Since McLellan took over as head coach of the Edmonton, he and his coaching staff have preached the importance of shot volume and attacking the net looking for rebounds. Early in the season, McLellan explained why shot volume was important when it came to scoring chances and goals:
Volume shooting, I don’t know what that does to Corsi or Fenwick because I don’t even know what those things are, but volume shooting is important. I think it breaks down defensive zone coverages, gets players out of position, taxes the opposition, makes them play more minutes in their zone. Source
Based on some work I did over the summer, I found that the Sharks got a higher proportion of shot attempts from their defence core compared to the rest of the league. The Oilers were just below average when it came to defensive contributions, and I expected this to increase once McLellan took over.
So far, that hasn’t been the case. Here’s how Oiler defencemen have done per 60 minutes when it comes to individual shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts (Fenwicks) and shots on goal at even-strength over the past three seasons. I went with score-close situations to remove score effects, as teams play a different style whether they’re leading or trailing, which can skew the numbers. Players are ranked by individual Corsi For per 60 (iCF/60), highest to lowest (Source: War on Ice).
2012/13 – Edmonton
2013/14 – Edmonton
2014/15 – Edmonton
2015/16 – Edmonton
Interesting stuff this season as it appears young Darnell Nurse has been the most efficient at getting shots on goal. This could be why the staff is overlooking his dreadful shot share numbers and playing him a ton regardless of the score situation. We also see here that Mark Fayne is not generating shots at all, and could be why he was demoted to the AHL earlier this season.
Regarding Schultz, it’s important note that although it may look like he’s not shooting often, he has still received a very high proportion of high danger scoring chances in his career. So he’s pinching instead of shooting from the point and, attempting at least, to be a finisher. That’s been drastically scaled back under McLellan, which, combined with his low shot attempt rate, is why I think he might be on his way out by the trade deadline.
The Oilers’ lack of shooting and success of getting the pucks on net for forwards to capitalize on rebounds has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. Just last month, assistant coach Jay Woodcroft explained what he and the staff were expecting from Schultz.
The one area we continue to emphasize with Justin is the willingness to continue to shoot the puck. The ability to hit the net when you do shoot the puck. And letting him know that, and encouraging him that, when you do shoot that creates offence for everybody. Even if that first shot doesn’t get in, if it gets through, that’s what leads to the second chance or third chance. But it’s vital that that shot gets through from the top. Source
And here’s how the Sharks defencemen have done over the past few years. You’ll have to factor in Brent Burns’ role as a forward and defencemen in the past here, which really makes his numbers stand out. Again, these are ranked by individual Corsi For per 60 (iCF/60) at even-strength when the score is close.
San Jose – 2012/13
San Jose – 2013/14
San Jose – 2014/15
San Jose – 2015/16
Compared to the Oilers, the Sharks defencemen are, and have been, a lot more efficient at getting shots through, which could be why they’ve historically ranked high when it comes to possession, scoring chances and goals. The Sharks play a much different style than the Oilers, but my hope is that McLellan will eventually apply his successful tactics in Edmonton.
A player that I think should be of interest to the Oilers this coming off-season is 28-year old defencemen Matt Irwin. He was with San Jose up until this season when he signed with the Bruins for one year at $800,000. After an okay preseason and two regular season games, the Bruins demoted him to Providence and he hasn’t been back to the NHL since. As of today, he leads the farm team in points among defencemen with 19, dressing for 34 games.
Now there’s no question that Irwin had a very rough two games with the Bruins. But it also sounds like GM Don Sweeney knew there was a possibility that Irwin could lose out to one of the younger players in the Bruins system.
Matt Irwin coming on helps provide depth for our grouping. … But we’ve got some younger players at some point in time have to be given an opportunity if you believe in them. Source
Irwin’s overall style of play and underlying numbers aren’t anything extraordinary. He did well as a bottom pairing guy, playing 153 NHL games and 181 AHL games while with the Sharks organization. He was a decent option on the powerplay, and managed to hold his own in even-strength play. (More details on his past performance can be found over at Oilers Nation and The Copper & Blue).
What’s most intriguing about Irwin is his ability to shoot the puck and get it on net. In his three seasons with the Sharks, he ranked near the top among defencemen when it came to shot attempt frequency (see tables above). And he was always ranked behind Burns who played a lot of minutes as a forward, so it’s hard to compare the two. Irwin’s also very familiar with McLellan’s system and could potentially bring some of the volume shooting that the coaching staff has been preaching about and often repeating after games.
It’s also worth noting that among the 247 defencemen who have played over 60 games since 2012, Irwin ranks quite high when it comes to shooting frequency. Below are the top 30 defencemen ranked by iCF/60, with Irwin ranking 10th overall. Sorted by iFF/60, Irwin ranks 11th and by iSF/60, he’s 9th. Again, these are for even-strength play when the score is close.
The question might be why the Oilers didn’t go after Irwin last summer when he was a UFA or when he was put on waivers by the Bruins. My thought is that Chiarelli (and McLellan to an extent) wanted to see what they had with the Oilers current group of defencemen before sending anyone away to make room for new players. Now that the Oilers have a pretty good sense of what they have, I think it’s fair to say that there will be changes. As of today, I see Chiarelli keeping Klefbom, Sekera, Davidson and Nurse. Fayne doesn’t appear to fit into McLellan’s tactics and Gryba might have value at the deadline, and is very replaceable.
Now if the OIlers do have room on July 1st, they need to address their shots-from-defencemen issue and consider Irwin as a candidate. This is a player whose value hasn’t ever been that high and has been diminished even further as Irwin has spent over three months in the AHL on an NHL contract. Irwin will be a UFA this summer and could easily be signed to a low-risk, value contract and compete for a roster spot in training camp.
- The Oilers aren’t getting the same proportion of shot attempts from their defencemen that the Sharks defencemen were providing in seasons past with McLellan behind their bench.
- Matt Irwin ranked near the top of the San Jose defence roster when it came to shot attempts/60, unblocked shot attempts/60 and shots on goal/60 at even-strength (score close). Among the 247 NHL defencemen who dressed in over 60 games since 2012, Irwin ranks near the top when it comes to shot metrics at even-strength (score close).
- Irwin will be an undervalued asset next summer, having been sent to the minors after only two regular season games in 2015/16.
- The Oilers could potentially bring Irwin in on a two-way contract this coming summer and have him compete for a roster spot in training camp. The Oilers could potentially benefit from a player who is familiar with McLellan’s systems and who has had success at the NHL level with this coaching staff.