Oilers defencemen with the bottom six forwards

Edmonton Oilers' Bouchard Exceeding Expectations Early This Season

Can’t help but be astonished by how, once again, the Oilers are getting mediocre results at even-strength (5v5) largely due to their third and fourth line forwards.

After 17 games, the Oilers have a -2 goal differential at 5v5, a goal-share of 48.68% that has them 19th in the league and only ahead of San Jose, Seattle and Arizona in the Pacific division. With their top six on the ice (which would include at least one of McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Puljujarvi), the Oilers have outscored opponents 29-19 (+10) – a goal-share of 60.42%. Without one of those four on the ice, which is about 34.3% of the team’s total playing time, the Oilers have been outscored 8-20 (-12) – a goal-share of 28.57%.

Oilers (5v5) Top Six Bottom Six
Corsi For% 52.44 49.04
Fenwick For% 50.72 48.05
xGoals For% 52.34 43.81
Goals For% 60.42 28.57
Shooting% 9.91 6.10
Save% 93.46 86.95
PDO 103.30 93.10

No question the Oilers bottom six is being cratered by some pretty shoddy goaltending, with club posting a team save percentage of 86.95% with them on the ice. But it’d help if the Oilers third and fourth lines weren’t playing so often without the puck and in their own end and not having enough shooting talent to help make up for the team’s goaltending deficiencies – which ranks 25th in the league with a 91.37 even-strength (5v5) save percentage.

Rather than again pointing to the poor job the Oilers have done at identifying professional-level talent and constructing the bottom end of their roster, I thought it’d be worth looking into how each of the Oilers defencemen have done at even-strength (5v5) with the top six forwards and with the bottom six forwards. Knowing the significant impact McDavid and Draisaitl have had on the team’s overall results, it’s good to know which defencemen are posting positive numbers away form the star players and bringing value to the team.

Included in the tables below are each defencemen’s individual proportion of ice-time with the two groups of forwards along with the team’s 5v5 shot-share metrics like Corsi, Fenwick and Expected Goals with them on the ice.

A few things jump out when seeing the defencemen’s on-ice numbers split this way.

  • While it’s not surprising to see every defencemen have great results playing with the top six, it’s wild that when Barrie has been on the ice, the top six forwards see a drop in their shot-share metrics, getting out-shot and out-chanced when he’s on the ice with them. Barrie’s posting similar numbers with the bottom six and getting terrible results – so that might be the reason why the coaching staff continues to give him lots of ice time with the top lines who have the talent to overcome his deficiencies.
  • Nurse is definitely seeing a higher proportion of his ice time (76.45%) with the top six forwards compared to the other defencemen, posting great shot-share numbers with them and getting excellent results. Prior to his injury, I did wonder if he should get a higher proportion of his ice time with the bottom six forwards as the group does somewhat better with him on the ice with them – posting a Corsi For% and Fenwick For% over 48.0%. Considering how much the Oilers are paying him, you would have hoped the numbers away from the star players would have been better.
  • The one player that really stands out is Evan Bouchard. The bottom six forwards do significantly better with him on the ice with them, posting a Corsi For% and Fenwick For% above 57.0%. He really should be getting more ice-time as the team has a better chance of outscoring opponents when he’s on the ice.
  • Ceci and Keith have been pretty bad playing with the bottom six, posting poor shot-share metrics and getting terrible results. Considering the cost of acquiring the two and Holland’s expectations of them to take on meaningful roles, it’s pretty disappointing to see that they’re so dependent on the top lines.
  • Something worth monitoring is the play of rookie defenceman Philip Broberg and how he fares with the top six forwards and the bottom six. Obviously a lot of pressure on the player to secure a role on the team, but if he can be an even-strength play driver soon, it would solve a lot of the Oilers long-term cap issues.

As much as we want to point to the bottom six forwards and the lack of scoring depth, I think it’s important to add a critical lens to the blueline that Holland has put together. All four of the professional players that Holland signed or acquired this off-season – Barrie, Keith, Ceci, Koekkoek – aren’t strong play drivers and are part of the depth scoring issues for the team. Considering that all of them are on multi-year deals, it’s critical that the Oilers get contributions from their defensive prospects as soon as possible – especially if they want to improve their even-strength (5v5) goal-differential.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Goal goals

Oilers' revamped third line providing much-needed balance

While the overall results have been excellent, one area for concern is the Oilers goal-differential at even-strength (5v5) – a metric that Ken Holland referenced as his go-to “analytic” this past summer (Source: The Athletic).

After 11 games, the Oilers have just barely outscored opponents 25-24, a goal-share of 51.02 that ranks 16th in the league and fifth in the Pacific behind the Calgary, Los Angeles, Vancouver and San Jose. And it’s really been on the defensive side of the game where they’re having issues as the club is scoring the fifth highest rate of goals per hour in the league (2.80), but allowing the seventh higher rate of goals against (2.69).

The Oilers goaltending currently ranks 23rd in the league at even-strength (5v5) with a 91.86% team save percentage, which is only better than Seattle in the Pacific. One issue is how much offence they’re giving up, allowing the seventh highest rate of shots against per hour (32.3) in the league and the tenth highest rate of expected goals against per hour (2.50) (note that both metrics have been score and venue adjusted to reflect how much time the Oilers have spent playing with a lead).

It’s likely a spot of bother for management and the coaching staff as they finished with a -16 goal differential at even-strength (5v5) two seasons ago and a -1 goal differential last season.

With McDavid on the ice this season, and the team often controlling the flow of play and outshooting opponents (57.16% Corsi For% and 57.12% Expected Goals For%) the Oilers have outscored opponents 12-9 at even-strength (5v5). Without McDavid, they’ve been outscored 13-15 largely due to the fact that they get outplayed by opponents and spend more time without the puck and in their own zone – as reflected by their 47.44% Corsi For% and 44.34% Expected Goals For%.

When we look at each individual forward and their on-ice shot differential, expected goal differential and goa differential, we see how it’s once again the depth forwards that are allowing more goals than they’re scoring. That has to be frustrating for a front office that has spent so many assets over the last few seasons to address their even-strength (5v5) issues.

Below are each forwards on-ice shot differential, expected goal differential and goal differential at even-strength (5v5) this season, ranked by their on-ice goal-differential. I’ve applied a basic heatmap to each metric to show how each player compares in relation to their teammates.

In terms of actual results (i.e., goal differential) it’s the depth forwards that Holland himself either acquired or re-signed that are currently having issues including Foegele, Ryan, Kassian, Shore and Turris. What’s especially concerning is that these players are also allowing more shots and chances than they’re generating, which doesn’t give a lot of confidence that their on-ice results will improve.

It’ll also be interesting to see if Hyman’s numbers improve. He’s been good at driving play, with the team doing a better job of generating shots and chances when he’s on the ice, but the goals haven’t been coming. On the flip side, Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl look like their on a bit of a heater, the results of which are masking some of their poor on-ice shot-share metrics. I’d expect their goal-differentials to slide, but perhaps some extended time with someone like Hyman or even Puljujarvi can help them sustain their current results.

Worth highlighting too how the defence core is doing, which is significantly different than last season. Again, the players below are sorted by their on-ice goal differential with a heatmap applied to to each metric to show how each player compares in relation to their teammates.

Really encouraging to see Bouchard have positive results supported by solid on-ice shot-share numbers. And I’d aspect Nurse’s results to improve considering he has McDavid on the ice with him for 55% of his ice-time. Barrie on the other hand, not sure what to say. His poor on-ice shot-share numbers are consistent with his recent seasons, so the Oilers should’ve been aware of this before signing him to a three-year contract this past off-season. Keith and Ceci are posting okay results, but it’s likely to slide considering the Oilers get outshot and outchanced with them on the ice, and they need to have McDavid with them for positive results to occur. And it’s not surprising to see Koekkoek’s poor on-ice numbers considering his performance the last few seasons and the fact he’s spending a lot of time with the depth forwards.

If the Oilers want to have sustainable success, they’ll need to find a way to get better results at even-strength. It’s a recurring issue with their depth players, one that Holland has publicly addressed, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers approach this – either by changing up the line combinations, making a call to Bakersfield or looking at the trade market.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

CBC Radio Active: Oilers are fun to watch but is it sustainable?

I joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk about the Oilers and their start to the season. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2021, November 9).

Topcis we covered:

  • Team and fan expectations of the Oilers this season.
  • The potent powerplay and if it’s sustainable.
  • Stuart Skinner starting his second NHL game.
  • Issues at even-strength and what they’ll need to address to have sustainable success.

Thanks to the team at CBC for putting it all together!

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 33 – Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL)

A little deep dive on the Calgary Flames with Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL) from The ScorchStack. We talked about their great start, what the key factors have been and if their success at even-strength (5v5) and special teams is sustainable or not. Mike also shared his thoughts on the Flames roster construction, where they could make improvements, and what the club is doing well tactic-wise this season.

Full segment below:

Couple links that were mentioned in the show:

  • Killing time: What we can learn from tracking the Calgary Flames’ penalty kill (Mike Pfeil, SeaHAC, 2019) (Link)
  • Hockey plays and strategies – Ryan Walter and Mike Johnston (Link)

Podcast channels:

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

Tracking the Pacific division – As of October 31, 2021

Oilers improve to NHL-best 5-0 with win over Golden Knights

It’s been a great start for the Edmonton Oilers this season as they currently rank second in the Pacific division banking 12 points in seven games. Thanks to an incredible powerplay, the Oilers have a +9 goal differential and a division-leading 0.857 points percentage.

Team Record Points Point % Goal diff
Calgary 6-1-1 13 0.813 +14
Edmonton 6-1-0 12 0.857 +9
San Jose 5-3-0 10 0.625 +3
Anaheim 3-4-3 9 0.450 -3
Vegas 4-4-0 8 0.500 -6
Seattle 3-5-1 7 0.389 -5
Vancouver 3-5-1 7 0.389 -3
Los Angeles 3-5-1 7 0.389 -3

The rest of the Pacific is looking a little weak overall as most expected. Three teams currently have a goal-differential above 0, with Vegas and Seattle starting poorly along with Vancouver, Los Angeles and Anaheim having their own issues. Compare this to the Metropolitan division where every team currently has a goal-differential above 0 except for the Islanders who rank second-last with a -1 goal differential.

It’s become apparent that the main driver for the Oilers success this season has been the powerplay, which has scored 11 times in about 30 minutes of ice-time – an incredible rate of 21.45 goals per hour. For context, a rate of 10.00 per hour is what the top powerplays finish a season with. Worth noting that the mythical second powerplay unit has been excellent as well, scoring two goals in under five minutes of total ice-time. We can expect the first powerplay to get over 85% of the team’s total powerplay time for obvious reasons, but it’s good to know another unit is ready to go in case they struggle or deal with injuries. I’m also curious to see if teams eventually figure out a way to stop the Oilers powerplay, similar to what Montreal and Toronto did last season in the North division. Both clubs held the Oilers to under seven goals per hour, with Toronto doing a really good job limiting the Oilers scoring chances.

The concern the Oilers should have is that the powerplay results are masking some of the Oilers deficiencies at even-strength (5v5), where they have scored 13 goals, but allowed 14. The Oilers rate of goals against is ninth highest in the league, as they’re allowing the fourth-highest rate shots against (33.78 per hour) and have a team save percentage that currently ranks 17th in the league with 92.63%.

Below are the even-strength (5v5) numbers for each team in the Pacific division (sorted by the number of points they’ve accumulated) including goal-share results as well as the shot-share metrics that gives us a sense of which teams have the right processes in place and if the results are sustainable or not. I’ve also applied a basic heat-map to show which teams are doing well or struggling relative to their division foes. You can find a description of each metric at the end of this article. Also note that the shot-share metrics are score and venue adjusted based on Natural Stat Trick’s methodology.

Calgary has by far been the best team in the Pacific at even-strength (5v5), posting a goal-differential of +9 with very strong shot-share metrics to back up their success. It’s not likely they’ll finish the season with a goal-share above 60% – only one team has done that since the last lockout, when Washington finished with a goal-share of 61.38% in 2016/17. And their goaltending is obviously the biggest driver right now, with Markstrom in better form than last season. But the Flames are spending a lot of time with the puck as reflected by their 57.09% Corsi For percentage and are dominating in terms of scoring chances as indicated by their 55.60% Fenwick For percentage. It’ll be something to monitor if they can continue their success, especially with their penalty kill looking solid right allowing the third lowest rate of shots against per hour and the tenth lowest rate of goals against (5.38). Their powerplay has been very good as well, scoring at a rate of 10.76 goals per hour at this point.

Edmonton has looked decent when it comes to shot-share metrics, especially their Expected Goals-for percentage which factors in shot quality. But I’m a little skeptical that this number will stay high considering their Corsi For% and Fenwick For% (which also serves as a proxy for scoring chances) are a few percentage points lower. Last season, the Oilers had similar numbers after 10 games – a Fenwick For% of close to 50% and an Expected Goals-for percentage closer to 52%. By game 25, the Oilers Expected Goals-for percentage eventually dropped down to 50%, closer in line with their Fenwick For% which hovered around the 50% mark all season.

And not to sound the alarm too early, but the Oilers are having some of their usual depth issues right now. With McDavid on the ice, the Oilers have posted a +1 goal differential and without him, their -2. That could change quickly, but it’s worth noting the team’s shot share metrics with and without their captain. Definitely something that needs to be monitored, considering how much focus it had in the off-season and the assets that management spent to address it.

Ideally the Oilers should be posting shot-share metrics at or above 50% without their star player on the ice, but that has yet to happen since McDavid’s been here. I do expect the Oilers goal-share without McDavid to improve considering their PDO is close to 93.0 thanks to some poor goaltending. But I’d feel a little more confident if they were playing with the puck more often and generating chances more consistently.

Some other observations of the Pacific division:

  • San Jose and Anaheim – I think it’s safe to assume they’ll come back down to earth a little considering their possession numbers are so poor, hovering around a score-adjusted Corsi For percentage of about 46%.
  • Vancouver looks like a mess right now as their results are in line with how poorly they’ve been playing, posting possession and scoring chance numbers similar to San Jose and Anaheim.
  • Vegas should start to get better results once they get some of their key players back, but I’m starting to think they have some depth issues.
  • And I’d expect Seattle’s results to gradually improve as they’re doing alright when it comes to controlling play, but appear to be having issues in net as the team save percentage ranks second last in the league. Grubauer has been poor starting most of Seattle’s games with his overall save percentage (89.6%), which is below his career average (92.0%).
  • Los Angeles is the most interesting to me, as their goal differential is actually better than Edmonton’s right now and they have some really good underlying numbers as well. Definitely some issues finishing chances as reflected by their team shooting percentage of 6.39% which ranks 26th in the league, but I suspect their results will improve considering they have the puck more often than opponents and are generating chances – currently posting the 5th highest rate of shots in the league, and the 3rd highest rate of expected goals.

Data: Natural Stat Trick


  • 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).

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 32 – Avry Lewis-McDougall (@avry)

Joined by Avry Lewis-McDougall (@avry) to talk all things Oilers, their recent success and how things might shake out in the Pacific division. We also talked about fan experience and how the Oilers and the NHL can do a better job growing and promoting their product. We also shared our thoughts on Kyle Beach’s bravery and what impact he’ll have on the game and society.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 31 – Dennis King (@dkingbh)

Joined by Dennis King (@dkingbh) on the show to discuss the Oilers start to the 2021/22 regular season, what they’ve done well and where they need to improve. We focused on the players that have stood out, positively and negatively, and the impacts of Holland’s approach when it comes to building and optimizing a roster.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 30 – Jason Adams (@adamsonhockey)

Joined by Jason Adams (@adamsonhockey) on the show to discuss the Oilers’ start to the 2021/22 regular season, what they’ve done well and where they need to improve. We talked about Holland’s off-season moves on the blueline and some of the early struggles there. We also talked about Jesse Puljujärvi, how important he is today and going forward – plus lots more.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

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

Tightening up

Breaking Down the 2021 Edmonton Oilers Schedule – YEG Sports

Nice way to start the 2021/22 regular season.

The Oilers have kicked things off with five straight wins including back-to-back road wins in Arizona and Vegas. Outscoring their opponents 23-13, the Oilers have 10 points in the bank thanks in large part to their special teams. The Oilers powerplay has been outstanding scoring 8 of the team’s 23 goals, while the penalty kill has allowed only two goals and has scored one as well.

Even-strength (5v5) is where the Oilers are just getting by, posting a goal-differential of +1 (11 goals-for, 10 goals-against) and a goal-share of 52.38% – good for 17th in the league. Their 2.78 goals per-hour is 11th best in the league and third in the Pacific, just behind Vegas and San Jose. And their 2.53 goals against is ninth highest in the league – definitely something the coaching staff will need to address.

For context, below is the team’s Corsi For%, which gives us a sense on how often the Oilers have the puck and control the flow of play, along with with Fenwick For% and Expected Goals For% which serve as proxies for scoring chances. These have all been score and venue adjusted according to Natural Stat Trick’s methodology. Should also note that the Expected Goals For% is much higher for now, but it may have to do with the sample size we’re dealing with. I’d expect it to level off in the next few weeks and align closer to the Fenwick For%.

One of the Oilers current issues is their overall team defence at even-strength (5v5) as we’ve seen some pretty sloppy play in their own zone, resulting in extended zone time for opponents and additional shots and scoring chances against. The Oilers are currently allowing the 10th highest rate of shot attempts against in the league, the 6th highest rate of unblocked shot attempts against (i.e., Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances) and the 5th highest rate of actual shots on goal against. If the Oilers coaching staff can figure this issue out and make the necessary tactical and deployment adjustments, I’d expect the Corsi For% and other shot-share metrics to be closer to 52%, and closer to what we see from the top teams in the league,

One player in particular that needs to be a lot better is Tyson Barrie, who currently ranks third among Oilers defencemen in total even-strength (5v5) ice time and average ice time per game. The Oilers spend more time defending and hemmed in their own zone with Barrie on the ice, as his on-ice Corsi For% is currently 42.31%, while his on-ice Fenwick For% is 38.14%. Below are the on-ice numbers for each Oilers defencemen this season ranked by time-on-ice per game play (TOI/GP), with a basic heat map applied to the shot-share metrics and goal-share.

Considering Barrie’s two most common forward linemates so far this season are Draisaitl and McDavid, and that half of his total ice-time is with one of the two superstars, his on-ice numbers should be significantly better. And it’s pretty apparent that he’s a major drag with whoever he’s playing with, including McDavid.

With the two deployed on the ice together this season, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For% of 43.53% – which should be a red flag right away considering how good McDavid is at controlling the flow of play and the fact that no other defenceman has a Corsi For% that low when playing with McDavid (see table below). And when McDavid doesn’t have Barrie on the ice with him, that number jumps to 57.53%.

The actual results (i.e., goals) are also significantly better for McDavid when he’s been away from Barrie as the Oilers have outscored opponents 3-1 when they’re not deployed together. And when they have been deployed together, the Oilers have been outscored (3 goals-for, 4 goals against). It’s a little scary to think how many more points McDavid could have had if he didn’t have to play with Barrie, as they tend to be playing without the puck more often when deployed together. Should also add that we knew about the negative effect of having Barrie on the ice at even-strength last season, but the Oilers chose to overlook it when signing him to a three-year contract.

This also makes me wonder how much better the rest of the roster would be if Barrie was deployed less often.

Below is a breakdown of the Oilers on-ice even-strength (5v5) numbers so far this season with and without McDavid. Definitely a big positive that the Oilers aren’t getting outscored at even-strength (5v5), but I do wonder if their numbers, as well as McDavid’s, could be better if they had better options than Barrie on the blueline. Definitely something to track this season, and we’ll have to see if the coaching staff and management can figure their issues out. The sooner, the better.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Racist and derogatory comments

Part of writing and publishing content is the feedback you get from a pretty active hockey community. You can agree or disagree with my work, give me recommendations, take my work and build off it, ignore it – it’s all good. After all these years, I’ve figured out how to handle the feedback in a way that works for me.

What I can’t accept are comments with discriminatory or racist language, which I’ve recently had directed at me. There’s no way to justify posting racist comments and it won’t be tolerated here. Any comments that are racist or contain excessive profanity or misinformation will be blocked and reported.

There’s no place for racism anywhere.

I’m proud of who I am and where I’m from. I’m grateful for the people around me and the communities I’m a part of. I wouldn’t be where I am in life, doing what I do, without the support I’ve received and for that I’m incredibly thankful.