I am one of those Islanders fans who liked Jason Blake well enough but believed at the time that parting ways with him (given presumed contract demands) after he put up 40 goals in his walk year at age 33 was the right call.
There were a lot of circumstances that go into that argument, and we've rehashed them before, and can rehash again in comments, but in short his (still) career-high shooting percentage that year of 13.1% that season was a solid sign not to expect 30, much less 40 goals in one season again.
Still, let us be fair to the man. With the recent and predictably annual Alexei Yashin buzz, the suggestion has come up that Yashin "made" Blake's career year. But ... did he? Thanks to the glory of Hockey-Reference.com and all the saints who make it possible, we can check our memories against the official record with a hop, click and a jump:
Before we get to the figures, remember this was also Yashin's final year as an Islander, and injuries
limited him to [sorry, massive typo, now fixed] caused him to miss 24 games. That will prove important in our research.
Blake and Yashin Hockey Card Stats
|2006-07 - Jason Blake||82||40||29||69||14||+1||34|
|2006-07 - Alexei Yashin
Okay, before we get started, one thing that sticks out is the 14 powerplay goals. That, along with the shooting percentage high, stand out as things difficult to repeat. But we'll get to the powerplay later.
For now, Blake's scoring log for that year, thanks to this feature at Hockey-Reference.com, tells us:
Blake goals on which Yashin received an assist: 13 (of 40 Blake goals)
Yashin goals on which Blake assisted: 6 (of 29 Blake assists)
Islanders goals on which both Blake and Yashin received assists: 3
What about the powerplay? How many of Blake's PPG did Yashin factor into?
Blake PPG assisted by Yashin: 6 (of 14 Blake PPG)
So Yashin was a factor, as anyone who watched them play together can recall. But he wasn't the only factor.
Remember that Yashin was injured much of the second half of the season, and the Islanders brought in Randy Robitaille late (December) and Ryan Smyth very late (March). What'd they do for Blake?
In 18 games, Smyth assisted on three Blake goals and scored one on which Blake assisted. (Smyth had 15 points total.)
From January onward, seven of Blake's goals -- all at even strength -- were assisted by Robitaille. They also combined on four other goals (three by Robitaille, one by Chris Simon).
Yashin's main sustained injury absence stretched from late January all the way to early March, during which Blake scored 13 of his 69 points and six of his 40 goals in 16 games.
I am refraining from tossing up a bunch of percentages here, because short samples lead to deceptively large shifts in percentages just through one goal added or subtracted. [For example, 6 goals in 16 games = 0.38 goals/GP. 5 goals in 16 games = 0.31 goals/GP].
But I think the record shows that in Blake's career year he scored with and without Yashin. So, did Yashin make Blake's career year? No -- though Yashin helped a whole host of Islanders while putting up 50 points in 58 games. However, did good players like Yashin, Ryan Smyth, the underrated Robitaille and the perennially solid Mike Sillinger (combined with Blake on seven goals) make Blake's career year possible? Yes. You can also include the 2006-07 form of players like Tom Poti and Miroslav Satan, who also appear frequently on Blake's scoring log from that year.
A combination of strong centers and wingers -- along with some good shooting luck at the right time -- helped Blake compile a season that would be unfair to ever expect him to repeat. Yashin was certainly a factor, but not the only factor. Which brings me back to a few truisms for building a hockey team I find myself repeating often:
Luck happens. Depth creates (good) and mitigates against (bad) luck. Compiling quality players creates depth.
Easier said than done.