CBC Radio Active: Oilers post mortem

cbc edmonton logoI joined Ken Dawson on CBC Radio Active on Monday to talk about the Oilers series against the Blackhawks and the upcoming off-season. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2020, August 10).

Topics we covered:

  • The key issues for the Oilers loss against the Blackhawks, including the goaltending and their defensive play.
  • Some of the coaching decisions around the line combinations and how it impacted the outcome.
  • What the Oilers need to address in the off-season, and which players may need to be moved to clear up some cap space.
  • The 2020 NHL entry draft, and how the Oilers can address their prospect pool.
  • The NHL playoffs, which team impressed in the first week and who we expect to see in the finals.

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

 

CBC Alberta at Noon: Oilers, Flames and the NHL’s return to play

cbc edmonton logoHad the pleasure of joining guest-host Jim Brown on CBC’s Alberta at Noon radio program on Monday afternoon. Along with freelance writer Vikki Hall, we discussed the NHL’s return-to-play plan.

Full segment is here: CBC Alberta at Noon (2020, July 27)

Key topics we covered:

  • Leading up to phase four of the return to play plan, what our expectations were and our thoughts on how things have rolled out thus far.
  • Key storylines in Edmonton and Calgary heading into their qualifier series against Chicago and Winnipeg, respectively.
  • The feeling in Edmonton about being a hub city and the limited benefits to the city and its residents for hosting.
  • The impact of playing in a bubble on the players and how their performance might be impacted by the season’s pause.
  • How the NHL aims to prevent outbreaks and what we expect would happen if a positive case is found.
  • What the fan experience will be like and the NHL’s opportunity to grow the game.
  • Our expectations of the Oilers and Flames, and which team we expect to go further in the playoffs.

Big thanks to CBC and the wonderful team that put it all together!

CBC Radio Active: NHL set to return to play

cbc edmonton logoI joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active today to talk about the NHL’s Return to Play plan and what to expect in the Oilers qualifier series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2020, July 10).

While it’s exciting to have hockey starting up again, it’s difficult to ignore the health risks these players and team staff members are taking on. The harsh reality is that we’re likely to see players test positive for COVID-19 and there’s no guarantee that the protocols like social distancing and masking along with regular testing will limit the spread of the virus and prevent serious outbreaks. There’s also the mental health impact of playing away from family and friends for an extended period of time in a restricted bubble. And then you have the heightened risk of players getting injured with teams scheduled to play a lot of hockey withing tight time-frames. Make no mistake, this is driven by money, not the “love of the game”. Here’s hoping players and staff stay healthy and avoid the long-term health impacts of the COVID-19 virus.

The actual series between Edmonton and Chicago I think is going to be interesting and could be closer than we’d like to think. The Oilers definitely have the edge when it comes to overall talent and the powerplay, but I think the Blackhawks had some things going for them in the latter half of the season, especially at even-strength.

Over the final twenty-five games of the season, the Oilers went 13-8-4, a points percentage of 0.600 – placing them in the top ten league wide. Chicago wasn’t too far behind and actually posted stronger results with a +11 goal differential compared to Edmonton’s +2. Chicago also did a slightly better job when it came to controlling the flow of play as measured by shot attempts (i.e., Corsi) as well as scoring chances which uses unblocked shot attempts as a proxy.

Final 25 Games (2019/20) Chicago Edmonton
Record 13-10-2 13-8-4
Points% 0.560 (14th) 0.600 (9th)
5v5 – Goal-share 55.05 (7th) 50.93 (14th)
5v5 – Goal-differential +11 +2
5v5 – Corsi For% 50.22 (14th) 49.26 (18th)
5v5 – Fenwick For% 50.42 (14th) 48.83 (21st)
5v5 – Shooting% 8.73 (10th) 9.22 (5th)
5v5 – Save% 92.76 (7th) 91.76 (22nd)

What’s interesting is that while Chicago and Edmonton ranked 19th and 20th respectively when it came to preventing scoring chances, Chicago did a much better job generating scoring chances ranking 6th in the league while Edmonton ranked 22nd. The other area where I think Chicago has the slight edge is in net, which plays a significant role in the playoffs. Edmonton finished the season 14th overall with a 90.55% team save percentage at all strengths, while Chicago finished 6th with 91.30%.

The other area where Chicago did well with consistently was their penalty kill, which finished ninth best in the league when it came to the rate of goals against with 6.34 per hour. And that was due in large part to their goaltending, which ranked third in the league when it came to save percentage shorthanded. The fact that Chicago got consistent goaltending throughout the season, and the fact that the Oilers struggled to generate offence in the latter part of the season should be of concern and will hopefully be recognized and addressed by the coaching staff during training camp.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

CBC Radio Active: Recap of the Oilers transactions at the trade deadline

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Adrienne Pan on CBC Radio Active this evening to talk Oilers and their activity at the NHL trade deadline.

Full segment here: CBC Radio Active (2020, February 24)

Topics we covered:

  • The acquisition  of Andreas Athanasiou from the Red Wings and his case for being on the top line with McDavid. Price was a little steep, but he’s a skilled forward that will remain under team control past this season.
  • The acquisition of defenceman Mike Green from the Red Wings and the depth he adds to a pretty good defence core. Price a little high, but the team will value his pick moving ability. The Oilers should do what they can to acquire picks at the draft.
  • The acquisition of Tyler Ennis from Ottawa, where he could fit on the roster and what to expect from him. Reasonable price for a rental, and he should be more productive than the likes of Khaira and Chiasson. Should get a shot on the third line with Sheahan and Archibald and help draw more penalties.
  • Expectations the rest of the season.

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

 

CBC Radio Active: Oilers, the Pacific division and previewing the upcoming game against the Flames

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Adrienne Pan on CBC Radio Active to talk all things Oilers. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2020, January 28)

Topics we covered:

  • Thoughts on the Kassian/Tkachuk incident.
  • What to expect from the Oilers in their match against the Flames.
  • The Pacific division.
  • The emergence of Kailer Yamamoto.
  • Upcoming trade deadline.
  • Areas the Oilers need to focus on to make the playoffs.

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

Sliding

22316220.jpg

The Oilers are sliding, and they shouldn’t be surprised.

The good news is that the Oilers currently rank second in the Pacific with 40 points, and fifth in the Western Conference. The problem is their overall results aren’t good enough, especially at even-strength, and they’ve been trending downwards for a while.

20191213 - Goal differential

While the powerplay and penalty kill continues to thrive, it’s the even-strength (5v5) play that is dragging down the Oilers overall results. Below is the cumulative total of goals-scored, which now sits at -12 – a goal-share of 45.77%, good for 26th in the league.

20191213 - Goal differential at 5v5.png

The underlying shot-share numbers have been poor, and appear to be getting worse. While they did show some signs of life only a few weeks ago, their overall play has been declining ever since. I wrote last week that I think it had to do with the team potentially trying to generate more offence by focusing less on defensive play, but that’d be something only the coach could confirm.

Point % CF% FF% xGF% GF% SH% SV% PDO
0.588 47.88
(26th)
48.43
(22nd)
48.90
(22nd)
45.77
(26th)
8.54 90.68 0.992

Below are the Oilers Corsi For%, Fenwick For% and xGoals For% over rolling 10-game segments this season. A glossary describing the metrics can be found below.

20191213 - Shot share at 5v5

The last ten games have been extremely poor, with the Oilers posting shot-share metrics well below league average levels. The expected goal-share has slid down to 45.0%, which again might be due to the team taking more risks in an attempt to generate offence. The Oilers were doing something right early on, but it appears they’ve adjusted their tactics in an attempt to generate offence.

The other concerning issue is the team’s performance at even-strength both with and without McDavid this season. In year’s past, we would see all the shot-share numbers be above at least 51.0% with their best player on the ice. This year, it’s been a different story, as the Oilers even with McDavid have posted shot-share numbers below 50.0%.

20191213 - WOWY 97.png

The good news is that the overall goal-share has been outstanding with McDavid. But it does make you wonder how much better his on-ice goal-share and point totals would be if the Oilers were spending less time in their own zone and more time with the puck. The lack of skill on the roster, combined with a blueline that has only a few puck-movers, is what I think is driving the shot-share numbers downward.

The last ten game have been especially concerning, with the whole team including McDavid struggling to generate offence and spending more time defending. Below we see that the shot-share metrics are closer to the 45.0% percent range (!), with the goal-share being below the break-even mark even with McDavid.

20191213 - WOWY 97-10

The Oilers have posted a -1 goal differential with McDavid, and a -12 goal differential without him over the last ten games. Not even the special teams can bail them out as the outstanding powerplay has scored ten goals (and allowed one) over the last ten, while the penalty kill has actually struggled allowing six goals.

Can’t say their current results are too surprising as the team lacks skill and depth, and their shot-share metrics have been below average for most of the season. The question again comes back to the Oilers management and how they view the overall results and where the team has been trending.

With the team having accumulated 40 points, does management think the results are real and sustainable? Or do they recognize that they’re lacking a significant amount of skill and depth in all positions, and start to add pieces, either from their own development system or through the trade market. Thinking heading into the season that this was going to be a development year, and based on their actual results and underlying trends, I would expect the team to hold off on making any drastic changes and start to give some of the younger prospects a chance to play in Edmonton and further their development.

It would have been nice if the team took a positive step and posted underlying numbers that demonstrated sustainability. But the reality is that they’re not good enough to compete for a championship and should be using this season to properly evaluate the prospects that they do have.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also, I made an appearance on CBC Radio Active this week. Will post the link when it’s available: CBC Radio Active (2019, December 11)

Glossary

  • Corsi For percentage (CF%) – The proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Corsi For/(Corsi For + Corsi Against). This is used as a proxy for possession and can predict a team’s future share of goals (GF%).
  • Fenwick For percentage (FF%) – The proportion of all the unblocked shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Fenwick For/(Fenwick For + Fenwick Against). This is used as a proxy for shot quality and considers shot blocking a repeatable skill. It can also predict a team’s future share of goals, slightly better than Corsi.
  • Expected Goals For percentage (xGF%) – This is a weighting placed on every unblocked shot based on the probability of the shot becoming a goal. This depends on the type of shot, location and uses historical shot and goals data to come up with the probability for each unblocked shot.
  • Goals For percentage (GF%) – The proportion of all the goals that the team scored and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Goals For/(Goals For + Goals Against).
  • Shooting percentage (SH%) – The percentage of the team’s shots on goal that became goals (i.e., total goals divided by the total shots on goal).
  • Save percentage (SV%) – The percentage of the team’s shots on goal against that were saved (i.e., 1-(totals goals allowed divided by the total shots on goal against))
  • PDO – The sum of a team’s shooting percentage (SH%) and its save percentage (SV%). It’s based on the theory that most teams will ultimately regress toward a sum of 100, and is often viewed as a proxy for how lucky a team is. (Source)

CBC Radio Active: Oilers quarter season checkup

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk all things Oilers. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2019, November 12)

Topics we covered:

  • The dismissal of Don Cherry.
  • The Oilers strong start, and the key drivers including goaltending and special teams.
  • Areas for concern, including the number of close games, lower-than-average shot shares and the competitiveness of the Pacific division.

Big thank you to everyone at CBC for putting it together!

CBC Radio Active: Road to the NHL season begins

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk all things Oilers. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2019, September 16)

Topics we covered:

  • Upcoming pre-season games and what to expect from the Oilers.
  • Reasonable expectations for James Neal and the bottom six forwards.
  • Tyler Benson, and the importance of his development to the team.
  • The young talent pushing for roster spots on the blue line.

 

Thoughts on the Oilers off-season activity + CBC Radio Active segment

cbc edmonton logoIn case you missed it, I joined Adrienne Pan on CBC Radio Active in Edmonton on Tuesday afternoon to talk Oilers. Segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2019, July 2)

Couple thoughts on the Oilers off-season and their activity around free agency.

Mike Smith

  • The Oilers were already in a precarious situation with Koskinen as one of the netminders under contract for the 2019/20 season. Last season, he posted a 0.906 save percentage (all situations). good for 41st out of 60 netminders who played at least 1,000 minutes (approximately 20 games). And he ranked 49th among the same group when it came to goals saved above average (GSAA) with -6.21. More on GSAA can be found at In Goal Magazine.
  • That’s what makes the Mike Smith signing even more puzzling. By adding a 37 year old goalie who has been on the decline for a few years now, the Oilers have taken on even more, unnecessary risk at such a critical position. Last season, among the same group of 60 goalies, Mike Smith ranked 53rd with a 0.898 save percentage, and 53rd in GSAA with -12.65. The good news is that it’s only a one-year term.
  • Smith might be the team’s solution for the short-term, but the long-term issue remains: the Oilers don’t have a young starter-in-waiting, and are a few years away from one of their prospects to emerge as a legitimate option.

Markus Granlund

  • Thought this was a good signing as it creates competition for guys like Tyler Benson and Kailer Yamamoto, and at a reasonable price point.
  • One thing to note. It’s easy to pencil Granlund in as penalty kill option since he led the Canucks in total ice time last season among forwards, and had the third highest rate of minutes per game. But it’s worth noting that while the Canucks penalty kill was right around league average (in terms of goals against), they allowed the second highest rate of shots on goal against and the third highest rate of goals against with Granlund on the ice. Some ugly numbers over his three full seasons in Vancouver shorthanded, so it’d be wise to temper expectations. Noting this as an example of management potentially making a poor assumption based solely on a players ice-time and the team’s overall results.

Tomas Jurco

  • Good, low-risk signing for a productive forward who has shown progress from his injuries.
  • Worth noting that between 2013/14 and 2015/16, his full three seasons in Detroit, Jurco posted a 54.58% Corsi For pecentage – good for fourth among forwards who played at least 250 minutes (approximately 20 games). He ranked third when it came to on-ice unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick) against. If he can get back into form, the Oilers may increase their odds of out-scoring the other teams’ bottom six.
  • Good article from 2016 on Jurco, his productivity and lack of opportunity in Detroit from Iyer Prashanth. Appears at the time the Red Wings favored their over-priced veterans over their young emerging talent – but still applied their over-ripening policy even when the youngsters were showing well. Duly noted.

Gaetan Haas

  • Using an NHL equivalency calculator, the 192 points in 392 games in the Swiss league translates into about 17 points at the NHL level – more or less a replacement level player that can compete with the likes of Joseph Gambardella and Cooper Marody for more of the bottom six minutes.
  • Bruce McCurdy had a great write-up at The Cult of Hockey.

Alex Chiasson

  • This was clearly plan-C (heh) for the Oilers once they lost out on the Brett Connolly and Gustav Nyquist group. And it only makes sense if the Oilers add a legitimate winger to their top six before training camp. In his limited time in the top six, Chiasson wasn’t very good, dragging down the team’s possession numbers at even-strength even when paired with McDavid and Draisaitl (48.7 CF%, 48.8 FF% when all three were on the ice). Keeping my expectations low, but will be thrilled if he can score 20 goals again.
  • Chiasson was effective on the powerplay last season, posting 4.71 points per hour (fourth among regular forwards) and an on-ice goals-for rate of 9.72 (first among forwards). Depth players who can chip in on special teams is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Jujhar Khaira

Miscellaneous

  • We’re starting to see what Holland’s approach will be like going forward, as he’s made some nice low-risk signings but also made a couple moves (Smith signing, Sekera buyout, Playfair hiring) that appear to be based on limited information.
  • The Oilers have to be moving towards more progressive management practices, and need to implement evidence-based decision making processes. It’s obviously still early, but the Oilers need to enhance their front-office to become real championship contenders.
  • The Oilers obviously have to add skill up front, but there should be some concern about the blue-line as they’ve downgraded their puck moving ability. It’d be great if one of the young defencemen in the system can emerge and fill Sekera’s spot, but there has to be a contingency plan in place. Re-signing someone like Gravel would have been a start, as he was fine as a depth option and was productive on special teams. But they’ll need to bring in someone with more NHL experience and offensive ability.
  • As it stands, the Oilers are taking on a lot of risk, hoping for a number of players to have bounce-back seasons – which makes me wonder if they’re more focused on 2020/21 being the season they compete. It might not be the worst idea considering how much more flexibility they’ll have next summer and how many players should/will be turning pro.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Thoughts on the hiring of Ken Holland + CBC Edmonton News segment

 

Bob-Nicholson-and-Ken-Holland-press-conference

Professional hockey  remains in the dark ages when it comes to managing teams and looking for competitive advantages in the front office. Whenever there is a job opening for a general manager or when club re-structures itself to have an executive overseeing hockey operations, you realize that the list of potential candidates is small and the overall talent pool is extremely shallow.

The Edmonton Oilers at a critical juncture in their history, with the best player in the world and pressure mounting to deliver a championship went down a very predictable path to find a new general manager. They interviewed a number of assistant general managers, sought out the ones with potential and those that had connections to Hockey Canada. And while Ken Holland has the experience, the credibility, the knowledge and the professional network to handle the assigned tasks, his hiring isn’t all that exciting or inspiring. Going with Holland perfectly exemplified the Oilers risk-averse nature, their conservative approach to building a championship contender, and their lack of innovation and creativity when it comes to finding any competitive advantages in the modern era.

Now Holland does have a history at finding inefficiencies in the market when constructing a roster, being one of the first to tap into Europe for players and discarding one-dimensional enforcers from his teams. The problem is that the rest of the league caught up to him fairly quickly, and in the salary cap era he hasn’t done anything that sets him apart from his peers. He’s also shown a lack of understanding when it comes to player’s prime ages, giving out a lot of bad contracts with no-trade and no-movement clauses to players who are well past their primes, but he feels a deep connection with. Holland doesn’t appear to have that ruthless nature that’s needed to get the Oilers out of their current cap and roster issues. And we know that in the modern era one of a general manager’s key tasks is to find roster inefficiencies and squeeze out as much production and value from all corners of the club.

The one other issue I have with Holland is his “over-ripening” philosophy when it comes to developing prospects. While I do agree that prospects need time to develop and that a strong AHL program is critical to support the regular influx of talent to the NHL roster – management needs to be able to leverage a player’s entry-level deal and get production from players especially on the third and fourth lines. This would require identifying those players earlier and if appropriate, take on some risk by signing them to team-friendly deals. Again, it’s fine to allow players to develop in the minors, but managers need to be very strategic so that they know what they’re paying for when a player completes their entry-level deal and needs a new contract. Highly recommend checking out Iyer Prashanth’s piece from 2016 on entry-level contracts and asset management related to Holland’s time in Detroit.

Coming to Edmonton, Holland will have a lot of work to do including assembling a coaching staff, improving the roster and addressing the team’s scoring issues when McDavid isn’t on the ice. He’ll need to add a goalie and possibly add more skill to the blueline. And he won’t be able to do any of this without shedding some salary and also getting a better sense of the prospect pool and which players may be ready to contribute at the NHL level.

For me though, the biggest area Holland needs to address is the overall decision-making strategy and processes within hockey operations. This of course will depend on the management group he surrounds himself with, the professional and amateur scouts and (hopefully) a well supported and integrated analytics department. But Holland needs to focus on implementing the right processes that leverages all of that information that’s going to inform the roster construction. Hopefully he can do that and have the support from ownership to get all the resources required including people, technology and infrastructure – but we’ll have to wait and see.

While I do hope that the hiring of Holland is what turns this team around and start competing for championships, I remain fairly skeptical that the Oilers gained any sort of competitive advantage through this hiring.

For one, I don’t have a lot of confidence in the Oilers owner and his ability to allocate the right infrastructure and resources to support the general manager. We’re hearing that Holland will have a lot of control overseeing the entire hockey operations, but it remains to be seen what changes he’ll make to the people and processes in areas such as scouting and player development. Secondly, I don’t have a lot of faith in Bob Nicholson who facilitated the hiring process, had the opportunity to talk to anyone in hockey, but yet picked someone from his own history through Hockey Canada. In his time with the Oilers, the team took a reactive approach to several issues, and he’s a big reason why the Oilers are in the mess they’re in.

Lastly, I have little faith in the current hockey management talent pool. There’s clearly a need in hockey for common sense business acumen and a better understanding of risk management. The fact that the same names from the same demographic with the same type of backgrounds come up again and again makes it obvious that hockey management isn’t progressing. And that an opportunity exists for a team if they want to exploit an inefficiency in their management structure and find a significant competitive advantage.

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