Tracking the Pacific division – As of November 30, 2022

While the Edmonton Oilers aren’t having the greatest season, the good news is that most of the Pacific division is struggling as well. Six of the eight teams have a negative goal-differential at this point, with only Vegas and Seattle leading the pack. Worth noting too that four of the eight teams in the Central division are also posting negative goal-differentials, with only Dallas, Winnipeg and Colorado having solid seasons so far.

Team Record Points Point % Goal differential
Vegas 17-6-1 35 0.729 +20
Seattle 14-5-3 31 0.705 +16
Edmonton 13-10-0 26 0.565 -3
Los Angeles 12-9-4 28 0.560 -5
Calgary 10-9-3 23 0.523 -3
Vancouver 9-11-3 21 0.457 -8
San Jose 8-14-4 20 0.385 -15
Anaheim 6-15-2 14 0.304 -37

Despite their issues, the Oilers are still posting the third best points percentage in their division, largely driven by their powerplay which generates the third highest rates of goals per hour in the league. Everything else – even-strength play and results, their penalty kill, their goaltending – it all needs work if they want to qualify for the playoffs.

Below are the even-strength (5v5) numbers for each team in the Pacific division (sorted by points percentage) including goal-share results as well as the shot-share metrics that gives us a sense of which 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. Also note that the shot-share metrics are score and venue adjusted based on Natural Stat Trick’s methodology.

Not much has changed for the Oilers since the last check-in at the end of October other than the goal-share dropping significantly, something that was expected considering their shot-share numbers and expected goal-share had been below average and some of the lowest in the division. And these numbers are still poor after 23 games, putting the Oilers at risk of losing ground to the Los Angeles and Calgary who are both posting some of the strongest Corsi for percentages and expected goal shares in the league. Issue for both teams is currently goaltending, which has somehow been worse than Edmonton’s, and it could sink their playoff chances if it doesn’t get sorted out. I’m also curious to see if Seattle’s powerplay, which currently ranks 7th in the league in terms of goals per hour, can continue to drive their overall results. They currently generate some of the lowest rates of shots and scoring chances on the powerplay, so I’m expecting things to cool off.

Back to the Oilers – it seems like the best idea that the coaching staff could think of to improve their 5v5 results (and to get Draisaitl going) is just putting McDavid and Draisaitl together on the ice as much as possible. In the first 19 games of the season, the duo only played 60 minutes together – or about 6.5% of the team’s total ice time. That’s still higher than what I was expecting considering they rarely played together after Woodcroft took over last season, but lower nonetheless. Over the last five games, however, McDavid and Draisaitl have played 69 minutes together – or about 29% of the team’s total ice time. In that time, the Oilers have posted a Corsi for percentage and expected goals for percentages closer to 60% and outscored opponents 5-3. Not sure how sustainable this is with both players averaging more total ice time per game, but it feels like the coaching staff is out of ideas and doing what they know will work. The concern of course will be the rest of the roster and if they can post positive shot-share metrics and goal differentials at 5v5 without their star players on the ice. Definitely something worth monitoring over the next month.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz

Glossary:

  • 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).

What’s going on with Leon?

The star forward is among the league leaders in points, but his production and on-ice numbers at even-strength are lower that expected. It’s critical for the coaching staff and management to figure out what’s going on with Draisaitl if they want their 5v5 numbers to improve.

There’s obviously a lot of team-wide issues right now for the Edmonton Oilers, as the club ranks fifth in the Pacific with a 0.526 points percentage and ninth in the western conference. Defensive play has been poor, the offence has dried up, and there’s plenty of questions about the roster construction and the potential internal solutions. It’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staff and management navigate things in such a high pressure season.

Even-strength (5v5) play is the biggest point of weakness for the club as they’re getting out-shot, out-chanced and out-scored regularly – ranking in the bottom third of the league when it comes to performance indicators that drive positive results. And it’ll need to improve if the Oilers want to keep up with the top teams in the league.

One player in particular that is currently struggling playing even-strength minutes is Leon Draisaitl. He’s a proven star in the league and can improve the team’s odds of winning games. And he’s among the league leader in points this season because of his dominance on the powerplay. But his even-strength numbers this season, including his personal numbers and his on-ice numbers, have been poor compared to his previous three seasons – and it’s part of the reason why the Oilers are struggling to win games.

Starting with his personal numbers, Draisaitl currently has nine even-strength points which ranks fourth on the Oilers – a points per hour rate of 1.85. That’s a drop from the 2.68 points per hour from his previous three seasons – a level that top line, star forwards typically produce at. Heading into this current season, Draisaitl’s rate of points ranked 17th among over 500 forwards who played at least 1,000 minutes since 2019, a period in which he’s accumulated the third highest number of points in the league. His current rate of 1.85 ranks 131st among 324 players who have played at least 200 minutes this year – not anywhere near where he should be considering his history.

What’s driving his drop in production is his individual rate of shots per hour which has decreased from 6.43 per hour over the last three seasons to 5.56. And his shooting percentage is also lower than expected, currently sitting at 14.81%. Considering his age and his talent, you would expect to see his rate of shots and his shooting percentage to gradually improve, resulting in better productivity over the course of the season. But there’s a couple other issues to consider.

One reason for his lower rate of shots per hour this season is the fact that the Oilers are spending a significant amount of time without the puck when he’s on the ice, as reflected by the team’s Corsi For percentage (a proxy for puck possession) of 42.83%. The team is also getting out-chanced more regularly when Draisaitl is on the ice with, as reflected by their 43.19% share of expected goals (a proxy for scoring chances and shot quality) – which again is a drop from the levels we’ve seen with him on the ice over the last three seasons. All of Draisaitl’s on-ice shot-share numbers (i.e., Corsi For%, Fenwick For%, Expected Goals For%) are some of the lowest on the team, only ahead of Holloway and Shore. And it’s on the defensive side of things where the Oilers are really struggling with Draisaitl, as they see more than a 17% increase in the rate of shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts and shots on goal against with their star forward on the ice. The rate of expected goals against this season – which factors in shot quality and scoring chances against – increases by 26% with Draisaitl on the ice, going from 2.78 per hour to 3.51.

Draisaitl’s poor on ice numbers at even-strength is pretty significant considering the expectations on him as a player and the team this season. The Oilers top six is supposed to be one of the best in the league, but it’s hard to accomplish anything when a star forward is struggling and the team is failing to control the flow of play and total scoring chances with him on the ice.

What’s worth noting is that Draisaitl is struggling with pretty much every linemate and defenceman on the Oilers, unable to post shot-share numbers like Corsi For% and Expected Goals For% above the 50% break-even mark, regardless of the player he’s with.

The one player that Draisaitl is having success with this season is Bouchard, as they’ve played 90 minutes together and posted a Corsi For percentage of 51.71% and an Expected Goals For percentage of 52.26 – both numbers being well above the team’s current averages. With Nurse having his own issues and posting some of his worst on-ice numbers in his career this season, it might be beneficial to the team, and especially for Draisaitl, if Bouchard saw an increase in his even-strength minutes and more time with the top lines.

Whatever the coaching staff and management decide to do to improve the team, whether it’s internal or external solutions, it’s important to have a firm grasp of the real issues plaguing the team and implementing changes that help improve the odds of winning games. Considering their poor results and underlying numbers at even-strength – where 80% of the game is played – it’s critical they focus here first and find tactical and deployment solutions as soon as possible.

Data and glossary: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Issue detection

Really can’t emphasize enough how much of a drop off there’s been when comparing this season’s results to last season after the coaching change occurred. One of the biggest improvements the Edmonton Oilers made after Jay Woodcroft took over in February 2022 – and what helped drive the overall results – was the team’s possession and scoring chance numbers at even-strength as the club went from around league-average levels to being one of the best in the league.

After the coaching change last season, the Oilers played more aggressively with leads, they spread out their offence across multiple lines and their depth players weren’t getting out-shot and out-chanced as much as they had been in previous seasons. All of these coaching-driven factors played a major role in the overall results at the end of the 2021/22 regular season, and the process behind it all was based on sound logic and reasoning.

Fast forward to this season, and the team isn’t anywhere near where they were in the final thirty-eight games of last season. Their possession numbers and share of scoring chances are currently some of the lowest in the league, with their Corsi For percentage dropping down from 53.71% last season to 47.76% this season. And their share of expected goals is down to 46.29% – which ranks 26th in the league only ahead of Anaheim in the Pacific division.

Now it’s understandable if the Oilers defensive play gets most of the attention as the results are what stands out first. They’re currently allowing the seventh highest rate of goals against at even-strength (2.78), and their penalty kill is allowing 12.04 goals against per hour – the third highest in the league. Management didn’t exactly build a strong, championship caliber defence core either and we’ve seen established players struggle throughout this season and some of the young prospects struggle to gain traction at the NHL level. The team also spent a lot of money on a new starting goalie who is struggling early on this season – which was also somewhat expected.

When we dig into the actual results, we see that they’re somewhat expected as the club is having all sorts of issues preventing shots and scoring chances at even-strength, with their rates all having increased by a significant margin compared to last season. For instance, the rate of expected goals against – which factors in shot quality and the probability of an unblocked shot becoming a goal – has increased by 17.4% this season. The table below shows the other defensive numbers from this season and the thirty eight games under Woodcroft from last season with percentage changes.

What’s further troubling are the issues up front.

With arguably one of the best top-six forward groups in the league, and with the powerplay having a lot of success and McDavid and Draisaitl leading the league in points – it can generally be assumed that the Oilers offence is and will be just fine. But if we take a look at the numbers at even-strength, that’s really not the case. And things have taken a significant hit compared to last season, similar to the levels experienced on the defensive side of things.

The Oilers are only scoring 2.26 goals per hour at even-strength, which ranks 24th in the league and last in the Pacific division. The biggest issue is that they generate some of the lowest rates of shot attempts, shots on goal and scoring chances – all of which have dropped over 10% compared to last season. The Oilers current offensive rates have them in the bottom third in the league for each category – a big drop off from the end of last season where they were closer to the top five in the league after Woodcroft took over.

You’d hope someone in the Oilers management group is aware of this situation and is questioning (a) how the roster was built the way it was, and (b) the coaching tactics and player deployment that is being implemented. There’s a significant problem in Edmonton both offensively and defensively, and it’s critical for the team to get things on track if they want to be considered a championship contender.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Bringing it home

When talking about the Oilers struggles this season at his media availability this afternoon, Woodcroft commented about the success the Oilers have had on the road this season and wanting to make their home arena a tougher place to play in for opponents.

The good news is that we’ve demonstrated a competitiveness, a will to win, a finding a way to win. Our level of simplicity and effectiveness on the road where we’re 5-2, we got to bring that home. And we got to figure out a way to make this the toughest arena in the National Hockey League to come into. We’ve done that in the past, we got to do it again. And I think that comes down to a level of consistency and building a level of consistency in your game. (Source)

Had to take a look at the data to see what exactly the difference was between the Oilers performance at home versus on the road, expecting to see some differences. But that’s not exactly what the data shows.

2022/23 Record Points% Goals For/Goals Against
Home 4-5-0 0.444 34-34
Road 5-2-0 0.714 25-24

While the Oilers have had more success on the road so far this season, there’s not much that you can take away and build off of or want to replicate at home. Their overall goal differential is only marginally better on the road, and it’s it’s worth noting that their underlying numbers at even-strength (5v5) inidicate that their results are unsustainable.

Oilers – 2022/23 (5v5) Home Road
Corsi For% 48.87 45.18
Fenwick For% 47.56 45.11
Expected Goals For% 48.61 43.18
Goals for/against 17-21 12-14
Goals for% 44.74 46.15
Shooting% 7.23 8.62
Save% 90.65 92.81
PDO 0.979 1.014

The Oilers are currently one of the worst teams on the road when it comes to controlling the flow of play and total scoring chances as reflected by their 45% Corsi For percentage and Fenwick For percentage. They have a -2 goal differential at even-strength as well, which again is only slightly better than their -4 goal differential at home.

The real reason they’re having success on the road is their goaltending, which is posting a 92.81% save percentage. Reason for that is Skinner who has played four of the Oilers seven road games while Campbell, who has struggled so far this season, has played seven of the nine home games. So if there’s anything the Oilers can take away from their road success, it’s that they should play Skinner more often at home.

Other than that, the Oilers don’t have any real strengths on the road. I’d be curious to hear Woodcroft elaborate on his comments and see if there’s anything tangible he’d like his team to improve on.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Impact statement

Sixteen games into the 2022/23 season and the Oilers haven’t established a whole lot. They have some points in the banks, have had some big wins, namely two on the road in Tampa and Florida. And their two superstars are leading the league in points. But the team hasn’t rounded themselves into proper form or made any sort of statement that they’re contending for a title.

So far at even-strength (5v5), they have a -6 goal differential, a goal-share of 45.31% that ranks 24th in the league and only ahead of Anaheim and San Jose in the Pacific division. The big issue right now is that they spend more time without the puck as reflected by their 47.32% Corsi For percentage, that ranks 24th in the league. And they allow the fifth highest rate of shots and scoring chances against leaguewide – currently giving up 47 unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) per hour and allowing 34 shots on goal against per hour. Important to note that the Oilers are getting league-average goaltending at even-strength with their team save percentage of 91.61% ranking 16th in the league. And the team is posting a shooting percentage also around league average (7.78%). The struggles appear to be a system and deployment issue, something the coaching staff has a strong influence on, so the focus for now really should be there.

Below is a summary of the Oiler’s numbers ar even-strength (5v5), with the shot-share metrics being score and venue adjusted according to Natural Stat Trick’s method. I’ve also included the Oiler’s even-strength numbers from the 38 regular season games from last season that Woodcroft coached. That’s really the baseline that the Oilers should be working towards as we know the team is capable of playing at that level for an extended period of time.

SeasonGPPoint %CF%FF%xGF%Goal diff.GF%SH%SV%PDO
2021/22380.72453.7153.2953.25+2056.028.7891.981.008
2022/23160.56347.3246.5346.45-645.317.7891.610.994

Comparing the two periods, there’s been a pretty clear drop-off from last season, something we saw as early as five games into this season. We know the coaching staff is capable of applying some basic principles and getting stronger underlying shot-share metrics than they have right now – and improving the team’s odds of winning games. But it remains to be seen if the coaching staff can revert back to some of their tactics that gave them so much success at the end of last season.

One tactic in particular is their aggressiveness at even-strength when protecting a lead. While most teams tend to play more conservatively with a lead – more often dumping the puck rather than making a play to create a scoring chance – the Oilers appeared to be bucking that trend last season under Woodcroft when they would continue to generate offence as a way to protect a lead.

When team’s are leading in a game, they on average post a Corsi For% around 45% at even-strength. The Oilers last season under Woodcroft posted a Corsi For percentage of 57% with a lead – one of the highest in the league, behind only Calgary and Florida. This was much higher than the Oilers have ever posted with the lead under various coaches, so there was some hope that this new coaching staff was willing to try different things to have success.

Unfortunately however, the Oilers coaching staff has been far less aggressive with the lead this season, only posting a Corsi For% of 50.0%, which ranks 18th in the league. More teams are currently playing more aggressively with the lead compared to previous season, so  it’d be interesting to see if the Oilers have purposely played more conservatively thus far or if there’s some other issues the coaching staff is dealing with. Definitely something to monitor. Either way, the team will need to explore every option, including what worked for them last season, to improve their odds of winning games and banking some more points.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Tracking the Pacific division – As of October 31, 2022

The Oilers are off to an okay start to the 2022/23 regular season, having struggled at home in their first six games, but then getting great results on the road winning three games in four nights.

Here’s what the Pacific division looks like at this point, sorted by points percentage.

Team Record Points Point % Goal differential
Vegas 8-2-0 16 0.800 +15
Calgary 5-2-0 10 0.714 +4
Edmonton 6-3-0 12 0.667 +8
Los Angeles 5-5-0 10 0.500 -6
Seattle 4-4-2 10 0.500 -1
Vancouver 2-5-2 6 0.333 -7
Anaheim 2-6-1 5 0.278 -18
San Jose 3-8-0 6 0.273 -10

Edmonton is right where they have to be – a points percentage above 0.650 and top three in the division. The powerplay is once again the main driver for their overall success, but the goaltending at even-strength has also been a factor. 

The rest of the division, and the conference for that matter, isn’t looking all that threatening at this point. Only two teams in the entire eastern conference have a negative goal-differential (Toronto and Columbus), while five teams in the Pacific and four teams in the Central division are in the red. Early days obviously, but the path to the cup in the west doesn’t seem as daunting as it does in the east.

Below are the even-strength (5v5) numbers for each team in the Pacific division (sorted by points percentage) including goal-share results as well as the shot-share metrics that gives us a sense of which 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. Also note that the shot-share metrics are score and venue adjusted based on Natural Stat Trick’s methodology.

I’ve also included each team’s results on special teams, combining the goals for and against on the powerplay and penalty kill, as well as the total shots.

Looking at the even-strength numbers first, we see that while the Oilers are getting decent results, they only have a +2 goal differential and their underlying shot share numbers indicate the success may not be sustainable. Their Corsi For% of 49.64% ranks 19th in the league, while their expected goals for percentage of 47.71% ranks 20th and ahead of only Vancouver and Anaheim in the Pacific. That’s significantly lower than what the Oilers posted in the 38 games Woodcroft coached last season, so I’m expecting these numbers to gradually improve.

The Oilers are getting excellent goaltending thanks to young Stuart Skinner, who ranks first among the 55 goalies who have played at least 100 minutes with a 0.971 save percentage and fourth with a +5.79 goals saved above average (GSAA). He ranks well alongside some pretty good goalies, so hopefully he can sustain above-average numbers as the season progresses. Campbell on the other hand hasn’t been as sharp, something that was expected heading into the season, as he ranks 41st among the 55 goalies in terms of save percentage with 0.905 and 40th with a -1.29 GSAA

Rank (GSAA) Player Team GP TOI SV% GSAA
1 Connor Hellebuyck WPG 7 340 0.947 6.58
2 Carter Hart PHI 6 271 0.952 6.03
3 Jake Oettinger DAL 7 296 0.957 5.83
4 Stuart Skinner EDM 4 178 0.971 5.79
5 Alexandar Georgiev COL 6 290 0.949 5.19
6 Logan Thompson VGK 6 285 0.954 4.99
7 Linus Ullmark BOS 7 285 0.948 4.33
8 Craig Anderson BUF 3 144 0.961 3.42
9 Tristan Jarry PIT 6 281 0.936 3.19
10 Ville Husso DET 5 230 0.937 2.73

Now in nine games, the Oilers have outscored their opponents at even-strength only three times, largely depending on their powerplay to bail them out. Which brings me to my next point.

The Oilers powerplay has been outstanding so far, scoring 11 goals and allowing one. With the talent they have and the history they have together, the Oilers have no issues generating high quality chances and finishing them. What is concerning is the penalty kill which has almost given back everything that this outstanding powerplay has generated. In nine games, the Oilers penalty kill has allowed ten goals and scored two, allowing a rate of 9.76 goals against per hour – sixth highest in the league. They’re also allowing the sixth highest rate of shots against per hour, an issue that has long plagued the Oilers and appears to be continuing under Woodcroft. In such a high-pressure season, the Oilers cannot afford a horrendous penalty kill, especially if their even-strength numbers remain closer to league average.

One other observation from these first nine games is how often the coaching staff is deploying McDavid and Draisaitl together at even-strength. It’s well-established the importance of having multiple scoring lines in the league, spreading the offence to overwhelm opponents. And while it’s fun having two star players on the ice together, it makes a lot more sense playing these two on separate lines and increasing the odds of out-scoring teams.

Last season after Woodcroft took over, McDavid and Draisaitl were deployed together for only 55 minutes at even-strength in the 38 games – so about 3% of the team’s total ice time. At home, they played together for about 17 minutes or 1.8% of the team’s total ice time. And on the road, they played 38 minutes together, or about 4.3% of the team’s total ice time. The consistency of having these two anchoring their own lines at 5v5 was a massive reason for the team’s results last season.

This season, for whatever reason, the coaching staff has deployed the two stars together more often – playing them for 35 minutes or about 8.5% of the team’s total ice time. And almost all of that happened at home in the first six games. Perhaps it was the closer games at home or the fact that the rest of the team was struggling that increased their ice time together. But it was interesting to see how fast the coaching staff went to this option as it does come across as panicky.

5v5HomeAway
2021/221.8%4.3%
2022/2311.8%1.6%

I’m expecting the coaching staff to keep these two on separate lines going forward, as it does improve the odds of outscoring opponents. The key will be keeping them separated regardless of how the season is going, which is probably a lot easier said than done. This is also the first time we’re seeing how Woodcroft will perform over the course of a full season and how he navigates losing streaks and injuries. Just hoping he sticks to his plan and overall approach instead of repeating the mistakes of previous coaches.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Glossary:

  • 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).

Drop off

Pretty rough start for the Edmonton Oilers, securing only four points in their first five games of the season – all of which were at home and included three losses in regulation time.

The issue for the Oilers – which has been an ongoing thing for years now – is their play at even-strength (5v5) where they have only scored five goals in five games. We can’t expect this to last forever considering the talent they have and the fact that the team is currently converting only 4.38% of their shots into goals – the lowest shooting percentage in the league. This is a team that’s typically around the league average rate of about 8.50% and a number of players – including McDavid and Draisaitl – are posting on-ice shooting percentages well below their career levels.

What is concerning, however, is that the team itself is generating a relatively low rate of shots and scoring chances at even-strength this season – numbers much lower than they were last year after Jay Woodcroft took over as head coach. Shot metrics, including the rate of shots for and against and the overall share of total shots, are driven by tactics and deployment – things that are under the control of the coaching staff. So it’s been a little surprising to see the drop off.

The table below shows the Oilers offence as reflected by the team rate of shot attempts (Corsi), unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick), shots and expected goals (xGoals) this season compared to the numbers last season after Woodcroft took over. The numbers have been score and venue adjusted based on Natural Stat Trick’s methodology.

Now I’m using the numbers from last season under Woodcroft as a comparison because that was a really good team we saw in the final 38 games of the season. And they had the results and the strong underlying shot share numbers that top-end teams post at even-strength – levels that the Oilers should be trying to reach to be considered legitimate contenders.

And so far, they’re below where they should be. For example, the Oilers are currently generating about 37 unblocked shot attempts per hour, which ranks 25th in the league, only ahead of teams like Montreal, San Jose, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Anaheim, Chicago and Arizona. This current rate is about 20% lower than where they were last season when they generated over 46 unblocked shot attempts per hour – which was top five in the league. Their actual shots on goal has dropped by 18.6% compared to last season and their rate of expected goals has dropped by 13.3%.

Yes it’s five games, and there’s plenty of time to correct this. But it’s a good topic to ask the coaching staff about considering some of the other higher-end teams are getting positive results due in large part to their ability to out-shoot and out-chance opponents consistently. Pittsburgh for example is off to 4-0-1 start, have scored 19 even-strength goals, are generating some of the highest rates of shots in the league and are posting shot-share numbers (like Corsi For% and Expected Goals For%) above 52%.

That brings me to my next point. Because of their lack of offence and issues controlling the flow of play and generating shots, the Oilers are also posting poor possession and shot-share metrics compared to last season under Woodcroft.

The Oilers currently rank in the bottom third of the league when it comes to things like Corsi For% (46.61%, 23rd overall), Fenwick For% (44.15%, 27th overall) and Expected Goals For% (45.45%, 21st overall), well below where they were last season when they ranked near the top of the league after Woodcroft took over.

And if we look at the top teams from last season, and how they did in their first five to six games, we see that while the results may not have been there right off the bat, at least they were beating opponents on the shot clock and setting themselves up for success. Six of the top seven teams in terms of points percentage last season posted a Corsi For% above 50% in their first few weeks of the season and averaged an expected goals share above 53%. Interesting to see that Colorado was the one team in this group that struggled early on, but managed to turn it around – definitely an outlier that the Oilers can try to emulate.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers can turn things around at even-strength, and the influence Woodcroft can have on the underlying numbers through potential tactical and deployment adjustments. Woodcroft and his coaching staff did set the bar quite high based on the numbers the Oilers posted last season. But it’s important to reach those expectations as soon as possible if the Oilers want to improve their chances of winning hockey games and establishing themselves as contenders.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Trepidation

Ahead of such a high-pressure regular season where the Oilers are expected to contend for the cup, there remains a few question marks across the roster. Up front the Oilers have the high end talent needed to win championships, but it remains to be seen if the rest of the group can consistently outscore opponents when McDavid isn’t on the ice. And on the blue line, things are looking alright with a top four that should be able to hold its own in the Pacific, although no major game breakers exist on the backend like some of the top teams have – unless of course Bouchard takes another step. But as long as the defence core and the top end stars stay healthy, and a couple youngsters emerge as reliable options, a playoff berth should be achievable.

The biggest concern heading into the regular season is in net with 30-year old Jack Campbell starting the first season of a five-year contract. While he should be a more stable option than someone like Mike Smith, his recent numbers have been pretty similar to those posted by the ‘battler’. So it’s unclear if Campbell is really going to be an upgrade.

Over the last three seasons, Campbell has been right around league average posting a 0.916 save percentage at even-strength, which ranks 32nd among 68 goalies who have played at least 2,000 minutes (~42 games). He also posted a +2.54 goals saved above average (GSAA), which ranks 32nd in the same cohort. For reference, Mike Smith was right behind Campbell, ranking 33rd with a 0.916 save percentage at even-strength and 33rd when it comes to GSAA with +2.53. Worth noting too that Mike Smith was a better goalie when it came to high danger chances, posting a 0.819 high-danger save percentage (HDSV%) ranking 42nd, while Campbell ranked 65th among 68 goalies with a 0.794 save percentage.

Even-strength (2019-2022)

And on the penalty kill is where Smith has posted better numbers than Campbell. In the last three seasons, Campbell posted a save percentage of 0.881, which ranked 14th among 66 goalies who played at least 200 shorthanded minutes (~42 games). Smith on the other hand was one of the best goalies in the league, ranking second in the group with a 0.902 save percentage and tied with the Rangers Igor Shesterkin. With the Oilers consistently allowing one of the highest rate of shots against on the penalty kill, both under Tippett and Woodcroft, Smith really bailed the team out posting a +16.47 goals saved above average shorthanded, second only to Shesterkin.

Penalty kill (2019-2022)

The other issue worth monitoring is how well Campbell handles the workload in Edmonton, which will be slightly higher than what he was used to in Toronto as the Oilers do tend to play more of a free flowing game and willing to exchange scoring chances. Over the last three seasons under head coach Sheldon Keefe, the Leafs allowed one of the lowest rates of shots against in the league at even-strength with 28.55, and allowed 39.52 unblocked shot attempts against (i.e., Fenwick). Under either Woodcroft or Tippett, the Oilers were slightly higher than that and closer to league average levels, allowing about 30 shots against per hour and just over 41 unblocked shot attempts.

That’s not too bad of a difference and it’ll be interesting to see if the Oilers can improve their defensive play. But it’s on the penalty kill where things could get a little rough for Campbell. Over the last three seasons in Toronto under Keefe, Campbell’s teammates allowed 64.51 unblocked shot attempts per hour when shorthanded and 47.38 shots against per hour – numbers much stronger than league average levels. The Oilers on the other hand have been fairly poor on the penalty kill allowing 77.80 unblocked shot attempts against per hour and 56.69 shots against per hour over the last three seasons. Those numbers actually got worse when Woodcroft took over with the Oilers allowing 81.65 unblocked shot attempts against per hour and 59.63 shots against per hour after the coaching change in February 2022. As mentioned above, the Oilers goaltending really bailed out the penalty kill and masked some of the underlying tactical issues. Now it remains to be seen if Campbell can do the same, all while adjusting to a new team and system.

We’ve seen a few goalies in recent years now make their debuts with new teams following success elsewhere and falling flat. Jacob Markstrom was the Flames big off-season signing in 2020 following a career year in Vancouver, but saw his numbers take a hit as he adjusted to new teammates and a new system. And the Flames ended up missing the playoffs that season. Philipp Grubauer was another goalie who had posted solid numbers in Washington and Colorado, was even a Vezina trophy finalist, before signing with Seattle in 2021. But he too struggled adjusting to a new system, and the Kraken ended up finishing last in the Pacific. Considering both goalies were roughly the same age as Campbell when they moved to new teams and had similar pressures to live up to new multi million dollar contracts, you can understand why there might be some trepidation with the Oilers goaltending this upcoming season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Having faith in the justice system

As much as I’d like to write about the upcoming season, I’m still processing the fact that the Oilers brought in a guy who was accused of sexual assault and is still facing a civil suit. Ahead of such a promising season where the Oilers have a competitive roster featuring two of the best players in the world, the Oilers chose to bring in a lot of unnecessary noise. Not only have the Oilers continued to demonstrate that they really don’t care about the public’s perception of their actions and their corporate values, it’s also clear that they’re still struggling to evaluate their roster situation and assess professional-level players. PTO’s are a great way to bring in undervalued assets who can create legitimate competition in camp. Adding Virtanen doesn’t provide any on-ice solutions or improve the chances of the Oilers winning a cup. All it’s really done so far is expose the Oilers lack of social awareness, overshadow a lot of the positive stories coming out of training camp this season  – and have fans question if supporting this team with their time and money is really worth it.

And what’s really bothered me since Virtanen joined the Oilers camp is how the Oilers are trying to justify it all, with Ken Holland specifically pointing to his faith in the legal system.

“The most important thing is he went through the legal system, he went to a court of law, and a jury found him not guilty,” Holland explained to reporters.

“…The biggest thing for me is to have faith in the legal system and if we lose faith in the legal system I don’t think that’s a good thing. … I’m trusting the legal system to offer a pro tryout and now over two weeks we will evaluate him, and if he’s not good enough from a hockey standpoint, we will release him.” (Source: Sportsnet)

What these comments really demonstrate is an organization’s lack of awareness regarding the current justice system, the different experiences people have had with the system and the flaws that governments are trying to improve on. There are worldwide movements as a result of the justice system including Black Lives Matter, which are focusing more attention on the systemic issues and demanding change. The provincial court of Alberta recently developed a justice strategy to better meet the needs of Indigenous people. The federal government in Canada has an initiative underway to enhance the criminal justice system recognizing system delays and inefficiencies, the over-representation of Indigenous people as offenders and victims, the lack of support for vulnerable populations and the low rate of sexual assault reporting.

But despite all of this, the general manager of the Edmonton Oilers is pointing to his faith in the justice system to justify adding a player, disregarding the negative experiences people have had with the justice system – especially women, Indigenous communities and people of color. We know the justice system tends to serve those with power and privilege, and it’s clear that the Oilers front office, especially those who made the decision to add Virtanen, are in that group.

CBC Radio Active: Oilers rookie camp has wrapped up and main camp is about to begin

I joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to discuss some of the Oilers off-season activities ahead of training camp opening this week. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2022, September 20)

Topics we covered:

  • Disappointment with issuing a PTO agreement to Jake Virtanen and why the Oilers can expect a backlash – on and off the ice.
  • Dylan Holloway’s performance at the Young Stars tournament in BC.
  • The positive impact Jay Woodcroft can have on the team this year.
  • What to watch for at training camp, including the defensive prospects like Broberg who will be pushing for a roster spot.

Thanks as always to the great team at CBC for putting it all together!