Thoughts on the North division + CBC Radio Active segment

Joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active to talk Oilers and previous the season-opener against the Vancouver Canucks. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2021, January 13)

Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty excited that hockey is back. While I didn’t like the idea of having to play the same teams over and over, I do like the playoff feel the regular season will have. The Oilers are playing against the teams they’ll be chasing or trying to create separation from every single night, which makes every game, every point that much more important. We’re probably going to see teams be a little more aggressive with goalie pulls and extra attackers, which should add to the drama. Lots of scoreboard watching.

The North division should be a lot of fun considering the rivalries and the fact that there’s going to be a lot of randomness in the results over a 56-game season. There’s less time to make up ground, making winning and losing streaks, all the more important.  Throw in injuries to key players and how teams adapt their rosters to cover for them, while playing two and three-game series over a short period – it’s going to be wild. All seven teams have their storylines worth following and it’ll be fun to watch some of the high-end talent and prospects from other Canadian clubs – see what the hype is about!

It’s going to be interesting to see how coaching staff’s adapt their powerplays and penalty kills. You’re playing the same teams over and over, so you can expect your opponents to game-plan their special teams a lot more. If your powerplay goes stale, and struggles to generate chances, you’re going to have to adapt and change the look of it – either tactical or changing up the deployment. I suspect the Oilers powerplay will continue to be strong, but will likely see a slight dip from their 20.27% team shooting percentage, likely hovering in the top five overall. Penalty kill is likely to regress, considering their high save percentage last season, but should remain competitive and (hopefully) not cost the team wins in the standings.

For my own curiosity, I wanted to see how well the Canadian teams did on special teams last season, combining their rates of goals for and against on the powerplay and penalty kill.

TeamSpecial teams Goals/60
Edmonton Oilers4.19
Vancouver Canucks2.07
Calgary Flames0.42
Toronto Maple Leafs0.25
Winnipeg Jets-0.24
Montreal Canadiens-1.53
Ottawa Senators-2.06

We all know how dominant Edmonton was on the powerplay, scoring 10.64 goals per hour, Vancouver was right behind them ranking fourth scoring 8.54 goals per hour and Toronto ranking sixth scoring 8.26 goals per hour. What’s interesting is that while they struggled to score, Winnipeg posted some of the highest rates of unblocked shot attempts and shots on goal. Montreal was dreadful – they were one of the worst at generating chances and finished 24th in terms of goals per hour. Looking at penalty killing rates, both the Senators and Jets were dreadful at preventing chances against, finishing in the bottom five in terms of shots against and goals against. Will be interesting to see how much the teams rely on special teams to boost their overall goal-differentials.

Goaltending is going to be huge. With a condensed schedule, teams will need to be mindful of their starters’ workloads, getting them rest between games and avoiding any significant injuries. Some of the teams in the North division look pretty solid in net, with Hellebuyck coming off a strong season, winning the Vezina trophy as the league’s best goalie and Markstom solidifying things in Calgary. Anderson is looking to bounce-back from a down-year last season, but should be back to career-level marks – and motivated by the fact that he’s in a contract year. The Oilers goaltending is not a position of strength as this point. The Oilers have a good, league-average goalie in Koskinen, but he would benefit from a shared workload and I don’t think Smith is up for the job considering his dreadful numbers over the past few years.

To get a sense of the goalies in the division, I looked at each team’s netminders and what their numbers have been like over the past three seasons. The table below is sorted by save percentage, and is for all situations. Included is each goalie’s save percentage (SV%), goals-saved-above-average (GSAA) and high-danger save percentage (HDSV%). The full list included 95 goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes (about 10 games), with the average save percentage being 0.908.

Connor HellebuyckWPG1880.91951.660.815
Jack CampbellTOR620.91711.510.794
Frederik AndersenTOR1780.91526.520.805
Jacob MarkstromCGY1630.91415.560.831
Mikko KoskinenEDM930.9110.490.820
Carey PriceMTL1730.910-4.730.810
Jake AllenMTL1290.909-4.040.812
Matt MurrayOTT1370.909-5.020.832
David RittichCGY1140.908-8.360.831
Mike SmithEDM1360.907-12.580.815
Thatcher DemkoVAN370.906-5.190.811
Braden HoltbyVAN1610.906-23.450.800
Laurent BrossoitWPG540.905-8.210.817
Marcus HogbergOTT280.901-8.290.795

Good news is that Koskinen has been in the right range and we should expect him to be a league-average netminder. Couple wild cards in the division include Demko, a good prospect who has only played 37 games and is expected to carry the load with Holtby, who has not been very good in the last three years – something to watch for in Vancouver. I was also surprised to see that Murray’s numbers aren’t as strong as I’d thought and he doesn’t have a strong back-up either. I think Toronto appears to have the advantage here with an Andersen/Campbell combo.

One last thing I wanted to know was how each of the Canadian teams did last season without their best players on the ice at even-strength. That’s usually about 70% of the team’s total time, making it pretty critical that they control the flow of play as measured by shot metrics and not get outscored too badly.

Montreal and Winnipeg were the two that came out on top in terms of goal-share without their star player, but that doesn’t say much considering that it was below 50%. What’s interesting however is that the Habs posted pretty strong shot-share numbers. The issue was that they couldn’t finish, something that looks to be corrected with the addition of Toffoli and the development of players like Suzuki. Toronto had the shot-share advantage as well and that’s probably going to continue. Edmonton, as we know, struggled mightily thanks to their bottom six. That should be improved with the addition of Turris and Puljujaarvi, but I’m not convinced that they and the rest of the bottom six roster players can be above 48%.


Data: Natural Stat Trick

CBC Radio Active: Oilers and the upcoming, condensed season

I joined Ken Dawson on CBC Radio Active on Tuesday to talk Oilers and the upcoming season that’s scheduled to begin on January 13th. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2020, December 22)

Topics we covered:

  • How the North, All-Canadian division might shake out, and the Oilers chances of making the playoffs.
  • The Oilers off-season activities, and if it’s enough to make the team competitive.
  • Areas of concern, specifically goaltending and the defence group.

Thanks to the team at CBC for putting it all together!

CBC Radio Active: Free agency day for the Edmonton Oilers

I joined Adrienne Pan and Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active on Friday to recap free agency day, and the Oilers offseason activities. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2020, October 9).

Topics we covered:

  • What to expect from Kyle Turris as a depth centerman.
  • Goaltending options, and how best to address their situation.
  • The signing of Jesse Puljujärvi, and how to get the best production from him.
  • The Oilers performance at the draft, and what to expect from first round pick Dylan Holloway.

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

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!



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
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)


  • 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!