Top six bottom six

oilersjets

Currently ranking fourth in the league with a 0.750 points percentage, going 7-2-1 and accumulating 15 points, the Edmonton Oilers are in a great spot but have a lot of work to do if they want to keep things on track and compete for a playoff spot. The issues that plagued them in years past including production from depth players, overall even-strength play and the penalty kill continue to exist, but have largely been masked by stellar goaltending and production from their top end players.

Even though the Oilers are having success to start the season, it’s imperative that management and the coaching staff apply a critical lens on their roster and overall play to determine if the results are sustainable. The big challenge of course is to actually address these issues, either by making changes to the roster, by way of trade or minor-league call-ups, or by adjusting the on-ice tactics or player deployment. The good news is that the Oilers issues aren’t hard to determine as long as shot-metrics which are helpful to predict future results, and a basic understanding of statistical variance are part of the evaluation.

Focusing on the team’s even-strength (5v5) play, the Oilers have posted a goal-share of 51.43% (18 goals-for, 17 goals-against), good for 14th in the league and fourth in the Pacific behind Arizona, Anaheim and Vancouver. It’s also somewhat encouraging that the team’s save or shooting percentage isn’t abnormally high after ten games, something that I think could be perceived looking at the team’s overall record and the roster construction.

Corsi For% Fenwick For% Goals For% Sh% Sv% PDO
46.88% (25th) 47.86 (24th) 51.43 (14th) 8.57 (12th) 92.48 (13th) 101.0 (11th)

What’s worth noting here is that while the Oilers are allowing a 10th ranked rate of 2.11 goals against per hour and rank quite well when it comes to shot attempts against (i.e., Corsi) and unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, a proxy for scoring chances against), the Oilers have struggled to score, now ranking 17th in the league with 2.23 goals-for per hour. What’s especially concerning is the team’s inability to generate offence, ranking 30th in the league in shot-attempts against and unblocked shot attempts against per hour.

Offence (5v5) Results
Goals-for/60 2.23 (17th)
Corsi-for/60 48.43 (30th)
Fenwick-for/60 36.04 (30th)

One of the biggest issues for the Oilers is the lack of production from the depth forwards, those playing predominantly on the third and fourth checking lines. Using McDavid, Draisaitl, Neal, Kassian and Nugent-Hopkins, the top five forwards in terms of overall even-strength ice-time, as a proxy for the top six, I was able to determine using Natural Stat Trick’s line tool what the split has been like between them and the bottom six forwards.

Metric (5v5) Top 6 Bottom 6
TOI 323.85 160.57
GF-GA 17-10 1-7
Goals For% 62.96% 12.50%
Corsi For% 48.12% 44.36%
Fenwick For% 48.42% 46.70%

Starting with goal-share, the Oilers have seen a significant drop when it comes to the bottom six forwards who have scored only once and allowed seven goals against this season (a goals for percentage of 12.50%). The team’s possession numbers have been very poor with the depth forwards on the ice, with the team posting a 44.36% Corsi For percentage and a 46.70% Fenwick For percentage. This is partly due to the fact that the depth forwards are starting more often in the defensive zone, but that alone shouldn’t be enough to justify the poor on-ice goal and shot-share metrics.

My initial thought when looking at the results of the bottom six was that maybe someone from the top six could be moved on to the third line or perhaps the Oilers could call-up someone from Bakersfield. But what’s interesting here is that it’s not as though the top six forwards are having great, sustainable success. While their goal-scoring rate has been excellent, they are only slightly better than the bottom six when it comes to shot-share metrics and the rate at which they’re generating and allowing shots and scoring chances.

Oilers (5v5) Team Top Six Bottom Six
Corsi For/60 48.43 49.84 45.59
Corsi Against/60 54.87 53.73 57.17
Fenwick For/60 36.04 36.87 34.38
Fenwick Against/60 39.26 39.28 39.24
Goals For/60 2.23 3.15 0.37
Goals Against/60 2.11 1.85 2.62

We know the team overall is having issues generating offence, so lets focus on that. As a team, the Oilers rank quite low overall when it comes to generating shot attempts (48.43 Corsi For/60) and unblocked shot attempts (36.04 Fenwick For/60). When the top six forwards have been on the ice, those rates only increase slightly relative to the team with the difference between them and the bottom six being about 4.25 more shot attempts per hour and 2.49 more unblocked shot attempts per hour. Defensively at even-strength, the bottom six has been just fine, allowing a rate of shots and scoring chances close to the overall team rate and being part of the reason why the team overall has had success.

The main takeaway here is that while the bottom six is getting a lot of attention for its lack of production at even-strength, there are also significant issues with the top six that really need to be addressed by management and the coaching staff. Heading into the season, the Oilers were aware of the lack of depth across the roster, and made a number of changes to address the issue. The early signs indicate that it hasn’t been enough, and that in order to compete for a playoff spot, they’ll have to take a closer look at their roster construction, tactics and player deployment and make the necessary changes. The concern now is that management has already bought into their overall results without looking at the underlying metrics, moving forward without regard for statistical variance and focusing solely on the bottom six forwards.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Problem solving

images (1)The Edmonton Oilers finished the 2018/19 regular season as one of the worst teams in the league, posting a -42 goal-differential in all situations, finishing with 79 points and a 0.482 points percentage. Those results were driven by a number of factors, including the following:

  • Poor even-strength (5v5) results, finishing the year with a goal-differential of -32 and a goal-share of 45.06% – both of which ranked third worst in the league and only ahead of New Jersey and Ottawa.
  • Poor shot-share numbers at even-strength as reflected by their Corsi-for percentage (a proxy for possession) of 47.53% (23rd in the league), and a Fenwick-for percentage (i.e., unblocked shot attempts, a proxy for scoring chances) of 47.34% (25th in the league). The Oilers were regularly out-shot and out-chanced, and their numbers declined as the season wore on.
  • An inability to generate and sustain offence at even-strength, finishing near the bottom of the league when it came to shot attempts and scoring chances per hour.
  • A lack of scoring talent as the team finished the year with the eighth-lowest total of goals at even-strength (146). The team shooting percentage of 7.68% ranked 21st in the league.
  • A team save percentage of 91.51% at even-strength (25th in the league), despite allowing a league average rate of shot attempts and scoring chances against per hour.
  • Poor production when McDavid was not on the ice, as the Oilers posted a -34 goal differential without their captain (a Goals-for percentage of 40.12%) at even-strength. The shot-share numbers also took a dive, as the team posted a Corsi-for percentage of 46.52% and a Fenwick-for percentage of 46.47%.
  • A dreadful penalty kill that finished 30th in the league allowing 9.21 goals against per hour.

My sense at the end of last season was because of the number of roster issues and the fact that the Oilers lacked cap space and assets, the next general manager would be forced to take a conservative approach to re-building the team and would need to put a stronger emphasis on the draft and prospect development. Roster depth, namely the third and fourth lines, could easily be addressed through free agency both in the national league and overseas. But the challenge in order to legitimately compete for a playoff spot in 2020 would be to find value contracts and maximize each players productivity, ensuring that they can contribute both at even-strength and on special teams. And this could only be done if the team approached roster construction differently, and applied more innovative practices to their decision-making.

Fast forward to September, and despite all of the changes made by the Oilers management, it’s hard to imagine the team performing significantly better than last season and likely well outside of a playoff spot. And that’s mainly because the majority of the issues from the 2018/19 season listed above have not yet been adequately addressed. The team followed a lot of conventional wisdom, continuing on with their standard decision-making processes, leaving plenty of questions marks heading into the regular season.

First off, generating offence and goal-scoring remains a significant issue. The Oilers may have acquired some options to fill out their bottom six, but none of them have experience and historical production playing in offensive situations against top competition. And it’s unlikely the Oilers uncovered a hidden gem that is a lock for 20+ goals, which the Oilers desperately need – especially within the time that McDavid is on the bench. James Neal might be that guy based on his consistency scoring goals, but as I wrote in July, he’s also shown a gradual decline in shot-based metrics over the last few seasons, especially against top competition. Slotting Neal in the top six is a risky proposition based on his recent performance numbers; his best days are likely behind him.

Not only do the new depth players have a significant chance to secure a spot in the top six, but so do young prospects like Tyler Benson and even Kailer Yamamoto who are working towards transitioning to the national league. The downside to them making the jump to the 2019/20 Oilers roster is that they would very often be playing against the other teams best players, potentially stunting their development. Additionally, the Oilers are moving ahead without Jesse Puljujärvi who should have been part of the long-term offensive solution in the top six had the Oilers handled his development better.

The Oilers are also taking a significant risk at such a crucial spot signing 37-year old netminder Mike Smith to a one-year deal. Smith is coming off of a rough 2018/19 season,  one in which he ranked 53rd among sixty goalies who played at least 1,000 minutes (approximately 20 games) with a 0.898 save percentage, and 53rd in goals saved above average (GSAA) with -12.65. While he did end his 2018/19 season on a high-note, we know based on goalie-aging curves that goaltenders don’t tend to improve with age, and that their drop-off grows as they get older. The other issue is Koskinen’s numbers from last season, as he ranked 41st among the same group of sixty goaltenders with a 0.906 save percentage and 49th when it came to GSAA with -6.21. Maybe Koskinen’s numbers improve if he gets more time to rest and if Smith gives the team league-average save percentage when that happens – but that’s a big gamble with not a lot of evidence supporting it. The long-term solution in goal also remains unsolved, with an internally drafted and developed option unavailable for NHL minutes until a season or more down the road.

The other outstanding issue for me is the penalty kill, which cost the Oilers wins last season. The Oilers addition of depth players like Granlund and Archibald – both of whom have penalty experience in the NHL – along with the coaching changes could help the team next season. But I remain skeptical, mainly because Dave Tippett and Jim Playfair didn’t exactly have much success shorthanded in Arizona.

Below is a summary of the Coyotes penalty kill, including goals, Fenwick and shots against per hour. Included is the team’s ranking in the league.

Season Goals against/60 Fenwick Against/60 Shots against/60
2009/10 5.66 – 6th 77.51 – 24th 54.51 – 19th
2010/11 8.12 – 26th 89.35 – 30th 63.84 – 30th
2011/12 5.2 – 8th 79.6 – 29th 55.62 – 27th
2012/13 7.53 – 22nd 70.24 – 20th 49.63 – 19th
2013/14 7.73 – 27th 77.97 – 22nd 57.36 – 21st
2014/15 8.42 – 29th 86.39 – 30th 62.69 – 30th
2015/16 8.09 – 28th 71.9 – 10th 50.79 – 12th
2016/17 8.29 – 26th 80.98 – 27th 53.84 – 16th

What stands out is not only their rate of goals against per hour, but also the rate of shots and scoring chances against – two areas that a coaching staff can impact depending on the structure they have in place to prevent events that lead to goals happening. As I wrote back in May, the most alarming thing about the Coyotes penalty kill numbers was that the coaching staff didn’t seem to recognize their underlying issues and couldn’t figure out how to fix things over the course of eight seasons. Hopefully they find the right tactics with the right players; they already have enough to worry about at even-strength and in goal.

*****

The fact that the Oilers are heading into the 2019/20 season with this many unresolved problems, at such critical areas, has me wondering if the team has already accepted their fate, resigned to taking another high draft pick and building a real contender next summer (or potentially the summer after that). If the Oilers management team actually thinks they can contend for a playoff spot, they sure are putting a lot of hope in their key performers from last season like Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Chiasson and Nurse having back-to-back career seasons, their goaltenders playing above their expected levels, new depth players contributing, and for their young prospects to make the jump to the NHL and playing significant minutes. I can’t imagine a sane management group having this much confidence in everything going right.

The other issue for me is that the Edmonton Oilers have shown very little interest in thinking outside the box and keeping up with other NHL teams. A key objective for the management team should be to find any sort of edge over the competition in an effort to build a long-term, sustainable winner. But the fact that other NHL teams are establishing sports science/research & development departments and preparing their analytics area for the influx of player tracking data, while the Oilers do little is very concerning. The fact that a lot of the Oilers off-season roster decisions – regardless if this is a re-building/transition year or not – were based largely on standard, conventional thinking really needs to be addressed if this franchise has any hope of becoming a championship contender.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Realistic solutions

jujhar-khaira-oilers-edmonton.jpg

The Oilers have spent a lot of time and resources this off-season addressing their forward depth, signing NHL-experienced players like Markus Granlund, Tomas Jurco, Josh Archibald and Alex Chiasson, and also dipping into the European market to find options like Gaetan Haas and Joakim Nygard.

The Oilers obviously recognized one of their biggest shortcomings in the 2018/19 season as their forwards were inept offensively, getting out-scored badly when McDavid, Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins weren’t on the ice. In 1,395 minutes at even-strength without their top three forwards on the ice (34.6% of the total ice time), the Oilers were outscored 45-26, a goal-share (GF%) of 36.62%. While the Corsi For percentage (CF% – a proxy for possession) and the Fenwick For percentage (FF% – a proxy for scoring chances) were fine, the team’s on-ice shooting percentage was 3.97%, well below league average rates and a good indication that the roster was lacking actual scoring talent.

TOI CF% FF% GF% On-Ice SH% On-Ice SV%
1395.88 49.76 50.31 36.62 3.97 93.04

With the increasing likelihood that McDavid will play significant time with Draisaitl again, and Nugent-Hopkins will be centering the second-line, there should be some concern regarding the players Holland has brought in to bolster the bottom six and if they have the talent to improve the team’s goal-share. One particular area of concern is the vacancy at center on the third line, something that Dave Tippett addressed in an interview on Oilers Now with host Bob Stauffer.

Stauffer: You mentioned the pairs thing, you mentioned McDavid with Leon, and you mentioned Neal with RNH. Third line center, is it wide open right now, in your mind?

Tippett: I think there’s going to be some different..we’re going to look at some different people. I think the young Haas kid from Switzerland is going to get a look there. I think JJ [Khaira] will get a bit of a look there. I’ve talked to [Khaira] quite a few times this summer and he’s got some center in his background and would like the opportunity to play there a little more. So there’ll be some options there that we’ll have a look at.

Bob: Sam Gagner has kinda reinvented himself, certainly in Columbus as a specialist, bottom six right wing. Is he an option at all down the middle, Dave?

Tippett: I like him better on the wing, and I know him a little better than the other guys just because I’ve had him in Arizona before. I agree with you. He’s a real good complement player, he’s a smart player, got good skill and will jump around your line up and complement some people. Where he ends up, I’m not sure. But that’ll be determined in training camp. He’s another guy that will jump around a little but until we find the right fit for him.

Source: Oilers Now (2019, July 30)

What stands out here is the fact that Khaira is very likely going to receive yet another tryout as a depth center, which is odd considering there’s enough evidence from his 154 NHL games that suggests he’s not well-suited for that role. Dave Tippett will be the third NHL coach that will grant Khaira a tryout at center.

Quick summary of Khaira’s career and how he’s been utilized by the Edmonton Oilers.

Season GP TOI (5v5) G-A-P P/60 CF% (Rel) GF%
2015/16 15 153.87 0-2-2 0.78 46.39 (+2.19) 41.67
2016/17 10 90.95 1-0-1 0.66 51.72 (+0.33) 66.67
2017/18 69 740.28 9-8-17 1.38 50.07 (-0.49) 43.40
2018/19 60 650.00 2-13-15 1.38 46.51 (-2.00) 38.89

As a 21-year old in his rookie season Khaira played on the wing, pairing up with center Anton Lander for 43.8% (67.35 minutes) of his total ice time in a more depth, shut-down role, and with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for 38.7% (59.60 minutes) of his total ice time on a second line along with Jordan Eberle. The remaining ice time was spent sporadically with Leon Draisaitl or Mark Letestu, both of which were regular centermen that season. While Khaira didn’t produce well overall, it’s worth noting that he was an effective winger with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle at even-strength (5v5), as the trio posted a goal-share of 57.14% (4 GF, 3 GA), and a Corsi For% of 50.0% in 53 minutes together.

Khaira’s second season in 2016/17 was similar to his first – limited minutes and predominantly on the wing. He spent the bulk of his ice time with one or both of Mark Letestu and Matt Hendricks, both of which I considered centers as they took faceoffs more regularly than Khaira. Of his 90.85 minutes of total ice time at even-strength, 93.1% (or 84.68 minutes) were spent with Letestu, Hendricks, Desharnais or McDavid (in very limited minutes).

In 2017/18 is when Khaira started getting some time as an actual center, with head coach Todd McLellan giving him an extended look in the bottom six to close out the lost season. For  a good portion of the season early on he was being deployed with Ryan Strome, giving the team a depth line with two players with opposite handedness who could share centerman responsibilities. The duo turned out to be quite effective playing together at even-strength, posting a Corsi For% of 52.64%, a Fenwick For% of 55.30% and a goal-share of 50.0% in 278 minutes.

Unfortunately the coaching staff went a different route, splitting the duo. And when they tested out Khaira as the sole center on a depth line to close out the 2017/18 season, the results were dreadful. With a variety of wingers including Lucic, Puljujärvi, Pakarinen, Caggiula, Kassian and Slepyshev, Khaira’s on ice goal-share as the sole center on his line was 33.3% (5 goals for, 10 goals against) over the course of 318 minutes. This was due in large part because the team allowed a higher proportion of shots against when Khaira played center, as his on-ice Corsi For percentage fell to 46.08%.

McLellan and the Oilers coaching staff appeared to have recognized that Khaira was better suited as a winger, or someone that could split centermen duties on a line, as he opened up his 2018/19 pre-season playing predominantly with Strome, who he had positive results with in 2017/18, and Puljujarvi. Unfortunately, the line was not given much of a chance when the actual season started, playing only 10 minutes together at even-strength before McLellan was fired and Strome was inexplicably traded away for winger Ryan Spooner.

Within a month of Ken Hitchcock’s arrival, Khaira was again being tested out as a centerman, and again his results were poor. In 2018/19, in his 204 minutes without any of the regular centers (i.e., McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins or Brodziak), Khaira’s on-ice Corsi For% at even-strength dropped to 43.08%, and his goal-share was 25.0% (3 GF, 9 GA). Khaira spent a third of his total ice time in this situation, giving the Oilers very little value and something that could have been avoided had Hitchcock and the coaching staff simply looked at Khaira’s on-ice results from the previous season under McLellan.

You can understand why Khaira would express interest in playing as a center – there’s clearly a need there and it’d be in his best interest to demonstrate his versatility, increasing his value to the team. However, based on his on-ice results as the sole center on a line under two different head coaches and the fact that the Oilers desperately need production from their bottom six, it would be in the club’s best interest to have Khaira on a line with another centerman (preferably a right shot) that he could potentially split faceoff duties with.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Buying low and managing expectations

NHL: Washington Capitals at Nashville Predators

The Oilers made a sensible deal last week acquiring forward James Neal from the Calgary Flames in exchange for Milan Lucic. For a minor fee, the Oilers were able to bring on a forward that has a better chance of bouncing back, considering the drop in his shooting percentage last season compared to his career average, and they also gained some much needed cap flexibility in the future if they need to buy-out the remaining years of the contract. The Flames slightly reduced their cap-hit and also shed some real dollars, but I still can’t understand why they were so desperate to move Neal that they would take on a heavy, burdensome contract like Lucic’s.

Below are Neal’s even-strength (5v5) stats since 2008/09, including his total goals, assists, points, shots, shots per hour and individual shooting percentage.

Season Team GP TOI G-A-P Shots Shots/60 Sh%
2008/09 DAL 77 949.37 15-11-26 126 7.96 11.90
2009/10 DAL 78 1064.82 22-19-41 148 8.34 14.86
2010/11 DAL/PIT 79 1119.63 16-18-34 157 8.41 10.19
2011/12 PIT 80 1134.65 22-26-48 208 11.00 10.58
2012/13 PIT 40 514.70 11-7-18 93 10.84 11.83
2013/14 PIT 59 802.70 14-17-31 153 11.44 9.15
2014/15 NSH 67 950.97 16-13-29 170 10.73 9.41
2015/16 NSH 82 1248.35 24-13-37 197 9.47 12.18
2016/17 NSH 70 978.22 15-9-24 148 9.08 10.14
2017/18 VGK 71 992.12 17-12-29 156 9.43 10.90
2018/19 CGY 63 784.55 5-8-13 108 8.26 4.63

What we know about Neal is that his point production has gradually declined, with his most recent season being his absolute worst. What especially stands out is his individual shooting percentage of 4.63% last season, an anomaly over the course of his career and well below his career average prior to the 2018/19 season (11.11%). Knowing that individual shooting percentages typically regress towards the mean over time, there’s a decent chance Neal’s bounces back next season. How much of a bounce-back depends of course on the player’s aging, as well as the situations (i.e., teammates, competition, zone starts, etc) that the player will be in.

Neal - Shooting percentage.jpg

While the Oilers hope that Neal’s 2018/19 season was an anomaly, it’s worth noting that his overall play has gradually declined even prior to his arrival in Calgary. Looking at his relative-to-team stats over the last five years, we see that his more recent teams have done better without him at even-strength than with him. The graph below includes relative to team Corsi For% (CF% – proportion of shot attempts, a proxy for possession), Fenwick For% (FF% – proportion of unblocked shot attempts, a proxy for scoring chances), Scoring Chances For% (SCF% – as defined by Natural Stat Trick), and High Danger Scoring Chances For% (HDCF% – as defined by Natural Stat Trick).

For instance, in his single season in Vegas in 2017/18, the Golden Knights posted a 50.51% Corsi For percentage at even-strength with Neal on the ice, but a slightly better proportion of shot attempts without him. Relative to the team, Neal was a -0.51 Corsi-rel, which must have been a little disappointing for the Vegas coaching staff considering he received top-six minutes (finished fourth on the team among forwards in ice time per game with 13:58) and he always posted solid numbers with and without star players in Pittsburgh and Nashville. Vegas also did better without Neal when it came to scoring chances, a trend that continued and got worse in Calgary.

Neal - Rel Stats

What’s interesting about Neal’s stint in Calgary is that he finished seventh on the team among forwards in ice time per game (12:27), most often playing in the bottom six with Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett. His reduced playing time might have to do with the fact that against elite players, his on-ice numbers had been in decline. (Data: Puck IQ)

Season Team TOI TOI% CF% (Rel) DFF% GF%
20142015 NSH 335.98 35.42 53.6 (+5.40) 51.9 (+0.90) 57.10
20152016 NSH 470.25 37.74 55.8 (+8.00) 60.2 (+9.50) 71.40
20162017 NSH 315.08 32.34 48.4 (-1.60) 48.1 (-2.50) 39.10
20172018 VGK 378.37 38.05 44.9 (-6.40) 43.4 (-12.70) 41.70
20182019 CGY 223.90 28.54 52.4 (-0.60) 47.9 (-5.10) 50.00

The table above includes Neal’s numbers against elite talent, as defined by Puck IQ. Included is Neal’s on-ice Corsi For percentage and relative to team mates number, as well as Dangerous Fenwick (DFF%), which is a “weighted shot metric using shot distance location and type of shot to give each shot a danger value”, and goals-for percentage (GF%).

In Nashville, and prior to that, Neal was playing often against the other team’s top end players, spending over 35% of his ice time at even-strength in these situations and faring quite well relative to his teammates. In 2016/17 however, while playing 32.3% of his time against top end talent and finishing second on the team among forwards in ice time per game, he posted a 48.40% Corsi For percentage in these situations, which was a drop relative to his teammates (-3.73). When he was left unprotected by the Predators in the expansion draft and went to Vegas, things got even worse as he again played often against elite talent but posted a very poor 44.90% Corsi For percentage, or a -6.40 relative to his teammates. The Flames coaching staff may have been aware of his declining performance against high end talent and his poor goal-share as they deployed him far less frequently against elites (28.5% of his even-strength ice time spent against them) and did see him post a very solid 52.40% Corsi For percentage (-0.60 relative to teammates) and a 50.0% goal-share. Unfortunately, this reduced playing time meant less time with skilled forwards, which may have played a role in his 4.63% individual shooting percentage.

It will interesting to see how the Oilers manage Neal, who because of the lack of scoring talent will likely get plenty of opportunities playing with McDavid, Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins. Hopefully the Oilers are aware of Neal’s declining on-ice numbers and how poorly he’s fared against elite talent when he was getting top six minutes. It would be in the Oilers coaching staff’s best interests to have a deployment plan in place to mitigate any risks Neal’s acquisition brings to the team and get as much offence as they can from the player.

Data: Natural Stat Trick, Puck IQ

Related:

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Background check

Vancouver+Canucks+v+Edmonton+Oilers+GMeVxxCCiATx

Following the Oilers signing of Markus Granlund to a one-year, $1.3 million contract, we were immediately informed of his experience and success on the penalty kill in Vancouver. And that it was a reason why the Oilers signed him.

The Oilers were 30th on the PK at 74.8 per cent with Chicago 31st at 72.7 per cent last year. Granlund did his best work on a shutdown line with fourth-line centre Jay Beagle and helped the Canucks 11th overall penalty kill with centre Brandon Sutter. (Source: Edmonton Journal)

When you get information like this – that’s obviously being distributed by the management group that just invested in a player, and probably the player’s agent as well – it’s always a good exercise to suss out just how much of an impact an individual player had on the overall success of the team.

In this case, we know that the Canucks had a decent penalty kill last season, finishing 13th in the league allowing 6.86 goals against per hour. This was due in large part to their ability limiting shots-on-goals against, ranking 9th in the league allowing 48.3 per hour. Had their goaltending been league average (their team save percentage ranked 21st in the league with 85.80%), their penalty kill very likely would have finished in the top ten. And we also know that Granlund led all Canucks skaters in total ice time on the penalty kill, and was fourth among forwards when it came to average ice time per game. So naturally, one could connect the information and assume that since Granlund played significant minutes on the penalty kill, he must have had a positive impact.

But when you dig into Granlund’s on-ice numbers, you realize that that’s not the case at all.

In the team-leading 183 penalty kill minutes that Granlund was on the ice, the Canucks allowed a rate of 9.16 goals against per hour. To put things into perspective, the Oilers penalty kill allowed a rate of 9.21 goals against per hour, good for 30th in the league. In the 236 penalty-killing minutes that Granlund wasn’t on the ice, the Canucks allowed a rate of 5.07 goals against per hour, which is right around the rate the Lightning and Coyotes posted as top penalty kill units last season.

Now the rate of goals against are heavily influenced by the goaltenders performance, which as mentioned above was below league average, so you can’t put everything on Granlund. Having said that, the rate of shots against – which players do influence as it’s part of their job – also saw a jump when Granlund was on the ice compared to when he was on the bench. Last season with Granlund on the ice, the Canucks allowed 54.31 shots-on-goals against per hour; without him that number dropped significantly to 43.63. What’s alarming is that even the season prior (2017/18), Granlund’s penalty kill numbers were just as poor. The team allowed the second lowest rate of shots against (49.8) in the league; with Granlund on the ice they allowed 60.71 shots per hour and without him they allowed 45.29. For someone being touted as a penalty kill option, it’s strange that his former team had so much better success limiting shots without him on the ice.

It’s also worth looking into the impact Granlund had on his teammates, specifically the defencemen, to see if someone else was potentially driving up his on-ice rate of shots against. Below is a graph showing what the rate of shots-on-goal against were when Granlund was deployed with the various Canucks defencemen last season, and how those defencemen did away from Granlund. Included is the team’s overall rate of shots-on-goal against (grey line across). Again, I focused on shots as it’s something that the players can influence, while the rate of goals against are more reliant on the goaltender’s performance.

Granlund PK WOWY.jpg

Across the board, the most commonly deployed Canucks defencemen saw their own on-ice rate of shots-on-goals against drop on the penalty kill when they didn’t have Granlund on the ice with them. For whatever reason, each defencemen’s numbers would jump when Granlund was deployed with them, making you wonder why that would happen and how the Oilers think they’ll mitigate the issue. This of course is assuming they know about Granlund’s past penalty kill numbers – they did just sign him to a  contract and penciled him in as a penalty kill option.

Considering how poorly the Oilers performed on the penalty kill last season, and the massive impact it’s had on their overall goal-differential, you would hope that the Oilers have identified their needs and have a plan in place to bring in the right personnel and tactics. So far, it doesn’t appear to be the case.

Related: Penalty Kill Expectations – The SuperFan (2019, May 30)

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

UPDATE: 2019, July 5 (11:50 PM)

Couple important points I want to add based on some of the feedback I received.

First, we can assume Granlund was on Vancouver’s first penalty kill unit based on his total ice time. However, as I mentioned in the article, his average ice time per game was third among forwards last season, meaning when the roster was healthy and Brandon Sutter was available, Granlund was moved down to the second powerplay unit where he’s probably better suited.

Another question I received was how Granlund’s on-ice numbers compared to the top penalty killing forwards on other rosters. Below is a list of 31 forwards (one from each team) and their on-ice rate of shots and goals against relative to their teams.

granlund vs peers

One thing that stands out is that because this group of players likely played against the other team’s top powerplay unit, their on-ice rate of shots against were higher relative to their team – the average among the group is +5.45 shots against per hour. So it should be no surprise that Granlund’s numbers were poor. Having said that, compared to his peers, Granlund’s on-ice rate of shots against (+9.36), as well as goals against (+4.04) relative to his team were one of the worst.

Reality Check

coppernblue.com.full.54273The Edmonton Oilers are a professional hockey team in the National Hockey League. And as of this moment, they lack the talent, depth and cap space to compete for a championship this season and going forward.

After 55 games, the Oilers rank 13th in the western conference and 6th in the Pacific division with 53 points (24-26-5). They’ve been outscored 184-159, a goal differential of -25, which ranks them 25th in the league. At even-strength, they have scored 2.44 goals per hour and allowed 2.94 per hour – both rates being the seventh-worst in the league in their categories. And while the Oilers  have the 7th best powerplay in the league, scoring 8.49 goals per hour, it’s all wiped out by their penalty kill that ranks 30th overall, allowing 8.92 goals against per hour.

While the Edmonton Oilers remain only four points out of a wild card playoff spot, they have shown very little to indicate that they can compete in the western conference. If we look at how the Oilers compare to their counterparts, not only do their results rank poorly, but so do their underlying shot-share metrics, which are used to predict future goal-share.

The table below lists the 15 NHL teams, sorted by their current rankings in the western conference, with their even-strength results over the past 25 games of the season. This includes their overall record, points percentage (i.e., points divided by the total points available – factoring in the three point games) and Goals For percentage (GF%).

Included are each team’s Corsi For percentage (CF%), or shot attempts, which are used as a proxy for possession and Fenwick For percentage (FF%), or unblocked shot attempts, which are used as a proxy for scoring chances. I’ve also included for each team their Scoring Chances For percentage (SCF%) and High-danger Scoring Chances For percentage (HDCF%), as definied by Natural Stat Trick.

Also included are each club’s team shooting percentage (SH%) and team save percentage (SV%), along with PDO to give us a sense of how far off the team’s are from league average numbers.

WestStandings - 20190210.JPG

Some interesting stuff at the top of the standings, with Winnipeg posting a Corsi For% of 47.67% over their last 25 matches, and relying on some excellent goaltending to win games. But the focus here is below the cut-line where the Oilers are posting the worst shot-share numbers in the wild-card race and not exactly giving us any confidence that their future goal-share at even-strength will be above 50.0%. Team’s like St. Louis, Colorado, Minnesota, and even Arizona, can trust their process and tactics, and feel confident that their coaching staff is doing everything they can to influence their team’s goal-share. The Oilers on the other-hand aren’t doing enough to improve their odds of winning hockey games, and their recent results reflect that.

And while you might consider Connor McDavid to be an x-factor in all of this, the fact is that the Oilers can barely get above the 45.0% mark when it comes to shot-share metrics, even with the best player in the world on the ice. Over the last 25 games at even-strength, McDavid’s on-ice Corsi For percentage is 45.33%, and his on-ice Fenwick For percentage is 43.47%. He’ll still definitely produce points in these circumstances, but make no mistake, McDavid’s productivity and his contribution to winning games is being hindered by whatever the Oilers coaching staff is trying to do.

McDavid - FF60 - 25.png

Over the last three seasons, McDavid’s on-ice rate of unblocked shot attempts for (again, a proxy for scoring chances), has typically been between 45.0 and 55.0 per hour over rolling 25-game segments. These are well above league-wide averages among forwards, making it even more alarming to see how badly McDavid’s numbers have declined this season.

Knowing what we know about this team, their results, their roster construction and their lack of assets, it’s blatantly obvious that the Edmonton Oilers are not in a position to compete for a championship this season or next. The damage done between April 24, 2015 and January 22, 2019 has been significant, and has left the team with no options but to re-coup as quickly as possible the assets and skill they’ve lost.

If the Oilers intend on getting things on track for a championship, they need to leverage and optimize the upcoming trade deadline, which is only two weeks, or six games, away. With a few expiring contracts and a number of roster players who do not provide good value for their production, it’s imperative that management do everything they can to create a market for these players and acquire as many assets as they can for them.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Related:

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

The Hitch Effect

coppernblue.com.full.54273To have a chance of making the playoffs this season, a lot of things are going to have to go right for the Edmonton Oilers. They’ll need their core players to be healthy. They’ll need their top end stars to produce and for their depth players to contribute. Special teams can’t be a drag. And they’ll need their goaltending to perform at or above league average levels. Pretty standard requirements for any of the western conference teams competing for a wild card spot.

One area that the Oilers really need to improve on to increase their chances of outscoring opponents at even-strength is their overall share of shot attempts, used as a proxy for possession, as well as their proportion of scoring chances. The Oilers have been posting some very poor numbers since Hitchcock arrived, generating the second lowest rate of shot attempts in the league, and allowing the eighth highest rate of shot attempts against. Looking at the rate of unblocked shot attempts for and against, or Fenwick (which I use as a proxy for scoring chances), the Oilers are getting around the same results – second lowest rate of chances for in the league, and sixth highest rate of chances against.

In their 30 games under Hitchcock, the Oilers have posted an even-strength Corsi For% (i.e., the proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated) of 46.61% – one of the worst in the league. To put things into perspective, the Oilers under Hitchcock are posting shot-shares that are similar to what the Oilers posted under previous coaching regimes.

Oilers - CorsiFor - 2007-2019.JPG

Poor roster construction, under-performing players and injuries to key players are definitely playing a factor in the Oilers’s poor shot-share metrics. But there has to be something more to this considering that almost every player’s on-ice numbers have taken a hit since Hitchcock arrived. And that includes Connor McDavid who very often has been able to drive offence no matter who is on the ice with him.

Below are the Oilers forwards this season who have played at least 50 minutes under Todd McLellan and at least 50 minutes under Hitchcock, and what their on-ice Corsi For percentages have been under each coach.

corsisplit - forwards - 20190129

The one player that sticks out, aside from McDavid, is Nugent-Hopkins, who saw his on-ice Corsi For percentage drop from 51.98% under McLellan to 41.39% under Hitchcock. Over his career, he’s usually been around 49.0%, regularly playing top competition, so there’s definitely something in the new system that’s driving down his numbers. When he’s been on the ice, the rate of shots against are at one of the highest among Oiler forwards, and not a lot is being generated in the offensive zone.

The fact that the team is having so much trouble sustaining offensive zone pressure at even-strength should be concerning to the management group who is obviously looking to improve their talent up front. One or two players aren’t likely going to turn the Oilers shot-share and scoring chance numbers around this drastically, so before making any transactions it’s important to dig into what the coaching staff is currently doing tactically, why it’s impacting almost every forward including the best player in the world, and how it can be improved.

Now management might be telling themselves that Klefbom’s return should improve things, as he not only brings a unqiue skill-set, but his presence will reduce the minutes played by guys like Nurse and Russell.

But if we look at the defencemen who played at least 50 minutes under McLellan and Hitchcock, we see that even Klefbom’s numbers took a hit, dropping from an on-ice Corsi For percentage of 53.24 down to 50.93. The fact that Klefbom’s numbers aren’t immune to the impacts of Hitchcock’s new system makes me skeptical that his return will drastically turn the team’s shot-share numbers around.

corsisplit - defencemen - 20190129

Something else to consider in all of this is how the rest of the teams that are competing for a wild card spot in the west have been doing over their last 25 games. Below is a summary, including each team’s points percentage, Corsi For% (proxy for possession), Fenwick For% (proxy for scoring chances) and Goals For%. I’ve also included each team’s shooting and save percentage to get a sense of how far above or below they are from league averages.

Team Points% CF% FF% GF% SH% SV% PDO
Minnesota 50.0% 50.16 51.20 45.83 7.03 90.47 0.975
Dallas 52.0% 48.00 48.79 47.52 6.01 93.41 0.994
Colorado 36.0% 50.75 51.17 40.06 5.91 90.79 0.967
Vancouver 56.0% 46.71 47.12 50.85 8.53 92.72 1.013
Anaheim 48.0% 48.98 48.44 46.54 7.76 91.72 0.995
Arizona 48.0% 48.49 49.17 41.14 6.94 90.13 0.971
St Louis 56.0% 53.72 54.72 54.14 8.14 91.69 0.998
Edmonton 46.0% 45.31 44.17 45.01 10.00 90.66 1.007
Chicago 44.0% 45.77 44.01 44.55 8.36 91.69 1.001
Los Angeles 50.0% 45.72 46.00 51.41 7.38 93.77 1.012

Just based on how well they’ve been controlling shots, and how well their goaltending has improved, I’d suspect that the Blues will make a stronger push for a wild card spot than teams like Edmonton and Vancouver. The Oilers always have the McDavid factor, and the goaltending could bounce-back, but they’re definitely going to have to make some deployment/tactical changes to remain competitive.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.