Repeating history

With the off-season upgrades up front and the question marks around the defence core and goaltending, the Edmonton Oilers are showing some similarities to the  2014/15 Dallas Stars.

That was the high-event team that scored 257 goals in the regular season, second most in the league only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, but also allowed 257 goals, which was fourth highest in the league. That resulted in a sixth place finish in the Central division, with the team missing the playoffs by seven points.

It was a very disappointing finish for the Stars as in the season prior they had made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, clinching the last wild card spot in the west but losing in six games to the top-ranked Anaheim Ducks. The star players led the way in the regular season with Tyler Seguin finishing fourth in scoring with 84 points as a 21-year old and Jamie Benn finishing 11th with 79 points at age 24.

The Stars made a concerted effort in the 2014 off-season to shore up their forward group acquiring Jason Spezza from the Senators, and signing Ales Hemsky and Patrick Eaves on the first day of free agency. Similar to Edmonton’s current issues, the Stars were often out-shot and out-scored without Seguin or Benn on the ice in the 2013/14 regular season – an issue that carried over into the playoffs that spring. With Seguin and/or Benn on the ice, the Stars outscored the Ducks 9-6 in all situations. Without them, the Stars were outscored 9-14. Individual production from their star players became an issue in the playoffs as well, as none other than Shawn Horcoff led the Stars in playoff points that year with six.

Improving the forward group in the off-season paid off for the Stars offensively in the 2014/15 regular season. Benn finished first in league scoring with 87, scoring 35 goals. Seguin finished seventh in scoring with 77 points, including 37 goals. Spezza finished with 62 points, including 45 assists. The club generated the highest rate of shot attempts, and scoring chances in the league at even-strength, and finished fourth in terms of expected goals per hour. The Stars would score 174 even-strength (5v5) goals that season, the third highest in the league, and 55 powerplay goals, fifth highest in the league.

But while management added talent up front and got solid results offensively, they went with the same defence core and goaltending which turned out to be disastrous. The team had good reason to be content with their defence core – which featured veterans like Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley, and youngsters like John Klingberg – as in the season prior the team was right around league average when it came to shots and scoring chances against. And goaltender Kari Lehtonen had consistently been solid for the Stars, ranking 13th in terms of save percentage and 6th in terms of goals-saved-above-average among regular goalies (+2000 minutes) in the three seasons prior.

That all went sideways in 2014/15 with the Stars allowing the fourth highest number of goals against (247) and ranking in the upper third of the league when it came to shots and scoring chances against, including the 9th highest rate of expected goals against. What made things significantly worse was the Stars goaltending, which ranked 28th in the league that season with a 90.95% team save percentage. Lehtonen posted his lowest save percentage in his career that season (90.30%), never quite recovered to his career levels, and was out of the league in 2018. This shouldn’t have been too surprising considering he was 30 at the time, which is right around when goaltender performance starts to decline (Source: Hockey Graphs).

While we can hope that the Oilers won’t have a similar fate this upcoming season, there’s reasons to think otherwise.

For one, the Oilers put a lot of focus on the forward group this off-season, spending assets and making some reasonable bets on players that should help improve the goal-scoring. But their defence core is now lacking, with veteran players expected to play above their more recent established levels, putting more pressure on youngsters like Evan Bouchard to progress in their development and take on more minutes. The Oilers are also taking a significant risk with their goaltending, which while was good last season, can’t be expected to be at the same levels given Smith’s and Koskinen’s ages.

What I also found interesting was the Oilers even-strength (5v5) numbers under Tippett compared to the Stars even-strength numbers in 2014/15.

The Stars were far better offensively than the Oilers have been, but I’m expecting the difference to be smaller considering the changes up front by Oilers management. What’s interesting here is that the Stars defensive numbers, which weren’t good that year, are awfully close to what the Oilers have posted under Tippett, with both teams allowing around the same rate of shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts and expected goals against. The Oilers have even allowed the same rate of goals against as the Stars did in 2014/15 (2.64), with the team save percentages being awfully close.

If the Oilers post similar defensive numbers this upcoming season as they have under Tippett thus far and get the same level of goaltending at even-strength as they have in the past, I’d expect them to have similar results as the Stars did in 2014/15. It’ll make for some very entertaining hockey, likely some high-scoring games, but it’s going to put a playoff spot in jeopardy, especially if the special teams struggle at all.

How the Oilers coaching staff and management group mitigate the risks will definitely be something to monitor, especially with so much pressure on the team to make a deeper playoff run.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Moving on from Archibald

With training camp underway, the focus should be on the potential line combinations and defence pairings for the upcoming season, which young prospects will emerge and take on important roles – and really just getting as much information as possible about this roster. And we’re getting plenty of content and storylines to follow and dissect, already within the first couple of days. But it’s pretty hard to ignore the situation with forward Josh Archibald and his reluctance to get vaccinated to spend training camp with his teammates.

Now, Archibald has had plenty of time to get things sorted out and has probably had more than a few discussions with management and the coaching staff to talk about the impacts of his decision to his career and to the team. If he hasn’t straightened things out at this point with training camp already underway, why are the Oilers so hesitant about assigning him to the AHL or even terminating his contract? He’s on the second year of a two-year contract that pays him $1.5 million this upcoming season and is very, very replaceable.

This is clearly a fourth line player averaging about 10-11 minutes per game at even-strength (5v5) and producing 1.18 points per hour over his 235-game career. He’s not a shut-down player, spending the majority of his ice-time against lesser competition. And has in fact been a part of the depth problems the Oilers have been experiencing, specifically when McDavid has been on the bench. In his two seasons with the Oilers, the team has posted a goal differential of -23 (38 GF/61 GA) with Archibald on the ice, a goal-share of 38.4%. Part of the reason for that is the team has poor possession numbers with Archibald on the ice, with the team posting a Corsi For% of 45.5%. And again, this is predominantly against the opponents third and fourth lines and away from elite competition.

Where the coaching staff does have faith in Archibald is on the penalty kill, as he lead the Oilers forwards in total shorthanded ice-time and average ice-time per game in 2020/21 and had the second most minutes the year before. And while the results have been good for the team in terms of preventing goals, with the team allowing about the same rate of goals against with and without Archibald on the ice in the last two seasons, they do a see a significantly higher rate of shots with Archibald deployed. Without him, the Oilers have allowed about 51 shots against per hour, which is just slightly better than league average. With him, that rate of shots against jumps up to 64 per hour, an increase of about 25%. Now part of that has to do with the fact that he’s often played against the other team’s top power play units. But keep in mind, top penalty kill units see an increase of +5.45 shots against per hour relative to the team rate. Archibald’s rate of shots against (+12.27) is double the league average of top penalty kill units, so you really can’t put it all on the level of competition.

Knowing the Oilers might be starting the season without Archibald, the Oilers did bring in 32-year old Colton Sceviour on a professional try-out agreement, who appears to be a pretty seamless replacement for Archibald. He’s played 500 NHL games, has played a similar depth role as Archibald averaging about 10 minutes a game at even-strength and has a slightly better career points-per-hour rate of 1.41.

Sceviour also has plenty of experience on the penalty kill, becoming a regular option during his four seasons in Florida between 2016 and 2020 leading the team in ice time and average ice time per game.

Sceviour posted some pretty solid on-ice penalty kill numbers in Florida for a player who was deployed as often he was. In two of his four seasons, the rate of shots against were lower relative to his team numbers. And a couple times the rate of shots against were higher but reasonably in line with what happens across the league when top penalty killers are on the ice. Sceviour did see his average ice time drop as a new member of the Penguins last season. But the club did quite well at suppressing shots with him on the ice, seeing their rate of shots against drop by 8.87 shots per hour.

With a replacement like Sceviour who can play depth minutes and has experience killing penalties already participating in the Oilers training camp, the Oilers really should move on from Archibald as soon as possible. The club needs to sort out their even-strength line combinations, give players time to develop chemistry and figure out their special teams – especially their penalty kill, which is going to look a lot different than last season.

More importantly, the Oilers need to make a clear statement that the organization understands the gravity of the global pandemic and do not want to risk the health and safety of their staff, their players, the fans and the community. Letting the decision to move on from Archibald linger is a terrible look for Oilers management, the coaching staff and the leadership group among the players, especially since it’s been revealed that one of their own teammates is still dealing with complications from being diagnosed with Covid-19 last year.

This really isn’t a hard decision or a tough stance to take. Organizations around the globe are making vaccines mandatory to protect their businesses and their industry, and the Oilers really have no excuse here trying to accommodate a single player who doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of his actions. It’s a big season coming up with high expectations for the club – and the focus at this point should be on the players who want to be at training camp and want to have a strong season.

Data: Natural Stat TrickPuck IQCap Friendly

Penalty kill options up front

Something to watch for this upcoming season is how the Oilers coaching staff assembles the penalty killing units. As I wrote a couple weeks back, the Oilers lost some key defensemen with Larsson and Bear now skating with other teams and are taking a risk if they’re expecting Keith and Ceci to take on those minutes and have success.

Things are just as interesting up front. Last season, nine forwards played at least ten minutes short-handed for the Oilers, with Archibald, Nugent-Hopkins, Khaira and Haas leading the team in total ice-time and average ice-time per game. Two of those four are playing elsewhere this coming season with Khaira signing with Chicago and Haas signing with EHC Biel Bienne in the Swiss league. And there’s a chance now that Archibald with miss significant time as an unvaccinated player. Considering how high the rate of shots and chances were when the Oilers deployed other depth forwards like Shore or Turris last season, it’s really looking like the new additions to the team, and perhaps even an emerging prospect, will take on a greater share of the penalty killing minutes.

For reference, the table below sorts the penalty killing forwards from the 2020/21 season by total ice time (TOI), and includes the percentage of the team’s total penalty kill ice time the player was on the ice for (TOI%) and time on ice per game played (TOI/GP). I’ve also included each player’s on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts against (FA/60), shots on goals against (SA/60) and goals against (GA/60). I’ve also included the table for the 2019/20 season.

What stands out when looking at the data is how much Tippett has relied on Archibald, deploying him for 43% of the team’s total penalty killing time in the 2020/21 season, which was only a slight increase from the 2019/20 season when Archibald finished with the second highest ice time (39% of the team’s total time) and average ice time among forwards, only behind Sheahan. It’s worth noting however that the Oilers allowed a significantly higher rate of shot attempts and shots against with Archibald on the ice, with a higher than normal on-ice save percentage keeping his rate of goals against within a reasonable range.  

Khaira’s numbers stand out as well. He gradually took on more and more responsibility seeing his average ice time per game grow from 1:30 in 2019/20 to just under two minutes in 2020/21. His on-ice results were solid as well, with the team allowing a lower rate of goals against with him on the ice than without him.

Haas was a nice addition to the Oilers penalty kill last season after Turris failed to secure the role. Likely because of his ability to shut down offence at even-strength, really at both ends of the rink, Haas was given a bigger role in 2020/21 and came through for the coaching staff. With Haas on the ice last season killing penalties, the Oilers posted the second lowest rate of shot attempts against, shots against as well as the lowest rate of goals against.

With Nugent-Hopkins likely staying on as a penalty-killer, who else could Tippett use to fill the vacant roles? Before looking at the options, a re-cap of what we know about Tippett and his coaching staff from their two years with the Oilers:

  • They typically use bottom six forwards on the penalty kill, with Nugent-Hopkins being the exception. Yamamoto did get some ice-time, as did Draisaitl, but they prefer to keep top-six players fresh for even-strength play and the powerplay.
  • Tippett likes having a right-handed forward option who can handle faceoffs as opposing powerplays often elect to have faceoffs on their left side. It was part of the reason why Turris was given the first opportunity to secure a role on the penalty kill.
  • The Oilers prefer veteran players who have a history on the penalty kill. Guys like Sheahan and Granlund were regular options averaging over two minutes per game with their previous teams before arriving in Edmonton and got the first opportunity to secure a regular spot in the rotation. The only youngster to get an opportunity on the penalty kill in the last two seasons is Ryan McLeod who played just under 11 minutes total in 2020/21.

Based on that criteria, here’s the list of options I have in mind that could be regular penalty killers in 2020/21:

  • Derek Ryan
  • Warren Foegele
  • Zach Hyman
  • Colton Sceviour

I know the coaching staff is going to look at Shore as an option. But the team allowed some of the highest rates of shot attempts and shots on goal against when he was on the ice last season. Plus, he’s never averaged more than 1:30 per game in a season, often ranking fifth or sixth in ice time on his previous teams. Turris cannot be an option at this point either, even though the team will do everything they can to squeeze some value out of him. He had poor on-ice numbers on the penalty kill before coming to Edmonton, and there really is nothing in his game or his history that indicates he can ever do well shorthanded. McLeod should also get some reps considering he’s a depth centerman and did have some nice numbers in his limited minutes last season – posting a very low rate of on-ice shots against and zero goals against in just under 11 minutes of ice-time. But that’ll depend on how much patience the coaching staff has for the young rookie and if they’re willing to develop him in a season when there’s a lot of pressure to win.

On to the options.

Derek Ryan is pretty close to meeting the coaching staff’s penalty kill criteria that I listed above. He’ll be a bottom six player for the Oilers next season. He’s right-handed and has a lot of success taking faceoffs. And while he hasn’t been averaging over two minutes of PK time per game, he’s typically been third or fourth in terms of total ice time and average ice time per game in his three seasons with Calgary. Considering his even-strength shot-suppression numbers are similar to Haas, I suspect he’ll take on similar minutes and hopefully have similar results on the penalty kill.

Warren Foegele is another option if he finds himself playing on the third line, potentially with Ryan. He was not a regular penalty killer during his three seasons in Carolina, averaging about a minute per game and ranking fifth or sixth in terms of ice time among forwards and taking the rare draw. The Hurricanes did see a drop in their rate of shot attempts against when he was on the ice, so there’s some potential there.

Zach Hyman could get a look on the penalty kill considering he averaged over two minutes per game in his last five seasons with the Leafs, took draws and had some good seasons in terms of on-ice rates of shots and goals against. Although he’ll likely be a top six forward at even-strength, there may not be space for him on the powerplay, freeing him up for the penalty kill.

Colton Sceviour is the one player that meets all three criteria and is probably the best option to replace Archibald’s minutes. He’s played over 500 NHL games. He’s right-handed and has experience taking faceoffs. And in his four seasons with Florida between 2016 and 2020, he lead his team in ice time on the penalty kill averaging over two minutes per game. And while he did see his average ice time per game drop last season in Pittsburgh, the club allowed a lower rate of shots and goals with him on the ice, similar to some of his seasons with Florida when he was on the first penalty killing unit. His career on-ice numbers are stronger than Archibald’s (refer to the Appendix), making him an ideal candidate for that first unit. This is all dependent of course on him showing well in training camp, finding some chemistry with a potential linemate and signing an NHL contract.

A lot of pressure on this team heading into the season, and I can’t imagine the coaching staff is too comfortable with so much change happening on the penalty kill. But while they’re losing key players up front, there appears to be some good options if the coaching staff is willing to try it out. The concern here is that they go with the players they know and have signed and give ice-time to Shore or Turris instead of someone like Sceviour who starts training camp on a PTO. We’ll see how things play out.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Appendix: On-ice penalty killing numbers

Consumer confidence

Oilers GM hopeful NHL season can be saved | CTV News

One of my favorite articles this summer was Dom Luszczyszyn’s look at how much confidence the public has in the front offices of every NHL club, and how poorly the Oilers ranked compared to the other 31 teams.

The results were based on a survey The Athletic conducted asking subscribers to evaluate teams based on six main categories: roster building, cap management, drafting and developing, trading, free agency and vision. Highly recommend checking Dom’s article out; major kudos to him for continuing to do this annually.

I can’t say I was too surprised with how poorly the Oilers ranked, considering how many blunders they’ve made over the last few years – and this off-season was a continuation of Holland’s approach. When completing the survey myself, I ranked the Oilers front office quite poorly for all six categories, and have noted my thoughts on each below.

Roster building: How the front office has managed its roster, looking in general terms about the players in the system and whether they formulate the right building blocks for the team’s goal of contending, whether that’s in the present or future.

This was pretty straight-forward for me. With a superstar like McDavid under contract, management should be evaluated entirely on how the team does without him on the ice. And so far in the two seasons with Holland in charge, the Oilers have failed to assemble a roster that can break-even in terms of goals and shot-share metrics when McDavid is on the bench at even-strength. In fact, this past season the Oilers posted some of their worst underlying numbers since McDavid’s arrival, thanks in large part to the depth players Holland signed to contracts.

With McDavid on the roster, the goal has been and always will be a championship. And it’s hard to feel confident in Holland’s ability to get roster-building right when the players him and his staff have signed are a big reason why the Oilers can’t post a positive goal-share at even-strength.

Cap management: How the front office has managed the team’s finances, with regards to the efficiency of money spent (are there a lot of bad contracts on the books), cap space, future flexibility and general dollar worth. Bottom line: If a team is or isn’t spending money, are they doing so wisely?

If there’s one thing we’ve confirmed about Ken Holland it’s that he does not integrate analytics into his overall decision-making process. One of the key benefits of analytics is being able to cut through the noise that personal and group bias brings to your organization. It makes you question what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing and forces you to think and re-think a problem. It’s challenging and uncomfortable and requires a lot of effort individually and collectively. But having a process in place that draws in and leverages analytics can improve your chances of success and give a team an edge over the competition.

And you know the Oilers lack this level of intelligence and effort just based on the traps they keep falling into. Signing players who had a high on-ice shooting and save percentages (PDO) well above their career norms the season before – check. Signing players who produced well with McDavid but showed little without him – check. Signing players based on who management is familiar with or who they can think of or reference easily (i.e., availability heuristic) – check.

When a team has consistently fooled themselves into these kind of signings and bringing on inefficient contracts, and don’t appear to addressing their decision-making process, why would anyone feel confident in their ability to manage the cap going forward? It’s 2021 and the Oilers still can’t be bothered to learn how other successful teams have managed their cap and avoided these kinds of mistakes.

Drafting and developing: How the front office has managed its farm, from draft day to the big leagues, relative to their draft pick capital. Is the team making smart selections and are those players meeting their potential after the draft?

When it comes to drafting, I tend to defer to people who watch and evaluate prospects, entry drafts and developmental paths. From my perspective, the Oilers appear to have selected decent players in the first round like Holloway and Bourgault and Broberg. But everything else they’ve done since Holland’s arrival to build a strong development program appear to be raising some red flags.

For example, Corey Pronman from The Athletic recently ranked the Oilers prospect pool 25th in the league, evaluating every team’s players who are 22 and younger; in 2020 he ranked the Oilers 26th (Source). When he recently compiled his ranking of 194 players under 23, the highest ranking Oilers was Yamamoto at 79th. Holloway was 90th, Bouchard was 124th and Broberg was 127th (Source).

In his own list of top 50 prospects, Scott Wheeler from The Athletic applied different criteria but also had similar findings. Only two players made the list, Bouchard at 31 and Holloway at 33.(Source).

There’s definitely some runway for these prospects to emerge and hopefully the Oilers have the right development plans in place for each one. I’m just not convinced the Oilers are integrating as much information as possible when (1) making their draft selections and (2) evaluating what they have in their system. And that’s unfortunate considering how badly they’ll need low-cost, team-developed players to push for roster spots and reduce the need to bring in more veteran players on inefficient contracts.

And as for player development, I’m not fully convinced that Tippett will be able to manage and balance the expectations for this team with the development of young prospects. In his first season as head coach, we saw players like Bear, Jones and Yamamoto emerge as NHL-caliber players. But last season, there was definitely a tendency to go with proven veterans at the expense of youngsters, especially when games were on the line. That really can’t happen this year with Bouchard, McLeod and potentially others pushing for roster spots and needing patience from the coaching staff to be impactful players.

Trading: How the front office has managed the trade block, mainly has management made the right calls in trading assets and whether they’re generally on the right or wrong side of a deal.

After seeing how badly he overpaid to acquire Duncan Keith, I don’t know how anyone could trust Holland and his staff when it comes to trades. As I wrote at the time of the deal, the Oilers somehow took on more risk, more money and gave up way more value than they needed to considering it was Chicago that was in a bind. An absolute disaster of a trade regardless of how Keith performs the next two seasons.

Trading away so much draft capital to address current roster holes has been a major concern as well considering again how badly the Oilers need low-cost, team-developed players to fill important roster spots in the future. And it wouldn’t be so bad if the Oilers were just willing to move a veteran or two (especially when their perceived value becomes inflated) to re-coup draft picks. Unfortunately those veteran players, often underperforming and/or overpaid, are grossly overvalued by management. Just a weird cycle the Oilers have put themselves in.

Free agency: How the front office has managed a period generally synonymous with mistakes and how it has navigated the minefield of free agency. Does the team generally give out reasonable deals, or is it prone to over-paying and over-committing to players it shouldn’t?

Because management doesn’t integrate analytics and information into their decision-making process, they have a tendency to bring in players on inefficient contracts. Had they looked at Barrie’s on-ice numbers away from McDavid, or Ceci’s numbers when he’s deployed as a top four defencemen, the Oilers could have saved a lot of money and allocated those dollars to more impactful players. But because they don’t look at numbers and overvalue veteran players who can be easily referenced in the NHL Guide and Record Book, they’re now locked into a pretty mediocre defence-core for a good chunk of McDavid’s remaining contract term.

Even the smaller, low-risk contracts Holland has handed out don’t appear to be driven by careful thought and analysis, and more on gut-feel. And that’s a major problem considering how much the Oilers are paying Holland to carry out his approach.

Vision: How the front office communicates its plan, both implicitly and explicitly. Vision is mostly an abstract concept, one that boils down to whether a team’s plan to build a Stanley Cup contender is evident in its decision-making process and whether its plans for the future appear sound.

Based on the decision-making process and how poorly the roster has been built around McDavid for the next few seasons, I would say there’s very little vision in the front office. There doesn’t appear to be a long-term plan, as indicated by the disastrous trades and signings, especially the ones made this summer when the team had cap space. The way the Oilers evaluate professional-level players and prospects, and what the on-ice results have been like, it’s hard to be confident in management’s abilities. Especially when watching other teams take on a more progressive approach, applying best-practices from within and outside of professional sports, and having long-term success.

Unless this management group evolves and adjusts their approach, it’s hard to have any confidence in them turning things around and building a true contender. A lot definitely has to change and I’m not sure the Oilers are even aware of their underlying issues on the ice and the major inefficiencies in their own front office.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Cap Friendly

Killer minutes

The Edmonton Oilers are currently entering the 2021/22 season with a weaker defence core than they had last season. And one specific area they’ll probably take a hit on is their penalty kill, unless they address their blue line prior to training camp.

The Oilers penalty kill over the last two seasons under Dave Tippett has had good results – finishing 10th in the league last season allowing 6.16 goals against per hour and second in the league the year before allowing 5.15 goals against per hour in 2019/20. A big reason for their success has been the play of the goaltenders as the Oilers, similar to any other team Tippett has coached, allowed a rate of unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances) and shots on goals against much higher than league averages.

SeasonGoals against/60Fenwick Against/60Shots against/60
2019/205.15 – 2nd76.28 – 23rd54.84 – 22nd
2020/216.16 – 10th75.98 – 25th55.67 – 24th

At this point, based on the defencemen they’ve lost and the replacements they’ve brought in, it’s likely the Oilers will allow an even higher rate of shots against next season – which really isn’t ideal considering their goaltending could potentially regress.

In the two seasons with Tippett behind the bench, ten defencemen have played at least 10 minutes on the penalty kill – a total of 624 minutes. The table below sorts the defencemen by total ice time (TOI), and includes the percentage of the team’s total ice time the player was on the ice for (TOI%) and time on ice per game (TOI/GP). I’ve also included each player’s on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts against (FA/60), shots on goals against (SA/60) and goals against (GA/60).

PlayerGPTOITOI%TOI/GPFA/60SA/60GA/60
Nurse127285.0545.7%2.2482.7260.836.31
Bear114215.0034.5%1.8981.2158.606.14
Larsson105213.4534.2%2.0371.4052.284.78
Russell90197.4831.6%2.1975.6554.696.08
Klefbom62159.6325.6%2.5781.1961.276.39
Koekkoek1834.985.6%1.9489.1960.038.58
Lagesson2734.325.5%1.2754.2036.723.50
Benning4328.784.6%0.6764.6239.610.00
Jones7622.273.6%0.2961.9837.725.39
Kulikov1010.981.8%1.1071.0238.240.00

Two of Tippett’s go-to penalty killers are gone, with Bear and Larsson having each played over 34% of the team’s total penalty kill time. Klefbom isn’t likely to return and another handful are signed to play elsewhere. That leaves only three of the ten players (Nurse, Russell and Lagesson) signed to play in Edmonton next season, meaning at least two new players will need to take on significant penalty killing minutes.

At this point it’s pretty safe to assume that these vacancies will be filled by Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith – both of whom are experienced players who have led their previous teams in penalty killing ice-time among defencemen over the last few seasons. The problem I see is that based on their history they probably won’t be able to post the same penalty kill numbers as Larsson who had been excellent for the Oilers the last two seasons.

Last season, Larsson played over 50% of the team’s total ice time on the penalty kill, ranking second behind Nurse. Without Larsson on the ice, the Oilers allowed over 82.88 unblocked shot attempts against per hour and 60.87 shots against per hour – rates that would have them worst in the league. With Larsson on the ice, the rate of unblocked shot attempts dropped to 71.31 per hour, an approximately 14% decrease, while the rate of shots against dropped to 52.11 per hour, an approximately 21% decrease. Another way to put it: the Oilers went from one of the worst teams in the league at preventing shots when Larsson wasn’t on the ice, to one of the best teams in the league when Larsson was deployed. The best part is that the rate of goals against also dropped with Larsson deployed, with the team allowing 5.49 goals against per hour with him on the ice, and 7.02 goals against without him.

In 2019/20, Larsson missed significant time due to injuries, but still had a positive impact on the penalty kill when he did play. He was fifth on the team in total penalty kill ice time and average ice time per game that season. With him on the ice, the team’s rate of unblocked shot attempts dropped from 80.59 per hour to 72.99 (a 9.4% decrease) and the rate of shots against dropped from 57.53 per hour to 54.01 (a 6.1% decrease). And again the rate of the team’s goals against saw a drop with Larsson on the ice – 3.65 goals against with Larsson on the ice and 5.82 goals against without him.

Between 2019 and 2021, among 81 defencemen who played at least 200 minutes on the penalty kill, Larsson ranked very highly among his peers in terms of shots and goals against relative to team numbers.

  • Fenwick against per hour relative to team: -12.77 (2nd)
  • Shots against per hour relative to team: – 8.03 (5th)
  • Goals against per hour relative to team: – 2.29 (5th)

Ranking much lower on the same list are two players that the team spent significant assets to bring in: Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith.

Now Ceci does have some potential considering last season in Pittsburgh he led the team in penalty kill ice time among defencemen and had a positive impact. Overall, the Penguins penalty kill posted poor results despite being one of the better teams at preventing chances. And Ceci played an important role there as the team allowed a lower rate of unblocked shot attempts against and goals against with him on the ice.

SeasonTeamGPTOITOI/GPFA/60 RelSA/60 RelGA/60 Rel
2013/14OTT4985.801.75-3.89-5.34-3.17
2014/15OTT81190.852.365.473.07-1.17
2015/16OTT75185.102.475.356.08-0.79
2016/17OTT78240.853.098.513.44-2.69
2017/18OTT82227.772.7814.5510.96-1.89
2018/19OTT71185.952.628.116.841.14
2019/20TOR55160.452.9218.9714.660.90
2020/21PIT52131.672.53-5.170.73-2.38

Having said that, that was the first time that’s happened in Ceci’s career, so I’m a little skeptical that he can have the same success. In his previous stints in Toronto and Ottawa, his team’s consistently allowed a significantly higher rate of unblocked shot attempts against and shots against with him on the ice – basically the complete opposite of what Larsson accomplished the last few seasons in Edmonton. My thought is that the reduced overall ice-time in Pittsburgh where he spent a much lower proportion of his even-strength ice time against elite competition might have helped his overall game. The problem is that based on the long-term contract he just received from management, Ceci will be expected to play higher up in the line-up, similar to what he was doing in Ottawa. So that won’t be an option in Edmonton.

Duncan Keith’s numbers are even worse and I’m honestly perplexed as to why Chicago kept giving him so many minutes on the penalty kill. In that same list of 81 defencemen who played at least 200 minutes over the last two season, Keith is near the bottom when it comes to the rate of shots and goals against relative to team numbers.

  • Fenwick against per hour relative to team: +15.62 (76th)
  • Shots against per hour relative to team: +13.12 (79th)
  • Goals against per hour relative to team: +1.30 (59th)

With Keith on the ice last season, Chicago’s penalty kill allowed an additional 14.96 unblocked shot attempts per hour and 13.50 shots against per hour. This also led to more goals against as Chicago allowed over 10.0 goals against per hour with Keith on the ice – a major jump from the 5.57 goals against per hour without Keith – absolute nightmare stuff. What’s even more alarming is that similar results occurred in the two seasons prior as well with the rate of unblocked shot attempts and shots against being much, much higher with Keith on the ice. Bottom line: with Keith killing penalties next season, expect the rate of shots against to go up.

SeasonTeamGPTOITOI/GPFA/60 RelSA/60 RelGA/60 Rel
2007/08CHI82376.304.597.746.001.86
2008/09CHI77267.523.47-4.43-2.16-0.34
2009/10CHI79247.423.131.771.69-0.45
2010/11CHI79215.322.7310.2312.77-1.17
2011/12CHI69170.802.484.732.591.87
2012/13CHI46107.002.338.6112.810.82
2013/14CHI77188.282.452.384.93-4.24
2014/15CHI78186.902.409.582.92-0.53
2015/16CHI66178.872.7112.904.942.33
2016/17CHI75194.682.609.797.471.70
2017/18CHI82199.052.43-5.001.011.12
2018/19CHI80166.372.0810.2111.471.99
2019/20CHI59171.232.9016.1412.80-1.83
2020/21CHI52140.432.7014.9613.505.01

Should note that while first penalty kill units typically see an increase in shots against per hour as they are playing against top powerplay units, the rate of shots against go up by about 5.45 per hour on average. Both Ceci and Keith’s historical on-ice rates are much higher than that in relation to their teams (often being more than 10.0 per hour), which should be a red flag for the Oilers.

Unless they’re expecting one of the youngsters like Lagesson or Bouchard to play a bigger role on the penalty kill next season, the Oilers should probably continue looking to add depth to their defence core. Specifically someone who has success playing shorthanded.

One player that the Oilers could potentially look at as a low-risk, low-cost option is 34-year old defencemen Jordie Benn who is currently an unrestricted free agent. He’s got experience having played in over 500 games and has posted some good numbers on the penalty kill – especially in his last few seasons with Vancouver and Montreal.

SeasonTeamGPTOITOI/GPFA/60 RelSA/60 RelGA/60 Rel
2012/13DAL2651.932.0011.225.413.05
2013/14DAL77134.921.75-10.67-6.133.36
2014/15DAL72132.131.84-0.721.220.07
2015/16DAL62124.152.00-5.84-2.70-2.76
2016/17DAL58145.732.51-2.899.883.25
2016/17MTL1323.271.7948.5240.9410.32
2017/18MTL77169.202.204.06-0.213.81
2018/19MTL79225.982.86-8.21-7.08-1.35
2019/20VAN44104.482.37-13.29-14.82-2.76
2020/21VAN3149.351.59-6.14-2.92-2.40
2020/21WPG83.930.49-69.52-54.38-15.14

Among 119 defencemen who have played at least 150 minutes since 2019, Benn ranks quite highly when it comes to shot metrics relative to team numbers.

  • Fenwick against per hour relative to team: -11.56 (9th)
  • Shots against per hour relative to team: -11.26 (3rd)
  • Goals against per hour relative to team: -3.14 (4th)

With key penalty killers gone, Tippett is likely to go start with the veteran defencemen the Oilers have added so far but really shouldn’t expect a whole lot from them. Both Ceci and Keith, while experienced, have posted terrible numbers on the penalty kill – something you would hope management and the coaching staff would be made aware of. The Oilers really cannot afford to give back all of the goals that the powerplay generates, making it even more critical that management addresses the weaknesses of the roster and that the coaching staff be a little more creative than they’ve previously demonstrated.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

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.

Depth progress

Oilers' Chiasson suspended one game for cross-checking Maple Leafs' Vesey

An encouraging indicator of progress has been the Oilers improved Corsi For percentage over the course of the season, which tells us how well the OIlers are controlling the share of shot attempts and the overall flow of play at even-strength. After the first ten games of the season, the Oilers had one of the lowest proportions in the league with 47.79%, which likely played a role in their 4-6-0 start. But from that point on, they’ve gradually improved, posting a Corsi For% of 48.85% between games 11 through 20, and then a Corsi For% of 52.92% between games 21 through 30.

A big reason for their progress has been the improved play of the team without their top forwards on the ice. In the first 10 games of the season, the Oilers were outscored 2-14 at even-strength without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, which is about 40% of the team’s total ice time. These results were largely due to playing the majority of the time without the puck and in their own zone as reflected by the team’s Corsi For% of 39.94%. We started seeing signs of life a few weeks ago when the team posted a Corsi For% of 45.19% over a ten game stretch, where they also posted a +2 goal differential (10 GF, 8 GA). And thankfully, they’ve continued to progress with the team posting a Corsi For% of 52.61% over the last ten games without their star players on the ice.

Since getting outscored 2-14 in the first ten games, the Oilers have turned things around nicely having outscored opponents 16-13 without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice over the last 20 games. That was a massive hole they put themselves in early on in the season, and they likely won’t recover to a 50% goal-share by the end of the season. But the adjustments they’ve made such as reducing Turris’ ice time and giving the depth forwards more offensive zone faceoffs, should be part of the lessons carried forward.

It’s also worth noting how well the Oilers depth compares with their North division rivals. What I did was take a couple of the top forwards from each team to serve as proxies for their teams top two lines, doing my best to find players who don’t play often with each other. I then looked at how their teams did without them at even-strength to gauge the performance of the team’s depth players. Below are the forwards I used for each club:

  • Edmonton – McDavid, Draisaitl
  • Calgary – Tkachuk, Gaudreau
  • Montreal – Suzuki, Danault
  • Ottawa – Tkachuk, Paul
  • Toronto – Matthews, Tavares
  • Vancouver – Pettersson, Horvat
  • Winnipeg – Ehlers, Wheeler

For each team in the table below I’ve included the proportion of the team’s total ice time that the depth forwards played, as well as the Corsi For% that they posted and their Goals For%. Table is sorted by points percentage. Note that the Corsi For% is score and venue adjusted.

TeamPoints%TOI%Corsi For %Goals For%
Toronto0.69041.6748.1455.30
Winnipeg0.66742.2047.3257.31
Edmonton0.60041.3946.2740.05
Montreal0.57443.4355.4561.64
Calgary0.51841.5550.9739.50
Vancouver0.45246.7845.7639.13
Ottawa0.31743.4243.4832.20

On average, teams typically have their depth players on the ice for about 40% of the teams total ice time at even-strength. Here we see that over the course of the season, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For% of 46.27% without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, and have a goal-share of 40.05%. As mentioned above, the Oilers depth played have made positive strides recently, and they’ll need to maintain a high level of play if they want to dig out of the hole they put themselves in. Vancouver and Ottawa are in a similar boat – their depth players have struggled in terms of puck possession, and they’ve been a black hole in terms of offensive production. And it’s made worse by the fact that even with some of their top players on the ice, they’re getting crushed on the score sheet. Toronto and Montreal appear to be in a good spot, doing a better job at controlling the flow of play with their depth players and getting good results. Winnipeg seems to have a team-wide issue when it comes to shot-share metrics, so it’ll be interesting if their results are sustainable. And if Calgary can find some finishing talent for their bottom two lines, they might be able to improve their overall goal differential.

It’ll be really interesting to see which teams in the North division can get the most out of their depth players, which can serve as a competitive edge in what should be a close playoff race.

Data: Natural Stat TrickOilers Nerd Alert/PuckIQ

(Special thanks to @OilersNerdAlert for the specific data set)

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Assessing the Oilers after 25 games

An important and hopefully obvious question the Edmonton Oilers management group should be asking at this point: is this team any good?

With the trade deadline coming up and a playoff spot up for grabs, a proper evaluation of the results is critical to know which direction to take this team. I know if I was overseeing the management group, there would need to be some performance thresholds or indicators in place to determine if assets should start being spent to drive a playoff run or if it was time to make decisions geared to winning next year. There’s a lot at stake here both financially and when it comes to asset management, so it’s important to look at all of the information available and determine how good this team is and if they can be a legitimate contender or not.

In my mind, the Oilers don’t need to be a top-ranked team today, but they need to at least be playing like one and have underlying numbers similar to those posted by previous top-ranked teams. Since top-ranked teams typically finish the regular season with a 0.600 points percentage or better and are in the top ten leaguewide, it was a simple exercise to identity who the top teams were and establish some key performance indicators based on shot-based metrics that can predict future results. And by doing so, I was also able to find how league average teams did as well as bottom end teams. This way I could assess which level the Oilers are at offensively and defensively, and guide my thoughts on what course of action management should take.

Lets start with actual results at even-strength and focus on the rate of goals the Oilers are scoring and allowing this season, and their share of the total goals for and against (i.e., goals for percentage). Based on the last three regular seasons, here’s how the top teams, average teams and bottom teams have performed when it comes to goals. There’s nothing really surprising here – top teams outscore opponents and on average have a goal-share above 53%, while league average teams just break even.

Metric (5v5)Top TeamsLeague AverageBottom Teams
Goals For/602.672.452.27
Goals Against/602.312.452.59
Goals For%53.5850.0146.72

After 25 games this season, the Edmonton Oilers have a goals for percentage of 48.08%, having posted a -4 goal differential (50 goals-for, 54 goals-against). That would have them between league average levels and the levels posted by bottom end teams. Offensively, the Oilers are doing well due in large part to their top players, currently scoring 2.52 goals per hour, which is slightly above league average rates but below what top teams have posted in previous seasons. Unfortunately, the Oilers are giving it all back this year, allowing 2.72 goals against per hour, which is even worse than what bottom teams allow on average (2.59).

Goaltending has obviously been an issue, with the team posting a save percentage of 91.21%, which as we see below is closer in line to what bottom teams have posted on average in previous seasons. The Oilers shooting percentage of 8.53%, on the other hand, is closer to what top end teams have posted.

Metric (5v5)Top TeamsLeague AverageBottom Teams
Shooting%8.467.997.6
Save%92.2892.0291.9

So it’s clear when comparing the Oilers to previous teams that the actual results aren’t quite there yet, but are the Oilers at least playing like a top team? Are they controlling the flow of play, generating more opportunities than they are allowing, and maybe just need their goaltending to be league average to improve their spot in the standings? To do that, we’ll look at the Oilers rate of shot attempts, for and against, and the Oilers’ share of the total shot attempts for and against (i.e., Corsi), which can be used to predict future goal share (Source).

MetricTop TeamsLeague AverageBottom Teams
Corsi For/6058.4156.3754.68
Corsi Against/6054.2956.3758.5
Corsi For%51.8449.9948.29

The Oilers are currently posting a Corsi For percentage (score and venue adjusted) of 49.17%, which is just below league average levels. The team is generating 53.40 shot attempts per hour, which is slightly lower than what bottom teams have generated. And they’re allowing 55.2 shot attempts per hour, which is slightly better than league average levels. Based on the Oilers underlying shot-based metrics, there’s little indication that the club is playing like a top team and we really can’t expect their goal-share to reach 53% any time soon. And it really is no surprise that the club is getting outscored at even-strength (5v5), especially considering how badly the team gets outplayed when their depth forwards on the ice. Without McDavid or Draisailt on the ice at even-strength (5v5), or about 40% of the team’s total ice time, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For% just under 45%. Even with Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers spend more time without the puck posting a Corsi For% of 47.39%.

Even if we look at the expected goals, which measures the quality of the unblocked shots taken, it’s a similar story. The Oilers currently have an expected goals for percentage of 50.23%, generating 2.32 expected goals per hour and allowing 2.30 expected goals against. Since they’re generating a lot of chances like a top team and at the same time allowing chances like a bottom team, they land in that league-average range.

MetricTop TeamsLeague AverageBottom Teams
Expected Goals For/602.372.292.19
Expected Goals Against/602.212.292.39
Expected Goals For%51.7250.0147.86

Based on the Oilers current underlying shot-based metrics, we can confirm that the Oilers aren’t playing like a top end team and we can’t expect the results to be any better than league average if things continue this way. While there are signs of life offensively, their defensive numbers are more in line with bottom end teams of the past – something that has to be a spot of bother for the coaches and management as the club had similar issues last season.

While the Oilers could consider moving assets to improve their results, it might be in management’s best interest to hold on to their picks and prospects and find cap space for next season. I’m just not convinced that one or two moves will make a big impact at this point as their issues run a lot deeper and across the roster. There’s the goaltending that needs to be fixed, but who knows how a new netminder will do when the club is allowing a high rate of shots and chances against. There’s the issue of spending significant time playing without the puck and in the defensive zone when McDavid or Draisaitl aren’t on the ice, but who knows how much of an impact another depth forward or defenceman is going to have. The biggest issue underscoring all of this is the Oilers pro scouting department and if their player and goalie evaluation methods are ever going to improve and become a strength of the organization. This group’s results have not been good recently and you have to wonder why the Oilers would continue making million-dollar decisions based on their input.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers approach the trade deadline as it’ll give us insight on how much faith the Oilers have in their current roster to turn things around, and how desperate they are to be a contender this season. I’d rather they collet assets now by moving players whose roles are likely to be diminished next season and have internal replacements. Players like K. Russell who has seen his minutes decline, and Kassian who likely won’t be back in the top six again when he returns from injury, have value in the league – and it tends to be higher in-season when teams are gearing up for playoff runs. Whatever decisions the Oilers make, they need to have the future in mind and figure out how to consistently contend for championships.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Powerplay hotness

The Edmonton Oilers powerplay has really ramped up, having now scored 22 times in 135 minutes with the man advantage this season. That translates to a rate of 9.78 goals per hour, which ranks ninth in the league and second only to the Leafs in the North division, who have scored 11.64 goals per hour. The Oilers current scoring rate is only slightly behind the rate they posted last season, when they led the league with a rate of 10.64 goals per hour.

Converting on 20% of their powerplay shots again is a lofty goal considering only a handful of teams have ever reached that mark. Then again, not many teams have had the skill level of the Edmonton Oilers, so maybe it’s not that unreasonable and we may even see them climb from the 16.79% shooting percentage they’re currently posting. The Oilers are also doing everything they can to be as dominant as they were last year, generating more scoring chances and getting an extra six shots on goal per hour this season.

Edmonton Oilers powerplay2019/20 (71 games)2020/21 (22 games)
Goals per hour10.649.78
Unblocked shot attempts per hour71.2177.82
Shots on goal per hour52.4658.25
Shooting percentage20.27%16.79%

While powerplay goals make up about 20% of a team’s total goals in a season, the Oilers powerplay is currently making up 27.8% of their total goals. And that’s slightly up from last season when the Oilers powerplay goals made up 26.5% of their goals, which was the highest proportion in the league. The good news is that so far the even-strength results haven’t been as poor as last season and the team hasn’t had to depend on the powerplay, and penalty kill for that matter, to bail them out as was the case in 2019/20. That’s when they finished the season with a -16 goal differential at even-strength – a 47% goal-share which was the seventh worst in the league – thanks to below average shot-share numbers, a bottom-six forward group that struggled mightily and poor goaltending.

So far the even-strength results have been decent, with the Oilers posting a +4 goal differential – a goal-share of 52.13%, which ranks fourth in the North division behind Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. But because the Oilers are posting below-average shot-share numbers at even-strength (currently with a 48.32% Corsi For percentage, score/venue adjusted) and because their current starting goalie is posting a save percentage above his career numbers, I suspect the powerplay will once again need to be dominant for the Oilers to be a playoff contender. And so far, things are looking promising.

As mentioned above, the Oilers are generating more offence on the powerplay this season, having increased their rate of unblocked shot attempts (a proxy for scoring chances) by 8.5% and their rate of shots on goal by 10.0%. They’ve also been getting more time on the powerplay, averaging just over six minutes per game this season (seventh highest in the league) – drawing 4.04 penalties per hour. Note that the league average rate over the past three seasons is around 3.57 per hour, with anything over four on the high end. This was pretty surprising to see considering the Oilers have never drawn more than 3.36 penalties per hour over the past three seasons, often ranking in the bottom third of the league, and even ranking as low as 30th in 2017/18.

What’s also surprising to see is that Connor McDavid, who often has the puck, plays with speed and deals with a lot of uncalled infractions, is actually drawing penalties this season. So far he’s drawn 14 penalties at even-strength in 22 games – a rate of 2.34 penalties drawn per hour, which ranks him third among all forwards who have played at least 100 minutes. That’s a significant increase from last season when he only drew 19 penalties in 64 games, ranking 75th in the league, drawing just over one penalty per hour.

Hopefully this trend continues and the Oilers get plenty of powerplay time. It just may once again become a driving factor that secures them a playoff spot.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Hockey Viz

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

The Oilers depth forwards are showing signs of life

The bottom six forwards struggled out of the gate, but they’ve been productive over the last ten games.

The Oilers reached a significant milestone this past weekend, reaching a points percentage of 0.600 with a record of 12-8, accumulating 24 points in their first 20 games. A 0.600 points percentage is what the top ten regular season teams in the league typically reach every year and are often considered as legitimate cup contenders for doing so. The Oilers were close to this level last season, finishing with a 0.585 points percentage, good for 12th in the league. The one time they made the playoffs in the last fourteen seasons, they had finished the regular season with a 0.628 points percentage.

The Oilers recent ten games has really turned things around for them. They’ve won eight of their last ten, outscoring opponents 42-26 in all situations (a +16 goal differential). A big reason for their success has been the powerplay, which over the past ten games has scored at a rate of 11.93 goals per hour. This has them only behind the Leafs in the North division over this stretch, and closer to where they finished last season when they were the best in the league scoring 10.64 goals per hour. They’ve recently been generating the fourth highest rate of shots per hour, and converting at a 18.64% shooting percentage – which is just below where they were last season (20.27%).

The Oilers are also getting it done at even-strength (5v5), outscoring opponents 29-19 in their last ten games, posting a goal-share of 60.42%, which is third best in the league and only behind the Leafs in the North division. Safe to say the Oilers are on a bit of a heater right now over these past ten games, posting a PDO above 105 thanks to a 13.18% team shooting percentage and a 92.64% team save percentage – both being well above league averages. The Oilers have also posted a 48.64% Corsi For percentage (score adjusted) over this stretch, which tells us they’re playing more often without the puck, and because of that their results aren’t likely sustainable. Regardless, they’ve banked some much needed points to stay competitive in a fairly tight division.

What’s really stood out over the past ten games has been the improved production of the bottom six forwards at even-strength (5v5). Over the first ten games of the season, without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers were outscored 2-14, basically giving back all of the goals the top lines were accumulating. That’s a 12.5% goal-share due in large part to rarely having the puck as they posted a Corsi For percentage of 39.1%. That’s staggering considering the depth forwards as a group typically play about 40% of the team’s total time. What made it even worse is when you compared their production to the depth players of other North division teams. Those groups were at least breaking close to even in terms of goal-differential and shot-based metrics (Source).

Thankfully they’ve recently turned things around. Over the last ten games, the Oilers have outscored opponents 10-7 (a goal-share of 58.8%) without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. That’s a significant improvement for the bottom six forwards due in large part to the group’s on-ice shooting percentage jumping up from 3.03% in their first ten games to 15.52% in their last ten. Goaltending, as mentioned above, has also played a role with the group’s on-ice save percentage increasing from 85.8% in their first ten games to 93.0% over their last ten games. That’s a PDO swing from 88.9 to 108.9.

While the group’s PDO is what’s largely driving results, it’s also encouraging to see the depth players getting a higher proportion of the total shots. Remember this is a group that posted a Corsi For% below 40.0% early on in the season, but things have been gradually trending upwards towards the 50.0%, break-even mark. Below is a breakdown of the team’s Corsi Forpercentage over rolling ten-game segments, without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. Note that the Corsi For percentage has been score adjusted to factor in the time the Oilers have led games.

Where the group has improved is on defence, as the Oilers depth forwards are allowing eight fewer shot attempts per hour over the last ten games compared to the first ten games. They’ve also generated an extra five shot attempts per hour over the last ten. Again, they’re not out of the woods yet, but there’s at least improvement within an area of the roster that really can’t afford to be giving back the offence the top lines are generating.

The production of the depth forwards is eventually going to regress as indicated by their PDO levels. But by taking better control of the flow of play and improving their share of the shots and scoring chances, it should help to minimize the regression and hopefully reduce the impact on the team’s overall goal-share.

Data: Natural Stat TrickOilers Nerd Alert/PuckIQ

(Special thanks to @OilersNerdAlert for the specific data set)

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.