Potential disconnect

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The hierarchy of authority is pretty obvious when examining any large organization. There’s typically a president, who oversees a group of executives that are in charge of specific areas. Under each executive are teams with managers that report to them, and under the manager you have various employees with well-defined roles. Individual actions are directed by their superiors and need to align with the corporate goals and mandates to ensure long-term success.

Without clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each individual, things can easily go astray for an organization. While many individuals collaborate and can influence a specific area of the business, there’s typically one manager or an executive type that has final authority. And the only way a group can progress is if the decisions made across the organization align together in a collaborative manner.

This of course applies to hockey as well, especially around the relationship between the general manager and the head coach. Strong collaboration is required as both roles have a direct influence on the team’s overall performance; each exerting a certain level of control over the roster that is iced.

With any of the Oilers general manager-coaching tandems in the past, it was clear that the general manager had the stronger authority and made decisions accordingly. The head coaches had some flexibility with how they deployed players, but their decisions were typically being influenced by the management team. Rarely would an Oilers head coach make a decision that wasn’t in line with the general managers vision.

Today things appear to be a little different.

The Edmonton Oilers added significant experience to their organization in the spring of 2015 when they hired Peter Chiarelli as the general manager and Todd McLellan as the head coach. Both individuals had previous experience in the positions they were hired for, with Chiarelli serving as the general manager in Boston for nine seasons, while McLellan was the head coach in San Jose for seven.

There’s now a growing body of evidence that indicates that the general manager and the head coach aren’t exactly on the same page. What Chiarelli has said about certain players and the rationale behind his signings and acquisitions, and how McLellan actually deploys the players isn’t exactly in line with one another.

The risk here is that the Oilers need to allocate their dollars efficiently, and if there’s a disconnect between the decisions made by the general manager and the decisions made by the head coach, it could cost them financially and hinder their chances of winning a championship.

Leon Draisaitl

The 2014 first round pick has quickly become  a key piece of the Oilers roster. After an outstanding 2016/17 season where he finsihed 8th in NHL scoring and posted 16 points in 13 playoff games, Chiarelli signed the German to an 8-year, $68 million contract. Where Draisaitl would fit on the roster was a little unclear as he had played a considerable amount of time on right-wing with Connor McDavid but also centered a successful line with Taylor Hall the year before.

The coach didn’t seem to mind having Draisaitl at wing or center depending on the situation, and even had success with him as a centerman during the 2017 playoffs. Chiarelli on the other hand indicated in his pre-season interview with TSN’s Bob McKenzie  that the reason why he paid what he did for Draisaitl’s contract was because he viewed Draisaitl as a center.

“As a manager, I like Leon in the middle because he’s strong and he’s heavy and he’s good on faceoffs. He’s more than that, but that’s why I like him in the middle. That doesn’t mean that Connor and Leon won’t play together because you saw them playing together last year. Leon will take some draws and Connor will be on the wing, and they trade coverage down low sometimes. But as a manager, I think you’re winning a Cup, at the end of the day, on the average, with both of those guys in the middle.” (Source: TSN)

Over the first 21 games of the 2017/18 season, we’ve seen that McLellan has a different vision than his general manager, remaining adamant that Draisaitl play on the top line with McDavid as a winger. Of the 264 minutes Draisaitl has played at even-strength this season, 214 have been playing alongside McDavid. This is a pretty significant issue as it doesn’t make a lot of sense from a cap perspective to have an $8 million player on McDavid’s wing. If a player is getting paid that much, he has to be a driver and give the team secondary offence. Ideally a cheaper winger should be on the top line, as most of the work is driven by McDavid anyways.

Kris Russell

After Kris Russell was signed by the Oilers to a one-year term right before the start of the 2016/17 season, he quickly became an integral part of the Oilers defence core. Russell finished the season as a top four option, playing alongside Andrej Sekera for the most part. He earned the coaches trust, regularly being deployed in key situations and often starting in his own zone. While the shot-share numbers took a dive with him on the ice, and the offence of his teammates disappearing, the coach clearly valued Russell’s conservative style and skillset.

This past summer, the Oilers signed Russell to a four-year contract worth $16 million, including a no-movement clause. This level of over-payment indicated that Russell would continue playing as a top-four defenceman. It was also forecasted by the team that Russell would have the same level of success as last season, even without Sekera as he recovered from a knee injury.

After 21 games, it doesn’t look like Russell is being deployed the way the general manager had envisioned. Until very recently, Russell was averaging the fifth highest time on ice among defencemen, playing predominantly on the third pairing. His ice time has gradually increased over the last few games, but it should be concerning to the Oilers that they’re spending $4 million on a player the coach chooses not to deploy as a top four.  That decision is fine, considering that Russell is well-suited as a third pairing option. The problem is the general manager invested heavily in Russell as a top-four option, using the money saved by trading away Jordan Eberle. This leads us to our next case.  Continue reading

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Discussing the current state of the Oilers on the CBC Edmonton News (TV) and CBC Radio Active

cbc edmonton logoI joined Adrienne Pan on the CBC Edmonton News on Thursday evening to discuss the Oilers. Clip is here and starts around the 18 minute mark: CBC Edmonton News (2017, November 23)

Couple things we touched on:

  • The Oilers brutal record and the realistic possibility of the team missing the playoffs. Worth checking out Tyler Dellow’s article at The Athletic on when teams are technically out of the playoff running.
  • The decisions made by Todd McLellan this season.
  • Chiarelli’s track record when it comes to trades.
  • How Cammalleri has fit in thus far.
  • Upcoming games against the Sabres and Bruins.

I also made an appearance on CBC Radio Active in Edmonton to discuss the Oilers on Wednesday November 22nd. I’ll post the audio once it becomes available online.

Cammalleri, Jokinen and Pouliot

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On the surface, the trade of Jussi Jokinen for Mike Cammalleri makes sense for both the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings. Both players are capable NHL forwards in the late stages of their careers. They were both recently bought out of their contracts following the 2016/17 season, and then signed as depth forwards at a reasonable price point and term. They’re low risk assets at this point with the potential of being regular offensive contributors. Considering their ages, it’s probably wiser to keep expectations low, but in the right situation an NHL team could get good value out of them.

In his 15 games this season with Los Angeles, Cammalleri put up some points but gradually saw a reduction in his ice-time due to the emergence of some younger forwards including Adrian Kempe and Alex Iafallo. And although Jokinen posted some excellent shot-share numbers in Edmonton, he wasn’t able to contribute much offence, only registering one assist and being a healthy scratch for a few games. After the team’s poor start, his name popped up in trade gossip, signalling the end was near for his time in Edmonton.

While Jokinen could be considered a better all-round player, it was Cammalleri’s scoring history that likely caught the attention of Oilers management and forced the trade. While the Oilers did a good job limiting the shots against when Jokinen was on the ice this year and often had possession of the puck, Jokinen couldn’t help where the team had been struggling most this season: scoring goals.

After 18 games, Edmonton ranks among the top five in the league when it comes to any of the adjusted rate of shot-metrics, whether it be shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts or actual shots on goal. Unfortunately for the Oilers, they can’t buy a goal, posting the second worst team shooting percentage in the league with 6.12% at even-strength. Their goals per hour rate of 1.87 is the fourth worst in the league, a significant drop from last season when they posted a rate of 2.36 goals per hour, eighth in the league and second in the western conference.

So in a way the Oilers acquiring  Cammalleri makes sense. His career shooting percentage prior to this season was 12.1% across all game states, and 13.0% over the last five seasons. His ability to convert shots into goals is above league average, which is typically around 10% among NHL forwards. And he’s an upgrade in shooting talent when compared to players like Ryan Strome (8.7% shooting percentage over 258 games) and rookies like Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujaarvi who are both still developing and figuring out how to score at the NHL level.

McLellan recently addressed the teams issue of not being able to convert on their chances, and how Cammalleri could help.

“He’s a shooter. Since he’s entered the league, the one thing he has is an incredible shot and a quick release.”

“Given [our] lack of scoring, we think he can come in and use that shot. It’s not that we haven’t created opportunities, we just haven’t finished a lot of them. If we can continue to create and he happens to be the receiver of some of those passes, maybe we can get a little more offence out of him.” (Source: Edmonton Oilers)

This is all well and good. But I can’t help but think of the path the Oilers took to get Cammalleri, what the process was, the rationale for the preceding transactions, and if there have been any improvements.

First of all, the Oilers sent away a proven NHL forward who could play across the lineup, and potentially help on special teams. Jokinen didn’t get the results he wanted in his short stay in Edmonton, but he did post 1.86 points per hour at even-strength over the last five seasons prior to this year, which is slightly higher than Cammalleri’s rate of 1.73 over the same stretch. When it comes to shooting ability, Cammalleri has the edge posting a very solid 13.0% shooting percentage over the past five seasons across all game-states, while Jokinen has converted 11.0% of his shots into goals. Career-wise, the two are actually even with both posting a 12.1% shooting percentage. The Oilers gave up a more all-round player for someone that’s a little more one-dimensional.

The interesting thing here is that Jokinen was originally signed by the Oilers to fill the role and skill set left vacant following the buyout of Benoit Pouliot’s contract. The two have similar careers, were each on similar long-term deals, had a history of good possession numbers, and were able to play in the top six and contribute on special teams. It was a bit of a lateral move, with the Oilers saving some money and re-allocating their risk in a veteran player coming off of a down-year.

So in a way, Cammalleri is now replacing Pouliot as the experienced forward who can produce in a top six role. Cammalleri doesn’t have the underlying shot numbers like Pouliot or the versatility, but at least he can help with scoring goals.

Here’s the thing though: Cammalleri isn’t really an upgrade to Pouliot when it comes to converting shots into goals. While some may focus on the bad penalties, it’s easy to miss the fact that Pouliot’s shooting percentage over the past five seasons is identical to Cammalleri’s. Add to the fact that Pouliot also has a better rate of point production, he would probably be a pretty good fit right now for the Oilers and provide a little more to the team than Jokinen and Cammalleri.

 

Between 2012/13 and 2016/17
Player Games Points/60 (5v5) Shooting% (All states)
Cammalleri 278 1.73 13.0%
Jokinen 322 1.86 11.0%
Pouliot 294 2.06 13.0%

The money the Oilers saved from buying out Pouliot hasn’t been allocated to improve the roster, making it hard to understand the Oilers rationale for parting with him. Considering that management tried to replace Pouliot’s role and production with Jokinen, and then tried to improve their shooting percentage by bringing in Cammalleri, the Oilers appear to be making important roster decisions without a real plan or foresight.

Acquiring Jokinen in the offseason made sense, but the Oilers should’ve known that they’d be needing shooting talent and some productivity after buying out Pouliot. It was only when the team struggled to score that management pursued shooting talent, which is ironic considering they not only gave up Pouliot, but Eberle as well, in the offseason.

What this thread of transactions indicates, to me at least, is that the Oilers management team does not have a great read on their own players. The fact that they’re making decisions on such small sample sizes and giving up proven scoring talent is troubling and needs to be addressed if they want to build a stronger roster.

Data: Corsica Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, Cap Friendly, NHL.com, Hockey Reference

Discussing the Oilers, Talbot’s play and the upcoming games on the CBC Edmonton News (TV)

cbc edmonton logoI joined Adrienne Pan on the CBC Edmonton News this evening to talk all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 16:00 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2017, November 16)

Topics we covered:

  • The acquisition of Mike Cammalleri, and where he can help the Oilers.
  • The improved play of Cam Talbot.
  • The recent stretch of games and they success they’ve been having.
  • Tonight’s match against the Blues.
  • Upcoming five-game road trip starting in Dallas on the weekend.

 

Digging into Klefbom’s numbers at even-strength – Part II

Oscar-Klefbom-Edmonton-Oilers-featured

I honestly did not plan on writing a quick follow-up to my last post, but feel like I have to considering the bogus narratives that are starting to form around Klefbom and his point production.

The fact is Klefbom has struggled this season when it comes to on-ice goal-share. The team as a whole is struggling to score, so it’s common to start questioning the players who are paid to help generate offence.

What complicates things further is that after this season, a lot of the Oilers decisions will be driven by their cap. There’s going to be a lot of focus on who’s producing, who isn’t and how much value the Oilers are getting out of each contract. We have to keep in mind too that some of the young players, including Nurse and Benning are in need of new deals at the end of the year. And there’s a chance that the Oilers could potentially be forced into moving out an existing contract to make room for these new deals.

Hopefully that existing contract doesn’t belong to Klefbom, but I’m starting to get the sense that the team might turn on him if his on-ice goal-share remains low and if Nurse continues to play well.

What we have to remember is that defencemen go through highs and lows, good and bad stretches throughout their careers. And it’s important to look at the big picture and a longer track record before labeling a player as expendable or not. It’s imperative that the team keep their talented players – the ones who can drive play, generate offence, and ultimately help the team win games. That includes Klefbom who at the age of 24 is one of the best young defencemen in the league.

He’s now played 207 regular season games, and has established himself as a reliable player who can play against the best competition on a nightly basis. He has very good offensive instincts, skates really well and can play a physical game. He has the size that management teams crave (6’3″, 215 lbs) and he doesn’t take penalties very often because he’s very good positionally.

And contrary to what you might read about how bad Klefbom has been for 18 games, and how low his point production is, he’s been pretty solid over the previous 189. Point production isn’t the best way to evaluate a defencemen (I rely more on the shot-based metrics to gauge a defenceman’s value), but considering Klefbom is an offensive-minded defenceman, the expectation will be that he can produce points.

So far this year, Klefbom has six points in 18 games, with three of those coming at even-strength. His point per hour rate of 0.59 at even-strength is down from last season when he posted a 0.85 points per hour. Obviously not a great start and a drop from last season, but it’d be very short-sighted to frame his point production like this.

 

 

Another way to look at it: Since the 2014/15 season, 237 defencemen have played at least 1,000 minutes at even-strength. Klefbom ranks 48th on that list with 0.83 points per hour. And he ranks 27th with 0.59 primary points (goals and first assists) per hour.

Again, points aren’t the best way to evaluate defencemen. But Klefbom does have a pretty decent track record producing points, and his struggles after 18 games really should not be a concern. Knowing how well he’s produced prior to this season over a larger dataset, I’d be willing to bet his point production improves and aligns closer with his career norms.

The Oilers are fortunate to have a defenceman like Klefbom on their roster, and really should be looking elsewhere if they need to move out a contract. While players like Nurse and Benning are showing some signs of improvement, they haven’t made Klefbom expendable. And unless there’s a player of his caliber coming back in a trade, the Oilers have no reason to even consider trading Klefbom.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Corsica Hockey

 

 

Digging into Klefbom’s numbers at even-strength

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It hasn’t been a great start to the season for Oscar Klefbom.

The 24-year old defencemen has been on the ice for a lot of goals against, being caught out of position and making poor reads that have led to scoring chances.  While Klefbom’s on-ice shot shares have been fine for someone who regularly plays against the best competition, the Oilers actual results with him on the ice have been terrible. Klefbom currently has a 36% on-ice goal-share at even-strength (5v5), with the Oilers being outscored 16-9 with him on the ice.

GP CF% FF% GF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV% PDO
17 52.31 52.60 36.00 5.43 89.89 0.953

Because of his poor goal-share (and possibly some other coaching tactics), Klefbom has been split up from Adam Larsson, a partnership that was originally penciled in as the top pairing with Andrej Sekera out indefinitely. Klefbom is now skating with Matt Benning and is less frequently getting the top pairing minutes he received  on a much more regular-basis while paired with Larsson.

Oilers Defence Pairs - Hockey Viz - 20171113

Source: Hockey Viz

While Klefbom’s ice time has dropped slightly, Klefbom still leads the Oilers  when it comes to total ice time, and is second on the team at even-strength total ice time and average even-strength  ice time per game. He may not be regulalry getting top pairing minutes, but he’s still a trusted a top four defenceman for the Oilers.

The reason’s for his struggles are unclear. We can point to his PDO, and hope that his on-ice  shooting percentage and on-ice  save percentage regress towards the mean. And that his on-ice goal share eventually aligns with his on-ice shot shares. But there’s something in his own shot-data that indicate that there might be more to his problems.

Starting at a high-level, Klefbom has personally taken 88 shot attempts over his 292 minutes of ice time at even-strength, a rate of 18.05 shot attempts per hour. This is a jump from his numbers last season when he took 12.05 shot attempts per hour, and currently places him fifth in the league among 168 defencemen who have played at least 150 minutes. Ahead of him are Brent Burns, who led the league in shots among all defencemen last season, as well as Dougie Hamilton, Johnny Boychuk and Roman Josi.

Now an increase in his shot attempts was somewhat expected. In the first week of the season, Klefbom did comment that he and the coaching staff wanted to get more shots on goal, setting a personal target of 250 shots (Source: EdmontonOilers.com). The problem for him is that while his rate of shot attempts are up, the percentage of his attempts that are becoming actual shots on goal are noticeably down. Last season, 55.5% of his shot attempts at even-strength became shots on goal. This season, less than 45.4% of his shot attempts have actually got on net. In fact, just a few games ago, his rate of shot attempts becoming shots was barely over 40%. To put things into context, over the last four seasons defencemen (>400 minutes of ice time) on average converted 45% of their shot attempts into shots on goal.

Another change from last season is the proportion of the team’s shot attempts that are coming from Klefbom’s stick. Last year, the Oilers generated 1,318 shot attempts with Klefbom on the ice at even-strength, with 22% of those shot attempts coming from his stick. This year, that proportion is up to 27%. Again looking at the last four seasons, defencemen typically had 16% of the shot attempts they were on the ice for.

The Oilers defence has visibly been far more active this year, quite regularly taking shots from the point. On more than a few occasions I’ve seen the Oilers defencemen (Klefbom and Nurse in particular) elect to shoot rather than make a pass that could open up another scoring opportunity. It’s definitely a different strategy from last season when more of the shots were coming from forwards, and I’d be curious to know why the coaching staff has made this change.

Now you can make the case that the Oilers have generated more shots and have played more aggresively as a team since they’ve trailed a lot this season. This is all part of score-effects, and it’s especially normal for defencemen to increase their own rate of shot attempts when their teams are trailing. Out of 208 defencemen last season who played at least 30 games, only 14 saw their individual rate of shot attempts drop more than 1 when their team was trailing compared to when their teams were tied.

iCF60 Tied vs trailing

What’s surprising is that Klefbom’s rate of shot attempts this season actually drops when the Oilers are trailing. It’s a little odd considering he’s an offensive-minded defencemen with all-word talent, and should at least maintain the same level of shot attempts as when the score is tied.

Season iCF/60, Score Tied iCF/60, Oilers Trailing Difference
2015/16 8.62 10.74 2.12
2016/17 13.77 12.87 -0.9
2017/18 19.05 15.95 -3.1

I suspect this might be more of a confidence thing for Klefbom – perhaps being the culprit when an early goal is scored against and then playing more conservatively to limit the chances of something bad happening again.

Whatever the case may be, it appears the Oilers are directing their defencemen a little differently this season, and it is showing up in Klefbom’s individual numbers. The hope would be that Klefbom’s on-ice goal-share starts to align with his on-ice shot share numbers, and we can focus on other areas of the team. The concern however is that the new tactics are having a negative impact on Klefbom’s play as he adjusts to being more of a volume shooter from the back-end. Definitely worth monitoring as the season progresses.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz

 

Discussing the Oilers, their dreadful penalty kill and the upcoming games on the CBC Edmonton News (TV)

cbc edmonton logoI joined Adrienne Pan on the CBC Edmonton News on Thursday evening to talk all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 18:50 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2017, November 9)

Topics we covered:

  • The recent overtime win against the Islanders.
  • The penalty kill, which I also covered recently over at The Copper & Blue.
  • Cam Talbot’s performance.
  • Playoff aspirations.
  • Upcoming games against New Jersey, New York Rangers and Washington.