Playoff aspirations

coppernblue.com.full.54273Heading into their game against Arizona, the Edmonton Oilers rank fifth in the Pacific and sit just two points out of a wild card playoff spot. They’ve accumulated 45 points in 44 games (going 21-20-3) – a points percentage of 51.1%. Worth noting that the league average points percentage is 55.5%.

At even-strength (5v5), the Oilers have a goal-share of 46.34% (76 GF, 88 GA), which ranks 24th overall and 12th in the west. The Oilers powerplay (5v4) ranks 10th in the league, scoring 8.04 goals-for per hour. And the penalty kill (4v5) ranks 16th in the league, allowing 7.03 goals-against per hour. The Oilers are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, scoring 2.75 goals per game and allow the eighth highest rate of goals against (3.18).

Those are pretty lousy results, due in large part to a lack of scoring depth up front, and goaltending that is currently below average (89.66% team save percentage, 24th in the league). It’s pretty surprising that despite their poor results this season, including some extended slumps, the Oilers are only two points out of a wild card spot.

So the question becomes: is this team a real contender for the playoffs?

We can look at what the results have been, determine the rate at which they’re collecting points, and simply extrapolate it out to 82 games. Assuming the team continues at the pace that they’re currently going, collecting 45 points over their first 44 games, you can make a rough estimate that the Oilers are on pace to finish with somewhere around 82 to 85 points. This of course would be well below what previous wild card teams have finished with in the west. Last season, the Kings finished with 98 points and the Avalanche finished with 95. In 2016/17, the Flames and Predators finished with 94 points.

The problem right now for the Oilers is that there’s nothing about their results, their underlying shot-share metrics (which we can use to predict future results) or their roster talent that indicates they have the ability to go on a significant run over the remaining 37 games and secure a playoff spot.

The Oilers currently rank in the bottom third of the league when it comes to possession metrics (i.e., Corsi), as well as their proportion of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, which is used as a proxy for shot quality). They’ve struggled on both sides of the puck, generating very few scoring chances and high danger shot attempts, and allowing one of the highest rates against. The club has trended downward as the season has wore on, posting a 46.68% Corsi-for percentage (29th overall) and a 46.20% Fenwick-for percentage (28th overall) over their last 25 games.

It’s also worth comparing the Oilers to the other western conference teams that are currently competing for a wild card spot. Below are each team’s results and underlying shot-share metrics over the last 25 games. I’ve also included the player driven factors – team shooting percentage and team save percentage – as well as the team PDO which gives us a sense of how lucky or unlucky each club has been.

Team Colorado Minnesota Anaheim Edmonton Vancouver
Corsi-for% 51.49 51.65 49.44 46.68 47.98
Fenwick-for% 51.44 52.56 49.35 46.20 48.03
Scoring chances for% 54.41 54.49 47.99 45.56 44.69
High-danger Corsi-for% 50.54 57.79 46.20 40.90 45.37
Goals-for% 45.92 46.88 49.44 45.63 47.73
Shooting% 6.77 6.86 7.31 8.61 7.55
Save% 91.45 90.73 92.79 91.34 92.51
PDO 0.982 0.976 1.001 1.000 1.001

Of the five teams who are currently in the playoff race, the Oilers have the worst proportion of shot attempts-for and scoring chances-for – outcomes that are largely dependent on the coaching staff and the roster constructed by management. These results really don’t give us a lot of confidence that their future goal-share will improve and be above 50.0%. Unless of course the team shooting percentage jumps ahead of league averages or their goaltending suddenly becomes red-hot – factors that are largely outside of the control of the coaching staff and management.

What’s interesting is that the Avalanche, who are in a brutal slump right now, with only two wins in their last ten, have good underlying possession numbers but are struggling to convert that into goals. Considering the talent they have, and the results they were getting earlier in the season, I’d expect that to gradually improve. Minnesota is another team whose results could gradually improve considering how good they’ve been at generating and preventing shots and scoring chances, but their goaltending has been dragging their results down.

It’ll be interesting to see how this playoff race turns out. The Oilers are definitely in it, and have the high-end talent to drive overall results. Unfortunately, they lack scoring depth up front and haven’t been the same offensively without Klefbom. It’s going to be really important for the Oilers to properly assess their situation and be realistic about their playoff chances. The last thing they need to do is make a decision based on results that are a mirage, and do something that hinders their long-term goal of winning a championship. Unfortunately, it’s been management’s lack of foresight and flawed decision-making process which has them in this situation – where they’ll be dependent on their players producing well above their career norms and league averages to make the playoffs.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Full article is posted at The Copper & Blue.

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