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Will Alex Ovechkin Win His Third Consecutive Rocket Richard Trophy?

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A look at the Caps' captain's chances at bringing home a familiar piece of hardware.

Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

Coming out of the All Star Break, the 2015 race for the Rocket Richard trophy — awarded at season's close to the skater who has scored the most goals — boasts a diverse cast of characters.

You've got the annual familiar faces with guys like Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. You've got a few guys who are established stars but haven't finished higher than fifth in the goal-scoring rankings in the last ten years in Rick Nash and Tyler Seguin (though it's worth noting that all the way back in 2003-2004 Rick Nash tied Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk for the league lead with 41 goals).

And then you've got fresh-faced (and somehow under-the-radar) Vladimir Tarasenko, looking to hoist the Richard in just his third NHL season.

Here's how their goal scoring numbers shook out up to the break:

Player Goals Games Played
Seguin 28 46
Nash 28 44
Ovechkin 27 46
Stamkos 26 48
Tarasenko 24 46

Surface level data suggests that Nash is primed to take home his first Rocket Richard since he had to split it three ways eleven years ago. He's scored as many goals as Seguin, with who he shares the top spot in the race, and has done it in two fewer games played.

Nash is also shooting considerably more efficiently than his career average — so far this year he's tallied on 17.3% of his shots. Coming into this season, that number was 12.4% for the Rangers winger.(and here's a more in-depth look at how Nash has come by his goals this year.)

So how do the other guys look?

Player Goals Games Played 2014-15 Sh%

Pre-2014-15 Sh%

Sh% Delta

Seguin 28 46 14.6% 11.2% 3.4%
Nash 28 44 17.3% 12.4% 4.9%
Ovechkin 27 46 12.3% 12.3% 0.0%
Stamkos 26 48 16.5% 17.5% -1.0%
Tarasenko 24 46 14.9% 13.7% 1.2%

So of the 2014-2014 five top goal scorers, three — Seguin, Nash, and Tarasenko — are shooting with more success than usual, one — Stamkos — with less success, and one — Ovi — in perfect accordance with historical precedent. Here's how it looks visualized (via war-on-ice), with raw scoring chance numbers thrown in and represented by color.

We know that shooters, over the course of a season, will tend towards their historical shooting percentages. So what does that mean for our Rocket Richard contenders? (Note: for more on shooting percentages and regression, check out this piece from last year by Eric Tulsky.)

Below, take a look at each shooter's end-of-season projections, incorporating their regression/progression to career average in shooting percentage, their TOI, and their all-situations shots-on-goal per 60 minutes of ice time.

Player TOI/G Sh% for Remaining Games Total Remaining Games Projected Remaining TOI Projected Remaining Shots Projected Remaining Goals
Seguin 19:37 9.2% 36 706.0 149.7 13.8
Nash 17:38 8.1% 38 669.9 131.2 10.6
Ovechkin 20:16 12.3% 36 729.4 167.5 20.6
Stamkos 19:37 18.3% 34 666.7 130.7 23.9
Tarasenko 17:56 13.5% 36 645.5 156.3 21.1

This full hypothetical regression takes its toll on both Seguin and Nash, who in this scenario would respectively score ~14 and ~11 more goals. That's quite a drop off from their torrid starts. By the same logic applied to Seguin and Nash, it stands to reason that Ovechkin will continue to produce at the same rate at which he's been hurtling along. Tarasenko's goal scoring production could very well be sustained, as his shooting percentage isn't much higher than his career average (and note that Taransenko's career is only 148 games old. That's less than two full NHL seasons. For all we know, this guy could be shooting on the low end of his spectrum right now).

And Stamkos gonna Stamkos. Nevermind that Stamkos is shooting at a gaudy 16.5% clip so far in '14-15. That's still a full percentage point below his career 17.5% coming into this season. Man, what a shot that guy has.

Based on this math, here's how these snipers would cross the finish line.

Player Projected Goals
Seguin 41.8
Nash 38.6
Ovechkin 47.6
Stamkos 49.9
Tarasenko 45.1

But maybe the above projection overshoots the regression. They're calculated to show end-of-year results if the skaters shot at a percentage that brought their end-of-year percentages to their career average. But if we flip a coin ten times and it comes up heads on eight of those flips, we don't expect the next ten tosses to yield eight tails, so what would it look like if the projections showed results for if the shooters shot at their career marks the rest of the season?

Player Projected Goals
Seguin 45.8
Nash 44.7
Ovechkin 47.6
Stamkos 48.7
Tarasenko 46.2

Here, our hypothetical regression (and progression in the case of Stamkos) is much less dramatic— especially for Seguin and Nash. In terms of the final goal-scoring standings, however there is no change.

Based on both of these scenarios— and it's important to note that these scenarios are both very high level, lacking nuances such as segmenting power play vs even strength shooting percentages, as well as the annual second half decline in power play opportunities, which'll likely slow all parties down), the race for the Rocket Richard would finish like this:

  1. Steven Stamkos
  2. Alexander Ovechkin
  3. Vladimir Tarasenko
  4. Tyler Seguin
  5. Rick Nash

But even hypotheticals rooted in statistics are still hypothetical. Of course Alexander Ovechkin — currently only one goal off the league lead — has a good chance of bringing home another decoration for his mantelpiece. But if projections that incorporate shooting percentage trends are any indication, his biggest challenger will be a guy currently behind him in the race.

Hold on to your butts.