TJ Oshie‘s 33-goal season in 2016-17 was the first time in a decade that Alex Ovechkin wasn’t the sole top scorer for the Washington Capitals. If the Caps had anxiety about their scoring prowess in the future, then it makes sense why they’d re-sign Oshie in free agency to a deal with an average annual value of $5.75 million.
Now that the deal is real, let’s look at what Oshie’s output may be next year and beyond.
In his book, Stat Shot, Rob Vollman describes a few methods for projecting future performance. The simplest approach is to take a weighted average of a player’s last three seasons, wherein each season counts double the one before it. Using the 4-2-1 method, here’s what TJ Oshie might do next season.
That’s not bad at all. Another 50-point season with Oshie at the cusp of 30 goals. That’d be a solid investment of $5.75 million. The problem with that projection is that it’s heavily based on 2016-17, in which Oshie shot 23.1 percent, almost double his career average (12.1 percent).
Oshie’s 2016-17 season was almost certainly an outlier.
Forwards who manage to stick around the NHL long-term (around 450 of them) have an aggregate all-situation shooting percentage of about 10.8 percent since 2007. But a season like Oshie’s (shooting percentage above 23 on more than 80 shots) has happened just four times in that span.
If we widen the net to 2005-06, we can see how hot-shooting players did at their peak (Y1) and in the year after (Y2).
Only one of them, Petr Prucha, managed to stay above 20 percent the year after his hottest season. Still, those Y2 percentages aren’t too bad. If Oshie manages to score at a 16-percent clip next season on around 157 shots (the weighted projection based on his last three seasons), then he would score 25 goals – still a respectable total.
But 16-percent shooting from Oshie would still be a significant uptick from his career average, and it would require Oshie to resist an aging curve that really kicks in after a goal-scorer turns 30.
Led by Eric Tulsky, the literature suggests that Oshie’s shooting percentage at age 31 might lose about 15 percent off his athletic peak in his mid-20’s, which was 11.4 percent. If that holds true for Oshie, 9.7 percent would be a realistic shooting percentage next season – about half of his clip in his last two years with Washington. That would be a devastating drop, resulting in just 15 goals.
Graph: Eric Tulsky
I suspect this projection is overly pessimistic. After all, Oshie’s shooting since he joined Washington is far better than it was in his mid-20s. Last season, Oshie took closer shots than any top-nine Caps forward (22.8 feet), generated scoring chances at roughly the same clip as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (4.3 per 60), and produced a shot heat map that looks like a derecho rolling right into the goalie’s crease.
Oshie’s production with DC has relied on very high shooting percentages that will not sustain – even if Oshie has a genuine, durable talent for finishing. Further, he has missed time to injury in every season of his career and is likely to miss more as he ages. Every model for projecting his future expects some drop-off from last season.
Regression and age are coming, and when they arrive they will be merciless. But maybe they’re not here yet. Oshie will probably never hit 30 goals again, but he could still be viable as a top scoring talent for a few more seasons.
Headline photo: Amanda Bowen
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.