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.

Recommended:

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Re-capping round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Nancy Carlson on the CBC Edmonton News to talk about the first round of the playoffs. Segment is here and starts at the 7:50 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, April 25)

Topics we covered:

  • Observations from the first round, and how unpredictable the tournament has been.
  • The early departure of the Flames, Leafs and Jets from the Stanley Cup playoffs and the reasons for their failures.
  • What lessons the Edmonton Oilers can take away from the first round.
  • Edmonton Oil Kings in action against the Prince Alberta Raiders in the WHL conference finals, and what to expect.

 

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Oilers season post-mortem, GM search and off-season approach

cbc edmonton logoI joined Nancy Carlson, the new host of the CBC Edmonton News, for my weekly television segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 19:30 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, April 8)

Topics we covered:

  • The key reasons why the 2018/19 season was such a disaster. Included on the list: poor roster construction, lack of offensive production, poor possession numbers, horrible penalty kill, inconsistent goaltending – just to name a few.
  • Key takeaways from the Oilers press conference this morning: lack of urgency among executives when it comes to long-term strategic planning, the same messaging we’ve been hearing for a while (and little action), and the overall, passive approach the Oilers are taking with their general manager search.
  • Course of action this off-season, which should include being ruthless with their cap situation, and creating a market for the players whose value might be perceived as higher than it actually is.

Thanks again to the team at CBC for making it all happen. It was cool to be the first guest on the new set with Nancy!

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Recent success, depth players and the GM search

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Lindsay Highmoor on the CBC Edmonton News for my weekly television segment to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 16:50 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2019, March 28)

Topics we covered:

  • Re-cap of Tuesday night’s 8-4 win against the Kings and the star players leading the way.
  • The Oilers depth issues, and the importance of finding reliable talent on value deals for next season.
  • The Oilers overall numbers at even-strength (5v5) this season
    • Goals/60 – 2.21 (26th)
    • Shots/60 – 28.44 (26th)
    • Goals against/60 – 2.59 (21st)
    • Shots against/60 – 31.34 (20th)
  • Special team results:
    • Powerplay – Goals/60 – 8.06 (7th)
    • Penalty kill  – Goals against/60 – 9.44 (30th)
  • The Oilers search for a general manager, and the importance of collecting as much information and insight as possible before hiring someone.
  • Preview of tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars.

Data: Natural Stat Trick