Thoughts on the North division + CBC Radio Active segment

Joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk Oilers and previous the season-opener against the Vancouver Canucks. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2021, January 13)

Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty excited that hockey is back. While I didn’t like the idea of having to play the same teams over and over, I do like the playoff feel the regular season will have. The Oilers are playing against the teams they’ll be chasing or trying to create separation from every single night, which makes every game, every point that much more important. We’re probably going to see teams be a little more aggressive with goalie pulls and extra attackers, which should add to the drama. Lots of scoreboard watching.

The North division should be a lot of fun considering the rivalries and the fact that there’s going to be a lot of randomness in the results over a 56-game season. There’s less time to make up ground, making winning and losing streaks, all the more important.  Throw in injuries to key players and how teams adapt their rosters to cover for them, while playing two and three-game series over a short period – it’s going to be wild. All seven teams have their storylines worth following and it’ll be fun to watch some of the high-end talent and prospects from other Canadian clubs – see what the hype is about!

It’s going to be interesting to see how coaching staff’s adapt their powerplays and penalty kills. You’re playing the same teams over and over, so you can expect your opponents to game-plan their special teams a lot more. If your powerplay goes stale, and struggles to generate chances, you’re going to have to adapt and change the look of it – either tactical or changing up the deployment. I suspect the Oilers powerplay will continue to be strong, but will likely see a slight dip from their 20.27% team shooting percentage, likely hovering in the top five overall. Penalty kill is likely to regress, considering their high save percentage last season, but should remain competitive and (hopefully) not cost the team wins in the standings.

For my own curiosity, I wanted to see how well the Canadian teams did on special teams last season, combining their rates of goals for and against on the powerplay and penalty kill.

TeamSpecial teams Goals/60
Edmonton Oilers4.19
Vancouver Canucks2.07
Calgary Flames0.42
Toronto Maple Leafs0.25
Winnipeg Jets-0.24
Montreal Canadiens-1.53
Ottawa Senators-2.06

We all know how dominant Edmonton was on the powerplay, scoring 10.64 goals per hour, Vancouver was right behind them ranking fourth scoring 8.54 goals per hour and Toronto ranking sixth scoring 8.26 goals per hour. What’s interesting is that while they struggled to score, Winnipeg posted some of the highest rates of unblocked shot attempts and shots on goal. Montreal was dreadful – they were one of the worst at generating chances and finished 24th in terms of goals per hour. Looking at penalty killing rates, both the Senators and Jets were dreadful at preventing chances against, finishing in the bottom five in terms of shots against and goals against. Will be interesting to see how much the teams rely on special teams to boost their overall goal-differentials.

Goaltending is going to be huge. With a condensed schedule, teams will need to be mindful of their starters’ workloads, getting them rest between games and avoiding any significant injuries. Some of the teams in the North division look pretty solid in net, with Hellebuyck coming off a strong season, winning the Vezina trophy as the league’s best goalie and Markstom solidifying things in Calgary. Anderson is looking to bounce-back from a down-year last season, but should be back to career-level marks – and motivated by the fact that he’s in a contract year. The Oilers goaltending is not a position of strength as this point. The Oilers have a good, league-average goalie in Koskinen, but he would benefit from a shared workload and I don’t think Smith is up for the job considering his dreadful numbers over the past few years.

To get a sense of the goalies in the division, I looked at each team’s netminders and what their numbers have been like over the past three seasons. The table below is sorted by save percentage, and is for all situations. Included is each goalie’s save percentage (SV%), goals-saved-above-average (GSAA) and high-danger save percentage (HDSV%). The full list included 95 goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes (about 10 games), with the average save percentage being 0.908.

Connor HellebuyckWPG1880.91951.660.815
Jack CampbellTOR620.91711.510.794
Frederik AndersenTOR1780.91526.520.805
Jacob MarkstromCGY1630.91415.560.831
Mikko KoskinenEDM930.9110.490.820
Carey PriceMTL1730.910-4.730.810
Jake AllenMTL1290.909-4.040.812
Matt MurrayOTT1370.909-5.020.832
David RittichCGY1140.908-8.360.831
Mike SmithEDM1360.907-12.580.815
Thatcher DemkoVAN370.906-5.190.811
Braden HoltbyVAN1610.906-23.450.800
Laurent BrossoitWPG540.905-8.210.817
Marcus HogbergOTT280.901-8.290.795

Good news is that Koskinen has been in the right range and we should expect him to be a league-average netminder. Couple wild cards in the division include Demko, a good prospect who has only played 37 games and is expected to carry the load with Holtby, who has not been very good in the last three years – something to watch for in Vancouver. I was also surprised to see that Murray’s numbers aren’t as strong as I’d thought and he doesn’t have a strong back-up either. I think Toronto appears to have the advantage here with an Andersen/Campbell combo.

One last thing I wanted to know was how each of the Canadian teams did last season without their best players on the ice at even-strength. That’s usually about 70% of the team’s total time, making it pretty critical that they control the flow of play as measured by shot metrics and not get outscored too badly.

Montreal and Winnipeg were the two that came out on top in terms of goal-share without their star player, but that doesn’t say much considering that it was below 50%. What’s interesting however is that the Habs posted pretty strong shot-share numbers. The issue was that they couldn’t finish, something that looks to be corrected with the addition of Toffoli and the development of players like Suzuki. Toronto had the shot-share advantage as well and that’s probably going to continue. Edmonton, as we know, struggled mightily thanks to their bottom six. That should be improved with the addition of Turris and Puljujaarvi, but I’m not convinced that they and the rest of the bottom six roster players can be above 48%.


Data: Natural Stat Trick

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