Check your depth

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Things are pretty close in the Pacific division, with the top five teams currently separated by five points. None of the teams have been dominant this season, with the division-leading Canucks ranking tenth overall in the league with a points percentage of 0.608. Seven of the top ten teams are from the Eastern conference.

Below are the Pacific division standings, sorted by points percentage. (Note: Points percentage is the total points accumulated divided by the points that were available, including extra time.)

Team Games Record Points Point %
Vancouver 51 29-18-4 62 0.608
Edmonton 50 26-18-6 58 0.580
Calgary 52 27-19-6 60 0.577
Vegas 52 25-20-7 57 0.548
Arizona 52 26-21-5 57 0.548
San Jose 52 22-26-4 48 0.462
Anaheim 50 20-25-5 45 0.450
Los Angeles 51 18-28-5 41 0.402

Even-strength (5v5) is a common issue for all of the teams, as Vancouver ranks 16th in the league with a 50.50% goal-share (a goal differential of +2) and Arizona ranks 17th with a 50.50% goal-share. The remaining teams all rank in the bottom ten league-wide, posting negative goal-shares. Special teams has been the difference, especially for the Edmonton Oilers whose powerplay has been dynamite. (Note: Goal-share is the proportion of all the goals that the team scored and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Goals For/(Goals For + Goals Against))

At this rate, the top five Pacific division teams all have a legitimate chance of making the playoffs together, as the Central division teams, outside of St. Louis and Colorado, haven’t been very good either.

Now one of the Oilers biggest issues at even-strength has been their lack of production when McDavid hasn’t been on the ice, as the club has posted a +6 goal differential with him on the ice and a -22 goal differential without him. What’s interesting is that the other four Pacific division teams that are still in the playoff race are having very similar problems, relying a lot on their star player to drive positive results.

For this exercise, I picked who I thought was the star forward on each team based on their total points and total ice-time, and then looked at how their teams have done with and without them at even-strength this season. The star list is as follows:

  • Edmonton – C. McDavid
  • Vancouver – E. Pettersson
  • Calgary – M. Tkachuk
  • Arizona – N. Schmaltz
  • Vegas – M. Stone

Your opinions may vary on who the best player is for each team, but I’m comfortable with this list. Total points captures their actual results and their total ice time reflects what their coaches think of them. I should note that Taylor Hall is definitely the best player for the Coyotes, but he hasn’t spent nearly as much time with the team as Schmaltz, which would skew the with-and-without-you numbers.

Looking at actual results first, below is how each team has done in terms of goal-share with and without their star player this season at even-strength. Keep in mind, star players are typically on the ice for only about 35% of the their team’s total even-strength ice-time. It’s absolutely critical for teams to do as much damage as possible with their star players out there, and at the very least break even in terms of goal-share in the remaining 65.0% of ice time.

Pacific Stars GF

Here we see that while most of the teams have figured things out when their top forward is deployed, all five teams are struggling to get acceptable results from the rest of their roster. For example, the Canucks are getting over 60.0% of the goal-share with Pettersson on the ice, but are below 45.0% without him. They’re ranked 10th in the league now thanks in large part to their young superstar, imagine where they could be if they just broke even without him on the ice.

I wasn’t overly surprised to see this considering that we know all five teams are struggling to win the overall goal-share battle at even-strength. What did stand out, and what might bother the Oilers, is that the stars from other teams are posting better goal-share results than McDavid. We’ve known for quite some time that depth is an issue for the Oilers, and it should be especially alarming when McDavid is starting to get dragged down in comparison to his divisional counterparts.

Seeing the actual results, I also wanted to know what each team’s Corsi For percentage was like with and without their star players to get a sense of how well teams are controlling the flow of play. (Note: Corsi for percentage is the proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Corsi For/(Corsi For + Corsi Against). This is used as a proxy for possession and can predict a team’s future share of goals (GF%))

Pacific Stars CF

Again we see teams are having issues without their star players on the ice, as they’re often getting outshot and outchanced, and playing more defence. If they want to eventually get better at out-scoring opponents, they need to have the puck a lot more often to generate chances. Vegas, thanks to their actual depth, is the only team that has posted a positive Corsi For% (i.e., above 50%) without their top forward on the ice. What should be concerning for Oilers management is that they’re losing the shot-share battle even with their star player on the ice, posting a 48.79% Corsi For percentage when McDavid has been deployed. Imagine what his point totals could be if the Oilers had the puck more often. Something management and the coaching staff needs to figure out, both for this season and next.

Just for context, I also wanted to know what each team’s PDO was like with and without their star player to see if team’s might regress either positively or negatively over this last stretch of thirty-something games. (Note:  PDO is the sum of a team’s shooting percentage (SH%) and its save percentage (SV%). It’s based on the theory that most teams will ultimately regress toward a sum of 100, and is often viewed as a proxy for how lucky a team is. (Source))

Team With Star Player Without Star Player
On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
Vancouver 11.55 91.08 1.026 7.06 92.57 0.996
Edmonton 11.16 90.85 1.020 6.81 90.87 0.977
Calgary 7.60 91.78 0.994 6.40 92.47 0.989
Vegas 7.55 91.35 0.989 7.34 90.91 0.982
Arizona 9.83 92.69 1.025 6.62 92.76 0.994

I think Vegas is the team to watch the rest of the way, as they have some excellent underlying numbers, both with and without their star player, but are being sunk by a below-average shooting and save percentage. Remains to be seen if the new coaching staff might impact things, but the club does have the skill and depth to take over the division if their shooting percentage improves. Calgary is also interesting as they’ve got okay shot-share numbers, but appear to be a little snake-bitten with and without their star player. I’m also curious to see if the Oilers without McDavid will see their goal share gradually improve from 40.0%, especially if the second line featuring Draisaitl, RNH and Yamamoto can continue to click.

Hopefully the Oilers management is aware of not only their own weaknesses, but also of their competition. The Pacific division is truly wide open this season, with one of these teams potentially having an easier track to the western conference finals. The other thing to watch for is how these teams go about enhancing their depth for a playoff run and for next season as the Oilers have to be able to keep up and position themselves for playoff, and hopefully championship, contention.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

4 thoughts on “Check your depth

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