Pre and Post Pronger

Chris Pronger

Chris Pronger

A little while back, I put together a piece on the Oilers 2005-2006 regular season. Even though they finished 8th that year, they played some excellent hockey. If not for some weak goaltending during the regular season, they would’ve finished much higher and the playoff run should not have come as a surprise. The LA Kings of 2012 were very similar, in that they barely made the playoffs, but had some excellent underlying numbers. Of course, they went on to win the cup, something the Oilers can only dream about at this point, but I digress.

The Oilers missed the playoffs the season before Pronger arrived, and had been a  bubble team in the years prior. And of course after Pronger left, poof, the team went in the tank and haven’t made the playoffs since. So it’s easy to argue that Pronger was the sole reason why the club had such a fantastic regular season in 2005/2006 and have been miserable since his departure.

But a couple of things get overlooked in this narrative:

  1. The team was well built and played some decent hockey before Pronger showed up and,
  2. The Oilers have suffered after Pronger’s departure because they refused to replace his minutes with experienced players.

Since possession stats like Corsi and Fenwick are unavailable prior to 2005, I’ve relied solely on the traditional team level stats like shots and special team performance, team points percentages and shot differentials (NHL.com, Hockey Reference, Sporting Charts).

2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08
Shots For

2,256 (16th)

2,293 (19th) 2,332 (15th) 2,442 (18th) 2,193 (30th) 2,156 (28th)
Shots Against 2,120 (8th) 2,248 (9th) 2,175 (11th) 2,095 (1st) 2,439 (17th) 2,573 (25th)
Shot differential 136 (12th) 45 (17th) 157 (11th) 347 (3rd) -246 (24th) -417 (28th)
GF/GA ratio 5×5 1.18 (9th) 1.04 (12th) 1.22 (9th) 0.90 (23rd) 0.77 (26th) 0.86 (27th)
Save % 0.914 (4th) 0.898 (25th) 0.904 (22nd) 0.885 (30th) 0.900 (17th) 0.904 (19th)
Points % 0.561 (15th) 0.561 (14th) 0.543 (17th) 0.579 (14th) 0.433 (25th) 0.573 (19th)
Powerplay 15.3 (15th) 14.5% (19th) 13.0% (29th) 18.1 (14th) 14.2 (27th) 16.6 (21st)
Penalty Kill 85.6 (12th) 82.6 (18th) 81.0% (27th) 84.1 (8th) 84.6 (8th) 84.7 (5th)
Save % 0.914 (4th) 0.898 (25th) 0.904 (22nd) 0.885 (30th) 0.900 (17th) 0.904 (19th)

It’s worth re-stating that there’s a good correlation between shot differentials and team success. Of the top 10 teams in terms of shot differentials this season, nine are playoff bound. Of course you do get the odd anomaly, but there’s a good chance of success if your club is getting a good percentage of the shots on goal. Here we can see the Oilers were good at preventing shots on goal, which translated into respectable shot differentials. Since 2006, however, they’ve absolutely bled shots, typically one of the worst in shot differentials, and have become a  regular draft lottery team.

From 2000 to 2006, the Oilers were in a highly competitive division. Even though they missed the playoffs in a few of those years, they were a win or two away from getting in. The average points percentage in the Northwest division was always about 0.550, which no other division could boast. Worth noting that even before Pronger arrived, the team was getting over 56% of the points, which is typically the playoff cutoff.

In terms of the actual roster, the Oilers were doing a very nice job drafting and developing players leading up to 2005/2006. Guys like Shawn Horcoff, Jarret Stoll and Mike Comrie were at centre, while Hemsky and Smyth were producing at an excellent pace. The blue line had experienced players like Jason Smith, Steve Staios, Igor Ulanov and Janne Ninimaa to name a few. Brewer was the only (!) young guy in the mix and did get a lion share of the ice time. But at least he had some veteran experience to support him.

Here’s the Oilers top six defencemen (based on ice time) between 2001 and 2007 (Source: Hockey Abstract):

2001-02   2002-03   2003-04
Player TOI Age Player TOI Age Player TOI Age
Niinimaa 2,108 26 Brewer 1,994 23 Brewer 1,899 24
Brewer 1,938 22 Staios 1,694 29 Staios 1,890 30
Smith 1,554 28 Smith 1,480 29 Smith 1,452 30
Staios 1,320 28 Ferguson 959 30 Cross 1,308 33
Ferguson 683 29 Semenov 906 21 Bergeron 953 23
Butenschon 135 25 Haakana 103 29 Ulanov 833 34
2005-06   2006-07   2007-08
Player TOI Age Player TOI Age Player TOI Age
Pronger 2,239 31 Smith 1,733 33 Gilbert 1,820 25
Staios 1,712 32 Smid 1,481 20 Staios 1,806 34
Bergeron 1,592 25 Greene 1,373 23 Pitkanen 1,520 24
Smith 1,493 32 Staios 1,240 33 Grebeshkov 1,198 24
Spacek 763 31 Tjarnqvist 840 30 Smid 1,161 21
Ulanov 609 36 Hejda 795 28 Greene 768 24

Strange how the team relied on experienced players leading up to Pronger, but when he left, they decided to hand over the 2nd and 3rd most ice time to a couple of young kids. You can be sure that because young Smid was part of the package from Anaheim, management wanted to showcase their prospect to appease fans.

Make no mistake, CFP was an elite player during his time with the Oilers and he had a huge impact on the teams overall success. But you can’t overlook the fact that the Oilers had assembled a pretty decent NHL roster through the draft and trades leading up to his arrival. It was obviously difficult to replace Pronger after he was traded, but the Oilers made little to no effort in assembling a defensive unit and appear to have forgotten how to assemble an NHL roster.

Recommended Links

How to best build a Stanley Cup calibre blueline – Cult of Hockey

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2 thoughts on “Pre and Post Pronger

  1. Nice post Sunil, I wonder what the results would look like if you eliminated the 3rd period. I recall a few credible people doing that in the past to try reduce the impact of score effects and give a more representative shot differential.

    Also, looking back – I’m shocked at how old Staios and Smith were during the 06 run. I recall them, particularly Staios, as very effective.

  2. Pingback: Talking Oilers, player development and defence rosters on Lowdown with Lowetide | The SuperFan

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