After the Oilers won the draft lottery in 2015, the goal was simple: build a competitive roster around your generational talent and start contending for championships as soon as possible. Assemble a coaching staff, enhance your hockey operations department, draft and develop players – the standard items part of any professional hockey team’s plans. The Oilers, however, had the added advantage of having a good cluster of talent featuring an elite player.

Instead what the Oilers did was make a long series of roster decisions that were clearly misinformed and lacked the proper foresight. Peter Chiarelli failed to assess/identify talent, properly evaluate the player market, manage his team’s salary cap and calculate the risk involved in his moves. Every single one of his decisions served as an example of one or more of these managerial flaws.

What’s especially troubling – I think even more so than some of the decisions themselves – was the fact that an entire hockey operations department supported these decisions, and were part of the environment that allowed this level of incompetence to continue driving decisions. So much damage could have been prevented had someone internally been properly monitoring and assessing Chiarelli’s work.

While it’s a relief that Chiarelli is no longer the general manager, the Edmonton Oilers now have a lot of work to do to pursue a championship. And I don’t think traditional hockey-operation-methods is what’s going to get them out of this hole. The Oilers really need to take a more drastic, more innovative approach that will make them competitive and steer them towards their goals.

For example, rather than hire an individual who was a former player or who has been serving as a scout or assistant general manager in the league, the club should look outside of the traditional hockey circles and construct a hockey operations department with people who have extensive decision-making experience and understand how to manage finances, and evaluate labor markets and risks. A general manager needs to understand what it takes to make evidence-based decisions, and how to identify and collect necessary information.

I fully get that hockey isn’t even close to where baseball is in terms of progressive, outside-the-box thinking. But I think it’s that type of mindset that I think will turn the Edmonton Oilers around.

One last note: I’m glad people are finally recognizing how poorly Chiarelli managed this team. But the early warning signs were there and were regularly discussed and documented by those paying careful attention and willing to think critically. Hopefully we’ll see less appeals-to-authority when discussing the game and hear more individual opinions based on sound logic and reasoning. Hockey discussions can be a lot more valuable that way.

ICYMI: I joined host Tanara McLean on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss Chiarelli’s dismissal. Clip is here and starts at the 7:00 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, January 23)

I also joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to discuss this topic. Full audio clip is here: More Change for the OilersCBC Radio Active (2019, January 23)

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CBC Edmonton News (TV): Re-cap of the win in Vancouver, competition for the wild card spot and potential trade options

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Alicia Asquith on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 19:25 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, January 17)

Topics we covered:

  • Wednesday night’s shoot-out win against the Vancouver Canucks.
  • The western conference playoff race and who the Oilers are competing with for a wild card spot.
  • With 14 games left before the trade deadline, we discussed the potential trade options, including Spooner, Talbot, Puljujarvi and the 2019 first round pick.
  • Preview of Saturday night’s game against the Flames.

Big thank you to everyone at CBC for putting it all together.


Playoff aspirations

coppernblue.com.full.54273Heading into their game against Arizona, the Edmonton Oilers rank fifth in the Pacific and sit just two points out of a wild card playoff spot. They’ve accumulated 45 points in 44 games (going 21-20-3) – a points percentage of 51.1%. Worth noting that the league average points percentage is 55.5%.

At even-strength (5v5), the Oilers have a goal-share of 46.34% (76 GF, 88 GA), which ranks 24th overall and 12th in the west. The Oilers powerplay (5v4) ranks 10th in the league, scoring 8.04 goals-for per hour. And the penalty kill (4v5) ranks 16th in the league, allowing 7.03 goals-against per hour. The Oilers are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, scoring 2.75 goals per game and allow the eighth highest rate of goals against (3.18).

Those are pretty lousy results, due in large part to a lack of scoring depth up front, and goaltending that is currently below average (89.66% team save percentage, 24th in the league). It’s pretty surprising that despite their poor results this season, including some extended slumps, the Oilers are only two points out of a wild card spot.

So the question becomes: is this team a real contender for the playoffs?

We can look at what the results have been, determine the rate at which they’re collecting points, and simply extrapolate it out to 82 games. Assuming the team continues at the pace that they’re currently going, collecting 45 points over their first 44 games, you can make a rough estimate that the Oilers are on pace to finish with somewhere around 82 to 85 points. This of course would be well below what previous wild card teams have finished with in the west. Last season, the Kings finished with 98 points and the Avalanche finished with 95. In 2016/17, the Flames and Predators finished with 94 points.

The problem right now for the Oilers is that there’s nothing about their results, their underlying shot-share metrics (which we can use to predict future results) or their roster talent that indicates they have the ability to go on a significant run over the remaining 37 games and secure a playoff spot.

The Oilers currently rank in the bottom third of the league when it comes to possession metrics (i.e., Corsi), as well as their proportion of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, which is used as a proxy for shot quality). They’ve struggled on both sides of the puck, generating very few scoring chances and high danger shot attempts, and allowing one of the highest rates against. The club has trended downward as the season has wore on, posting a 46.68% Corsi-for percentage (29th overall) and a 46.20% Fenwick-for percentage (28th overall) over their last 25 games.

It’s also worth comparing the Oilers to the other western conference teams that are currently competing for a wild card spot. Below are each team’s results and underlying shot-share metrics over the last 25 games. I’ve also included the player driven factors – team shooting percentage and team save percentage – as well as the team PDO which gives us a sense of how lucky or unlucky each club has been.

Team Colorado Minnesota Anaheim Edmonton Vancouver
Corsi-for% 51.49 51.65 49.44 46.68 47.98
Fenwick-for% 51.44 52.56 49.35 46.20 48.03
Scoring chances for% 54.41 54.49 47.99 45.56 44.69
High-danger Corsi-for% 50.54 57.79 46.20 40.90 45.37
Goals-for% 45.92 46.88 49.44 45.63 47.73
Shooting% 6.77 6.86 7.31 8.61 7.55
Save% 91.45 90.73 92.79 91.34 92.51
PDO 0.982 0.976 1.001 1.000 1.001

Of the five teams who are currently in the playoff race, the Oilers have the worst proportion of shot attempts-for and scoring chances-for – outcomes that are largely dependent on the coaching staff and the roster constructed by management. These results really don’t give us a lot of confidence that their future goal-share will improve and be above 50.0%. Unless of course the team shooting percentage jumps ahead of league averages or their goaltending suddenly becomes red-hot – factors that are largely outside of the control of the coaching staff and management.

What’s interesting is that the Avalanche, who are in a brutal slump right now, with only two wins in their last ten, have good underlying possession numbers but are struggling to convert that into goals. Considering the talent they have, and the results they were getting earlier in the season, I’d expect that to gradually improve. Minnesota is another team whose results could gradually improve considering how good they’ve been at generating and preventing shots and scoring chances, but their goaltending has been dragging their results down.

It’ll be interesting to see how this playoff race turns out. The Oilers are definitely in it, and have the high-end talent to drive overall results. Unfortunately, they lack scoring depth up front and haven’t been the same offensively without Klefbom. It’s going to be really important for the Oilers to properly assess their situation and be realistic about their playoff chances. The last thing they need to do is make a decision based on results that are a mirage, and do something that hinders their long-term goal of winning a championship. Unfortunately, it’s been management’s lack of foresight and flawed decision-making process which has them in this situation – where they’ll be dependent on their players producing well above their career norms and league averages to make the playoffs.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Full article is posted at The Copper & Blue.

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Re-cap of the Pacific road trip, scoring problems, Chiarelli’s mismanagement and playoff chances

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Alicia Asquith on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 17:20 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, January 10)

Topics we covered:

  • Re-cap of their 7-2 loss against the Sharks.
  • The Oilers scoring problems and what their options are to improve their offence.
  • Peter Chiarelli’s complete mismanagement of the roster.
  • Realistic chances of making the playoffs.
  • Preview of tonight’s game against Florida.

Paying attention

klefbom - injury

Since Oscar Klefbom’s injury, the Oilers have gone 3-7-1, collecting seven points in eleven games – a 0.318 points percentage, third worst in the league.

Below are the team’s underlying numbers, each of which have ranked in the bottom five league-wide. So not only have the results been bad (42.00% goal-share, and a -8 goal differential), but the key drivers to success such as possession (Corsi), shot quality (Fenwick) and scoring chances have been poor as well.

Edmonton Oilers (5v5), last 11 games
Goals For% 42.00%
Corsi For% 44.41%
Fenwick For% 41.86%
Scoring Chances For% 44.99%

Worth noting that the Oilers combination of player driven outputs like shooting percentage and save percentage at even-strength (5v5) can’t be blamed for this recent stretch. The team save percentage has taken a dip to 90.71, which is below league average and something that was expected considering how hot the goaltending was running. However the team shooting percentage has been above league average – 9.42%. That’s a total PDO of 100.1.

Obviously a big factor in all of this is the injury to Klefbom who had bounced back from an injury plagued 2017/18 season and was the Oilers best defenceman over the first 31 games. He was playing in all situations, against top competition and posting excellent numbers. With Klefbom on the ice, the Oiler’s controlled more of the play and were often getting more opportunities in the offensive zone, which were reflected in his on-ice numbers.

20190106 - Klefbom.png

With that in mind, it’s not all that surprising to see how badly the team’s shot-share numbers have cratered without Klefbom and with increased minutes for Darnell Nurse, whose on-ice numbers from the first 31 games are almost the complete opposite from Klefbom’s (more on that later).

I’ve plotted out the team’s rolling 10-game Fenwick For%, which captures the Oilers share of unblocked shot attempts, a good proxy for shot quality and is used to predict future goal-share. You can see that the team started taking a slide at the 31 game mark when Klefbom was hurt.

20190106 - rolling fenwick rates

Now if you lost your best defenceman, who is known for his offensive ability, who skates well and who can make passes up to the forwards – and your results have been garbage after his injury – what type of player should you try to replace his minutes with? And if you need to enter the trade market, what should you be shopping for?

The Oilers decided on December 31st, after seven games without Klefbom, after increasing Nurse’s minutes and seeing him struggle, that what they needed most were stay-at-home defencemen. They decided to look at the goal metrics, a highly volatile metric that doesn’t predict future goal-share very well, focusing on the 31 goals against in seven games. They moved away future assets to address this need, which was based on a metric that doesn’t correlate with future goal-share and wins, including a draft pick in the top 100 and valuable cap space for next season.

Had they looked at the team’s shot-share metrics with and without Klefbom in the line-up as part of their information gathering, they may have come away with a different conclusion and focused on addressing their real problem.

Below is the team’s rate of unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick) for and against per hour, broke out into rolling 10-game segments. I’ve chosen Fenwick for this exercise as defencemen have a greater impact on these numbers, as it excludes blocked shot attempts. I’ve also included a black line to represent the league average for both Fenwick-for and Fenwick-against per hour, which is currently 42.5.

20190106 - rolling fenwick rates

Here we see both rates, for and against, hover around the league average until around the 31 game mark. From that point, the rate of unblocked shot attempts against actually continues hovering around the league average and only gradually increases. In fact, after 42 games, the Oilers rank 17th in the league in Fenwick-against per hour, with 42.5 – the league average.

The unblocked shot rates for, on the other hand, is what took a bigger hit after Klefbom was hurt in game 31. The team has struggled since offensively, posting a league worst 33.4 Fenwick-for per hour in their last 11 games, deviating much further from the league average (42.5) than their rate of Fenwick-against (46.4).

So while it’s true that the team had allowed 31 goals in those seven games that triggered a trade, it’s largely because the team could not sustain any offence in the opponents zone – something that Klefbom had a big impact on.

It’s been fairly obvious for some time now, dating back a few seasons, that the Oilers do not have the depth to replace Klefbom’s unique skill set. Nurse saw his minutes increase in Klefbom’s absence but his performance has been poor, something that was expected considering how much he struggled in the first 31 games this season.

20190106 - nurse

Put another way, in the first 31 games, the Oilers rate of Fenwick-for per hour increased by 4.15 with Klefbom on the ice but dropped by 5.80 with Nurse on the ice. When it came to the team’s rate of Fenwick-against per hour – it dropped by 3.03 with Klefbom on the ice, but jumped up by 4.0 with Nurse on the ice. This current issue is a good reminder that Nurse is best suited for lesser minutes in more of a depth role. And that the team needs to continue identifying and developing offensive defencemen, some of which appear to be in the system.

This current issue is also a good reminder that the Oilers continue to base their roster decisions on poor and shallow information, and have continued to bleed assets chasing solutions for problems that don’t exist. The two new defencemen, one of which has been healthy scratched already, aren’t going to solve the Oilers offensive problems, no matter how tough or “mean” they are. The solution now is for Klefbom to return to the line-up and for the team to change how they assess team defence and better understand its importance to goal scoring.

Until then expect their underlying shot-share and results to stay the same.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Focusing on scoring chances

coppernblue.com.full.54273One of the interesting underlying trends this season, aside from their rapidly declining shot-share numbers, is the Oilers rate of scoring chances for and against at even-strength. They currently rank 23rd in the league when it comes to their share of the total scoring chances (SCF%) with 47.76%, generating 25.01 scoring chances per hour (21st in the league) and allowing 27.35 per hour (22nd). Note that the scoring chance data used here is based on Natural Stat Trick’s definition of the metric, which you can read more about on their glossary page.

Below is the Oiler’s share of scoring chances this season at even-strength, in rolling 10-game segments to demonstrate the trend. I’ve also included the team’s declining shot-share, specifically Fenwick For (or unblocked shot attempts), which is used often as a proxy for shot quality. Fenwick data is much larger of a sample size than scoring chances, and can give us a little more confidence in our interpretation of the publicly available scoring chance data.

20190104 - scoring chance and fenwick trend

The Oilers rate of scoring chances for and against have gotten worse since Hitchcock arrived, with the team’s overall numbers taking a hit after he replaced McLellan behind the bench and taking another hit after Klefbom was hurt. Below is the team’s rate of scoring chances for and against per hour broken out by rolling 10-game segments, which gives us a better idea of what the trend has been like over the first forty games this season.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Re-cap of last night’s win, impact of Klefbom’s injury and the Oilers results under Hitchcock

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Tanara McLean on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 14:00 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, January 3)

Topics we covered:

  • Last night’s win in Arizona to start the road trip and the keys to success.
  • The impact of losing Klefbom to injury, and Nurse’s struggles with more ice time.
  • The Oilers under Hitchcock and the impact goaltending has had to the team’s results.
  • The recent transactions and what can be expected from the new defencemen.

Big thank you as always to the crew for putting it all together.