During the off-season, Conor Sheary joined the Tampa Bay Lightning on a three-year contract. The contract carries an annual average of $2 million per season through the 2025-26 campaign. A two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sheary brings a winning mindset to an experienced locker room in Tampa Bay. To start the season, Sheary has been disappointing for the Lightning, but the slow start is not entirely his fault.
Jon Cooper Needs to Use Conor Sheary for His Strengths
Experience With Superstars
When Sheary signed with Tampa Bay in July, many anticipated him to be a part of the top six forward group. Throughout his career, Sheary has proven he is a fabulous complimentary linemate to superstar forwards. To start his career in Pittsburgh, Sheary clicked with Sidney Crosby on the Penguins top line. Sheary registered 53 points in 61 games during the 2016-17 season. Furthermore, the Penguins went on to win their second straight Stanley Cup that post-season.
However, the trend does not stop with Crosby. When Sheary joined the cross-town rival Washington Capitals, he found chemistry with Alex Ovechkin on the right wing. Sheary potted 19 goals and 43 points in 71 games for the Capitals during the 2021-22 season. The Lightning top six offers a plethora of talent, including names like Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos.
Stuck On the Fourth Line
Unfortunately, Sheary has spent much of the 2023-24 season on the Tampa Bay fourth line. Sheary’s slow start has him with a disappointing one goal and three points in his first 11 games with the Bolts. His play style does not match a fourth-line forward in the modern NHL. In addition, his linemate provides some of the worst offensive help in the entire league. Luke Glendening made seven passes in the first two games for the Lightning this season, a team worst. Sheary is a middle-six scoring forward, and Glendening is dragging down his puck touches.
High-Risk, High-Reward Chance Generation
Corey Sznajder at All Three Zones does microstat tracking for NHL games. Sheary ranked in the 63rd percentile of “high-danger assists per 60” last season. In addition, the Lightning ranked third in one-timers per hour amongst all teams in 2023. Sheary placed in the 82nd percentile of “one-timer assists per 60.” Sheary is best when the puck moves cross-ice in the offensive zone.
Passes through the “Royal Road” are a specialty of his offensive chance generation. The Royal Road was a term invented by Steve Valiquette at Clear Sight Analytics. Valiquette is a former NHL goaltender for the New York Rangers and works with stat-tracking analytics at MSG Networks. The Royal Road is an imaginary line that goes directly through the middle of the offensive zone, separating the ice into two equal parts. In his tracking, Valiquette found that pucks travelling across the line before a shot attempt increase scoring chance quality by over ten times.
Shot Maps created by Micah Blake McCurdy from HockeyViz is a great tool to understand how efficiently teams generate shots. The blue regions identify a team that generates less than the league average rate of shots, and the red regions for more than the league average.
When comparing the micro stats to his shot map model, the red zone indicates Sheary is moving the puck through the Royal Road. His offensive archetype is quality over quantity. Sheary prefers to attempt high-percentage plays.
Where Sheary Stands in the Offence
Sheary has moved up to the second line alongside Nick Paul and Stamkos. With the one-timer ability of Stamkos, Sheary can use his unique chance generation style to feed passes across the Royal Road. Paul establishes himself as a net-front presence that is hard to clear out. He can provide screens and pick up loose change in front. The Lightning will need Sheary to elevate his play to find more success scoring at 5v5. He is on a cost-effective deal and can play well above a $2 million player with the right linemates.
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