The Oilers have gone on a nice run as of late, going 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. They have outscored opponents 33-24 in all situations, “improving” to a -22 overall goal differential (they were -35 not too long ago).
However while the results have been positive, there are some underlying issues that are being masked by the incredible play of Connor McDavid. He’s been on an amazing run competing for the Art Ross trophy, putting up 19 points in his last 10 games. Fifteen of those 19 points are primary (9 goals, 6 first assists). And of the 33 goals scored by the team, McDavid has been on the ice for 21 of them.
What’s concerning are the team’s shot shares in their last ten games, including shot attempts (Corsi For%, serving as a proxy for possession time), the unblocked shot attempts, which measure shot quality (Fenwick For%) and scoring chances (Scoring Chances For%) as defined by Natural Stat Trick. The main reason we look at shot-shares is to determine (a) if the results are real or not and (b) if the results are sustainable. There are never any guarantees when it comes to predicting the future goal-share, but we know that hockey teams improve their chances of outscoring opponents when they’re regularly outshooting them.
|Goal differential (all situations)||+9|
|Goals For% (5v5)||60.47|
|Corsi For% (5v5)||47.92|
|Fenwick For% (5v5)||47.87|
|Scoring Chances For%||44.48|
It’s really important to temper expectations when the goal-share isn’t quite in line with the shot-share (Corsi For%), which have been adjusted for score effects. And it’s critical that teams recognize that they might be on a bit of a heater and to not make any drastic decisions, especially when the PDO is above 104. And as mentioned above, it’s really the play of McDavid that’s driving the Oiler’s success.
Digging into things a bit, the recent on-ice numbers for Darnell Nurse, Jujhar Khaira and Milan Lucic stand out for me.
If we look at the numbers for the Oiler’s defencemen, we see that Nurse ranks last when it comes to Corsi For%. Now ranking last could be understandable for someone like Nurse. He’s been playing quite a bit and the coaching staff doesn’t hesitate to play him in different situations against the other team’s top lines. But a CF% below 45% is cause for concern.
What’s rather alarming is how Nurse has been trending downwards for some time. He had a really good start this season, but he hasn’t had as great of an impact as it’s been perceived.
It’s an important off-season for both the team and Nurse as the young defenceman is a restricted free agent this summer. While management could sign him to a long term deal, past his UFA years, it might be wiser to sign him to a short-term bridge deal to take him closer to his UFA eligibility. The risk with the latter option is that while the team saves some money in the short-term, Nurse could have a great season, driving up the cost for the Oilers to retain his services. Based on some of the recent underlying on-ice numbers, I wouldn’t bet on it. We know that individual player’s on-ice shooting and save percentages regress towards the mean, indicating that Nurse’s recent goal-share numbers (and 109 PDO) isn’t likely to continue.
Another player whose performance is worth addressing is young Jujhar Khaira. Among all of the forwards, his on-ice Corsi For% has been the worst on the team over the last 10 games, which is troubling considering that he’s been relegated to the fourth line playing against lesser competition.
I’ve already expressed my concern with him and Ryan Strome centering their own lines, so I won’t delve into this too much. Neither player has been very good as the sole center on a line, and have been much more effective when on a line together. It’s understandable that the coaching staff wants to use this last stretch of games to test what they have in Khaira, but the results speak for themselves. There’s definitely a future for him on the Oilers – I just don’t think it’s as a full-time centerman.
To leave things on a positive note, it’s worth pointing out the improved play of Milan Lucic. The results have not been there, no question. But his on-ice Corsi For% at even-strength has gradually improved.
It’s funny, I had expressed concern earlier in the year when he was producing well and riding a 104.6 PDO, but his Corsi For% was poor. Now it’s the opposite: he can’t buy a goal even those all of his rel-numbers (Corsi, Fenwick, Scoring Chances) in his last ten games have been excellent.
|Last 10 (5v5)||CF% Rel||FF% Rel||SCF% Rel|
What might be helping his cause is his reduced ice time. A quick glance at the Oilers forwards shows a gradual decline in playing time for Lucic (green line in the graph below), which may be a reflection of either his poor production or a tactical decision by the coaching staff.
Whatever the case is, Lucic appears to be doing everything he can to help the Oilers, but the results just haven’t been there. While we could write off Lucic, and hope that the Oilers can somehow get rid of his contract, we could use this assessment period to confirm that Lucic can still be a useful player, but maybe in a lesser role. Obviously, the dollars don’t make sense – you need $6 million players to have a positive on-ice impact. But if the team can’t efficiently divest themselves of the contract, they need to somehow maximize the player’s full potential.