Minor change that represents a larger issue

coppernblue.com.full.54273The Oilers made changes to their bottom six line combinations following their 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Sweden. Centerman Kyle Brodziak became a healthy scratch. And Zack Kassian and Tobias Rieder, his two wingers from the first game, moved up to play with centerman Ryan Strome. That pushed Jujhar Khaira and Jesse Puljujärvi, Strome’s two most common linemates from preseason, down to the fourth line to play with Drake Caggiula.

The Puljujärvi demotion was the most controversial and for good reason. He’s a good prospect with plenty of ability that the Oilers need to be a productive winger going forward. And it’s hard to take a step in your individual professional development when you’re playing fewer minutes and with lesser talent. Worth noting that Puljujärvi had a strong preseason as well, scoring four goals in five games and was much more assertive in his overall play. Demoting him this quickly might be a strategic move by the coaching staff, but it’s hard to envision how this will help the Oilers win hockey games.

Now while the Puljuarvi demotion garners the most attention from fans and media, it’s moving Jujhar Khaira to the fourth line center position that should be raising red flags.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

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Generating offence on the penalty kill

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

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

Couple notes:

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

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

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

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

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

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Tunnel vision

coppernblue.com.full.54273After watching their playoff aspirations gradually slip away and becoming seller’s at the trade deadline, the Oilers had no other option but to begin a period of evaluation to close the 2017/18 season. After trading away forwards Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu, changes were expected to the group up front including an altered distribution of ice-time as well as roles on the team. And based on the transactions that the Oilers made this off-season and some of the early updates coming out of training camp, it appears that the final stretch of the 2017/18 season had an impact on the management team’s approach towards building their roster and their websites with https://www.webdesign499.com/wellington-seo/.

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

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

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

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Thoughts on the upcoming 2018/19 season

coppernblue.com.full.54273There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the Edmonton Oilers this upcoming season.

After a dreadful 2017/18 season, largely sunk by poor special teams, goaltending and a lack of scoring depth, the franchise desperately needs to have positive results. Expectations of winning a Stanley Cup may not be there, which is unfortunate and frustrating, but they do need to contend for a playoff spot. It’s what management needs. It’s what the head coach needs. And with the best player in the world on the roster, it’s what the league needs.

Related: Squad Goals – The SuperFan (2018, April 8)

To recap, the Oilers finished the 2017/18 season with a -29 goal differential (all situations), finishing 6th in the Pacific and 12th in the Western Conference.

  • At even-strength (5v5), they posted a -13 goal differential scoring 163 goals and allowing 176. The number of goals-for was actually pretty good – they finished 11th in the league and only three away from their total in 2016/17. It was their goals-against that was the issue, largely due to their 23rd ranked team save percentage (91.79%). Had they received league average goaltending (92.26%), they would’ve allowed 10 fewer goals.
  • On the powerplay (5v4), they scored only 30 goals running at a league-worst rate of 5.12 goals per hour. They only converted on 9.09% of their shots, well below the league average of 12.69%. Had the Oilers team shooting percentage been league average, they would’ve scored 11 more goals on the powerplay – a goals per hour rate of 7.15 – which would have been right around the league average last season (6.96).
  • And on the penalty kill (4v5), they were one of the worst teams in the league allowing 56 goals at a rate of 8.47 goals against per hour, thanks in large part to a 30th ranked team save percentage of 82.72%. Had the Oilers received league average goaltending (87.14), they would’ve allowed 14 fewer goals.
  • In short, a -29 goal differential would’ve improved to an estimated +6 goal differential had the Oilers special teams and depth been better and if the goaltending was league average. Those were the key factors keeping them out of a playoff race in 2017/18.

Due to some of the questionable moves management has made since the new regime arrived, the Oilers are in a spot now where they may not be the worst team in the league, but they don’t have enough proven talent to be in the championship contender discussion either. The team has glaring holes up front and on the blue line, and are hoping – for the second off-season season in a row – for their younger prospects to emerge as productive NHL players.

This leaves us with a 2018/19 regular season that may end up being a lot like this off-season: low-key, quiet and just good enough to get to the finish line without any self-inflicted wounds.

The team has tried to address their special teams by making significant changes to the coaching staff. And they’ve tried to address their goaltending by potentially reducing Cam Talbot’s workload. However it remains to be seen what the Oilers have in Mikko Koskinen, an expensive backup option and unproven talent at the NHL level. Up front and on the blueline, they’ll need more than a few of their younger players and possibly even prospects to step into significant roles – a risk that the Oilers can afford to take since they’re not contending for a championship this season.

The club is going to hope that the core players stay healthy and productive, the goaltending bounces back to league-average levels and that the younger players continue to develop at the appropriate levels. The end goal is a playoff spot – whether it’s clinched in January or April – and that the team shows enough progress to put themselves in the championship contender discussion next off-season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

 

Preventing goals might be a problem next season for the Oilers

coppernblue.com.full.54273It should come as no surprise that one of the Oilers biggest issues in the 2017/18 regular season were the number of goals against. Now a lot of the damage was done when the Oilers were on the penalty kill, as the club finished 27th in the league, and allowed one of the highest rates of scoring chances against when shorthanded. But it was also at even-strength (5v5) when the team struggled, allowing 176 goals – the fifth highest in the league – with a rate of 2.62 goals against per 60. What’s especially disheartening is that the Oilers actually scored 161 even-strength (5v5) goals this past season, 12th best in the league, and only four goals less than the season prior when they finished second in the Pacific division.

Needless to say, team defence was a significant issue. Not only were the goals against pouring in at even-strength, but the Oilers were also one of the worst teams in the league when it came to the rate of high-danger shots against, as well as the rate of scoring chances against. Another metric that captured the Oilers deficiencies on the defensive side of the puck was the rate of expected goals against (xGA), a weighting placed on every unblocked shot against based on the historical probability of the shot becoming a goal, taking into account the type of shot and shot location.

What’s troubling is that team defence has been an ongoing issue for the Oilers since Chiarelli and McLellan arived in the spring of 2015. The Oilers have historically had issues with defence, but you would expect things to improve considering the number of moves the current management group has made to address the blueline, including significant trades and free agent signings.

Here’s how the Oilers have done over the last three seasons when it comes to different defensive metrics, and where they’ve ranked league wide.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Lessons and takeaways

coppernblue.com.full.54273The Oilers played some very good hockey in the month of December heading into the Christmas break.

The club went (7-3), outscoring their opponents 37-26 in all situations. That +11 goal differential was massive for the team as it started pulling them out of the deep hole they put themselves in October and November, and things appeared to be on the right track. They defeated some pretty good teams that month, including Columbus, San Jose and St. Louis. And they put together an impressive four game winning streak.

Date Opponent Result Score
12/02/2017 at Calgary W 7-5
12/06/2017 vs Flyers L 2-4
12/09/2017 at Montreal W 6-2
12/10/2017 at Toronto L 0-1
12/12/2017 at Columbus W 7-2
12/14/2017 vs Nashville L 0-4
12/16/2017 at Minnesota W 3-2
12/18/2017 vs San Jose W 5-3
12/21/2017 vs St. Louis W 3-2
12/23/2017 vs Montreal W 4-1

Not only did they get the results they desperately needed, but at the time their success also appeared to be sustainable. The Oilers were dominant when it came to possession metrics, posting an even-strength (5v5) adjusted Corsi For percentage of 54.0% and a Fenwick For percentage of 56.1% over those 10-games. These are shot-share levels that the Oilers haven’t been able to reach at any other point in the season.

It’s worth noting that what bogged the Oilers down in December were the same issues that have plagued them all season. Their goaltending was mediocre, their powerplay wasn’t producing, and their penalty kill was abysmal. Nonetheless, they were very good at getting a higher proportion of shots at even-strength, posting a 61.9% goal-share (a +10 goal differential) and picked up some much needed points.

One of the big reasons why they had success in December was because the coaching staff was willing to deploy a balanced offence spread across three scoring lines. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins each had time centering their own units, with varying degrees of success. Here’s what the most common even-strength line combinations were over the 10-game stretch heading into the Christmas Break, including the on-ice shot-share, goal-share, shooting percentage and save percentage for each.

Line TOI Corsi For% Goals For% On-ice Sh% On-ice Sv% PDO
Lucic-McDavid-Puljujaarvi 108.48 52.38 83.33 8.62 98.28 106.9
Khaira-Draisaitl-Strome 77.3 56.06 66.67 9.09 91.67 100.8
Maroon-RNH-Cammalleri 67.3 57.14 42.86 7.5 87.1 94.6

Starting with goal-share, only Nugent-Hopkin’s line featuring Maroon and Cammalleri struggled, posting a 42.86% goals-for percentage – thanks in large part to an on-ice save percentage of 87.1%. Those struggles were off-set by the other two units, as Draisaitl’s line featuring Khaira and Strome had excellent goal-share results as did the trio of McDavid, Lucic and Puljujaarvi.

What was promising about rolling three scoring lines were the shot-share numbers for each. The Corsi For% was above 52.0% for all three units, suggesting that the process and tactics the coaching staff deployed were positive and the team as a whole was headed in the right direction.

It’s worth noting here that the Oilers were without two of their top defencemen during this stretch, as both Andrej Sekera and Adam Larsson missed time with injuries. But it didn’t seem to matter one bit when the forwards were deployed for offensive success. It’s amazing how well three good scoring lines can mask some of deficiencies on the blue-line. Similar really to what Pittsburgh did in last year’s playoffs with their key defencemen were out of the lineup.

Player GP TOI CF% FF% GF%
Darnell Nurse 10 180.02 52.86 55.89 52.38
Kris Russell 10 165.02 53.75 57.58 43.75
Matthew Benning 10 155.88 50.30 51.60 66.67
Oscar Klefbom 8 124.57 49.43 49.49 70
Brandon Davidson 8 115.73 56.28 59.88 71.43
Yohann Auvitu 7 90.63 53.09 57.43 88.89
Adam Larsson 3 57.42 54.55 54.79 0
Andrej Sekera 2 29.05 50.00 53.19 0
Eric Gryba 2 27.62 43.14 46.34 83.33

What’s the point of all of this?

Because of where the Oilers are in the standings, this 10-game stretch and the underlying factors that drove their success are very likely going to be dismissed. A 7-3 record and +11 goal-differential may be perceived as a fluke – a meaningless blip in a disaster of a season – by fans, the media and the team. Even though the results were real and sustainable, it will be overshadowed by the overall record and the fact that they missed the playoffs.

Now the Oilers have plenty of soul-searching to do this off-season to try getting things back on track to win a championship. But management has to be looking for lessons and takeaways using as much information and data as possible.

The problem we’ve seen with the current regime however is their lack of understanding of how variance works in hockey. Rather than look at underlying shot metrics (which predicts future goal-share well), decisions by the Oilers are often based on goal-metrics, which we know is heavily influenced by shooting and save percentages, and serve as a poor predictor of future success. The concern from my point of view is that the Oilers will be fixated with the standings and overall goal-differential, and incorrectly assign blame to players and areas of the team that may not be as significant as they think. By all means – question every part of the roster. But approach your problems with sound logic and reasoning, and with as much applicable information as possible – and hopefully this leads to well-informed decisions.

What the team really needs to do is look at different segments of the season, find patterns and outliers, such as the December run, and determine whether the results were real or not. From there, it’s important to draw out the lessons and better understand how things came about and why. Even though it was only a 10-game segment, there were takeaways that management needs to consider to (a) ensure they have a better read of the club and (b) to ensure they don’t make another blunder when trying to improve the roster.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Assessing the Oilers’ Goaltending Situation

coppernblue.com.full.54273The Edmonton Oilers are in an interesting spot right now with their goaltending.

With Cam Talbot expected to be out of action for another week or so, the team will be relying on two goalies with less than 22 NHL games between them. Both Laurent Brossoit and Nick Ellis are reasonable NHL prospects, but the Oilers are taking a risk with so much inexperience between the pipes. And it doesn’t come at a great time either – the Oilers are second last in the Pacific division and desperately need to be winning games to keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

So what’s the best approach for management to take?

The first option they have is to stick with their young guys, and give them a chance to establish themselves as legitimate NHL options. The Oilers made a commitment to Brossoit in February of 2016, signing him to a two-year deal following his entry-level contract. And at last year’s trade deadline when the Oilers were making their push for a playoff spot, management reaffirmed their commitment, electing to stick with Brossoit rather than find a more experienced goalie for the post-season. Ellis was signed to a two-year entry level deal out of college in 2016, and has since started 45 games for the Bakersfield Condors. Considering the dollars and development time invested in both goalies, the team may feel compelled to give them their reps at the NHL level. But it is the riskiest course of action at such a critical point of the season.

A second option for the Oilers, which is probably the most conservative (and therefore most acceptable) approach, is to acquire a more proven, veteran goaltender that has experience as a starter in the league. The team likely won’t want to spend too many assets to acquire this level of goaltending, as it would be more of a stop-gap while Brossoit and Ellis continue developing. The assumption here is that the Oilers want to retain one or both of their prospects long-term and sign them to new deals when they become restricted free agents at the end of the season.

Both of these options are fine, but it would be in the Oilers’ best interest if they approached their goalie situation a little differently and took a more aggressive approach with a long-term vision for the roster.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.