When the Habs lose some fans are quick to throw the team and their captain under the bus. My buddy’s go to objection in regards to Max Pacioretty’s goal totals is that they are inflated with empty net goals. Now, these are mostly comments made when emotions are flying high with little fact checking, but it got me thinking; who out of the scoring leaders has the highest percentage of empty net goals and do empty net goals have any noticeable impact on scoring leaders rankings?
Empty Net Goals Percentiles
Answering these two questions was pretty simple. I took the top 30 best scorers of the last 5 years in the NHL and expressed their empty net goals as a percentage of their total goals scored, as can be seen in this table.
Turns out my buddy is slightly right. If we take the 10 best scorers of the past 5 years Pacioretty is the player with the highest empty net goal percentage at 8.33%. When looking at the whole top 30 only Brad Marchand, at 8.39%, and Blake Wheeler, at 12.80%, have higher percentiles than him.
In my opinion, it makes sense that these three players would have the highest percentiles as they often have defensive responsibilities and would find themselves on the ice when the goalie is pulled. Blake Wheeler is probably the only player you could consider an outlier with a percentile of 12.80% and that most likely has to do with his phenomenal speed which allows him to beat defenders to the empty net.
As a side note, it is interesting to see guys like Ovechkin, Malkin and van Riemsdyk have such low empty net goal percentiles. In Malkin and JVR’s case they simply don’t score many empty netters, mostly because their lines aren’t the go-to lines to be on the ice in the final minute of close games. However, in Ovy’s case his percentile is low because he scores so many goals with a goalie between the pipes.
Impact of Empty Netters on Goal Leaders.
Next I simply subtracted each player’s total goals by the amount of empty netters they scored to see if their rank had changed.
This is where my friend is disproven. Yes, Max has a high empty net goal percentile, but once you subtract everyone’s empty net goals from their total goals he is still the 5th best scorer in the last 5 years.
Doing this simple calculation doesn’t change much of the top 15. Kane finds himself in fourth only because he was tied with Crosby. Seguin and Tavares, as well as Stamkos and Marchand find themselves swapping ranks.
It’s when you go below the 15th rank that things begin to change and it mostly has to do with Wheeler, Malkin and van Riemsdyke. Since Wheeler had such a high empty net goal percentile, and the gap between the ranks at that level is minimal, he found himself dropping 6 positions. Geno and James on the other hand moved up 4 and 3 positions since their percentiles were low.
In conclusion, all these guys are gifted scorers who find ways to put the puck in the net whether there is or isn’t a goalie in net. The only player in the top 30 who does have inflated stats is Blake Wheeler and that’s most likely because he is so damn fast.
Bonus: What not to do when the net is empty