It’s been pretty baffling watching the Jesse Puljujärvi situation play out in real-time. Part of me is annoyed that the club appears to be ignoring the positive on-ice impacts the 24 year old has had since being drafted. But I’m also well aware that this management group doesn’t always grasp what their team’s weaknesses are, has consistently had trouble identifying professional level talent, and very rarely makes well-informed roster decisions. This is an ongoing issue for the franchise, and doesn’t appear to be improving any time soon under the current ownership.
And let’s be very clear on Puljujärvi: his on-ice results (i.e., goal-share) and the shot-share metrics that predict future results all indicate he’s a top-six NHL winger who helps his team spend more time in the offensive zone and increases his team’s odds of out-scoring opponents. You can pick apart how he gets good results and his finishing ability – those are mostly valid. But there’s no question that his strengths have helped his teammates, especially his most common centerman and drives positive results for his team.
In an industry that’s still dominated by conservative, risk-averse individuals and flawed business practices and decision-making processes, he’s become an undervalued asset because of his size and the way he plays and how he’s personally produced. His deficiencies are being perceived to be greater than his strengths – basically a lot of noise that can be debunked with some progressive thinking and statistical analysis. There’s a lot of inefficiencies when it comes to roster construction and decision-making in the NHL, and this is a perfect one to exploit by an intelligent team.
Now I understand too that Puljujärvi’s group have probably recognized that the Oilers are not very deep on the right-side and might be asking for too much in negotiations, and that could be a reason why the Oilers prefer to move on from him. But this is why you need to identify talent as early on as possible through proper scouting and statistical analysis, and be willing to take on some risk by signing these players long-term earlier in their careers. “Over-ripening” isn’t an efficient approach in a cap world and the Oilers are now in a position of weakness in the trade market and at risk of losing a good player when his value is at its lowest.
The hope now is that the Oilers don’t get robbed in a trade, which has become a regular thing since Holland arrived. Whoever the replacement is for Puljujärvi, they need to be someone that can have a positive impact at even-strength, with and without top end linemates, and can be deployed against top competition. Based on the rumors out there, I’m not seeing any viable options unless the Oilers are planning to take on someone that’s a longer term project. The team has three seasons left with McDavid and Draisaitl to push for a championship, so whoever is acquired needs to make an immediate impact.
Joined by Matt Henderson (@Archaeologuy) on the show to discuss the Edmonton Oilers, the lessons management hopefully learned from the regular season and playoff run, and some of the off-season gossip that’s currently out there. We talked about the importance of Jesse Puljujärvi to the team, the youngsters like Holloway and McLeod pushing for bigger roles and the front office changes that are needed to help with their decision-making processes.
Disappointing end to an entertaining playoff run, with some outstanding performances from a variety of players including McDavid and Draisaitl leading the way. In the end, the Oilers were completely dominated by a top end team, and really didn’t have the depth, talent and goaltending to win a game in the western conference finals.
Below is a high-level summary on how the Oilers performed against the Avalanche at even-strength (5v5). They spent a significant amount of time without the puck and getting out-chanced as reflected by their 46% Corsi For percentage and 45% expected goals for percentage – and were outscored 16-11 over the four game set.
Expected Goals For%
And the powerplay – which has consistently been one of the best in the league – was ineffective as well, generating only 18 shots and scoring only twice in four games. Combine this with a penalty kill that allowed 30 shots against and allowed four goals (more on that later), and it’s clear that the Oilers weren’t even close in this series.
There’s a few reasons why it wasn’t surprising to see the Oilers get crushed like this against Colorado. The injury issues for one exposed the lack of depth and talent on the roster. But the overall team play had also begun to slip in the previous round against Calgary, relying on an incredible performance from McDavid to bail them out. The goaltending started to falter in the second round as well, as did their defensive play and special teams.
Lets’s start with the overall team play at even-strength and how well they controlled the share of shot attempts, scoring chances and goals. Below is a table showing how the Oilers performed in each round of the playoffs – as well as the final twenty five games of the regular season, which I like to use as a baseline to assess their overall play.
Expected Goals For%
vs Los Angeles
Against the Kings, the Oilers performed right around where they were in their final twenty five games of the season, controlling 53% of the total shot attempts and scoring chances. The team’s shooting percentage dropped by a couple percentage points, but it was balanced out by the goaltending that saw its team save percentage increase by a couple percentage points. Keep in mind though that the Kings consistently generated a lot of low-probability shots and had the worst shooting percentage in the league during the regular season. And there was definitely some concern after the first four games of that series as the Oilers were getting outplayed and outscored when McDavid wasn’t on the ice and their goaltending was struggling on home ice. But thanks to the captain’s play in games six and seven, they were able to overcome their deficiencies and win the series.
The second round of the playoffs is really where we started to see the Oilers fall apart at even-strength. Their possession numbers dropped by more than ten percentage points relative to their final twenty five games of the season – dropping from a 53.38% Corsi For percentage to 42.75%. And while their share of quality scoring chances (i.e., Expected Goals For%) did gradually improve over the course of the series, it was still below where we would expect the Oilers to be at. What bailed them out (again) was McDavid’s play, as the Oilers completey dominated the Flames on the scoreboard with him on the ice. When Tkachuk and some of his teammates said their club was beaten by one guy, they weren’t wrong. The Oilers outscored the Flames 14-5 with McDavid on the ice in that series, scoring at a rate of over nine goals per hour. It’s remarkable considering nine goals an hour is what a top end powerplay scores – with a man-advantage.
Now this is worth expanding on because McDavid’s performance was once again masking a lot of the Oilers major issues.
McDavid’s on-ice shooting percentage in the five-game series against Calgary was 25.79%, which is crazy considering his career on-ice shooting percentage is 10.1%. Had his on-ice shooting percentage against Calgary been similar to his career levels, he would have been on the ice for about 5-6 goals instead of 14 – and the Flames would have easily won the goal-share. And say his on-ice shooting percentage was 20% – which has happened only once over a five game stretch in the last three seasons (first five games of the 2019/20 season) – he would have been on the ice for about 10 goals-for. Had that occurred, which still would have been remarkable, the Oilers would have only broken even in terms of goals at 5v5 against the Flames.
vs Los Angeles
Things obviously came back down to earth (or the planet he’s from) for McDavid in the third round. His on-ice shooting percentage fell to11.75%, which is slightly higher than his career level (10.1%) and what he had posted in the final twenty five games of the regular season (9.66%).
The other indication that things were likely going to go sideways against Colroado was the Oilers declining defensive play in the previous rounds and the increasing rate of shots against.
In the final twenty-five games of the season, the Oilers allowed 30.85 shots against per hour, which ranked 17th in the league and right around league average levels. And they generated 35.44 – third best in the league. Against the Kings, their rate of shots against increased to 33.63, a 9.0% increase from where they were in the regular season. Somewhat expected, considering the Kings employ the “volume shooting” approach, but nothing too alarming as the Oilers did also increase their own rate of shots for. But maybe it was a sign of things to come as they then allowed over 36 shots per hour against the Flames – a 17.5 % increase from their final twenty five games and closer to what the worst teams in the league posted in the regular season. Based on these increases and the fact that the Avalanche were the fourth best team in the regular season at generating shots (34.58), it was little surprise then that the Oilers allowed over 40 shots against per hour in the third round.
Compounding matters was the Oilers goaltending, which posted a 89.68% 5v5 save percentage in the second round against the Flames – the second worst save percentage among the eight teams in the second round. And only better than Calgary’s that had to face a supernova version of Connor McDavid. Smith’s performance gradually declined over the course of the playoffs, and the team wasn’t playing well enough to make up for it.
One last item was the Oilers special teams, which had great results in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. But it started to decline against the Flames before getting crushed by the Avalanche.
Penalty Kill Shots Against/60
Penalty Kill Goals Against/60
vs Los Angeles
In the final stretch of the regular season, the Oilers continued to excel on the powerplay, generating the highest rate of shots per hour (70.38) and scoring the sixth highest rate of goals in the league. And while they did see a slight drop in their rate of shots against versus the Kings (maybe this was foreshadowing for the next two rounds) – they did generate a higher rate of goals relative to their regular season. Against the Flames, things took a major dive as their rate of shots on the powerplay dropped by 19.7% relative to their regular season rate. And their rate of goals per hour dropped to 7.07 per hour – which is slightly above league average levels, but well below what we would expect from an Oilers powerplay which is consistently one of the best in the league. The Avalanche took it one step further and reduced the Oilers shot rate by 23.8% relative to their regular season levels and only allowed two goals in the four game series. The Oilers powerplay, which has historically often made up for the negative goal differential at even-strength, slipped in the second round and basically became a non-factor against Colorado.
The Oilers penalty kill followed a similar trend. By the time it faced Colorado, it had seen its rate of shots against (which was slightly worse than league average to begin with) climb even further. And the rate of goals against in the third round more than doubled compared to the regular season. It was ugly.
The Oilers have a lot of work to do this off-season, constructing a roster, managaing their salary cap and filling out a coaching staff. The hope, as always, is that they’re using as much information available to them – including the data from the regular season and the playoffs – to make informed decisions. The plan should be to build a winner in the next three seasons with Draisaitl and McDavid in the fold – and the only way to do that is a throrough assessment, understanding what happened and what really drove the results. Ignoring the warning signs, which the Oilers have done for over a decade now, won’t get them anywhere. What got the Oilers to the western conference finals isn’t going to get them a championship in the future.
I joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to recap the Oilers season and what the priorities should be this summer. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2022, June 7)
Topics we covered:
The Oilers series against the Avalanche, where the team struggled and what their opponents did well.
The impact Jay Woodcroft has had on the team, reasons for their success and why it should be the Oilers top priority to bring him and Dave Manson back full-time.
Priorties for the management team this summer, including integrating analytics into their decision-making process, avoiding long term deals with free agents who are likely see a decline in their productivity, fixing defence and goaltending. And uncovering the players who can drive offence and improve the team’s odds of winning games.
Thanks as always to the great team at CBC for putting it all together!
Joined by Romulus’ Apotheosis (@RomulusNotNuma) on the show to discuss the Edmonton Oilers playoff run, what the key drivers have been (aside from McDavid), and what the weak spots are. We also talked about the impact this playoff run will have on the Oiler’s decision-making process in the off-season, especially with some key RFA players like McLeod, Puljujärvi and Yamamoto needing contracts. And we discussed why the Oilers should be changing their overall approach in constructing a roster and managing the cap, and being cautious with signing Kane to a long-term deal.
Another incredible series for Connor McDavid. The Oilers were dominant whenever he was on the ice at even-stregnth (5v5), outscoring the Flames 14-5 over the course of the series. Remove that first game, and the Oilers outscored the Flames 10-1 in games two to five with McDavid on the ice. Just outstanding.
And while the Oilers thrived with McDavid, the Flames really faltered because their star players struggled. Gaudreau, who had an incredible regular season, posted an on-ice goal-differential of -3 (4 GF, 7 GA) at even-strength, a 36% goal-share. In games two to five, Gaudreau’s on-ice goal-share was only 25% (2 GF, 6 GA) – posting a 53% Corsi For percentage, but only a 48% expected goals-for percentage. These are significant drops from his on-ice numbers in the regular season, when the Flames posted shot-share numbers above 58%, including an expected goal-share of 60% with Gaudreau on the ice.
Here’s how the two teams performed in the second round at even-strength (5v5):
Expected Goals For%
While it looks like the Oilers were out-shot by the Flames, it becomes evident when you dig into the data that the Oilers were the much better team when it came to generating quality chances as reflected in their expected goals for percentage, and they gradually improved over the course of the series.
Calgary put more emphasis on quantity, taking shots from lower probability scoring areas and trying to generate more rebounds and second chances. Their tactics did seem to be effective as their team shooting percentage was at 10%, slightly higher than what they posted in the regular season (8.52%, which is around league average) and more than double what their shooting percentage was against Dallas in the first round (4.65%).
And make no mistake, the Oilers goaltending was pretty poor against Calgary, with Mike Smith posting a 5v5 save percentage of 90.2% and a -1.65 GSAA. It was a concern heading into the series as the numbers he had posted in the first round were higher than expected, so regression was going to catch up eventually. Just never know when it’ll happen and how much will occur. The only saving grace for the Oilers is that Jacob Markstrom was significantly worse in the series, posting a 5v5 save percentage of 83.9% and a GSAA of -9.15. Both goalies were around the 92.5% mark in the regular season.
Here’s how the Oilers forwards and defencemen did against the Flames.
Pretty evident that McDavid was the key driver for the Oilers success this season, as the club out-scored the Flames 14-5 with him on the ice, but were out-scored 5-10 without him. And the Oilers struggled to generate shots and scoring chances without him over the course of the series, posting a Corsi For% of 39.60% and an Expected Goals For% of 44.27% . Having said that, the Oilers did gradually improve without McDavid, posting an Expected Goals For% over 52% in games four and five – something they can hhopefully build off of heading into their series against Colorado.
Expected Goals For% (5v5)
One player that stood out to me in the series against the Flames was Ryan McLeod who played against varying levels of competition, and posted a Corsi For% of 55% and an Expected Goals For% of 60%. In game five on the road in Calgary, McLeod playing just under five minutes against Gaudreau (about 38% of his total 5v5 ice time), and posted a Corsi For% of 76% (10 CF, 3 CA) and an Expected Goals For% of 85%. That’s the productivity the Oilers will need from McLeod and his linemates if they want to have success against Colorado. And if Nugent-Hopkins can continue anchoring a second line with Hyman and Puljujarvi, and if the Oilers can get league average goaltending, it should be a competitive series.
With the second round about to start, a quick look at how all of the playoff teams performed up until this point. The table below has each team’s even-strength (5v5) shot-share numbers, goal-share, team shooting percentage and team save percentage from the first round, and is sorted by goal-share. I’ve also included each team’s special team numbers, which includes their rate of unblocked shot attempts for (Fenwicks) on the powerplay (PP FF/60) and their rate of goal-scoring per hour (PP GF/60). And also the rate of unblocked shot attempts against on the penalty kill (PK FA/60) and the rate of goals-against per hour (PK GA/60).
We know the Oilers did well in terms of shot-share metrics at even-strength (5v5) in their series against the Kings, thanks in large part to the play of McDavid. Aside from their inability to out-shoot and out-chance the Kings without McDavid on the ice, the team’s overal shooting percentage was also below what they had posted in the final twenty five games of the regular season (9.01%) – an indication that their other top line players are struggling or injured.
The other concern for Edmonton heading into their series against Calgary is that the Flames have performed quite well with and without their top line on the ice – both in the regular season and so far in the playoffs. In the last twenty five games of the regular season, the Flames top line featuring Johnny Gaudreau dominated at even-strength, posting some of the best shot share numbers in the league and a Goals For percentage of 68.29%. Without their top line, the Flames shot-share numbers were still excellent, and they out-scored opponents 34-30, a goal-share of 53%.
Flames (5v5) Final 25
Expected Goals For%
The Flames shooting percentage took a major hit in the first round against the Stars thanks to a strong performance from goaltender Jake Oettinger. And that included the top line who saw their on-ice shooting percentage fall from 12.77% at the end of the regular season to 6.65% against Dallas in the first round. Similar issues for the team when the depth players took to the ice as their shooting percentage dropped from 6.88% in the regular season to 3.53% against the Stars. But as we see in the table below, the Flames continued to dominate the Stars when it came to controlling possession and scoring chances as reflected by their strong shot-share numbers. And the Oilers should probably expect the same in the 60-65% of 5v5 ice time when McDavid isn’t on the ice. The Flames have a more talented roster than the Kings, so it’ll be imperative that the Oilers depth players prevent as much bleeding as possible.
Flames (5v5) vs Dallas
Expected Goals For%
Something else to monitor is the special teams.
While the Oilers penalty kill had outstanding results against the Kings allowing only 3 goals in 44 minutes (4.10 goals against per hour), they allowed one of the highest rates of shots and scoring chances against and relied on their goaltender to bail them out – an issue that’s carried over from the regular season. The Kings are a heavy shooting team as indicated by their rate of shot attempts in the regular season, so that might have inflated numbers. But knowing Smith’s past performance and injury issues, I’d be a little concerned if his work load remains high. And it’s something the Oilers should expect considering the Flames generated the third highest rate of shot attempts on the powerplay in the regular season, and they maintained those numbers in their series against the Stars.
Also worth noting that the Flames penalty kill in the regular season was excellent, as they allowed the third lowest rate of shots against in the league and the sixth lowest rate of goals against – and they peformed quite well against Dallas. The Oilers though appear to have the Flames number, as they scored 7 powerplay goals against them in the regular season – at a rate of 18.71 goals per hour.
Lastly, the goaltending.
Mike Smith posted solid numbers in the first round, posting a 93.70 save percentage and a +2.61 GSAA, third highest among the 17 goalies who played at least 100 5v5 minutes in the first round. The question now is if he can maintain these levels through another series, especially against a good possession team that can generate offence in waves and across more than one line.
Here’s how the Oilers team 5v5 save percentage, in rolling seven-game segmenets, looked in the regular season. I’ve added a blue line to show what the team’s save percentage has been so far in the playoffs.
What we see here is that the Oilers goaltending has shown spurts over seven game sets, but it’s typically regressed to league average levels soon after, which is what I would expect over the next series against a team like Calgary. Being league-average is still good and can win you games. It just won’t steal you some wins when the rest of the roster might be struggling. I have a feeling the Oilers will need that considering the injuries and the lack of production without McDavid on the ice. So hopefully Smith, or Koskinen if need-be, are up to the task.
Can’t say enough about Connor McDavid’s performance in the series against Los Angeles. Over the seven games, the Kings had no answers for McDavid, as the Oilers dominated puck possession at even-strength (Corsi For% of 63%) and the share of scoring chances (Expected Goals For% of 73%) with him on the ice. The results: in the full series, the Oilers outscored the Kings 11-4 at 5v5 with McDavid, and 5-1 in the two must win-games.
The Oilers struggled without McDavid on the ice, regularly getting out-shot and out-chanced, posting shot-share numbers below 48%. Four of the five goals they managed to score happened in the Oilers 8-2 blowout of the Kings in game 3. Between games four and seven, which included the two must-win games, the Oilers scored 0 even-strength goals without McDavid on the ice and allowed four.
Oilers (5v5) Round 1
Expected Goals For%
There were games in the series where the Oilers did out-shoot the Kings without McDavid on the ice, as shown in the graph below. The problem is that they when they did control the flow of play in games and keep pressure in the offensive zone, they couldn’t convert those into actual goals – an indication that key players like Draisaitl have been playing hurt since the end of the regular season.
The Oilers were clearly struggling between games one to five, so it wasn’t susprising to see McDavid play over 42% of the team’s total 5v5 time in games six and seven – an increase from the 33% share he saw over the first five games of the series and over the course of the regular season. It’ll be interesting to see if Woodcroft continues deploying McDavid excessively, or if he tries to scale things back in games one and two against Calgary to see if the rest of the roster can find their production. McDavid is just playing at such a high level right now, and we know others are playing hurt, so it’s hard to imagine his share of 5v5 ice time go anywhere below 35%.
Quick summary of how the two teams matched up over the seven game set.
Los Angeles Kings
Expected Goals For%
The issue for the Kings in the regular season was their lack of finish and it definitely carried over in the playoffs. In the final twenty five games of the regular season, their 6.99% shooting percentage was the worst in the western conference, only slightly better than the 6.58% they posted over the seven game series. Their goaltending was better in the playoffs than it was in the regular season – which didn’t susprise me considering Quick’s numbers were actually pretty solid over the final stretch of the regular season.
Smith was solid too, posting a +2.61 GSAA, third highest among the 17 goalies who played at least 100 5v5 minutes in the first round. And just ahead of Quick who ranked fifth overall with a +2.22 GSAA.
And finally a quick summary of how the individual players performed over the seven games.
Worth repeating again that Draisaitl and Hyman shouldn’t be playing together. In 56 minutes at 5v5, they were crushed by the Kings, posting a Corsi For% of 41.50%, an Expected Goals For% of 34%, and getting outscored 5-1. Playing away from Hyman on a line with McDavid, things are a lot better for Leon as he’s posting stronger shot-share numbers (61% Corsi For and 70% Expected Goals For) and a +2 goal differential. And Hyman I think is bound to break-out soon – he’s been difficult to play against and posting similar on-ice shot-share numbers to Draisaitl’s.