Thoughts on the Oilers: Current state, Eyeballs first and Defence core

cutAfter 28 games, the Oilers are sitting 3rd in a weak Western conference, 1st in the Pacific, with a record of 14-10-4.  They’ve outscored their opponents 55-49 at even-strength, a 52.88% goal-share that ranks them 8th the league. Their 55 goals ranks them 4th in the league, while their 49 goals against is the 7th highest. The Oilers currently have a 52.34% score and venue adjusted Corsi, which ranks them 9th in the league behind Boston, LA, Carolina, Washington, Florida, San Jose, St. Louis and Nashville (Natural Stat Trick). A team’s share of shots tends to remain consistent through a season as it’s influenced by the coaching staff’s tactics and player deployment, as well as what the player’s actually do on the ice. Really the only way the Oilers might see a drop in their shot-share is if the coaches change or if the team loses significant players.

There’s no indication that the Oilers are relying on luck-driven factors including shooting percentage and save percentage. The Oilers have a 7.74% shooting percentage and a 92.63% save percentage, which ranks them right around league average.  Quite often, team’s go on hot streaks either converting more of their shots into goals or preventing more shots from becoming goals. If either of these factors is significantly higher or lower than the league average, it’s worth monitoring as team’s tend to regress to the mean over time. I do think this team can compete for a playoff spot as long as McDavid and Talbot stay healthy. They can generate scoring chances at 5v5, ranking 4th in the league when it comes to high danger shot attempts (11.65 per hour), but they also allow a lot of chances against, allowing the 3rd highest (11.34 per hour).

Please note that I look at 5v5 play to assess a team and individual player performance as it’s when both teams are trying to score and trying to defend. Special teams play is important, but they involve specific players doing a specific task, which would skew the overall numbers for the team and players if included.

Couple thoughts:

The comment from Todd McLellan a few weeks ago that a lot of anti-stats people loved, but that I found very amusing, was the whole “eyeballs first….” thing. This implied that people who do statistical analysis or analytics aren’t watching the games enough and that their work is not well informed. Here’s the thing: watching the game and doing the analysis should always be dependent on one another. What you see/hear/read informs your analysis, but your analysis informs your viewing of the game or topic as well. That’s how it works in any industry that relies on stats and analytics, with hockey, a game, a goal-scoring contest, being no different. If you’re really only doing stats after, you’re at risk of overlooking key information or letting confirmation bias set it. It’s a recipe for failure. Can you imagine a real-world CEO having an “eyeballs first” perspective on his or her business? They’d be ridiculed.

With the upcoming expansion draft and the fact that a number of key players including McDavid, Draisaitl and Nurse will be needing contracts, it’s a bad time to start over-valuing depth defenceman like Kris Russell. I really don’t mind Russell as a depth player, but he’s been way over played by this coaching staff, and the underlying goal and shot metrics don’t paint a pretty picture (OilersNation). The team would be better off if  he was playing at his established NHL level, but the coaching staff has other plans (which includes reducing Klefbom’s minutes, awesome). The Oilers have to protect three defencemen this upcomg off-season, and it should be Sekera, Larsson and Klefbom. Signing Russell in January means someone is moving out, either one of Sekera, Larsson or Klefbom, and the future contract for one of the young players is being impacted. I don’t think it’s worth getting into it with Russell, and that they could move Russell at the deadline, especially if players get healthy and he’s been bumped down the depth chart by then. My ideal pairings: Klefbom-Larsson, Sekera-Benning/Fayne (7th defenceman) and a combo of Nurse/Davidson/Gryba (8th) for the third pairing.

Just want to throw this out there, but if anyone has any questions about analytics, feel free to email me (sunilagni23 at gmail dot com). There’s a lot of bad information floating around, so if I can be of any help, let me know and I’ll try my best to answer it. I’ve been following the discussion around stats and analytics for a long time now (learned a lot from Vic Ferrari, JLikens, Dellow, Zona, Reynolds, Battle of Alberta, Parkatti, plenty more), so I’ve seen the same cycle of topics come over and over again.

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