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).

201617-cf-and-scf-20161020

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.)

Larsson

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.

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