Productivity of Players Under Eakins and Nelson

Source: Winnipeg Free Press

Source: Winnipeg Free Press

In my last post, I focused on the longest losing streaks each coach has had behind the bench this year. The purpose was to find out why Nelson’s losing streak was somewhat dismissed, while Eakins losing streak received a far greater backlash. Eakins’ 11-game skid had some decent underlying numbers at 5-on-5, but had some sketchy goaltending and a weak powerplay and failed to have any positive results. Nelson just finished off a 7-game streak, where they were absolutely lights-out on the powerplay, but had some troubling underlying stats at 5-on-5. My guess is that the success of the powerplay, and the point production of the young guns like Eberle, RNH and Yakupov gave the perception that Nelson was doing a better job.

I received a comment that suggested that individual players have benefited from the coaching change and their production has been better under Nelson. At first glance, it appears to be true. Eberle and RNH in particular have been outstanding over the past few weeks, with a large chunk of their points coming on the powerplay. Make no mistake, Nelson has done very well with the man advantage, something he was known for at the AHL level, and deserves full credit for its success. My take, however, is that 5-on-5 play is much more important, so I decided to take a look at the productivity of players at even strength under the two different coaches.

Please note, I exclude the five games that MacTavish was behind the bench in all of my comparisons involving Nelson. I’ve included in the list below the players who played under both coaches. (Source: War on Ice)

Eakins Nelson
Name

Pos.

Games

P60 CF% TOI/Gm Games P60 CF% TOI/Gm
Ryan.Nugent-Hopkins C 29 1.97 51.83 15.79 37 1.73 50.57 15.00
Nail.Yakupov LR 31 0.93 48.90 12.47 36 1.51 43.48 13.26
Taylor.Hall L 25 1.65 53.15 16.04 14 2.31 50.38 14.86
Jordan.Eberle R 30 1.82 53.97 15.41 37 2.24 50.29 15.23
Benoit.Pouliot L 20 2.19 51.47 10.95 29 1.44 51.23 12.96
Boyd.Gordon C 27 1.11 46.68 10.02 37 0.63 42.02 10.33
Luke.Gazdic L 10 0.00 45.37 7.03 19 1.33 46.30 7.13
Matt.Hendricks LR 27 0.68 47.54 9.80 35 0.87 43.63 11.80
Leon.Draisaitl CL 31 0.88 52.76 11.05 2 5.73 56.76 10.47
Tyler.Pitlick RC 7 0.68 51.54 12.57 2 0.00 30.43 10.70
Iiro.Pakarinen RL 5 1.65 50.00 7.25 12 0.00 47.17 10.79
David.Perron RL 31 1.73 52.01 13.43 2 2.49 57.14 12.07
Teddy.Purcell RL 31 1.23 54.70 12.56 37 0.85 46.23 13.37
Justin.Schultz D 30 0.92 50.99 17.32 37 0.44 50.58 18.59
Jeff.Petry D 30 0.33 53.00 17.97 24 0.74 43.09 16.93
Keith.Aulie D 12 0.00 51.60 12.59 10 0.45 36.86 13.28
Mark.Fayne D 31 0.53 49.49 14.52 37 0.22 44.19 15.05
Andrew.Ference D 28 0.24 48.45 18.04 37 0.94 41.98 15.46
Oscar.Klefbom D 10 0.33 53.52 18.34 37 0.97 50.91 18.40
Martin.Marincin D 12 0.34 51.29 14.56 20 0.00 49.00 16.07
Nikita.Nikitin D 22 0.53 50.57 15.46 15 0.27 45.83 14.83

Looking at the point production (points per 60), the two players that saw an increase of their 5-on-5 production under Nelson are Eberle and Yakupov. Hall’s numbers increase, but that may have been because he was banged up early in the season. What’s surprising is the decrease in productivity for players like RNH, Pouliot, Gordon, Purcell and even Schultz. What’s troubling is the decrease in the possession numbers (Corsi For %) across the board. We are seeing that the team does struggle with possession in all score situations (whether they’re trailing, leading or the game is tied) under Nelson, while Eakins had something figured out when it comes to 5-on-5 play.

And here are the players who were coached by one and not the other. Included are guys like Lander, Roy and Klinkhammer who have all done relatively well with Nelson behind the bench, but still struggle possession wise.

Eakins Nelson
Name

pos

Gm P60 CF% TOI/Gm Gm P60 CF%

TOI/Gm

Anton.Lander C 28 1.19 48.29 10.82
Derek.Roy C 37 1.67 45.93 13.63
Ryan.Hamilton L 16 0.32 40.99 11.54
Rob.Klinkhammer L 32 0.48 46.22 11.67
Matt.Fraser LR 28 1.21 41.71 10.62
Drew.Miller RC 3 0.00 53.25 11.19
Jordan.Oesterle D 6 0.75 49.64 13.42
Will.Acton C 3 0.00 44.68 9.22
Bogdan.Yakimov C 1 0.00 61.54 10.05
Mark.Arcobello CR 31 0.89 49.86 13.10
Steven.Pinizzotto R 13 1.20 43.51 7.68
Jesse.Joensuu RL 20 0.63 45.93 9.57
Brandon.Davidson D 3 0.00 42.86 10.52
Darnell.Nurse D 2 0.00 56.36 15.21
Brad.Hunt D 6 0.00 50.00 15.82

What’s become apparent is that individuals are producing more points, but it’s due in large part to the successful powerplay. Stripping the powerplay away, however, gives us a better assessment on how the team is doing for the majority of the game. In this case, the production has increased for some and decreased for others. When it comes to possession, which is a key indicator of team success, the entire team is struggling mightily.

Both Eakins and Nelson are qualified NHL coaches, having found success at the AHL level, and will likely be employed in some capacity next season in the NHL. Nelson should definitely be considered for the OIlers head coaching position next season along with other experienced coaches available this summer. The problem is that the Oilers are struggling to assemble an NHL caliber roster, and until they do, it really won’t matter who the coach is next season.

Losing Streaks: Who Wore it Better?

Source: Edmonton Journal

Source: Edmonton Journal

I think the general consensus is that the Oilers look much better now than they did with Eakins. Copper and Blue did put together a nice piece that dug into some of the underlying stats of both coaches to challenge this perception. The bottom line is that the Oilers were a better possession team with Eakins behind the bench, but were sunk by bad goaltending. The Oilers under Nelson have spent less time trailing in games and the powerplay has been very good. Both coaches, however, were not given well built rosters, with defense being a major problem.

What’s become apparent is that Nelson has received far less criticism for his recent 7-game losing streak compared to what Eakins received when the team went on that dreadful 11-game run. Anything over 5 games is cause for concern, but for whatever reason, Eakins and Nelson have been treated very differently. Now granted, the 11-game losing streak was longer and early in the season when expectations were higher, and sunk playoff hopes by December. And of course by February all is lost anyways, so maybe there’s not nearly as much pressure on Nelson to win (and maybe fans want to improve their chances of landing a higher pick in the entry draft). It’s also become quite obvious that those that cover the game as a profession as well as a large segment of fans didn’t like Eakins and have expressed how much better of a person Nelson is. We’ll save that topic for another day.

I thought it’d be interesting to dig into the two losing streaks to see if anything stands out and uncover why some may find Nelson’s losing streak more acceptable and even….encouraging. Quick tale of the tape:

Coach Losing Streak Started Ended
Dallas Eakins 0-7-4 Nov 11, 2014 Dec 3, 2014
Todd Nelson 0-5-2 Feb 28, 2015 Mar 13, 2015

Here’s a breakdown of the time spent (at even strength) trailing or leading and their possession stats in those situations during the losing streaks (Source: Puckon.net)

Eakins Nelson
Situation Time Spent Corsi Time Spent Corsi
Down 2 26.7% 54.0% 23.7% 57.0%
Down 1 27.2% 48.0% 20.1% 53.8%
Tied 38.8% 49.5% 33.9% 41.1%
Up 1 7.3% 38.9% 20.8% 42.1%
Up 2 0.0% 1.5% 20.0%

And here are some of the advanced stats (at even strength, all score situations) for each of the coaches longest losing streak. (Source: War on Ice)

Metric Eakins Nelson
PDO 96.3 94.3
Goals For % (differential) 37.5% (-10) 32.1% (-10)
Corsi For % 49.2% 46.2%
On ice shooting % 6.0% 5.4%
On ice save % 90.3% 89.0%
Offensive Zone Starts 44.8% 49.7%
Shots For % (differential) 49.2% (-8) 49.3% (-5)
Scoring Chances For % (differential) 50.5% (+4) 47.1% (-20)

And finally, the special teams. (Source: War on Ice)

Special Teams Eakins Nelson
Powerplay 12.1% 40.9%
PP Scoring Chances For % 82.7% 81.1%
Penalty Kill 82.1% 72.7%

So based on the stats alone, which losing streak would be more encouraging? Here are my takeaways:

  • Both losing streaks were awful and well deserved. Make no mistake, both coaches are qualified NHL coaches, having spent years at the AHL level and having success. But neither should be let off the hook for losing like this.
  • Eakins’ losing streak showed the club was still creating opportunities, but had a terrible time converting on their scoring chances.
  • During Nelson’s losing streak, the Oilers spent more time with a one goal lead than when Eakins was on his losing streak. Definitely an influence on fan perception.
  • Nelson’s powerplay was on fire during that 7-game skid converting on 40% of the opportunities. He was known for having a good powerplay at the AHL level, but I don’t think anyone can expect the powerplay to continue clicking at this level. My opinion on powerplays is that it’s completely useless unless the team is doing well at even strength. It’s a supplement to give teams an edge, but that means they have to be competitive for the other 95% of the game, which Nelson is still figuring out.
  • Nelson’s powerplay success during the losing streak also bloated some of the individual player stats. For example, during the 7-game losing streak, Eberle and RNH combined for 19 points, more than half of which were on the powerplay. Again, this sort of stuff changes how a team is perceived.

My guess is that a combination of a solid powerplay, combined with the emergence of fan favorite Nail Yakupov has created this perception that the team is better. It’s a valid assessment, but we can’t overlook the fact that the club is still built very poorly with weak defence and sub par goaltending. The overall perception of both coaches has also played a big part in how their losing streaks are perceived. Both coaches have different personalities and presented themselves very differently in public. The way Eakins was brought in (the abrupt firing of Krueger, the first press conference) was the complete opposite of the the low-key, easy going, entrance of Nelson. All of these things change our perception of coaches and how we interpret their losing streaks.

Just a side note: As for coaching, I think Todd Nelson should be considered for the head coaching position by the Oilers, but it has to be part of a thorough candidate search. AHL coaches like Nelson, as well as Eakins, are well qualified and can bring different tactics to a team. But the only way they can have success is if the roster is built to compete. It’s encouraging to see guys like Lander and Klefbom doing well. But the club will need a lot more growth across the entire roster to be even remotely competitive next year.

Thoughts on the Oilers: Managing coaches and coaching managers

pimg003Soon after MacTavish became GM, there appeared to a philosophical shift when it came to coaching and roster management. Not only was MacTavish revamping the entire roster, trading away Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Devan Dubnyk in his first year, but he appeared to be committed to having a strong coaching staff that could support long-term player development.

Bringing in Eakins was an excellent move. Eakins performed well at the AHL level. He was an outside voice. And most importantly, it was who MacTavish wanted. The four year deal given to Eakins signified the importance of stable coaching as well as MacTavish’s level of accountability.

And even after the Oilers’ horrific start last season, MacTavish stressed the importance of coaching continuity and stood behind the hiring of Eakins.

And I would say, absolutely, yeah. I love the coach. To me, he’s done a lot. There’s been a lot of heavy lifting for him. We’re going to have continuity of coaching going forward, which is going to make a big difference going into next year. It’s the same coaching staff, the same messaging. You know how disruptive it is to change coaches. We’re going to have this continuity of coaching. For me, this guy has got the right balance of supporting the players and holding them accountable. There’s an accountability that like. Source: Cult of Hockey (January 2014)

At the end of 2013-2014 season, Taylor Hall talked about the benefits of coming back next season to the same coaching staff.

I think that it’s huge. I know for myself personally I’m really looking forward to going into a year where you don’t have that awkward first handshake at training camp. You know what the coach is going to be like, you understand each other and most of all you understand the system that he’s going to employ. We’re going to have the majority of our team back and to have the same coach is going to be great. And I think that you saw this year with the start that we had, it wasn’t Dallas’ fault by any means, but getting used to a new coach is always a little bit tough. Source: OilersNation (April 2014)

Over the summer, Craig Ramsay and Rocky Thompson were brought in as assistants to replace Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger, both of whom appeared to be there for transition purposes. The coaching staff now had a long-time coach in Ramsay, and a player-development type of coach in Thompson. A good sign for Eakins and coaching continuity.

But after another horrific start, MacTavish held a press conference where he emphasized that coaching was under scrutiny and that the team had made improvements by bringing in new assistant coaches. Eakins still appeard to be safe, especially with Taylor Hall voicing his support for the coach just a week prior.

Regardless of the talk, Dallas Eakins was let go this week. It’s been blatantly obvious that he didn’t have a complete NHL roster this season and now it’ll  be up to another coach to somehow fix the club. Unless the Oilers improve their player evaluation strategy and allow every player to develop at the right pace (see Red Wings, Detroit), we’ll likely see the coaching carousel continue.

Speaking of Detroit and coaching, there’s a great article on Mike Babcock that has to be read by someone with the Oilers. Quick excerpt:

To be an assistant on Babcock’s staff you have to do one specific thing.

“I want you to have a new idea every day, and I want you to fight for your idea,” Babcock said. “I try to hire people that are going to bring change. I’ve got that right in their job description.”

It’s all part of Babcock’s R&D philosophy, something he’s famous for among his assistants.

Not only is the Oilers on-ice product miles away from the elite teams in the NHL, but so to are the overall management strategies. While the Oilers search for yet another head coach, other teams have long-term coaches tied in to the player development process who are also finding ways of developing assistant coaches.

Here’s hoping MacTavish can develop and commit to a long term plan that involves aligning a strong coaching staff with a roster development strategy. He had the right idea when he hired Eakins. He just needs that same approach to  enhance the scouting and player development. Sometime soon would be a bonus.

Recommended Links

Sing me back home – Lowetide

Bloody Fingerprints – Hockeybuzz

10 Lessons Everyone Can Learn from the Oilers’ Misery – Grantland

Thoughts on the Oilers: Defencemen, Rookies and Training Camp

10279542Welp. This hasn’t gone as planned.

Five straight losses to start the season. Three of which were against division opponents.

From what I’ve seen, this is a better team than last year. The goals against are coming from quick plays and bad turnovers. I haven’t seen a whole lot of running around in the defensive zone, which was prominent last year. And it was always after that running around the Oilers would get scored on. This year, there’s just been some horrible turnovers and sub-par goaltending that’s been to blame. But both of these things are fixable.

I’m still confident in the twelve forwards. Again, it’s not a deep lineup, especially at centre, but I think all four lines (for once!) are pretty decent. My only issue is the utilization of Draisatl on the second line. The club has got to do something about that to not only find a complementary player for Yakupov, but also give Draisatl a chance to develop properly.

I had confidence in the defensemen at the start, only because I assumed that Petry would be playing important minutes and the rest of the group would be legitimate NHL players. Instead, Petry has had his minutes reduced, including a healthy scratch, and the club has relied on guys like Schultz, Nurse (back to junior now) and Hunt (back to the AHL).

What this tells me is that the Oilers training camp did not go too well. There were injuries, but the coaches didn’t do enough of an assessment to confidently assign the right minutes and situations to the right players. We’re five games in to the regular season, and the club is only now starting to iron out their defensive roster.

I guess this is what happens when you’re coming out of a losing season and start to re-jig your defensive tactics. Coaches have to test out which players fit where and basically reacquaint themselves with the roster. Perfect example is benching Petry for guy like Hunt. The latter has a decent shot and can join the powerplay, but his overall game isn’t near the level of the former. Marincin, who stood out near the end of last season is only now getting in to the NHL roster.

I’d also be curious to know how much say the forwards have on who plays defense in key situations. I don’t understand how or why Schultz is playing more than 24 minutes when he’s having such a hard time playing without the puck. The guy is fantastic getting out of the zone, but still has trouble keeping up with rushes from the opposition. He’s still developing, and really should be deployed more efficiently.

Regardless of the poor start, there’s ample time to turn this around and get some wins. There has yet to be a game where the forwards, defensemen and goaltending all played a decent game as a unit. Now that the defense is looking like somewhat of an NHL roster with the promotion of Marincin, the goaltending should improve.

Recommended Links

Gregor: Draisaitl’s development likely better in junior – Edmonton Journal

Mirtle: Blame bad luck, goaltending for Oilers early mess – Globe and Mail

Same time next year – Lowetide