CBC Radio Active: NHL set to return to play

cbc edmonton logoI joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active today to talk about the NHL’s Return to Play plan and what to expect in the Oilers qualifier series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2020, July 10).

While it’s exciting to have hockey starting up again, it’s difficult to ignore the health risks these players and team staff members are taking on. The harsh reality is that we’re likely to see players test positive for COVID-19 and there’s no guarantee that the protocols like social distancing and masking along with regular testing will limit the spread of the virus and prevent serious outbreaks. There’s also the mental health impact of playing away from family and friends for an extended period of time in a restricted bubble. And then you have the heightened risk of players getting injured with teams scheduled to play a lot of hockey withing tight time-frames. Make no mistake, this is driven by money, not the “love of the game”. Here’s hoping players and staff stay healthy and avoid the long-term health impacts of the COVID-19 virus.

The actual series between Edmonton and Chicago I think is going to be interesting and could be closer than we’d like to think. The Oilers definitely have the edge when it comes to overall talent and the powerplay, but I think the Blackhawks had some things going for them in the latter half of the season, especially at even-strength.

Over the final twenty-five games of the season, the Oilers went 13-8-4, a points percentage of 0.600 – placing them in the top ten league wide. Chicago wasn’t too far behind and actually posted stronger results with a +11 goal differential compared to Edmonton’s +2. Chicago also did a slightly better job when it came to controlling the flow of play as measured by shot attempts (i.e., Corsi) as well as scoring chances which uses unblocked shot attempts as a proxy.

Final 25 Games (2019/20) Chicago Edmonton
Record 13-10-2 13-8-4
Points% 0.560 (14th) 0.600 (9th)
5v5 – Goal-share 55.05 (7th) 50.93 (14th)
5v5 – Goal-differential +11 +2
5v5 – Corsi For% 50.22 (14th) 49.26 (18th)
5v5 – Fenwick For% 50.42 (14th) 48.83 (21st)
5v5 – Shooting% 8.73 (10th) 9.22 (5th)
5v5 – Save% 92.76 (7th) 91.76 (22nd)

What’s interesting is that while Chicago and Edmonton ranked 19th and 20th respectively when it came to preventing scoring chances, Chicago did a much better job generating scoring chances ranking 6th in the league while Edmonton ranked 22nd. The other area where I think Chicago has the slight edge is in net, which plays a significant role in the playoffs. Edmonton finished the season 14th overall with a 90.55% team save percentage at all strengths, while Chicago finished 6th with 91.30%.

The other area where Chicago did well with consistently was their penalty kill, which finished ninth best in the league when it came to the rate of goals against with 6.34 per hour. And that was due in large part to their goaltending, which ranked third in the league when it came to save percentage shorthanded. The fact that Chicago got consistent goaltending throughout the season, and the fact that the Oilers struggled to generate offence in the latter part of the season should be of concern and will hopefully be recognized and addressed by the coaching staff during training camp.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Re-connecting

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With the NHL planning to open training camps on July 10th and a playoff format in place, I needed a refresher on how the regular season finished. Mind you, because of the gap between when the season finished due to the pandemic and when the playoffs will hopefully start, it’s pretty much a whole new season. Players have fallen out of their regular season rhythms (i.e., hot streaks, cold streaks), they’ve had time to recover from injuries sustained during the regular season. And coaches are now preparing for playoff competition, which will likely require them to adjust their overall tactics.

Having said that, it’s still worthwhile to see how the Edmonton Oilers finished in relation to the rest of the Western conference, what their strengths and weaknesses were and what progress the franchise made from last season. All of this has to be factored in when continuously making decisions worth millions of dollars, with a championship being the ultimate goal.

From a high-level, we know the Oilers were a good team this season, finishing second in the Pacific division collecting 83 points in 71 games – a respectable 0.585 points percentage. Anything over 0.600 in a regular season, and you’re top 10 in the league and considered a legitimate contender – and the Oilers were close finishing 12th overall. Their +8 goal differential (all situations) was tied for sixth best in the Western conference and third in the Pacific with Arizona.

Here’s how the Oilers compared against the rest of the Western conference. Included in the table is each team’s shot-share numbers at even-strength (5v5) to get a sense of how well they controlled the flow of play and possession (i.e., Corsi For%) and scoring chances (i.e., Fenwick For%), as well as their actual results (i.e., goal-share). I’ve also included each team’s net rate of goals for and against per hour, both on the powerplay and penalty kill, which factors in shorthanded goals. I’ve applied a basic heat map (green is good, red is bad) and sorted the teams by points percentage.

West20192020

Now we know one of the biggest drivers for the Oilers success this season was their exceptional special teams, as the club finished first in the league on the powerplay scoring 10.64 goals per hour (59 goals-for, 10 goals-against), and second on the penalty kill allowing 5.15 goals against per hour (3 goals-for, 31 goals-against). For context, over the last three seasons prior to 2019/20, the league average rate of goals-for per hour was 7.07 on the powerplay, and about the same rate of goals against on the penalty kill (7.09). The Oilers powerplay generated a slightly below-average rate of unblocked shot attempts, but converted 20.0% of their shots into goals thanks to their high-end skilled forwards. And the penalty kill while allowing the ninth highest rate of unblocked shots against in the league, had the best team save percentage in the league shorthanded (90.61%).

The Oilers were very dependent on their special teams tactics and individual players to bail out their poor even-strength (5v5) results. They finished the season with a -16 goal differential at even-strength, a goals-for percentage of 47.32% (25th in the league) only ahead of the California teams, Ottawa, New Jersey and Detroit. Had the Oilers generated the same number of shots and instead posted a league average team shooting percentage on the powerplay (13.3% over the previous three seasons), they would have scored roughly 20 fewer goals. And had the goaltending been average on the penalty kill, they would have allowed another 13 goals. So instead of a +8 all-situations goal-differential, they’d be at -25 and in the bottom of the league contending for another lottery pick. I know special teams play only makes up about 20% of a team’s total playing time, but boy, it can cover up a lot of deficiencies and make or break an entire regular season.

What’s interesting is that while the goal-share results were poor, the Oilers even-strength play wasn’t horrible, having posted shot-share numbers closer to 50% at certain points after the new year. Below are the Oilers Corsi For percentage and Fenwick For percentage in rolling 25-game segments, as well as the actual goal-share which would took a big dive toward the mid-point of the season and what may have prompted tactical changes by the coaching staff at the Christmas break. Note that game 42 was played on December 31st, 2019 against the Rangers.

RollingCFFFGF

Worth noting that it was on both sides of the puck that the team struggled with early on in the season, and we can’t say for certain that it was completely resolved as they had some issues generating and preventing shot attempts over the final twenty-five games. Below is the team’s rate of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances) for and against at even-strength over 25-game segments. The gray line indicates the league average rate of unblocked shot attempts for and against from the previous three seasons. Note that allowing 44.00 unblocked shot attempts per hour would have a team in the bottom five league-wide, and the Oilers were one of the worst at preventing chances early in the season and were trending upwards before the league shut down.

RollingFF

So shot-share metrics were mediocre and goal-share results were poor – so what was driving the poor results? Turns out it was really their goaltending at even-strength that sunk them early in the season and cost them games. Below is the team’s shooting and save percentage over rolling 25-game segments to show the input players had on the Oilers actual results (i.e., goal-share) at even-strength.

RollingPDO

The Oilers team shooting percentage was consistent all year, finishing 13th in the league with 8.43%. Over the previous three seasons, league average shooting percentage has been 7.43%. The team’s save percentage on the other hand, was one of the weak points of the team. The Oilers finished the 2019/20 season with a 91.23 save percentage, 25th overall. Note that over the previous three seasons, the league average team save percentage at even-strength has been 92.17%. Heading into the end of 2019, they had hit a league-worst 89.0% save percentage, which, to the goaltenders’ credit, they did bounce back from posting league average numbers over the final twenty five games of the season.

If the Oilers want to be serious contenders, they need consistent, league average goaltending at even-strength and should be incorporating as much information and data as possible to their off-season decision-making process around the position. That and addressing their poor results at even-strength has to be a focus for management as they can’t count on special teams posting historical numbers every season. And more importantly, they can’t be blinded by the overall success and overlook their roster weaknesses, like the bottom six, and be willing to move out assets if it means making even incremental gains elsewhere. This isn’t a complete roster, and there’s plenty of work to get done this off-season if they ever want to contend for a championship.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 14 – Cameron Thomson (@ThomsonCam)

3000by3000 (1)My guest this week: Cameron Thomson!

We discussed the Oilers progress this season, how they did at the trade deadline and how we see the Pacific division and western conference shaking out. We also dug into the roster construction, areas that need to be addressed and how the Oilers should approach the off-season.

Full segment below:

 

Podcast channels:

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

CBC Radio Active: Recap of the Oilers transactions at the trade deadline

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Adrienne Pan on CBC Radio Active this evening to talk Oilers and their activity at the NHL trade deadline.

Full segment here: CBC Radio Active (2020, February 24)

Topics we covered:

  • The acquisition  of Andreas Athanasiou from the Red Wings and his case for being on the top line with McDavid. Price was a little steep, but he’s a skilled forward that will remain under team control past this season.
  • The acquisition of defenceman Mike Green from the Red Wings and the depth he adds to a pretty good defence core. Price a little high, but the team will value his pick moving ability. The Oilers should do what they can to acquire picks at the draft.
  • The acquisition of Tyler Ennis from Ottawa, where he could fit on the roster and what to expect from him. Reasonable price for a rental, and he should be more productive than the likes of Khaira and Chiasson. Should get a shot on the third line with Sheahan and Archibald and help draw more penalties.
  • Expectations the rest of the season.

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

 

Addressing the goaltending

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The Edmonton Oilers are in an interesting position heading into the trade deadline and a competitive playoff race. Their recent success has them first in the Pacific division with a 0.593 points percentage and eleventh in the league. Since January 1st, the Oilers have out-scored opponents 65-48 and ranked ninth in the league with a 53.25% goal-share at even-strength. A big reason for their improved goal-share has been their ability to control the flow of play and spending more time in the offensive zone, posting a score-adjusted Corsi For% (i.e., a proxy for possession) of 51.22% and a Fenwick For% (a proxy for scoring chances) of 51.37%.

A playoff spot is looking more and more likely based on the overall results and the underlying shot-metrics, and will require the team to continue their strong play and  overcome the significant loss of key players. The question management faces now is whether or not they should look to adjust the roster to not only remain competitive in the playoff race but to also make a deep playoff run if they do in fact qualify.

There are plenty of areas on the roster to upgrade and management has to make some very shrewd decisions to build a roster for today and for next season. Draft picks and prospects are a significant part of developing a sustainable, championship contender and the Oilers have benefited from a nice influx of young talent over the last six months. It’s critical that management gets their decision-making right this upcoming trade deadline, especially when it comes to asset management, and properly assess where the true needs are.

And while a strong case can be made for adding skill to the top six forwards group to help with scoring at even-strength, it’s the Oilers goaltending that hasn’t received as much attention as it should and may be driving the need for scoring up front.

The Oilers currently rank 27th in the league when it comes to even-strength (5v5) save percentage with 90.87% – allowing 133 goals off of 1,456 shots against – and only ahead of New Jersey, Florida, Detroit and San Jose. Among 48 goaltenders who have played at least 1,000 minutes at even-strength this season, Mikko Koskinen ranks 29th with 91.50% save percentage, while Mike Smith ranks 46th with 90.10%.

The Oilers team save percentage has been below league-average levels all season, which is unfortunate considering the Oilers have done fine defensively posting just below league average rates of shots against. Note that 92.00% is the league average team save percentage at even-strength over the past three seasons and is represented by the orange line.

SV25

A team save percentage of 90.87% doesn’t seem so bad relative to the league wide average of 92.00 – that’s only a difference of 1.13. But if you factor in the actual number and rates of shots against, the goaltending is costing the team a lot of goals and potential wins in the standings.

Based on some quick math, if the Oilers received league average goaltending (92.00%) from Smith and Koskinen at even-strength and allowed the same number of shots-on-goal against (1,456), they would have allowed approximately 116 goals – 17 goals fewer than their actual number. Instead of posting a 46.59% even-strength goal-share ( 116 goals-for, 133 goals-against), the Oilers would be up to 50.00%. And instead of a +7 overall goal-differential, league average goaltending would have them closer to the top five teams in the league. This is all hypothetical of course, but it does emphasize the point that goaltending has been a drag on the overall results this season.

Where the goaltending has driven positive results is on the penalty kill, which ranks second in the league allowing 5.18 goals against per hour despite allowing the tenth highest rate of unblocked shot attempts against in the league. The Oilers team save percentage of 90.55% ranks second in the league, having allowed 26 goals off of 275 shots against. Using the same process as above, if the Oilers goaltending posted a league average team save percentage (86.34%) and allowed the same number of shots against, the Oilers would have allowed 38 goals – 12 more than their actual number and closer to league average rates of goals against on the penalty kill. The good news for the Oilers is that teams typically play the same proportion of total ice time on the penalty kill in the post-season as they do in the regular season (Source: Hockey Graphs). Over the last three seasons, teams play 8.20% of their total ice time on the penalty kill in the regular season. And in the playoffs, they play about 8.52% of their ice time on the penalty kill.

Having said that, it’s critical that the team get league average goaltending from their netminders at even-strength when over 80% of the game is played, especially for this playoff race which is expected to come down to the wire. It would be shortsighted to assume the Oilers have a goal-scoring issue based on the team’s goal-share at even-strength and give up significant assets at the trade deadline when when really the team is having bigger issues at the goaltending position. It’ll also be interesting to see what the Oilers do this off-season with their netminding and if they recognize what their actual deficiencies were in 2019/20.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Related:

Appendix: Oilers rate of shots against, 2019/20

Shot attempts against Unblocked shot attempts against Shots on goal against Scoring chances against
57.01 42.07 30.54 48.09
20th 19th 17th 21st

 

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 13 – Thomas Drance

3000by3000 (1)To dig into the Vancouver Canucks and the Pacific division, I was joined this week by Thomas Drance from The Athletic Vancouver!

Thomas shared his thoughts on the Canucks’ season, including how they stack up against the Pacific and what their short-term and long-term plans could potentially look like. We discussed the play of Elias Pettersson who has driven a lot of the Canucks success this season and what areas of the roster the Canucks might need to address to remain competitive.

Full segment below:

Related links:

Podcast channels:

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

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Corsica Hockey

Tracking the Western Conference

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The west is a mess.

It’s remarkable that the Oilers are currently 14th in the NHL when it comes to points percentage with 58.2%, but 4th in the western conference.

The harsh reality is that there are no powerhouses in the Pacific division and really only two in the western conference – St. Louis and Colorado, both posting a points percentage around 65.0%. Things remain wide open for the Oilers to make the playoffs and even potentially finish first in their division, and it remains to be seen if there’s legitimate competition that could derail those plans.

To get a sense of how the Oilers stack-up against the rest of their division and the conference, I looked into how each team has done so far this season, what their results have looked like at even-strength and how they’ve performed on special teams. I also wanted to know how well each team controlled the flow of play as measure by shot-share metrics like Corsi and Fenwick.

With playoff positioning on the line and the trade deadline coming up, we can start to see which teams are legit and what their strengths and weaknesses are. In my mind, more than half of the teams in the league aren’t good enough to make a real run this season and are banking on a lot going right. These teams should really be leveraging the trade deadline to collect assets and build for next season instead of losing value which most teams end up doing. And when we look at each team’s numbers, you can start to see which of these teams are in need of a tweak and which ones need a massive overhaul, best dealt with in the off-season.

Below is a table of the western conference teams sorted by their points percentage prior to the games on February 10th, 2020. I’ve included each team’s even-strength (5v5) results as reflected by goals for percentage (GF%) and goal differential, as well as the underlying shot-share metrics such as Corsi For%, Fenwick For% and Expected Goals For% to capture how well the team does controlling the flow of play. Team shooting percentage and team save percentage has been included to capture individual drivers that may be impacting the overall results. A glossary can be found at the end of this article.

I’ve also included each team’s special teams (ST) results, combining the goal rates for and against on the powerplay and penalty kill (ST Goals/60). The ST Fenwick/60 metrics captures how teams have been doing at generating and preventing unblocked shot attempts on special teams. This metric gives us a sense of which teams are doing the right things tactically and process-wise, but may be getting sunk by a lack of finishing ability on the powerplay or poor goaltending on the penalty kill.

2020-02-10_16-17-42

Starting from the Oilers perspective, the first thing to note is that their even-strength (5v5) goal-share ranks 12th in the west with 46.38%, a -17 goal differential, only ahead of Calgary, San Jose and Los Angeles. They are getting good production from a second line now, but they still lack talent and scoring depth up front. The other issue is their goaltending, which ranks as one of the worst in the league at even-strength and hasn’t received the criticism it deserves.

The penalty kill is where the goaltending is really driving positive results as the team allows the tenth highest rate of unblocked shot attempts against but are getting bailed out regularly. The powerplay has also been outstanding this season, although the results have begun to slip over the last twenty-five games both in terms of unblocked shot attempts and actual goals. If the Oilers are going to rely on their special teams to make up for their poor even-strength results, they need to get things back on track right away or risk losing ground in the playoff race.

Where to start with the rest of the western conference.

Safe to say that the California teams are not going to make it this season due to their goal-differential at even-strength and their poor results on special teams. Worth noting that all three teams have been doing well when it comes to generating and preventing shot attempts on special teams, but clearly lack the scoring talent and goaltending to remain competitive. It’ll be interesting to see how these three teams approach the off-season as there are foundations to build from, especially with the Kings who have been posting positive shot-share metrics all season but can’t finish or buy a save.

Nashville is really interesting having posted an excellent even-strength goal-share and positive underlying shot-metrics, but can’t get it together on the powerplay or the penalty kill. They have a good roster on paper, but I wonder if the Preds do what the Blues did two trade deadlines in a row and make moves geared towards winning next season. And somehow they’ll manage to remain competitive in the playoff race.

Vegas is the other team that’s done a lot right but hasn’t been able to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Similar to Edmonton, goaltending has been a major issue for them and their special teams results cooled off considerably from the start of the season. Still think they’ll figure things out eventually and finish first in the Pacific, even without making a single move at the deadline.

Dallas could use more finishers. They’re doing alright in terms of shot-share metrics and getting great goaltending, but only have a +1 goal differential. Minnesota sitting 12th in the western conference has a better even-strength goal differential but are being let down by their terrible special teams. Goaltending wins playoff rounds, so good luck to whoever faces Dallas.

Calgary and Winnipeg I think are two teams at risk of losing their playoff spots. Both rank in the top eight, but there’s major warning signs starting with their overall goal-differentials. Calgary appears to be sunk by poor finishing, while the Jets are one of the worst in the league in terms of shot-share metrics, consistently getting out-shot and out-chanced. And neither team has a lot going on on special teams.

Hopefully the Edmonton Oilers are aware of their situation, and understand what’s been driving and what’s been dragging their results and their competitions. And it’s especially important in the cap era to keep tabs on the rest of the division and conference in an attempt to find any sort of competitive advantage. We know every Pacific division team has depth issues right now and will look to address their situation either through their draft/development program or via trade and free agency. It’ll be up the Oilers now to use whatever information available to make critical decisions both now and in the off-season to take advantage of a weak division and conference.

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 can predict a team’s future share of goals (GF%).
  • 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. It can also predict a team’s future share of goals, slightly better than Corsi.
  • Shots For percentage (SF%) – The proportion of all the shots on goal that the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Shots For/(Shots For + Shots Against).
  • 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. This has been found to be a better predictor of future goals than Corsi and Fenwick.
  • 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))

Offence from defence

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One of the key drivers for the Oilers success in the last month has been their ability to create more offence at even-strength (5v5) than they’ve allowed. In their first ten games of 2020, the Oilers have posted a Fenwick For% (i.e., their total share of unblocked shot attempts for and against) of 52.96% – which has them in the top ten league-wide. Prior to January, they had posted a Fenwick For% of 48.18%, ranking 23rd in the league.

There’s definitely been a gradual uptick in the Oilers ability to control the total share of scoring chances, especially over the last month. Below is a graph showing the Oilers share of unblocked shot attempts over rolling twenty-five game segments this season.

FF25 - 20200204

The Oilers started off okay, but they’ve been poor at out-chancing opponents pretty much all season. The team still hasn’t posted a Fenwick For% above 50% over a twenty-five game segment, but it appears they’re on the right path and should clear the break-even mark soon if they continue to play well. If the Oilers have any hope of having a positive goal-differential at even-strength, they’ll need to have the puck more frequently and be playing in the offensive zone as much as possible.

Based on the recent spike in Fenwick For%, I suspect that the integration of mobile talent like Caleb Jones on the back-end, along with speed and skill up front in Kailer Yamamoto has had the desired impact expected by management and the coaching staff. But it also sounds like the coaching staff made some tactical changes coming out of Christmas break that’s been driving their offensive success.

Following the Oilers win against the Flames in Calgary, defenceman Ethan Bear was asked why the team has been playing well since the end of December. Bear has been excellent this season, playing significant minutes on the top pairing with Nurse and adding mobility and skill to a roster that was in desperate need of it. Bear’s response included the typical player comment about how the team was sticking together and all that good stuff, but he also added this tidbit about where he felt the offensive output was coming from.

“Letting our offence come from defence. Helping each other out in the backend. And getting those short-share passes. And everyone is working into position.”  – Oilers defenceman Ethan Bear (Source)

Oilers forward Gaetan Haas, who has carved out a nice role for himself as a depth centerman, made a similar comment prior to the game against the Coyotes in Arizona when asked about the Oilers recent success.

“For sure the mindset changed after that game around Christmas. We wanted to do the right things well, and we’re starting to play smarter and easier trying to go out of the d-zone as fast as we can.”  – Oilers forward Gaetan Haas (Source)

Whatever changes the Oilers coaching staff made after the Christmas break to the defensive zone structure and breakouts at even-strength are clearly working with the Oilers posting a Fenwick For% above 52%.

What I’m curious to see is if the Oilers believe in these tactical changes and adjust their approach to the trade deadline accordingly. The changes have made an impact on the team’s ability to generate scoring chances and the results (i.e., goal-share, goal differentials) have been outstanding. The question now is if the Oilers choose to keep the roster as-is or if they do target, say, a third-line center

As I noted in my previous post, all four lines have some positive things to highlight from this recent stretch. The top two lines did really well in terms of goal-share, as well as Haas’ line. There are percentages to be mindful of as Draisaitl’s line can probably expect to see their goal-share decline as their on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage come back down to earth. In terms of shot-shares, the top two lines have been great and doing so against top end competition. Sheahan’s line might not be doing well in terms of possession, but they’re putting up some decent scoring chance percentages. Haas has also done well with the new system changes, posting a Corsi For% just below break-even.

Line TOI GF% CF% FF% SH% SV% PDO
McDavid 148.78 57.14 57.73 56.32 9.20 91.78 1.010
Draisaitl 148.15 81.25 53.82 54.38 14.77 95.89 1.107
Sheahan 98.25 33.33 47.75 49.42 9.52 85.19 0.947
Haas 74.40 57.14 49.07 46.55 11.43 91.89 1.033

If the team believes the tactical changes are sustainable and they believe in the results they’ve posted since the Christmas break, it might be in their best interest to stick with what they have. Instead, the Oilers should focus on adding elsewhere, perhaps even the top six where McDavid could sure use some speed and skill to play with.

Another option would be to focus on moving out expiring contracts or players that may not have a future with the Oilers. Perhaps someone like Kris Russell who is the seventh best defenceman on the roster at this point. He’s also posted a Fenwick For% and Goals For% well below 50% over the last ten games, while the rest of the defenceman done a lot better since the system changes were made.

Player GP TOI FF% GF%
Matthew Benning 3 36.27 67.61 75.01
Oscar Klefbom 10 184.67 54.48 64.16
Ethan Bear 10 195.13 54.07 57.64
Adam Larsson 10 171.92 52.45 61.22
Darnell Nurse 10 205.45 51.35 57.56
Caleb Jones 8 90.03 50.71 67.78
Kris Russell 8 98.97 46.43 37.29

Considering that this was a transition year and that there are glaring holes emerging in the forward prospects chart and elsewhere on the active roster, it’s critical that the Oilers hold on to as many assets as possible, especially draft picks. There appears to be a good program in place at the AHL level, and the Oilers will need a continuous flow of talent and skill on value deals to help ensure long-term success. .

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Appendix A: Edmonton Oilers (2019/20) – Cumulative goal-differential (5v5)

GDIFF - 20200204

 

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 12 – Rex Codex Libris (@CodexRex)

3000by3000 (1)I was joined by my friend Rex Codex Libris (@CodexRex) to talk all things Oilers, their recent winning streak and what some of the key drivers have been. We touched on the current roster composition, the emergence of prospects this season and how best to approach the trade deadline and the upcoming off-season. Rex also shared his insights on the NHL’s officiating standards and the issues the NHL faces due to their lack of rule enforcement.

Links mentioned in the podcast:

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

Good times

cut

The Oilers have been outstanding in the month of January having gone 7-1-2 over the ten games, outscoring opponents 45-27. Their overall goal-differential is now at +8, and has them second in the Pacific division behind Vancouver (+18 goal-differential). The Oilers are currently three points out of first and three points ahead of the second wild card spot currently held by Arizona.

Date Results
2020-01-02 Oilers 2, Sabres 3
2020-01-04 Oilers 4, Bruins 1
2020-01-06 Oilers 6, Maple Leafs 4
2020-01-09 Oilers 4, Canadiens 2
2020-01-11 Oilers 3, Flames 4
2020-01-14 Predators 2, Oilers 4
2020-01-18 Coyotes 3, Oilers 7
2020-01-29 Flames 4, Oilers 3
2020-01-31 Blues 2, Oilers 4
2020-02-01 Oilers 8, Flames 3

So what’s been driving their results over these ten games in January?

  • The Oilers are averaging over four goals per game, running at a team shooting percentage of 13.93%. To put that into context, teams have averaged a shooting percentage of 9.22% over the previous three seasons.
  • At even-strength (5v5), the Oilers are playing a lot more often with the puck, controlling 53.16% of the total shot attempts for and against (i.e., Corsi For%). In the 42 games prior to this month, the Oilers had posted a Corsi For% of 47.25%, one of the worst shot-shares in the league.
  • The Oilers are also getting a higher share of the scoring chances at even-strength, which uses unblocked shot attempts for and against as a proxy (i.e., Fenwick For%). Prior to January, the Oilers had posted a Fenwick For% of 48.18%, ranking 23rd in the league. Over the last ten, they’ve controlled 52.96% of the scoring chances, ninth best in the league.
  • The Oilers are getting plenty of secondary offence, as the second line featuring Nugent-Hopkins, Yamamoto and Draisaitl has been on fire outscoring opponents 13-2 at even-strength in 126 minutes together. They’ve also posted a Corsi For% of 54.95% and a Fenwick For% of 55.68%. They’re not likely to maintain a 86.67% goal-share the rest of the season due in large part to a 113 PDO. But the results should continue being positive as they’re spending a lot of time with the puck and generating chances.

That’s all well and good, but it’s also worth noting there are some issues that are being masked by the overall success in January. If you’re running a team in a league that encounters a lot of randomness and you’re making decisions worth millions of dollars every day, you have to be applying a critical lens as often as possible. Especially with the trade deadline coming up and a potential playoff berth – and not to mention the long-term goal of being a sustainable contender – it’s even more critical to determine your strengths and weaknesses as you go about making decisions that are hopefully geared towards winning.

With that out of the way…

The first issue that’s a little troubling is the Oilers goaltending which has been mediocre pretty much all season long. In the month of January, the tandem of Smith and Koskinen have posted a team save percentage of 91.53% at even-strength, which only ranks 21st in the league but has actually been their best stretch this season. Prior to January, the duo posted a save percentage of 90.64%, which ranked them 27th in the league. League average at even-strength over the last three seasons has been 92.17%. Where the duo has been solid is on the penalty kill, where over the course of the season, they’ve posted a save percentage of 89.58% – second best in the league.

That leads to my next point.

The Oilers special teams have been solid all season, with the powerplay and penalty kill ranking top three league-wide. What’s interesting is that over the last ten games, the powerplay is generating just over 9.00 goals per hour – which is a goal below their scoring rate all season – but have struggled generating chances with the man-advantage ranking bottom ten league-wide with just over 60.0 unblocked shot attempts per hour. Definitely something worth monitoring.

On the penalty kill, the Oilers have slipped a bit in their last ten as well, having allowed over seven goals per hour, which is a couple goals below their season-long rate and are now closer to league average rates. They’ve been struggling with limiting chances against all season, and I think it was only a matter of time before the goaltending started to falter. Not the end of the world, but I’d be curious to know if the system changes they’ve made at even-strength are impacting their special teams play. And if so, what the coaching staff and potentially management might be able to do about it to mitigate any risks. The last thing the Oilers should be doing is re-signing guys like Sheahan and Archibald to long-term deals solely for their penalty kill results, as a lot of it has been driven by goaltending.

The other area that might be of interest is how well the group of forwards has done in the last ten games. Using the most common centermen as proxies, below are the on-ice results for each line. Note that for the data below, I ensured that the centers did not have any of the other three with them on the ice. Adding each player’s individual ice time together (again, away from the other centers), I was able to capture 95% of the team’s total ice time at even-strength.

Line TOI GF% CF% FF% SH% SV% PDO
McDavid 148.78 57.14 57.73 56.32 9.20 91.78 1.010
Draisaitl 148.15 81.25 53.82 54.38 14.77 95.89 1.107
Sheahan 98.25 33.33 47.75 49.42 9.52 85.19 0.947
Haas 74.40 57.14 49.07 46.55 11.43 91.89 1.033

As mentioned earlier, Draisaitl and his linemates have been outstanding, posting excellent shot-share numbers and giving us confidence in their ability to continue generating offence. And based on the data at PuckIQ (small sample size alert), among Oilers centers over the last ten games, Draisaitl is playing the second highest proportion of ice time against the opposing team’s top players, only behind RNH. And Haas, kinda surprisingly, isn’t that far behind. Haas has also posted some nice numbers for a fourth liner playing tougher minutes, with a 57.14 goal-share and a 49.0% share of shot attempts in the last ten games. Would be nice to see his on-ice proportion of scoring chances improve, but maybe that happens with more skill on his line. Sheahan has played the lowest proportion of ice time against elite players, and his on-ice numbers are also being dragged down by Khaira who has been playing poorly all-season. If the Oilers choose to break-in a prospect forward like Benson in the near-future, getting early reps with Sheahan might be a good idea. More on Benson in a second.

Line TOI Goals For Goals Against GF/60 GA/60
McDavid 148.78 8 6 3.23 2.42
Draisaitl 148.15 13 3 5.26 1.21
Sheahan 98.25 4 8 2.44 4.89
Haas 74.40 4 3 3.23 2.42

What really stands out to me are McDavid’s on-ice numbers over the last ten games, which have been excellent, but I’m wondering what better linemates could do for him offensively. Kassian has only posted a goal and an assist in this recent stretch, while Neal only has two assists, both of which were secondary assists. Defensively, McDavid and his linemates have been fine allowing a rate of shots and scoring chances against similar to the rest of the team. Goaltending, a weakness noted above, appears to be a factor in their rate of goals against per hour. And as I noted in a recent post, McDavid’s goal-share over the season has been great, but it’s not as good as the goal-shares being posted by other star players within the Pacific division. Depending on how well Benson can adjust to NHL play, he should eventually get some reps on the top line to see if he can add an element that might be missing. The Oilers do need to figure out as early as possible what they have in Benson at the NHL level, not only to potentially sign him to a value deal but to also start focusing on re-stocking the prospect pool this coming off-season.

A lot of things to consider heading into the deadline and into a very important off-season, especially when it comes to optimizing the roster and those on entry-level deals. Goaltending, special teams, production from the top lines and the prospect pool are hopefully getting attention from the Oilers management and coaching staff. This season has so far gone a lot better than I expected, and hopefully the long-terms goals haven’t been lost in the recent success. If anything, due to the emergence of young talent like Bear, Jones and Yamamoto, the team can re-calibrate their short-terms goals and continue focusing on building a sustainable winner.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, PuckIQ