Checking in on the special teams


Got a good reminder from this afternoon’s loss to the Flyers about the importance of special teams. And good timing too; I was digging into the Oilers powerplay and how ineffective it had become heading into the all-star break.


The Oilers currently have the 10th best powerplay (5v4) in the league, scoring 7.79 goals per hour. This is just a hair below their rate of goals in 2016/17, when they finished the season sixth overall with a scoring rate of 7.88 goals per hour. What was great about that 2016/17 season was the fact that the team generated a lot of shots, finishing sixth in the league 55.77 shots per hour, and 10th in the league when it came to unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick), a proxy for scoring chances, with 77.55. Throughout that season, the team had its slumps, but there was a good chance that they would get positive results – which they did.

What’s interesting about the current season is that even though they are getting results (i.e., goals), the Oilers have not been very good at generating shots. They rank 20th in the league when it comes to shots per hour with 48.49, and 23rd in the league when it comes to unblocked shot attempts per hour with 66.33. That gives me the sense that the results aren’t likely to continue, considering the Oilers are below league averages when it comes to generating offensive opportunities.

Worth noting that it’s really been over the last 20 games – without Klefbom in the line-up – that the team has struggled to generate shots on the powerplay. Below is a breakdown of three segments of the season: first 20 games with McLellan, next 11 games with Hitchcock and Klefbom in the line-up, and the next 20 games with Hitchcock and Klefbom out of the line-up.

2018/19 Segment GP Fenwick For/60 Shots For/60 Goals For/60 Shooting%
McLellan 20 68.39 49.64 7.72 15.56
Hitchcock w/Klefbom 11 70.93 59.73 7.47 12.50
Hitchcock w/o Klefbom 20 60.87 40.33 8.07 20.00

It’s interesting to see how much better the team was at generating shots on goal when Hitchcock arrived. It probably had something to do with moving away from five left hand shooters and taking Lucic off of the top unit and replacing him with a right-hand shooter in Chiasson. But once Klefbom was hurt, things went south in a hurry, with the team generating only 40.33 shots per hour. To put things into perspective – over the last 25 games, the Oilers rank 28th in the league when it comes to unblocked shots per hour on the powerplay and 29th when it comes to shots per hour.

I’m curious to know if the Oilers are aware of this and the fact that their 20.0% shooting percentage is masking some pretty significant issues. (Note: the average team shooting percentage at 5v4 over the last three seasons was 12.58%. The highest shooting percentage was around 14.23%). McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins are leading the way in powerplay ice time over the last 25 games, but their talent alone hasn’t been enough. And there should be some heightened skepticism, if there isn’t already, around Nurse’s ability to replace Klefbom’s offence. Someone on the coaching staff needs to figure it out, or watch clips from the 2016/17 season.

Penalty Kill

After today’s performance in Philly, the Oilers penalty kill (4v5) ranks 27th in the league, allowing 8.11 goals against per hour. What has to be frustrating for the club is that they’ve done a good job limiting shots and scoring chances against, but aren’t getting consistent, league-average goaltending.

What’s interesting is that the Oilers were getting great results (i.e., goals against) when Hitchcock arrived, when Koskinen was putting up some outstanding numbers (well above league average norms). The team was allowing around the same rate of unblocked shot attempts against as they were under McLellan, which had them in the top 10 league-wide – the only difference being the goaltending.

Team GP Fenwick Against/60 Shots Against/60 Goals Against/60 Save%
McLellan 20 60.26 44.04 8.69 80.26
Hitchcock w/Klefbom 11 60.12 51.87 3.54 93.18
Hitchcock w/o Klefbom 20 70.60 51.66 9.76 81.11

Once Klefbom got hurt, the rate of unblocked shot attempts spiked up, falling below league average rates. And it’s been poor timing as the goaltending has cratered.

That note about the penalty kill being an issue specifically since December 2016 is interesting.

Between December 1, 2016 and February 2, 2019, the Oilers have allowed the second highest rate of goals against per hour in the league on the penalty kill, with 8.08, only ahead of the Canucks. What’s interesting is that the team has been doing some things right over this stretch as they’ve allowed the 8th lowest rate of shots against per hour with 49.42 and the 6th lowest rate of unblocked shot attempts per hour with 68.27. There’s always room for improvement – the team is allowing a higher rate of high danger scoring chances. But the big problem has been goaltending – as the Oilers have had the third worst team save percentage with 83.63%.

The only thing that really changed for the Oilers in December 2016 was the red-hot goaltending cooling off. In the first few months of the 2016/17 season, the Oilers penalty kill allowed a rate of 4.16 goals against per hour – third best in the league. Their goaltending was the main driver for their success, as the team save percentage was 92.38. This was likely going to be unsustainable considering that in the three seasons prior to 2016/17, the average team save percentage on the penalty kill was 87.76%. The Oilers were also allowing a high rate of opportunities against on the penalty kill in those first few months – so I wouldn’t want to replicate anything they were doing prior to December 2016.


With Klefbom out of the line-up this season:

Oilers Powerplay (5v4)

  • Unblocked shots per hour: 60.87 (28th)
  • Shots per hour: 40.33 (29th)
  • Goals per hour: 8.07 (10th)
  • Shooting percentage: 20.00 (2nd)

Oilers Penalty Kill (4v5)

  • Unblocked shots against per hour: 70.6 (18th)
  • Shots against per hour: 51.66 (21st)
  • Goals against per hour: 9.76 (30th)
  • Save percentage: 81.11 (29th)

Data: Natural Stat Trick


The Hitch Effect have a chance of making the playoffs this season, a lot of things are going to have to go right for the Edmonton Oilers. They’ll need their core players to be healthy. They’ll need their top end stars to produce and for their depth players to contribute. Special teams can’t be a drag. And they’ll need their goaltending to perform at or above league average levels. Pretty standard requirements for any of the western conference teams competing for a wild card spot.

One area that the Oilers really need to improve on to increase their chances of outscoring opponents at even-strength is their overall share of shot attempts, used as a proxy for possession, as well as their proportion of scoring chances. The Oilers have been posting some very poor numbers since Hitchcock arrived, generating the second lowest rate of shot attempts in the league, and allowing the eighth highest rate of shot attempts against. Looking at the rate of unblocked shot attempts for and against, or Fenwick (which I use as a proxy for scoring chances), the Oilers are getting around the same results – second lowest rate of chances for in the league, and sixth highest rate of chances against.

In their 30 games under Hitchcock, the Oilers have posted an even-strength Corsi For% (i.e., the proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated) of 46.61% – one of the worst in the league. To put things into perspective, the Oilers under Hitchcock are posting shot-shares that are similar to what the Oilers posted under previous coaching regimes.

Oilers - CorsiFor - 2007-2019.JPG

Poor roster construction, under-performing players and injuries to key players are definitely playing a factor in the Oilers’s poor shot-share metrics. But there has to be something more to this considering that almost every player’s on-ice numbers have taken a hit since Hitchcock arrived. And that includes Connor McDavid who very often has been able to drive offence no matter who is on the ice with him.

Below are the Oilers forwards this season who have played at least 50 minutes under Todd McLellan and at least 50 minutes under Hitchcock, and what their on-ice Corsi For percentages have been under each coach.

corsisplit - forwards - 20190129

The one player that sticks out, aside from McDavid, is Nugent-Hopkins, who saw his on-ice Corsi For percentage drop from 51.98% under McLellan to 41.39% under Hitchcock. Over his career, he’s usually been around 49.0%, regularly playing top competition, so there’s definitely something in the new system that’s driving down his numbers. When he’s been on the ice, the rate of shots against are at one of the highest among Oiler forwards, and not a lot is being generated in the offensive zone.

The fact that the team is having so much trouble sustaining offensive zone pressure at even-strength should be concerning to the management group who is obviously looking to improve their talent up front. One or two players aren’t likely going to turn the Oilers shot-share and scoring chance numbers around this drastically, so before making any transactions it’s important to dig into what the coaching staff is currently doing tactically, why it’s impacting almost every forward including the best player in the world, and how it can be improved.

Now management might be telling themselves that Klefbom’s return should improve things, as he not only brings a unqiue skill-set, but his presence will reduce the minutes played by guys like Nurse and Russell.

But if we look at the defencemen who played at least 50 minutes under McLellan and Hitchcock, we see that even Klefbom’s numbers took a hit, dropping from an on-ice Corsi For percentage of 53.24 down to 50.93. The fact that Klefbom’s numbers aren’t immune to the impacts of Hitchcock’s new system makes me skeptical that his return will drastically turn the team’s shot-share numbers around.

corsisplit - defencemen - 20190129

Something else to consider in all of this is how the rest of the teams that are competing for a wild card spot in the west have been doing over their last 25 games. Below is a summary, including each team’s points percentage, Corsi For% (proxy for possession), Fenwick For% (proxy for scoring chances) and Goals For%. I’ve also included each team’s shooting and save percentage to get a sense of how far above or below they are from league averages.

Team Points% CF% FF% GF% SH% SV% PDO
Minnesota 50.0% 50.16 51.20 45.83 7.03 90.47 0.975
Dallas 52.0% 48.00 48.79 47.52 6.01 93.41 0.994
Colorado 36.0% 50.75 51.17 40.06 5.91 90.79 0.967
Vancouver 56.0% 46.71 47.12 50.85 8.53 92.72 1.013
Anaheim 48.0% 48.98 48.44 46.54 7.76 91.72 0.995
Arizona 48.0% 48.49 49.17 41.14 6.94 90.13 0.971
St Louis 56.0% 53.72 54.72 54.14 8.14 91.69 0.998
Edmonton 46.0% 45.31 44.17 45.01 10.00 90.66 1.007
Chicago 44.0% 45.77 44.01 44.55 8.36 91.69 1.001
Los Angeles 50.0% 45.72 46.00 51.41 7.38 93.77 1.012

Just based on how well they’ve been controlling shots, and how well their goaltending has improved, I’d suspect that the Blues will make a stronger push for a wild card spot than teams like Edmonton and Vancouver. The Oilers always have the McDavid factor, and the goaltending could bounce-back, but they’re definitely going to have to make some deployment/tactical changes to remain competitive.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Discussing the current state of the Oilers and Flames on CBC Alberta at Noon

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Andrew Brown and CBC Calgary’s Dave Waddell on CBC Alberta at Noon to talk Oilers and Flames, and the different directions the two clubs are going in. It was a fun, interactive panel discussion about each team’s current state and the steps that have led them to where they are. Full audio segment is here: CBC Alberta At Noon (2019, January 25).

A re-cap of the discussion can also be found here: Why Alberta’s NHL teams have traded places in 2019, and what Edmonton can do about itCBC News (2019, January 27)

A big thank you to everyone at Alberta at Noon for having me on and for putting it all together!




After the Oilers won the draft lottery in 2015, the goal was simple: build a competitive roster around your generational talent and start contending for championships as soon as possible. Assemble a coaching staff, enhance your hockey operations department, draft and develop players – the standard items part of any professional hockey team’s plans. The Oilers, however, had the added advantage of having a good cluster of talent featuring an elite player.

Instead what the Oilers did was make a long series of roster decisions that were clearly misinformed and lacked the proper foresight. Peter Chiarelli failed to assess/identify talent, properly evaluate the player market, manage his team’s salary cap and calculate the risk involved in his moves. Every single one of his decisions served as an example of one or more of these managerial flaws.

What’s especially troubling – I think even more so than some of the decisions themselves – was the fact that an entire hockey operations department supported these decisions, and were part of the environment that allowed this level of incompetence to continue driving decisions. So much damage could have been prevented had someone internally been properly monitoring and assessing Chiarelli’s work.

While it’s a relief that Chiarelli is no longer the general manager, the Edmonton Oilers now have a lot of work to do to pursue a championship. And I don’t think traditional hockey-operation-methods is what’s going to get them out of this hole. The Oilers really need to take a more drastic, more innovative approach that will make them competitive and steer them towards their goals.

For example, rather than hire an individual who was a former player or who has been serving as a scout or assistant general manager in the league, the club should look outside of the traditional hockey circles and construct a hockey operations department with people who have extensive decision-making experience and understand how to manage finances, and evaluate labor markets and risks. A general manager needs to understand what it takes to make evidence-based decisions, and how to identify and collect necessary information.

I fully get that hockey isn’t even close to where baseball is in terms of progressive, outside-the-box thinking. But I think it’s that type of mindset that I think will turn the Edmonton Oilers around.

One last note: I’m glad people are finally recognizing how poorly Chiarelli managed this team. But the early warning signs were there and were regularly discussed and documented by those paying careful attention and willing to think critically. Hopefully we’ll see less appeals-to-authority when discussing the game and hear more individual opinions based on sound logic and reasoning. Hockey discussions can be a lot more valuable that way.

ICYMI: I joined host Tanara McLean on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss Chiarelli’s dismissal. Clip is here and starts at the 7:00 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, January 23)

I also joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to discuss this topic. Full audio clip is here: More Change for the OilersCBC Radio Active (2019, January 23)

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CBC Edmonton News (TV): Re-cap of the win in Vancouver, competition for the wild card spot and potential trade options

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Alicia Asquith on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 19:25 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, January 17)

Topics we covered:

  • Wednesday night’s shoot-out win against the Vancouver Canucks.
  • The western conference playoff race and who the Oilers are competing with for a wild card spot.
  • With 14 games left before the trade deadline, we discussed the potential trade options, including Spooner, Talbot, Puljujarvi and the 2019 first round pick.
  • Preview of Saturday night’s game against the Flames.

Big thank you to everyone at CBC for putting it all together.


Playoff aspirations into their game against Arizona, the Edmonton Oilers rank fifth in the Pacific and sit just two points out of a wild card playoff spot. They’ve accumulated 45 points in 44 games (going 21-20-3) – a points percentage of 51.1%. Worth noting that the league average points percentage is 55.5%.

At even-strength (5v5), the Oilers have a goal-share of 46.34% (76 GF, 88 GA), which ranks 24th overall and 12th in the west. The Oilers powerplay (5v4) ranks 10th in the league, scoring 8.04 goals-for per hour. And the penalty kill (4v5) ranks 16th in the league, allowing 7.03 goals-against per hour. The Oilers are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, scoring 2.75 goals per game and allow the eighth highest rate of goals against (3.18).

Those are pretty lousy results, due in large part to a lack of scoring depth up front, and goaltending that is currently below average (89.66% team save percentage, 24th in the league). It’s pretty surprising that despite their poor results this season, including some extended slumps, the Oilers are only two points out of a wild card spot.

So the question becomes: is this team a real contender for the playoffs?

We can look at what the results have been, determine the rate at which they’re collecting points, and simply extrapolate it out to 82 games. Assuming the team continues at the pace that they’re currently going, collecting 45 points over their first 44 games, you can make a rough estimate that the Oilers are on pace to finish with somewhere around 82 to 85 points. This of course would be well below what previous wild card teams have finished with in the west. Last season, the Kings finished with 98 points and the Avalanche finished with 95. In 2016/17, the Flames and Predators finished with 94 points.

The problem right now for the Oilers is that there’s nothing about their results, their underlying shot-share metrics (which we can use to predict future results) or their roster talent that indicates they have the ability to go on a significant run over the remaining 37 games and secure a playoff spot.

The Oilers currently rank in the bottom third of the league when it comes to possession metrics (i.e., Corsi), as well as their proportion of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, which is used as a proxy for shot quality). They’ve struggled on both sides of the puck, generating very few scoring chances and high danger shot attempts, and allowing one of the highest rates against. The club has trended downward as the season has wore on, posting a 46.68% Corsi-for percentage (29th overall) and a 46.20% Fenwick-for percentage (28th overall) over their last 25 games.

It’s also worth comparing the Oilers to the other western conference teams that are currently competing for a wild card spot. Below are each team’s results and underlying shot-share metrics over the last 25 games. I’ve also included the player driven factors – team shooting percentage and team save percentage – as well as the team PDO which gives us a sense of how lucky or unlucky each club has been.

Team Colorado Minnesota Anaheim Edmonton Vancouver
Corsi-for% 51.49 51.65 49.44 46.68 47.98
Fenwick-for% 51.44 52.56 49.35 46.20 48.03
Scoring chances for% 54.41 54.49 47.99 45.56 44.69
High-danger Corsi-for% 50.54 57.79 46.20 40.90 45.37
Goals-for% 45.92 46.88 49.44 45.63 47.73
Shooting% 6.77 6.86 7.31 8.61 7.55
Save% 91.45 90.73 92.79 91.34 92.51
PDO 0.982 0.976 1.001 1.000 1.001

Of the five teams who are currently in the playoff race, the Oilers have the worst proportion of shot attempts-for and scoring chances-for – outcomes that are largely dependent on the coaching staff and the roster constructed by management. These results really don’t give us a lot of confidence that their future goal-share will improve and be above 50.0%. Unless of course the team shooting percentage jumps ahead of league averages or their goaltending suddenly becomes red-hot – factors that are largely outside of the control of the coaching staff and management.

What’s interesting is that the Avalanche, who are in a brutal slump right now, with only two wins in their last ten, have good underlying possession numbers but are struggling to convert that into goals. Considering the talent they have, and the results they were getting earlier in the season, I’d expect that to gradually improve. Minnesota is another team whose results could gradually improve considering how good they’ve been at generating and preventing shots and scoring chances, but their goaltending has been dragging their results down.

It’ll be interesting to see how this playoff race turns out. The Oilers are definitely in it, and have the high-end talent to drive overall results. Unfortunately, they lack scoring depth up front and haven’t been the same offensively without Klefbom. It’s going to be really important for the Oilers to properly assess their situation and be realistic about their playoff chances. The last thing they need to do is make a decision based on results that are a mirage, and do something that hinders their long-term goal of winning a championship. Unfortunately, it’s been management’s lack of foresight and flawed decision-making process which has them in this situation – where they’ll be dependent on their players producing well above their career norms and league averages to make the playoffs.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Full article is posted at The Copper & Blue.

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Re-cap of the Pacific road trip, scoring problems, Chiarelli’s mismanagement and playoff chances

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Alicia Asquith on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 17:20 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, January 10)

Topics we covered:

  • Re-cap of their 7-2 loss against the Sharks.
  • The Oilers scoring problems and what their options are to improve their offence.
  • Peter Chiarelli’s complete mismanagement of the roster.
  • Realistic chances of making the playoffs.
  • Preview of tonight’s game against Florida.