Pretty remarkable turnaround for the Oilers since the coaching change, with the Oilers now winning 21 of the 32 games with Jay Woodcroft behind the bench. The data after the first ten games indicated the early results under Woodcroft were sustainable – we just didn’t know if the team would stay healthy and if the goaltending would hold up. Thankfully for the club and their playoff aspirations, everything has gone really well.
The even-strength (5v5) results since Woodcroft took over is the key driver right now, with the Oilers doing an excellent job controlling the flow of play (as reflected by the shot-share numbers), consistently pushing for offence even when leading the game, and just dominating opponents on the score sheet. Goal-differential at five-on-five is an important metric for Holland, so it should be obvious to him how significant the results have been since Tippett was dismissed.
The Oilers under Woodcroft have been getting much better goaltending with the team’s save percentage closer to league average levels, and have also seen their team shooting percentage improve. But they’re also getting a higher share of the total scoring chances, as reflected by the expected goals for percentage, due in large part to the coaching staff’s tactics. This includes changing how players are deployed, how they play in the neutral zone, looking for more favorable line match-ups and pushing for offence regardless of the score.
And relative to the previous coaches in the McDavid era, Woodcroft is doing really well with the roster he’s been given and should strongly be considered for a new contract.
This is the first time since 2016/17 that the Oilers have posted a positive goal differential at even-strength – something the Oilers couldn’t achieve under Holland’s first coaching hire (and someone the general manager actually wanted to extend just prior to dismissing him). And this is the first time the Oilers are posting underlying shot share numbers that are better than just break-even and closer in line to what the top teams in the league post (i.e., teams that have a points percentage above 0.600 in the regular season). A 54% Corsi For percentage and Expected Goals For percentage is what top end teams like Florida, Calgary, Carolina, Boston, Toronto and Colorado are currently posting. The Oilers are closer to that group thanks to the coaching change, and should expect to continue doing well if they stay healthy and get decent goaltending.
Now it’s understandable if management wants to wait for the off-season to make the call on whether or not Woodcroft should be given a new contract. Maybe it’s in Woodcroft’s best interest too in case another team brings forward a better offer. But it’s difficult to envision a scenario that would disqualify Woodcroft’s candidacy to be the head coach in Edmonton next season. The regular season results have been excellent and far better than what they’ve had since McDavid arrived seven years ago. And it’s not really reasonable to base the coaching decision on what happens in the post-season considering the playoff tournament is highly volatile that could go either way in a series – really depending more on which team gets the better goaltending. And if the players and their agents are already signing off on having Woodcroft stick around, it’s difficult to go another direction.
It’ll be interesting to see what approach the Oilers take, either going with someone they know and have developed as a coach, someone who appears to have progressive ideas and knows the players and prospects well. Or do they go with an external option, likely someone with similar traits to the previous three coaches. Just keep your expectations of the team lower if that ends up being the case.
Data: Natural Stat Trick
Also posted at The Copper & Blue.