Penalty kill options up front

Something to watch for this upcoming season is how the Oilers coaching staff assembles the penalty killing units. As I wrote a couple weeks back, the Oilers lost some key defensemen with Larsson and Bear now skating with other teams and are taking a risk if they’re expecting Keith and Ceci to take on those minutes and have success.

Things are just as interesting up front. Last season, nine forwards played at least ten minutes short-handed for the Oilers, with Archibald, Nugent-Hopkins, Khaira and Haas leading the team in total ice-time and average ice-time per game. Two of those four are playing elsewhere this coming season with Khaira signing with Chicago and Haas signing with EHC Biel Bienne in the Swiss league. And there’s a chance now that Archibald with miss significant time as an unvaccinated player. Considering how high the rate of shots and chances were when the Oilers deployed other depth forwards like Shore or Turris last season, it’s really looking like the new additions to the team, and perhaps even an emerging prospect, will take on a greater share of the penalty killing minutes.

For reference, the table below sorts the penalty killing forwards from the 2020/21 season by total ice time (TOI), and includes the percentage of the team’s total penalty kill ice time the player was on the ice for (TOI%) and time on ice per game played (TOI/GP). I’ve also included each player’s on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts against (FA/60), shots on goals against (SA/60) and goals against (GA/60). I’ve also included the table for the 2019/20 season.

What stands out when looking at the data is how much Tippett has relied on Archibald, deploying him for 43% of the team’s total penalty killing time in the 2020/21 season, which was only a slight increase from the 2019/20 season when Archibald finished with the second highest ice time (39% of the team’s total time) and average ice time among forwards, only behind Sheahan. It’s worth noting however that the Oilers allowed a significantly higher rate of shot attempts and shots against with Archibald on the ice, with a higher than normal on-ice save percentage keeping his rate of goals against within a reasonable range.  

Khaira’s numbers stand out as well. He gradually took on more and more responsibility seeing his average ice time per game grow from 1:30 in 2019/20 to just under two minutes in 2020/21. His on-ice results were solid as well, with the team allowing a lower rate of goals against with him on the ice than without him.

Haas was a nice addition to the Oilers penalty kill last season after Turris failed to secure the role. Likely because of his ability to shut down offence at even-strength, really at both ends of the rink, Haas was given a bigger role in 2020/21 and came through for the coaching staff. With Haas on the ice last season killing penalties, the Oilers posted the second lowest rate of shot attempts against, shots against as well as the lowest rate of goals against.

With Nugent-Hopkins likely staying on as a penalty-killer, who else could Tippett use to fill the vacant roles? Before looking at the options, a re-cap of what we know about Tippett and his coaching staff from their two years with the Oilers:

  • They typically use bottom six forwards on the penalty kill, with Nugent-Hopkins being the exception. Yamamoto did get some ice-time, as did Draisaitl, but they prefer to keep top-six players fresh for even-strength play and the powerplay.
  • Tippett likes having a right-handed forward option who can handle faceoffs as opposing powerplays often elect to have faceoffs on their left side. It was part of the reason why Turris was given the first opportunity to secure a role on the penalty kill.
  • The Oilers prefer veteran players who have a history on the penalty kill. Guys like Sheahan and Granlund were regular options averaging over two minutes per game with their previous teams before arriving in Edmonton and got the first opportunity to secure a regular spot in the rotation. The only youngster to get an opportunity on the penalty kill in the last two seasons is Ryan McLeod who played just under 11 minutes total in 2020/21.

Based on that criteria, here’s the list of options I have in mind that could be regular penalty killers in 2020/21:

  • Derek Ryan
  • Warren Foegele
  • Zach Hyman
  • Colton Sceviour

I know the coaching staff is going to look at Shore as an option. But the team allowed some of the highest rates of shot attempts and shots on goal against when he was on the ice last season. Plus, he’s never averaged more than 1:30 per game in a season, often ranking fifth or sixth in ice time on his previous teams. Turris cannot be an option at this point either, even though the team will do everything they can to squeeze some value out of him. He had poor on-ice numbers on the penalty kill before coming to Edmonton, and there really is nothing in his game or his history that indicates he can ever do well shorthanded. McLeod should also get some reps considering he’s a depth centerman and did have some nice numbers in his limited minutes last season – posting a very low rate of on-ice shots against and zero goals against in just under 11 minutes of ice-time. But that’ll depend on how much patience the coaching staff has for the young rookie and if they’re willing to develop him in a season when there’s a lot of pressure to win.

On to the options.

Derek Ryan is pretty close to meeting the coaching staff’s penalty kill criteria that I listed above. He’ll be a bottom six player for the Oilers next season. He’s right-handed and has a lot of success taking faceoffs. And while he hasn’t been averaging over two minutes of PK time per game, he’s typically been third or fourth in terms of total ice time and average ice time per game in his three seasons with Calgary. Considering his even-strength shot-suppression numbers are similar to Haas, I suspect he’ll take on similar minutes and hopefully have similar results on the penalty kill.

Warren Foegele is another option if he finds himself playing on the third line, potentially with Ryan. He was not a regular penalty killer during his three seasons in Carolina, averaging about a minute per game and ranking fifth or sixth in terms of ice time among forwards and taking the rare draw. The Hurricanes did see a drop in their rate of shot attempts against when he was on the ice, so there’s some potential there.

Zach Hyman could get a look on the penalty kill considering he averaged over two minutes per game in his last five seasons with the Leafs, took draws and had some good seasons in terms of on-ice rates of shots and goals against. Although he’ll likely be a top six forward at even-strength, there may not be space for him on the powerplay, freeing him up for the penalty kill.

Colton Sceviour is the one player that meets all three criteria and is probably the best option to replace Archibald’s minutes. He’s played over 500 NHL games. He’s right-handed and has experience taking faceoffs. And in his four seasons with Florida between 2016 and 2020, he lead his team in ice time on the penalty kill averaging over two minutes per game. And while he did see his average ice time per game drop last season in Pittsburgh, the club allowed a lower rate of shots and goals with him on the ice, similar to some of his seasons with Florida when he was on the first penalty killing unit. His career on-ice numbers are stronger than Archibald’s (refer to the Appendix), making him an ideal candidate for that first unit. This is all dependent of course on him showing well in training camp, finding some chemistry with a potential linemate and signing an NHL contract.

A lot of pressure on this team heading into the season, and I can’t imagine the coaching staff is too comfortable with so much change happening on the penalty kill. But while they’re losing key players up front, there appears to be some good options if the coaching staff is willing to try it out. The concern here is that they go with the players they know and have signed and give ice-time to Shore or Turris instead of someone like Sceviour who starts training camp on a PTO. We’ll see how things play out.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Appendix: On-ice penalty killing numbers

Consumer confidence

Oilers GM hopeful NHL season can be saved | CTV News

One of my favorite articles this summer was Dom Luszczyszyn’s look at how much confidence the public has in the front offices of every NHL club, and how poorly the Oilers ranked compared to the other 31 teams.

The results were based on a survey The Athletic conducted asking subscribers to evaluate teams based on six main categories: roster building, cap management, drafting and developing, trading, free agency and vision. Highly recommend checking Dom’s article out; major kudos to him for continuing to do this annually.

I can’t say I was too surprised with how poorly the Oilers ranked, considering how many blunders they’ve made over the last few years – and this off-season was a continuation of Holland’s approach. When completing the survey myself, I ranked the Oilers front office quite poorly for all six categories, and have noted my thoughts on each below.

Roster building: How the front office has managed its roster, looking in general terms about the players in the system and whether they formulate the right building blocks for the team’s goal of contending, whether that’s in the present or future.

This was pretty straight-forward for me. With a superstar like McDavid under contract, management should be evaluated entirely on how the team does without him on the ice. And so far in the two seasons with Holland in charge, the Oilers have failed to assemble a roster that can break-even in terms of goals and shot-share metrics when McDavid is on the bench at even-strength. In fact, this past season the Oilers posted some of their worst underlying numbers since McDavid’s arrival, thanks in large part to the depth players Holland signed to contracts.

With McDavid on the roster, the goal has been and always will be a championship. And it’s hard to feel confident in Holland’s ability to get roster-building right when the players him and his staff have signed are a big reason why the Oilers can’t post a positive goal-share at even-strength.

Cap management: How the front office has managed the team’s finances, with regards to the efficiency of money spent (are there a lot of bad contracts on the books), cap space, future flexibility and general dollar worth. Bottom line: If a team is or isn’t spending money, are they doing so wisely?

If there’s one thing we’ve confirmed about Ken Holland it’s that he does not integrate analytics into his overall decision-making process. One of the key benefits of analytics is being able to cut through the noise that personal and group bias brings to your organization. It makes you question what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing and forces you to think and re-think a problem. It’s challenging and uncomfortable and requires a lot of effort individually and collectively. But having a process in place that draws in and leverages analytics can improve your chances of success and give a team an edge over the competition.

And you know the Oilers lack this level of intelligence and effort just based on the traps they keep falling into. Signing players who had a high on-ice shooting and save percentages (PDO) well above their career norms the season before – check. Signing players who produced well with McDavid but showed little without him – check. Signing players based on who management is familiar with or who they can think of or reference easily (i.e., availability heuristic) – check.

When a team has consistently fooled themselves into these kind of signings and bringing on inefficient contracts, and don’t appear to addressing their decision-making process, why would anyone feel confident in their ability to manage the cap going forward? It’s 2021 and the Oilers still can’t be bothered to learn how other successful teams have managed their cap and avoided these kinds of mistakes.

Drafting and developing: How the front office has managed its farm, from draft day to the big leagues, relative to their draft pick capital. Is the team making smart selections and are those players meeting their potential after the draft?

When it comes to drafting, I tend to defer to people who watch and evaluate prospects, entry drafts and developmental paths. From my perspective, the Oilers appear to have selected decent players in the first round like Holloway and Bourgault and Broberg. But everything else they’ve done since Holland’s arrival to build a strong development program appear to be raising some red flags.

For example, Corey Pronman from The Athletic recently ranked the Oilers prospect pool 25th in the league, evaluating every team’s players who are 22 and younger; in 2020 he ranked the Oilers 26th (Source). When he recently compiled his ranking of 194 players under 23, the highest ranking Oilers was Yamamoto at 79th. Holloway was 90th, Bouchard was 124th and Broberg was 127th (Source).

In his own list of top 50 prospects, Scott Wheeler from The Athletic applied different criteria but also had similar findings. Only two players made the list, Bouchard at 31 and Holloway at 33.(Source).

There’s definitely some runway for these prospects to emerge and hopefully the Oilers have the right development plans in place for each one. I’m just not convinced the Oilers are integrating as much information as possible when (1) making their draft selections and (2) evaluating what they have in their system. And that’s unfortunate considering how badly they’ll need low-cost, team-developed players to push for roster spots and reduce the need to bring in more veteran players on inefficient contracts.

And as for player development, I’m not fully convinced that Tippett will be able to manage and balance the expectations for this team with the development of young prospects. In his first season as head coach, we saw players like Bear, Jones and Yamamoto emerge as NHL-caliber players. But last season, there was definitely a tendency to go with proven veterans at the expense of youngsters, especially when games were on the line. That really can’t happen this year with Bouchard, McLeod and potentially others pushing for roster spots and needing patience from the coaching staff to be impactful players.

Trading: How the front office has managed the trade block, mainly has management made the right calls in trading assets and whether they’re generally on the right or wrong side of a deal.

After seeing how badly he overpaid to acquire Duncan Keith, I don’t know how anyone could trust Holland and his staff when it comes to trades. As I wrote at the time of the deal, the Oilers somehow took on more risk, more money and gave up way more value than they needed to considering it was Chicago that was in a bind. An absolute disaster of a trade regardless of how Keith performs the next two seasons.

Trading away so much draft capital to address current roster holes has been a major concern as well considering again how badly the Oilers need low-cost, team-developed players to fill important roster spots in the future. And it wouldn’t be so bad if the Oilers were just willing to move a veteran or two (especially when their perceived value becomes inflated) to re-coup draft picks. Unfortunately those veteran players, often underperforming and/or overpaid, are grossly overvalued by management. Just a weird cycle the Oilers have put themselves in.

Free agency: How the front office has managed a period generally synonymous with mistakes and how it has navigated the minefield of free agency. Does the team generally give out reasonable deals, or is it prone to over-paying and over-committing to players it shouldn’t?

Because management doesn’t integrate analytics and information into their decision-making process, they have a tendency to bring in players on inefficient contracts. Had they looked at Barrie’s on-ice numbers away from McDavid, or Ceci’s numbers when he’s deployed as a top four defencemen, the Oilers could have saved a lot of money and allocated those dollars to more impactful players. But because they don’t look at numbers and overvalue veteran players who can be easily referenced in the NHL Guide and Record Book, they’re now locked into a pretty mediocre defence-core for a good chunk of McDavid’s remaining contract term.

Even the smaller, low-risk contracts Holland has handed out don’t appear to be driven by careful thought and analysis, and more on gut-feel. And that’s a major problem considering how much the Oilers are paying Holland to carry out his approach.

Vision: How the front office communicates its plan, both implicitly and explicitly. Vision is mostly an abstract concept, one that boils down to whether a team’s plan to build a Stanley Cup contender is evident in its decision-making process and whether its plans for the future appear sound.

Based on the decision-making process and how poorly the roster has been built around McDavid for the next few seasons, I would say there’s very little vision in the front office. There doesn’t appear to be a long-term plan, as indicated by the disastrous trades and signings, especially the ones made this summer when the team had cap space. The way the Oilers evaluate professional-level players and prospects, and what the on-ice results have been like, it’s hard to be confident in management’s abilities. Especially when watching other teams take on a more progressive approach, applying best-practices from within and outside of professional sports, and having long-term success.

Unless this management group evolves and adjusts their approach, it’s hard to have any confidence in them turning things around and building a true contender. A lot definitely has to change and I’m not sure the Oilers are even aware of their underlying issues on the ice and the major inefficiencies in their own front office.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Cap Friendly

Killer minutes

The Edmonton Oilers are currently entering the 2021/22 season with a weaker defence core than they had last season. And one specific area they’ll probably take a hit on is their penalty kill, unless they address their blue line prior to training camp.

The Oilers penalty kill over the last two seasons under Dave Tippett has had good results – finishing 10th in the league last season allowing 6.16 goals against per hour and second in the league the year before allowing 5.15 goals against per hour in 2019/20. A big reason for their success has been the play of the goaltenders as the Oilers, similar to any other team Tippett has coached, allowed a rate of unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances) and shots on goals against much higher than league averages.

SeasonGoals against/60Fenwick Against/60Shots against/60
2019/205.15 – 2nd76.28 – 23rd54.84 – 22nd
2020/216.16 – 10th75.98 – 25th55.67 – 24th

At this point, based on the defencemen they’ve lost and the replacements they’ve brought in, it’s likely the Oilers will allow an even higher rate of shots against next season – which really isn’t ideal considering their goaltending could potentially regress.

In the two seasons with Tippett behind the bench, ten defencemen have played at least 10 minutes on the penalty kill – a total of 624 minutes. The table below sorts the defencemen by total ice time (TOI), and includes the percentage of the team’s total ice time the player was on the ice for (TOI%) and time on ice per game (TOI/GP). I’ve also included each player’s on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts against (FA/60), shots on goals against (SA/60) and goals against (GA/60).

PlayerGPTOITOI%TOI/GPFA/60SA/60GA/60
Nurse127285.0545.7%2.2482.7260.836.31
Bear114215.0034.5%1.8981.2158.606.14
Larsson105213.4534.2%2.0371.4052.284.78
Russell90197.4831.6%2.1975.6554.696.08
Klefbom62159.6325.6%2.5781.1961.276.39
Koekkoek1834.985.6%1.9489.1960.038.58
Lagesson2734.325.5%1.2754.2036.723.50
Benning4328.784.6%0.6764.6239.610.00
Jones7622.273.6%0.2961.9837.725.39
Kulikov1010.981.8%1.1071.0238.240.00

Two of Tippett’s go-to penalty killers are gone, with Bear and Larsson having each played over 34% of the team’s total penalty kill time. Klefbom isn’t likely to return and another handful are signed to play elsewhere. That leaves only three of the ten players (Nurse, Russell and Lagesson) signed to play in Edmonton next season, meaning at least two new players will need to take on significant penalty killing minutes.

At this point it’s pretty safe to assume that these vacancies will be filled by Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith – both of whom are experienced players who have led their previous teams in penalty killing ice-time among defencemen over the last few seasons. The problem I see is that based on their history they probably won’t be able to post the same penalty kill numbers as Larsson who had been excellent for the Oilers the last two seasons.

Last season, Larsson played over 50% of the team’s total ice time on the penalty kill, ranking second behind Nurse. Without Larsson on the ice, the Oilers allowed over 82.88 unblocked shot attempts against per hour and 60.87 shots against per hour – rates that would have them worst in the league. With Larsson on the ice, the rate of unblocked shot attempts dropped to 71.31 per hour, an approximately 14% decrease, while the rate of shots against dropped to 52.11 per hour, an approximately 21% decrease. Another way to put it: the Oilers went from one of the worst teams in the league at preventing shots when Larsson wasn’t on the ice, to one of the best teams in the league when Larsson was deployed. The best part is that the rate of goals against also dropped with Larsson deployed, with the team allowing 5.49 goals against per hour with him on the ice, and 7.02 goals against without him.

In 2019/20, Larsson missed significant time due to injuries, but still had a positive impact on the penalty kill when he did play. He was fifth on the team in total penalty kill ice time and average ice time per game that season. With him on the ice, the team’s rate of unblocked shot attempts dropped from 80.59 per hour to 72.99 (a 9.4% decrease) and the rate of shots against dropped from 57.53 per hour to 54.01 (a 6.1% decrease). And again the rate of the team’s goals against saw a drop with Larsson on the ice – 3.65 goals against with Larsson on the ice and 5.82 goals against without him.

Between 2019 and 2021, among 81 defencemen who played at least 200 minutes on the penalty kill, Larsson ranked very highly among his peers in terms of shots and goals against relative to team numbers.

  • Fenwick against per hour relative to team: -12.77 (2nd)
  • Shots against per hour relative to team: – 8.03 (5th)
  • Goals against per hour relative to team: – 2.29 (5th)

Ranking much lower on the same list are two players that the team spent significant assets to bring in: Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith.

Now Ceci does have some potential considering last season in Pittsburgh he led the team in penalty kill ice time among defencemen and had a positive impact. Overall, the Penguins penalty kill posted poor results despite being one of the better teams at preventing chances. And Ceci played an important role there as the team allowed a lower rate of unblocked shot attempts against and goals against with him on the ice.

SeasonTeamGPTOITOI/GPFA/60 RelSA/60 RelGA/60 Rel
2013/14OTT4985.801.75-3.89-5.34-3.17
2014/15OTT81190.852.365.473.07-1.17
2015/16OTT75185.102.475.356.08-0.79
2016/17OTT78240.853.098.513.44-2.69
2017/18OTT82227.772.7814.5510.96-1.89
2018/19OTT71185.952.628.116.841.14
2019/20TOR55160.452.9218.9714.660.90
2020/21PIT52131.672.53-5.170.73-2.38

Having said that, that was the first time that’s happened in Ceci’s career, so I’m a little skeptical that he can have the same success. In his previous stints in Toronto and Ottawa, his team’s consistently allowed a significantly higher rate of unblocked shot attempts against and shots against with him on the ice – basically the complete opposite of what Larsson accomplished the last few seasons in Edmonton. My thought is that the reduced overall ice-time in Pittsburgh where he spent a much lower proportion of his even-strength ice time against elite competition might have helped his overall game. The problem is that based on the long-term contract he just received from management, Ceci will be expected to play higher up in the line-up, similar to what he was doing in Ottawa. So that won’t be an option in Edmonton.

Duncan Keith’s numbers are even worse and I’m honestly perplexed as to why Chicago kept giving him so many minutes on the penalty kill. In that same list of 81 defencemen who played at least 200 minutes over the last two season, Keith is near the bottom when it comes to the rate of shots and goals against relative to team numbers.

  • Fenwick against per hour relative to team: +15.62 (76th)
  • Shots against per hour relative to team: +13.12 (79th)
  • Goals against per hour relative to team: +1.30 (59th)

With Keith on the ice last season, Chicago’s penalty kill allowed an additional 14.96 unblocked shot attempts per hour and 13.50 shots against per hour. This also led to more goals against as Chicago allowed over 10.0 goals against per hour with Keith on the ice – a major jump from the 5.57 goals against per hour without Keith – absolute nightmare stuff. What’s even more alarming is that similar results occurred in the two seasons prior as well with the rate of unblocked shot attempts and shots against being much, much higher with Keith on the ice. Bottom line: with Keith killing penalties next season, expect the rate of shots against to go up.

SeasonTeamGPTOITOI/GPFA/60 RelSA/60 RelGA/60 Rel
2007/08CHI82376.304.597.746.001.86
2008/09CHI77267.523.47-4.43-2.16-0.34
2009/10CHI79247.423.131.771.69-0.45
2010/11CHI79215.322.7310.2312.77-1.17
2011/12CHI69170.802.484.732.591.87
2012/13CHI46107.002.338.6112.810.82
2013/14CHI77188.282.452.384.93-4.24
2014/15CHI78186.902.409.582.92-0.53
2015/16CHI66178.872.7112.904.942.33
2016/17CHI75194.682.609.797.471.70
2017/18CHI82199.052.43-5.001.011.12
2018/19CHI80166.372.0810.2111.471.99
2019/20CHI59171.232.9016.1412.80-1.83
2020/21CHI52140.432.7014.9613.505.01

Should note that while first penalty kill units typically see an increase in shots against per hour as they are playing against top powerplay units, the rate of shots against go up by about 5.45 per hour on average. Both Ceci and Keith’s historical on-ice rates are much higher than that in relation to their teams (often being more than 10.0 per hour), which should be a red flag for the Oilers.

Unless they’re expecting one of the youngsters like Lagesson or Bouchard to play a bigger role on the penalty kill next season, the Oilers should probably continue looking to add depth to their defence core. Specifically someone who has success playing shorthanded.

One player that the Oilers could potentially look at as a low-risk, low-cost option is 34-year old defencemen Jordie Benn who is currently an unrestricted free agent. He’s got experience having played in over 500 games and has posted some good numbers on the penalty kill – especially in his last few seasons with Vancouver and Montreal.

SeasonTeamGPTOITOI/GPFA/60 RelSA/60 RelGA/60 Rel
2012/13DAL2651.932.0011.225.413.05
2013/14DAL77134.921.75-10.67-6.133.36
2014/15DAL72132.131.84-0.721.220.07
2015/16DAL62124.152.00-5.84-2.70-2.76
2016/17DAL58145.732.51-2.899.883.25
2016/17MTL1323.271.7948.5240.9410.32
2017/18MTL77169.202.204.06-0.213.81
2018/19MTL79225.982.86-8.21-7.08-1.35
2019/20VAN44104.482.37-13.29-14.82-2.76
2020/21VAN3149.351.59-6.14-2.92-2.40
2020/21WPG83.930.49-69.52-54.38-15.14

Among 119 defencemen who have played at least 150 minutes since 2019, Benn ranks quite highly when it comes to shot metrics relative to team numbers.

  • Fenwick against per hour relative to team: -11.56 (9th)
  • Shots against per hour relative to team: -11.26 (3rd)
  • Goals against per hour relative to team: -3.14 (4th)

With key penalty killers gone, Tippett is likely to go start with the veteran defencemen the Oilers have added so far but really shouldn’t expect a whole lot from them. Both Ceci and Keith, while experienced, have posted terrible numbers on the penalty kill – something you would hope management and the coaching staff would be made aware of. The Oilers really cannot afford to give back all of the goals that the powerplay generates, making it even more critical that management addresses the weaknesses of the roster and that the coaching staff be a little more creative than they’ve previously demonstrated.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 29 – Alex Thomas (@Alex_Thomas14)

Joined by Alex Thomas (@Alex_Thomas14) on the show to discuss the Oilers off-season activities, the changes up front and the defence core and Holland’s overall approach to constructing the roster.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010. Jamendo.com

CBC Radio Active: Oilers busy on day one of NHL free agency

I joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk about the Oilers and their free agency activities. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2021, July 28).

Topics we covered:

  • The signings of Zach Hyman, what he brings to the team and the risks associated with the contract.
  • Trading away Ethan Bear to make room for veteran defencemen, and what to expect from forward Warren Foegele.
  • Re-signing Tyson Barrie and his actual impact on the team.
  • Signing Cody Ceci, and if he can fill Adam Larsson’s role (short answer: nope).
  • Chances of Evan Bouchard taking another step and playing meaningful minutes, and the barriers in place.
  • Remaining issues and how the front office remains the Oilers biggest deficiency.

Thanks to the team at CBC for putting it all together!

Mayday

I’ll admit, my expectations were ridiculously low coming into the off-season. Yes, the team has cap space and are in a position to position themselves for long-term success. But knowing management’s track record when it comes to assessing the team, identifying talent and their overall approach to managing the salary cap, it’s been hard to get too excited about the possibilities.

Here’s what we know about Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers.

  • He’s a conservative general manager that lacks the creativity and ruthlessness needed to manage a team salary cap in the modern era.
  • He highly values veteran players.
  • He’s risk-averse when it comes to young players.
  • He has a tendency to reward players for past success rather than potential future success,
  • He and his professional scouts have a poor track record when it comes to identifying and acquiring professional-level players.
  • He doesn’t integrate analytics into his overall decision-making process.
  • There is zero over-sight of his work, no review of past transactions and no desire to improve the overall decision-making process.


It’s these traits that have tempered my expectations of the Oilers and have so far led to the signings of Devon Shore, the mysterious release of Matej Blumel and now the trade for Duncan Keith. And while I do like the signing of Nugent-Hopkins to a long-term deal and some previous transactions like the Puljujärvi deal, Holland is more likely to be wrong than right when applying his approach and building this roster. The Oilers clearly don’t care to be progressive and find new ways to get ahead of their competition. And if they do somehow find some success, I’d expect it to be short-lived.

In regards to Duncan Keith, the Oilers have acquired someone that could very well be a productive player and bring those off-ice intangibles – but what are the chances he can be a $5.5 million player? Just look across the league – teams desperately need players who are on value deals and outperforming their contracts and that’s why the Oilers needed Chicago to retain some of Keith’s salary. Keep in mind too that there are four seasons left with McDavid and Draisailt on the roster. And for two of those seasons, the Oilers are committing over 10% of their cap to Keith and Kassian. (Source: CapFriendly)

Needless to say, the acquisition cost for Keith is far too high and really hampers the Oilers ability to address the other major holes on their roster. The Oilers are the ones taking on the most risk here yet come away from the deal with a larger hit to their cap and are using up a roster spot for a relatively unknown prospect who hasn’t shown a lot of progress. Plus they now have to protect Keith in the upcoming expansion draft. Chicago on the other hand gained some much needed cap-space, shed a contract for a stalled prospect, added a third-round (potentially second-round) draft pick and added a prospect who has been progressing well. Chicago came into the negotiation with zero leverage, absolutely none with their backs up against the wall, yet came away as the clear-cut winners. Just embarrassingly poor asset management by the Oilers, but quite aligned with Holland’s previous transactions.

Again though, we know who Holland was before he got to Edmonton. And we’ve seen through his transactions over the past two years what he’s all about. This is what the Edmonton Oilers wanted and they paid him a pretty hefty salary to apply his approach. And so far, they’re getting exactly what they paid for. So let’s not forget the role the owner is playing here and the role CEO Bob Nicholson is playing here. They can talk a big game about building a long-term winner, but until they figure out what it takes to compete in the modern era and are willing to be open to new ideas, they’ll just continue floundering in mediocrity.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 27 – Ganesh Murdeshwar (@oilersnerdalert)

Joined by Ganesh Murdeshwar (@oilersnerdalert) to talk Oilers and how they can integrate and use analytics in a more meaningful way.

Ganesh shared his background in analytics, from programming to taking on executive positions in different industries, and eventually applying his knowledge to hockey as a consultant. He also shared the motivation behind Puck IQ – one of the top player evaluation tools that focuses on quality-of-competition. We talked about the comments Holland recently made about analytics and how the Oilers view and utilize it. Ganesh also shared his thoughts on the steps the Oilers would need to take if they wanted to enhance their hockey operations and improve their decision-making processes.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010. Jamendo.com

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 26 – Dennis King (@dkingbh)

Joined by Dennis King (@DKingBH) to talk about the Oilers series against the Winnipeg Jets, the issues that led to them being swept and where we expect things to go this off-season. We discussed the Oilers deployment tactics, their handling of younger players and our overall confidence in the coaching staff for next season. We also covered Holland’s approach to building a competitive roster, his comments at his media availability and what he’ll need to do to make this a competitive team in the modern age.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010. Jamendo.com

Reviewing the Oilers vs Jets

Jets vs Oilers Game 3: Tweets, pre-game and post-game coverage | CTV News

It’s going to be hard to forget May 2021.

The Edmonton Oilers clinched a playoff spot in the first week, beating the Canucks. By the end of the second week, the season ended with McDavid hitting and surpassing 100 points. Playoffs kick off in the third week. Five days later their season is over.

The first round exit is a good reminder that the playoffs are a bit of a crapshoot. You never know when a goalie is going to get hot or which forward is going to start scoring goals in bunches. The best you can do is build a balanced roster with talent, pray that your key players stay healthy and hope you get some bounces. It’s a cruel tournament, the results of which often push managers down the wrong path with negative long-term implications. It’s critical that teams have a long-term strategy in place, have strong decision-making processes and are constantly evaluating their business operations. Because it’s going to be tested over and over again by playoff results. Just ask the Washington Capitals.

Five-on-five

The biggest reason the Oilers were out after four games was the Jets goaltending. Connor Hellebuyck was lights out, posting a save percentage of 95.0% in all situations. The Oilers controlled the flow-of-play at five-on-five, doing a great job generating chances, and posting better numbers than they did in the regular season. They were the better team, but it didn’t matter. They were outscored 6-9 at five-on-five play, and 8-14 in all situations.

Edmonton Oilers5v5Winnipeg Jets
56.37Corsi For%43.63
55.18Fenwick For%44.82
59.70Expected Goals For%40.30
6-9GF-GA9-6
40.00Goals For%60.00
4.52Shooting%7.50
92.50Save%95.48
0.970PDO1.030

Keep in mind too, the Oilers controlled the shot-shares in their regular season head-to-head matches against the Jets, posting a Corsi For% of 51.69% over their nine games and an Expected Goal Share% of 54.97%. And thanks to their own 104 PDO over those nine games, the Oilers had a Goal Share% of 62.25% against the Jets. That’s the randomness involved in hockey, making it difficult to predict which skaters and goalies are going to succeed and when.

The Oilers 4.52% team shooting percentage at even-strength (5v5) was well outside of the expected range. As we see below, there was only one point in the regular season in late February that they had a shooting percentage that low. Observers may recall a four-game stretch that included the infamous three-game series against the Leafs and a game against the Canucks preceding that where the Oilers scored only once at five-on-five. For context, I added the Oilers regular season shooting percentage (8.87%, in orange) to the graph below along with their playoff shooting percentage (4.52%, in grey).

On the flip side, the Jets 95.48% save percentage in the playoffs was high, but they did hit that mark a few times including late in the regular season. Their goaltending was sixth best in the league for a reason, while the Oilers ranked 20th.

Players

Below is a snapshot of how the forwards did in the playoffs at five-on-five, including their shot-differentials (shot attempts and expected goals), PDO, and sorted by their on-ice goal differential.

It’s pretty clear that the entire team struggled offensively, with only Kahun and Kassian posting on-ice shooting percentages above the team’s regular season levels (8.87%). The top line featuring McDavid and Draisaitl for the most part did the heavy lifting in terms of generating shots and chances, while the depth players, especially the more experienced professional-level players, posted negative shot differentials.

It’s unfortunate the team went away from having McDavid and Draisaitl on separate lines, as they probably would have done a better job controlling the pace of the games by spreading out their offence more. This regular season, the Oilers took on the necessary risk playing the duo together less than they have in the past, which I thought allowed for other skilled wingers to develop chemistry and have productive seasons playing with the star players. In 2018/19, McDavid and Draisaitl played 20.0% of the team’s total five-on-five time together. That dropped down to 16.0% last season (2019/20) and then down to 12.5% in the 2021 season. Some good progress was made into developing line combinations in the regular season and getting a better understanding of the options they have up front – and they still went back to the McDavid/Draissaitl tandem. On top of that, they relied more on the older and lesser-skilled players in the playoffs, indicating to me that the coach panicked a bit with line combinations and deployment strategies. If I’m the GM, I’d need to know if the coach is going to make this a regular thing next year because that would impact how the roster is going to be constructed this upcoming off-season.

Here’s how the Oilers defencemen performed at five-on-five.

Nurse and Barrie led the team in ice time and were often deployed with McDavid, as well as Draisaitl as the duo played regularly together. Kulikov had some poor results, but for the most part was alright with Larsson posting decent shot-share numbers. And I thought it was made clear once again that Tippett does rely on goal-data to make lineup decisions, as he went with Russell and Koekkoek above Kulikov, Jones and Bouchard for a must-win game. As much as we want to analyze some of the gaffes the defencemen made, I think I learned more about the coaching staff than I did about the players. And it’s pretty obvious that when in a pressure situation, Tippett goes with veterans and those that he knows. He’d much rather play conservatively, which I don’t think works for a rush-style team like the Oilers that has some nice talent on the blueline with more developing in the system.

Special teams

The Oilers powerplay didn’t get a lot of opportunities because of the NHL’s poor officiating standards. And when they did, they again could not solve Hellebuyck. During the 20 minutes of total powerplay time, the Oilers generated about the same rate of shots as they did in the regular season, which finished near the top of the league. But instead of converting on 17.45% of their shots like they did in the regular season, they converted on only 9.52% of their shots – for a grand total of two powerplay goals.

The Jets on the other hand scored three powerplay goals over 17 minutes of powerplay time, a goals-per-hour rate above 10.0 and closer to what the Oilers finished their regular season with. The Jets weren’t great at generating chances – the Oilers actually did a better job at preventing shots than they did in the regular season – but it was enough to solve Smith who wasn’t nearly as sharp shorthanded compared to his regular season play,

Thoughts

  • Obviously a lot of decisions to make this off-season, and I get the sense that management is going to try to bring back most of their regular players like Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson and Smith.
  • If Tippett is back to complete his contract, we should probably expect some of the skill players like Ennis, Jones and Kahun to be gone and potentially replaced by more experienced players. The problem is that the Oilers professional scouts have done a poor job at identifying/evaluating talent for a few seasons now, and I don’t see how it gets better without changes to their internal strategy and personnel.
  • I think before the Oilers do anything, they really need to take a step back and figure out a better way to run their operations and make better decisions. The needs are clear – they need scoring wingers, they need players who produce without McDavid on the ice. Depending on Klefbom’s future and if Barrie is retained, they may need to find another offensive defenceman. Make a decision on Nugent-Hopkins and Larsson. And doing this with the Seattle expansion draft coming up. That’s a lot to navigate for someone like Holland who hasn’t exactly shown a lot of creativity when it comes to building a roster. In preparation of McDavid’s seventh season with the Oilers, I’m just hoping they add more to their front office. Better scouting. Better analysts. A willingness to use data as part of their decision making. Once they have that, and a better understanding of how to build a roster in 2021, I think they can have a lot more long-term, sustainable success. And really use this upcoming off-season to build a better team around McDavid.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

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