Next steps

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After such a disastrous season, there’s going to be plenty to dig into in an attempt to chart out the necessary course(s) of action for the Edmonton Oilers.

What’s important before looking for solutions and making roster and salary cap related decisions is to look at the overall results and find where exactly the deficiencies were that prevented positive outcomes. With the end goal of winning championships in mind, it’s become even more imperative for the Oilers to make evidence-based decisions, and it needs to begin immediately.

The number to start any analysis with is the Oilers 2018/19 season goal-differential of -42, which was the eighth worst in the league.

Stripping out special teams and empty-net goals and focusing on even-strength (5v5), the Oilers had a goal-differential of -32 and a goal-share of 45.06% – both of which ranked third worst in the league and only ahead of New Jersey and Ottawa. The Oilers results shouldn’t be too surprising considering they were a poor possession team all season, finishing with a 23rd ranked Corsi-for percentage of 47.53%, and a 25th ranked Fenwick-for percentage (a proxy for scoring chances) of 47.34%.

Especially troubling is the fact that even with McDavid on the ice, the team struggled to out-shoot and out-chance opponents.

Metric (5v5) With McDavid Without McDavid
Corsi For% 49.32% 46.52%
Fenwick For% 48.81% 46.47%
Shots For% 48.04% 46.64%
Scoring Chances For% 49.70% 45.81%
High Danger Scoring Chances For% 46.46% 45.69%

What’s worth noting is that it was really the Oilers’s offence that struggled, with the team only generating 27.99 shots per hour, one of the worst rates in the league. Defensively, they weren’t great, but they were just below league average allowing 31.36 shots per hour – 19th in the league. This isn’t to absolve the Oilers defence for the team’s struggles; they were a big reason why the team couldn’t generate offence. But when it came to limiting shots, they were better than what they got credit for.

The other factor in the team’s even-strength results is their shooting percentage, which was 7.68% (21st in the league, league average being 8.05%) and save percentage, which was 91.51% (25th in the league. league average being 91.94%). Had the Oilers finished with a league average shooting percentage, they would have scored approximately 153 goals, a seven goal improvement from the 146 they actually finished with. And if they had league average goaltending, they would have allowed approximately 169 goals instead of 178. So instead of a -32 goal differential at even-strength, they would have finished with a -15 goal differential – about three and a half more wins in the standings. Had the coaching staff figured out a way to generate a league average rate of shots on goal, that goal differential could have been a lot better and the team much closer to playoff contention.

And while the Oilers powerplay was good this season, and probably could have been one of the best had they received better production from the second unit, the penalty kill was atrocious. The team allowed a rate of 9.21 goals against per hour shorthanded, second worst in the league, due in large part to their poor goaltending and their inconsistency in preventing shots and high danger scoring chances. Had the Oilers received league average goaltending of 86.26% instead of the 31st ranked 82.68% they did receive, the Oilers would have allowed approximately 49 goals instead of 62 – a difference of 13 goals.

Now going back to the overall goal differential of -42.

Had the Oilers been average at even-strength (better by 17 goals), had received better production from the second powerplay unit (additional four goals), and had an average penalty kill (13 fewer goals). their overall goal differential would have been -8 instead of -42. Still not good enough to be a contender, but at least closer to being a wild card playoff team.

And that right there should be enough to trigger the Oilers management to make changes – obviously to the roster but also to the coaching staff. The team, even playing to its abilities, isn’t good enough. A -8 goal differential would not have been good enough. There’s an obvious need to improve the scoring talent up front to play in the top six, but it’s also worth looking into depth players who can contribute at even-strength and also have an impact both on the penalty kill and second powerplay. The defence could absolutely use more skill and offensive talent- but again I think the team could focus on depth players who could contribute as complementary players at even-strength, but also play a feature role on special teams. That’s going to be up to the front office to uncover these undervalued assets and ensure they get a fair chance from the coaching staff.

Speaking of which, I think what’s getting overlooked because of the general manager vacancy is the importance of the next head coach, who will have to figure out how to maximize what could again be a below-average roster behind McDavid. The Oilers may have to take a conservative approach this summer and build through the draft, putting greater importance on improving the underlying numbers at even-strength and special teams – areas that coaches can have a direct impact on. The Oilers do not have the assets to give up in a trade, which will force the team to rely on tactics and the exploitation of other inefficiencies rather than actual talent and skill to win hockey games.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

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CBC Edmonton News (TV): Oilers season post-mortem, GM search and off-season approach

cbc edmonton logoI joined Nancy Carlson, the new host of the CBC Edmonton News, for my weekly television segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 19:30 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, April 8)

Topics we covered:

  • The key reasons why the 2018/19 season was such a disaster. Included on the list: poor roster construction, lack of offensive production, poor possession numbers, horrible penalty kill, inconsistent goaltending – just to name a few.
  • Key takeaways from the Oilers press conference this morning: lack of urgency among executives when it comes to long-term strategic planning, the same messaging we’ve been hearing for a while (and little action), and the overall, passive approach the Oilers are taking with their general manager search.
  • Course of action this off-season, which should include being ruthless with their cap situation, and creating a market for the players whose value might be perceived as higher than it actually is.

Thanks again to the team at CBC for making it all happen. It was cool to be the first guest on the new set with Nancy!

Getting more out of the Oilers powerplay

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The Edmonton Oilers powerplay has been one of the few bright spots in a dreadful 2018/19 season.

After 78 games, the Oilers have scored 46 goals with the man-advantage, scoring at a rate of 7.95 goals per hour – good for eighth in the league. They’ve also done a pretty good job at generating offensive opportunities, thanks in large part to their high-end talent, ranking 12th in the league with 52.17 shots on goal per hour and ranking 6th in the league with 23.15 high-danger scoring chances per hour. The Oilers have been fairly consistent throughout the season on the powerplay, posting scoring and shot rates typically above league average rates.

Team GP SF/60 HDCF/60 GF/60
Tampa Bay Lightning 78 50.83 16.44 11.01
Boston Bruins 79 52.86 21.58 10.17
Florida Panthers 79 56.11 18.32 10.09
Winnipeg Jets 78 56.58 21.26 9.33
Pittsburgh Penguins 79 51.05 22.12 8.98
San Jose Sharks 79 59.62 25.33 8.81
Colorado Avalanche 78 51.35 21.55 8.00
Edmonton Oilers 78 52.17 23.15 7.95
Toronto Maple Leafs 78 61.89 34.44 7.87
Washington Capitals 79 51.23 17.99 7.47

The Oilers have relied quite heavily on their top end talent, as we’ve rarely seen the powerplay without McDavid, Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins on the ice together. In fact, Draisaitl, who currently leads the team in total powerplay ice time, has been on the ice for 76.73% of the team’s powerplay ice time and 43 of the team’s 46 powerplay goals. If that ice time sounds high, and that goal-share disproportionate, it is.

Across the entire league, the Oilers rank second overall when it comes to deploying their first powerplay unit. To figure this out, I had looked at the total powerplay time for each team and used their forward with the most powerplay minutes as a proxy for the first powerplay unit. Based on this method, on average team’s have had their top powerplay unit on the ice for 63.72% of their total powerplay time this season. The Capitals currently rely on their first powerplay unit the most, having Alex Ovechkin on the ice for 88.65% of their total time.

Team GF/60 – 1st PP Unit GF/60 – 2nd PP Unit TOI% – 1st PP Unit
Washington Capitals 8.08 2.69 88.6%
Edmonton Oilers 9.68 2.23 76.7%
Chicago Blackhawks 8.59 3.88 75.5%
Tampa Bay Lightning 12.20 7.60 74.2%
Winnipeg Jets 9.87 7.99 71.3%
Pittsburgh Penguins 9.95 6.70 70.2%
Dallas Stars 8.21 5.34 69.8%
Philadelphia Flyers 6.71 3.45 69.5%
Colorado Avalanche 9.39 4.95 68.7%
Buffalo Sabres 7.75 3.65 66.7%
Vancouver Canucks 6.94 2.96 66.1%
Florida Panthers 11.64 7.08 65.9%
Arizona Coyotes 5.77 5.68 65.5%
Boston Bruins 12.52 5.81 65.0%
New York Rangers 8.39 4.87 62.8%
Los Angeles Kings 7.18 3.56 61.7%
Calgary Flames 9.44 3.91 61.3%
New York Islanders 5.83 3.60 61.2%
Carolina Hurricanes 7.71 4.26 60.9%
Toronto Maple Leafs 9.69 5.18 59.5%
San Jose Sharks 9.27 8.14 59.4%
Montreal Canadiens 5.24 3.39 59.0%
St Louis Blues 7.72 6.43 58.7%
Columbus Blue Jackets 5.86 4.34 58.5%
New Jersey Devils 6.64 5.54 58.5%
Vegas Golden Knights 6.96 4.98 56.1%
Nashville Predators 5.09 3.80 55.4%
Minnesota Wild 8.39 6.00 55.2%
Anaheim Ducks 7.40 4.64 52.6%
Detroit Red Wings 7.39 4.95 51.3%
Ottawa Senators 7.14 7.32 49.5%

I also wasn’t sure if getting three goals from the Oilers second powerplay unit (i.e., ice time that did not have the team leader in ice time on the ice) was bad or average. Over the course of 80.80 minutes without Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers have scored at a rate of 2.23 goals per hour, which is actually the lowest rate compared to every other team’s second powerplay units. Again – the second powerplay unit is when the team’s ice-team leader in powerplay minutes is not on the ice. On average, second powerplay units score at a rate of 5.00 goals per hour, with team’s like San Jose, Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Florida and Pittsburgh – all of which have top ten powerplays this season – getting over 7.00 goals per hour from their second powerplay units.

Doing some quick math, if the Oilers were getting a rate of 5.00 goals per hour from their second powerplay unit, they would have approximately four more goals. And if they were getting 7.00 goals per hour – they would have approximately seven more goals. Small increases that don’t impact the overall -37 goal-differential much , but they could have had an additional win in the standings. Combine that with a competent penalty kill, and the Oilers could have been a little more competitive.

There’s plenty of issues for the Oilers to work through this off-season, making it imperative that they collect as much information and insight as they can to better inform their decision-making process. While the powerplay may seem like a positive, management needs to apply a critical lens to their current situation and figure where else they can squeeze out more goals from. It’s great that the Oilers have the high end talent to make the first powerplay work, but it’s obvious that they need to either spread their offensive talent more efficiently or find some depth scoring (even a third or fourth line player) this off-season that could potentially give that second powerplay unit a much needed  boost.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Data compilation: Oilers – PP Analysis – 20190331 – Public

 

 

Taking notes

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Unfortunate for the NHL that the Stanley Cup playoffs will begin without a couple of premier, 100-point players.

Finding high-end talent is the hardest thing to do when building a championship roster, putting Edmonton in a very enviable position. But due to a lack of foresight and a series of poor decisions, the Oilers are a long, long way from being a contender. Getting out of this hole is going to require some aggressive, ruthless decision-making, and it really should have started at the trade deadline. The Oilers need to continuously look at their situation critically, and not try to convince themselves that they’re only a move or two away from being competitive.

The team’s performance in the month of March is a good test for management. While they are having success, having gone 7-4-2 (a 0.615 points percentage, 8th in the league), it’s not exactly sustainable considering they have one of the worst even-strength (5v5) Corsi For percentages in the league with 47.53% and a Fenwick-for percentage (a proxy for scoring chances) of 47.82%. Hopefully the Oilers management recognizes the team’s deficiencies and doesn’t overlook the fact that even with Connor McDavid on the ice, their on-ice shot shares at even-strength are below 50.0%. And make no mistake, the Oilers have been poor all season, even when they’ve had a healthy roster.

It should go without saying that team’s need to generate shots and scoring chances on a regular basis to have success in this league. And if the Oilers need a little more convincing, they can go back to January 23rd this season when they had a 0.490 points percentage and were tied in points with the St. Louis Blues.

Metric Edmonton St. Louis
Record 23-24-3 22-22-5
Points 49 49
Goals For% 45.92 49.24
Corsi For% 47.77 50.69
Fenwick For% 47.67 51.44
Scoring Chances For% 47.48 50.91
High Danger Scoring Chances For% 45.87 54.28
Shooting% 7.85 8.14
Save% 91.52 90.80

Both clubs were struggling around the all-star break, but for different reasons. The Oilers struggled offensively at even-strength, generating one of the lowest rates of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick) and couldn’t convert on their chances, posting a 7.85% shooting percentage. The Oilers were also one of the worst possession teams, posting a Corsi For percentage of 47.77%, regularly getting out-shot and out-chanced. The Blues on the other hand were doing a lot of things right, often winning the shot-share at even-strength, including high danger chances with a 54.28% share. They were sound defensively, allowing one of the lowest rates of unblocked shot attempts against, but just couldn’t buy a save. The Blues penalty kill results weren’t as bad as the Oilers, who were allowing 8.18 goals against per hour (23rd in the league), but they were still in the bottom third league-wide.

Since January 23rd, the Blues completely turned things around going 21-6-3 (a 0.750 points percentage, third best in the league), shooting up to third in the Central division. Their shot-share numbers have remained strong, posting a 54% share or greater when it comes to Corsi, Fenwick, Scoring Chances and High Danger Scoring Chances. The biggest driver was goaltending, which shot up to 93.87% since the all-star break. The Blues had the right players, the right tactics all season and it showed up in the numbers. It’s a testament to the Blues management and coaching staff that they kept things together and didn’t panic in the face of adversity, knowing full well that they were doing everything they could to succeed.

Hopefully the Oilers have been paying attention and took a few notes about the importance of winning the shot-share battles (and not being below 48%), and how variance works in hockey. It’s an important off-season as the club searches for a new general manager, builds up a front office and alters how they make decisions and do business. And it’ll be important to not only properly assess the franchise’s current state, but also look at how their competitors operate and how they handle things during the highs and lows of a season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Recent success, depth players and the GM search

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Lindsay Highmoor on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly television segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 16:50 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, March 28)

Topics we covered:

  • Re-cap of Tuesday night’s 8-4 win against the Kings and the star players leading the way.
  • The Oilers depth issues, and the importance of finding reliable talent on value deals for next season.
  • The Oilers overall numbers at even-strength (5v5) this season
    • Goals/60 – 2.21 (26th)
    • Shots/60 – 28.44 (26th)
    • Goals against/60 – 2.59 (21st)
    • Shots against/60 – 31.34 (20th)
  • Special team results:
    • Powerplay – Goals/60 – 8.06 (7th)
    • Penalty kill  – Goals against/60 – 9.44 (30th)
  • The Oilers search for a general manager, and the importance of collecting as much information and insight as possible before hiring someone.
  • Preview of tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

CBC Radio Active: The countdown is on to end of the Oilers season

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk all things Oilers. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2019, March 21)

Topics we covered:

  • The season as a whole and the key factors for yet another season without playoffs.
  • Bob Nicholson’s search for a GM, and his missteps and role in the Chiarelli era.
  • The importance of leveraging analytics as part of the larger strategy around decision-making.

Trending downwards

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With the Oilers currently on a decent run, going 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, it’ll be interesting to see how their recent success will impact the management group’s decision-making process going forward.

The reality of the situation is that the Oilers are a bad team, and have been for most of the season. They currently rank 23rd in the league with 69 points, posting an overall goal-differential of -31. At even-strength (5v5), the Oilers have posted a 47.78% Corsi For percentage, a proxy for possession, and a 47.74% Fenwick For percentage, a proxy for scoring chances – both ranking the Oilers 23rd in the league and one of the worst in the western conference. And while the powerplay has been productive, scoring 7.82 goals per hour (10th in the league), the penalty kill continues to be pathetic, allowing the second highest rate of goals against with 9.14 per hour.

So while the Oilers haven’t been mathematically been eliminated, it’s been fairly obvious for most of the season that this team isn’t good enough to contend for a playoff spot, let alone championship.

Hopefully the Oilers management is aware of the fact that even though their results over their last ten games have been positive – at one point being five points out of a wild card spot – the  team has posted only a +1 goal differential (all situations), and have been out-scored 19-17 at even-strength – a goal-share of 47.22%. What’s especially concerning is the team’s underlying shot-share metrics over their last ten games:

Metric Games 61-70
Corsi For% 45.15%
Fenwick For% 44.98%
Shots For% 46.44%
Scoring Chances For% 45.29%
High Danger Scoring Chances For% 46.74%

Those are shot-shares that would put the Oilers in the bottom five of the league, with teams like Detroit, New Jersey, New York Rangers, Anaheim and Ottawa. It’s a good indication that their recent results are not sustainable, and that to continue having success they would need their goaltending to remain top five in the league. And that’s not exactly a reasonable expectation considering team save percentages often fluctuate and goaltender performances tend to regress towards their career averages.

It’s worth noting that in the ten games prior to this recent stretch, which started right after Peter Chiarelli was dismissed, the Oilers posted their best 10-game stretch when it came to shot-share metrics, but couldn’t get results going 2-5-3 and getting outscored 37-25.

Metric Games 51-60
Corsi For% 50.77%
Fenwick For% 51.33%
Shots For% 50.36%
Scoring Chances For% 53.38%
High Danger Scoring Chances For% 47.87%

Not the greatest numbers, as they barely broke even when it came to most metrics. But these are the best the Oilers did since Hitchcock’s arrival. Over this stretch, the Oilers were doing well suppressing offence against at even-strength (5v5), allowing 38.1 unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick) against per hour and 29.24 shots on goal against per hour. Unfortunately, their goaltending was slightly below average, posting a team save percentage of 91.06%. Offensively, they were ice cold not only at scoring goals, but also generating shots and scoring chances – an issue that has plagued them all season.

But as we see in the graph below, things got progressively worse over the most recent ten games, especially when it came to the defensive side of things. The team went from allowing 38.1 unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick) per hour to 47.80 per hour – a significant jump going from one of the best in the league to one of the worst. Note, the black line represents the league average rate of unblocked shot attempts for and against this season (42.2).

20190314 - Rolling Fenwick Rates - 10

A couple things.

One, what exactly did the Oilers do that caused this spike in the rate of unblocked shot attempts against? Was there something about their results in games 51-60 that made the coaches adjust their tactical plans? There weren’t any significant changes in how often players were being deployed as the majority of them were playing around the same number and type of minutes across both 10-game segments. Another tell that the team is having deeper systemic issues is the fact that even McDavid posted poor on-ice numbers over this recent ten game stretch (48.61 CF%, 46.74 FF%, 43.75 SCF%).

Second, and more importantly, which segment are the Oilers going to take their lessons from: games 51 to 60 when they did not get results, but were playing well defensively, or games 61 to 70 where the results were there, but likely not sustainable considering how bad they’ve been possession-wise and how badly they’ve been bleeding shots and chances against.

The Oilers management group has to show courage and apply a critical lens on things regardless of the results, and seek a deeper understanding of not only why things happened but also if the results have been real and sustainable. It’s something we know the Oilers have failed to do in the past, but hopefully their approach changes this off-season considering the dire situation the franchise finds itself in.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Appendix 1: Results over the last 20 games

Game number Match Result
51 2019-02-02 – Oilers 4, Flyers 5 L
52 2019-02-03 – Oilers 3, Canadiens 4 L
53 2019-02-05 – Blackhawks 6, Oilers 2 L
54 2019-02-07 – Oilers 4, Wild 1 W
55 2019-02-09 – Sharks 5, Oilers 2 L
56 2019-02-13 – Oilers 1, Penguins 3 L
57 2019-02-15 – Oilers 1, Hurricanes 3 L
58 2019-02-16 – Oilers 2, Islanders 5 L
59 2019-02-19 – Coyotes 3, Oilers 2 L
60 2019-02-21 – Islanders 3, Oilers 4 W
61 2019-02-23 – Ducks 1, Oilers 2 W
62 2019-02-25 – Oilers 2, Predators 3 L
63 2019-02-27 – Oilers 2, Maple Leafs 6 L
64 2019-02-28 – Oilers 4, Senators 2 W
65 2019-03-02 – Oilers 4, Blue Jackets 0 W
66 2019-03-04 – Oilers 4, Sabres 3 W
67 2019-03-07 – Canucks 2, Oilers 3 W
68 2019-03-09 – Maple Leafs 3, Oilers 2 L
69 2019-03-11 – Rangers 2, Oilers 3 W
70 2019-03-13 – Devils 6, Oilers 3 L

Appendix 2: Shot-share metrics definitions

  • Corsi For% (CF%) – The proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., Corsi For/(Corsi For + Corsi Against). This is used as a proxy for possession and can predict a team’s future share of goals.
  • Fenwick For% (FF%) – The proportion of all the unblocked shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the Oilers 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. It can also predict a team’s future share of goals, slightly better than Corsi.
  • Shots For% (SF%) – The proportion of all the shots on goal that the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., Shots For/(Shots For + Shots Against).
  • Scoring Chances For% (SCF%) – The proportion of all the scoring chances (as defined by Natural Stat Trick) that the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., Scoring Chances For/(Scoring Chances For + Scoring Chances Against),
  • High Danger Scoring Chances For% (HDCF%) – The proportion of all the high danger scoring chances (as defined by Natural Stat Trick) that the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., High Danger Scoring Chances For/(High Danger Scoring Chances For + High Danger Scoring Chances Against).

Appendix 3 – Edmonton Oilers, Fenwick/60 (5v5) with key events

Oilers Rolling FF - With Milestones - 20190315