Assessing the Oilers after 25 games

An important and hopefully obvious question the Edmonton Oilers management group should be asking at this point: is this team any good?

With the trade deadline coming up and a playoff spot up for grabs, a proper evaluation of the results is critical to know which direction to take this team. I know if I was overseeing the management group, there would need to be some performance thresholds or indicators in place to determine if assets should start being spent to drive a playoff run or if it was time to make decisions geared to winning next year. There’s a lot at stake here both financially and when it comes to asset management, so it’s important to look at all of the information available and determine how good this team is and if they can be a legitimate contender or not.

In my mind, the Oilers don’t need to be a top-ranked team today, but they need to at least be playing like one and have underlying numbers similar to those posted by previous top-ranked teams. Since top-ranked teams typically finish the regular season with a 0.600 points percentage or better and are in the top ten leaguewide, it was a simple exercise to identity who the top teams were and establish some key performance indicators based on shot-based metrics that can predict future results. And by doing so, I was also able to find how league average teams did as well as bottom end teams. This way I could assess which level the Oilers are at offensively and defensively, and guide my thoughts on what course of action management should take.

Lets start with actual results at even-strength and focus on the rate of goals the Oilers are scoring and allowing this season, and their share of the total goals for and against (i.e., goals for percentage). Based on the last three regular seasons, here’s how the top teams, average teams and bottom teams have performed when it comes to goals. There’s nothing really surprising here – top teams outscore opponents and on average have a goal-share above 53%, while league average teams just break even.

Metric (5v5)Top TeamsLeague AverageBottom Teams
Goals For/602.672.452.27
Goals Against/602.312.452.59
Goals For%53.5850.0146.72

After 25 games this season, the Edmonton Oilers have a goals for percentage of 48.08%, having posted a -4 goal differential (50 goals-for, 54 goals-against). That would have them between league average levels and the levels posted by bottom end teams. Offensively, the Oilers are doing well due in large part to their top players, currently scoring 2.52 goals per hour, which is slightly above league average rates but below what top teams have posted in previous seasons. Unfortunately, the Oilers are giving it all back this year, allowing 2.72 goals against per hour, which is even worse than what bottom teams allow on average (2.59).

Goaltending has obviously been an issue, with the team posting a save percentage of 91.21%, which as we see below is closer in line to what bottom teams have posted on average in previous seasons. The Oilers shooting percentage of 8.53%, on the other hand, is closer to what top end teams have posted.

Metric (5v5)Top TeamsLeague AverageBottom Teams

So it’s clear when comparing the Oilers to previous teams that the actual results aren’t quite there yet, but are the Oilers at least playing like a top team? Are they controlling the flow of play, generating more opportunities than they are allowing, and maybe just need their goaltending to be league average to improve their spot in the standings? To do that, we’ll look at the Oilers rate of shot attempts, for and against, and the Oilers’ share of the total shot attempts for and against (i.e., Corsi), which can be used to predict future goal share (Source).

MetricTop TeamsLeague AverageBottom Teams
Corsi For/6058.4156.3754.68
Corsi Against/6054.2956.3758.5
Corsi For%51.8449.9948.29

The Oilers are currently posting a Corsi For percentage (score and venue adjusted) of 49.17%, which is just below league average levels. The team is generating 53.40 shot attempts per hour, which is slightly lower than what bottom teams have generated. And they’re allowing 55.2 shot attempts per hour, which is slightly better than league average levels. Based on the Oilers underlying shot-based metrics, there’s little indication that the club is playing like a top team and we really can’t expect their goal-share to reach 53% any time soon. And it really is no surprise that the club is getting outscored at even-strength (5v5), especially considering how badly the team gets outplayed when their depth forwards on the ice. Without McDavid or Draisailt on the ice at even-strength (5v5), or about 40% of the team’s total ice time, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For% just under 45%. Even with Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers spend more time without the puck posting a Corsi For% of 47.39%.

Even if we look at the expected goals, which measures the quality of the unblocked shots taken, it’s a similar story. The Oilers currently have an expected goals for percentage of 50.23%, generating 2.32 expected goals per hour and allowing 2.30 expected goals against. Since they’re generating a lot of chances like a top team and at the same time allowing chances like a bottom team, they land in that league-average range.

MetricTop TeamsLeague AverageBottom Teams
Expected Goals For/602.372.292.19
Expected Goals Against/602.212.292.39
Expected Goals For%51.7250.0147.86

Based on the Oilers current underlying shot-based metrics, we can confirm that the Oilers aren’t playing like a top end team and we can’t expect the results to be any better than league average if things continue this way. While there are signs of life offensively, their defensive numbers are more in line with bottom end teams of the past – something that has to be a spot of bother for the coaches and management as the club had similar issues last season.

While the Oilers could consider moving assets to improve their results, it might be in management’s best interest to hold on to their picks and prospects and find cap space for next season. I’m just not convinced that one or two moves will make a big impact at this point as their issues run a lot deeper and across the roster. There’s the goaltending that needs to be fixed, but who knows how a new netminder will do when the club is allowing a high rate of shots and chances against. There’s the issue of spending significant time playing without the puck and in the defensive zone when McDavid or Draisaitl aren’t on the ice, but who knows how much of an impact another depth forward or defenceman is going to have. The biggest issue underscoring all of this is the Oilers pro scouting department and if their player and goalie evaluation methods are ever going to improve and become a strength of the organization. This group’s results have not been good recently and you have to wonder why the Oilers would continue making million-dollar decisions based on their input.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers approach the trade deadline as it’ll give us insight on how much faith the Oilers have in their current roster to turn things around, and how desperate they are to be a contender this season. I’d rather they collet assets now by moving players whose roles are likely to be diminished next season and have internal replacements. Players like K. Russell who has seen his minutes decline, and Kassian who likely won’t be back in the top six again when he returns from injury, have value in the league – and it tends to be higher in-season when teams are gearing up for playoff runs. Whatever decisions the Oilers make, they need to have the future in mind and figure out how to consistently contend for championships.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Penalty kill progress

Spent some time looking at the powerplay last week, so might as well do a check-in on the Edmonton Oilers penalty kill. Especially with trade activity set to pick up ahead of the deadline and the Oilers looking for quality depth players who will likely be promoted as penalty kill options. Canucks forward Brandon Sutter is currently being floated around as an option for Edmonton (Edmonton Journal, The Province).

The Edmonton Oilers penalty kill has allowed 16 goals over 125 minutes this season, a rate of 7.66 goals per hour which ranks 17th in the league and fourth in the North division. The league average rate of goals over the last three seasons has been 7.17, so they haven’t been getting terrible results. In fact, over the last ten games the Oilers have allowed a rate of 5.21 goals against per hour, which is right around what they finished with last season (5.15) that ranked second best in the league.

But make no mistake, the Oilers penalty kill relies heavily on its goaltending. The Oilers have allowed some of the highest rates of shots against in the league this season, second-worst only to the Canadiens in the North division. You can use any of the shot metrics – unblocked shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger chances – they currently rank bottom ten in the league. Thankfully the goaltending has improved recently on the penalty kill, playing well above league average levels. But it’s in the Oilers best interest to do a better job suppressing shots in the likely event that the goaltending comes back down to earth and the levels they were at earlier in the season.

Worth noting here that despite the reputation for defence, Dave Tippett doesn’t exactly have a long history of penalty kill success. His teams have typically allowed higher than average rates of shots and scoring chances against, but have been bailed out a few times by strong goaltending. It’s interesting to see that the rate of shots against this season aren’t too far off from where they were last season. The only difference is that the goaltending hasn’t been as strong in 2021.

SeasonGoals against/60Fenwick Against/60Shots against/60
2009/105.66 – 6th77.51 – 24th54.51 – 19th
2010/118.12 – 26th89.35 – 30th63.84 – 30th
2011/125.20 – 8th79.6 – 29th55.62 – 27th
2012/137.53 – 22nd70.24 – 20th49.63 – 19th
2013/147.73 – 27th77.97 – 22nd57.36 – 21st
2014/158.42 – 29th86.39 – 30th62.69 – 30th
2015/168.09 – 28th71.9 – 10th50.79 – 12th
2016/178.29 – 26th80.98 – 27th53.84 – 16th
2019/205.15 – 2nd76.28 – 23rd54.84 – 22nd
2020/217.66 – 17th79.44 – 23rd59.82 – 24th

The good news is that the Oilers are seeing some progress on the penalty kill this season, as their rate of shots against has gradually been declining recently. Over the last ten games, they have been allowing closer to a league average rate of shots, and that might be due to some adjustments they’ve made to player deployment.

One player who is doing well on the penalty kill is center Gaetan Hass. Since returning from injury, he’s been getting regular playing time shorthanded averaging a little over three minutes a game. He dressed in a couple games in late January (games 11 and 12) missed five more games, but has played in the last six games. In his 24 minutes of total ice-time on the penalty kill, the Oilers have allowed one goal, and have seen their rate of shots against drop down to 37.37 per hour, which is the best on-ice rate on the team among forwards and well below the team rate of 59.82. Below are the on-ice numbers for the Oilers forwards who have played at least ten minutes on the penalty kill this season.

PlayerGPTOITOI/GPFA/60SA/60GA/60On-Ice SV%
Josh Archibald2357.372.4979.4963.86.2890.16
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins2349.052.1392.9767.2811.0183.64
Jujhar Khaira1432.322.3189.1261.271.8696.97
Kailer Yamamoto2327.071.1855.4242.1211.0873.68
Gaetan Haas824.083.0154.8137.372.4993.33
Kyle Turris1824.031.3487.3864.9112.4880.77
Leon Draisaitl2314.180.6280.3854.998.4684.62
Devin Shore1113.181.20109.23100.1313.6586.36

You expect to see the shots against go up when your top penalty killers are on the ice, as they are typically facing the first powerplay units. But it’s still concerning to see the spike in scoring chances against with Nugent-Hopkins or Khaira on the ice. And you can see why Turris has been taken off the penalty kill and healthy-scratched. Not only do the rate of shots against go up with him on the ice (which aligns with his historical numbers), but he’s posted the worst on-ice rate of goals against (12.48 per hour) – something that coaching staff’s are very sensitive to. Haas really stands out here, and it’ll be interesting to see if Tippett trusts him more and more and what the on-ice shot rates are like with additional responsibility.

Below are the on-ice numbers for the defencemen who have played at least ten minutes. The Oilers are seeing an extra ten shots against per hour on the penalty kill with Russell on the ice, which is likely being masked by the stellar goaltending that he has little to do with. Hopefully Jones can emerge as an option to replace him; he’s played just under ten minutes but has been called out for being on the ice for a goal against, even though the rate of shots drops when he’s been on the ice – definitely something to monitor. And aside from Bear who might be dealing with a head injury, the rest of the group is fine, especially Nurse who has seen the most ice time and has posted on-ice rates of shots against below the team average. Curious to see if Lagesson gets more ice time as his numbers have been solid in limited minutes. The team rate of shots against are similar to Haas’ numbers with him on the ice.

PlayerGPTOITOI/GPFA/60SA/60GA/60On-Ice SV%
Darnell Nurse2366.982.9175.2458.226.2789.23
Adam Larsson2362.052.7083.1662.858.786.15
Slater Koekkoek1734.152.0191.3661.498.7885.71
Kris Russell1530.972.0685.2567.817.7588.57
Ethan Bear1121.871.9982.3268.610.9884.00
William Lagesson814.171.7746.5938.124.2488.89

Whatever the Oilers do at the trade deadline, it’s imperative that they know what they have on the team before spending assets to fill a need that might not exist. The penalty kill is showing signs of improvement, and in limited minutes there appear to be some good internal options who can help suppress shots and scoring chances against. Another reason why I think the Oilers should look within the organization is because the team’s professional scouting department doesn’t exactly have a strong track record at this point. This is the same group that thought Markus Granlund could help the penalty kill, even though his on-ice impacts were poor. And then they thought Turris could help on the penalty kill, even though his on-ice impacts were poor.

Similar to the goaltending position, the Oilers need to evaluate their evaluation process for forwards before spending any more assets on pro players. Until that happens, they’re better off doing a deeper analysis of their penalty kill, looking for internal options and having the coaching staff work with them.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz

Powerplay hotness

The Edmonton Oilers powerplay has really ramped up, having now scored 22 times in 135 minutes with the man advantage this season. That translates to a rate of 9.78 goals per hour, which ranks ninth in the league and second only to the Leafs in the North division, who have scored 11.64 goals per hour. The Oilers current scoring rate is only slightly behind the rate they posted last season, when they led the league with a rate of 10.64 goals per hour.

Converting on 20% of their powerplay shots again is a lofty goal considering only a handful of teams have ever reached that mark. Then again, not many teams have had the skill level of the Edmonton Oilers, so maybe it’s not that unreasonable and we may even see them climb from the 16.79% shooting percentage they’re currently posting. The Oilers are also doing everything they can to be as dominant as they were last year, generating more scoring chances and getting an extra six shots on goal per hour this season.

Edmonton Oilers powerplay2019/20 (71 games)2020/21 (22 games)
Goals per hour10.649.78
Unblocked shot attempts per hour71.2177.82
Shots on goal per hour52.4658.25
Shooting percentage20.27%16.79%

While powerplay goals make up about 20% of a team’s total goals in a season, the Oilers powerplay is currently making up 27.8% of their total goals. And that’s slightly up from last season when the Oilers powerplay goals made up 26.5% of their goals, which was the highest proportion in the league. The good news is that so far the even-strength results haven’t been as poor as last season and the team hasn’t had to depend on the powerplay, and penalty kill for that matter, to bail them out as was the case in 2019/20. That’s when they finished the season with a -16 goal differential at even-strength – a 47% goal-share which was the seventh worst in the league – thanks to below average shot-share numbers, a bottom-six forward group that struggled mightily and poor goaltending.

So far the even-strength results have been decent, with the Oilers posting a +4 goal differential – a goal-share of 52.13%, which ranks fourth in the North division behind Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. But because the Oilers are posting below-average shot-share numbers at even-strength (currently with a 48.32% Corsi For percentage, score/venue adjusted) and because their current starting goalie is posting a save percentage above his career numbers, I suspect the powerplay will once again need to be dominant for the Oilers to be a playoff contender. And so far, things are looking promising.

As mentioned above, the Oilers are generating more offence on the powerplay this season, having increased their rate of unblocked shot attempts (a proxy for scoring chances) by 8.5% and their rate of shots on goal by 10.0%. They’ve also been getting more time on the powerplay, averaging just over six minutes per game this season (seventh highest in the league) – drawing 4.04 penalties per hour. Note that the league average rate over the past three seasons is around 3.57 per hour, with anything over four on the high end. This was pretty surprising to see considering the Oilers have never drawn more than 3.36 penalties per hour over the past three seasons, often ranking in the bottom third of the league, and even ranking as low as 30th in 2017/18.

What’s also surprising to see is that Connor McDavid, who often has the puck, plays with speed and deals with a lot of uncalled infractions, is actually drawing penalties this season. So far he’s drawn 14 penalties at even-strength in 22 games – a rate of 2.34 penalties drawn per hour, which ranks him third among all forwards who have played at least 100 minutes. That’s a significant increase from last season when he only drew 19 penalties in 64 games, ranking 75th in the league, drawing just over one penalty per hour.

Hopefully this trend continues and the Oilers get plenty of powerplay time. It just may once again become a driving factor that secures them a playoff spot.

Data: Natural Stat Trick,, Hockey Viz

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

The Oilers depth forwards are showing signs of life

The bottom six forwards struggled out of the gate, but they’ve been productive over the last ten games.

The Oilers reached a significant milestone this past weekend, reaching a points percentage of 0.600 with a record of 12-8, accumulating 24 points in their first 20 games. A 0.600 points percentage is what the top ten regular season teams in the league typically reach every year and are often considered as legitimate cup contenders for doing so. The Oilers were close to this level last season, finishing with a 0.585 points percentage, good for 12th in the league. The one time they made the playoffs in the last fourteen seasons, they had finished the regular season with a 0.628 points percentage.

The Oilers recent ten games has really turned things around for them. They’ve won eight of their last ten, outscoring opponents 42-26 in all situations (a +16 goal differential). A big reason for their success has been the powerplay, which over the past ten games has scored at a rate of 11.93 goals per hour. This has them only behind the Leafs in the North division over this stretch, and closer to where they finished last season when they were the best in the league scoring 10.64 goals per hour. They’ve recently been generating the fourth highest rate of shots per hour, and converting at a 18.64% shooting percentage – which is just below where they were last season (20.27%).

The Oilers are also getting it done at even-strength (5v5), outscoring opponents 29-19 in their last ten games, posting a goal-share of 60.42%, which is third best in the league and only behind the Leafs in the North division. Safe to say the Oilers are on a bit of a heater right now over these past ten games, posting a PDO above 105 thanks to a 13.18% team shooting percentage and a 92.64% team save percentage – both being well above league averages. The Oilers have also posted a 48.64% Corsi For percentage (score adjusted) over this stretch, which tells us they’re playing more often without the puck, and because of that their results aren’t likely sustainable. Regardless, they’ve banked some much needed points to stay competitive in a fairly tight division.

What’s really stood out over the past ten games has been the improved production of the bottom six forwards at even-strength (5v5). Over the first ten games of the season, without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers were outscored 2-14, basically giving back all of the goals the top lines were accumulating. That’s a 12.5% goal-share due in large part to rarely having the puck as they posted a Corsi For percentage of 39.1%. That’s staggering considering the depth forwards as a group typically play about 40% of the team’s total time. What made it even worse is when you compared their production to the depth players of other North division teams. Those groups were at least breaking close to even in terms of goal-differential and shot-based metrics (Source).

Thankfully they’ve recently turned things around. Over the last ten games, the Oilers have outscored opponents 10-7 (a goal-share of 58.8%) without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. That’s a significant improvement for the bottom six forwards due in large part to the group’s on-ice shooting percentage jumping up from 3.03% in their first ten games to 15.52% in their last ten. Goaltending, as mentioned above, has also played a role with the group’s on-ice save percentage increasing from 85.8% in their first ten games to 93.0% over their last ten games. That’s a PDO swing from 88.9 to 108.9.

While the group’s PDO is what’s largely driving results, it’s also encouraging to see the depth players getting a higher proportion of the total shots. Remember this is a group that posted a Corsi For% below 40.0% early on in the season, but things have been gradually trending upwards towards the 50.0%, break-even mark. Below is a breakdown of the team’s Corsi Forpercentage over rolling ten-game segments, without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. Note that the Corsi For percentage has been score adjusted to factor in the time the Oilers have led games.

Where the group has improved is on defence, as the Oilers depth forwards are allowing eight fewer shot attempts per hour over the last ten games compared to the first ten games. They’ve also generated an extra five shot attempts per hour over the last ten. Again, they’re not out of the woods yet, but there’s at least improvement within an area of the roster that really can’t afford to be giving back the offence the top lines are generating.

The production of the depth forwards is eventually going to regress as indicated by their PDO levels. But by taking better control of the flow of play and improving their share of the shots and scoring chances, it should help to minimize the regression and hopefully reduce the impact on the team’s overall goal-share.

Data: Natural Stat TrickOilers Nerd Alert/PuckIQ

(Special thanks to @OilersNerdAlert for the specific data set)

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Thoughts on the Oilers: Recent success, depth players, defensive pairings and special teams

The Oilers have been getting excellent results recently, going 7-3 in their last 10 games and outscoring opponents 40-31. Posting a 0.700 points percentage in a competitive division over a shortened season is massive. Toronto has gone 7-2-1 in their last 10 (a 0.800 points percentage), while both the Flames and Canadiens have gone 6-4 (a 0.600 points percentage).

Over this recent stretch, the Oilers have outscored opponents 26-22 at even-strength (a goal-share of 54.17%), just breaking even when it comes to the flow of play posting a Corsi For percentage of 50.04% and scoring chances posting an expected goal-share of 50.23%. The Oilers have done a much better job converting their chances into goals, especially the depth players, posting a team shooting percentage of 11.10%. And it’s good timing considering their goaltending has struggled over this stretch, posting a team save percentage of 90.84% at even-strength, just barely better than Ottawa’s and three percentage points better than Vancouver’s.

The goaltending has also been poor on the penalty kill, posting a save percentage of 83.67%, and part of the reason why they have allowed over nine goals per hour over this stretch. The other issue is that the skaters have allowed the highest rate of shots against in the North division. Thankfully the powerplay has really clicked, generating the highest rate of shots per hour in the North division as well as goals per hour with 11.01. I suspect the Oilers powerplay should remain productive based on their talent level and their ability to generate chances. It’s the penalty kill that’s concerning considering the goaltending is unreliable, which could be offset by making some deployment adjustments among the skaters.

A quick look at the on-ice numbers for the forwards who have played at least ten minutes this season, including the rate of shots, unblocked shot attempts and goals against; sorted by time-on-ice per game. Haas has only dressed in a few games, but he’s been effective with the team allowing some of the lowest rates of shots against. On the other end of the spectrum, we see guys like Turris, who has historically been poor on the penalty kill and Nugent-Hopkins struggle. A lot goes into selecting who the forwards are, and we know coaches base a lot of their decisions on results (i.e., goals against per hour), but I’d be curious to see Yamamoto get some more time considering his speed playing style.

Gaetan Haas313.824.6143.4334.740.00
Josh Archibald1844.502.4783.6068.765.39
Jujhar Khaira920.202.2480.2068.322.97
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins1837.052.0689.0772.8712.96
Kailer Yamamoto1825.231.4057.0742.8011.89
Kyle Turris1824.031.3487.3864.9112.48
Devin Shore1113.181.20109.23100.1313.65
Leon Draisaitl1812.470.6977.0152.949.63

Here’s how the defencemen have done, again sorted by time-on-ice per game. The Oilers have been effective limiting shots and chances against when Nurse or Lagesson have been on the ice, which is great news considering special teams was a concern when Klefbom was declared unfit to play this past off-season. It’s the play of Russell that’s very concerning considering the Oilers allow the highest rate of shots against when he’s on the ice. Hopefully the coaching staff is aware of this, and look at potentially giving Koekkoek more time there or getting someone like Jones up to speed.

Darnell Nurse1848.852.7172.4761.416.14
Adam Larsson1846.852.6083.2465.3110.25
Kris Russell1023.882.3982.9072.8510.05
Slater Koekkoek1531.972.1391.9765.699.38
Ethan Bear918.302.0385.2572.139.84
William Lagesson814.171.7746.5938.124.24

What’s also been encouraging has been the play of the bottom six over these last ten games. Without McDavid or Drsaitlt on the ice, the Oilers have outscored opponents 10-7 (a goal-share of 58.82%). That’s massive progress considering they were badly outscored, allowing 13 and only scoring once in the first eight games of the season. Despite the excellent results over the last 10 games, I wouldn’t say the bottom six is out of the woods just yet. They’re still getting outshot and out-chanced, posting a Corsi For% of 46.15% and an expected goal-share of 45.54%. It’s not great, but at least it’s an improvement from the 34.95 Corsi For% and 30.65% expected goal-share they posted in the first eight games of the season. We’ll still take it as progress, but it needs to get better for the Oilers to be a competitive team. Depth players typically play close to 40% of the team’s total ice time and the Oilers can’t risk over-playing their star players and risk injury. Reducing Turris’ ice time is a good start – he’s been getting absolutely caved at even-strength this season, with the Oilers posting some of their worst shot and goal-share numbers when he’s been on the ice.

One other thing to note is the Oilers defensive pairing of Nurse and Barrie. They’ve been getting positive results together, playing over 158 minutes together this season, posting a goal-share of 59.09% (13 GF, 9 GA). The Oilers shot-share numbers have been okay as well, with the team just breaking even when it comes to Corsi For%, but tend to get outchanced, posting an expected goal-share of 46.26%. What I’d really like to see from this pairing are improved numbers when playing without McDavid on the ice. Without him, Nurse and Barrie have posted a Corsi For% of 42.07% and an expected goal-share of 30.56% this season. That’s within 69 minutes, which also includes time with Draisait’s line. Something to monitor if the Oilers expect to improve their goal differential, as they should not have to rely solely on the top players for positive results.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Finding an edge

While scoring hasn’t been issue for the Edmonton Oilers this season, it’s their inability to prevent goals that’s starting to really stand out.

Through 17 games, the Oilers have scored 60 goals in all situations – a rate of 3.53 goals per hour, fourth best in the league only behind Tampa, Toronto and Carolina. Anything over 3.50 would be considered outstanding, as really only Tampa Bay has posted numbers around that mark over the last few seasons. And similar to Tampa Bay, the Oilers are getting it done at even-strength (5v5), ranking 8th in the league scoring 2.82 goals per hour, and on the powerplay, posting the 11th best rate of goals scored in the league (and it should, based on their talent level, be getting better). What’s encouraging is that the Oilers are doing a good job generating chances, partly due to most of the North division teams playing pretty loose defensively (Source: TSN). Choose any offensive metric – shots, scoring chances, expected goals, unblocked shot attempts – the Oilers rank within the top five league-wide and have at least one or two of their division rivals right next to them.

What’s likely a spot of bother for the Oilers is that they’ve allowed 58 goals this season – the eighth highest rate of goals against (3.41), and only better than Ottawa and Vancouver in their division. For context, only three teams have posted worse rates of goals against in the last three seasons – Detroit last season (3.71), Ottawa (3.65) and Chicago (3.51) the year before, and the New York Islanders (3.53) and Ottawa (3.42) the year before that. I don’t expect the Oilers to finish that poorly, but if they continue to allow the rate of shots and chances against, and in front of the goaltending they have, they might come close.

The Oilers are allowing the fourth highest rate of shots against in all situations, only better than Vancouver in their division, and sit near the bottom of the league when it comes to any of the defensive metrics such as scoring chances against, expected goals or unblocked shot attempts. Whether even-strength or penalty kill, the Oilers are not good defensively, which is a major problem considering their goaltending has been well below league average (posting the sixth worst save percentage in the league at even-strength) and can’t be relied on for the Oilers to play an up-tempo style.

What’s perplexing is that the Oilers aren’t really addressing this issue, and trying to figure out ways to reduce the rate of shots and scoring chances against, specifically at even-strength. Instead, they seem like they’re all in on playing with pace and exchanging chances with opponents, to the extent where they’re more frequently deploying offensive-minded players like Tyson Barrie, who while can contribute offensively, typically struggles on the defensive side of things.

Partly due to Bear dealing with injuries and not getting the regular minutes he had last season, Barrie has seen his ice-time sharply increase (Source: Hockey Viz). Playing on the top pair and spending the majority of his time with either McDavid’s line or Draisaitl’s line – Barrie is bound to rack up points. But it’s defensively, especially against top competition, where Barrie has historically struggled and will likely struggle with increased responsibility (Source: Puck IQ). He’s typically been sheltered by his previous coaches – often playing against lesser competition and getting more offensive zone starts. And because he’s spending more time on the top pair against top lines, we really can’t expect the Oilers to get better defensively with him on the ice.

So far this season, the Oilers actually allow a rate of shots and scoring chances against closer to league average levels when Barrie isn’t on the ice. With him, the Oilers see a spike in their rates – over seven more unblocked shot attempts against per hour and seven more shots-on-goal against per hour. While the team does generate offence slightly better with him on the ice, it really might not be worth it considering how badly they get out shot. (Source: Natural Stat Trick)

It’s especially evident when Barrie isn’t on the ice with McDavid. When they’re together, the defensive numbers are decent relative to the team average rates of shots and scoring chances against. But when Barrie is on the ice without McDavid – look out. The Oilers allow 14 more unblocked shot attempts per hour and close to ten more shots on goal against. That’s partly due to the lack of talent in the bottom six forwards, but also Barrie’s inability to have a positive impact on the defensive side of things.

With the North division being as tight as it is, it’s critical for the coaching staff to find any edge, even the slightest, to stay competitive and secure a playoff spot. The good news is that the Oilers have the talent on their roster to help defensively – with the likes of Bear who played significant minutes last season against top lines and Jones who has the skill to potentially take that next step. The way things are going for Edmonton, it’ll be important for them to identify the issues and explore every option to rectify the problem. There really isn’t much time to make ground if they start to fall behind, making it even more critical to get their player deployment right as soon as possible.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 21 – Nate (@NKB121), Silver Seven Sens

Nate (@nkb121), managing editor of the Silver Seven Sens blog  joined me this week to talk about the Ottawa Senators, their struggles out of the gate, and the key issues the club is dealing with.

Nate shared his thoughts on the Senators roster construction, their play at even-strength and special teams, and some realistic goals for the club.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010.

Tracking the North division – As of February 1, 2021

The North division has been a lot of fun so far this season. Not the best quality of hockey with teams having shortened training camps and no pre-season games and still getting into form. But we’re seeing lots of high-scoring games and some fun rivalries building over these short series.

The Edmonton Oilers currently rank sixth in the division, 23rd in the league, with a 0.455 points percentage, and have been outscored 38-41 in all situations. The Oilers offence has been stellar, averaging 3.45 goals per hour, ranking seventh in the league, but only fourth in the division behind Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver. They’re also allowing the third highest rate of goals against with 3.72, just barely better than the Senators who allow over four goals per hour.

TeamGPPoint %Goal differential

A big reason for the Oilers early-season struggles has been their play at even-strength (5v5), where they’ve been outscored 21-26 – a 44.68% goal-share, which has them sixth in the division and 23rd in the league. They’re scoring at a league average rate of 2.44 goals per hour, but are allowing just over three goals per hour – the fourth highest rate in the league. The goaltending, which was not adequately addressed in the off-season, is one of the problems as they rank 27th in the league with a 90.55% save percentage – and there’s little reason to believe it’ll get better considering Koskinen’s workload and the lack of options. But so to is the team’s inability to control the flow of play and prevent scoring chances against. And that’s going to need some attention from the coaching staff and management if they intend on making the playoffs.

Below are the even-strength (5v5) numbers for each team in the North division including goal-share results as well as the shot-share metrics that gives us a sense if teams have the right processes in place and if the results are sustainable or not. I’ve also applied a basic heat-map to show which teams are doing well or struggling relative to their division foes. You can find a description of each metric at the end of this article.

While the Oilers are spending a lot of time without the puck over the first eleven games, posting a Corsi For% of 47.13%, they are just breaking even when it comes to quality scoring chances. And the big driver for this is McDavid. With him on the ice, the Oilers have posted a 55.94% CF% and a 63.88% xGF%. Without him, a 43.00% CF% and a 42.46% xGF%. A little concern around that Draisaitl line – they’re just under 50% when it comes to shot-share metrics, and running a PDO over 107. We can probably expect their results to slow down. It’s the other two lines that while showing some signs of improvement, remain a large black hole. Without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers have been outscored 3-15 at even-strength. And that’s due in large part to posting a 39.40% CF% and a 37.09% xGF%.

It’ll be interesting to see what Toronto’s numbers are like in a month or so. They’re doing well controlling the flow of play, but it’s not translating into a higher share of scoring chances. Calgary looks like the team to watch as their underlying shot-share numbers are fine and goaltending looks solid, but they’re struggling to score goals posting the second lowest shooting percentage in the league. Montreal looks like they’re in full control – dominating when it comes to shots and scoring chances and getting results. While we can expect them to come back down to earth a bit, they still look like the team to beat considering how much time they spend with the puck. Vancouver’s getting some luck right now, as they’re getting outshot pretty regularly, but somehow have a goal-share above 56% thanks to a higher-than-average shooting percentage – expect them to fall back down. Winnipeg is also holding their own, posting good shot-share numbers and positive results – but might get sewered by their special teams. That brings me to my next table.

Here’s how the North division teams are doing when it comes to scoring goals on the powerplay and penalty kill. What I’ve done here is added the rate of goals-for on the powerplay and penalty kill, and then subtracted the rate of goals against in each game state. For context, when the Oilers were dominant on the powerplay and penalty kill last season, their combined special teams goal rate was +4.19.

TeamSpecial Teams – Combined goal rates

The Oilers powerplay does appear to be turning the corner, now ranking 11th in the league scoring 10.25 goals per hour and generating chances at just above a league average rate. But their penalty kill is giving that success back, now ranking 25th allowing just over 10 goals per hour and allowing the sixth highest rate of scoring chances against. If they can’t get results at even-strength, special teams needs to be a factor and soon. At least one of the four North division clubs that makes the playoffs will be propelled by special teams, and there’s going to be a lot of attention on the Oilers coaching staff if they can’t replicate last season’s success and miss the playoffs as a result.

Data: Natural Stat Trick


  • Points-percentage (Point%) – The total points accumulated divided by the points that were available, including extra time.
  • Corsi For percentage (CF%) – The proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Corsi For/(Corsi For + Corsi Against). This is used as a proxy for possession and is the best at predicting a team’s future share of goals (GF%). (Source: Hockey Great Tapes – Draglikepull)
  • Fenwick For percentage (FF%) – The proportion of all the unblocked shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Fenwick For/(Fenwick For + Fenwick Against). This is used as a proxy for shot quality and considers shot blocking a repeatable skill.
  • Expected Goals For percentage (xGF%) – This is a weighting placed on every unblocked shot based on the probability of the shot becoming a goal. This depends on the type of shot, location and uses historical shot and goals data to come up with the probability for each unblocked shot.
  • Goals For percentage (GF%) – The proportion of all the goals that the team scored and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Goals For/(Goals For + Goals Against).
  • Shooting percentage (SH%) – The percentage of the team’s shots on goal that became goals (i.e., total goals divided by the total shots on goal).
  • Save percentage (SV%) – The percentage of the team’s shots on goal against that were saved (i.e., 1-(totals goals allowed divided by the total shots on goal against))

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 20 – Preston Hodgkinson (@NHLHodgkinson), The Copper & Blue

Preston Hodgkinson (@NHLHodgkinson) from The Copper & Blue joined me this week to talk about the Edmonton Oilers early season results, their struggles at even-strength, and where we can expect improvement. We looked at which players have stood out among the forwards and on the blueline, and made a case for switching up the defensive line combinations. And we also discussed how the North division is shaping up and if the Canadiens and Leafs are the teams to beat.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010.

Oilers bottom six and how they compare against their division rivals

Probably not the start the coaching staff was expecting as the Oilers currently rank fifth in the North division after seven games with a 0.429 points percentage. They have a -4 goal differential (all situations), with even-strength (5v5) issues appearing to have carried over from last season. They’ve been outscored 12-15 at even-strength – a 44.44% goal-share, which ranks 24th in the league and sixth-best (only ahead of the Canucks) in their division.

Team GP Point % Goal differential
Montreal 6 0.917 12
Toronto 7 0.714 3
Winnipeg 6 0.667 5
Calgary 4 0.625 4
Edmonton 7 0.429 -4
Ottawa 5 0.300 -6
Vancouver 7 0.214 -14

While the Oilers top forwards are producing well, it’s the team’s results with their bottom six forwards on the ice that has been alarming. Turris’ goal against the Jets on Sunday night was the first time the Oilers have scored at even-strength without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. That’s over the course of 124 minutes, or about 38% of the Oilers total playing time where they’ve also allowed 10 goals against. In those minutes, the Oilers have spent a considerable amount of time playing without the puck, often in the own zone, getting out-shot at close to a 3-1 clip, and posting a Corsi For% of 33.93%.

Below is a breakdown of how the forward lines have done so far this season, broken up by the McDavid line, Draisaitl’s line and then the bottom six. Note that the 10 minutes that McDavid has played with Draisaitl is excluded in the table below. And note that the duo has outscored opponents 4-0 in that short span, posting a Corsi For% of 54.17% and an Expected Goals For% of 71.36%. Wild.

McDavid’s line104.724-459.5261.7669.145.2291.370.966
Draisaitl’s line88.334-144.2547.6147.128.1198.091.062
Bottom six124.551-1033.9333.2231.082.5886.810.894

The Oilers need to expect more from their bottom six and on both ends of the ice, and the results aren’t going to get better until they make some tactical adjustments. The group is struggling to generate shots, averaging only 19 shots per hour and allowing 37. For context, the league average rate of shots for and the average rate of shots against is 30.7 over the last three seasons. The Oilers can try to find a way to solve their 2.58% shooting percentage, but it won’t matter if the team barely has control of the puck.

This needs to be addressed by the coaching staff and fast, especially in a condensed season. The reality is that the teams the Oilers are competing against for a playoff spot in the North division appear to have things figured out and are benefiting from having a competent bottom six.

Let’s start with Toronto. They’re currently second in the division and have a deep roster on paper with high end talent carrying the top two lines.

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Matthews line 97.40 6-5 61.67 58.38 55.67 12.43 87.86 1.003
Tavares line 93.72 2-3 53.75 52.71 52.2 3.96 93.07 0.97
Bottom six 125.63 2-3 49.18 47.01 43.07 3.85 94.13 0.98

Similar to the Oilers, the Leafs bottom six has played about just under 40% of the team’s total time at even-strength, but have only posted a -1 goal differential. The bottom-six group’s on-ice shot-share numbers aren’t great – the team obviously sees a boost when Matthews or Tavares’ line is playing – but they’re significantly better than what the Oilers bottom six has posted. They are having trouble generating shots, a rate of 24 per hour, but they’re also doing a job suppressing shots, allowing 24 per hour. Again, the league average rate of shots for and against is 30.7 over the last three seasons.

Winnipeg’s bottom six is similar in that they’ve played just under 40% of the team’s total time at even-strength, and have a -1 goal differential. The Jets currently rank third in the division with a 0.667 points percentage, but second in terms of goal differential with +5.

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Scheifele line 95.28 4-6 46.64 47.33 39.77 9.01 88.03 0.97
Statsny line 74.60 6-1 53.77 50.50 58.84 12.26 97.45 1.097
Bottom six 102.97 3-4 49.60 48.72 43.05 6.02 92.04 0.981

The Jets definitely have some work to do when it comes to their share of scoring chances (that Scheifele line might be a spot of bother for the coaching staff), but the bottom six is at least generating and allowing league average rates of shots and are performing much better than the Oilers bottom six. Adding Dubois should give their top lines a boost, so it’ll be interesting to see what other line-up adjustments are made that could benefit their third and fourth lines. Similar to the Leafs, their bottom six might not be generating a lot, and they don’t necessarily need to for their team to be successful. But at least they’re doing a reasonable job suppressing shots and chances against and not giving up the gains made by the top forwards.

Montreal’s bottom six has been outstanding at this point and a big reason why they rank first in the division with a 0.833 points percentage and a +11 goal differential. They’ve played about 45% of the team’s total ice time at even-strength, outscoring opponents 8-3. While they might not be able to sustain a PDO of 106.7, they are doing everything they can to be successful, controlling the flow of play (Corsi For% of 59.35%) and the share of scoring chances (Expected Goals For% of 58.41%).

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Suzuki line 73.50 5-3 58.06 58.92 64.19 11.1 89.43 1.005
Danault line 71.25 5-3 60.32 61.62 57.05 12.27 87.36 0.996
Bottom six 120.68 8-3 59.35 57.26 58.41 12.32 94.34 1.067

Not even sure we should be calling them the Canadiens bottom six – they’re running more of a top nine with the likes of Toffoli and Kotkaniemi marked on the third line. Must be a nice perk for the higher-end forwards to know that they can take a break and not watch their team play in their own zone the whole time.

Hopefully the Oilers coaching staff can figure things out in terms of tactics and deployment, and get some reasonable production from the forwards. Remember – the bottom six was an area of focus for management this past off-season, as the Oilers were outscored badly in 2019/20 without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. While the bottom six posted a 47.73% Corsi For% and a 48.22% Expected Goals For% last season, they were outscored badly (44 GF, 73 GA, a -29 goal differential), which translates to a 37.61% goal-share. The bar isn’t even that high for this year’s group of bottom six forwards, and it would reflect poorly on the management and coaching staff if they couldn’t surpass that level.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Daily Face Off

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.