Bennet like

    – Callan Foote
    Very good point shot so pivot potential, skating an mobility not too bad and has upside as a 4 defender

    -Kristian Vesalainen
    Fast skater shoots left but plays RW.. is 6ft3 had a good shot and a two way type of player that could mold as a power forward with good defensive side.. one of my top first round options

    – Nicolas Haque
    Massive 6ft6 defender.. a real defensive minded defender and my second choice to take in the first round for us.. the guy will be a 4 defender at least

    – Nikita Popugayev
    6ft6 Right shot winger and my top target to draft in the first round for us.. this guy is going to be a monster and exactly what our future needs! I cannot stress how much I’d like us to take this guy although he is Russian

    – Kole Lind
    6ft1 current skinny but exceptional playmaker and scoring winger that can really skate well.. I’m not all in with him as I am the others

    I didn’t target anyone top ten cause we won’t be there.. I also didn’t include Matthew Strome because he can’t skate and is not even as good as his brothers who are struggling.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    The perfect RW for Johnny would be a player like Simmonds and fortunately we have that type of player in Tkachuk. It has become obvious that Calgary is missing a pure goal scorer or at least someone with a quick heavy shot. Watch a player like Matthews with Nylander, and you will see how a good timely pass can end up in the back of the net off one time precision shooting.

    Calgary does not have any snipers. But to make matters worse they also don’t have any players that have shown they can one time a puck. In fact, one of the only times I have seen Johnny wiff is when he tries to one time a shot. A complementary player like an Iggy, Kessel, Neal, Cammallerri, or Nylander is needed especially for the PP.

    Our PP has stalled mostly due to the fact that our PP Centers around Johnny and Brodie who are both pass first players and often pass up on great shooting opportunities.

  • everton fc

    I wonder how Johnny would do with Backlund and Frolik, and how Tkachuk on a line w/Bennett and Versteg would work?

    I also wonder how Johnny would do with a RW like Silfverberg out of Anaheim? Or a centre Duchene or Galchenyuk?? Not a lot of RW’s available on teams looking to “sell”. Unless the Sens would move Bobby Ryan – and would we want him?

  • hags437

    This is a kid who TRADEMARKED HIS NAME FOR GOD SAKE! And people wonder what’s wrong with him??! Seriously he’s a Prima Donna who cares more about marketing himself off the ice than how he plays on it. The League has figured the guy out. When he has room ie 3v3 he’s very dangerous. Close space on him and when the play slows and tightens up in the playoffs ie against the Ducks he is ineffective.

    • VoRaCS

      As the article suggests, there isn’t a whole lot wrong with him other than bad luck. Last season when Crosby wasn’t scoring a lot, there were a number of pundits suggesting the league had figured out how to play him and that he was washed up; then he had a great second half. Was it a miracle? Did he suddenly remember how to play the game? And how is he doing now?

      Moving forward, I would certainly like to see a more exciting and offensive brand of hockey from the Flames in general, and I would like to see the refs make the right calls when this player, in particular, is hacked (or at least some some pushback from his mates). No, I don’t believe Johnny’s a “Prima Donna” but remember he isn’t a large man. I’m sure that over time we’ll see his numbers bounce back to where we expect them to be in a league despite the absolute rarity of point-a-game players in today’s NHL—especially by players under 5’8″ and who weigh less than 160 lbs.

    • VoRaCS

      As the article suggests, there isn’t a whole lot wrong with him other than bad luck. Last season when Crosby wasn’t scoring a lot, there were a number of pundits suggesting the league had figured out how to play him and that he was washed up; then he had a great second half. Was it a miracle? Did he suddenly remember how to play the game? And how is he doing now?

      Moving forward, I would certainly like to see a more exciting and offensive brand of hockey from the Flames in general, and I would like to see the refs make the right calls when this player, in particular, is hacked (or at least some some pushback from his mates). No, I don’t believe Johnny’s a “Prima Donna” but remember he isn’t a large man. I’m sure that over time we’ll see his numbers bounce back to where we expect them to be in a league despite the absolute rarity of point-a-game players in today’s NHL—especially by players under 5’8″ and who weigh less than 160 lbs.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Stats look at history, but what about the future? Relying too much on stats is like buying a stock primarily based on its historical performance.

    The most important question Kent raised was why isn’t Johnny scoring, and despite his pretty charts and slick analysis, he’s just as stumped as the next guy.

    Like a lamppost to a drunk, advanced stats are good for support but useless for illumination. Love the Burke!

  • Dan the flames fan

    I thought the article was really good at putting things in perspective. As I have stated before, JH is snake-bit! He is looking for the pass instead of the best shot, IMO for fear of getting hit. Look at some of his seeing-eye goals last year to prove the point. He had players rushing him and still made the shot. He did not worry about the slash as much, and it paid off. This year, he doesn’t press the shot, and chooses to find the passers-by instead.

    They still need a RW sniper to compliment the line, and size is not really a concern. If they have that body who is fast, slippery, and accurate; then that gives the line a third person who can enter with the puck and take the pressure off JH to be the only player that can generate plays. Hudler was not that big but gave that line and Johnny an added dimension to the scoring.

  • jakethesnail

    Line Scoring Down: Hudler >>>>>> Chiasson!

    Johnny Scoring % Down: Extra glove padding to save his fingers from whacks makes his shots less effective: i.e. no Zing! He seems to be burying his shots into the goalie….

  • MontanaMan

    These comments sound like a Millenial convention! What’s wrong with JG? His RW, his coach, his line mates, etc. Here’s my take: What’s wrong with JG? JG and only JG. He hasn’t played well at either end of the ice, has been a turnover machine in the neutral zone and hasn’t moved the puck when he’s in a dangerous area. My take is that he has a bad attitude and is difficult to coach. No proof and likely unfair but that’s my take.

  • VoRaCS

    As the article suggests, there isn’t a whole lot wrong with him other than bad luck. Last season when Crosby wasn’t scoring a lot, there were a number of pundits suggesting the league had figured out how to play him and that he was washed up; then he had a great second half. Was it a miracle? Did he suddenly remember how to play the game? And how is he doing now?

    Moving forward, I would certainly like to see a more exciting and offensive brand of hockey from the Flames in general, and I would like to see the refs make the right calls when this player, in particular, is hacked (or at least some some pushback from his mates). No, I don’t believe Johnny’s a “Prima Donna” but remember he isn’t a large man. I’m sure that over time we’ll see his numbers bounce back to where we expect them to be in a league despite the absolute rarity of point-a-game players in today’s NHL—especially by players under 5’8″ and who weigh less than 160 lbs.

  • VoRaCS

    As the article suggests, there isn’t a whole lot wrong with him other than bad luck. Last season when Crosby wasn’t scoring a lot, there were a number of pundits suggesting the league had figured out how to play him and that he was washed up; then he had a great second half. Was it a miracle? Did he suddenly remember how to play the game? And how is he doing now?

    Moving forward, I would certainly like to see a more exciting and offensive brand of hockey from the Flames in general, and I would like to see the refs make the right calls when this player, in particular, is hacked (or at least some some pushback from his mates). No, I don’t believe Johnny’s a “Prima Donna” but remember he isn’t a large man. I’m sure that over time we’ll see his numbers bounce back to where we expect them to be in a league despite the absolute rarity of point-a-game players in today’s NHL—especially by players under 5’8″ and who weigh less than 160 lbs.

  • nikkomsgb

    fascinating read.

    I definitely fall into the camp that says he has looked awful. Same play every time…carry the puck over the blueline, stop and curl then cough it up.

    I have to say that I find solace in these numbers as they renew hope that it could turn for him at any minute.

    Terrific job Kent.