Something that’s been of interest to me lately is how the Oilers might be slowing down Connor McDavid’s offence. He leads the league in points with 87, but I honestly believe that if he had a better defence core behind him, he could’ve been further ahead than the rest of the group.
Here’s how the scoring race looks today:
My thought is that if your team has the puck more often, then that should increase your odds of putting up points (EDIT: and having a higher goal share). I’ll use Corsi For% (i.e., shot attempts) as my proxy, and I think for the most part it checks out. It also predicts future goal-share quite well.
Here’s each player’s team’s Corsi For% at 5v5 this season.
So of the five leading scorers, McDavid’s club ranks 19th in the league with a Corsi For% of 49.8%. And his competitors in the scoring race are all on teams that have at least a 50.5% share of the shot attempts.
Next, it’s worth seeing how each of the top five players does with the defence core they have. Defencemen are a big part of each player’s success, as having a balanced group that can skate and move the puck well will make a significant difference. What I really want to see here is what kind of support each of the leading scorers gets, and if any of them are being dragged down.
Here’a a quick breakdown of each of the top five scorers and their on-ice Corsi For percentages with their most common defencemen this season (minimum 100 minutes together at 5v5). Defencemen are listed in descending order by ice time with the player.
As expected, when McDavid is on the ice with Russell, the team’s CF% drops to 47.5%. The next lowest is with Sekera, at just under 51%. With Russell, the rate of shot attempts for drops to 53.64, while with anyone else, it’s higher than that. It’s obvious Russell is a drag on McDavid, but the fact that the shots for drop should raise some concern for the coaching staff.
That’s more than 360 minutes that McDavid has to basically carry around Russell and get outshot doing so, which makes you wonder how much better the point totals would be had the Oilers found a more talented, not necessarily elite, right shot defenceman last summer. Russell is a capable NHL defenceman who can contribute as a depth player, but it should be obvious to anyone watching this team that he’s playing above his established level. It really would make no sense to retain a player who hampers your best player’s offence.
Of the four players, only Kane posts a CF% less than 50% with one defenceman (49.0% with Campbell). Crosby, Marchand and Kucherov all post a CF% above 50% with every single defenceman they’ve played with for at least 100 minutes this season. Must be nice.
I hope this also squashes the whole “Russell plays tough minutes” thing. The Oilers roll out their top two pairs equally, with Klefbom/Larsson and Sekera/Russell seeing similar levels of competition. Every one of those defence groups listed above has a pair that plays tough competition, but they can still post a CF% of 50% with their best offensive forward on the ice. So let’s stop using the excuse of Russell playing against top lines or taking more defensive zone starts. His 47.5% CF% with McDavid is unacceptable and needs to be addressed.
The Oilers have quite possibly the best player in the world on their team that will hopefully be their franchise cornerstone for a long time. Surrounding him with talent should have been the number one priority when they won the draft lottery with the focus being on winning a championship. The club did make some good moves by acquiring Talbot and Maroon, signing Sekera as a UFA and signing Klefbom to a long-term deal. But the fact that they brought in someone like Russell, who has a long history of dragging down the offence of his team, makes me wonder what exactly they were thinking. It did help push the younger, developing players like Nurse, Reinhart and Oesterle down the depth chart, and added some experience to the roster. But the point of the game is to generate offence, and the fact that one of the elite offensive talents in the league has to spend that much of his time with someone playing above his established level is mind-boggling.
It will be imperative that the Oilers surround McDavid with the best possible defence core that can support him offensively and not be a significant drag on his production.If the end goal for management is a championship, it’s their responsibility to take action.
Data: Hockey Analysis