Over the last stretch of games, I started thinking more about how the Oilers could potentially take a more conservative approach in the off-season.
This was largely due to the fact that I don’t have a lot of confidence in the management teams ability to pull off a successful trade. And also because I don’t think it’d be wise to tap into the already shallow prospect pool or other areas of depth on the roster, namely center and left defence.
A quick glance at the roster, and it appears that the core pieces to build a championship caliber team are there. The Oilers have the elite talent in Connor McDavid. They have good young centers in Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. They have two good young defencemen in their primes and on reasonable contracts in Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson. And they have a pretty good starter in Cam Talbot. If you can upgrade on any of these players or use them to address specific areas – by all means, everyone excluding McDavid should be considered expendable. But what the Oilers currently have as key pieces to build a roster around is a pretty good compared to a lot of other NHL teams.
Something else I thought was important to consider were all of the injuries sustained by the players this season. Klefbom has had a bad shoulder and has received treatment periodically throughout the season. Larsson missed some time with an injury and with the passing of his father. Sekera clearly hasn’t fully recovered from his knee surgery. Factoring all of this in, maybe management would be better off waiting to see if players, especially a young player like Klefbom, can bounce back successfully before selling low on any assets.
The Oilers modest success over the last ten games also had me thinking that the current roster was gradually turning things around. They’ve gone 5-4-1 since February 24th, including back-to-back road wins in Los Angeles and Anaheim, and a three game winning streak with an impressive win at home against Minnesota. The Oilers organization was also quick to point out that they had held opponents to one goal over a stretch of three games, sparking some talk about their improved defensive play.
This is all well and good. But a quick glance at the Oilers cumulative goal differential rolling 10 game segments gives us a more accurate assessment of the teams’ current state.
Starting with the cumulative goal differential in all states, we see that the Oilers have recently slowed down the bleeding. Their -33 goal differential in all-situations is still one of the worst in the league and was largely caused by the wretched penalty kill. But over their last ten games, they’ve posted a -3 goal differential – nothing to celebrate, but it’s better than what they were doing in say the ten games following the Christmas break when they had a -17 goal differential (17 goals for, 34 against).
What we also see in the graph above is that their goal differential at even-strength is what’s gotten worse recently, and it’s their penalty kill which kept their overall goal differential from continuing to slide. The Oilers are allowing a far lower rate of unblocked shot attempts (FA/60) and scoring chances (SCA/60) against when shorthanded, and their goaltending has improved significantly.
|Penalty kill (4v5)
|First 60 games
|Last 10 games
What may not be obvious during the recent stretch of modest success is that the Oilers possession numbers (as measure by shot share) have gradually declined (as shown in the graph below) with the team posting a season worst 46.3% Corsi For percentage over their last ten games. Teams can’t expect to win a lot of games when they’re regularly getting out shot, and really need to make the appropriate tactical adjustments.
What’s really bailed the Oilers out recently is the goaltending at even-strength, which over the season has been poor (ranking 24th in the league with 91.4%), but has ranked 14th over the last ten games (92.5%). It’s definitely encouraging to see Talbot’s play improve in all situations, but it’s an issue that the Oilers probably shouldn’t gamble on. The question now is if the Oilers should bank on Talbot maintaining his current pace or if a young back up should be brought in to alleviate the work load, push Talbot for the starting job and become the team’s goalie-of-the-future.
Something else I found really interesting was the individual player Corsi For percentages over the last 10 games, especially the split between the Oilers top six forwards and their bottom six type forwards.
First, here’s how the defence has been at even-strength (5v5), ranked by Corsi For percentage. Almost every single player has posted a Corsi For percentage below 50% except for Matt Benning, with Klefbom and Larsson rounding out the top three. Nurse’s numbers look pretty bad here, but it’s worth considering that he’s spent a lot of time with Russell recently, who tends to drag down the team’s offence when he’s on the ice.
Also worth pointing out what Derek and Darcy found recently regarding Klefbom. He’s shown signs of progress, and it’d be a massive mistake selling low on a talented player.
And here’s how the forwards have looked over the last ten games at even-strength, ranked by Corsi For percentage.
You obviously have McDavid at the top along with anyone else who’s been able to get ice time with him. What really stands out to me is the bottom of the list and how poorly Strome and Khaira (who are playing on separate lines as centermen) are performing when you consider that they’re playing third or fourth line minutes against lesser competition. The divide between McDavid and the depth forwards is massive, which is a problem considering that championship contenders don’t tend to get outshot and outscored without their top players on the ice. It’s also worth mentioning again the Strome and Khaira haven’t posted good possession numbers when they’re centering lines on their own and have in fact posted respectable numbers when they’re together on a line.
So while I do want to be optimistic that the Oilers are turning things around and that they should take a conservative approach in the off-season, the reality is that they have a lot of work to do to build around their core. While the team might be trying to convince themselves that certain players have established themselves as third or fourth liners and penalty kill options, it’s clear that they likely won’t have long-term success. And on defence, the team may think that Klefbom is expendable considering the season he’s had and that Nurse could replace him. But that would likely backfire considering the progress Klefbom has made and Nurse’s limitations, especially in the offensive zone.
The challenge is going to be getting full value for what the Oilers part with and keeping their eye on the long term goal of building a contender and winning a championship. Unfortunately, based on the track record of managing assets and identifying talent, I’m not sure this management group is capable of making the right decisions.
Data: Natural Stat Trick