Thoughts on the Oilers: Winning, Larsson, Russell and “Blue Collar”

adam-larsson-6of-the-edmonton-oilers-against-the-anaheimGreat start to the season for the Oilers winning four of their first five games. Big win over St. Louis tonight, and hopefully they can continue their streak heading into Winnipeg for Sunday. Worth noting, since I can’t recall this ever happening, that the Oilers are sending fans into their second weekend in a row in a good mood. Last week, the Oilers beat the Flames twice before Saturday rolled around. This week, a win over the Hurricanes and Blues. Enjoy this.

The concern for the Oilers should be that their possession numbers haven’t been the strongest over the first five games, but their share of scoring chances has been higher than their opponents at 5v5 (Source: Natural Stat Trick).


Here were see that only against Buffalo and Carolina, the Oilers posted a Corsi For % (or  share of all shot attempts at even-strength) above 50%. It’s a little troubling that they got outshot in back to back games against the Flames, who have thus far played very poorly. On the flip side, the club is getting a higher share of the scoring chances, or quality shots, something that the Oilers have struggled to do for years now. I’d rather see the team start to get better possession wise, and develop a sustainable strategy to win games, including more regular contributions from lines outside of the McDavid line. Until they sort that out, I’d be happy to take these wins. For more on the correlation between Corsi and scoring chances with goals, definitely check out Stephen Burtch’s article at Hockey Prospectus. I do put more emphasis on Corsi as a predictor of future success, as there are more occurrences of it. But we’ll have to revisit all the metrics throughout the season.

Please note that Natural Stat Trick uses War on Ice’s definition of scoring chances (Source):

“So based on these measures, the average probability of a goal given the type and locations, and the consideration of team defense, we have these conditions for a “scoring chance”:

In the low danger zone, unblocked rebounds¥ and rush shotsƚ only

In the medium danger zone, all unblocked shots.

In the high danger zone, all shot attempts (since blocked shots taken here may be more representative of more “wide-open nets”, though we don’t know this for sure.)


For me, the best player for the Oilers, aside from McDavid, has been Adam Larsson. Obviously it’s early in the season, but I think he’s been very effective with Klefbom. I would like to see a little more offence from him, but maybe that will come over time. He’s a better skater than I expected, and still plays an efficient physical game. To be honest, he reminds me a lot of Jeff Petry, in that he could make smart plays out of his zone and won’t be caught out of position often.

I’ve also been happy with the play of Russell, and his effectiveness playing alongside Sekera. As I noted last week, just based on Russell’s play in Calgary, and the underlying numbers derived from his 500+ games, my expectations were certainly low. The Oilers can spin their own version of analytics to justify the signing, but we already have a handle on what this player is capable of. If Russell can continue playing at the level he’s been at over the first five games, I’ll be thrilled. Having said that, his PDO is pretty high right now, and his possession numbers have been alright, so I don’t have my hopes up.

One other thing: I honestly wonder if Dallas hadn’t traded for him at the 2016 deadline, would Russell have this much support from fans and media members, especially from those that don’t value analytics. It’s almost like he instantly became the go-to example to argue against the value of shot-metrics and analysis that’s becoming more and more common. The fact is 29 other teams stayed clear of Russell when he hit free agency, as he had to wait until after training camps opened to land a one-year contract. I’m still hoping for the best for him as a fan, but the quest to dispel analytics using Russell as the centerpiece is bizarre.

Watching him play in Calgary and Dallas, and his overall performance in the defensive zone, I didn’t see anything that made him effective. He’s never driven offence for his teams, he’s never been able to suppress shots or keep the majority of shots outside. Just based on those viewings alone, I’d agree completely with Ferraro. If you haven’r already, I highly recommend checking out Matt Henderson’s recent piece on Russell over at OilersNation.

“Blue Collar”

The Oilers have a new opening video for the 2016/17 season that plays before each game. It’s really well produced, something different than years past, and is worth checking out:



Here’s my issue though: try as they may, the Oilers, and every other billion dollar professional sports franchise needs to stop trying to connect with the “blue collar” concept and culture. It’s painful to see shots of Edmonton’s inner city, and the rough train yards, and the gritty bridges, when the Oilers have completely priced out the people they’re trying to align their identity with. The average cost of an Oilers game is one of the highest in the league right now and merchandise continues to be out of the reach of many fans. It was also amusing to see the Oilers include shots of the city that could use some repair, considering how much money the city of Edmonton diverted to the new arena for a billionaire  owner. I don’t mean to take anything away from the production of the video. It’s excellent. But some of the narratives the team tries to create, and even what McLellan mentioned about playing in Alberta, is pretty disingenuous and somewhat condescending.

Thoughts on the Oilers: Current roster, offseason moves and the upcoming season

larssonLooking forward to getting the regular season started. The Oilers made a lot of significant changes with trading away Hall and Yakupov, and brought in some new assets like Larsson and Lucic that will hopefully right the ship of this bottom-feeder franchise.

The other good news is that it looks like Klefbom has recovered from his staph infection from last season, and that McDavid might actually be faster than last season. If these two can stay healthy, and if Talbot can start and finish the season strong, the club will make progress. My guess is that the Oilers land around the 80-85 point mark, and will finish somewhere between 10th and 12th in the Western Conference. And make no mistake, if the Oilers do take a step forward, it’ll be because of superstar performances from McDavid, Klefbom and Talbot. Lucic and Larsson are good additions, I think both can contribute next season, but the club has too many weaknesses to be a competitive team.

I’ve harped on this before, but the goaltending tandem could’ve been better, as I don’t think Gustavsson is an NHL goalie. There were better options available, yet the Oilers paid a million to a guy who wasn’t exactly in high demand. Talbot has been a fine acquisition, but twice now he’s struggled once taking over a starting position (once in New York, and last season with Edmonton). The Oilers are banking on Talbot starting well and starting often.

The defence is better than last season, but there are still too many question marks for my liking. I may not have liked the trade to acquire him, but I am looking forward to seeing Larsson paired with Klefbom in a top four role that can play in all situations. Sekera will probably be his steady self, but the rest of the defence core I’m a little unsure about. Fayne I’m a fan of, and he played well with Sekera last season, and really should be paired with him agais, but the Oilers don’t seem to want him around. Davidson was great last season in a depth role, and that’s where I’m hoping the Oilers continue to play him this coming season. There really is no reason the Oilers should be eager to push him up the chart. If injuries happen, sure. But why not play him at his established playing level? I’m also a fan of Nurse, but I’d prefer to see him spend a full season in Bakersfield and get him lots of ice time there in different situations. The team admitted that they had to rush his development last season because of all of the injuries (and their weak depth on defence), so I don’t understand what their excuse is this year. Russell is another average to below-average defenceman that doesn’t really push the needle, but he does bring experience. More on him in a second.

As for the forwards, the team has plenty of skill and a range of ability. McDavid is really the only driver among the group who has the ability to carry a line on his own. Lucic, Eberle, RNH, Pouliot are all established forward, and we know what we can expect from this group. I’d love to see Draisaitl take a step forward (as a center) this coming season. He’s up for a contract, so there should not be any sort of sheltering. The team should know what they have in him before signing him long-term or opting to bridge him. There’s a little more uncertainty among the rest of the forwards. In my mind, Caggiula and Puljujärvi should be in Bakersfield for at least 30 games so that they can adjust to the professional game and for the Oilers to get a better read on what they have. The scouts have obviously seen what these two can bring, but there’s no way they can be certain of it until they see them in a setting and system that the Oilers are familiar with. I never understand the hesitation in sending guys away to develop. Chiarelli was fine doing that in Boston with guys like Pastrňák, but appears to be embracing the Oilers way.

The Oilers should be focused on establishing a window, a 5-7 year period, where they can compete for the Stanley Cup. Winning the cup requires a lot of luck, so if they can be in the hunt for an extended period, I would consider that a success. Chiarelli really only built a two year window in Boston, something a lot of teams can do, and was fortunate to have elite goaltending and a hall-of-famer defenceman to build around. Hopefully he does better than that in Edmonton.

Here’s what I learned about the Oilers this summer: the current management group aren’t going to be outside the box thinkers, which is extremely disappointing. And I’m not just referring to utilizing analytics to contribute to their decision making. I’m talking about exploiting inefficiencies, finding value contracts, controlling assets, leveraging their strengths, that sort of stuff. The things that teams like Florida and Carolina are doing, or trying to do. The Oilers can easily use their resources (outside of the cap) to get a step on their competition, but it appears they’re going to do what’s tried and true. I was hoping that the acquisition of Maroon (and that sweet value contract) was a sign of things to come, but it appears at this point to be an anomaly.

Because of the controversial moves this summer (Hall vs Larsson, etc), and really the divisive nature of social media, we’re going to see a lot more of this type of trolling. And lets make one thing clear: the “analytics” don’t say anything, (it’s a process to find meaningful patterns and correlations in data), but the individuals who interpret and analyze the data will have a voice. If you have an issue with someone’s analysis, go after that individual rather than clumping everyone together; it pushes a specific topic along and adds more to the overall discussion. Believe it or not, there is plenty of debate among those within the analytics community, so it doesn’t make sense to group everyone together.

I’m also finding the growing support of Russell to be suspiciously quick. I’d be all for adding someone with 500+ NHL games, but only if it meant prospects like Nurse and Reinhart would be both pushed down to the AHL. Russell is a below average defenceman (doesn’t push a team’s offence, doesn’t suppress shots and chances against), who can play in your bottom four with limited, often sheltered, minutes. So all of the hype of him being anything above average is nonsense. And if you’re going to talk about his micro-stats (i.e., puck retrieval counts, preventing zone entries), (1) demonstrate it’s repeatability, (2) demonstrate it’s correlation to shots and goals (or things that are important to winning games), and (3) make your data available so it can be reviewed. I’ve seen enough of this player’s on-ice ability and his underlying number to have formed an opinion on him. If he can play better than his previous performances, I’ll be thrilled.

Recommended links:

Will Kris Russell Help? – Beer League Heroes

A Few Words – OilersNation

What Could Have Been vs What Might Be – Copper & Blue

Puljujarvi Gifted a Spot? – OilersNation

Mission Accomplished – Black Dog Hates Skunks

Who’s Ready to Kill Some Penalties?

An area that the Oilers have struggled with in pre-season has been the penalty kill. And that was on full display in their recent game against Winnipeg, who scored four powerplay goals on their way to a 5-1 win over Edmonton. Yes it’s only pre-season, but if we look at what options the Oilers have for their penalty kill once they start playing meaningful games, it’s not looking pretty.

Last season, the Oilers finished 18th in the league when it came to killing penalties, with an 81.1% success rate (Source: Sporting Charts). And when it came to limiting unblocked shot attempts against (i.e., Fenwick), which is a good predictor of future success on special teams, the Oilers ranked 23rd in the league with 74.5 (Source: Hockey Analysis).

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Talking Yakupov, Training Camp, Defence pairings and Penalty Kill on The Lowdown with Lowetide

Joined Lowetide on TSN 1260 to talk Oilers this morning. Full audio clip is below (starts around the 45 minute mark):


  • Yakupov’s role this coming season
  • Defence pairings, including why Sekera should be paired with Fayne. Wrote about the duo at Copper & Blue a few months ago.
  • Talked about why Gryba might be a good fit for Davidson. Wrote about that recently at Copper & Blue.
  • Penalty kill options

Looking into how the Oilers can best utilize Maroon this coming season

One thing worth watching in training camp is where forward Patrick Maroon will slot in among the group of forwards. The 28 year old was brought in to bring in size and versatility, and has also shown the ability to put up points, typically when on a line with offensive players. Maroon will cost the Oilers $3.0 million over the next two seasons, a fairly reasonable price point, before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018.

Following his arrival to Edmonton from Anaheim on trade deadline day, Maroon played in 16 games and produced very well playing mostly with Connor McDavid and Jordan Eberle,  notching 14 points (8 goals, 6 assists). His points per 60 shot up to 2.84 at even-strength, highest among all Oiler forwards, up from the paltry 1.00 points per 60 he posted last season with Anaheim.

Without a doubt, Maroon benefited from playing alongside McDavid, as the rookie typically had a positive impact on any of his linemates when it came to possession and production. The two along with Eberle played a total of 119 minutes at even-strength near the end of the season, finishing with a Corsi For percentage of 47.49%, an Expected Goals For percentage, which measures shot quality, of 53.27%, and a Goals For percentage of 69.23%, good for second among all line combinations that played at least 50 minutes together. The trio scored 17 goals together, which translates into a Goals For/60 of 4.51, good for 24th in the league. Their success however seems to be driven largely by a higher than team average shooting percentage and save percentage, as their PDO was at 107.33. (Source: Corsica Hockey).

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

The Gryba and Davidson Partnership

I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I’m okay with the Oilers signing Eric Gryba to a Professional Tryout (PTO) agreement. The 28 year old, right shooting defencemen is expected at training camp, with a pretty good shot at making the team. It’s a low risk move that creates competition for one of the depth spots on the roster. And it should, in my opinion, make it harder for both Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart to make the opening night lineup I have no hesitation in saying that both Nurse and Reinhart, who I think are good prospects, need extended time to develop at in the AHL. There is no harm in having these two play top pairing minutes, in all situations, against AHL-level competition in Bakersfield, until they’re ready to contribute on a consistent basis.

Back to Gryba, the things that he has going in his favor are his performance numbers from last season playing with young Brandon Davidson. They were one another’s most common defence partner, having played a total 279 minutes together at even-strength, predominantly as the third pairing on most nights, but did move up into the top four on occasion. Their 53.48 CF% at even-strength was second best among all Oiler defence pairings that played more than 50 minutes together (18 defence pairs in total). Source: Corsica Hockey.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.