Milan Lucic & Empty Net Goals

62312016

There’s a good reason that people like me don’t spend a lot of time looking at empty-net goals: the simple fact is that they don’t happen all that often.  A good team might pot a dozen of them in a season, and so for the outliers it is a factor worth adjusting for, but it never has much impact on the overall numbers.

Generally, it’s the same story for players.  Since the NHL lockout, the league leader in empty-net goals has never had more than four or five in a single season, and generally the guys putting that many in the net are scoring in the 50-goal range anyway.

For Milan Lucic this season, however, empty-net goals are a statistic well worth looking at.

I was alerted to that fact by Team 990 reporter Conor McKenna, who tweeted the following:

#Bruins Milan Lucic has more empty net goals (5) than fighting majors (3) this year, according to fightcard at hockeyfights.com.

Lucic is on pace to break the post-lockout record for empty-net goals scored in a season.  He has five already, which ties the best mark, and at his current rate will pocket seven before the buzzer sounds on the 2010-11 regular season.

It’s an exceptional mark, even on a franchise enjoying the success Boston has this season.  The Bruins as a team have scored 10 empty-net goals, meaning that Lucic has as many as the rest of his teammates combined.  It is also an exceptional mark for Lucic; with 26 goals total, those five into a gaping cage represent a hair under 20% of his total goal-scoring.

Is it likely to hold up?  I would say not.  Last season the entire team managed just four empty-net goals all season, and Lucic had just one of those.  It was also the only empty-net goal he scored in the first 200 games of his NHL career.  It seems unlikely that Lucic’s run as the game’s foremost scorer of empty-net goals is destined to be especially lengthy.

What does it mean for Lucic’s goal totals if we ignore those five empty-netters?  First off, it means that rather than being on target for 36 goals, Lucic would be just shy of the 30-goal pace, with 29 projected goals.  It also drops his shooting percentage from flat-out unsustainable at 20.5%, to merely elite at 17.2%.  It should be noted that the latter pace is still 30% better than his pre 2010-11 career rate of 13.2%, though we might account for that by noting his increased usage on the power play.

None of this is meant as a slight against the player, but I think the logical conclusion is obvious: Lucic is scoring goals at an unsustainable rate, and barring a big increase in his shot totals it would be wrong to expect the same production from him going forward.