CBC Edmonton News (TV): The poor start in Sweden and previewing tonight’s game against Boston

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Sandra Batson on the CBC Edmonton News to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 18:20 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, October 11)

Topics we covered:

  • The poor performance against the Devils in Sweden and what the Oilers will need to improve on.
  • Todd McLellan on the hot seat and for good reason.
  • Importance of having a good program in Bakersfield and players to watch.
  • Tonight’s match against the Bruins.
  • Realistic expectations for the 2018/19 season.
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CBC Edmonton News (TV): Pre-season results, emerging players and previewing tonight’s game against Arizona

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Sandra Batson on the CBC Edmonton News to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 18:45 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, September 27)

Topics we covered:

  • Ty Rattie’s pre-season performance and what the Oilers can expect from the forward.
  • Jesse Puljujärvi’s development and how he’s fared on a line with Ryan Strome.
  • Backup goaltending position and Mikko Koskinen’s struggles.
  • Preview of tonight’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, including the projected line combinations.

Generating offence on the penalty kill

coppernblue.com.full.54273Looking into how the Edmonton Oilers and the rest of the league did last season, I’ve started coming up with some rough numbers that the Oilers should be striving for if they want to be in the mix for a playoff berth.

Game state Targets
5v5 >52.0% GF%, 2.5 GF/60
5v5 with McDavid >57.0% GF%, 3.6 GF/60
5v5 without McDavid >50.0% GF%, 2.4 GF/60
5v4 >7.0 GF/60
4v5 <7.0 GA/60

Couple notes:

  • The top 14 teams at even-strength in 2017/18 finished the year with a 52.0% goal-share (GF%) or better. And of the top 14 teams (based on GF%), the average rate of goals per hour was 2.50.
  • Since we’re dealing with the Oilers, I think it’s important to split the even-strength time between when McDavid is on the ice and when he’s not. We can fully expect the goal-share to be great with him on the ice, but the team has got to break even when he’s not. In 2016/17, the Oilers posted a GF% of 48.9% (89 GF, 93 GA, -4 differential) and a goal-per-hour rate of 1.98. Things were worse in 2017/18 when the Oilers posted a GF% of 41.62% (82 GF, 115 GA, -33 goal differential) and a goal-per-hour rate of 1.81 without their captain.
  • Should add here that if McDavid’s on-ice goal-share drops down to mortal-levels, say below 55% GF%, something is wrong (either he’s hurt or someone is dragging him down) and it needs to be addressed right away.
  • I’ve set the targeted rate of goals-per-hour for the powerplay fairly low. This team has to be in the top 10, especially if their even-strength results are average. They have the offensive talent, but it remains to be seen if the coaching staff can put together the right tactics.
  • I’ve also set the targeted rate of goals against per hour fairly low for the penalty kill. Strive for league average, and hope that the goaltending comes through.

The reality is that a lot is going to have to go right for the Oilers this upcoming season. They have enough talent up front and on the blueline to contend for a playoff spot, but their goaltending, special teams and depth have to be significantly better than last season. They’ll also need some of their prospects like Jesse Puljujärvi or Kailer Yamamoto to emerge as productive NHL players, and hopefully the Oilers blue line remains healthy.

I’m not overly confident that everything is going to work out, as we know how random and volatile an NHL season can be. Plus there are a lot of question marks around the goaltending and if the powerplay and penalty kill will be better with a revamped coaching staff. Health always remains a concern and the team unfortunately doesn’t have the scoring depth that a lot of the top teams do.

Since so much is up in the air, it’s imperative for a team with playoff aspirations to look into which areas they could potentially squeeze out more goals from. One game-state in particular that I’d be interested in is when the club is shorthanded (4v5) and if they could try to produce the same rate of shorthanded goals as they did last season. Although they allowed the fifth highest rate of goals against on the penalty kill last season, they scored 10 shorthanded goals – a rate of 1.51 goals per hour, which was best in the league. It’s also one of the best shorthanded scoring rates over the past five seasons league-wide.

What’s interesting is that the team scored seven of their ten shorthanded goals in the first half of the season, when the team allowed the highest rate of goals against. And when the team’s penalty kill results improved in the second half, the shorthanded goals dried up, as the Oilers scored only three more times…..

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Previewing tonight’s game, training camp and Nurse’s deal

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Sandra Batson on the CBC Edmonton News to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 16:50 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, September 20)

Topics we covered:

  • The importance of getting Darnell Nurse signed to a short-term deal, and what the Oilers can expect from him going forward.
  • How the Oilers have looked over the first two exhibition games, and the key players to watch.
  • Preview of tonight’s exhibition game against the Winnipeg Jets.
  • The progression of the Jets over the last few years, going from a 78-point season in 2015/16 to the Western Conference finals in the 2018 playoffs. I put a post together on this topic last week: Looking to Winnipeg for inspiration

Tunnel vision

coppernblue.com.full.54273After watching their playoff aspirations gradually slip away and becoming seller’s at the trade deadline, the Oilers had no other option but to begin a period of evaluation to close the 2017/18 season. After trading away forwards Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu, changes were expected to the group up front including an altered distribution of ice-time as well as roles on the team. And based on the transactions that the Oilers made this off-season and some of the early updates coming out of training camp, it appears that the final stretch of the 2017/18 season had an impact on the management team’s approach towards building their roster.

For one, the Oilers seem content on running the top line that produced so well over the final 12 games, and for good reason. The trio of Connor McDavid, Ty Rattie and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played 128 minutes together at even-strength (5v5) during this period outscoring opponents 13-7, a fantastic goal share of 65.0%. Their on-ice possession numbers together were fine (51.34% Corsi For percentage) and their shooting percentage clicked at 18.57%, indicating that they may have been getting a little lucky in terms of actual production. Mind you, McDavid has the superhuman ability to drive up scoring, so we’ll wait and see if this was a one-off or if the line can continue scoring at a rate of 6.0 goals per hour.

It also looks like the Oilers want to keep Ryan Strome as a center with Jesse Puljujarvi as his right winger (Source). Over the final month of the 2017/18 season, the two were deployed often together at even-strength along with Milan Lucic in third a line role, posting some pretty good possession numbers (52.84% Corsi For percentage) over 89 minutes. Unfortunately, they couldn’t translate this into actual goals, finishing the season with a 50% on-ice goal-share (2 GF, 2 GA), and a pretty lousy rate of 1.34 goals for per hour. Early reports from training camps indicate that it’ll be Jujhar Khaira instead of Lucic with Strome and Puljujarvi, which makes sense based on another issue that transpired in 2017/18.

If you recall, Khaira was being tested by the coaching staff as a fourth line center over the final month of the season. But unfortunately for him, the results were dreadful. As a centerman, Khaira’s on-ice goal-share was 20.0%, as the team got outscored 4-1 at even-strength with him on the ice. This was thanks in large part to some poor possession numbers, as his on-ice Corsi For percentage was just barely above 44% over 123 minutes of ice time. His most regular linemates to close the year included the likes of Anton Slepyshev, Zack Kassian, Yohann Auvitu, Pontus Aberg and Iiro Pakarinen.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Looking to Winnipeg for inspiration

oilers-jets-2.jpg

With so much parity in the NHL due to the cap system and a higher distribution of talent across the 31 franchises, it’s always easy to find reasonable comparables for any club. There’s always a team to emulate or a model to follow, and it’s informative to look back a season or two and seek out some much needed guidance or inspiration.

For the 14 clubs that missed the playoffs in 2017/18, it’s worth knowing who else missed the playoffs in previous seasons but bounced back their following season. It’s worth exploring how they did it, and if it’s at all possible to emulate their success. And with their elevation to contender status – largely due to a productive set of core players, scoring depth, good goaltending and a talented prospect pool – the Winnipeg Jets are currently providing a blueprint. And it’s a blueprint not only for teams that want to contend for a championship, but for those just trying to make the playoffs after missing out the season before.

McDavid isn’t too far off here. In 2015/16 the Jets finished last in their division with a 35-39-8 record, good for 78 points. That’s an identical point total to the 2017/18 Oilers who finished 63-40-6, 12th the West and 6th in the Pacific. Worth noting that  while the point totals were the same, the Oilers had a slightly worse goal differential finishing -29.

But I think we get young Connor’s main point here. The Jets went from last in their division to being one of the best in the league, making it to the conference finals in the 2018 playoffs. And along the way they created a template for other franchises to follow.

Season Record Points Goal Differential West Division
2015/16 35-39-8 78 -24 11th 7th
2016/17 40-35-7 87 -7 9th 5th
2017/18 52-20-10 114 +59 2nd 2nd

What’s interesting is that while the Jets are currently in a much better position for long term success, they did at one point did share some similarities to the disastrous 2017/18 Oilers.

The first thing that jumps out is the poor goaltending each team had to deal with at even-strength (5v5). Both clubs were right around the league average when it came to adjusted Corsi For% (a proxy for possession) as well as the rate of goals for per hour. What really sunk them were their goaltenders, as both the 2015/16 Jets and the 2017/18 Oilers ranked 23rd overall in their respective seasons when it came to the team save percentage at even-strength.

The next thing that jumps out are the special teams. We know how bad the Oilers were in 2017/18 on the powerplay and the penalty kill. What’s interesting is that the Jets were just as pitiful.

In 2015/16, the Jets finished the season with a poor scoring rate of 5.25 goals for per hour on the powerplay (5v4), ranking 28th in the league. And on the penalty kill (4v5), they allowed 7.84 goals against per hour, also 28th in the league, thanks in large part to a 23rd ranked team save percentage and the third highest rate of shots and scoring chances against per hour. This had to have been maddening for the coaches as they seemed to have an okay handle at even-strength, finishing the season with a 51.0% adjusted Corsi For percentage and a 50.0% share of the goals when five-on-five.

The Jets still had issues with goaltending and special teams the following season in 2016/17. The overall point total improved, but it could’ve been significantly better had their goaltending at even-strength been closer to league average and not 27th overall. Scoring goals again wasn’t an issue in 2016/17 for the Jets as they scored at a rate of 2.42 goals per hour, good for 11th in the league. But they just didn’t get strong enough goaltending.

And special teams continued to be a problem in 2016/17 for the Jets. They finished 23rd overall on the powerplay, scoring 5.79 goals per hour. And they finished 25th in the league on the penalty kill allowing 7.56 goals against per hour. Even though the Jets moved closer to league average when it came to the rate of shots and scoring chances against when shorthanded, goaltending again was a problem as the club finished 24th in the league when it came to team save percentage.

Fast forward to 2017/18 and the Jets showed significant improvement on special teams. They finished the season scoring 7.95 goals per hour on the powerplay – fifth best the league – due in large part to having a triggerman like Patrick Laine. And on the penalty kill, they had the sixth best rate of goals against with 6.00 per hour. This was largely on the back of the their goaltending which finished tops in the league shorthanded even though the club allowed a high rate of shots and scoring chances against.

So to re-cap, if the Oilers want to follow the Jets path, they’ll need their goaltending to be above league average and they’ll need their special teams to produce and not be a drag on their overall goaltending. Management has brought in a Mikko Koskinen to hopefully alleviate some of the workload off of goaltender Cam Talbot who has struggled. And there has been significant change to the coaching staff, with Trent Yawney being added to apply his experience from Anaheim where they had one of the better penalty kills in the league (even though it was largely due to goaltending). And they’ve added Manny Viveiros, who has had success with the powerplay on his previous teams.

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The other item worth mentioning is the scoring talent the Jets have and how the Oilers intend on replicating their output.

A big reason why the Jets were able to push the needle from a -7 goal differential in 2016/17 to a +59 the following season was because of Patrick Laine as well as the emergence of Kyle Connor. The former is a bonafide star player, selected second overall in 2016, while the latter was selected 17th overall in 2015 and required some time in the AHL. Combine these two with the likes of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers, among others, and you have plenty of scoring talent that could be spread across three scoring lines, and that’s why they have so many supporters that even get Saturday Morning Tailgate Gear with their logo on it.

Worth noting that the Jets went from having only three players with 20 goals or more in 2015/16  – Scheifele (29), Wheeler (26), Stafford (21) – to five in 2017/18 – Laine (44), Connor (31), Ehlers (29), Wheeler (23), Scheifele (23).

In 2017/18, the Oilers had only three players that scored 20 goals or more: Connor McDavid (41), Leon Draisaitl (25) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (24). When the Oilers finished with 103 points the previous season, they had five players with 20 goals or more: McDavid (30), Draisaitl (29), Maroon (27), Lucic (23) and Eberle (20).

The question for the Oilers: which of the current prospects is going to emerge and provide some much needed offence for the Oilers in 2018/19? You can make a case for either of  Jesse Puljujärvi or Kailer Yamamoto to score 20-25 goals with the disclaimer that they’ll need a talented centerman and time on the powerplay. But if neither pans out, or produces like Kyle Connor and helps the team ice three scoring lines, it’s going to be another season struggling for a wild card spot. And another season outside of the contender discussion.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Database

Slight digression: One of my favorite things about hockey analysis and writing is the continuous learning involved. It feels like any game, any play, any stat, any comment from a coach or player could spark an idea worth exploring further. And while you may not always bring out something significant through your analysis or fact checking, you pick up bits of information along the way. Things you may not have known about or thought you knew about but were completely wrong.

CBC Edmonton News (TV): Oilers rookie camp, off-season moves, Nurse contract and more

cbc edmonton logoI joined host Sandra Batson on the CBC Edmonton News  to discuss all things Oilers. Clip is here and starts at the 14:00 mark: CBC Edmonton News (2018, September 6)

Topics we covered:

  • Oilers rookie camp opening and players to watch including Bouchard, Bear, Yamamoto and Lagesson.  Good chance we’ll see some of these players push for spots on the main roster.
  • The quiet off-season for Peter Chiarelli, largely due to the fact that the team is up against the cap.
  • The new additions to the roster, including Brodziak, Rieder and Gravel and PTO deals for Upshall and Garrison. Players to watch are goaltender Mikko Koskinen and defenceman Jakub Jerabek, both of which could address some big issues from 2017/18.
  • The loss of Andrej Sekera and what options the Oilers have to address their blueline.
  • Darnell Nurse contract negotiations, and the Oilers poor foresight that landed them in this position. Had they managed the cap better, and used their leverage when negotiating previous contracts, there’s a good chance one of their key prospects would be signed by now.

I also hopped on to CBC radio and joined Adrienne Pan and Rod Kurtz to talk Oilers. I’ll post the clip once it’s available.

A big thank you to the crew for putting it all together! I’m excited to be back for my third season with the CBC Edmonton News. 😉