Back in the early days of Dallas Stars internet fandom, before DBD and when Andrew's Dallas Stars Page was still gaining a cult following, there was a running joke about Trevor Daley. Every season, no matter the circumstance, was the season he was going to show off an increased offensive potential.
And every season, Daley would turn in the same, workman-like performance as every season - 5-8 goals, 25 points, and solid but not spectacular defense.
The expectations and performance were the same for so many seasons it became almost funny. But now, as Daley turns 31 and one of the team's dependable veterans rather than a youngster with potential, he is finally showing signs of reaching new offensive heights.
After six games, a small sample size to be sure, Daley is a point per game player with three goals and three assists. He has already set a career high in power play goals with three, and he's about 20 percent of the way to his career high in total points for a single season in just seven percent of the games played.
In all, it's been quite the start to the season on the offensive side of the puck.
Now, to begin with the obvious, Daley has a 30 percent shooting percentage at the moment, and a solid 100 percent on the power play. Even the most optimistic of optimists anywhere would agree that's unsustainable over the course of a season.
But it also begs the question why the shooting percentage is so high beyond simple sample size. He's not taking any more shots; his season average is staying around his career number of 1.5 per game. So is Daley doing something early this season that, when combined with some pretty solid luck, is allowing him to maximize his offensive production?
The short answer appears to be yes, and it becomes apparent just what he's doing when you examine where he's shooting from. The lovely folks at SportingCharts.com have prepared the information in graphic format.
This is all 10 of Daley's shots from the first six games. As it's so early in the season, it's obviously a little sparse. But there are some telling trends.
The first thing that stands out is how many of the shots come from in or below the circles. Just one or two, depending on how you draw the line across the top of the circle, are from further out. The average shot distance is just a hair under 30 feet.
That's not only unusual for any defenseman, it's also a significant change for Daley as an individual. Here's what his shot chart looked like for last season.
Lots of point shots, with a particular concentration at the right point where he camped alongside Alex Goligoski for much of the end of the year. Notably, there's also a hot spot at the top of the crease as well. Still, the average shot distance this season was just about 44 feet, or 46 percent further than he's shooting from this year.
All of Daley's goals this season have come from the power play, where he's 3-for-3 on shots. That's what happens when the PKers get very focused on the uber-talented forwards on the ice and start ignoring the back door.
Here's what Daley's power-play shot chart looks like so far in 2014:
Score one for consistency (and score three for goals).
Like with the even strength shooting, it's a pretty distinct difference from his shots last year on the power play:
There's still a distinct preference for the right side, but there's a lot more point shots in this bunch. The Stars, at least for the most part right now, are really avoiding the point shot on the power play, preferring to pass until a much higher percentage shot opens up. Daley's shooting habits are a sure sign of that.
And honestly, it plays more to his strengths. His goal scoring this year is those three power play shots shown above, and there are real parallels between that and where his goals came from last season.
The average distance of those goals last season was 17.1 feet. This season's goal average? Just 20 feet.
Yes, the conclusion that shooting from in tight leads to more goals (and thus better shooting percentages) is far from rocket science. The interesting thing is how the structure of the offense, particularly on the power play, is playing to Daley's natural strengths and allowing him to take more of those close-in shots.
Ever since Daley came into the league, the Stars have needed him to play a more defensive role. At first that was because they boasted one of the best offensive talents to walk the blueline in the NHL - Sergei Zubov. Then, after Zubov's wonky hip sent him back overseas, it was because the goaltending and overall team defense wasn't solid enough to feature a risk-heavy, offense-first defenseman.
Now, with a run-and-gun style that allows for some of those risks, Daley's skillset can shine. Without a booming point shot but with solid straight-line speed and good vision, Daley is most effective offensively when he can make quick forays into the offensive zone, either with the puck to set up a pass or without the puck to provide a shooting option. The Stars power play, at least the top unit, takes advantage of this by avoiding the point shot almost entirely to focus on high-end passing.
Daley also seems to have chemistry with Jason Spezza, who has found him several times with cross-zone passes as Daley snuck down the far side. As the season goes on, teams are going to scheme to take that pass away. Goalies are also going to start reading those passes and get a quicker push across to be able to absorb those shots.
But the fundamental parts of the Stars system that showcase Daley's talents so well aren't likely to change on a large scale. The Stars can (and should) tighten up the team defense, but they were built to be an offensive juggernaut first and foremost. And the sheer number of weapons on the power play means someone will have to be left open. As many goals as Daley might score, Spezza, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin will continue to draw the lion's share of attention.
Because of that, we may finally see that breakthrough year on offense from Daley that has been talked about ever since he broke into the league.