Defining Consistency Among NHL Scorers

One of the most commonly leveled critiques against a player, especially a goal-scorer, is that he lacks consistency.

This usually comes up when a team is losing and people are looking to lay blame somewhere. Players like Max Pacioretty and Phil Kessel have often been labeled by fans and media as inconsistent or streaky because they go several games without scoring.

What people usually fail to notice is that all goal-scorers are streaky. No one scores every game and even the top goal-scorers, guys like Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin, go through hot and cold streaks.

It's also important to to create some context for what is meant by consistent. A guy could have zero goals in 200 games played. That would be terrible, but also consistent. Even a player who scores once every 10 games like clockwork could be called consistent, but we're not concerning ourselves with that kind of player.

What we want to know is which players are good at scoring and do so consistently.

To find this out, I sorted all players by goals-per-game for each of the last four seasons, including this season. My goal was to establish an approximate top 30 (representing an average of one per team), so I cut the list off at the top 35 for each season and eliminated players who had played less than 35 games in 2010-11 and 2011-12 and 25 games in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

I then went through the separate lists and eliminated all players who did not appear at least three times in the four seasons. The following seventeen players are who made the cut, ranked by their goals-per-game over the seasons in which they qualified:

These are effectively the seventeen most consistent goal-scorers in the NHL over the past four seasons. Of them, only Jeff Carter, Alex Ovechkin and Phil Kessel made the cut in each of the last four years (although Stamkos and Crosby almost certainly would have if not for their injuries).

These players are in such elite company that fewer than half (thirteen) of the teams in the league have at least one on the list. Chicago leads the way with three players on this list (Toews, Sharp, Hossa). Is it any wonder why they are so good?

Anyway, the next time someone tells you that the problem with Kessel or Pacioretty is that they are inconsistent, ask them "Compared to who?"

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