Identifying the Oilers

At his most recent media availability, Oilers general manager Ken Holland voiced, among other topics, his disappointment with the Oilers season and expressed his inability to determine if the Oilers were a good team or not.

To tell the honest truth, I believe we have a good team. I, obviously, built the team and whatever happens is on me. I’m not really sure where we’re at because the two extremes have been so far apart. In the 16-5, our special teams were a major factor. We were probably near the top and it was extremely good. 

“In the last 13 games, we’re 18 percent on the power play and 68 percent on the penalty kill…But again, I’m not sure where we’re at because they’re such extremes, the first 21 games versus the last 13, that I’m not sure where we’re at. It’s been hard for me to really get an understanding of where we’re at.” (Source: Edmonton Oilers)

There’s definitely been a drop off when comparing the results between the first 21 games of the season against the last 13 games. Prior to December 2nd, the Oilers were the top team in the league with a 0.762 points percentage, driven completely by their special teams. The Oilers powerplay scored 23 times in only 92 minutes – a scoring rate of 14.94 goals per hour, which ranked the best in the league. Their penalty kill allowed only 8 goals in 113 minutes – rate of 4.26 goals against, good for fourth best in the league. And the Oilers special teams had to be exceptional as the team struggled at even-strength (5v5), posting a -2 goal differential and some very mediocre shot-share numbers.

And because the Oilers special teams has struggled in the last 13 games – seeing their powerplay goal-scoring rate cut in half and their goals against rate on the penalty kill almost triple – they’ve fallen to fifth in the Pacific and are no longer holding on to a playoff spot. The good news is that the powerplay should eventually start producing again, considering they continue to lead the league in shots and scoring chances per hour and have most of their top contributors healthy. They might not score at the same rate as they did in the first 21 games, but we can reasonably expect them to score around the 10.0 goals-per- hour mark, which is what they’ve done in seasons past.

The concern should probably be around the penalty kill, which was allowing some of the highest rates of shots against earlier in the season and has allowed even more since early December. Part of that could probably be attributed to so many defencemen being in and out of the lineup. But we have to keep in mind too that Tippett has a history of running penalty kills that allow a higher-than-average rate of shots against. And he quite often relies on the goaltending to bail the team out (Source). In the last two seasons, the Oilers 89.90% penalty kill save percentage has been the best in the league, but it was probably unrealistic to expect two aging netminders, one of which can’t stay healthy this season, to replicate that success.

With the issues on special teams identified, let’s switch over to even-strength where for the third season in a row under Holland and Tippett, the Oilers are posting a negative goal-differential.

The good news, is that overall the Oilers have actually been consistent all season at even-strength (5v5). The bad news is that they’ve been consistently medicore. Their Corsi For%, which serves as a proxy for puck possession and Fenwick For% which serves as a proxy for scoring chances has been around league average all season – nothing great and not terrible either. Their expected goal-share has consistently been right around the break-even mark – again just good enough but nowhere near the levels posted by the true top teams in the league.

While goaltending has slipped slightly at even-strength, the real driver of the Oilers results over the last 13 games has been been the team’s on-ice shooting percentage, which has been 6.71%. And it’s actually been when McDavid has been on the ice that the team shooting percentage has really dropped. In the first 21 games with McDavid on the ice, the Oilers team shooting percentage was 9.78% – slightly below McDavid’s career on-ice shooting percentage of 10.6%. In the last 13 games, that on-ice shooting percentage has dropped to 4.96% – well below where we would expect McDavid to be and indicating that his on-ice numbers should bounce back over the remainder of the season.

But regardless of how McDavid does, it should be concerning to the Oilers management that yet again the team is not posting very good shot-share numbers at even-strength and are going to really need their special teams to bail them out. It’s not likely that the Oilers will shoot to the top of the standings and will instead be in that mushy-middle of teams that aren’t quite division leaders and aren’t quite basement dwellers either.

What Holland and his group need to realize is that the Edmonton Oilers as constructed today are a mediocre hockey club. They’re not quite an offensive juggernaut, they’re not sound defensively, they’re not hard to play against. Even with two superstars, they’re just another middle of the pack team. These results, over three seasons now, aren’t good enough considering how much Holland is getting paid, how much money and assets he’s spent and the damage he’s done to the Oilers cap situation.

And if Holland after these three years doesn’t know what he has right now and can’t put his finger on the problems currently ailing the team, he really shouldn’t be allowed to construct an NHL roster.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

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