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%

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

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,, 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.

Oilers bottom six and how they compare against their division rivals

Probably not the start the coaching staff was expecting as the Oilers currently rank fifth in the North division after seven games with a 0.429 points percentage. They have a -4 goal differential (all situations), with even-strength (5v5) issues appearing to have carried over from last season. They’ve been outscored 12-15 at even-strength – a 44.44% goal-share, which ranks 24th in the league and sixth-best (only ahead of the Canucks) in their division.

Team GP Point % Goal differential
Montreal 6 0.917 12
Toronto 7 0.714 3
Winnipeg 6 0.667 5
Calgary 4 0.625 4
Edmonton 7 0.429 -4
Ottawa 5 0.300 -6
Vancouver 7 0.214 -14

While the Oilers top forwards are producing well, it’s the team’s results with their bottom six forwards on the ice that has been alarming. Turris’ goal against the Jets on Sunday night was the first time the Oilers have scored at even-strength without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. That’s over the course of 124 minutes, or about 38% of the Oilers total playing time where they’ve also allowed 10 goals against. In those minutes, the Oilers have spent a considerable amount of time playing without the puck, often in the own zone, getting out-shot at close to a 3-1 clip, and posting a Corsi For% of 33.93%.

Below is a breakdown of how the forward lines have done so far this season, broken up by the McDavid line, Draisaitl’s line and then the bottom six. Note that the 10 minutes that McDavid has played with Draisaitl is excluded in the table below. And note that the duo has outscored opponents 4-0 in that short span, posting a Corsi For% of 54.17% and an Expected Goals For% of 71.36%. Wild.

McDavid’s line104.724-459.5261.7669.145.2291.370.966
Draisaitl’s line88.334-144.2547.6147.128.1198.091.062
Bottom six124.551-1033.9333.2231.082.5886.810.894

The Oilers need to expect more from their bottom six and on both ends of the ice, and the results aren’t going to get better until they make some tactical adjustments. The group is struggling to generate shots, averaging only 19 shots per hour and allowing 37. For context, the league average rate of shots for and the average rate of shots against is 30.7 over the last three seasons. The Oilers can try to find a way to solve their 2.58% shooting percentage, but it won’t matter if the team barely has control of the puck.

This needs to be addressed by the coaching staff and fast, especially in a condensed season. The reality is that the teams the Oilers are competing against for a playoff spot in the North division appear to have things figured out and are benefiting from having a competent bottom six.

Let’s start with Toronto. They’re currently second in the division and have a deep roster on paper with high end talent carrying the top two lines.

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Matthews line 97.40 6-5 61.67 58.38 55.67 12.43 87.86 1.003
Tavares line 93.72 2-3 53.75 52.71 52.2 3.96 93.07 0.97
Bottom six 125.63 2-3 49.18 47.01 43.07 3.85 94.13 0.98

Similar to the Oilers, the Leafs bottom six has played about just under 40% of the team’s total time at even-strength, but have only posted a -1 goal differential. The bottom-six group’s on-ice shot-share numbers aren’t great – the team obviously sees a boost when Matthews or Tavares’ line is playing – but they’re significantly better than what the Oilers bottom six has posted. They are having trouble generating shots, a rate of 24 per hour, but they’re also doing a job suppressing shots, allowing 24 per hour. Again, the league average rate of shots for and against is 30.7 over the last three seasons.

Winnipeg’s bottom six is similar in that they’ve played just under 40% of the team’s total time at even-strength, and have a -1 goal differential. The Jets currently rank third in the division with a 0.667 points percentage, but second in terms of goal differential with +5.

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Scheifele line 95.28 4-6 46.64 47.33 39.77 9.01 88.03 0.97
Statsny line 74.60 6-1 53.77 50.50 58.84 12.26 97.45 1.097
Bottom six 102.97 3-4 49.60 48.72 43.05 6.02 92.04 0.981

The Jets definitely have some work to do when it comes to their share of scoring chances (that Scheifele line might be a spot of bother for the coaching staff), but the bottom six is at least generating and allowing league average rates of shots and are performing much better than the Oilers bottom six. Adding Dubois should give their top lines a boost, so it’ll be interesting to see what other line-up adjustments are made that could benefit their third and fourth lines. Similar to the Leafs, their bottom six might not be generating a lot, and they don’t necessarily need to for their team to be successful. But at least they’re doing a reasonable job suppressing shots and chances against and not giving up the gains made by the top forwards.

Montreal’s bottom six has been outstanding at this point and a big reason why they rank first in the division with a 0.833 points percentage and a +11 goal differential. They’ve played about 45% of the team’s total ice time at even-strength, outscoring opponents 8-3. While they might not be able to sustain a PDO of 106.7, they are doing everything they can to be successful, controlling the flow of play (Corsi For% of 59.35%) and the share of scoring chances (Expected Goals For% of 58.41%).

Group (5v5) TOI GF-GA CF% FF% xGF% SH% SV% PDO
Suzuki line 73.50 5-3 58.06 58.92 64.19 11.1 89.43 1.005
Danault line 71.25 5-3 60.32 61.62 57.05 12.27 87.36 0.996
Bottom six 120.68 8-3 59.35 57.26 58.41 12.32 94.34 1.067

Not even sure we should be calling them the Canadiens bottom six – they’re running more of a top nine with the likes of Toffoli and Kotkaniemi marked on the third line. Must be a nice perk for the higher-end forwards to know that they can take a break and not watch their team play in their own zone the whole time.

Hopefully the Oilers coaching staff can figure things out in terms of tactics and deployment, and get some reasonable production from the forwards. Remember – the bottom six was an area of focus for management this past off-season, as the Oilers were outscored badly in 2019/20 without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. While the bottom six posted a 47.73% Corsi For% and a 48.22% Expected Goals For% last season, they were outscored badly (44 GF, 73 GA, a -29 goal differential), which translates to a 37.61% goal-share. The bar isn’t even that high for this year’s group of bottom six forwards, and it would reflect poorly on the management and coaching staff if they couldn’t surpass that level.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Daily Face Off

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Working the powerplay

With special teams being the focus at training camp today, a look into Tyson Barrie’s powerplay history and how well he could integrate himself into the Oilers.

One of the biggest concerns for the Edmonton Oilers this coming season is around their defence core. Specifically – how exactly will head coach Dave Tippett replace the minutes left vacant by Oscar Klefbom who will be missing the season due to a shoulder injury.

Klefbom was heavily relied on by the coaching staff in all situations last season, leading the Oilers defencemen averaging over 25 minutes per game. He ranked fifth in the league, amongst a pretty impressive group of defencemen that often played about 40% of their team’s total ice time, and was one of only six other defencemen who averaged over 25 minutes per game last season.

A big reason why Klefbom’s ice time was one of the highest in the league last season was because of the significant time he played on the powerplay. He ranked sixth among all defencemen when it came to average minutes per games on the powerplay. And it shouldn’t be all that surprising considering that the coaches basically ran one powerplay unit with Klefbom playing 81% of the team’s total powerplay time. That’s a pretty staggering proportion, especially in comparison to the other top powerplay defencemen last season. Table below is ranked by ice time per games played (TOI/GP).

PlayerTeamGPTOITOI/GP% of team’s PP time
John CarlsonWSH69276.904.0174.1%
Torey KrugBOS61235.783.8772.4%
Quinn HughesVAN68256.133.7767.5%
Cale MakarCOL57213.373.7465.2%
Keith YandleFLA69254.033.6872.1%
Oscar KlefbomEDM62226.323.6581.2%
Kris LetangPIT61210.883.4669.2%
Rasmus DahlinBUF59197.033.3470.2%
Roman JosiNSH69229.203.3261.4%

The good news is that the Oilers appear to have found a pretty decent replacement for Klefbom’s powerplay time in Tyson Barrie, who led Toronto’s powerplay last season in ice time, averaging 2.80 minutes per game. That was good for 22nd in the league among defencemen, but he only played 36.7% of the Leafs total powerplay time as Morgan Reilly also saw significant minutes on the powerplay. Worth noting however that after Mike Babcock was replaced as the Leafs head coach with Sheldon Keefe during the 2019/20 season, Barrie actually played 70.6% of the Leafs total powerplay time. Had Keefe been the Leafs coach for all of last season, Barrie would probably have been top ten league-wide in terms of powerplay ice time per game. And that would have been closer in line with the proportion of powerplay ice time he was getting in Colorado prior to joining the Leafs.

In 2017/18, Barrie led all NHL defencemen in powerplay ice time per game with 3.72 minutes, playing 60.2% of Colorado’s total powerplay time. The next season in 2018/19, Barrie again led the league, this time averaging 4.04 minutes per game, and seeing a bump in his proportion of the teams total powerplay time, reaching 66.8%.

It’s strange looking at Barrie’s powerplay numbers in Toronto under Babcock. In the first 23 games of the 2019/20 season, Barrie was averaging 2.33 minutes per game and only played for 41.1% of the Leafs total powerplay time. The Leafs ranked 19th overall in goals per hour on the powerplay with 6.24, despite ranking ninth in the league in unblocked shot attempts per hour – a proxy for scoring chances. After Keefe took over, Barrie saw a jump in his ice time, averaging 3.09 minutes per game and playing 70.6% of the teams total powerplay time. Still not as much as Klefbom played, but definitely has him in the group of league leaders. From that point, the Leafs powerplay generated 9.51 goals per hour, ranking second overall behind the Oilers, thanks in large part to a team shooting percentage above 17%.

The other interesting thing about Barrie is that while he plays a lot of minutes and has a reputation of being a powerplay quarterback, he doesn’t appear to be a shooter and tends to instead distribute the puck. That’s definitely ideal considering the Oilers were successful last season on the powerplay in large part to the high-end skill up front and Klefbom’s puck distribution from the blue line.

Of all of the Oilers shot attempts Klefbom was on the ice for last season, 17.2% were from his stick. That’s thankfully a drop from a couple seasons ago when almost 30% of the Oilers shot attempts came from Klefbom when he was on the ice. You may recall him and Nurse were a little trigger-happy that season under head coach Todd McLellan often shooting from low probability scoring areas – which likely played a role in the Oilers powerplay struggling early in the 2018/19 season. Last year, it was players like Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and Roman Josi who were taking about 30% of their team’s shot attempts on the powerplay, and all three of their teams ranked in the bottom third in the league when it came to powerplay efficiency.

Looking at Barrie’s proportion of shot attempts over his career, he seems to be playing more of a puck distribution role at this point of his career. A couple seasons ago, he was taking almost 30% of his team’s shot-attempts when he was on the ice – closer to the levels of Burns and Doughty – which may have led to his reputation as being a point man that a powerplay goes through. In his final season in Colorado however, that proportion fell below 20%, with his lowest share actually happening in Toronto (16.5%). Worth noting too that when he took on more powerplay responsibility after the coaching change, he actually only took 12.3% of the shot attempts he was on the ice for. That’s a pretty good sign that he was deferring more to his forwards up front to take shots from higher-probability scoring areas.

SeasonTeamGPTOI/GP% of on-ice shot attempts

It remains to be seen how quickly Barrie can adapt to his new teammates and if the coaching staff will have patience if the powerplay doesn’t click right away. But it is encouraging to know that Barrie is accustomed to heavier powerplay workloads and has adapted to modern powerplay tactics as a puck distributor. Having Klefbom out is a major loss for the team, but with their high-end talent up front healthy the Oilers powerplay should remain as one of the best in the league.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Kyle Turris as an option on the Oilers penalty kill

Nashville Predators: 10 Games In, 5 Burning Questions We Have

With Riley Sheahan signing a professional tryout agreement with the Buffalo Sabres, the Edmonton Oilers will need to find another forward or two to add to their penalty kill rotation this coming season.

Sheahan lead the Oilers forwards in shorthanded ice time last season, playing 155 minutes and averaging 2:21 minutes per game. Leaguewide, he was in the top 25 among all forwards in ice-time, which wasn’t out of the ordinary for him as he’d often been relied on as one the top penalty killers for his previous clubs. The Oilers, as we know, finished the 2019/20 regular season with the second best rate of goals against on the penalty kill with 5.15 per hour, due in large part to their goaltending. While the Oilers allowed the ninth highest rate of shots against, the team save percentage was the best in the league with 90.61% – well above league average levels.

When asked about the penalty kill and adjusting to life without Sheahan on the roster, head coach Dave Tippett had this to say on The Jason Gregor Show on Wednesday:

We’ve added some extra depth. I think you’ll see Turris come in and penalty kill. Haas really came on in the second half of the year. I think he could get some of that. We’ve got Josh Archibald here still. I like the structure…[Oilers associate coach] Jim Playfair does a nice job with our players.

Having the right handed centerman…instead we had Riley [Sheahan] who was a left hander. We got JJ Khaira too that can take face offs there. Having the right hander I think will help us. The one thing in the NHL, the team that goes on the powerplay gets to pick the side of the faceoff they’re going on. Majority of teams pick what would be our right corner, their left corner. So having a right handed faceoff guy there to start with puck as many times as you can will be a benefit for us.

I think Turris will do a good job for us. I had him in the same role at World Championships about five years ago. He was a good penalty killer for us there. He hasn’t done much the last couple years but we’re going to push him into that role a little more, so I think our penalty kill will be fine. Source: The Jason Gregor Show (2020, December 30)

I always appreciate it when coaches like Tippett take the time to share their knowledge and go a little deeper into their thought process. It doesn’t have to be detailed or too technical, but just enough insight that, when well communicated, can go a long way in educating fans and helping grow the game.

Couple things stood out for me in Tippett’s comments. First, Tippett has zeroed in on defensive zone faceoffs and improving in that area to get positive results on the penalty kill. Last season, the Oilers ranked 25th in the league when it came to defensive zone faceoffs when shorthanded with 41.8%. The league average was 44.6%, with Philadelphia and Vancouver being the only two teams above 50%. The Oilers relied solely on their left-handed centermen – Sheahan, Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl – to take defensive zone draws, with Draisaitl posting the best rate among the three with 48.8%. Sheahan finished with 40.7% and Nugent-Hopkins finished with 36.7%. Now with Turris slated to be a centerman in a bottom six that Tippett likes to rely on for penalty kill duties, he’ll be a prime candidate to take on at least some of those minutes left vacated by Sheahan.

I’m just not sure that Turris can be a guy that could have a positive impact on the penalty kill.

For one, he’s barely played on the penalty kill in recent years. In 62 games with Nashville last season, Turris played just over 40 minutes shorthanded and averaging 39 seconds per game, which had him seventh on the team among forwards. This appears to have been a way for the coaching staff to get Turris more ice time as he had gradually been falling further down the depth chart. In the two seasons prior with Nashville, he wasn’t a regular option at all on the penalty kill, spending more time in the top six and on the powerplay units.

The last time Turris was a regular option on the penalty kill was in his first two seasons in Ottawa between 2013 and 2014. He was third in total ice time among Senator forwards in the lockout-shortened season, averaging 1:25 per game, and played 142 minutes in 82 games the following season (2013/14), averaging 1:44 per game – good for third among all forwards on the team. The Senators penalty kill ranked 22nd in the league that season allowing 7.03 goals per hour, and 19th when it came to the rate of shots against.

Turris saw his penalty kill ice time drop down to 60 minutes in 82 games the following season in 2014/15, ranking seventh among forwards in average ice time per game with 0:44, and then drop even further in 2015/16 when he averaged only 0:19 per game. In 2016/17, and near the end of his tenure with the Senators, Turris did see an uptick in his penalty kill ice time over 78 games where he played about 43 seconds per game, ranking seventh among forwards.

What stands out in Turris’ penalty kill numbers are the rates of shots against when he’s been on the ice. In 2013/14 when Turris was third on his team among forwards in average ice time per game, the Senators allowed 12 more shots against per hour with him on the ice. Similar issue occurred the year before as the Senators allowed an extra 14 shots against per hour with Turris on the ice. Considering that on average teams allow about 54 shots against per hour, that’s about a 22% increase in shots against with Turris deployed. This might be why Ottawa’s coaching staff gradually reduced his ice time on the penalty kill and why Nashville didn’t give him any ice time shorthanded in his first two seasons as a Predator. And when Nashville did give him some reps on the penalty kill last season – perhaps to increase his trade value – they allowed an extra 12 shots against per hour with Turris on the ice. This translated to about a 24% increase in shots against per hour with Turris on the ice, which is consistent with his career averages on the penalty kill.

Where Turris might be able to help on the penalty kill is with defensive zone draws. He was poor last season in limited minutes with Nashville, only winning four of twelve draws. But over his career on the penalty kill, Turris has a 50.5% face off percentage in the defensive zone with his best season coming in Ottawa in 2013/14 when he won 55.8%. This might have been why Tippett had him on the penalty kill for Canada at the 2014 World Championships. Remember, the Oilers ranked near the bottom of the league in winning shorthanded defensive zone face offs last season with 41.8%, while the league average was 44.8%. There’s obviously more to defensive zone draws like what actually happens after a draw in terms of shots and goals against, and the team’s strategies to control the ice. But faceoff win percentage appears to have been one of the factors in the Oilers decision to sign Turris.

Perhaps Tippett is envisioning Turris’ role as what Tyler Dellow would refer to as a FOGO guy – face off, get off. This would mean someone like Gaetan Haas, who Tippett mentioned as a legitimate option, sees more playing time on the penalty kill as a right handed centerman to replace Turris after a draw. Haas was not a regular penalty kill option for the coaching staff last season, only playing a total of six minutes, and was poor when it came to face-offs winning only 42% in all situations. So it might be his defensive play at even-strength that has him in the discussion for shorthanded ice time. While offence pretty much died when he or any of the bottom six forwards were on the ice last season, Haas’ on-ice defensive numbers were strong. The Oilers allowed their lowest rate of shots against among regular forwards with Haas on the ice, perhaps making him an ideal candidate to see more time on the penalty kill.

It’ll be interesting to see how things play out this coming season and how exactly Turris will be deployed on the penalty and if he can have a positive impact. If Turris can flourish there as a FOGO guy in a tandem with someone like Haas, great. It could free-up the skilled forwards like Draisaitl and maybe even Nugent-Hopkins to spend more time and energy at even-strength. If not, the coaching staff will have to make adjustments on the fly and figure things out to remain competitive in their division.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Puck Base

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Does Ben Hutton make sense for the Edmonton Oilers?

The defenceman is rumored to be on the Oilers radar. What would the Oilers expect from him, considering their needs at even-strength and the penalty kill.

It’s probably a spot of bother for the Edmonton Oilers that they’ll be starting the 2021 condensed regular season without defenceman Oscar Klefbom.

When he’s healthy, he’s been one of their top performers on the blue line often earning the trust and praise of his coaches. Last season he lead the team in average minutes played per game, with over 25, regularly facing top competition every night. He was a key part of the powerplay and penalty kill, leading all defencemen in total ice time for both situations.

“Ultimately, you look at your bench and you look at players you can put into a situation where they can help you win the most,” Tippett explained earlier in the season. “When he’s on the ice that much, he must be doing some good things.

“That’s what we think of him.” (Source: Edmonton Oilers)

And it’s probably what Oilers management thinks of him as well considering how often the Oilers come up in recent free agent rumors surrounding the available defenceman.

Unless the Oilers are willing to move assets, the Oilers probably won’t be able to replace Klefbom and what he typically brings to the team with one of the available free agents. What they can try to do however is address each area of the team that he impacts the most and find suitable replacements for those.

For example, his puck distribution and offensive skill will definitely be missed on the powerplay unit that dominated the league last season. But the Oilers have added 29-year old Tyson Barrie, who has over 500 games of experience and was a key part of the Leafs powerplay, which finished the 2019/20 season with the sixth highest rate of goals per hour. There will need to be some adjustments considering Barrie is a right-shot defenceman, but you can see the Oilers mitigation strategy.

It still, however, remains to be seen how exactly Klefbom’s even-strength (5v5) and penalty kill time is going to be replaced. The Oilers may have some confidence in someone like Caleb Jones or William Lagesson, both of which have spent time developing within a good development program in Bakersfield, to take on those minutes. Jones in particular has been given opportunities in Edmonton, having now played 60 NHL games and was averaging more ice time than veteran Kris Russell at the end of the 2019/20 regular season.

Whatever internal options the coaching staff has confidence in, it’s imperative that the Oilers add a defenceman with even-strength and penalty killing experience. And Ben Hutton, who the Oilers are rumored to be in on, makes some sense especially if the cost and term is kept minimal.

Hutton was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 draft and made the Canucks opening night roster in 2015 following three seasons at the University of Maine. In his rookie season as a 23-year old, and because of the injury issues on the Caucks blueline, he finished second on the team among defenceman in total ice-time and had the most points among defenceman with 25. He was largely sheltered in those minutes, averaging the fifth highest minutes per game, leaving the likes of Edler, Hamhuis and Tanev to play against more of the top line competition. Hutton did also lead the Canucks defencemen in powerplay ice time, but his on-ice results were poor. The Canucks as a team finished 28th in the league in points percentage that season, only ahead of Edmonton and Toronto, with the powerplay finishing 27th overall scoring only 5.53 goals per hour.

Hutton went on to play three more seasons in Vancouver, with the team missing the playoffs all three seasons, before signing with Los Angeles when the Canucks did not make him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. Over the course of his four-year career with Vancouver, Hutton saw his total ice time increase to over 22 minutes per game, getting more responsibility at even-strength, while his deployment on special teams shifted – more on that later.


In his first three seasons with Vancouver, Hutton was often fifth or sixth among defencemen when it came to the total proportion of ice time playing against top line, or elite, competition according to Puck IQ. Because of the injuries to the Canucks blueline, Hutton played over 34% of his total ice time against elite competition. But for the next two seasons (2016/17 and 2017/18), that proportion of ice time was below 30% – probably right where he should be based on his skill set. He did well in those minutes, posting decent shot-share numbers relative to his teammates.

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Off-season roundtable

Took part in a Q&A/roundtable over at The Copper & Blue. Below were my responses.

The Oilers exited the play-in round a little more than a month ago, and it’s given us time to think a bit about the year. How do you feel about how the season went? Are you satisfied?

Even though they missed the playoffs, it’s hard to complain too much considering they posted a 0.585 points percentage in the regular season, finishing second in the Pacific and 12th in the league. The team was competitive most nights, special teams were outstanding, their top players did well and we saw a cluster of players transition from the minors and take on important roles. But the Oilers definitely over achieved, and Coach Tippett recognized that at his end-of-season availability. They were badly outscored at even-strength (5v5) relying heavily on their powerplay, posted mediocre shot-share numbers and their goaltending was sub-standard. Aside from their superstar players and the hope that more players will graduate from the AHL, there aren’t many indications that this team is going to be competing for a championship anytime soon. Over the course of the regular season, the team did very little to better position their roster construction going forward. They added a few bad contracts to their books, including signing Kassian to a long-term deal, and sent away much needed draft picks.

So while the results were good, management’s off-ice decision-making has been very concerning.

Who is this team’s top line right winger at the beginning of next season, and why?

Based on how much ice-time he received from the coaching staff at even-strength in the regular season and the contract that management gave him, it’s probably Kassian. He was fourth on the team among forward in total ice time and average ice time per game, even ahead of Nugent-Hopkins, and was McDavid’s most common linemate. Two things the Oilers need to do here: (1) find a better option for McDavid by either adding depth – this should not cost a lot, and (2) come to the realization that you do not pay a premium for players who do well with McDavid. The Oilers can’t be content with their current situation at right-wing.

Mikko Koskinen is signed for another two years in Edmonton, while Mike Smith is an unrestricted free agent. What should Ken Holland do between the pipes for the Oilers heading into next season?

First, review the process and methodology or whatever that led the Oilers to sign Smith to a contract last summer and fire it into the sun. Retain Koskinen since he’s provided league-average goaltending and expect him to start half of the games next season. His contract is a little high for the amount of workload expected, which makes it even more critical that they not overspend on the second goalie. Who they find as a second goalie doesn’t matter as long as they’ve posted league average numbers over the last few seasons and the acquisition cost is low. The only way the Oilers can acquire a higher-profile goalie like Holtby, or Lehner or Murray is if they’re planning on moving Koskinen – which I don’t suspect there’s much of a market for considering it’s a buyer’s market this off-season. I do like the idea of acquiring a younger goalie who has shown well recently like Alexander Georgiev, but that would require taking on some risk which I don’t think management is comfortable with. Also – look at goaltender coaching/consulting options and pray that one of the goalie prospects in the system continues to develop.

What do the Oilers do with Ethan Bear’s next contract?

The same thing that the Oilers did with Klefbom when they recognized his abilities early and wanted to see his best years happen in Edmonton. A long-term deal for Bear is ideal to potentially reduce the annual average value, knowing full well that he could be overpaid in the early years, but holding a value contract over the majority of its term. Financial risk is spread between the team and a player that it drafted and developed and deployed, and it’s how things have to be done in a salary cap world.

Is there any scenario where the Oilers can win a deal by moving Oscar Klefbom?

Definitely, as long as the manager isn’t basing his decisions on the NHL Guide and Record Book. The player coming back would just have to be young, on a long-term team-friendly deal and can contribute on the powerplay and penalty kill. Honestly, if the Oilers are so frisky to move a top-four defenceman, show some courage and start creating a market for Nurse whose perceived value is going to be much higher than his actual value.

We are a year away from the next expansion draft, but it’s never too soon to begin thinking about who could be selected. Who do you hope Seattle takes from the Oilers? Is there a player you believe the Oilers ought to keep, but is at risk being selected?

Ideally Seattle takes an older Oiler who’s on a bad contract and under producing, or whose actual contributions might be overhyped. Kassian and Neal come to mind, but it could be someone younger and further down the depth chart like Khaira. Knowing who Seattle has working in their hockey operations department, I suspect they’ll target young players who have shown well at the professional level and whose contracts are under team control.