Right-handed vs. Left-handed shots
We'll tell you who has more value.
The Value of Player Handedness in the NHL
The Study: For a college assignment about 10 years ago, I looked to answer the question of which player handedness has better performance. While spreadsheet software was reasonable at the time, the NHL.com Stats page was much less hospitable for data export than it is today (see here). Now, while this study still required multiple downloads, it was a lot better than copying and pasting ~15 pages times however many seasons you’re studying (in this case, eight), plus the formatting headaches that come with doing so. Also, there are a lot more data categories to examine now, which makes for much more interesting analysis and conclusions.
In any case, now as a Pregame Skate contributor, I thought it would be a great time to revisit this question and share the interesting results with our readers. In particular, by handedness from 2013-14 to 2020-21, I examined:
1. Goals, Assists, and Points;
2. Power Play Goals and Points;
3. Overtime and Game Winning Goals;
4. Shooting Percentage and Missed Shots; and
5. Faceoff Win Percentage.
Altogether, this covered 1,836 players—1,165 (63.5%) of whom were left-handed and 671 (36.5%) right-handed—over 338,789 games worth of data.
The Results: Consistent with my previous study, on average and on a per-player basis, right-handed players consistently outperform left-handed players across almost all of the categories examined. Let’s take a look at each of them.
Right-handed players average more Goals (0.16 vs. 0.15), Assists (0.27 vs. 0.26), and Points (0.43 vs. 0.41) per Game than those who are left-handed. The same is true of Power Play Goals (0.036 vs. 0.030), Power Play Points (0.102 vs. 0.089), and Game Winning Goals (0.026 vs. 0.025) per Game, as well as Faceoff Win Percentage (50.2% vs. 49.9%).
However, there are a few categories where left-handed players beat out those who are right-handed. Interestingly enough, left-handed shooters appear to be more selective in their shots (1.64 Shots per Game vs. 1.80), including less Missed Shots (0.62 vs. 0.70) per Game, which results in a higher Shooting Percentage (0.093 vs. 0.090). Finally, they also score more Overtime Goals (0.0039 vs. 0.0038) per Game.
Discussion: Altogether, right-handed players clearly have more value than left-handed players for two main reasons: 1. performance; and probably even more importantly 2. scarcity.
On the performance side, while the differences between the numbers may seem small, it’s important to remember that they’re averages over a large data set. To demonstrate anecdotally, in the data, there are 11 left-handed players with 200 or more Goals versus 9 right-handed players. But remember: If only 36.5% of players are right-handed, those numbers should be much more lop-sided; they shouldn’t be as close as they are to 50/50. The same could be said for other examples.
Really, based on the data gathered, it appears as though the only benefit of a left-handed player over a right-handed one is shot efficiency. But, in the end, this doesn’t matter to team performance since total production is better for right-handed shots and total production is what produces results. Thus, the right-handed shooters are clear winners on the performance side.
Regarding scarcity, consider this: In theory, a minimum of 7 of 18 players (4 Right-Wingers and 3 Right Defensemen; 38.9% of a roster) should be right-handed. However, as stated earlier, only 36.5% of players during this time period were right-handed. Likewise, after running the numbers, only 37.6% of games were played by right-handed players. Thus, no matter how you look at it, there is a clear shortage of these players. In turn, given that these scarce players are higher performing, it’s obvious that their value to an organization, on average, should be much higher.
So, to General Managers out there: If you haven’t put a weighting on the handedness of players on your roster and who you scout, draft, and trade for, you probably should.
— Thomas Pepin, Pregame Skate contributor