Early days


Great start for the Edmonton Oilers, opening the season on a five-game winning streak, sitting third in the league with a 0.833% points percentage with ten points and a +6 overall goal-differential (22 goals-for, 16 goals-against)

By far the biggest driver for their success has been the special teams, as the Oilers powerplay has been dynamite scoring eight goals and producing at a rate of 15.32 goals per hour, second only to the Sabres. And the penalty kill has been very effective, allowing only one  goal in the first six games, a rate of 1.75 goals against per hour, second only to the Golden Knights.

Even-strength (5v5) remains a work in progress, with the team ranking 19th overall in terms of goal-share with 48.0% (12 goals-for, 13 goals-against). McDavid, Draisaitl, Neal and Kassian – all playing regular minutes in the top six – have combined for 19 of the 22 total goals. The bottom six is struggling badly right now, producing only one goal – which came off the stick of Nygard in four-on-four action.

What’s especially troubling is just how bad the Oilers have been in just under 100 minutes without McDavid, Draisaitl, Neal, Kassian and Nugent-Hopkins on the ice at even-strength. In that time, which makes up approximately 33% of the total even-strength time played over six games, the Oilers have posted a 20.0% goals-for percentage (1 goal-for, 4 goals-against), a Corsi For percentage (proxy for possession) of 43.89% and a Fenwick For percentage (proxy for scoring chances) of 47.84%. Keep in mind too that the competition is gradually going to get better, making it critical that the coaching staff identify issues early-on and find reasonable solutions to rectify it.

What I’ll be most interested this season is how well the special teams, especially the powerplay, can boost the overall goal-differential, especially if the scoring depth remains an issue. To track this and set a few baselines for the Oilers, I looked at the last three seasons (all 92 teams) and focused on the top twenty teams in terms of goals for per hour.

Team Season Points Point % CF/60 FF/60 SF/60 GF/60 SH%
Tampa Bay 1819 128 0.780 90.79 70.63 50.33 10.89 21.64
Boston 1819 107 0.652 99.06 77.78 52.82 9.95 18.84
Florida Panthers 1819 86 0.524 101.10 78.89 56.55 9.93 17.56
Pittsburgh 1718 100 0.610 99.27 75.57 56.75 9.77 17.22
Toronto 1718 105 0.640 117.53 90.13 64.09 9.47 14.78
Winnipeg 1819 99 0.604 100.36 79.71 55.71 9.02 16.19
Buffalo Sabres 1617 78 0.476 106.60 80.85 60.29 8.95 14.84
Pittsburgh 1819 100 0.610 87.00 65.60 51.34 8.87 17.28
Winnipeg 1718 114 0.695 100.79 77.46 57.16 8.84 15.46
Tampa Bay 1718 113 0.689 108.87 82.15 56.11 8.73 15.55
Boston 1718 112 0.683 101.85 78.57 58.85 8.71 14.81
Toronto 1617 95 0.579 107.19 83.39 58.69 8.68 14.80
San Jose 1819 101 0.616 106.95 83.05 59.45 8.62 14.50
Washington 1617 118 0.720 107.41 81.12 53.93 8.47 15.70
Pittsburgh 1617 111 0.677 100.55 76.15 57.54 8.46 14.71
Tampa Bay 1617 94 0.573 98.40 74.04 53.63 8.44 15.74
NY Islanders 1718 80 0.488 95.62 72.83 56.39 8.37 14.83
Washington 1718 105 0.640 99.58 76.58 57.05 8.32 14.59
Edmonton 1617 103 0.628 107.18 77.86 55.72 8.21 14.74
Vancouver 1718 73 0.445 98.65 71.95 52.19 7.99 15.32

What’s interesting is that of the top twenty powerplay teams over the past three seasons, only four finished their years with less than 90 points. Powerplays won’t get a team to that total alone, but it’s a massive boost especially if depth players can produce at even-strength and the penalty kill isn’t an anchor.

Looking at the average rates among the this top twenty list, I would set the goals for the 2019/20 Oilers as this:

  • Goals-for per hour: 8.93
  • Corsi-for per hour: 101.74
  • Fenwick-for per hour: 77.72
  • Shots-for per hour: 56.23

I don’t think it’s too much to ask considering the talent level on this team. Having McDavid alone should drive results, but now the Oilers also have a former 50-goal scorer in Draisaitl. The team will need to stay healthy, and hopefully Neal and others like Chiasson, who have had success in the past, can contribute and potentially give the second powerplay unit a different look.

Worth noting that after six games, the Oilers have posted the following:

  • Goals-for per hour: 15.32
  • Corsi-for per hour: 111.06
  • Fenwick-for per hour: 82.34
  • Shots-for per hour: 59.36

Couple other thoughts after six games:

  • The idea of McDavid and Draisaitl leading the league in ice time per game only makes sense if their performance is being monitored by someone familiar with sports science and load management. If not, then the team is seriously at risk of injuring their star players and jeopardizing the season even further.
  • Despite the early success, it’s critical to keep the long-term goals in mind. The 2019/2020 season remains a transition year, with the team in desperate need of skill and young players on entry-level deals to fill key positions. The overall approach makes sense,  filling the roster with 26-28 year-olds on one-year deals to allow for the prospects to develop. But eventually those prospects need to get an opportunity to secure NHL jobs.
  • Hopefully by the end of the season, we get a good sense of what the criteria is for players to make the transition to the NHL. There should be spots available for players on entry-level deals, perhaps on the second or third line wing at even-strength with powerplay opportunities, and the third defence pairing. The idea of over-ripening is concerning considering how important it is to identify players early and get as much production as possible from entry-level contracts.
  • While the talent developing in Bakersfield is encouraging, hopefully the Oilers continue to add to the pipeline, creating a sustainable flow of talent and competition that the Oilers desperately need. The harsh reality is that not all of these players are going to pan out and there’s still plenty of uncertainty around roster spots going forward.
  • One last note tied to the powerplay stuff above: if the Oilers can produce well with the man-advantage, it becomes even more important to find and develop players that can draw penalties. It should be McDavid leading theteam, but I suspect players with speed and quickness like Yamamoto and perhaps McLeod can be penalty drawing wizards.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

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