Something I’ve been tracking this season is how close the Oilers are to being a top team in the league.
The good news so far is that their results have them in that range. A 0.600+ points percentage is what the top ten teams in the league often finish their regular season with, and the Oilers are there ranking 12th in the league and 2nd in the North with a 0.633 points percentage.
The issue is that while the results have been great, their underlying numbers – things like goal-share, Corsi For% and Expected Goals For% – are below what top teams have posted on average in the past.
What I had done before the season began was look at the top teams from the past few seasons and determine what the average numbers were for this group (Source). I also looked at what the league average levels were as well as what the lower quality teams had posted. Nothing overly scientific, but I got some basic thresholds to measure the Oilers against, and really get a sense for if the team is real or not. It was also something I wanted to keep in mind around trade deadline time to gauge if the team should be all-in or not for the playoffs.
But what about the other teams who have a points percentage above 0.600 this season? How well do those clubs compare against these thresholds.
Lets start with goal-share. Below are the twelve teams that currently have a points percentage above 0.600 with their actual numbers in parentheses. I’ve added horizontal lines to represent the average goal-share for the top teams, average teams and bottom teams in the past. Here we see that ten of the twelve teams are where they should be, with Boston just missing the cut. The team that sticks out is Edmonton, who have barely broken even at even-strength (5v5), posting a goal-share of 50.76% and right around league average levels.
Here’s how the top team’s are doing in terms of Corsi For% this season. The Oilers are again rank near the bottom among this group, with Toronto closer to what previous top teams have posted. Not sure what’s happening in New York and Minnesota, but something to watch for in the playoffs.
And finally, here’s how the top teams are doing in terms of Expected Goals For%. The Oilers are closer to league average levels, but again, they rank near near the bottom among this group.
The point of all of this isn’t to ruin your day or diminish the Oilers chances of making a run in the playoffs. It’s really to emphasize that while the results have been great, the Oilers aren’t quite a top team just yet. It’s also information I would want to know as an owner before a manager blows millions of dollars on assets and to evaluate their overall work.
There’s a lot of work to be done in the off-season, a lot of roster issues to be addressed and it would be unfortunate if management fooled itself into thinking that they’re a piece or two away from being a long-term contender. I suspect that management is somewhat aware considering they didn’t make any major moves at the trade deadline. But they should be feeling pressure to get things right this coming off-season and do a better job than they did last off-season.
We discussed the Vancouver Canucks season, what the warning signs were coming off of a pretty good 2019/20 season and where things have gone wrong for the club. We discussed management’s approach to building the Canucks roster, what they’ll need to do differently to be competitive next year, and if Travis Green is the right coach for the team. Daniel also shared his thoughts on the key prospects for the team and the potential roles they could play.
Joined by Zach Laing (@zjlaing), news director for OilersNation and the Nation Network to talk all things Oilers.
We talked about our experiences covering the Edmonton Oilers and how the league can reach more communities and improve the fan experience. We discussed the Oilers season, which players have been the key drivers and who we want to see more from. We also covered the upcoming off-season, how to approach Nugent-Hopkins’ contract and how the defence core could potentially look next year – with or without Adam Larsson.
Joined by Dennis King (@DKingBH) to talk Oilers, the trade deadline and the direction the club appears to be heading with Ken Holland as general manager. We looked at the current roster construction, where the deficiencies have been, and what we’re expecting to happen this coming off-season. We also looked at the North division, how the Oilers compare with the Leafs, Canadiens and Jets and how things could shake out in the playoffs.
Pretty packed show with lots of great insight from Dennis who even took some listener questions.
Ryan Batty (@ryan_batty) joined me on the podcast to talk Edmonton Oilers, the trade deadline activities and expectations for the Oilers in the North division as they head towards the playoffs.
We discussed the acquisition of Dmitry Kulikov, how it impacts the current roster and how he could potentially help the club. We also shared our thoughts on the current management group, their decision-making and their short term and long approach to building the roster.
The Oilers are in a great spot right now, sitting third in the North division with a points percentage of 0.625% after 40 games. Thanks to the Flames absolutely crashing and burning over the last few weeks, and with the Jets and Canadiens being pretty mediocre recently, the Oilers are a near lock for a playoff spot.
Now while the overall results have been excellent, their play at even-strength (5v5) hasn’t been great. And it’s these current numbers that the Oilers front office should probably be aware of heading into the trade deadline and the playoffs.
Expected Goals For%
Starting with goal-share, the Oilers have outscored opponents 86-83 at even-strength so far this season, which translates to a goal-share of 50.89%. They’re scoring at an elite level, generating 2.65 goals per hour, ranking ninth in the league and third in their division. The problem is that they’re giving it all back, allowing the tenth highest rate of goals against in the league – 2.56 per hour – which is just barely better than Calgary and Vancouver.
It’s the last ten games that have probably been the most concerning. They’ve been outscored 21-23, a goal-share of 47.73%, doing just fine generating goals (2.53 per hour), but struggling to keep the puck out of the net, allowing 2.63 goals per hour. One issue is that the goaltending has been below average, posting a team save percentage of 90.84%. The other problem is that the Oilers are spending a lot of time without the puck at even-strength and regularly getting outchanced. Over the last ten games, they’ve posted a score-adjusted Corsi For% of 45.62%, a Fenwick For% of 45.37% and an Expected Goals For% of 45.71%.
Over the course of the season, the Oilers were trending well, posting a ten-game stretch where they controlled over 52.0% of the total shot attempts (score adjusted) – a level that top end teams with points percentages above 0.600 typically finish a season with. But things have gone downhill for the Oilers recently, largely due to their offence drying up. At one point, they had a stretch of ten games where they were generating 56.75 shot attempts per hour, which is nothing great and closer to league average levels. But that rate has dropped by 28% over the last ten games, with the Oilers generating only 44.33 shot attempts per hour. For context, that’s worse than what Detroit and Buffalo have mustered over the season. Whether it’s the offensive rate of shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, expected goals – the Oilers rank either 30th or 31st when looking at the last ten games for every team.
One issue that’s returned again is the performance of the depth forwards. There were signs that things were turning around as the team improved their shot-share and goal-share numbers without their star players on the ice, but it seems things have gone south again. Over the last ten games, without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice at even-strength, the Oilers have been outscored 5-10 (a goal share of 33.33%). And it’s largely due to spending the majority of the time without the puck and getting outchanced as reflected by a Corsi For% of 38.93%, a Fenwick For% of 40.37% and an Expected Goals For% of 37.82%. Similar to the team-level numbers, the Oilers depth players are okay defensively. But they struggle to generate much offensively, and it appears things have become worse.
Something worth digging into if you’re the Oilers are the defence pairings and how they could be adjusted to improve the team’s overall offence, especially with those that are counted on to provide offence. Nurse in particular is having a great year, playing predominantly with McDavid, but I’m starting to wonder if all of the ice-time is starting to catch up to him. He’s played the second highest numbers of minutes in the league among defencemen, averaging 25:44 per game, which is the fourth highest. and two minutes more than his career averages. In his first 30 games of the season, Nurse was posting an on-ice Corsi For% of 52.72% (score-adjusted), but over the last ten games, he’s posted an on-ice Corsi For% of 46.68%. Barrie as well has seen his numbers slide over the course of the season. His on-ice Corsi For% has dropped from 50.17% to 45.09% – hardly numbers you would expect from an offensive defenceman who also gets a lot of the cherry minutes with McDavid.
Corsi For% (Games 1-30)
Corsi For% (Games 31-40)
At this point, I think it’s obvious that the Nurse-Barrie partnership needs to end. Over the full season, the two have had excellent results together, posting a goal-share above 60.0%, again due in large part of having McDavid or Draisaitl with them for the majority of their ice-time. But their on-ice shot-share numbers have been fairly mediocre with a Corsi For% of 50.39% and an Expected Goals For% of 47.91%. What’s interesting is that Nurse’s on-ice shot share numbers improve quite a bit when he’s played without Barrie and the team still has positive results with a goal-share above 52%.
Oilers (5v5) – 40 games
Nurse + Barrie
Nurse, no Barrie
Barrie, no Nurse
Barrie on the other hand struggles mightily without Nurse (45.67% Corsi For% and a Goals For% of 25.17%). And it’s been even worse over the last ten games with Barrie appearing to be a negative influence on Nurse’s performance.
Oilers (5v5) – Last 10
Nurse + Barrie
Nurse, no Barrie
Barrie, no Nurse
The two together over the last ten games have seen their Corsi For% drop down to 44.86%, while their share of Expected Goals For% is down to 36.03%. Again it’s on the offensive side of things, as the Oilers are generating less than 48 shot attempts per hour with them on the ice, and that’s playing predominantly with McDavid or Draisaitl. Keep in mind, 80% of their total ice time is with one or both of these guys. In roughly 27 minutes playing with depth players over the last ten, Nurse and Barrie have shot-share numbers under 20%, which is incredible considering their reputations of being offensive drivers this season.
The team’s overall results are masking these underlying issues. And I can’t imagine the team continuing to have success if their top pairing is posting numbers like this. With the Oilers accumulating points, now might be the time to replace Barrie with Bear on the top line, with the expectation that he and Nurse can find that chemistry they had last season when they regularly played against top lines. Bear is already seeing a higher proportion of his total ice time against elite competition increase this season (refer to Appendix A). The Oilers also have young Bouchard on the active roster, and you have to wonder how the Oilers expect to evaluate him at the NHL level and know what his value is if he’s not getting ice-time. And Barrie might actually benefit from fewer minutes, recover from any injuries he’s dealing with, and be rested for a playoff run.
Whatever adjustments the Oilers make, it should probably be done sooner rather than later so they know what they have for the post-season and heading into what should be an important off-season.
Over the course of the season, the Oilers have done a much better job at limiting the numbers of shots and scoring chances against at even-strength (5v5).
Over the first 15 games, the team was allowing 57.2 shot attempts per hour, which was fifth highest in the league and only slightly better than Vancouver and Ottawa in the North division. They were also allowing 42.13 unblocked shot attempts, a proxy for scoring chances, which was eighth highest in the league. This poor defensive play was a key factor in the team allowing the fifth highest rate of goals against (3.07) and why they were fifth in the North division in terms of points percentage.
Thankfully things have turned around since then. Since game 16 in early February, the team has seen their rates of shots and scoring chances drop down to league average levels, with the team allowing a rate of 51.84 shot attempts per hour (a drop of 10.3%) and 39.11 unblocked shot attempts per hour (a drop of 7.7%). And it’s been part of the reason why the team has seen their rate of goals against drop down to 2.09, again closer to league average levels. And it’s been a factor in the team’s resurgence in the standings.
Expected Goals Against/60
One reason for the Oilers improved defensive numbers has been the play of the depth players. Early on in the season, the team depth was the reason why the Oilers rate of shots and scoring chances were so high and why they were getting badly outscored. Without McDavid or Draisaitl, the Oilers were getting crushed allowing over 61 shot attempts per hour and over 48 unblocked shot attempts per hour. That’s what the worst teams in the leagues typically allow in a season – unacceptable in any situation, especially when you’re not able to generate even close to that much offensively.
Since early February, the Oilers depth players have done significantly better, cutting their rate of shot attempts against per hour by 25% and their rate of unblocked shot attempts by over 30%. And most importantly, and with the help of some improved goaltending, the team is allowing more than half the rate of goals against.
Oilers Depth (5v5)
Expected Goals Against/60
One player who likely played a role in the team’s improved defensive play this season is forward Gaetan Haas. Last season, the team saw a significant drop in shots and scoring chances against when Haas would be on the ice at even-strength. Among the 18 forwards who played at least 100 minutes in 2019/20, Haas ranked in the top three for any on-ice defensive metrics. Offence was completely sacrificed with Haas on the ice as the team didn’t generate much, but his defensive play was valued by the coaching staff as shown by his increased usage this season, especially on the penalty kill.
Haas has played in the past 17 games for the Oilers this season, following a stint on the injured reserve after playing two games in late January. His defensive numbers are pretty much identical to what they were last season. Among 15 forwards who have played at least 100 minutes this season, Haas is first in all defensive categories – including goals against per hour.
With Haas on the ice this season, the Oilers are allowing less than 20 shots against per hour at even-strength, while the team as a whole allows close to 30. He’s clearly the best defensive option among the depth forwards too. If the Oilers don’t have him, McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, they’ve allowed 27 shots against per hour.
This strong defensive play has also translated well to the penalty kill, where Haas is for the first time in his NHL career getting regular minutes shorthanded. He currently ranks second on the team in average ice-time per game (2:09) among eight forwards (minimum 10 minutes played), and has posted the second lowest on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts against and shots against – only behind Yamamoto.
What has to be especially pleasing for the coaching staff is Haas’ on-ice rate of goals against per hour – 2.97. He’s only been on the ice for two goals against in his 40 minutes of penalty kill time, a rate which has him seventh in the NHL among 112 forwards who have played at least 40 minutes this season. Keep in mind, the Oilers penalty kill as a whole is currently 20th in the league, allowing over eight goals against per hour and allowing some of the highest rates of shots and scoring chances. So don’t be surprised if Haas plays in every remaining game and sees his overall ice-time increase.
Haas’ defensive success has to make you wonder what the first 15 games could have looked like had he been healthy. He might not generate much offence, but they were clearly in need of defensive help as they were getting outshot at a 2:1 clip early on and crushed on the scoreboard. Also makes you wonder if the Oilers really knew what they had in Haas going into the season, considering they did hand Turris a two year deal to be their depth centerman and a regular option on the penalty kill. We might not know how Haas would have been deployed had he been healthy, but I would assume Turris with his draft pedigree and his familiarity with the head coach would have still received a long look. Classic example of the availability heuristic concept.
Thankfully things have worked out much better recently and the Oilers are back on track. Just remains to be seen how the team evaluates players at the trade deadline and off-season, and if someone like Haas will a contract extension or if another ‘known’ player is brought in.
It’s been very encouraging to see how well Jesse Puljujärvi has played since his return to the NHL. Playing in a top six role is the ideal spot for a player of his skillset, and he’s establishing himself as a key player on a value contract – which is massive in the current marketplace.
It’s worth noting that many of his individual and on-ice numbers this season are similar to the numbers he posted over the course of his first three seasons prior to leaving for Oulun Kärpät. It’s easy to forget that while he did struggle at times – dealing with being a rookie, injuries and the mismanagement of previous coaching regimes – Puljujärvi was productive and showing signs of sustainable offence when he was deployed in a top six, scoring role against the best competition.
Over his first three seasons in the NHL, Puljujärvi scored 14 goals and had 17 assists at even-strength (5v5) – nothing great, and only a points per hour rate of 1.14. Looking at those totals, you can see why his value and reputation took a hit. Where Puljujärvi was effective in those first three seasons was when he played with McDavid – about 25% of his own total ice-time – where he scored 6 of his goals and collected 8 assists. This translated to a rate of 2.06 points per hour, which is what you would want your top six players to produce.
Puljujärvi’s on-ice shot-share numbers in those three seasons with McDavid were great as well, again close to what you would want from a top line, indicating strongly that there was sustainable success between the two. They controlled the flow of play as reflected by their 55.06% share of unblocked shot attempts, and had a higher share of the total scoring chances with 55.50%. And most importantly, the Oilers outscored opponents 24-15 when they were on the ice together – a goal-share of 61.54%. Among the ten forwards that McDavid had played at least 200 minutes with between 2016 and 2019, his goal-share with Puljujarvi was second only to his goal-share with Eberle (62.5%), largely due to the drop in rate of goals against when they were on the ice together.
The on-ice success with Puljujärvi and McDavid has continued this season and thankfully Puljujärvi’s seeing a much higher proportion of his total ice time with the star captain, increasing from 25% to 65% since returning to the NHL. While Puljujärvi’s rate of points per hour with McDavid has dropped slightly from 2.06 to 1.82, their share of shot attempts and scoring chances continues to be strong and aligns with their historical numbers. They continue to control the flow of play (55.56% Corsi For percentage) and scoring chances (53.93% Fenwick For percentage) at almost the exact same ratios as before. While their 51.72% goal-share this season is down from when they played prior to Puljujärvi’s departure, there’s good reason to believe that will improve considering their on-ice shooting and save percentages are below league average levels and, more importantly, below McDavid’s career levels.
For context, I think it’s also important to monitor Puljujärvi’s on-ice numbers this season without McDavid and compare them to the numbers he posted before he went to play in Finland. This can help with assessing how much the time in Finland helped, how well the coaching staff has “fixed” Puljujärvi as an individual player, and how well management has improved the depth of the roster.
Right now we’re seeing Puljujärvi spend far less of his total playing time away from McDavid, and posting the same on-ice share of shot attempts and scoring chances as he did before. With Puljujärvi on the ice without McDavid, the team’s on-ice share of shot-attempts and scoring chances remain the same as before he left for Finland, hovering just below the 50% mark. What does stand out is the team’s share of expected goals, which measures the quality of scoring chances based on the shot type and location, which sits just above 60%. You can even remove the limited minutes Puljujärvi has played with Draisaitl this season – in 123 minutes with Puljujärvi on the ice without those two star players, the Oilers have posted a 56% share of expected goals. As we get more data, it’ll be interesting to see if Puljujärvi’s on-ice numbers away from McDavid, especially the Corsi For%, improves and if the coaching staff can start thinking about using him as a possession driver on a different line to help with scoring depth.
Lots to be excited about with the potential of this player, and we knew before this season he can contribute on a top-six, scoring line against top competition. It’s great to see him be able to continue where he left off and provide some much needed offence to the team as they push for a playoff spot.
A big interest for me this season has been the performance and results of the depth forwards. Their numbers were so incredibly poor last season, as the team was outscored 44-73 at even-strength (5v5) without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. And that was over the course of about 1,800 minutes, which was 52% of the team’s total ice time. The depth forwards were a big reason why the Oilers had a 47.32% goal-share, one of the worst in the league, and it was clearly a focus for management in the off-season as they tried to add more skill to the roster.
Over the first 30 games, the overall results haven’t been great for the depth forwards. The Oilers have been outscored 19-29 at even-strength without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, posting a score-adjusted Corsi For% of 46.16% and a Fenwick For% of 46.88% – pretty similar shot-share numbers to last season. Because Draisaitl and McDavid have been able to play on their own lines for most of the season, the depth forwards have been deployed a lot less, dropping from 51.9% of the team’s total ice time last season to 41.3% this season.
Depth forwards (5v5)
However, if you split this 2020/21 season into two parts, we actually see that all of the damage was really done over the first 15 games with things turning around nicely in the 15 games after. And this could be why Ken Holland is feeling better about his depth players (Global News).
Not only are the results significantly better in the second half of the season, with the goal-differential going from -9 in the first 15 games to even in the next 15, but the underlying shot share are much improved as well. Their Corsi For% jumped 10 percentage points up to the break-even mark, with their share of scoring chances increasing along with it. The team’s goaltending is playing a big role as well, which is critical considering the lack of finishing talent on the roster. We can probably expect the goal share to fluctuate depending on if and when a skater or goalie runs hot or cold, but at least we know the process behind everything has improved.
What I also found interesting was which defencemen have been deployed with the depth forwards, and some of the adjustments the coaching staff has made from the first 15 games to the second set of 15 games.
Below are the defencemen’s even-strength numbers with the depth forwards in the first 15 games of the season when things went sideways. Included for each defenceman is the proportion of the depth forwards ice time they were on the ice for, along with the shot-share numbers, goal-share, and PDO. What stands out here is that Larsson was the most deployed defenceman with the depth forwards, Russell and Lagesson posted the best shot-share numbers and Bouchard was the only player with a positive goal-share.
And here’s the same set of metrics for the defencemen for games 16-30 when the results were much better.
As mentioned above, the depth forwards received a higher proportion of the team’s total ice time at even-strength between games 16-30, going from 36.4% to 46.2%. I think that’s a byproduct of getting better results: score more goals, gain the coaches trust and expect to see more ice time. Plus, the Oilers have been running McDavid with Draisaitl a little more often to get the top lines going.
What I found interesting was the increase or decrease of each defencemen’s proportion of ice time with depth forwards between games 1-15 vs games 16-30.
Koekkoek’s injury definitely had an impact on how players were deployed. But it’s interesting to see how the coaching staff deployed Nurse and Barrie even less frequently with the depth forwards, and maintained Larsson as the main defencemen for them. Bear saw his proportion with depth forwards go from 13.8% to 24.4%, a 10.58% increase, the largest in the group. And the coaching staff seems to be showing some trust and confidence in Bouchard and Jones to help the depth forwards generate more offence. And I can’t say I would blame the coaching staff for giving Russell more time with the depth forwards. He did have the best shot-share numbers with them in the first 15 games (53.8%) when the group as a whole was posting a Corsi For% of 40%. There’s also the need to keep him away from McDavid and Draisaitl who both see their Corsi For% take a hit when Russell is deployed with them. Lagesson also had great possession numbers with the depth forwards in the first half of the season, which might be why he’s seen an increase in playing time.
Aside from the deployment changes on defence, and changes to the group of depth forwards (i.e, Turris), there had to have been tactical adjustments as well. I’d be curious to know what those were as the results have been much better recently. I’m also curious to see what lessons the Oilers take from all of this and if they really explore why it took over a month to fix their issues and how exactly it was fixed – was it all luck or did they have an actual strategy in place? The Oilers are in a decent spot in the standings now, but imagine if the depth forwards hadn’t been outscored 8-17 in the first 15 games. It cost them wins and playoff positioning, and it really can’t be ignored especially if they want to be considered a championship contender.