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.

NHL’s Enhanced Stats Released

2015 Coors Light Stadium Series - Los Angeles Kings v San Jose SharksThe NHL unveiled the first phase of their four-phase “statistical initiative”. As of today, there are now “enhanced stats” available on NHL.com that goes back to the 2010-2011 season.

This is the NHL’s first official foray into the world of hockey analytics. The field has been established and developed predominantly by hockey fans, who have used blogs for close to a decade to develop new ideas and knowledge pertaining to the game of hockey. Hockey analytics has been built within a commons-based peer production environment, which relies on the contributions of many without an overbearing hierarchical structure. Ideas about the game, how it’s played, and where the correlations are within traditional and advanced statistics are built within a large, highly collaborative network; a complete shift away from the traditional model of information production/consumption. Remaining as an ad hoc meritocracy, open to everyone and building off the ideas of one another have been key trademarks of hockey analytics, and continues to serve as a foundation for the field. Fans have relied on simple analytics tools and social media applications to develop new information and share knowledge across a collaborative network.

The league’s challenge now will be to find the right balance as a participant in the analytics world. They can be the official source of data, but they can’t overstep their boundaries and impose any sort of gate keeping in analytics. The flow of information and knowledge derived from the data cannot be disrupted in any way by the league.

The first thing they’ll need to do is improve their “enhanced stats”. The functionality of their website is nowhere near the quality of War on Ice and lacks some of the basic metrics. David Johnson has an excellent recap of where the limitations are of the “enhanced stats” and provides a few recommendations. Here’s hoping the NHL is planning to release additional data or are at least reaching out to the hockey analytics community for feedback. Everyone can benefit from having the NHL as a key source of information, so it’s in the NHL’s best interest to do what’s best for the entire fan community.

It would also be in the NHL’s best interest to partner with existing third-party websites like War on Ice and Behind the Net as well as mobile app developers. This could involve providing them with raw data sets and letting them decide how the data is presented, aggregated and visualized for fans. At the end of the day, fans are spending countless hours on third party websites looking at and thinking about hockey information.

It’s understandable that the NHL has renamed Corsi and Fenwick stats to “Shot Attempts” (SAT) and “Unblocked Shot Attempts” (USAT) respectively. The NHL is obviously trying to make the name of the stats easy to understand and self-explanatory so that it could appeal to more people. The problem is, there are thousands and thousands of articles written that use the traditional name of the stats. So if someone is just learning about the stats now, they’ll likely be diving in to the past content produced, forcing them to refer to SAT and USAT as Corsi and Fenwick. The NHL is trying to be a gate keeper here, but their attempts at changing names are pretty futile.

Lastly, the NHL has got to release its own version of CapGeek that provides player salary information. There is without a doubt that fans valued CapGeek as a source of information, which feeds discussion and new content (i.e., articles) on trades, free agency and team salary cap issues. Similar to advanced stat websites, CapGeek had fans spending hours a week looking at and thinking about hockey information. It was surprising to hear that the commissioner of the NHL wasn’t sure if fans cared about salary information, but I’m convinced there’s resistance from the NHLPA and player agents. Regardless, the NHL has to provide this information to fans, or watch as another third party becomes the source.

The field of hockey analytics has evolved and grown thanks in large part to the contributions of many. The rules and norms established by this collaborative network have been key to the growth of hockey analytics and need to be recognized by the NHL if they want to play a role. As encouraging as it is to see the NHL provide some of the advanced stats, it would be in their best interest to emulate some of the key characteristics of a “produsage” or commons-based peer production environment.

Past Articles

NHL Needs to Provide More Data (June 29, 2011)

Importance of Hockey Analytics II (May 5, 2014)

Keeping the NHL Data Open (August 15, 2014)

NHL to Provide Advanced Stats (February 5, 2014)

CapGeek, Hockey Analytics and the NHL’s Reluctance to Provide Information

Hockey in Society / Hockey dans la société

CapGeek has announced that it would be ceasing operations as its founder and director, Matthew Wuest attends to some personal matters. CapGeek was the definitive source for NHL salary information used by fans, NHL teams and media outlets. It also provided interactive tools to determine if teams could take on player salaries, a cap calculator for armchair GM’s and what future rosters could potentially look like. It really improved the public’s understanding of the salary cap model and the numerous financial intricacies involved in building NHL rosters.

The website filled a need after the NHL implemented the salary cap in 2005. Team’s were no longer able to outspend one another and had to find a way to put together a roster with financial constraints. Team were on more of a level playing field, forcing fans to learn more about the cap and what implications it can have on their…

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Expanding the Scope: Insight from Gabriel Desjardins of Behind the Net

fehr-behind-netIt’s been great to see hockey analytics grow this year, but it’s still perplexing that more people aren’t looking past it and asking tougher questions about it’s relationship with other concepts and fields of research. The numbers and metrics are a part of a continuous discussion, which has intensified with more and more people joining in the discourse. For instance, possession stats have gained prominence, and that’s lead to more questions about the game. Projects tracking zone entry stats and puck retrieval stats will uncover new information, which will likely spawn off more questions. That’s the thing about analytics in any field…there is no finished product.

So if we look past the actual stats and the ensuing discussion, there’s still a lot to be understood about how exactly hockey analytics has impacted the different facets of the game (management, scouting, players, etc) as well as it’s relationship other fields such as information technology, business and society in general.

Behind the Net was one of the first websites that collected advanced stats, with its owner Gabriel Desjardins leading a lot of the online discussion in the early days. He sent out a series of tweets last week that gave some insight into hockey analytics, but also touched on some topics that have yet to be fully explored.

As we approach the trough of disillusionment for hockey analytics, here are a few helpful thoughts…

#1) Hockey insiders have been using “analytics” for decades. +/-, Sinden/Corsi shot/pass/touch counting, video aggregation. These stats had the imprimatur of cigar-chomping insiders, so nobody dug too deeply or cared too much

#2) One day, members of the general public found out what insiders had been doing and slowly worked through the value of this data. Somehow people popularizing the league’s internal metrics became outsiders as far as fans/media were concerned. It’s a classic obtuse battle of ideas. e.g. Obamacare was conservative for Romney but socialist for Obama. It took “analytics” predicting an unavoidable Leafs collapse to push people to the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”. It’s amazing – people promoted ideas the NHL used for decades w/o press caring but these ideas then needed to be proven publicly

#3) Now that analytics have been re-proven externally, teams have been getting PR boosts by announcing various hires but teams were already using analytics. So there’s no new benefit. Except I suppose people will expect the Leafs to benefit, hence the trough of disillusionment.

#4) Now here’s the missing piece: teams need to know how to interpret these stats and correctly use them to drive decisions. It’s statistical parallel to @Lowetide_‘s “saw him good” principle. Teams don’t understand regression will cut guy based on 3 games. Teams need to take long view to get analytics benefit and incentives don’t align. Today’s best GMs still only have 14-day outlook

#6) May see benefit for poorly-run teams [TOR, EDM] but the inflated expectations are that “stats guys” will take them on a 2015 playoff run. Unless @mc79hockey is making $1M a year, we need to seriously temper expectations

#7) There’s very little low-hanging fruit in analytics and most of it has been harvested in hockey. There’s no Matt Stairs or Roberto Petagine waiting to be freed. Helps that the KHL will put a pile of cash in your suitcase at the end of every game. Nobody needs to toil in the A for $75k/year

#8) The thing that initially annoyed me was Pierre Mcguire’s comments to @wyshynski about firing coaches for using analytics. But teams already sign and play guys because “Coach knew him in junior” or much worse.