Squad goals

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After such a dreadful season there’ll be plenty to dissect, with the end goal being to determine what happened and what the potential course of action should be this offseason.

The most important thing to do is look at the goals for and against, the end results, and how the team did in different situations. Goals and winning are after all the most important things, and it’s pretty remarkable to see what kind of insight you can get from such simple stats. From there, we can look at the underlying shot-share numbers and our proxy for possession (i.e., Corsi), as well as the on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage to see if the results were real or not.

Starting from a very high level, the Edmonton Oilers scored 229 goals this season in all situations, and alllowed 262, giving them a goal-differential of -33. Taking a peek at the NHL standings from this season and previous seasons, we know that you’re at risk of missing the playoffs with a negative goal differential, with the best teams often above a +25 goal differential. That was the case for Edmonton last season when they finished with a +36 goal differential (243 goals for, 207 against) and second in the Pacific.

What really should be bothering the Oilers management group this offseason is the drop in goals, from a +36 goal differential last season to -33 this season.

But let’s dig in a little deeper.

Here’s a comparison of their 2017/18 season to the season prior when it came to the goals for and against at even-strength (5v5), as well as the goals scored on the powerplay and the goals allowed on the penalty kill.

Situation 2016/17 2017/18 Difference
5v5 Goals For 166 163 -3
5v5 Goals Against 140 176 36
5v4 Goals For 51 30 -21
4v5 Goals Against 38 56 18

In a nutshell, the Oilers scored slightly fewer goals at even-strength, but allowed a ton more this season, 36 to be exact. They also scored 21 fewer goals on the powerplay and allowed 18 more on the penalty kill compared to last season.

Now for the issues with the Oilers special teams, I recently did a couple posts on the penalty kill and powerplay.

My key takeaway was that it’s largely on the coaching staff’s shoulders for (1) not adjusting the penalty kill sooner when it was struggling and (2) tinkering with a powerplay that was effective last season. Injuries to Klefbom and Sekera didn’t help, and neither did Talbot’s struggles under a heavy workload – so management should be held accountable as well for not addressing these depth issues on defence and with goaltending when they had the chance last offseason.

As for even-strength, a big reason why their numbers took a hit this season was because of how poorly the team produced without McDavid on the ice. In 2017/18, when McDavid was on the ice, the Oilers outscored opponents 81 to 61, a goal differential of +20. Without him, the Oilers had a goal differential of -33, scoring 82 goals and allowing 115. Secondary scoring was a major issue.

You may recall there were similar issues at even-strength last season, but not nearly as bad. The Oilers finished the 2016/17 season with a +30 goal differential with McDavid on the ice (77 goals for, 47 against) and a -4 goal differential when he was on the bench. That -4 goal differential should have raised red flags in the offseason, as we know and expect the best teams to often have a positive goal differential even when their best players aren’t on the ice. What made things worse for the Oilers was how often the team would get out-shot and out-chanced without their best player.

But instead of addressing the issue and looking for more offence to add to their depth, the Oilers went the opposite direction, removing the players who actually had success away from McDavid, including Eberle, Pouliot and Maroon, and betting on younger players like Strome, Caggiula and Slepyshev to generate offence.

Here’s how the Oiler forwards did in 2017/18 without McDavid on the ice with them. I’ve included each players time on ice, the team’s share of shot attempts as a proxy for possession (CF%), the team’s goal share, including the goal differential, the on-ice shooting percentage, the on-ice save percentage and the PDO as a measure of luck. The table is ranked by Goals For% (GF%).

Player TOI CF% GF% (goal diff) On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
Maroon 318.82 49.85 53.85 (+2) 7.45 93.68 1.011
RNH 634.03 49.92 46.94 (-3) 6.76 92.12 0.989
Strome 917.27 50.28 45.31 (-6) 6.11 92.72 0.988
Slepyshev 469.55 51.13 43.33 (-4) 5.1 93.68 0.988
Khaira 699.48 50.24 42.86 (-7) 6.23 91.64 0.979
Draisaitl 620.97 50.42 42.42 (-10) 8.28 88.27 0.966
Lucic 680.13 50.04 41.82 (-9) 6.44 91.33 0.978
Puljujarvi 549.70 49.03 41.46 (-7) 5.96 92.48 0.984
Kassian 685.07 48.41 38 (-12) 5.88 91.32 0.972
Caggiula 621.58 49.33 37.78 (-11) 5.31 91.38 0.967
Cammalleri 527.17 47.49 37.5 (-10) 5.68 91.1 0.968
Letestu 497.35 50.68 32.5 (-14) 5.37 88.89 0.943

One thing we really need to emphasize first is the team’s PDO of 97.8 without McDavid on the ice this season. Even though the team did alright in regards to their Corsi For% (49.59%) without McDavid, they had a fairly low team shooting percentage of 6.02%.

That might explain why Draisaitl struggled without McDavid on the ice with him, as the team was outscored 38 to 28 (-10 goal differential) even though the possession numbers were just above 50%. Same goes for Khaira and maybe even Lucic, who we know struggled mightily this season. But it’s at least somewhat encouraging that the team’s possession numbers were respectable without McDavid on the ice with him. I suspect that the team will have a better goal differential without McDavid next season just based on the low on-ice shooting percentages for guys like Draisaitl and Lucic. But it’d also help if the team brought in players with a history of strong individual shooting percentages to improve their chances of scoring goals.

It’s also worth knowing how the defencemen did without McDavid. The results are similar to the forwards in that pretty much everyone, except Auvitu, posted a poor goal-share and goal-differential, which appears to have been impacted by some poor on-ice shooting percentages, and in some cases a poor on-ice save percentage.

Player TOI CF% GF% (goal diff) On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
Auvitu 306.03 50.85 58.06 (+5) 10.91 92.17 1.031
Nurse 987.97 49.74 46.25 (-6) 7.09 91.7 0.988
Benning 764.28 50.43 45.10 (-5) 5.60 93.14 0.987
Russell 853.25 47.63 42.19 (-10) 6.51 91.9 0.984
Larsson 735.45 48.98 42 (-8) 5.77 92.64 0.984
Klefbom 692.37 50.15 31.25 (-18) 4.21 90.78 0.950
Bear 196.57 42.93 26.67 (-7) 4.88 91.2 0.961
Sekera 350.07 48.59 10.53 (-15) 1.17 90.66 0.918

One player that stands out for me in the list above is Klefbom. Despite playing hurt for most of the season and continuing to play top pairing minutes against the best competition, Klefbom still posted a respectable on-ice Corsi For% of 50.15. He finished with the second lowest PDO without McDavid, which I would expect to correct itself next season. Definitely a player worth keeping long-term when you consider how well he played the season before and the value-contract he’s carrying.

Thoughts

Goal-scoring was a major problem this season thanks in large part to the decisions made by Oilers management and the coaching staff. Make no mistake – the poor results were completely self-inflicted.

The fact that the team posted a goal differential of -33 at even-strength when McDavid wasn’t on the ice should make it obvious that the team needs help with secondary scoring. As mentioned above, the possession numbers were okay over the full 82 game season. But over the last 25 games, the Oilers had a 46.96% adjusted Corsi For% without McDavid on the ice, a number that had been steadily declining for some time. It’s a very obvious issue that needs to be addressed by the team this offseason.

The penalty kill was another area that had red flags from the season prior but were ignored by the Oilers. The rate of scoring chances were finally reduced this season, but it was far too late. And goaltending, which has been good for the most part, was bound to take a hit considering the workload Talbot was under and the lack of short-term and long-term options behind him.

The Oilers missed the warning signs when it came to secondary scoring. They missed the warning signs from their previous results on special teams. And they missed the warning signs when it came to goaltending. All of this would’ve been avoided if they had done the proper research and analysis, even just looking at simple shot and goal metrics and at what other successful teams have done, and took action on them to construct their team. Instead, the Oilers made poor decisions building their roster, failing to secure depth to handle injuries, and failed to optimize their line combinations and deployment for success.

What we’re left with now is a team that can’t score enough goals to make the playoffs. If this doesn’t get the team’s attention and forces them to change how they assess their roster and make decisions, I don’t know what will.

Related articles:

Data: Natural Stat Trick

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