Can’t let you go

connor-mcdavid-and-leon-draisaitl

It was a significant milestone for the Edmonton Oilers when they signed Leon Draisaitl to a long term contract last summer. The club was convinced by his performance over the previous two seasons that he was going to fill an important role for the team and that he’d be a very productive NHL player.

But to justify the significant dollars invested by the team two things had to happen, and happen very soon: (1) Draisaitl had to continue producing points at a top-line rate, and (2) he had to do that while predominantly playing center. If the Oilers were to have any success, they needed secondary offence behind Connor McDavid. And Draisaitl, at that price point, had to be a big part of the solution going forward.

General manager Peter Chiarelli also made it pretty clear in the off-season what he envisioned for Draisaitl and his role on the team.

“As a manager, I like Leon in the middle because he’s strong and he’s heavy and he’s good on faceoffs. He’s more than that, but that’s why I like him in the middle. That doesn’t mean that Connor and Leon won’t play together because you saw them playing together last year. Leon will take some draws and Connor will be on the wing, and they trade coverage down low sometimes. But as a manager, I think you’re winning a Cup, at the end of the day, on the average, with both of those guys in the middle.” (Source: TSN)

Even with management’s endorsement, there were reasons to be skeptical of Draisaitl’s ability to score while playing center, and away from McDavid. The biggest reason being the fact that Draisaitl hadn’t proven his ability to drive offence over the previous two seasons, as he often played alongside high-end talent.

In 2016/17, when Draisaitl and McDavid were on the ice together at even-strength (5v5), the club posted a 53.7% Corsi For percentage, which was expected considering their talent level. Not only were they regularly out-shooting opponents when deployed together, but they were getting outstanding results as well. The Oilers goal-share at even-strength was 59.4% (+13 goal differential) when Draisaitl and McDavid were on the ice together, ranking them near the top of the league with a rate of 3.65 goals per hour.

When the two were away from each other last season, well that’s when things got interesting.

2016/17 (5v5) TOI CF% GF% (Goal-differential) GF/60
McDavid + Draisaitl 674.0 53.68 59.42 (+13) 3.65
McDavid w/o Draisaitl 636.9 52.54 65.45 (+17) 3.39
Draisaitl w/o McDavid 500.0 48.45 44.19 (-5) 2.28
Neither McDavid or Draisaitl 2183.6 49.03 50.36 (+1) 1.92

Without McDavid with him, Draisaitl’s on-ice Corsi For% dropped to 48.5%, a fairly common trend across the roster last season when their generational talent was on the bench. What made matters worse is the team’s ability to score goals took a hit when Draisaitl was without McDavid, with the team posting a rate of 2.28 goals per hour, and a goal-share of 44.19%. Meanwhile, McDavid continued at around the same rate both with and without Draisaitl, making it obvious who the  primary offensive driver was. This is really what made the Draisatl’s contract all the more perplexing as Draisaitl hadn’t exactly proven he could generate offence on his own line.

The success that McDavid and Draisaitl had together last season is a big reason why head coach Todd McLellan continues to play them together this season. Rather than spread the top-end talent across the line-up like successful teams often do, the Oilers have continued to load up their top line leaving the rest of the roster vulnerable to being out shot and out scored. Even without Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the lineup, the head coach is adamant McDavid and Draisaitl have to play together.

Looking at the numbers from last season, it’s safe to assume the team wants to get the most out of Draisaitl, with his best numbers coming when paired with McDavid. And this season, it’s been no different. Their possession numbers together are just as strong as they were last season, with their goal-score rate being even better with 4.06 goals per hour.

What’s interesting this season is that McDavid hasn’t been nearly as productive as he was last season without Draisaitl with him. The Oilers possession numbers are still very good with McDavid on the ice (52.95%), but the scoring rate is way down with  team generating 2.74 goals per hour, and the goal-differential actually being even. That’s pretty alarming and should be another flag to management that they have some work to do this summer.

 

Combination TOI CF% GF% (Goal-differential) GF/60
McDavid + Draisaitl 325.0 54.97 66.67% (+11) 4.06
McDavid w/o Draisaitl 459.1 52.95 50.00% (Even) 2.74
Draisaitl w/o McDavid 323.4 50.92 46.67% (-2) 2.60
Neither McDavid or Draisaitl 1290.1 49.47 42.7% (-13) 1.77

 

Now a coach could look at this and think that both McDavid and Draisaitl actually need one another to be productive, and it’d be a fair assessment. A rate of over four goals per hour is enough to justify playing them together as often as possible regardless of what the rest of the center depth looks like.

Management on the other hand needs to look at this a little differently. They should still be concerned that Draisaitl is being deployed as a winger and posting medicore numbers away from McDavid. But they really need to assess why McDavid’s on-ice goal-share is just even in 459 minutes away from Draisaitl. Remember, last season the team had a goal-share of over 65% and a rate of 3.39 goals per hour when McDavid was on the ice without Draisaitl. And the drop could be due to the fact that he’s played a lot of minutes with lesser or inexperienced talent including Drake Caggiula, Kailer Yamamoto and Mike Cammalleri.

Teammate (5v5) TOI With 97 CF% GF/60 GA/60 GF%
Drake Caggiula 100.23 40.00 4.19 5.39 43.75
Kailer Yamamoto 61.86 65.10 1.94 1.94 50.00
Mike Cammalleri 59.10 54.87 2.03 2.03 50.00

Of the three, I would consider Drake Caggiula’s numbers with McDavid this season to be the most troubling. He’s had success scoring goals with McDavid – the problem is they allow a high rate as well thanks in large part to some really dreadful possession numbers. As a very raw rookie, Yamamoto posted very good possession numbers earlier in the season, but they just weren’t able to convert on their shot attempts (which Yamamoto got plenty of). You can’t expect a rookie to be able to beat NHL goalies right off the hop, and there’s plenty of promise there, but it impacted McDavid’s on-ice goal-scoring rate away from Draisaitl.

To be clear, I wouldn’t go as far as blaming these three for McDavid’s poor on-ice numbers. It’s really more on management for putting together such a flawed roster and not adding enough NHL-calibre, scoring talent in the off-season.

With the playoffs getting further and further out of reach, the Edmonton Oilers need to start addressing their key underlying issues and position themselves better for next season. I’ve written plenty in the past on how the team has done without McDavid on the ice and the importance of secondary offence. But the fact that the team’s decisions are now negatively impacting McDavid’s on-ice numbers should be major red flag and one that needs to be rectified as soon as possible.

Related: Assessing Chiarelli – The SuperFan (2017, August 14)

Data: Natural Stat Trick

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