A phrase that describes the 2016-17 season for the Detroit Red Wings in so many ways. The franchise’s 25-year playoff streak is coming to an end. Their contending window is finally closing. Their veterans are regressing.
And their young, talented players have gone silent for much of the year. But the most curious disappearing act has to belong to Riley Sheahan.
The 25-year-old has had his share of ups and downs as a pro player (driving drunk is bad, kids), but this season is a remarkable new low: through 62 games, Sheahan has ... no goals.
Zero. Zilch. Nada. As many goals as I have in my NHL career. Forget Patrik Laine vs. Auston Matthews or the Blue Jackets’ historic win streak. When all is said and done, Riley Sheahan’s goal drought might be the most amazing stat to come out of the 2016-17 NHL season.
How rare is it? Only 21 players in NHL history have played at least 60 games without a goal. And Sheahan is about to become the guy with the most shots and no reward in NHL history.
Sheahan’s season is so bad, so perplexing, that the Red Wings seriously considered just moving on from him at the trade deadline. Remember, he’s just 25 years old. He might’ve been the best buy-low player on the market.
But Detroit held onto him, which tells us that they think this season is a fluke. The question is whether the stats back that up.
They ... kind of do. Trying to explain an unexplainable stats phenomenon is a daunting task, but we’ll risk it.
We consulted Corsica Hockey’s rink view charts to see what kind of shots Sheahan is taking compared to last year.
In 2015-16, Sheahan put 128 on net and scored 14 goals. Not the best shooting percentage to begin with, but 10.9 percent is better than zero. Anyway, here’s what his shot map looked like last season.
Lots of shots around the net and the slot, with a good amount fired close to the blue line.
So where did those shots go in?
Oh. Well. That explains the low shot percentage. He took shots from everywhere but really only found the back of the net in one area. Cool.
Let’s compare that shot map to this season.
Quite similar to last season, honestly. In fact, a bit compressed. His shots are much, much more centered around the sliver of ice he scored most from last year.
One hint we can look for (one of the few, really) is blocked shots. Compared to last season, the range of blocked Sheahan shots in the offensive zone have widened quite a bit.
More shots blocked means less pucks making it to the goalie and less goal opportunities. Obviously. I got paid to make that conclusion.
We’ll look at two other factors.
First, we should point out that the Red Wings, as a team, have fallen off a goal-scoring cliff. They’re 26th in the league with 2.39 goals for per game, down from 2.55 goals for per game last year. So that Sheahan has regressed isn’t surprising, but that he has zero goals certainly is.
Second, what kind of players is he playing with?
We’ll consult Left Wing Lock for this one.
Any other year, those top line mates would be great for Sheahan. But Larkin and Tatar are both struggling this season, a big reason why the Red Wings are out of the playoff race. When put together, that trio is at 48 percent in Corsi For and just doesn’t generate much offensively.
Sheahan played a lot more with Gustav Nyquist last season with great results: a 54 CF% and 12 points for Sheahan when they played together. He only put up four points and 12 shots on net with limited time alongside Larkin last year ... and has just three points on 26 shots with lots of time with Larkin this year. It’s almost like there’s a ceiling there.
And let’s address the elephant in the room that list above brought in. Steve Ott and Luke Glendening are possession drains. As a line, the three were effective as a whole but not individually. That line started in the defensive zone 43.5 percent of the time. That’s a shut-down, bottom-six role. Not one that Sheahan’s numbers will do anything in.
Meanwhile, not only did Sheahan find success with Nyquist last season, he found it thanks to 51.6 of those shifts starting in the offensive zone. For whatever reason, Sheahan and Nyquist never found the same chemistry early in the season, leading to their separation for the last few months.
Which kind of leads to a simple conclusion: Sheahan is going through a difficult season like a lot of players do at some point early in their careers. His stagnant offense coincides with the team’s decline. We can probably boil down his bizarre goal drought to an oddity.
But what a strong metaphorical oddity it is. The Sports Gods couldn’t have chosen a better symbol for the Red Wings’ fall from grace. Sheahan’s luck, play, and promising outlook faded away as suddenly and inevitably as the franchise he plays for.