Tunnel vision

coppernblue.com.full.54273After watching their playoff aspirations gradually slip away and becoming seller’s at the trade deadline, the Oilers had no other option but to begin a period of evaluation to close the 2017/18 season. After trading away forwards Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu, changes were expected to the group up front including an altered distribution of ice-time as well as roles on the team. And based on the transactions that the Oilers made this off-season and some of the early updates coming out of training camp, it appears that the final stretch of the 2017/18 season had an impact on the management team’s approach towards building their roster.

For one, the Oilers seem content on running the top line that produced so well over the final 12 games, and for good reason. The trio of Connor McDavid, Ty Rattie and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played 128 minutes together at even-strength (5v5) during this period outscoring opponents 13-7, a fantastic goal share of 65.0%. Their on-ice possession numbers together were fine (51.34% Corsi For percentage) and their shooting percentage clicked at 18.57%, indicating that they may have been getting a little lucky in terms of actual production. Mind you, McDavid has the superhuman ability to drive up scoring, so we’ll wait and see if this was a one-off or if the line can continue scoring at a rate of 6.0 goals per hour.

It also looks like the Oilers want to keep Ryan Strome as a center with Jesse Puljujarvi as his right winger (Source). Over the final month of the 2017/18 season, the two were deployed often together at even-strength along with Milan Lucic in third a line role, posting some pretty good possession numbers (52.84% Corsi For percentage) over 89 minutes. Unfortunately, they couldn’t translate this into actual goals, finishing the season with a 50% on-ice goal-share (2 GF, 2 GA), and a pretty lousy rate of 1.34 goals for per hour. Early reports from training camps indicate that it’ll be Jujhar Khaira instead of Lucic with Strome and Puljujarvi, which makes sense based on another issue that transpired in 2017/18.

If you recall, Khaira was being tested by the coaching staff as a fourth line center over the final month of the season. But unfortunately for him, the results were dreadful. As a centerman, Khaira’s on-ice goal-share was 20.0%, as the team got outscored 4-1 at even-strength with him on the ice. This was thanks in large part to some poor possession numbers, as his on-ice Corsi For percentage was just barely above 44% over 123 minutes of ice time. His most regular linemates to close the year included the likes of Anton Slepyshev, Zack Kassian, Yohann Auvitu, Pontus Aberg and Iiro Pakarinen.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

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Looking to Winnipeg for inspiration

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With so much parity in the NHL due to the cap system and a higher distribution of talent across the 31 franchises, it’s always easy to find reasonable comparables for any club. There’s always a team to emulate or a model to follow, and it’s informative to look back a season or two and seek out some much needed guidance or inspiration.

For the 14 clubs that missed the playoffs in 2017/18, it’s worth knowing who else missed the playoffs in previous seasons but bounced back their following season. It’s worth exploring how they did it, and if it’s at all possible to emulate their success. And with their elevation to contender status – largely due to a productive set of core players, scoring depth, good goaltending and a talented prospect pool – the Winnipeg Jets are currently providing a blueprint. And it’s a blueprint not only for teams that want to contend for a championship, but for those just trying to make the playoffs after missing out the season before.

McDavid isn’t too far off here. In 2015/16 the Jets finished last in their division with a 35-39-8 record, good for 78 points. That’s an identical point total to the 2017/18 Oilers who finished 63-40-6, 12th the West and 6th in the Pacific. Worth noting that  while the point totals were the same, the Oilers had a slightly worse goal differential finishing -29.

But I think we get young Connor’s main point here. The Jets went from last in their division to being one of the best in the league, making it to the conference finals in the 2018 playoffs. And along the way they created a template for other franchises to follow.

Season Record Points Goal Differential West Division
2015/16 35-39-8 78 -24 11th 7th
2016/17 40-35-7 87 -7 9th 5th
2017/18 52-20-10 114 +59 2nd 2nd

What’s interesting is that while the Jets are currently in a much better position for long term success, they did at one point did share some similarities to the disastrous 2017/18 Oilers.

The first thing that jumps out is the poor goaltending each team had to deal with at even-strength (5v5). Both clubs were right around the league average when it came to adjusted Corsi For% (a proxy for possession) as well as the rate of goals for per hour. What really sunk them were their goaltenders, as both the 2015/16 Jets and the 2017/18 Oilers ranked 23rd overall in their respective seasons when it came to the team save percentage at even-strength.

The next thing that jumps out are the special teams. We know how bad the Oilers were in 2017/18 on the powerplay and the penalty kill. What’s interesting is that the Jets were just as pitiful.

In 2015/16, the Jets finished the season with a poor scoring rate of 5.25 goals for per hour on the powerplay (5v4), ranking 28th in the league. And on the penalty kill (4v5), they allowed 7.84 goals against per hour, also 28th in the league, thanks in large part to a 23rd ranked team save percentage and the third highest rate of shots and scoring chances against per hour. This had to have been maddening for the coaches as they seemed to have an okay handle at even-strength, finishing the season with a 51.0% adjusted Corsi For percentage and a 50.0% share of the goals when five-on-five.

The Jets still had issues with goaltending and special teams the following season in 2016/17. The overall point total improved, but it could’ve been significantly better had their goaltending at even-strength been closer to league average and not 27th overall. Scoring goals again wasn’t an issue in 2016/17 for the Jets as they scored at a rate of 2.42 goals per hour, good for 11th in the league. But they just didn’t get strong enough goaltending.

And special teams continued to be a problem in 2016/17 for the Jets. They finished 23rd overall on the powerplay, scoring 5.79 goals per hour. And they finished 25th in the league on the penalty kill allowing 7.56 goals against per hour. Even though the Jets moved closer to league average when it came to the rate of shots and scoring chances against when shorthanded, goaltending again was a problem as the club finished 24th in the league when it came to team save percentage.

Fast forward to 2017/18 and the Jets showed significant improvement on special teams. They finished the season scoring 7.95 goals per hour on the powerplay – fifth best the league – due in large part to having a triggerman like Patrick Laine. And on the penalty kill, they had the sixth best rate of goals against with 6.00 per hour. This was largely on the back of the their goaltending which finished tops in the league shorthanded even though the club allowed a high rate of shots and scoring chances against.

So to re-cap, if the Oilers want to follow the Jets path, they’ll need their goaltending to be above league average and they’ll need their special teams to produce and not be a drag on their overall goaltending. Management has brought in a Mikko Koskinen to hopefully alleviate some of the workload off of goaltender Cam Talbot who has struggled. And there has been significant change to the coaching staff, with Trent Yawney being added to apply his experience from Anaheim where they had one of the better penalty kills in the league (even though it was largely due to goaltending). And they’ve added Manny Viveiros, who has had success with the powerplay on his previous teams.

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The other item worth mentioning is the scoring talent the Jets have and how the Oilers intend on replicating their output.

A big reason why the Jets were able to push the needle from a -7 goal differential in 2016/17 to a +59 the following season was because of Patrick Laine as well as the emergence of Kyle Connor. The former is a bonafide star player, selected second overall in 2016, while the latter was selected 17th overall in 2015 and required some time in the AHL. Combine these two with the likes of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers, among others, and you have plenty of scoring talent that could be spread across three scoring lines.

Worth noting that the Jets went from having only three players with 20 goals or more in 2015/16  – Scheifele (29), Wheeler (26), Stafford (21) – to five in 2017/18 – Laine (44), Connor (31), Ehlers (29), Wheeler (23), Scheifele (23).

In 2017/18, the Oilers had only three players that scored 20 goals or more: Connor McDavid (41), Leon Draisaitl (25) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (24). When the Oilers finished with 103 points the previous season, they had five players with 20 goals or more: McDavid (30), Draisaitl (29), Maroon (27), Lucic (23) and Eberle (20).

The question for the Oilers: which of the current prospects is going to emerge and provide some much needed offence for the Oilers in 2018/19? You can make a case for either of  Jesse Puljujärvi or Kailer Yamamoto to score 20-25 goals with the disclaimer that they’ll need a talented centerman and time on the powerplay. But if neither pans out, or produces like Kyle Connor and helps the team ice three scoring lines, it’s going to be another season struggling for a wild card spot. And another season outside of the contender discussion.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Database

Slight digression: One of my favorite things about hockey analysis and writing is the continuous learning involved. It feels like any game, any play, any stat, any comment from a coach or player could spark an idea worth exploring further. And while you may not always bring out something significant through your analysis or fact checking, you pick up bits of information along the way. Things you may not have known about or thought you knew about but were completely wrong.

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Oilers rookie camp, off-season moves, Nurse contract and more

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Sandra Batson on the CBC Edmonton News  to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 14:00 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, September 6)

Topics we covered:

  • Oilers rookie camp opening and players to watch including Bouchard, Bear, Yamamoto and Lagesson.  Good chance we’ll see some of these players push for spots on the main roster.
  • The quiet off-season for Peter Chiarelli, largely due to the fact that the team is up against the cap.
  • The new additions to the roster, including Brodziak, Rieder and Gravel and PTO deals for Upshall and Garrison. Players to watch are goaltender Mikko Koskinen and defenceman Jakub Jerabek, both of which could address some big issues from 2017/18.
  • The loss of Andrej Sekera and what options the Oilers have to address their blueline.
  • Darnell Nurse contract negotiations, and the Oilers poor foresight that landed them in this position. Had they managed the cap better, and used their leverage when negotiating previous contracts, there’s a good chance one of their key prospects would be signed by now.

I also hopped on to CBC radio and joined Adrienne Pan and Rod Kurtz to talk Oilers. I’ll post the clip once it’s available.

A big thank you to the crew for putting it all together! I’m excited to be back for my third season with the CBC Edmonton News. 😉

Thoughts on the upcoming 2018/19 season

coppernblue.com.full.54273There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the Edmonton Oilers this upcoming season.

After a dreadful 2017/18 season, largely sunk by poor special teams, goaltending and a lack of scoring depth, the franchise desperately needs to have positive results. Expectations of winning a Stanley Cup may not be there, which is unfortunate and frustrating, but they do need to contend for a playoff spot. It’s what management needs. It’s what the head coach needs. And with the best player in the world on the roster, it’s what the league needs.

Related: Squad Goals – The SuperFan (2018, April 8)

To recap, the Oilers finished the 2017/18 season with a -29 goal differential (all situations), finishing 6th in the Pacific and 12th in the Western Conference.

  • At even-strength (5v5), they posted a -13 goal differential scoring 163 goals and allowing 176. The number of goals-for was actually pretty good – they finished 11th in the league and only three away from their total in 2016/17. It was their goals-against that was the issue, largely due to their 23rd ranked team save percentage (91.79%). Had they received league average goaltending (92.26%), they would’ve allowed 10 fewer goals.
  • On the powerplay (5v4), they scored only 30 goals running at a league-worst rate of 5.12 goals per hour. They only converted on 9.09% of their shots, well below the league average of 12.69%. Had the Oilers team shooting percentage been league average, they would’ve scored 11 more goals on the powerplay – a goals per hour rate of 7.15 – which would have been right around the league average last season (6.96).
  • And on the penalty kill (4v5), they were one of the worst teams in the league allowing 56 goals at a rate of 8.47 goals against per hour, thanks in large part to a 30th ranked team save percentage of 82.72%. Had the Oilers received league average goaltending (87.14), they would’ve allowed 14 fewer goals.
  • In short, a -29 goal differential would’ve improved to an estimated +6 goal differential had the Oilers special teams and depth been better and if the goaltending was league average. Those were the key factors keeping them out of a playoff race in 2017/18.

Due to some of the questionable moves management has made since the new regime arrived, the Oilers are in a spot now where they may not be the worst team in the league, but they don’t have enough proven talent to be in the championship contender discussion either. The team has glaring holes up front and on the blue line, and are hoping – for the second off-season season in a row – for their younger prospects to emerge as productive NHL players.

This leaves us with a 2018/19 regular season that may end up being a lot like this off-season: low-key, quiet and just good enough to get to the finish line without any self-inflicted wounds.

The team has tried to address their special teams by making significant changes to the coaching staff. And they’ve tried to address their goaltending by potentially reducing Cam Talbot’s workload. However it remains to be seen what the Oilers have in Mikko Koskinen, an expensive backup option and unproven talent at the NHL level. Up front and on the blueline, they’ll need more than a few of their younger players and possibly even prospects to step into significant roles – a risk that the Oilers can afford to take since they’re not contending for a championship this season.

The club is going to hope that the core players stay healthy and productive, the goaltending bounces back to league-average levels and that the younger players continue to develop at the appropriate levels. The end goal is a playoff spot – whether it’s clinched in January or April – and that the team shows enough progress to put themselves in the championship contender discussion next off-season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

 

Preventing goals might be a problem next season for the Oilers

coppernblue.com.full.54273It should come as no surprise that one of the Oilers biggest issues in the 2017/18 regular season were the number of goals against. Now a lot of the damage was done when the Oilers were on the penalty kill, as the club finished 27th in the league, and allowed one of the highest rates of scoring chances against when shorthanded. But it was also at even-strength (5v5) when the team struggled, allowing 176 goals – the fifth highest in the league – with a rate of 2.62 goals against per 60. What’s especially disheartening is that the Oilers actually scored 161 even-strength (5v5) goals this past season, 12th best in the league, and only four goals less than the season prior when they finished second in the Pacific division.

Needless to say, team defence was a significant issue. Not only were the goals against pouring in at even-strength, but the Oilers were also one of the worst teams in the league when it came to the rate of high-danger shots against, as well as the rate of scoring chances against. Another metric that captured the Oilers deficiencies on the defensive side of the puck was the rate of expected goals against (xGA), a weighting placed on every unblocked shot against based on the historical probability of the shot becoming a goal, taking into account the type of shot and shot location.

What’s troubling is that team defence has been an ongoing issue for the Oilers since Chiarelli and McLellan arived in the spring of 2015. The Oilers have historically had issues with defence, but you would expect things to improve considering the number of moves the current management group has made to address the blueline, including significant trades and free agent signings.

Here’s how the Oilers have done over the last three seasons when it comes to different defensive metrics, and where they’ve ranked league wide.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Re-cap of the draft weekend, Oilers mismanagement of the cap and the free agency period

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Sandra Batson on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 17:15 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, June 28)

Topics we covered:

  • The Oilers draft weekend, and their latest crop of prospects including Evan Bouchard, Ryan McLeod and Olivier Rodrigue. Key thing is they kept their 10th overall pick and added to their prospect pool.
  • Expectations of Bouchard, and how he has a real chance of making the opening night roster (because Oilers).
  • Signing of Darnell Nurse and Ryan Strome, both of which received qualifying offers recently, and what to expect from them this upcoming season.
  • Free agency period and how the Oilers don’t really have the cap space to do much. We touched on the Oilers inability to manage the cap well, including some of the bloated contracts that they’ve handed out.
  • Bargain bin shopping this summer, and why someone like Tobias Rieder might be a good fit for the Oilers.

Thank you as always to the group at CBC for putting it all together!

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Re-cap of the NHL Awards, draft weekend and recent signings

cbc edmonton logoI joined Emily Fitzpatrick on the CBC Edmonton News to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 16:30 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, June 21)

Topics we covered:

  • Re-cap of the NHL Awards in Vegas and the biggest winners (McDavid, Hall) and loser (Chiarelli). If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Jonathan’s latest at The Athletic.
  • Chiarelli’s media availability from Dallas as the Oilers get set for the draft, and the importance of keeping the 10th overall pick. Lots of good information on the draft out there including work from Brad McPherson at the Blue Bullet Report that’s worth your time.
  • The recent signings of RFA’s Drake Caggiula and Matt Benning to two-year deals. The former, I feel the Oilers overpaid, considering he was one of the worst players on the team, while the latter has a better chance of outperforming his deal.
  • Darnell Nurse’s contract situation and why the Oilers will likely have to sign him to a short-team, bridge deal.
  • Other NHL storylines to follow including Ottawa potentially trading Erik Karlsson, Milan Lucic trade rumors, Montreal’s dilemma with the third overall pick and the John Tavares issue in Long Island.