CBC Radio Active: Analyzing the Oilers’ losing streaks

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I joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk about the Oilers and their downward spiral since December. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2022, January 19).

Topics we covered:

  • Leon Draisaitl’s recent comments and his exchange with beat reporter Jim Matheson.
  • How to best address the Oilers goaltending issues.
  • The underlying numbers over the last 15 games, which includes only three wins and two six-game losing streaks.
  • The changes needed behind the bench and especially the front office.

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

Remembering Adrienne Pan

Very saddened to hear about the passing of Adrienne Pan. Such an incredible person that did so much for the community and for those around her. She’ll be deeply missed.

I’ll never forget how kind and supportive she was to me, especially when I first started doing television segments with her on the CBC Edmonton news. She was such a positive person, so approachable. I learned so much from her about public speaking and connecting with a broader audience. Adrienne was the one who offered me a regular spot on the news to talk Oilers and was so encouraging – and her support continued over the years.

Looking back now, I realized how much effort she would put into the Oiler segments to make it better for the audience, really challenging me and others along the way. She would always push for new topics to discuss, wanting to go past the main storylines around the Oilers. Knowing that I liked talking about stats, she worked with the CBC team to develop television graphics and slides that we could present – again, wanting to do more than simple box-score stats. And to make our segments interactive, Adrienne had set-up Facebook Live sessions where viewers could send in questions about the Oilers and I would share my thoughts. She was so professional and cared a lot about her work and what was presented, and pushed those around her to be better as well. I’ll forever be grateful for the opportunities she gave me and the support she provided along the way.

My deepest condoloences to her family and friends. And all of her colleagues at CBC Edmonton.

We’ll miss you, Adrienne.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 37 – Daniel Nugent-Bowman, The Athletic

Joined by Daniel Nugent-Bowman (@DNBSports) from The Athletic to talk Oilers, the results this season and what the major on-ice issues have been. We covered the roster construction issues that Holland is facing, the team’s goaltending, and what needs to be addressed before the club can become a championship contender. Daniel also shared some great insight on his approach to covering the Oilers beat and his experiences dealing with people in the game.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

Identifying the Oilers

At his most recent media availability, Oilers general manager Ken Holland voiced, among other topics, his disappointment with the Oilers season and expressed his inability to determine if the Oilers were a good team or not.

To tell the honest truth, I believe we have a good team. I, obviously, built the team and whatever happens is on me. I’m not really sure where we’re at because the two extremes have been so far apart. In the 16-5, our special teams were a major factor. We were probably near the top and it was extremely good. 

“In the last 13 games, we’re 18 percent on the power play and 68 percent on the penalty kill…But again, I’m not sure where we’re at because they’re such extremes, the first 21 games versus the last 13, that I’m not sure where we’re at. It’s been hard for me to really get an understanding of where we’re at.” (Source: Edmonton Oilers)

There’s definitely been a drop off when comparing the results between the first 21 games of the season against the last 13 games. Prior to December 2nd, the Oilers were the top team in the league with a 0.762 points percentage, driven completely by their special teams. The Oilers powerplay scored 23 times in only 92 minutes – a scoring rate of 14.94 goals per hour, which ranked the best in the league. Their penalty kill allowed only 8 goals in 113 minutes – rate of 4.26 goals against, good for fourth best in the league. And the Oilers special teams had to be exceptional as the team struggled at even-strength (5v5), posting a -2 goal differential and some very mediocre shot-share numbers.

And because the Oilers special teams has struggled in the last 13 games – seeing their powerplay goal-scoring rate cut in half and their goals against rate on the penalty kill almost triple – they’ve fallen to fifth in the Pacific and are no longer holding on to a playoff spot. The good news is that the powerplay should eventually start producing again, considering they continue to lead the league in shots and scoring chances per hour and have most of their top contributors healthy. They might not score at the same rate as they did in the first 21 games, but we can reasonably expect them to score around the 10.0 goals-per- hour mark, which is what they’ve done in seasons past.

The concern should probably be around the penalty kill, which was allowing some of the highest rates of shots against earlier in the season and has allowed even more since early December. Part of that could probably be attributed to so many defencemen being in and out of the lineup. But we have to keep in mind too that Tippett has a history of running penalty kills that allow a higher-than-average rate of shots against. And he quite often relies on the goaltending to bail the team out (Source). In the last two seasons, the Oilers 89.90% penalty kill save percentage has been the best in the league, but it was probably unrealistic to expect two aging netminders, one of which can’t stay healthy this season, to replicate that success.

With the issues on special teams identified, let’s switch over to even-strength where for the third season in a row under Holland and Tippett, the Oilers are posting a negative goal-differential.

The good news, is that overall the Oilers have actually been consistent all season at even-strength (5v5). The bad news is that they’ve been consistently medicore. Their Corsi For%, which serves as a proxy for puck possession and Fenwick For% which serves as a proxy for scoring chances has been around league average all season – nothing great and not terrible either. Their expected goal-share has consistently been right around the break-even mark – again just good enough but nowhere near the levels posted by the true top teams in the league.

While goaltending has slipped slightly at even-strength, the real driver of the Oilers results over the last 13 games has been been the team’s on-ice shooting percentage, which has been 6.71%. And it’s actually been when McDavid has been on the ice that the team shooting percentage has really dropped. In the first 21 games with McDavid on the ice, the Oilers team shooting percentage was 9.78% – slightly below McDavid’s career on-ice shooting percentage of 10.6%. In the last 13 games, that on-ice shooting percentage has dropped to 4.96% – well below where we would expect McDavid to be and indicating that his on-ice numbers should bounce back over the remainder of the season.

But regardless of how McDavid does, it should be concerning to the Oilers management that yet again the team is not posting very good shot-share numbers at even-strength and are going to really need their special teams to bail them out. It’s not likely that the Oilers will shoot to the top of the standings and will instead be in that mushy-middle of teams that aren’t quite division leaders and aren’t quite basement dwellers either.

What Holland and his group need to realize is that the Edmonton Oilers as constructed today are a mediocre hockey club. They’re not quite an offensive juggernaut, they’re not sound defensively, they’re not hard to play against. Even with two superstars, they’re just another middle of the pack team. These results, over three seasons now, aren’t good enough considering how much Holland is getting paid, how much money and assets he’s spent and the damage he’s done to the Oilers cap situation.

And if Holland after these three years doesn’t know what he has right now and can’t put his finger on the problems currently ailing the team, he really shouldn’t be allowed to construct an NHL roster.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 36 – Brian King (@Kinger999)

Joined by Brian King (@kinger999) on the show to talk about the Edmonton Oiler’s major issues this season, the problems with Ken Holland’s roster construction and how Dave Tippett has performed as head coach. Brian also shared the background on the PDO metric and how he discovered it – you can read more about it here.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

Oilers management is to blame for the issues in net

Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen: That Blue Paint

Quick query using publicly available data and an understanding of the salary cap and player aging curves could have prevented this fiasco.

If Oilers management isn’t happy with their goaltending, they have only themselves to blame. When you consider each netminders recent history at even-strength and the penalty kill, Ken Holland and his group really shouldn’t be surprised with their poor results this season. How often the Oilers goalies have stopped the puck has actually been similar to their previous seasons.

Even-strength (5v5)

Let’s start with even-strength (5v5), where the Oilers goalies have allowed a total of 80 goals on 876 shots against – ranking 29th in the league with a 0.909% team save percentage. The average save percentage at the team level and individual level for regular netminders is typically around 0.920%.

Below is a table showing how each Oilers goalie has performed this season including their time on ice, shots faced, goals allowed and save percentage. Among the 67 goalies who have played at least 250 minutes this season, Stuart Skinner ranks 43rd in terms of save percentage with 0.913, while Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen rank 51st and 57th respectively. Again, league average save percentage is around 0.920 – and all three have been below that mark this season.

Now to see if these numers are within an expected range, let’s look at how each Oilers goalie has performed in their previous three seasons – between 2018/19 and 2020/21. Same as above, I’ve included time on ice, shots faced, goals allowed and save percentage.

In 113 games between 2018 and 2021, Smith posted a 0.910 save percentage, which is identical to the save percentage he’s posted this season. In those previous three seasons, Smith ranked 54th among 60 goalies who played at least 2,000 minutes – demonstrating clearly that despite a career year last season, he’s a below-average goalie at even-strength. And it’s really not surprising considering he’s at an age when goaltenders drop-off significantly (Source: Hockey Graphs).

In the same three-year period, Koskinen didn’t fare much better posting a 0.916 save percentage in 119 games, sitting just below league average and ranking 42nd among the same group of 60 goalies. He’s definitely been worse this season posting a 0.906 save percentage, which is somewhat expected considering he’s now 33 years old and taking on a larger workload with Smith being injured. Skinner had only played one NHL game in that three-year period, but it’s good to know that his 0.913 save percentage this season would rank 48th among those 60 goalies.

Since Smith is posting the same save percentage this season as he has in the previous three seasons, he’s allowed about the same number of goals we could expect him to allow – approximately 14 . Koskinen on the other hand, is allowing about five more goals than expected. If he was posting a save percentage of 0.916 this season like he had in the previous three seasons, he would have allowed 40 goals instead of 45. The good news is that Skinner is performing better than we expected. Had he posted a 0.903 save percentage, the team would have allowed an extra two goals.

So based on some quick and dirty math – had the Oilers goalies performed at the same levels they had in the previous three seasons, the team would have allowed 77 goals instead of 80 at even-strength (5v5). Using the same number of shots against, that would be a team save percentage of 0.912 and would rank 26th in the league instead of 29th. So as much as the Oilers would like their goalies to be closer to league average levels at even-strength, it’s really not a realistic expectation considering how Smith and Koskinen have performed below league average over the last three seasons. Holland and his group should have known this heading into such an important season.

Penalty kill

Looking at the penalty kill this season, the Oilers have allowed 20 goals on 174 shots against – ranking 17th in the league in terms of goals against per hour (7.08) and 10th overall in team save percentage with 0.885. The average penalty kill save percentage at the team level and individual level is typically around 0.865 with all three Oilers goalies posting numbers above that this season.

Here’s how each Oilers goalie has performed this season with Skinner ranking 5th among 65 goalies who have played at least 25 minutes shorthanded this season, with Koskinen and Smith ranking 28th and 32nd respectively.

When you compare this season’s numbers with their previous three seasons, Smith and Koskinen are posting numbers fairly close to their historical levels. Over the last three seasons, Smith has a save percentage of 0.883 on the penalty kill, while Koskinen has posted a save percentage of 0.876 – both of which are above league average.
The number of goals allowed by Smith and Koskinen this season are pretty close to what we would expect from them as their save percentages are nearly identical. The issue for the Oilers is that they’re allowing a higher rate of shots against this season (about 61 per hour), while in previous seasons they’ve allowed about 55 shots against per hour. Skinner is performing above league average levels and has saved about three more goals than expected. Had he put up only league average numbers this season, the team would have allowed 23 goals instead of 20 and the Oilers would have a team save percentage of 0.867, which would rank around 16th in the league instead of 10th. Really, the difference has been marginal with all three goalies performing around expected levels.

Thoughts

While the Oilers goaltending overall hasn’t been great this season, the netminders are performing within their expected ranges. All three goalies are league average or below at this point, so expecting anything more from them was unrealistic from the get go.

Had the Oilers conducted a basic analysis using publicly available data and took time to understand salary cap management and player aging curves, they could have made smarter, more sensible bets and be in a better spot in the standings. Instead they chose to – or you could argue they were forced to – take on a lot of risk at such an important position and are getting pretty much what they should have expected.

What’s especially baffling is that despite the red flags, Ken Holland and his group have not once or twice, but three times chosen to start a regular season with Smith and Koskinen as their goalie tandem. And yes, the Oilers did try to upgrade their goaltending in previous off-seasons. But they failed because they didn’t have enough quality assets to part with due to their own mismanagement of the roster construction and their poor draft capital.

Rather that the goaltending performance, the focus really should be on Ken Holland and his management group and their very obviously-flawed decision-making process. And try as they may to improve the roster now and to make a run at a playoff spot, it’s hard to have faith in a management group that got them into this awful mess in the first place.

Related: Evaluating the evaluation – The Copper & Blue (2020, August 14)

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Tracking the Pacific division – As of December 23, 2021

Quick check-in on the Pacific division with the NHL regular season currently suspended due to the pandemic.

Based on points percentage, the Edmonton Oilers have fallen to fourth in the Pacific division now trailing Calgary, Vegas and Anaheim. And they’re holding the second wild-card spot in the NHL’s official standings – only three points ahead of Los Angeles and Winnipeg.

The table above contains the even-strength (5v5) numbers for each team in the Pacific division (sorted by points percentage) including goal-share results as well as the shot-share metrics that gives us a sense of which teams have the right processes in place and if the results are sustainable or not. I’ve also applied a basic heat-map to show which teams are doing well or struggling relative to their division foes. You can find a description of each metric at the end of this article. Also note that the shot-share metrics are score and venue adjusted based on Natural Stat Trick’s methodology.

Goal-differential (5v5)

What’s been apparent all season has been the Oilers poor goal-differential (i.e., Goal +/-) during five-on-five play, due in large part to their mediocre shot-share numbers combined with below average goaltending. Right now the Oilers are only better than Seattle when it comes to goal-differential and are being propped up by their excellent results on the powerplay and penalty kill.

While the other teams in the Pacific division like Vegas and Los Angeles are gradually figuring things out at five-on-five and trying to keep up with Calgary, the Oilers are continuing to flounder. Below is a graph showing each team’s cumulative goal-differential over the course of this season.

Couple notes:

  • Calgary had a great start to the year, but have tapered off slightly – somewhat expected considering their goal-share was at 66% at the end of November with a PDO above 102. But we can expect the Flames to continue getting strong results considering their Corsi For% and Expected Goals For% have been excellent all season. That combined with strong goaltending, good special teams and a healthy roster should have them comfortably in a playoff spot.
  • Vegas has really turned things around, due in large part to their improved shot-share numbers. When I last checked in November, they were posting a 48.88% Corsi For percentage and a 47.84% Expected Goals percentage. They’re now posting a 51.36% Corsi For pecentage and a 50.96% Expected Goals percentage – levels that we can expect to grow with their roster getting healthy and with one Jack Eichel expected to be in the lineup by season’s end.
  • Los Angeles continues to do well at five-on-five, doing well when it comes to controlling the flow of play and posting the third best goal-share in the division. The problem is their penalty kill, which is allowing the 11th highest rate of goals against in the league and the powerplay which is scoring the eighth lowest rate of goals. Worth noting that Trent Yawney is the assistant coach running the penalty kill in Los Angeles, as his results in Edmonton weren’t great and he relied heavily on goaltending when running the penalty kill in Anaheim.
  • Anaheim is very similar to Edmonton in that they’re also relying heavily on their powerplay, which ranks fifth in the league, and their penalty kill, which ranks third. But as I found in my last review, they’re not great at generating chances on the powerplay or preventing shots on the penalty kill, so I’m expecting their special teams to slip a bit. Regardless, they’re just breaking even at five-on-five for now but should see an uptick considering their Corsi For percentage had gradually been improving this season.

Depth

As we’re all well aware, the Oilers depth players have posted very poor five-on-five results and shot-share metrics this season with the team getting badly outshot and outscored when the star players haven’t been on the ice. For my own interest, and because we know how important depth is to playoff and championship aspirations, I also wanted to see how the Oilers roster compares against their division rivals.

For this exercise, I kept things simple and wanted to know how each team’s top lines have performed at five-on-five (using each team’s top forward in terms of total ice time as a proxy) and how well the team performed without their top line. On average, the top line plays about 30% of the team’s total even-strength (5v5) time. The top forwards from each team that I’ve identified are below, along with the percentage of their teams total 5v5 time that they’ve been on the ice for:

  • C. McDavid (Edmonton) – 34.4%
  • J. Gaudreau (Calgary) – 30.2%
  • C. Stephenson (Vegas) – 28.2%
  • A. Kopitar (Los Angeles) – 30.2%
  • T. Hertl (San Jose) – 28.8%
  • B. Horvat (Vancouver) – 30.5%
  • A. Wennberg (Seattle) – 29.4%
  • T. Terry (Anaheim) – 27.6%

Here’s how each team has done this season without their top line on the ice, sorted by goal differential (i.e., Goals +/-). I’ve included shot-share metrics and also applied a basic heat-map to show which teams are doing well or struggling relative to their division foes.

No surprise the Oilers results (i.e., goal-share) without McDavid are poor relative to the other Pacific division teams. But it’s especially concerning to see how poor the Oilers shot-share metrics are as well. They currently rank last in the Pacific when it comes to Expected Goals For percentage and Fenwick For percentage, both of which give us a proxy for scoring chances.

What’s also interesting to see is how the Oilers top line compares with the top lines of the other Pacific division teams. The Oilers results have been good, no doubt. But it’s nothing outstanding considering they’ve only posted a +3 goal differential with the top line on the ice, and their goal-share is nearly tied with Vegas and Vancouver.

The good news is that the Oilers top line is posting some of the best shot-share metrics in the division with a Corsi For percentage and Expected Goals For percentage above 56% – so we should expect their results to improve. But that’s only if the goaltending gets better. Right now the Oilers have the third lowest team save percentage in the league at even-strength – something that’s probably a spot of bother for the current management group. They’re tried to improve goaltending every off-season but failed to land their targets. They were in on Markstrom two seasons ago (Source: Oilersnation) and had reportedly tried to acquire Darcy Kuemper this previous off-season (Source: Oilersnation). No doubt the team will try to address goaltending during the season to salvage the year, but it’s also worth addressing their depth and figuring out why they’re getting outshot so badly.

Whatever they do, there’s no way ownership should be pleased with these current results. They’ve paid a premium to bring in Holland and expectations remain high with McDavid and Draisaitl on the roster, healthy and in their primes. Management has spent considerable assets over the past few seasons now to address issues, but they’ve managed their cap and roster so badly that they’ve also limited their options to improve the roster in the short-term and long-term. The results speak for themselves and now the pressure is once again on the Oilers star players to secure a playoff spot.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Glossary:

  • Points-percentage (Point%) – The total points accumulated divided by the points that were available, including extra time.
  • Corsi For percentage (CF%) – The proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Corsi For/(Corsi For + Corsi Against). This is used as a proxy for possession and is the best at predicting a team’s future share of goals (GF%). (Source: Hockey Great Tapes – Draglikepull)
  • Fenwick For percentage (FF%) – The proportion of all the unblocked shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Fenwick For/(Fenwick For + Fenwick Against). This is used as a proxy for shot quality and considers shot blocking a repeatable skill.
  • Expected Goals For percentage (xGF%) – This is a weighting placed on every unblocked shot based on the probability of the shot becoming a goal. This depends on the type of shot, location and uses historical shot and goals data to come up with the probability for each unblocked shot.
  • Goals For percentage (GF%) – The proportion of all the goals that the team scored and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Goals For/(Goals For + Goals Against).
  • Shooting percentage (SH%) – The percentage of the team’s shots on goal that became goals (i.e., total goals divided by the total shots on goal).
  • Save percentage (SV%) – The percentage of the team’s shots on goal against that were saved (i.e., 1-(totals goals allowed divided by the total shots on goal against).

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 34 – Dennis King (@dkingbh)

Joined by Dennis King (@dkingbh) on the show to discuss the current state of the Edmonton Oilers who are on a five-game losing and are struggling at even-strength (5v5). We talked about the impact head coach Dave Tippett has had on the on-ice results and the issues general manager Ken Holland still needs to address to make the Oilers an elite team.

Full segment below:

Related links:

Podcast channels:

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

CBC Radio Active: Oilers lose two in a row for the first time this season

I joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk about the Oilers and their start to the season. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2021, December 6).

Topics we covered:

  • Issues at five-on-five, and what they’ll need to address to have sustainable success.
  • The Oilers bottom six forwards and their terrible results.
  • The Oilers poor start to games.
  • Upcoming match against the Minnesota Wild and the importance of turning things around.

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