Next steps

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After such a disastrous season, there’s going to be plenty to dig into in an attempt to chart out the necessary course(s) of action for the Edmonton Oilers.

What’s important before looking for solutions and making roster and salary cap related decisions is to look at the overall results and find where exactly the deficiencies were that prevented positive outcomes. With the end goal of winning championships in mind, it’s become even more imperative for the Oilers to make evidence-based decisions, and it needs to begin immediately.

The number to start any analysis with is the Oilers 2018/19 season goal-differential of -42, which was the eighth worst in the league.

Stripping out special teams and empty-net goals and focusing on even-strength (5v5), the Oilers had a goal-differential of -32 and a goal-share of 45.06% – both of which ranked third worst in the league and only ahead of New Jersey and Ottawa. The Oilers results shouldn’t be too surprising considering they were a poor possession team all season, finishing with a 23rd ranked Corsi-for percentage of 47.53%, and a 25th ranked Fenwick-for percentage (a proxy for scoring chances) of 47.34%.

Especially troubling is the fact that even with McDavid on the ice, the team struggled to out-shoot and out-chance opponents.

Metric (5v5) With McDavid Without McDavid
Corsi For% 49.32% 46.52%
Fenwick For% 48.81% 46.47%
Shots For% 48.04% 46.64%
Scoring Chances For% 49.70% 45.81%
High Danger Scoring Chances For% 46.46% 45.69%

What’s worth noting is that it was really the Oilers’s offence that struggled, with the team only generating 27.99 shots per hour, one of the worst rates in the league. Defensively, they weren’t great, but they were just below league average allowing 31.36 shots per hour – 19th in the league. This isn’t to absolve the Oilers defence for the team’s struggles; they were a big reason why the team couldn’t generate offence. But when it came to limiting shots, they were better than what they got credit for.

The other factor in the team’s even-strength results is their shooting percentage, which was 7.68% (21st in the league, league average being 8.05%) and save percentage, which was 91.51% (25th in the league. league average being 91.94%). Had the Oilers finished with a league average shooting percentage, they would have scored approximately 153 goals, a seven goal improvement from the 146 they actually finished with. And if they had league average goaltending, they would have allowed approximately 169 goals instead of 178. So instead of a -32 goal differential at even-strength, they would have finished with a -15 goal differential – about three and a half more wins in the standings. Had the coaching staff figured out a way to generate a league average rate of shots on goal, that goal differential could have been a lot better and the team much closer to playoff contention.

And while the Oilers powerplay was good this season, and probably could have been one of the best had they received better production from the second unit, the penalty kill was atrocious. The team allowed a rate of 9.21 goals against per hour shorthanded, second worst in the league, due in large part to their poor goaltending and their inconsistency in preventing shots and high danger scoring chances. Had the Oilers received league average goaltending of 86.26% instead of the 31st ranked 82.68% they did receive, the Oilers would have allowed approximately 49 goals instead of 62 – a difference of 13 goals.

Now going back to the overall goal differential of -42.

Had the Oilers been average at even-strength (better by 17 goals), had received better production from the second powerplay unit (additional four goals), and had an average penalty kill (13 fewer goals). their overall goal differential would have been -8 instead of -42. Still not good enough to be a contender, but at least closer to being a wild card playoff team.

And that right there should be enough to trigger the Oilers management to make changes – obviously to the roster but also to the coaching staff. The team, even playing to its abilities, isn’t good enough. A -8 goal differential would not have been good enough. There’s an obvious need to improve the scoring talent up front to play in the top six, but it’s also worth looking into depth players who can contribute at even-strength and also have an impact both on the penalty kill and second powerplay. The defence could absolutely use more skill and offensive talent- but again I think the team could focus on depth players who could contribute as complementary players at even-strength, but also play a feature role on special teams. That’s going to be up to the front office to uncover these undervalued assets and ensure they get a fair chance from the coaching staff.

Speaking of which, I think what’s getting overlooked because of the general manager vacancy is the importance of the next head coach, who will have to figure out how to maximize what could again be a below-average roster behind McDavid. The Oilers may have to take a conservative approach this summer and build through the draft, putting greater importance on improving the underlying numbers at even-strength and special teams – areas that coaches can have a direct impact on. The Oilers do not have the assets to give up in a trade, which will force the team to rely on tactics and the exploitation of other inefficiencies rather than actual talent and skill to win hockey games.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

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