Establishing a new baseline for the Oilers

taBased on how well they did last season and the presence of an elite-level player like Connor McDavid on the roster, expectations are understandably going to be much higher for the Edmonton Oilers. The club is coming off of a 103-point regular season, finishing second in the Pacific Division and was one win away from the Western Conference final. Their plus-35 goal differential across all game states, and a 54.25 per cent goal-share at even-strength in the regular season put them in the top 10 league wide. And it’s reasonable to expect the Oilers to pursue a similar finish again.

Another 100-point season really has to be the target for the Edmonton Oilers. And they can look to previous 100-point teams to identify success factors and establish some reasonable baselines.

Full article is at The Athletic Edmonton.


Joining The Athletic Edmonton


Happy to announce that I’ll be doing some freelance work for The Athletic Edmonton this upcoming season. Really looking forward to working with a talented group of writers, including Jonathan Willis, Allan Mitchell, Minnia Feng and Pat McLean.

Related: At long last, The Athletic Comes to Edmonton – The Athletic Edmonton (2017, September 8)

The primary focus of The Athletic is to provide quality content and analysis, and moves away from the traditional, ad-dependent business model of sports media companies. The Athletic requires a subscription to access their full content, but I can assure you that it’s well worth the cost. The Athletic has hired experienced writers to focus on various teams and provide outstanding hockey coverage. It’ll be a lot of fun to be a small part of it.

A big thank you to The Athletic, James Mirtle and Jonathan Willis for the opportunity. And thank you to everyone who has reached out to me, it means a lot. Should be a fun season!

Couple links to check out regarding The Athletic:

  • Letter from the Editor: Why The Athletic Has a Paywall – The Athletic (2017, February 27)
  • The Athletic is bringing subscription-based local sports coverage to a city near you – Tech Crunch (2016, July 8)
  • As ESPN Falters, Sports Startup Chases Fans Tired of ‘Old Fluff’ – Bloomberg (2017, July 24)
  • The Athletic, that local sports startup with no advertising, raises $5.4 million and scoops up Sports Illustrated’s former top editor – Nieman Lab (2017, July 7)

Please note that I’ll continue using this web site as a centralized repository for all my hockey-related work. Along with The Athletic, you’ll continue to find my work on The Copper & Blue, as well as on the CBC Edmonton News.

Assessing Chiarelli


Something that I’ve been thinking about this off-season is how to best assess the work that’s been done and being done by Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli. It’s been a fairly low-event summer, and considering the success the Oilers had in 2016/17, it’s a little surprising to me that the management team has thus far taken such a passive approach.

Now the signings of Jussi Jokinen and Yohann Auvitu are nice bets and address the Oilers’ depth issues, and its reasonable to think they could contribute next season. The acquisition of Strome, I’m not so sure about. He’s a depth winger at this point with lots to prove and has a chance to do well. I just haven’t seen anything in his numbers that indicates he can be a difference maker. And losing Eberle, arguably for financial reasons, only makes sense if they re-allocated those dollars towards an asset that could make a significant impact. Instead, it looks like the money saved was to (over)pay Russell, an okay depth defenceman, but one who’s likely past his prime and often drags down his team’s offence. How these trades and signings impact the team’s ability to win games remains to be seen.

In the end, we need to assess Chiarelli’s work, the easiest way being to look at the team’s win totals and goal-share.

Season Record Points Goal-share (5v5) Shot-share (5v5) Save% (5v5)
2015/16 31-43-8 70 44.66 48.81 91.44
2016/17 47-26-9 103 54.25 49.99 92.72

Nice jump from last season. But the problem I see with this type of assessment is that both of his seasons were impacted by things largely out of his control. The Oilers dealt with major injury issues, losing both McDavid and Klefbom for extended periods in his first season, and their goaltending was one of the worst in the league. And Chiarelli got a bit of a free pass as it was his first year and there was plenty of players on the roster that were from the previous regime. And in Chiarelli’s second season as Oilers GM, Talbot and McDavid were outstanding, and the defence core, lead by Klefbom and Sekera, was able to stay healthy. So really, how much credit can you give the general manager for the success and failures?

The other factor to consider is McDavid, arguably the best player in the world and the driving force behind the Oilers 103 point season. With him on the ice, the Oilers had a +30 goal differential at even-strength, a 62.1% goal-share. The shots and scoring chances took a massive jump thanks to McDavid, and his impact was evident when looking at his teammates production with him and without him.

In my opinion, the best way to measure Chiarelli as a general manager is by looking at the team’s results when McDavid isn’t on the ice.

McDavid is going to make things happen and we can fully expect the goal-share and shot-share to be well above 50% with him on the ice. There’s no development time needed, no extra coaching or helping him find his niche. He’s a superstar today and for the foreseeable future. What management has to do now is fill out the rest of the roster and ensure that when McDavid is on the bench, the team gets more than half of the even-strength goals, and more than half of the even-strength shots. Teams that reach the finals often  had strong support around their best players in the regular season, and it’s going to be critical for the Oilers to do the same.

Last season, without McDavid, the Oilers had a -4 goal differential at even-strength (a goal-share of 48%), and a shot-share of 47%. And it’s worth noting that the shot-share dipped down to 45% at certain points and only gradually improved. This is why I’m not feeling too great about the Oilers moves this summer. Eberle and Pouliot, for instance, were one of the few players that posted good shot-shares away from McDavid. And while Jokinen could give a boost to the tough minutes line with Nugent-Hopkins, I’m skeptical that his play will have a massive impact on the team’s shot and goal-shares. In my mind, he’s the new Pouliot, so if anything, at best the team made more of a lateral move.

At this point, the best-case scenario is that Draisailt emerges as a scoring threat as a second-line center and Benning takes another step forward and helps create more offence. The team would also have to hope that one of their younger forwards like Puljujaarvi or Strome or even Yamamoto solidify a spot on the roster and capitalize on more opportunities. I just don’t know if it’s wise to bank on so many what-ifs when the time to contend for a championship is now. And considering the cap crunch the Oilers will be in after this season having to pay McDavid and Draisaitl, you’d think management would be all in in 2017/18.

Chiarelli also has to ensure that no one on the team is dragging down McDavid’s offensive production. There’s no reason why the offence should get stalled when McDavid is on the ice, and it’s critical that the right players are deployed with him. This is also a big reason why I dislike the Russell signing. The only time the team’s goal scoring rate went down with McDavid was on the ice last season was when Russell was on the ice with him. This should have been a red flag, but management chose to ignore it instead.

While team results will be important, it’s the results without McDavid and the process upon which key decisions are made that will define Chiarelli’s tenure as the Oilers general manager. How he builds a winner around an elite talent will be a critical piece of the championship puzzle. So far, management hasn’t done enough to help the team generate offence, and it remains to be seen if the smaller bets they’ve made and the young players they have can help push the needle this upcoming season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Thoughts on Maroon and Lucic

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at St. Louis Blues

Redundancies on the roster are going to get a lot more attention now that the Oilers are in the process of allocating significant dollars towards their core players. With McDavid signed long-term, and the Oilers likely committing to Draisaitl and possibly Nurse in the near future, the team has to take a proactive approach to deal with contracts and cap constraints. The goal is a championship, so it’ll be imperative that they make every dollar count and get as much production as possible from their resources.

What we’ll likely see going forward is annual turnover with players getting moved if the team feels like (a) they need cap space and/or (b) they can replace a player and their skill set with a cheaper option. For example, it’s looking more likely that Nugent-Hopkins could be moved as a case can be made that Draisaitl is the team’s second-best center and it’s not worth spending $6 million for your third best pivot when you have Strome in the fold. There are plenty of issues with this type of rationale as the Oilers would be taking some risk with this move, but the point is that trade gossip will surround players who could be replaced by a cheaper, internal option.

This brings us to the case of 29 year old winger Patrick Maroon, who’s heading towards free agency and will likely command dollars and term to take him into retirement. He was excellent last season playing predominantly on McDavid’s wing and leading the team with 25 even-strength goals. He posted the best Coris For% relative to the team (+5.13%), as the club and individual players posted better possession numbers with him on the ice than without him. And he was one of the few players who posted good possession numbers without McDavid on the ice. Unfortunately for the Oilers, they may not be able to afford Maroon’s next deal.

Now the Oilers could make the case that they have an identical player in Milan Lucic, who has a long history of success with Boston, and who they’ve already invested heavily in with a 7-year, $42 million buyout-proof contract. They’re both heading into the latter parts of their careers now and play a similar style and role for the club, so it might not make sense to commit additional dollars and term to the wing.

The question is, if the Oilers absolutely had to choose between the two, would it be in their best interest to retain Maroon long-term instead of Lucic?

First off, it would likely be cheaper to sign Maroon. He’s not yet a free agent and doesn’t hold as much leverage as Lucic did in the summer of 2016. And quite honestly, Maroon doesn’t have the history and the reputation that hockey narratives get attached to like Lucic has, so he may not get the same kind of attention from managers.

Secondly, while both players are going to be 30 this season and are likely to see their production dip, as it’s expected to with age (Source: Hockey Graphs), Maroon has played far fewer games than Lucic and may not have as much physical wear and tear. In seven NHL seasons, Maroon has played 301 regular season games and 42 playoff games. Lucic on the other hand, has played 729 regular season games and 114 playoff games in ten seasons. That’s a significant difference, and while past experience matters to an NHL roster, it could impact how much real, on-ice production the team will get in the future.

Lastly, in identical minutes and deployment last season, Maroon posted better numbers than Lucic. Here’s a quick glance at how both players did in 2016/17 at even-strength (5v5).

Player Lucic Maroon
GP 82 81
TOI  1,133.93 1,157.45
G-A-P 10-13-23 24-11-35
P/60 1.22 1.81
Shots 120 143
iSH% 8.33 16.78
On-ice SH% 7.50 9.64
On-ice SV% 93.06 92.27
PDO 100.56 101.91
GF% 54.32 59.05
CF% 51.40 53.41

Maroon had the better season, leading the team in even-strength goals and finishing third on the team with 35 points. Lucic, on the other hand, saw plenty of ice time, but had his worst season production-wise at 5v5, finishing with 1.22 points per 60.

While the team did well possession wise and in terms of goal-share with either player on the ice at even-strength, the team had a slightly better numbers with Maroon. This had a lot to do with the fact that Maroon was with McDavid and Draisaitl, who were golden as a trio. Maroon also posted an absurdly high individual shooting percentage, well above his career norms, which we can probably expect to regress especially if he’s not playing regularly on McDavid’s wing.

What’s also worth noting here is how each player did in similar situations last season. What I’ve done below is look at how Maroon and Lucic did with the different centers, and included the scenario where Draisaitl was playing wing.

With McDavid and Draisaitl TOI CF% GF% PDO
Maroon 538:10 52.7 60.4 102.5
Lucic 74:34 61.6 42.9 93.4

Once Maroon found himself on the top line, he was there for good. He had almost instant chemistry with McDavid and along with Draisaitl posted a 60.4% goal-share. What’s worth noting here is that Lucic posted a 61.6% Corsi For% in the same situation in 74 minutes, but the shooting percentage took a dive.

But what about situations where Draisaitl was center, and McDavid or any of the other pivots were not on the ice?

With Draisaitl as C TOI CF% GF% PDO
Maroon 144:18 50.6 54.5 101.8
Lucic 119:19 46.5 40.0 97.8

Here we see that both Maroon and Lucic spent a lot of time in this scenario, with Draisaitl doing much better with Maroon on his wing. The goal-share was strong and was riding the percentages a bit, but there was a decent shot-share supporting them. A 46.5% Corsi For% in 119 minutes with Lucic and Draisaitl is concerning, and would need either more sheltering, which the Oilers can’t afford to do, or a strong second winger with them to have any success. Considering how much money is being spent, and how poorly they produced together, that’s not really acceptable.

Another scenario is Nugent-Hopkins playing center, quite often in a hard-minutes role.

Maroon 160:30 55.4 37.5 94.5
Lucic 416:00 49.8 48.3 99.0

Here we see that both Maroon and Lucic struggled to produce with RNH, posting goal-shares below 50%. The possession numbers were much better with Maroon on the ice with RNH, which is somewhat surprising considering the tougher minutes RNH typically played.

Another scenario that we didn’t see a lot of was both Maroon and Lucic spent time on a line with RNH and Draisaitl. Decent possession numbers for both line combinations, and possibly something to consider next year.

With RNH and Draisaitl TOI CF% GF% PDO
Maroon 52:40 50.6 100.0 104.3
Lucic 15:15 55.6 0.0 100.0

And finally, both Maroon and Lucic, again in limited minutes, spent time with Letestu at center. If the Oilers want to give Letestu and their depth players a boost, and improve the team’s shot-share, it would be  beneficial to pair them with Maroon.

With Letestu TOI CF% GF% PDO
Maroon 50:33 60.7 100.0 112.5
Lucic 28:33 45.0 100.0 107.1


If the Oilers absolutely had to choose between Lucic and Maroon to play in the top six and be the physical winger on the team, it would make a lot more sense from a long-term cap perspective to go with Maroon. He was much more productive last season than Lucic, with the team, and individual players, doing much better with him on the ice at even-strength. While we can hope that Lucic bounces back next year, this could be the start of his decline, which could have a significant impact to the Oilers championship aspirations.

Data: Hockey Analysis, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference, Cap Friendly

Discussing the Oilers offseason, line combinations and Jussi Jokinen on The Lowdown with Lowetide (TSN 1260)


I joined Lowetide this morning on TSN 1260 to talk all things Oilers. Clip is below and starts around the 25 minute mark.

Topics we covered:

  • Oilers off-season moves so far and why they should be doing more.
  • The addition of Jussi Jokinen and his potential role. I also wrote about the signing at The Copper & Blue.
  • Potential forward line combinations for the fall.
  • Adding an experienced defenceman like Cody Franson this summer.
  • Leon Draisaitl contract.

With forward line combinations, I like to view things as pairs first, similar to what Todd McLellan has talked about in the past. I like the idea of wingers being interchangeable depending on the opponent and the game-state, and it makes a lot of sense. I also like the idea of three quality lines and would try to balance out skill as much as possible to overwhelm opponents.


  • McDavid/Maroon
    • Over 700 minutes together at 5v5 last season, and they posted a 62% GF%, and a 53% CF%.
    • Even without Draisaitl on the wing, they still did well – 191 minutes, 66.7% GF%, and a 53.8% CF%.
  • Draisaitl/Lucic
    • On the surface, this pair might not be too appealing. In 209 minutes together, they posted a GF% of only 41.2%, outscored 10-7. They may have been impacted by some bad luck as their PDO sat at 96.6.
    • Their CF% was a pretty decent 52.8% together. However, it may have been McDavid’s influence. Without McDavid, in 134 minutes, they posted a pretty weak 47.5% CF%, and a 40% (!!) GF%.
    • Ready to drive a line, Leon? 😉
  • Nugent-Hopkins/Jokinen
    • Both players can play against top lines, and I think they’d make a good tough-minutes tandem. RNH can use the help (he wasn’t very good in terms of shot-share last season), and I like the idea of having someone that can take draws on the same line as him.
  • Letestu/Kassian
    • Both players are valued by the team. Letestu for his scoring on the powerplay. And Kassian just recently landed a three-year deal.
    • Both players posted poor shot-share numbers at 5v5  last season. The only two players that Letestu did well with last season was Lander (123 minutes, 50% GF%, 50% CF%) and Kassian (314 minutes, 55% GF%, 49.2% CF%).
    • Hendricks was often their linemate, and was a bit of a drag on their shot-share. Without Hendricks, in 184 minutes, Letestu/Kassian posted a GF% of 50% and a CF% of 50.3%. Not too shabby. This should be a better fourth line with Hendricks moving on. My guess is Brad Malone gets a long look.

Wingers that will likely get longer looks:

  • Strome
    • My expectations are really low. He can play center, but only against lesser competition. And he can play wing, as a complementary guy in the top six. He’s coming off of a pretty bad season where he was healthy-scratched at times. I suspect he might get a long look on the top line. Mostly to make us feel better after losing Eberle for him.
  • Puljujarvi
    • He hasn’t shown enough at the AHL level to warrant a long look, but there’s the whole draft pedigree thing. Hoping he makes the transition, but I always prefer letting guys simmer in the minors first. I can see him getting ice time with Jokinen, but not sure he’d be able to handle the tough minutes.
  • Slepyshev
    • Skates well and loves to shoot. He’d my pick for the second line with Lucic and Draisaitl. And seriously, give this guy some powerplay time on the second unit.
  • Caggiula
    • I’ll be honest, I’m not completely sold on this player. His production was pretty poor at 5v5. As long as the Oilers keep him on the wings and not at center, he’ll be okay. Not bad on the penalty kill last year either.

The other wingers that are likely to get a shot: Khaira, Pakarinen, Malone, Rattie and Yamamoto. Should make for some good competition in training camp, especially in the bottom six group which was terrible last year.

Data: Hockey Analysis


Reallocating Risk

The Oilers improved their forward depth for the upcoming season by signing 34 year old Jussi Jokinen to a one-year, $1.1 million contract on Friday. In 891 NHL games, Jokinen has scored 546 points, and an additional 32 points in 54 playoff games. It’s a reasonable bet that comes with little risk, and has the potential to be a value contract for the Oilers if Jokinen can replicate some of the success he had in Florida over the last three seasons.

Jokinen became available this summer after having the final year of his four-year $16 million contract bought out by the Panthers. In 69 games last season, Jokinen’s production took a dive, as he mustered 28 points, only half of which came at even-strength. A points-per-60 of 0.94 at even-strength was a career low for Jokinen, a rate that’s comparable to replacement-level players.

Looking at his last four seasons, we see that his rate of production was pretty similar to that of recent Oilers castaway Benoit Pouliot. Pouliot, oddly enough, was set to make the same amount of money Jokinen was scheduled for in Florida this upcoming season. But because of their poor 2016/17 seasons, and their teams desire to shed salary, both Jokinen and Pouliot are now bargain-bin reclamation projects elsewhere.

Pouliot vs Jokinen

Not only have Jokinen and Pouliot had similar rates of production at even-strength, but both players have also been good possession players for their former teams. With them on the ice, their teams often got a higher share of the shot attempts (Corsi) relative to the team averages. Jokinen has had slightly better underlying numbers than Pouliot, but his on-ice goal share (GF%) took a dive last season, thanks in large part to a PDO of 96.8, the lowest on Florida.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.