Shallow depth

While there were signs of life during the regular season, the Oilers results without McDavid on the ice at even-strength (5v5) were once again poor.

With McDavid deployed, the Oilers outscored opponents 64-48, an elite level goal-share of 57.14%. He typically plays for about 35-40% of the team’s total time, within which the Oilers tend to out-shoot and out-chance opponents, spending longer periods of time with the puck in the offensive zone. Without him, for about 60% of the total time, the Oilers were outscored 51-68, a goal-share of 42.86% – similar to what Detroit, Columbus and Buffalo finished their seasons with.

A big reason why the Oilers were outscored so badly without McDavid was because they were regularly out-shot and out-chanced. They posted a Corsi For percentage of 45.38% and an Expected Goals For percentage of 45.18% (score-adjusted), which was actually the lowest numbers posted in the McDavid era. And it was really on the offensive side of things where the club struggled. While their rates of shots against and goals against were around league average without McDavid on the ice, their rates of shots-for and goals-for were worse than the bottom-feeders of the league.

There was a point in the season where the Oilers shot-share numbers and goal-differential without McDavid at even-strength was starting to improve thanks to some roster adjustments and the improved defensive play of the club. But as we see below, things really went downhill from about the middle of the season. Over the final 25 games of the year, the Oilers were regularly outshot and getting outscored 15-28 (a 34.88% goal-share) – making it difficult to have much confidence in the club’s depth heading into the playoffs.

Thankfully, McDavid went absolutely supernova in his pursuit of 100-points to close out the season and bailed out the roster, but it should be yet another warning sign for management that they need to do a better job of identifying talent and building a stronger roster around their star player. It’s been a problem that the franchise has struggled with since McDavid’s arrival, not even once being able to reach the 50.0% break even-mark for goals and shot metrics without him on the ice. As mentioned above, this season the Oilers depth posted their worst shot-share numbers (i.e., Corsi For% and Expected Goals For%, score-adjusted) in the McDavid era.

As I’ve written in the past, measuring the team without McDavid is a pretty good way to evaluate the general manager’s work. We know McDavid is going to be dominant when he’s on the ice. But can Holland and his management group figure out how to build a roster that can get positive results, even break-even results, when he’s on the bench? The best teams in the league have figured it out, why can’t the Oilers?

Right now the issue comes down to proper roster evaluation and construction. Taking a look at the forwards who played at least 100 minutes this season, and what their numbers were like without McDavid on the ice with them, it becomes apparent that it’s the professional-level players that management has trouble identifying and acquiring to surround their internally developed players with.

This table sorts all of the forwards by their on-ice Corsi For percentage, with a heat map applied. Keep in mind, 45.0% is the team average Corsi For% without McDavid on the ice. What stands out are the players with shot-share metrics in the red, as all of them except one are professional players that Holland either acquired or re-signed to new contracts. Some of these players even spent time with McDavid over the last couple of seasons, but weren’t productive enough to stay in the top six.

The main takeaway from all of this is that McDavid has yet to have a strong supporting cast around him, and the blame falls squarely on management, the professional scouting department and the teams’ evaluation and decision making processes. The fact that these professional-level players spent more time without the puck and getting out-chanced – and out-scored this badly – should be driving change within the organization.

The Oilers desperately need to figure this out ahead of what should be a busy off-season. The ability to identify talent that can drive offence to replace those that can’t is paramount if the Oilers want to build a championship contender. It’s great the Oilers are in a playoff spot and the potential is there for them to win a couple rounds. But until they figure out how to properly construct a roster, their success is unlikely to be sustainable.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

CBC Radio Active: Oilers, playoffs, goaltending, depth and more

I joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active on Tuesday to talk Oilers, playoffs (!) and more. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2021, May 4).

Topics we covered:

  • The Oilers clinching a playoff spot and how they’ve exceeded my regular season expectations.
  • Goaltending and the season Mike Smith has had.
  • Team depth and some of their underlying issues.
  • Potential playoff matchups against Montreal and Winnipeg.
  • Expectations from the team over the last week of the season.

Thanks as always to everyone at CBC for putting it all together!

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 25 – Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis)

This week on the podcast, very happy to be joined by Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis), who covers the Canucks for Vancouver is Awesome.

We discussed the Vancouver Canucks season, what the warning signs were coming off of a pretty good 2019/20 season and where things have gone wrong for the club. We discussed management’s approach to building the Canucks roster, what they’ll need to do differently to be competitive next year, and if Travis Green is the right coach for the team. Daniel also shared his thoughts on the key prospects for the team and the potential roles they could play.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 24 – Zach Laing (@zjlaing), OilersNation

Joined by Zach Laing (@zjlaing), news director for OilersNation and the Nation Network to talk all things Oilers.

We talked about our experiences covering the Edmonton Oilers and how the league can reach more communities and improve the fan experience. We discussed the Oilers season, which players have been the key drivers and who we want to see more from. We also covered the upcoming off-season, how to approach Nugent-Hopkins’ contract and how the defence core could potentially look next year – with or without Adam Larsson.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 23 – Dennis King

Joined by Dennis King (@DKingBH) to talk Oilers, the trade deadline and the direction the club appears to be heading with Ken Holland as general manager. We looked at the current roster construction, where the deficiencies have been, and what we’re expecting to happen this coming off-season. We also looked at the North division, how the Oilers compare with the Leafs, Canadiens and Jets and how things could shake out in the playoffs.

Pretty packed show with lots of great insight from Dennis who even took some listener questions.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010.

The SuperFan Podcast – Episode 22 – Ryan Batty (@ryan_batty)

Ryan Batty (@ryan_batty) joined me on the podcast to talk Edmonton Oilers, the trade deadline activities and expectations for the Oilers in the North division as they head towards the playoffs.

We discussed the acquisition of Dmitry Kulikov, how it impacts the current roster and how he could potentially help the club. We also shared our thoughts on the current management group, their decision-making and their short term and long approach to building the roster.

Full segment below:

Podcast channels:

Music: Anitek. “Show me.” Anitek Instrumentals Vol. 4, 2010.


Connor McDavid nets game winner, leads Edmonton Oilers to victory over  Calgary Flames -

The Oilers are in a great spot right now, sitting third in the North division with a points percentage of 0.625% after 40 games. Thanks to the Flames absolutely crashing and burning over the last few weeks, and with the Jets and Canadiens being pretty mediocre recently, the Oilers are a near lock for a playoff spot.

Now while the overall results have been excellent, their play at even-strength (5v5) hasn’t been great. And it’s these current numbers that the Oilers front office should probably be aware of heading into the trade deadline and the playoffs.

RecordCorsi For%Fenwick For%Expected Goals For%Goals For%Sh%Sv%PDO

Starting with goal-share, the Oilers have outscored opponents 86-83 at even-strength so far this season, which translates to a goal-share of 50.89%. They’re scoring at an elite level, generating 2.65 goals per hour, ranking ninth in the league and third in their division. The problem is that they’re giving it all back, allowing the tenth highest rate of goals against in the league – 2.56 per hour – which is just barely better than Calgary and Vancouver.

It’s the last ten games that have probably been the most concerning. They’ve been outscored 21-23, a goal-share of 47.73%, doing just fine generating goals (2.53 per hour), but struggling to keep the puck out of the net, allowing 2.63 goals per hour. One issue is that the goaltending has been below average, posting a team save percentage of 90.84%. The other problem is that the Oilers are spending a lot of time without the puck at even-strength and regularly getting outchanced. Over the last ten games, they’ve posted a score-adjusted Corsi For% of 45.62%, a Fenwick For% of 45.37% and an Expected Goals For% of 45.71%.

Over the course of the season, the Oilers were trending well, posting a ten-game stretch where they controlled over 52.0% of the total shot attempts (score adjusted) – a level that top end teams with points percentages above 0.600 typically finish a season with. But things have gone downhill for the Oilers recently, largely due to their offence drying up. At one point, they had a stretch of ten games where they were generating 56.75 shot attempts per hour, which is nothing great and closer to league average levels. But that rate has dropped by 28% over the last ten games, with the Oilers generating only 44.33 shot attempts per hour. For context, that’s worse than what Detroit and Buffalo have mustered over the season. Whether it’s the offensive rate of shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, expected goals – the Oilers rank either 30th or 31st when looking at the last ten games for every team.

One issue that’s returned again is the performance of the depth forwards. There were signs that things were turning around as the team improved their shot-share and goal-share numbers without their star players on the ice, but it seems things have gone south again. Over the last ten games, without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice at even-strength, the Oilers have been outscored 5-10 (a goal share of 33.33%). And it’s largely due to spending the majority of the time without the puck and getting outchanced as reflected by a Corsi For% of 38.93%, a Fenwick For% of 40.37% and an Expected Goals For% of 37.82%. Similar to the team-level numbers, the Oilers depth players are okay defensively. But they struggle to generate much offensively, and it appears things have become worse.

Something worth digging into if you’re the Oilers are the defence pairings and how they could be adjusted to improve the team’s overall offence, especially with those that are counted on to provide offence. Nurse in particular is having a great year, playing predominantly with McDavid, but I’m starting to wonder if all of the ice-time is starting to catch up to him. He’s played the second highest numbers of minutes in the league among defencemen, averaging 25:44 per game, which is the fourth highest. and two minutes more than his career averages. In his first 30 games of the season, Nurse was posting an on-ice Corsi For% of 52.72% (score-adjusted), but over the last ten games, he’s posted an on-ice Corsi For% of 46.68%. Barrie as well has seen his numbers slide over the course of the season. His on-ice Corsi For% has dropped from 50.17% to 45.09% – hardly numbers you would expect from an offensive defenceman who also gets a lot of the cherry minutes with McDavid.

PlayerCorsi For% (Games 1-30)Corsi For% (Games 31-40)Difference
Ethan Bear52.9355.222.29
Kris Russell47.1446.25-0.89
Caleb Jones51.0749.77-1.30
Tyson Barrie50.1745.09-5.08
Darnell Nurse52.7246.68-6.04
Adam Larsson46.7039.82-6.88
William Lagesson47.0530.76-16.29

At this point, I think it’s obvious that the Nurse-Barrie partnership needs to end. Over the full season, the two have had excellent results together, posting a goal-share above 60.0%, again due in large part of having McDavid or Draisaitl with them for the majority of their ice-time. But their on-ice shot-share numbers have been fairly mediocre with a Corsi For% of 50.39% and an Expected Goals For% of 47.91%. What’s interesting is that Nurse’s on-ice shot share numbers improve quite a bit when he’s played without Barrie and the team still has positive results with a goal-share above 52%.

Oilers (5v5) – 40 gamesTOICF%FF%xGF%GF%
Nurse + Barrie49750.3948.7347.9160.05
Nurse, no Barrie33552.6052.5056.7352.60
Barrie, no Nurse19445.6745.2948.1425.17

Barrie on the other hand struggles mightily without Nurse (45.67% Corsi For% and a Goals For% of 25.17%). And it’s been even worse over the last ten games with Barrie appearing to be a negative influence on Nurse’s performance.

Oilers (5v5) – Last 10TOICF%FF%xGF%GF%
Nurse + Barrie15644.8641.0136.0362.54
Nurse, no Barrie6450.9652.3358.4351.33
Barrie, no Nurse1048.1650.2470.760.00

The two together over the last ten games have seen their Corsi For% drop down to 44.86%, while their share of Expected Goals For% is down to 36.03%. Again it’s on the offensive side of things, as the Oilers are generating less than 48 shot attempts per hour with them on the ice, and that’s playing predominantly with McDavid or Draisaitl. Keep in mind, 80% of their total ice time is with one or both of these guys. In roughly 27 minutes playing with depth players over the last ten, Nurse and Barrie have shot-share numbers under 20%, which is incredible considering their reputations of being offensive drivers this season.

The team’s overall results are masking these underlying issues. And I can’t imagine the team continuing to have success if their top pairing is posting numbers like this. With the Oilers accumulating points, now might be the time to replace Barrie with Bear on the top line, with the expectation that he and Nurse can find that chemistry they had last season when they regularly played against top lines. Bear is already seeing a higher proportion of his total ice time against elite competition increase this season (refer to Appendix A). The Oilers also have young Bouchard on the active roster, and you have to wonder how the Oilers expect to evaluate him at the NHL level and know what his value is if he’s not getting ice-time. And Barrie might actually benefit from fewer minutes, recover from any injuries he’s dealing with, and be rested for a playoff run.

Whatever adjustments the Oilers make, it should probably be done sooner rather than later so they know what they have for the post-season and heading into what should be an important off-season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Puck IQ

Appendix A: Edmonton Oilers 2020/21, Defencemen TOI% against elite competition (PuckIQ)

Digging into the depth II – Improved defensive play

338 Gaetan Haas Photos and Premium High Res Pictures - Getty Images

Over the course of the season, the Oilers have done a much better job at limiting the numbers of shots and scoring chances against at even-strength (5v5).

Over the first 15 games, the team was allowing 57.2 shot attempts per hour, which was fifth highest in the league and only slightly better than Vancouver and Ottawa in the North division. They were also allowing 42.13 unblocked shot attempts, a proxy for scoring chances, which was eighth highest in the league. This poor defensive play was a key factor in the team allowing the fifth highest rate of goals against (3.07) and why they were fifth in the North division in terms of points percentage.

Thankfully things have turned around since then. Since game 16 in early February, the team has seen their rates of shots and scoring chances drop down to league average levels, with the team allowing a rate of 51.84 shot attempts per hour (a drop of 10.3%) and 39.11 unblocked shot attempts per hour (a drop of 7.7%). And it’s been part of the reason why the team has seen their rate of goals against drop down to 2.09, again closer to league average levels. And it’s been a factor in the team’s resurgence in the standings.

Oilers (5v5)Corsi Against/60Fenwick Against/60Expected Goals Against/60Goals against/60
Games 1-1557.2042.132.353.07
Games 16-3451.8439.112.182.09
% Change10.3%7.7%7.8% 46.9%

One reason for the Oilers improved defensive numbers has been the play of the depth players. Early on in the season, the team depth was the reason why the Oilers rate of shots and scoring chances were so high and why they were getting badly outscored. Without McDavid or Draisaitl, the Oilers were getting crushed allowing over 61 shot attempts per hour and over 48 unblocked shot attempts per hour. That’s what the worst teams in the leagues typically allow in a season – unacceptable in any situation, especially when you’re not able to generate even close to that much offensively.

Since early February, the Oilers depth players have done significantly better, cutting their rate of shot attempts against per hour by 25% and their rate of unblocked shot attempts by over 30%. And most importantly, and with the help of some improved goaltending, the team is allowing more than half the rate of goals against.

Oilers Depth (5v5)Corsi Against/60Fenwick Against/60Expected Goals Against/60Goals against/60
Games 1-1561.7946.802.403.97
Games 16-3449.3935.011.911.85
% Change25.1%33.7%25.7% 114.6%

One player who likely played a role in the team’s improved defensive play this season is forward Gaetan Haas. Last season, the team saw a significant drop in shots and scoring chances against when Haas would be on the ice at even-strength. Among the 18 forwards who played at least 100 minutes in 2019/20, Haas ranked in the top three for any on-ice defensive metrics. Offence was completely sacrificed with Haas on the ice as the team didn’t generate much, but his defensive play was valued by the coaching staff as shown by his increased usage this season, especially on the penalty kill.

Haas has played in the past 17 games for the Oilers this season, following a stint on the injured reserve after playing two games in late January. His defensive numbers are pretty much identical to what they were last season. Among 15 forwards who have played at least 100 minutes this season, Haas is first in all defensive categories – including goals against per hour.

With Haas on the ice this season, the Oilers are allowing less than 20 shots against per hour at even-strength, while the team as a whole allows close to 30. He’s clearly the best defensive option among the depth forwards too. If the Oilers don’t have him, McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, they’ve allowed 27 shots against per hour.

This strong defensive play has also translated well to the penalty kill, where Haas is for the first time in his NHL career getting regular minutes shorthanded. He currently ranks second on the team in average ice-time per game (2:09) among eight forwards (minimum 10 minutes played), and has posted the second lowest on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts against and shots against – only behind Yamamoto.

What has to be especially pleasing for the coaching staff is Haas’ on-ice rate of goals against per hour – 2.97. He’s only been on the ice for two goals against in his 40 minutes of penalty kill time, a rate which has him seventh in the NHL among 112 forwards who have played at least 40 minutes this season. Keep in mind, the Oilers penalty kill as a whole is currently 20th in the league, allowing over eight goals against per hour and allowing some of the highest rates of shots and scoring chances. So don’t be surprised if Haas plays in every remaining game and sees his overall ice-time increase.

Haas’ defensive success has to make you wonder what the first 15 games could have looked like had he been healthy. He might not generate much offence, but they were clearly in need of defensive help as they were getting outshot at a 2:1 clip early on and crushed on the scoreboard. Also makes you wonder if the Oilers really knew what they had in Haas going into the season, considering they did hand Turris a two year deal to be their depth centerman and a regular option on the penalty kill. We might not know how Haas would have been deployed had he been healthy, but I would assume Turris with his draft pedigree and his familiarity with the head coach would have still received a long look. Classic example of the availability heuristic concept.

Thankfully things have worked out much better recently and the Oilers are back on track. Just remains to be seen how the team evaluates players at the trade deadline and off-season, and if someone like Haas will a contract extension or if another ‘known’ player is brought in.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz


New season, same player

The day after: Jesse Puljujarvi looking like new player in return to  Edmonton Oilers

It’s been very encouraging to see how well Jesse Puljujärvi has played since his return to the NHL. Playing in a top six role is the ideal spot for a player of his skillset, and he’s establishing himself as a key player on a value contract – which is massive in the current marketplace.

It’s worth noting that many of his individual and on-ice numbers this season are similar to the numbers he posted over the course of his first three seasons prior to leaving for Oulun Kärpät. It’s easy to forget that while he did struggle at times – dealing with being a rookie, injuries and the mismanagement of previous coaching regimes – Puljujärvi was productive and showing signs of sustainable offence when he was deployed in a top six, scoring role against the best competition.

Over his first three seasons in the NHL, Puljujärvi scored 14 goals and had 17 assists at even-strength (5v5) – nothing great, and only a points per hour rate of 1.14. Looking at those totals, you can see why his value and reputation took a hit. Where Puljujärvi was effective in those first three seasons was when he played with McDavid – about 25% of his own total ice-time – where he scored 6 of his goals and collected 8 assists. This translated to a rate of 2.06 points per hour, which is what you would want your top six players to produce.

Puljujärvi’s on-ice shot-share numbers in those three seasons with McDavid were great as well, again close to what you would want from a top line, indicating strongly that there was sustainable success between the two. They controlled the flow of play as reflected by their 55.06% share of unblocked shot attempts, and had a higher share of the total scoring chances with 55.50%. And most importantly, the Oilers outscored opponents 24-15 when they were on the ice together – a goal-share of 61.54%. Among the ten forwards that McDavid had played at least 200 minutes with between 2016 and 2019, his goal-share with Puljujarvi was second only to his goal-share with Eberle (62.5%), largely due to the drop in rate of goals against when they were on the ice together.

The on-ice success with Puljujärvi and McDavid has continued this season and thankfully Puljujärvi’s seeing a much higher proportion of his total ice time with the star captain, increasing from 25% to 65% since returning to the NHL. While Puljujärvi’s rate of points per hour with McDavid has dropped slightly from 2.06 to 1.82, their share of shot attempts and scoring chances continues to be strong and aligns with their historical numbers. They continue to control the flow of play (55.56% Corsi For percentage) and scoring chances (53.93% Fenwick For percentage) at almost the exact same ratios as before. While their 51.72% goal-share this season is down from when they played prior to Puljujärvi’s departure, there’s good reason to believe that will improve considering their on-ice shooting and save percentages are below league average levels and, more importantly, below McDavid’s career levels.

For context, I think it’s also important to monitor Puljujärvi’s on-ice numbers this season without McDavid and compare them to the numbers he posted before he went to play in Finland. This can help with assessing how much the time in Finland helped, how well the coaching staff has “fixed” Puljujärvi as an individual player, and how well management has improved the depth of the roster.

Right now we’re seeing Puljujärvi spend far less of his total playing time away from McDavid, and posting the same on-ice share of shot attempts and scoring chances as he did before. With Puljujärvi on the ice without McDavid, the team’s on-ice share of shot-attempts and scoring chances remain the same as before he left for Finland, hovering just below the 50% mark. What does stand out is the team’s share of expected goals, which measures the quality of scoring chances based on the shot type and location, which sits just above 60%. You can even remove the limited minutes Puljujärvi has played with Draisaitl this season – in 123 minutes with Puljujärvi on the ice without those two star players, the Oilers have posted a 56% share of expected goals. As we get more data, it’ll be interesting to see if Puljujärvi’s on-ice numbers away from McDavid, especially the Corsi For%, improves and if the coaching staff can start thinking about using him as a possession driver on a different line to help with scoring depth.

Lots to be excited about with the potential of this player, and we knew before this season he can contribute on a top-six, scoring line against top competition. It’s great to see him be able to continue where he left off and provide some much needed offence to the team as they push for a playoff spot.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also published at The Copper & Blue.

CBC Radio Active: Oilers, North Division, Nugent-Hopkins and more

I joined Rod Kurtz on CBC Radio Active on Wednesday to talk Oilers and preview their upcoming game against the Calgary Flames. Full segment is here: CBC Radio Active (2021, March 17).

Topics we covered:

  • The Oilers recent play and their push up the standings.
  • Areas for concern and how they stack up in the North division.
  • Team toughness, and if they have a roster built for the playoffs.
  • Return of Zack Kassian, where he fits in on the roster and what to expect.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ contract negotiations and what a deal could potentially look like.

Thanks as always to everyone at CBC for putting it all together!