Finding the playoff underperformers

Keith Tkachuk has a reputation when it comes to playing at this time of year, and it's not the most flattering one to have. Big Walt, the reasoning goes, has been a big-time producer during the regular season but a no-show when the playoffs come around.

And now, in the twilight of his career, the trend appears to be holding:

Through three games against Vancouver, Tkachuk is without a point and is minus-three. He has just three shots on goal, and he is winning less than half his faceoffs. He also plays on a St. Louis power play that has gone 1-for-17 in the series...

Tkachuk, however, is 37 and playing for one of the most unlikely playoff teams we've seen in quite some time. Should the Blues lose out in four straight, it will still have been a successful season in St. Louis, and Tkachuk's 25 goals played a big part in helping that cause.

Still, by the numbers, he's come up short at this time of year more often than most other stars of his talent. Tkachuk has averaged .91 points per game during the regular season in his career but just .64 in the playoffs — totals that come, in part, as a result of spending considerable time with the Jets, Coyotes and Thrashers (55 per cent of his postseason games).

Essentially every player in the NHL sees his career production dip in the postseason, when the games are lower scoring and the competition more fierce, but the average drop is generally about .10 points per game for high-scoring forwards. Where, then, does Tkachuk's .27 difference rank among his peers? Is he the definition of a playoff 'underperformer?'

In order to quickly run the stats, I limited my look to active players with at least 200 regular-season games played, a career .75 points-per-game average and at least 20 playoff games. Here's the bottom 15 my numbers produced:

Reg. Playoffs
Player PTS/G PTS/G Diff %
1 Sullivan 0.80 0.38 -0.42 -52.5%
2 Selanne 1.07 0.71 -0.36 -33.6%
3 Vanek 0.82 0.46 -0.36 -43.9%
4 Datsyuk 0.99 0.65 -0.34 -34.3%
5 Thornton 1.01 0.68 -0.33 -32.7%
6 Whitney 0.82 0.50 -0.32 -39.0%
7 Gagne 0.80 0.50 -0.30 -37.5%
8 Tanguay 0.88 0.60 -0.28 -31.8%
9 Tkachuk 0.91 0.64 -0.27 -29.7%
10 Demitra 0.92 0.65 -0.27 -29.3%
11 Hemsky 0.79 0.57 -0.22 -27.8%
12 Getzlaf 0.91 0.69 -0.22 -24.2%
13 Pominville 0.80 0.59 -0.21 -26.3%
14 Alfredsson 0.99 0.79 -0.20 -20.2%
15 Kariya 1.04 0.85 -0.19 -18.3%

A few surprising names on there, to be sure. One of the problems with an analysis like this is that it counts every game as being equal, whether those postseason games were played as an 18-year-old rookie, 27-year-old sniper or a 37-year-old greybeard, and perhaps that's not fair. But it is interesting to see some names you'd expect — like Thornton — mixed in amongst those you'd think were established playoff performers like Selanne and Tanguay.

Datsyuk's a good example of a player likely to play his way out of this group over time, as he has more strong performances in the playoffs like the 23 points he put up last time around. Ditto for Vanek, Hemsky and Getzlaf (one would think, anyway).

Still, an interesting list. I may also look to put something like this together for defencemen and goaltenders, if there's interest.

UPDATE Gabe Desjardins adds that he thinks the methodology here is just fine.

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