Talking Oilers, Shot-share and Playoffs on The Lowdown with Lowetide (TSN 1260)

I joined Lowetide on TSN 1260 this morning to talk all things Oilers. Clip is below, starting around the 20 minute mark.

Topics we covered:

  • Keys to success this season.
  • The Oilers declining shot-share (Corsi For%).
  • Matt Benning’s emergence and future with the team.
  • That Sekera-Russell pairing.
  • Playoffs and reasonable expectations.
  • Calling up Mark Fayne if Benning is out with an injury.
  • Upcoming games against LA, San Jose and Anaheim.

McDavid’s in the Scoring Race, and the Oilers Aren’t Exactly Helping

7mcdavidrussell

Something that’s been of interest to me lately is how the Oilers might be slowing down Connor McDavid’s offence. He leads the league in points with 87, but I honestly believe that if he had a better defence core behind him, he could’ve been further ahead than the rest of the group.

Here’s how the scoring race looks today:

Player Points
Connor McDavid 87
Sidney Crosby 82
Patrick Kane 81
Brad Marchand 80
Nikita Kucherov 78

My thought is that if your team has the puck more often, then that should increase your odds of putting up points (EDIT: and having a higher goal share). I’ll use Corsi For% (i.e., shot attempts) as my proxy, and I think for the most part it checks out. It also predicts future goal-share quite well.

Here’s each player’s team’s Corsi For% at 5v5 this season.

Team CF% Rank
Boston 55.2 2
Tampa Bay 51.6 5
Pittsburgh 50.9 11
Chicago 50.5 13
Edmonton 49.8 19

So of the five leading scorers, McDavid’s club ranks 19th in the league with a Corsi For% of 49.8%. And his competitors in the scoring race are all on teams that have at least a 50.5% share of the shot attempts.

Next, it’s worth seeing how each of the top five players does with the defence core they have. Defencemen are a big part of each player’s success, as having a balanced group that can skate and move the puck well will make a significant difference. What I really want to see here is what kind of support each of the leading scorers gets, and if any of them are being dragged down.

Here’a a quick breakdown of each of the top five scorers and their on-ice Corsi For percentages with their most common defencemen this season (minimum 100 minutes together at 5v5). Defencemen are listed in descending order by ice time with the player.

McDavid

Player TOI CF60 CA60 CF%
KLEFBOM, OSCAR 421:28:00 61.93 57.80 51.7
LARSSON, ADAM 414:50:00 62.05 56.99 52.1
SEKERA, ANDREJ 407:07:00 57.18 55.12 50.9
RUSSELL, KRIS 364:38:00 53.64 59.24 47.5
BENNING, MATTHEW 277:34:00 57.93 50.37 53.5
GRYBA, ERIC 174:01:00 67.23 45.17 59.8
NURSE, DARNELL 167:10:00 64.25 45.58 58.5
DAVIDSON, BRANDON 122:58:00 55.62 43.43 56.2

As expected, when McDavid is on the ice with Russell, the team’s CF% drops to 47.5%. The next lowest is with Sekera, at just under 51%. With Russell, the rate of shot attempts for drops to 53.64, while with anyone else, it’s higher than that. It’s obvious Russell is a drag on McDavid, but the fact that the shots for drop should raise some concern for the coaching staff.

That’s more than 360 minutes that McDavid has to basically carry around Russell and get outshot doing so, which makes you wonder how much better the point totals would be had the Oilers found a more talented, not necessarily elite, right shot defenceman last summer. Russell is a capable NHL defenceman who can contribute as a depth player, but it should be obvious to anyone watching this team that he’s playing above his established level. It really would make no sense to retain a player who hampers your best player’s offence.

Related: Holding Back McDavid – The Copper & Blue (2017, March 22)

 

Crosby

Player TOI CF60 CA60 CF%
DUMOULIN, BRIAN 400:10:00 66.87 52.78 55.9
SCHULTZ, JUSTIN 368:33:00 63.82 56.33 53.1
LETANG, KRIS 310:22:00 65.54 51.81 55.8
COLE, IAN 274:29:00 69.73 58.15 54.5
MAATTA, OLLI 203:22:00 63.43 63.43 50.0
DALEY, TREVOR 197:39:00 68.00 65.57 50.9

Kane

Player TOI CF60 CA60 CF%
KEITH, DUNCAN 526:05:00 59.31 52.58 53.0
CAMPBELL, BRIAN 430:32:00 53.93 56.02 49.0
SEABROOK, BRENT 428:12:00 61.65 60.39 50.5
HJALMARSSON, NIKLAS 393:18:00 56.14 48.67 53.6
VAN_RIEMSDYK, TREVOR 289:50:00 54.86 50.10 52.3
KEMPNY, MICHAL 189:43:00 69.26 51.23 57.5
FORSLING, GUSTAV 141:59:00 49.87 55.36 47.4

Marchand

Player TOI CF60 CA60 CF%
KRUG, TOREY 418:24:00 73.57 39.87 64.9
CHARA, ZDENO 404:01:00 64.16 49.75 56.3
CARLO, BRANDON 390:53:00 68.46 48.20 58.7
MCQUAID, ADAM 371:08:00 68.06 42.03 61.8
MILLER, COLIN 169:54:00 76.28 45.91 62.4
MILLER, KEVAN 159:20:00 64.77 48.20 57.3

Kucherov

Player TOI CF60 CA60 CF%
HEDMAN, VICTOR 416:10:00 60.12 47.29 56.0
STRALMAN, ANTON 323:55:00 58.16 47.60 55.0
GARRISON, JASON 263:01:00 61.82 53.15 53.8
COBURN, BRAYDON 250:39:00 59.84 46.44 56.3
SUSTR, ANDREJ 242:08:00 57.24 53.77 51.6
DOTCHIN, JAKE 163:21:00 66.12 47.75 58.1
NESTEROV, NIKITA 144:18:00 62.37 42.83 59.3

Of the four players, only Kane posts a CF% less than 50% with one defenceman (49.0% with Campbell). Crosby, Marchand and Kucherov all post a CF% above 50% with every single defenceman they’ve played with for at least 100 minutes this season. Must be nice.

I hope this also squashes the whole “Russell plays tough minutes” thing. The Oilers roll out their top two pairs equally, with Klefbom/Larsson and Sekera/Russell seeing similar levels of competition. Every one of those defence groups listed above has a pair that plays tough competition, but they can still post a CF% of 50% with their best offensive forward on the ice. So let’s stop using the excuse of Russell playing against top lines or taking more defensive zone starts. His 47.5% CF% with McDavid is unacceptable and needs to be addressed.

Takeaway

The Oilers have quite possibly the best player in the world on their team that will hopefully be their franchise cornerstone for a long time. Surrounding him with talent should have been the number one priority when they won the draft lottery with the focus being on winning a championship. The club did make some good moves by acquiring Talbot and Maroon, signing Sekera as a UFA and signing Klefbom to a long-term deal. But the fact that they brought in someone like Russell, who has a long history of dragging down the offence of his team, makes me wonder what exactly they were thinking. It did help push the younger, developing  players like Nurse, Reinhart and Oesterle down the depth chart, and added some experience to the roster. But the point of the game is to generate offence, and the fact that one of the elite offensive talents in the league has to spend that much of his time with someone playing above his established level is mind-boggling.

It will be imperative that the Oilers surround McDavid with the best possible defence core that can support him offensively and not be a significant drag on his production.If the end goal for management is a championship, it’s their responsibility to take action.

Data: Hockey Analysis

Holding Back McDavid

Enough can’t be said about Connor McDavid and the great season he’s been having. He currently leads the league in points with 85, including 57 assists. The Oilers are a different, much more offensive team with him on the ice, posting a higher share of shots, scoring chances and goals at even-strength (5v5).

Breaking out his on-ice numbers at even-strength into rolling 25-game segments, we see that for the most part the Oilers’ share of events have regularly been well above the break-even point when McDavid is on the ice. These really are remarkable numbers for a second-year forward, and it’s possible that the best is yet to come.

The one metric that stands out in the graph above is the team’s share of shot attempts in blue (Corsi For%) and unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick For%) with McDavid on the ice, as it’s been steadily declining since around mid-January sitting just barely over 50%. Over the course of the season, the Oilers have posted a 52.95% share of the shot attempts with McDavid on the ice. But since mid January, that share has dropped down to 49.89%.

There’s nothing about McDavid’s game that suggests he might be the problem: he’s been healthy, he continues to play his usual style to generate chances, he’s been shooting around the same frequency all season and he’s been very productive on a line with Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl.

One of the factors likely impacting McDavid’s on ice Corsi For% is the defence pairing of Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell. This season, the pair have regularly played top four minutes for the Oilers and have a Corsi For% of 44.84% at even-strength, one of the worst shares on the team and in the league among regular pairings. What’s most concerning is that their play together has been getting progressively worse, and it’s starting to impact the productivity of one of the best players in the world.

Below is a graph containing the Corsi For% when McDavid is on the ice with one of the two most common defence pairings this season: Larsson/Klefbom, and Russell/Sekera. These two pairings have really been the Oilers top four this season, and have played similar levels of competition. What I’ve done here is break out the season into two: the games up to and including January 10th, 2017, and games since that date.

Here we see that McDavid has posted slightly better numbers more recently with the Larsson-Klefbom pair, going from 49.2% before January 10th, to 51.3% since. With Russell and Sekera, McDavid was posting a 48.2% share of shot attempts, but that number has dropped considerably to 43.8% since mid-January. If we’re wondering why McDavid’s own on-ice Corsi For% has been dropping, we may have found one of the main drivers of it.

These are the kinds of numbers a coaching staff needs to address, as a critical piece of their offence is being negatively impacted by a poor defence pairing. There’s no question that Sekera and Russell are capable NHL defencemen, but it’s become obvious that as a pairing they’ve been doing more harm than good. Russell is playing above his established NHL level, and is better suited on his left-side, in more of a depth role and can contribute on the penalty-kill. And Sekera has had more success when paired with a right-handed defenceman. This season, paired with rookie Matt Benning for just under 200 minutes, the duo have a Corsi For% of 58.01%, the best on the team, and a goal-share of 58.82%. With McDavid on the ice with them, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For% of 56.8%. And in 2015/16, when Sekera was paired with Mark Fayne and took to the ice with McDavid, the Oilers posted a Corsi For% of 51.1%.

Whatever the Oilers do, they have to ensure that their best player is in a position to generate offence. McDavid is the key driver for the club, as their season and post-season success, will depend on his performance. It’s obvious that there’s an issue with the club when the team’s possession numbers are sliding with their best player on the ice. Finding a solution could be as simple as tweaking the defence combinations and deploying players differently. Or it could require system adjustments, possibly moving away from a dump-and-chase style, that accommodates the skill and speed of their best players. Generating offence has to be the goal and maximizing McDavid’s potential is going to be critical today and going forward.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

 

Another Look Into the Oilers Secondary Scoring + Radio spot (TSN 1260)

Joined Lowetide on Monday morning on TSN 1260 to talk Oilers. Clip is below and starts around the 25 minute mark.


One of the more interesting issues around the Edmonton Oilers this season has been the performance of the team when Connor McDavid hasn’t been on the ice. The second-year forward has been an absolute offensive force for the club, consistently using his skill and speed to lead the attack and create scoring opportunities at will. Over the course of the season, the Oilers as a team have maintained a decent share, right around league average, of the shot attempts, scoring chances and goals, thanks in large part to the play of McDavid.

What we’ve come to realize though after 71 games is that the Oilers are icing two very different teams: one with McDavid that can outshoot and outscore opponents, and another one without McDavid on the ice that posts numbers below league average. With McDavid on the ice at even-strength (5v5) this season, the Oilers have an incredible goal-share of 61.17% (outscoring opponents 63 to 40). Without McDavid on the ice, the team can only muster a goal-share of 48.72%, having been out-scored 80-76. When it comes to shot-metrics, which are used to predict future goal-share, the Oilers have a Corsi For% of 53.16% with McDavid on the ice, having outshot opponents 1,151 to 1,014. Without McDavid, the team has a Corsi For% of 48.49%, below league average and a troubling number considering the expensive personnel on the roster. Please refer to the Appendix for descriptions of the five metrics.

Now the good news is that the secondary lines have recently been contributing more. Jordan Eberle appears to have bounced back from his poor start and has been productive on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic. The trio have played 220 minutes together so far, and hold a Corsi For% of 51.39%, scoring five even-strength goals together and allowing six. The newly formed trio of Montreal castaways featuring Benoit Pouliot, David Desharnais and Zack Kassian have now played roughly 48 minutes together, outscoring opponents 4-2 (a goal-share of 66.7%), and getting 48.8% of the shot attempts. Worth noting that this line is riding a 17.4% shooting percentage, which is likely to drop off eventually.

While the goal-scoring has improved without McDavid on the ice, a closer look at the shot metrics indicates that the secondary offence is still sputtering. Below is a graph with the five metrics broken out into rolling 25-game segments, capturing the team’s performance without McDavid.

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Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Wasted Youth

Something that’s bothered me for a while is the lack of real skill and talent in the NHL. Ideally, the league would have fewer teams, create more competition for spots and ice lineups that are better loaded with skill and goal-scoring ability.

The way it works in the NHL today is that you’ll have a small group of true contenders, teams with talent that can score and have an entertaining product. Then there’s a big group of average teams, with decent rosters but plenty of holes preventing them from becoming legitimate contenders. And then you have the junk teams that appear to be contending for a playoff spot, but really aren’t when you factor in the three-point/loser point system.

The issue for thes bad teams is typically poor roster construction around their skilled players and the lack of depth, especially on defence. Think of the Oilers, Avalanche and Coyotes and some of the terrible decisions they’re management teams have made. What’s especially bothersome is when talented, elite players have to spend the prime of their professional careers with these loser organizations.

A prime example that comes to mind, for obvious reasons, is 26 year old Taylor Hall. After being drafted in 2010 by the Oilers, the winger played six full seasons as the team’s top line winger, before being moved to New Jersey. Here’s how his team’s have done with and without him at even-strength.

Hall EO

Hall NJ

Brutal.

In Edmonton, he was an offensive driver, as the team was just able to outscore opponents when he was on the ice. Without him, a goal-share of 40%. It appears that the same thing is happening now in New Jersey as Hall continues to be the offensive driver, but he’s again surrounded by a terrible roster that is garbage without him. He is being paid for his work, but it’s got to be frustrating losing this often.

Side note: Hall is signed with the Devils for three more seasons at $6M per season, and is a UFA at age 28. The others signed to long term deals in New Jersey: Zajac (31), Palmieri, and Andy Greene (34) and Cory Schneider (30). (Cap Friendly)

It’s seeing numbers like in the graphs above that makes me question why players, whose skill and talent is what draws people to the game, don’t have more control over their futures. Hall did sign an extension with the Oilers, but he and every other player entering the league are under team control most often for the duration of their prime years (up to age 27). And it really makes me wonder if NHL owners have enough incentives to actually build a winning team.

Data: Corsica Hockey

 

Thoughts on the Oilers Powerplay, Defence Pairings, Talbot + Radio spot (CBC Radio Active)

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Edmonton Oilers

I joined Portia Clark on CBC Radio Active on Tuesday afternoon to talk Oilers, the playoff race and what areas the team needs to improve on. Full clip is here: CBC Radio Active (2017, March 14)

After 69 games, the Oilers are sitting in the first wild-card spot in the West with 81 points, four points ahead of St. Louis, who have the second wild-card spot, and eight (!) points up on Los Angeles. The Flames (2nd) and Anaheim (3rd) are only one point ahead. The Oilers rank 4th in the west when it comes to 5v5 goal-share with 52.96%, behind Minnesota, San Jose and Chicago. Calgary, Anaheim and St. Louis, the team’s the Oilers are battling with for playoff positioning, each have a goal-share of 50.6% this season

In terms of shot-share, the Oilers have slumped, especially over their last 25 games as they’ve posted a 48% Corsi For since mid January. Over the year, the Oilers have a Corsi For% of around 50%, right around league average, but it’s important to note that the final 25 games of a season can predict pretty accurately how a team does in the playoffs. The team is still getting results, but the underlying shot metrics paint a slightly different picture.

Powerplay

I think it’s worth emphasizing that the Oilers powerplay this season is good and it’s real. They rank 7th in the league when it comes to goals per hour with the man-advantage, which is second in the west, only behind the Blues. To measure sustainbility, it’s worth looking at their shot rates, which have been pretty good. They’re generating 53 shots per hour (that’s shots on goal) on the powerplay, which ranks 12th in the league, and 4th in the west.

The top three point producers at 5v4 are Draisaitl (6.82 points per hour), Lucic (6.35) and McDavid (5.59). And in terms of generating shots, the MVP on the powerplay has been Letestu, as the team sees a significant jump with him on the ice at 5v4. He has seven points on the powerplay, and ranks 9th in terms of points per hour with 1.90. But the team is much better, generating over 61 shots per hour, with him on the ice. Worth noting that when it comes shots per 60 relative to the team average, Letestu is a +9.76 which is 3rd best in the league, only behind Nazem Kadri (TOR) and Adam Lowry (WPG).

Talbot’s workload

After playing in his 62nd game last night, most among all goalies, there’s some understandable concern about Talbot’s workload and if this could impact his future performance.  Among the regular starters (>2,000 minutes), Talbot currently ranks 8th when it comes to 5v5 save percentage and is surrounded by some pretty decent net minders.

Player Team Games Sv% (5v5)
CAREY.PRICE MTL 53 93.81
BRADEN.HOLTBY WSH 53 93.74
DEVAN.DUBNYK MIN 55 93.57
SERGEI.BOBROVSKY CBJ 54 93.49
COREY.CRAWFORD CHI 46 93.20
JOHN.GIBSON ANA 49 93.19
CAM.TALBOT EDM 62 92.92
ROBIN.LEHNER BUF 50 92.89
PETER.BUDAJ L.A/T.B 55 92.66
RYAN.MILLER VAN 45 92.64

The good news here is that his 5v5 save percenateg hasn’t dipped as the season has wore on, as he has posted a 92.98 save percentage over his last 25 games.

03-15-2017 12-57-22 PM

Where his numbers have dipped is on the penalty kill, which I think has more to do with the team’s season-long issue of shots against per hour (7th highest in the league) and quality chances than it does his own stamina.

Talbot has not only bailed out the team on a number of occasions, but he’s also done a pretty nice solid for the GM. The Oilers completely botched their search for a backup goalie last summer and still need to address it in the off-season. For now, Talbot has remained healthy and has provided solid minutes.

Defence pairings

The tandem of Klefbom and Larsson has been good this season, providing quality minutes and playing well against the best competition. It’s a balanced pairing with Klefbom being the good, all-round defenceman who can move the puck well and contribute offensively, and Larsson excelling in his own zone. One thing I’ll do at the end of the season is see how they compare against similar tandems, in terms of offence and defence. I think they’ve been good in all areas of the ice, but it’s worth digging into the data to see if they’re real or not.

Data: Hockey Analysis, Corsica Hockey

Talking Oilers and the Playoff Race on the CBC Edmonton News (TV)

Sunil CBC - 20170314

I joined Adrienne Pan on the CBC Edmonton News on Tuesday evening to talk Oilers and the playoff race. Link is here, clip starts around the 21 minute mark: CBC Edmonton News (2017, March 14)

Topics we touched on:

  • Losses against Pittsburgh and Montreal and areas for concern
  • Potentially shaking up the line combinations
  • Could the Oilers miss the playoffs
  • Potential first round match-up if they do make it
  • Cam Talbot’s workload
  • Upcoming week and what to expect

A big thank you to the team at CBC for putting it all together! Always appreciate the work they do.