Thoughts on the Oilers: Team performance, Nurse, Talbot + Radio Spot

Joined Lowetide on TSN 1260 on Wednesday morning to discuss the Oilers. Full audio below:

Couple things:

  • After 41 games, the Oilers are sitting at 17-21-3, good for dead last in a very weak Pacific division. The 17 wins ranks them 23rd in the league, but their 8(!) regulation wins is 30th. That to me is an issue. Good teams get things done in regulation and avoid the more luck-driven scenarios like 4v4/3v3 overtime and shootouts.
  • The club has a 47.1 Corsi For% (even-strength, score adjusted – which factors in the score state), which is 25th in the league (Source: War on Ice). The Oilers appeared to make some improvements in November and early December when it came to possession, but that went south pretty fast in recent weeks. As we can see below, their Corsi For% trend at even-strength has remained under 50%, which can be attributed to the significant injuries to Klefbom, McDavid, Eberle and Yakupov, plus the lack of depth on defence.

OilersCorsi

  • Without a doubt, Darnell Nurse has been playing way too high up the depth chart, but I really had no idea his underlying numbers were this bad. I wrote about Nurse’s season so far, and how he compares to other 20 year olds from the past five seasons [Copper & Blue]. I’m still a fan of the player and think he can play at the NHL level today. He’s just not a top pairing player yet. And there’s nothing wrong with that, he’s 20 years old. It’s seriously been reminding me of Ladislav Smid’s first season as an Oiler in 2006. He was also 20 at the time and got a tonne of ice time, despite getting dominated every night by more experienced players. It’s not an ideal situation, so hopefully the Oilers can bring in a at least two legitimate NHL defencemen and allow guys like Nurse to develop at the right pace.
  • If anyone can justify the Oilers keeping Schultz past the trade deadline, I’d love to hear it. Not only has his offence dried up, but he’s clearly not fitting into the coaching staff’s system. In San Jose, a larger proportion of shot attempts came from the blue line compared to the rest of the league. This allowed the forwards to crash the net, make short plays and look for rebounds. As I found a couple weeks ago, Schultz hasn’t been able to get shots on net, having most of his shots blocked or not getting any shots at all. On top of that, Schultz isn’t getting as many high danger scoring chances (chances in close, as defined by War on Ice) as he has in the past, which makes me wonder what his purpose really is. I also found that McLellan isn’t exactly relying on Schultz when the team is down a goal or the game is tied. Graph below is courtesy of Hockey Viz.

Oilers D - deployment-1516-EDM-d

  • Signing Cam Talbot should definitely be on the list of priorities this month. He’s played well for the club, and appears to have shaken off that rocky start which resulted in losing ice time. He has a 90.69 save % (adjusted – which factors in shot location), which isn’t great as it ranks last among goalies with at least 20 games this season. But his save percentage has been trending upwards all season.

TalbotTrend.png

  • I’d be happy if the Oilers could lock him up for 4 seasons at less than $4 million per. I’d prefer to keep the cost low, especially on goalies which tend to be replaceable (outside the elite ones) every summer. Talbot and his agent really do have full control in negotiations, as the Oilers have already invested two draft picks to acquire him and would be foolish to let him walk on July 1st. I’m hoping the fact that Talbot hasn’t started 100 NHL games yet and that there’s a decent backup in Nilsson on the roster, will drive his asking price down a little.

One quick note: if you have any questions about my work or any feedback, feel free to email me directly: sunilagni23 at gmail dot com.

What to do with Lauri Korpikoski

Yesterday, Lowetide and I discussed value contracts and if young Jujhar Khaira could potentially carry one next season as a full-time Oiler. Even though he’s still a prospect, it’s hard not to get excited about a player that theOilers drafted and developed, and who has shown relatively well this season. My take is that he’ll benefit from playing top line minutes in the AHL, especially as players return to the Oilers lineup from injury. Regardless of what happens, Khaira has taken some big steps and will be a prospect to watch going forward.

Now taking a look at current roster, only one contract signed for next season stands out as being troublesome, and that belongs to 29 year old winger Lauri Korpikoski. The Oilers will be paying him $2.5 million this year and next, as he completes a four year, $10 million contract that he originally signed with Arizona.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Thoughts on the Oilers: RNH, Winning/Losing Streak and Defence + Radio Hit

Joined Lowetide this morning on TSN 1260 to discuss the Oilers. Always enjoy chatting with Allan.

Couple of notes:

  • I did see the winning streak as a bit of a mirage. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of fun, especially that Friday night win against the Rangers on home ice. But the fact that the club was getting outshot and outchanced, and that the goaltending numbers were slightly above their season average, made me skeptical. The other issue is that the Oilers needed overtime and shootout frequently in that winning stretch to close out games. Good teams are able to close out games in regulation. If you keep putting yourself in luck-driven scenarios, you can expect to eventually get burnt.
  • The Klefbom loss is significant for the Oilers. Corey Travers over at Copper & Blue looked into just  how good Klefbom has been this season and where his underlying numbers are at.
  • Looks like the RNH trade rumours are flaring up again. Funny how it tends to coincide with a losing streak. While I completely agree that the Oilers need a legitimate defenceman to play minutes and contribute on special teams, I don’t think it should come at the price of RNH. The guy is playing against the best players every night, allowing Draisaitl and Hall with some lighter minutes, especially on home ice. And if you trade him, who exactly would replace RNH? Dmitri Filopovic had a great defence piece a few weeks ago when the rumors were picking up. Highly recommend it.
  • To be honest, I do not see the Oilers making any moves to bolster the defence core during the season. Really, what would be the point? The team will have cap space in the off season and won’t be pressured to tinker with their core.
  • If you’re interested, Ryan Stimson over at Hockey Graphs put together a series of posts last week that looked into the passing data that he and his group of volunteers collected. The data from a sample of games is available now. Definitely something to keep an eye on going forward.

Comparing Lander with Letestu

The Oilers have had major problems getting regular production from their bottom six forwards. Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl have been on an absolute tear offensively, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle have provided the team with quality minutes and appear to be finding their stride. The problem is, if either of these two pairs goes through any sort of slump, or sustains a major injury, there aren’t any reliable options who can play a lot of minutes and find the score sheet.

Now a lot of the frustration has been towards Anton Lander who, after signing a two year deal last summer, has not produced  at an acceptable level, even being benched for one game. Head coach Todd McLellan has mentioned how Lander does the detailed stuff in games, but it hasn’t translated into a single goal 32 games into the season.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Checking in on Shawn Horcoff

HorcoffThis past off-season, I put together a couple of posts on Horcoff and how he’d be a good addition to the Oilers bottom six. In his two seasons in Dallas, Horcoff was a reliable third line winger who produced well at even-strength, and even led the team in playoff points in 2013. I thought he would’ve been a smart, low cost addition to the Oilers and could move around the lineup as needed. And at the same time, he’d provide guidance to the young core, and slide into the pivot spot if/when an injury occurs. If you’re interested, the posts are here.

Bringing Back Horcoff
Bringing Back Horcoff (Part 2)
Brincing Back Horcoff (Part 3)

I can’t say I was too surprised when Horcoff signed with Anaheim for one year at $1.75 million. At 36, he’s near the end of his career and was looking to be on a Stanley Cup contender. What I found surprising was that the Ducks brought him in as a center to play behind Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, as Nate Thompson was going to be out until December following surgery. The fourth center from last season (based on the number of faceoffs taken) was young Rickard Rakell, who I though the team would give more minutes to to develop him as a pivot.

I figured now would be a good time to check in and see how Horcoff is doing as a Duck. What we know for sure is that he’s been the club’s third line center, playing most of his minutes at even-strength with Andrew Cogliano and Carl Hagelin. The trio have produced relatively well with Horcoff scoring four goals and three assists at even strength, ranking him third among the Ducks regular forwards when it comes to points/60 at 1.35.  Horcoff has also played the fourth most minutes on the Ducks penalty kill, which currently ranks 2nd in the league. He’s taken the bulk of defensive zone starts and holds a 50.2 win percentage when it comes to faceoffs at even-strength.

For reference, here’s Horcoff’s current set of stats compared to the previous six years.

Horcoff Profile

 

What’s worth noting is Horcoff’s increasing ice time at even-strength this season. Even with Nate Thompson returning this month, Horcoff continues getting his usual ice time, with young Rakell now being moved to wing, playing on the top line with Perry and Getzlaf. This moves bodes well for everyone involved, with the coaches having some flexibility if any centers go down with an injury.

Horcoff - TOI-GM

The increased ice time had me wondering about his quality of competition, and if the increase is because he’s going up against the opposition’s top centers more frequently. Below is Horcoff’s competition’s percentage of ice-time courtesy of War on Ice.

Horcoff - TOIC-GM

Here we see that Horcoff is in fact taking on competition that gets a higher share of their teams ice time. To verify what I was seeing here, I checked the Ducks’ last five games to see which center’s Horcoff played against and how he did in terms of shot differentials.

Opponent Most TOI Against (Even-strength) CF CA Diff
Vancouver H. Sedin/D. Sedin 8 4 4
Tampa Bay Stamkos/Filpula 5 6 -1
San Jose Marleau/Ward 6 4 2
Pittsburgh Crosby/Kunitz 5 4 1
Carolina Lindholm/Staal 8 4 4

Not only has Horcoff been going head to head against the top competition, but he’s actually been doing alright when it comes to shot differentials. Just to be sure, I wanted to confirm that the other two Ducks’ centermen were actually seeing weaker competition now that Horcoff is taking on the Crosby’s and Stamkos’. Here’s a look at the percentage of ice time Getzlaf’s and Kesler’s competition gets.

Getzlaf - TOIC-GM

Kesler - TOIC-GM

 

Coach Bruce Boudreau was clearly throwing Getzlaf and Perry against the other team’s top lines, but has moved away from that strategy in an attempt to bolster the offence.  I think it’s smart move on his part to look for matchups that would benefit his top two lines. And really, none of that would be possible if Horcoff wasn’t added this past off-season.

Lastly, I wanted to see what proportion of goals and shot attempts Horcoff was achieving with his most common linemates this season.

Horcoff and Cogliano

Horcoff and Hagelin

I think the Ducks should be encouraged by the fact that these three have had chemistry and have the ability to take on the tougher competition. Horcoff is posting a Corsi For % above 50% with both Cogliano and Hagelin, and I would hesitate in splitting them up even with Thompson back in the lineup.

Thoughts

The Ducks made a great signing bringing in Horcoff this off-season. He’s been a productive depth centerman who filled in nicely for Thompson, and might even hang on to that third line center spot for the rest of the season. This surprised me for two reasons: one, I thought he was done being a centerman. And two, Thompson and Rakell appeared to have those center spots held down for good behind Kesler and Getzlaf. Anything can happen in an NHL season, but it’s nice to see Horcoff carving out a regular role as a Duck.

As for the team itself, the Ducks started off very poorly and are still languishing at the bottom of a very weak Pacific Division. The team has shown improvements, now sitting at a 52.1% score adjusted Corsi (7th in the league), and a 50.4% when it comes to scoring chances (15th in the league). These are both major improvements from the first month of the season when the club ranked in the bottom third in both categories. Unfortunately, the club’s inconsistent goaltending combined with a 4.9% shooting percentage (last in the league) and a 30th ranked Goals For% will need to improve if the club has any hopes for the playoffs.

Sources of data: War on Ice, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Analysis, NHL.com

What’s Going on with Mark Fayne?

I’ve been somewhat perplexed by both the coaching staff’s handling of the veteran defenceman as well as the public perception of Mark Fayne. By eye, he has played reasonably well, good enough to play regular minutes for the Oilers. Fayne has had a history of being a serviceable player, establishing himself in New Jersey before being signed by the Oilers in 2014. He’s in his prime, can play against the oppositions best players and shows well by the majority of the performance metrics.

A quick glance at his underlying numbers confirms what I think of him. He’s not the most offensively gifted player, but the team tends to have the puck when he’s on the ice. This season, the Oilers have received  a higher proportion of scoring chances with Fayne on the ice, and they even get a higher proportion of the high danger chances. He’s definitely improved from last season, but keep in mind we’re only 19 games in.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Pony

Capone “Pony” Agnihotri
(August 26, 2006 – March 27, 2015)

Sad to announce the passing of my best friend Pony this past weekend. He was loved by many and will be dearly missed.

Pony was recently diagnosed with lymphoma, a type of skin cancer that is relatively common among dogs. His condition worsened over the past few weeks, and the medication he was on really slowed him down. (If you are looking for more knowledge on the (topic, visit at Pharma Watch Dogs)

My brother and I got him when he was a year old. We were looking for a German pinscher, and were put into contact with someone through a breeder. The original owners could not take on the responsibility, so we were glad to welcome him into our family.

He really was an amazing dog, who absolutely loved being around people. The early days were challenging as we adjusted to life with such a high energy dog. He was very attached to me and my brother, always whining if one of us weren’t around. And the obedience classes…man, those were a train wreck. But none of that mattered. He was family. And we all loved every minute with him. When I moved out and adjusted to real/family life, he moved with me. During everything, planning a wedding, going to grad school, raising kids, he was there. He was great around the kids and would’ve done anything to protect them. My wife also had a couple of bichon shihtzu’s, so he always had company.

Now that he’s gone, it’s left a big hole in our hearts. He had a huge impact on anyone he came into contact with, and we all miss him. I’m thankful for having him in my life, and for the lessons I learnt from having him around. A few that come to mind:

When you want something bad enough, you’ll get it.  German pinschers were hunting dogs, so they have this tendency to track down whatever it is that gets their attention. Pony would hear a fly somewhere in the house, and obsess over catching it. He’d get so zoned in to the fly, he wouldn’t notice anything else. And believe it or not, he would catch the damn thing (and eat it of course). It was awesome.

Everyone is worth protecting. Pony was very defensive of me and my family. If anyone new came into the house, he would be a little on edge, but would calm down if the person was calm too. And if anyone laid a hand on someone that he was protecting, he would go after them, jumping and nipping. Sometimes he would be a real jerk, and help whoever might have been trying to push me around. Fun times. If you met him even once, he would have your back.

Appreciate every last bit of nature. Pony hated winter. Dreaded it. He was not a winter dog and dragged his feet if the weather was below -5. Summer time, however, you couldn’t get him inside. And when you finally did, he would find any bit of sun coming into the house and lay in it until you took him outside again. The most quirky thing he would do is sit on the deck and stare directly at the sun with the dumbest grin on his face.

We’ll miss you Pony.