The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 28 – Dennis King (@dkingbh)

Joined by Dennis King (@DKingBH) on the show to talk Oilers, the acquisition of Duncan Keith, Ken Holland’s performance as a general manager and what to expect this off-season.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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


I’ll admit, my expectations were ridiculously low coming into the off-season. Yes, the team has cap space and are in a position to position themselves for long-term success. But knowing management’s track record when it comes to assessing the team, identifying talent and their overall approach to managing the salary cap, it’s been hard to get too excited about the possibilities.

Here’s what we know about Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers.

  • He’s a conservative general manager that lacks the creativity and ruthlessness needed to manage a team salary cap in the modern era.
  • He highly values veteran players.
  • He’s risk-averse when it comes to young players.
  • He has a tendency to reward players for past success rather than potential future success,
  • He and his professional scouts have a poor track record when it comes to identifying and acquiring professional-level players.
  • He doesn’t integrate analytics into his overall decision-making process.
  • There is zero over-sight of his work, no review of past transactions and no desire to improve the overall decision-making process.

It’s these traits that have tempered my expectations of the Oilers and have so far led to the signings of Devon Shore, the mysterious release of Matej Blumel and now the trade for Duncan Keith. And while I do like the signing of Nugent-Hopkins to a long-term deal and some previous transactions like the Puljujärvi deal, Holland is more likely to be wrong than right when applying his approach and building this roster. The Oilers clearly don’t care to be progressive and find new ways to get ahead of their competition. And if they do somehow find some success, I’d expect it to be short-lived.

In regards to Duncan Keith, the Oilers have acquired someone that could very well be a productive player and bring those off-ice intangibles – but what are the chances he can be a $5.5 million player? Just look across the league – teams desperately need players who are on value deals and outperforming their contracts and that’s why the Oilers needed Chicago to retain some of Keith’s salary. Keep in mind too that there are four seasons left with McDavid and Draisailt on the roster. And for two of those seasons, the Oilers are committing over 10% of their cap to Keith and Kassian. (Source: CapFriendly)

Needless to say, the acquisition cost for Keith is far too high and really hampers the Oilers ability to address the other major holes on their roster. The Oilers are the ones taking on the most risk here yet come away from the deal with a larger hit to their cap and are using up a roster spot for a relatively unknown prospect who hasn’t shown a lot of progress. Plus they now have to protect Keith in the upcoming expansion draft. Chicago on the other hand gained some much needed cap-space, shed a contract for a stalled prospect, added a third-round (potentially second-round) draft pick and added a prospect who has been progressing well. Chicago came into the negotiation with zero leverage, absolutely none with their backs up against the wall, yet came away as the clear-cut winners. Just embarrassingly poor asset management by the Oilers, but quite aligned with Holland’s previous transactions.

Again though, we know who Holland was before he got to Edmonton. And we’ve seen through his transactions over the past two years what he’s all about. This is what the Edmonton Oilers wanted and they paid him a pretty hefty salary to apply his approach. And so far, they’re getting exactly what they paid for. So let’s not forget the role the owner is playing here and the role CEO Bob Nicholson is playing here. They can talk a big game about building a long-term winner, but until they figure out what it takes to compete in the modern era and are willing to be open to new ideas, they’ll just continue floundering in mediocrity.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 27 – Ganesh Murdeshwar (@oilersnerdalert)

Joined by Ganesh Murdeshwar (@oilersnerdalert) to talk Oilers and how they can integrate and use analytics in a more meaningful way.

Ganesh shared his background in analytics, from programming to taking on executive positions in different industries, and eventually applying his knowledge to hockey as a consultant. He also shared the motivation behind Puck IQ – one of the top player evaluation tools that focuses on quality-of-competition. We talked about the comments Holland recently made about analytics and how the Oilers view and utilize it. Ganesh also shared his thoughts on the steps the Oilers would need to take if they wanted to enhance their hockey operations and improve their decision-making processes.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 26 – Dennis King (@dkingbh)

Joined by Dennis King (@DKingBH) to talk about the Oilers series against the Winnipeg Jets, the issues that led to them being swept and where we expect things to go this off-season. We discussed the Oilers deployment tactics, their handling of younger players and our overall confidence in the coaching staff for next season. We also covered Holland’s approach to building a competitive roster, his comments at his media availability and what he’ll need to do to make this a competitive team in the modern age.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

Reviewing the Oilers vs Jets

Jets vs Oilers Game 3: Tweets, pre-game and post-game coverage | CTV News

It’s going to be hard to forget May 2021.

The Edmonton Oilers clinched a playoff spot in the first week, beating the Canucks. By the end of the second week, the season ended with McDavid hitting and surpassing 100 points. Playoffs kick off in the third week. Five days later their season is over.

The first round exit is a good reminder that the playoffs are a bit of a crapshoot. You never know when a goalie is going to get hot or which forward is going to start scoring goals in bunches. The best you can do is build a balanced roster with talent, pray that your key players stay healthy and hope you get some bounces. It’s a cruel tournament, the results of which often push managers down the wrong path with negative long-term implications. It’s critical that teams have a long-term strategy in place, have strong decision-making processes and are constantly evaluating their business operations. Because it’s going to be tested over and over again by playoff results. Just ask the Washington Capitals.


The biggest reason the Oilers were out after four games was the Jets goaltending. Connor Hellebuyck was lights out, posting a save percentage of 95.0% in all situations. The Oilers controlled the flow-of-play at five-on-five, doing a great job generating chances, and posting better numbers than they did in the regular season. They were the better team, but it didn’t matter. They were outscored 6-9 at five-on-five play, and 8-14 in all situations.

Edmonton Oilers5v5Winnipeg Jets
56.37Corsi For%43.63
55.18Fenwick For%44.82
59.70Expected Goals For%40.30
40.00Goals For%60.00

Keep in mind too, the Oilers controlled the shot-shares in their regular season head-to-head matches against the Jets, posting a Corsi For% of 51.69% over their nine games and an Expected Goal Share% of 54.97%. And thanks to their own 104 PDO over those nine games, the Oilers had a Goal Share% of 62.25% against the Jets. That’s the randomness involved in hockey, making it difficult to predict which skaters and goalies are going to succeed and when.

The Oilers 4.52% team shooting percentage at even-strength (5v5) was well outside of the expected range. As we see below, there was only one point in the regular season in late February that they had a shooting percentage that low. Observers may recall a four-game stretch that included the infamous three-game series against the Leafs and a game against the Canucks preceding that where the Oilers scored only once at five-on-five. For context, I added the Oilers regular season shooting percentage (8.87%, in orange) to the graph below along with their playoff shooting percentage (4.52%, in grey).

On the flip side, the Jets 95.48% save percentage in the playoffs was high, but they did hit that mark a few times including late in the regular season. Their goaltending was sixth best in the league for a reason, while the Oilers ranked 20th.


Below is a snapshot of how the forwards did in the playoffs at five-on-five, including their shot-differentials (shot attempts and expected goals), PDO, and sorted by their on-ice goal differential.

It’s pretty clear that the entire team struggled offensively, with only Kahun and Kassian posting on-ice shooting percentages above the team’s regular season levels (8.87%). The top line featuring McDavid and Draisaitl for the most part did the heavy lifting in terms of generating shots and chances, while the depth players, especially the more experienced professional-level players, posted negative shot differentials.

It’s unfortunate the team went away from having McDavid and Draisaitl on separate lines, as they probably would have done a better job controlling the pace of the games by spreading out their offence more. This regular season, the Oilers took on the necessary risk playing the duo together less than they have in the past, which I thought allowed for other skilled wingers to develop chemistry and have productive seasons playing with the star players. In 2018/19, McDavid and Draisaitl played 20.0% of the team’s total five-on-five time together. That dropped down to 16.0% last season (2019/20) and then down to 12.5% in the 2021 season. Some good progress was made into developing line combinations in the regular season and getting a better understanding of the options they have up front – and they still went back to the McDavid/Draissaitl tandem. On top of that, they relied more on the older and lesser-skilled players in the playoffs, indicating to me that the coach panicked a bit with line combinations and deployment strategies. If I’m the GM, I’d need to know if the coach is going to make this a regular thing next year because that would impact how the roster is going to be constructed this upcoming off-season.

Here’s how the Oilers defencemen performed at five-on-five.

Nurse and Barrie led the team in ice time and were often deployed with McDavid, as well as Draisaitl as the duo played regularly together. Kulikov had some poor results, but for the most part was alright with Larsson posting decent shot-share numbers. And I thought it was made clear once again that Tippett does rely on goal-data to make lineup decisions, as he went with Russell and Koekkoek above Kulikov, Jones and Bouchard for a must-win game. As much as we want to analyze some of the gaffes the defencemen made, I think I learned more about the coaching staff than I did about the players. And it’s pretty obvious that when in a pressure situation, Tippett goes with veterans and those that he knows. He’d much rather play conservatively, which I don’t think works for a rush-style team like the Oilers that has some nice talent on the blueline with more developing in the system.

Special teams

The Oilers powerplay didn’t get a lot of opportunities because of the NHL’s poor officiating standards. And when they did, they again could not solve Hellebuyck. During the 20 minutes of total powerplay time, the Oilers generated about the same rate of shots as they did in the regular season, which finished near the top of the league. But instead of converting on 17.45% of their shots like they did in the regular season, they converted on only 9.52% of their shots – for a grand total of two powerplay goals.

The Jets on the other hand scored three powerplay goals over 17 minutes of powerplay time, a goals-per-hour rate above 10.0 and closer to what the Oilers finished their regular season with. The Jets weren’t great at generating chances – the Oilers actually did a better job at preventing shots than they did in the regular season – but it was enough to solve Smith who wasn’t nearly as sharp shorthanded compared to his regular season play,


  • Obviously a lot of decisions to make this off-season, and I get the sense that management is going to try to bring back most of their regular players like Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson and Smith.
  • If Tippett is back to complete his contract, we should probably expect some of the skill players like Ennis, Jones and Kahun to be gone and potentially replaced by more experienced players. The problem is that the Oilers professional scouts have done a poor job at identifying/evaluating talent for a few seasons now, and I don’t see how it gets better without changes to their internal strategy and personnel.
  • I think before the Oilers do anything, they really need to take a step back and figure out a better way to run their operations and make better decisions. The needs are clear – they need scoring wingers, they need players who produce without McDavid on the ice. Depending on Klefbom’s future and if Barrie is retained, they may need to find another offensive defenceman. Make a decision on Nugent-Hopkins and Larsson. And doing this with the Seattle expansion draft coming up. That’s a lot to navigate for someone like Holland who hasn’t exactly shown a lot of creativity when it comes to building a roster. In preparation of McDavid’s seventh season with the Oilers, I’m just hoping they add more to their front office. Better scouting. Better analysts. A willingness to use data as part of their decision making. Once they have that, and a better understanding of how to build a roster in 2021, I think they can have a lot more long-term, sustainable success. And really use this upcoming off-season to build a better team around McDavid.

Data: Natural Stat Trick


CBC Radio Active: Oilers swept from the playoffs, what’s next

I joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk about the Oilers playoff results. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2021, May 25).

Topics we covered:

  • The on-ice and off-ice mistakes the Oilers made, and other key factors in their series loss to the Jets.
  • Dave Tippett’s approach to game four and shortening the bench in overtime.
  • The Oilers historical results without McDavid. Touched on something I wrote recently.
  • How the Oilers can build their defence core, integrating younger players with professional-level players.

Thanks as always to everyone at CBC for putting it all together!

Previewing the Oilers vs Jets

After reviewing the North division and analyzing how the Oilers did head-to-head against each Canadian team, I was curious to know how well the Oilers and Jets finished their regular seasons and what we could expect in their first round playoff series.

The Oilers results were obviously excellent, going 17-6-2 in their final 25 games for a 0.720 points percentage, while the Jets went 12-12-1. As we see in the table below, the Oilers success was largely driven by special teams in these final 25 games, as they posted a -5 goal differential at even-strength (5v5), a goal-share of only 47.47%. Note that the shot-share metrics (i.e., Corsi, Fenwick, Expected goals) have been score and venue adjusted.

Last 25 games, 5v5OilersJets
Corsi For%48.1349.46
Fenwick For%47.3749.29
xGoals For%47.9647.43
Goals For%47.4756.18

Thankfully the Oilers powerplay scored 21 goals, a rate of over 12.0 goals per hour over this final stretch, consistently generating shots and converting on their chances. And the penalty kill allowed only five goals, leading the league with a goals against rate of 2.90 per hour. Worth noting that the Oilers penalty kill gradually improved defensively, allowing league average rates of shots against over the final twenty five games, but still finished the year well above league average.

The Jets were a different story over their final twenty five games. They had excellent results at even-strength, posting a +11 goal differential (a 56.18% goal-share), and were closer to league average shot-share levels than the Oilers, gradually improving over the course of the year. They also had a little bump in their team shooting percentage – it’ll be interesting to see if they can carry some of that into the playoffs while missing some of their key players. The Jets goaltending was excellent all season at even-strength, and ended the year ranking as one of the best in the league – definitely expect that to be a major factor in the series.

Special teams is where the Jets broke-even to close the regular season. While they still scored 14 goals on the powerplay, a rate of 6.56 goals per hour that’s just under the league average rate, they allowed 13 on the penalty kill. Worth noting that the Oilers penalty kill will likely be tested as the Jets led the league in shots per hour on the powerplay over the final stretch of the season. The good news for Edmonton is that the Jets also allowed the third highest rate of shots against on their penalty kill. Not exactly where the Jets want to be against the Oilers powerplay, making it even more critical that they win the goal-share at even-strength and avoid bad penalties. The good news for the Jets is that they had the ninth lowest rate of penalties against in the regular season. Against the Oilers this year, they drew 28 penalties and were called for 26 – their best results against North division teams.

One other thing I wanted to see was how the players on each team did in terms of on-ice shot and goal differentials at even-strength (5v5) over the final twenty five games. Below are all of the Oilers skaters, sorted by their on-ice goal differential, with McDavid leading the way in all categories. We already know how poor the Oilers depth has been without McDavid on the ice, a problem that persisted all season. But it’s also a little concerning that Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto – key top six players – each only had a +1 on-ice goal differential, and were posting lower than average shot differentials.

Defensively, I’d be a little concerned about the top pairing of Nurse and Barrie. While they both posted positive on-ice goal differentials, they ended the year with negative shot-differentials. Considering they spent so much time with McDavid, I would have expected their numbers to be a little better. Nice to see Kulikov posting good numbers just in case things fall apart for Nurse and Barrie. In ten games since being acquired by Edmonton, Kulikov has played 147 minutes with Larsson at even-strength, posting a Corsi For% of 57.28% and a goal-share of 65.95%. Bear should be getting regular minutes as well considering his solid on-ice shot-share numbers. And I can sort of understand why the coaching staff might be reluctant to play Jones or Russell and instead going with Koekkoek. Both players posted negative shot-differentials and goal-differentials to end the season.

Looking at the Jets skaters, there’s a few players including Scheifele and some of the third and fourth line options who were riding percentages to close the year. As noted above, goaltending was the driver and I think its safe to assume it’ll continue to be strong. Missing Ehlers and Dubois to start the series is going to hurt the Jets considering the team did so well controlling the flow of play with them on the ice. Dubois especially, if he gets healthy and plays, might see a market correction to his on-ice results considering he posted one of the lowest PDO’s on the team. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of match-ups happen and who gets assigned the McDavid minutes.

Should be an entertaining series and a lot closer than I think people are expecting. How much of the regular season carries over is anyone’s guess, but it will probably come down to how well the Oilers can play without McDavid on the ice at even-strength, the goaltending matchup between Hellebuyck and Smith and if the Jets can avoid getting burned on the powerplay. Looking forward to it!

Data: Natural Stat Trick,

North division review

This had to have been one of the most entertaining regular seasons in a long time. I’ll admit, I was completely fixated on the North division for obvious reasons, and totally lost track of the teams and players in other divisions. For me, every game had that nationally-televised feel, and being the race that it was in a condensed season, almost every match mattered.

And scoreboard-watching so often, it was an opportunity to learn more about the opposing teams, their players and performances, which definitely changed the regular season experience. Hopefully the league looks to integrate more of these multi-game series when regular seasons become regular again.

Here’s the final look at each team in the North division, and how well they performed at even-strength (5v5). As always, the table below is sorted by points percentage, with a basic heat map applied to the shot-share numbers and goal-share to see which teams did well, and whose results may have been influenced by player-driven outcomes (i.e., team shooting percentage and team save percentage). Note that the shot-share numbers (Corsi, Fenwick, Expected Goals) are always score and venue adjusted. A description of each metric is at the end of this article.

The Oilers are one of the rare teams to finish their season with a points percentage above 0.600 and have a 5v5 goal-share below 50.0% – only better than Ottawa and Vancouver in the North division. The annual top teams in the NHL have an average goal-share of 53.58%, with a Corsi For% and Expected Goals For% around 52.0%. The Oilers weren’t in that range, and as I wrote about a couple weeks ago, they rank quite low among all the other 2021 playoff teams. Regardless, they finished with one of their highest points percentages in franchise history thanks in large part to their franchise player and their success on special teams.

Metric (5v5)Top TeamsLeague AverageBottom Teams
Goals For%53.5850.0146.72
Corsi For%51.8449.9948.29
Expected Goals For%51.7250.0147.86

The Oilers basically fell into that middle-of-the pack range for generating shots and scoring chances, close to where Ottawa and Vancouver ranked for some of the shot metrics. But they had the high-end talent to propel them to seventh in the league when it came to team shooting percentage, second only to the Leafs in the North, finishing with the tenth highest rate of goals-for in the league. Defensively, they were again in that middle-of-the-pack range, allowing shots and scoring chances at rates only slightly better than Winnipeg, Vancouver and Ottawa. And their goaltending finished 20th in the league, only ahead of Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa. Toronto had the lowest rates of shots and scoring chances against, while the Jets finished with the best goaltending in the North and sixth-best in the league.


Seeing these overall results, I was curious to know who the Oilers had success against, and which teams they had issues with. Below are their numbers at even-strength (5v5) against each team, sorted by how their opponents finished in the North.

Remember, the Oilers finished with a -1 goal differential at even-strength this season, just a hair under a 50% goal-share, and shot metrics around that level as well (49.12% Corsi For%, 49.90% Expected Goals For%). When it came to actual results (i.e., goal-share), they did have the most trouble against the Leafs. But what might get overlooked is the fact that the Oilers actually played them pretty well as reflected by their share of shot attempts and scoring chances (again, these are score/venue adjusted). Similar results against Vancouver, of all teams. The Oilers appear to have run into some hot goaltending and couldn’t buy a save, as they generated a good share of shots, but finished with a -5 goal differential to end the season against the Canucks. The Oilers also had a negative goal-differential against Calgary and Montreal, which shouldn’t be too surprising considering they were out-shot and out-chanced in those matches.

What also stands out is the Oilers 104 PDO against the Jets, which is why I’m tempering my expectations just a little for the first round of the playoffs and expect the series to be a little closer than I think most are expecting. Remember, the Jets finished with one of the best save percentages in the league. If they can even have league average goaltending and maybe implement some of the tactics other North division teams used to slow down McDavid, they could be a lot more competitive in the playoffs. The other issue is that while the Oilers did well in terms of shot-shares against the Jets, it was, as we’ll see below, largely driven by McDavid.


We know one of the ongoing issues for the Oilers is their even-strength play without McDavid on the ice. Here’s how the group did against each team, sorted by how their opponents ranked in the North division.

The Oilers without McDavid had a Corsi For% around 45.38% this season, and an Expected Goals For% of 45.18%. And they were out-scored 51-68, a goal-share of 42.86%. Using these as a baseline, we see that they struggled without McDavid against pretty much everyone, unable to post a goal-share above 40% against any team except for Ottawa. When it came to controlling the flow of play and scoring chances, they had the most issues against Montreal and Calgary. They couldn’t even muster much against Ottawa, but were able to take advantage of some poor goaltending. What’s interesting is that they did play a lot better against Toronto, but couldn’t convert on their chances enough. It’s clearly an area that management needs to address this off-season if they want to be competitive.

Special teams

Here’s how each of North division teams did on the powerplay and penalty kill this season. Table is sorted by their overall results in the standings.

The Oilers once again had an excellent powerplay, scoring 48 goals, ranking first in the league in terms of goals per hour (10.54) and second in terms of shots per hour (60.36) only behind Colorado. Note that the average rate of shots per hour is typically around 53.0, with the average rate of goals per hour is around 7.0. The Oilers penalty kill results were excellent as well, finishing with the best rate of goals against in the North, good for ninth in the league. Their shorthanded success was largely due to their goaltending, as they allowed the eighth highest rate of shots against, only better than Winnipeg and Montreal in the North.

Toronto’s an interesting team – their powerplay was looking good early on in the season for similar reasons as Edmonton. They continued generating shots throughout the year, but things just cooled off. Their penalty kill was great suppressing chances as well, but didn’t get league average goaltending and finished 22nd in the league. Wonder how Calgary and Montreal are feeling about their special teams. Both clubs had positive goal differentials at even-strength, but were sunk by their power play and penalty kill results.

Back to Edmonton – they scored 48 goals on the powerplay with 31 of those against the non-playoff teams, so about 69% (nice). Toronto did a pretty solid job shutting the Oilers powerplay down, only allowing 38.65 shots against per hour (much lower than the 60.36 shots-for the Oilers averaged all season) and only allowing four goals against. Montreal had similar success against the Oilers powerplay, only allowing five goals, but it was mostly their goaltending that bailed them out. Looking at the Oilers rates of shots-for per hour, the Oilers did a pretty good job against everyone except for the Leafs.

The Oilers penalty kill also had issues against Toronto, allowing their highest rates of shots and goals against per hour. Again the Oilers had their most success on the penalty kill against the lower end teams, with 20 of the 27 total goals against being scored by the playoff teams (about 74%). Worth noting too that the Jets generated a pretty good rate of shots against the Oilers penalty kill, something worth watching in their upcoming series.


  • The Oilers were an average team at even-strength (5v5). They had a negative goal-differential against every North division team except Winnipeg and Ottawa.
  • The Oilers without McDavid were pretty much owned by every team in the North, posting a goal-share below 40% against each club except for Ottawa.
  • The Oilers powerplay was excellent, generating lots of shots against every team except for Toronto. The Leafs and Habs allowed the lowest rate of goals against versus Edmonton. The Oilers powerplay scored 69% of their powerplay goals against non-playoff teams.
  • The Oilers penalty kill was excellent, largely due to their goaltending. The Leafs and Jets powerplay had the most success against the Oilers. 74% of the Oilers goals against on the penalty kill were scored by playoff teams.

One final thought. I get that it’s hard to complain about the overall results this season considering their in the playoffs, but it’s definitely worth knowing where the team excelled and where they had issues. Knowing how critical the next off-season is, it’ll be important to address the problems that might be getting masked by the overall success, such as the 5v5 play, the depth scoring without McDavid on the ice, and even the penalty kill which again allowed a high rate of shots against. The last thing the Oilers can afford are shoddy roster decisions that hamper the chances of winning games and long-term success – especially in the McDavid era.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference



  • 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)

Shallow depth

While there were signs of life during the regular season, the Oilers results without McDavid on the ice at even-strength (5v5) were once again poor.

With McDavid deployed, the Oilers outscored opponents 64-48, an elite level goal-share of 57.14%. He typically plays for about 35% of the team’s total time, within which the Oilers tend to out-shoot and out-chance opponents, spending longer periods of time with the puck in the offensive zone. Without him, for about 65% of the total time, the Oilers were outscored 51-68, a goal-share of 42.86% – similar to what Detroit, Columbus and Buffalo finished their seasons with.

A big reason why the Oilers were outscored so badly without McDavid was because they were regularly out-shot and out-chanced. They posted a Corsi For percentage of 45.38% and an Expected Goals For percentage of 45.18% (score-adjusted), which was actually the lowest numbers posted in the McDavid era. And it was really on the offensive side of things where the club struggled. While their rates of shots against and goals against were around league average without McDavid on the ice, their rates of shots-for and goals-for were worse than the bottom-feeders of the league.

There was a point in the season where the Oilers shot-share numbers and goal-differential without McDavid at even-strength was starting to improve thanks to some roster adjustments and the improved defensive play of the club. But as we see below, things really went downhill from about the middle of the season. Over the final 25 games of the year, the Oilers were regularly outshot and getting outscored 15-28 (a 34.88% goal-share) – making it difficult to have much confidence in the club’s depth heading into the playoffs.

Thankfully, McDavid went absolutely supernova in his pursuit of 100-points to close out the season and bailed out the roster, but it should be yet another warning sign for management that they need to do a better job of identifying talent and building a stronger roster around their star player. It’s been a problem that the franchise has struggled with since McDavid’s arrival, not even once being able to reach the 50.0% break even-mark for goals and shot metrics without him on the ice. As mentioned above, this season the Oilers depth posted their worst shot-share numbers (i.e., Corsi For% and Expected Goals For%, score-adjusted) in the McDavid era.

As I’ve written in the past, measuring the team without McDavid is a pretty good way to evaluate the general manager’s work. We know McDavid is going to be dominant when he’s on the ice. But can Holland and his management group figure out how to build a roster that can get positive results, even break-even results, when he’s on the bench? The best teams in the league have figured it out, why can’t the Oilers?

Right now the issue comes down to proper roster evaluation and construction. Taking a look at the forwards who played at least 100 minutes this season, and what their numbers were like without McDavid on the ice with them, it becomes apparent that it’s the professional-level players that management has trouble identifying and acquiring to surround their internally developed players with.

This table sorts all of the forwards by their on-ice Corsi For percentage, with a heat map applied. Keep in mind, 45.0% is the team average Corsi For% without McDavid on the ice. What stands out are the players with shot-share metrics in the red, as all of them except one are professional players that Holland either acquired or re-signed to new contracts. Some of these players even spent time with McDavid over the last couple of seasons, but weren’t productive enough to stay in the top six.

The main takeaway from all of this is that McDavid has yet to have a strong supporting cast around him, and the blame falls squarely on management, the professional scouting department and the teams’ evaluation and decision making processes. The fact that these professional-level players spent more time without the puck and getting out-chanced – and out-scored this badly – should be driving change within the organization.

The Oilers desperately need to figure this out ahead of what should be a busy off-season. The ability to identify talent that can drive offence to replace those that can’t is paramount if the Oilers want to build a championship contender. It’s great the Oilers are in a playoff spot and the potential is there for them to win a couple rounds. But until they figure out how to properly construct a roster, their success is unlikely to be sustainable.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

CBC Radio Active: Oilers, playoffs, goaltending, depth and more

I joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active on Tuesday to talk Oilers, playoffs (!) and more. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2021, May 4).

Topics we covered:

  • The Oilers clinching a playoff spot and how they’ve exceeded my regular season expectations.
  • Goaltending and the season Mike Smith has had.
  • Team depth and some of their underlying issues.
  • Potential playoff matchups against Montreal and Winnipeg.
  • Expectations from the team over the last week of the season.

Thanks as always to everyone at CBC for putting it all together!