Oilers management is to blame for the issues in net

Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen: That Blue Paint

Quick query using publicly available data and an understanding of the salary cap and player aging curves could have prevented this fiasco.

If Oilers management isn’t happy with their goaltending, they have only themselves to blame. When you consider each netminders recent history at even-strength and the penalty kill, Ken Holland and his group really shouldn’t be surprised with their poor results this season. How often the Oilers goalies have stopped the puck has actually been similar to their previous seasons.

Even-strength (5v5)

Let’s start with even-strength (5v5), where the Oilers goalies have allowed a total of 80 goals on 876 shots against – ranking 29th in the league with a 0.909% team save percentage. The average save percentage at the team level and individual level for regular netminders is typically around 0.920%.

Below is a table showing how each Oilers goalie has performed this season including their time on ice, shots faced, goals allowed and save percentage. Among the 67 goalies who have played at least 250 minutes this season, Stuart Skinner ranks 43rd in terms of save percentage with 0.913, while Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen rank 51st and 57th respectively. Again, league average save percentage is around 0.920 – and all three have been below that mark this season.

Now to see if these numers are within an expected range, let’s look at how each Oilers goalie has performed in their previous three seasons – between 2018/19 and 2020/21. Same as above, I’ve included time on ice, shots faced, goals allowed and save percentage.

In 113 games between 2018 and 2021, Smith posted a 0.910 save percentage, which is identical to the save percentage he’s posted this season. In those previous three seasons, Smith ranked 54th among 60 goalies who played at least 2,000 minutes – demonstrating clearly that despite a career year last season, he’s a below-average goalie at even-strength. And it’s really not surprising considering he’s at an age when goaltenders drop-off significantly (Source: Hockey Graphs).

In the same three-year period, Koskinen didn’t fare much better posting a 0.916 save percentage in 119 games, sitting just below league average and ranking 42nd among the same group of 60 goalies. He’s definitely been worse this season posting a 0.906 save percentage, which is somewhat expected considering he’s now 33 years old and taking on a larger workload with Smith being injured. Skinner had only played one NHL game in that three-year period, but it’s good to know that his 0.913 save percentage this season would rank 48th among those 60 goalies.

Since Smith is posting the same save percentage this season as he has in the previous three seasons, he’s allowed about the same number of goals we could expect him to allow – approximately 14 . Koskinen on the other hand, is allowing about five more goals than expected. If he was posting a save percentage of 0.916 this season like he had in the previous three seasons, he would have allowed 40 goals instead of 45. The good news is that Skinner is performing better than we expected. Had he posted a 0.903 save percentage, the team would have allowed an extra two goals.

So based on some quick and dirty math – had the Oilers goalies performed at the same levels they had in the previous three seasons, the team would have allowed 77 goals instead of 80 at even-strength (5v5). Using the same number of shots against, that would be a team save percentage of 0.912 and would rank 26th in the league instead of 29th. So as much as the Oilers would like their goalies to be closer to league average levels at even-strength, it’s really not a realistic expectation considering how Smith and Koskinen have performed below league average over the last three seasons. Holland and his group should have known this heading into such an important season.

Penalty kill

Looking at the penalty kill this season, the Oilers have allowed 20 goals on 174 shots against – ranking 17th in the league in terms of goals against per hour (7.08) and 10th overall in team save percentage with 0.885. The average penalty kill save percentage at the team level and individual level is typically around 0.865 with all three Oilers goalies posting numbers above that this season.

Here’s how each Oilers goalie has performed this season with Skinner ranking 5th among 65 goalies who have played at least 25 minutes shorthanded this season, with Koskinen and Smith ranking 28th and 32nd respectively.

When you compare this season’s numbers with their previous three seasons, Smith and Koskinen are posting numbers fairly close to their historical levels. Over the last three seasons, Smith has a save percentage of 0.883 on the penalty kill, while Koskinen has posted a save percentage of 0.876 – both of which are above league average.
The number of goals allowed by Smith and Koskinen this season are pretty close to what we would expect from them as their save percentages are nearly identical. The issue for the Oilers is that they’re allowing a higher rate of shots against this season (about 61 per hour), while in previous seasons they’ve allowed about 55 shots against per hour. Skinner is performing above league average levels and has saved about three more goals than expected. Had he put up only league average numbers this season, the team would have allowed 23 goals instead of 20 and the Oilers would have a team save percentage of 0.867, which would rank around 16th in the league instead of 10th. Really, the difference has been marginal with all three goalies performing around expected levels.

Thoughts

While the Oilers goaltending overall hasn’t been great this season, the netminders are performing within their expected ranges. All three goalies are league average or below at this point, so expecting anything more from them was unrealistic from the get go.

Had the Oilers conducted a basic analysis using publicly available data and took time to understand salary cap management and player aging curves, they could have made smarter, more sensible bets and be in a better spot in the standings. Instead they chose to – or you could argue they were forced to – take on a lot of risk at such an important position and are getting pretty much what they should have expected.

What’s especially baffling is that despite the red flags, Ken Holland and his group have not once or twice, but three times chosen to start a regular season with Smith and Koskinen as their goalie tandem. And yes, the Oilers did try to upgrade their goaltending in previous off-seasons. But they failed because they didn’t have enough quality assets to part with due to their own mismanagement of the roster construction and their poor draft capital.

Rather that the goaltending performance, the focus really should be on Ken Holland and his management group and their very obviously-flawed decision-making process. And try as they may to improve the roster now and to make a run at a playoff spot, it’s hard to have faith in a management group that got them into this awful mess in the first place.

Related: Evaluating the evaluation – The Copper & Blue (2020, August 14)

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

One thought on “Oilers management is to blame for the issues in net

  1. Every winning team in any sport has great management, look at the Oiler’s record since the owner took over, its pitiful. Bringing in Holland and Tippet who are both old retreads has the team where it is.
    When you look at teams like Buffalo that have been brutal for ever, it goes back to terrible management decisions. Then look at teams like Tampa and now Florida, ownership chose the right people.
    The problems with this team go past Tippet and Holland, they are result of terrible management

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