The Oilers powerplay is going to get a lot of attention this coming off-season.
The club currently sits dead last in the NHL, scoring only 29 goals converting on 14.8% of their opportunities. And more accurately, they’ve generated only 5.2 goals per hour at 5v4, which takes into account the time they’ve played on the powerplay to give us their true efficiency.
This is a big drop from last season when the Oilers powerplay generated 7.98 goals per hour at 5v4 and converted on 22.9% of their opportunities, ranking fifth best in the league using both metrics.
What’s interesting is that while the Oilers powerplay hasn’t produced this season, their underlying shot rates have been close to where they were last season. Looking at unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick/60), shots on goal (Shots/60) and high danger shot attempts, there hasn’t been much of a drop off.
|Edmonton Oilers Powerplay (5v4)||2016/2017||2017/2018|
|TOI||383.58 (21st)||323.05 (30th)|
|TOI/GP||4.67 (21st)||4.20 (30th)|
|Goals||51 (6th)||28 (31st)|
|GF/60||7.98 (5th)||5.2 (31st)|
|Fennwick/60||78.52 (8th)||80.79 (9th)|
|Shots/60||56.47 (7th)||58.13 (9th)|
|High danger shot attempts/60||28.78 (1st)||24.14 (11th)|
|Shooting%||14.13 (6th)||8.95 (31st)|
The issue is that while the team can generate shots and chances, they’re not converting their shots into goals at the same rate. Last season on the powerplay, the Oilers had a team shooting percentage of 14.13%, one of the best in the league, while this year they’ve been one of the worst with 8.95%. The league-wide average shooting percentage on the powerplay over the last three seasons has been around 12.5%.
To bring it back to goals, if the Oilers had the same powerplay shooting percentage this season as last season, they would be up to 44 goals on the powerplay, 16 more than what they have now – which would improve their current overall goal differential from -26 to -10. And say their shooting percentage was league-average (12.5%), the Oilers would be up to 39 powerplay goals and have a current overall goal differential of -15. Another way to look at it is if the team had the same rate of goals for per hour as they did last season, they would currently be up to 43 goals and a -9 goal differential. And if they matched the league average goal-scoring rate, their powerplay would be up to 34 goals.
If you’re managing a hockey team and see this kind of drop in powerplay production and the impact it’s had on your team’s overall goal differential, it’s critical to dig into why this happened.
The first thing that’s worth looking at is the overall ice time given to players and how much of an impact injuries have had this season. The Oilers were incredibly fortunate last season, especially on defence when Klefbom and Sekera played in 82 and 80 games respectively and were key players on separate powerplay units. This season, it’s been a different story. Sekera missed training camp and the first few months of the season recovering from knee surgery and still doesn’t appear to be 100%. And Klefbom had been dealing with shoulder issues all season, receiving treatment throughout the year before finally electing for season ending surgery.
Last season, both Klefbom and Sekera ranked in the top six among all Oiler skaters when it came to total ice time on the powerplay, averaging about two minutes per game. This year, Klefbom continued to play through injury, and actually saw more ice time at 5v4 compared to last year, primarily filling in for Sekera whose average ice time dropped to just under a minute per game. Worth noting that to fill the void, young Matt Benning has seen more powerplay ice time this season and he’s done admirably well. The rate of shots and high danger scoring chances hover slightly above the team average when Benning has been on the ice, and that’s been with and without McDavid on the ice with him.
Next, it’s worth looking at the shooting percentages for each forward and where the drop offs have been at an individual level.
Starting with Milan Lucic who ranks fourth on the team in total powerplay ice time, we’ve seen that he hasn’t been able to repeat the absurdly high 25.0% shooting percentage he posted last season. He’s down to 13.0% this year, which is just below the league average of 15.0% for forwards who have played over 50 minutes at 5v4 in a season. And it’s much closer to his personal career shooting percentage he posted before last season (13.0%). Worth noting too that his own rate of shot attempts and shots on goal are slightly down this season, with more of his shots being blocked. And his rate of high danger chances, like the rest of the team, are also down. (Refer to the data in the Appendix)
Another forward who is having a down year on the powerplay is Leon Draisaitl. His shooting percentage is also around the league average among forwards this season, a big drop from the 21.0% shooting percentage he posted last season. Personally, I think this year is an anomaly for him on the powerplay – he’s a very skilled player that’s been very productive at even-strength, ranking 18th in the league with 43 points at 5v5. What does stand out is his individual rate of high danger scoring chances on the powerplay. Last season, he had 39 high danger chances in 221 minutes, which converts to 10.58 per hour. This year, he’s only recorded 12 high danger shot attempts, which translates to 3.78 per hour. Suspect it might be a tactical issue the coaching staff has to address (possibly too many shots coming from the defence) or maybe it’s been impacted by the banged-up defencemen and the team’s efficiency at distributing the puck – it’s unclear at this point.
Update – 2018, March 31 – Thanks to Darcy (@woodguy55) for his feedback!
I also think a big issue ailing the Oilers this year is the lack of another scoring threat outside of McDavid and Draisailt. Last year Jordan Eberle ranked fifth on the team in total ice time on the powerplay, which made sense considering his track record of scoring goals and a career powerplay shooting percentage just above 15%. This year, Ryan Strome finds himself fifth on the team in ice time, but he doesn’t exactly have a track record of scoring goals on the powerplay. His career shooting percentage with the man advantage prior to this season is 9.0%, well below the league average among forwards (15.0%). And so far, despite getting the fifth highest proportion of the team’s shots, he’s put up a 7.0% shooting percentage – which again should not be surprising considering what we know about this player. So really the Oilers need to temper their expectations with Strome, consider reducing his ice time and shots next season, and perhaps replace him with someone with more of a history of success.
Should note here too that you don’t always need high end, top six talent on the powerplay. Teams are realizing that you could have special teams specialists that typically play further down your lineup, but just have better results on the powerplay – Mark Letestu being a more recent example.
Finally, it’s worth comparing the shot maps from 2016/2017 to 2017/2018. There’s an obvious change in how frequent the Oilers were getting chances from in close. And there’s been a growth in the number of shots from the right point, a fairly low-probability area.
Here’s what the shots looked like in 2016/2017.
And here’s what it looks like this season. Again, notice the front of the net in both diagrams, as well as the blue line. The coaching staff really needs to figure why the team’s shot locations changed so drastically – and if it’s tied to on-ice tactics, deployment strategy or player personnel.
So if you’re the Oilers, what do you have to consider this off-season?
- In 2017/2018, the team generated around the same rate of shot attempts and shots on goal as in 2016/2017.
- The team’s rate of high danger shot attempts in 2017/2018 is down from the year before. Refer to the shot maps above.
- Klefbom and Sekera should be healthy next season. If need be, Benning could potentially take on more minutes on the powerplay. Important to continue running four forwards and one defencemen on each powerplay unit, which has been shown to be more effective than running three forwards and two defencemen (The Athletic).
- Is acquiring a right-shot defencemen this off-season really going to solve the team’s shooting percentage on the powerplay? I doubt it.
- Draisaitl is having a down year. But based on how well he’s done at even-strength, it’s a good bet that he’ll convert on more powerplay shots next season. He just needs to get the puck in high danger areas more frequently.
- Find depth players that can not only fill out your bottom six, but could be used as utility guys on the powerplay. Find players who have a history of success scoring goals with the man advantage at the pro-level, but may be overlooked because they’re typically relegated to third and fourth line minutes at even-strength.
Appendix: Individual player data
Edmonton Oilers, 2017-2018
Edmonton Oilers, 2016/2017