Pacific depth

With the Oilers currently ranking fifth in the Pacific division and trying to gain some ground in the standings, I wanted to get a sense of the competition in the Pacific and how each team’s depth is performing at even-strength (5v5). None of the teams in the Pacific have been overly intimidating, with each having their own issues either at even-strength or on special teams, and enduring inconsistent play throughout the season. So the race is really going to come down to what edge a club could have over their competition and how aggressively their management moves to address their own deficiencies.

To get a snapshot of each Pacific division team’s depth, I took the forward from each roster who has played the most even-strength (5v5) minutes this season and used their on-ice numbers as a proxy for their team’s first line. I then looked at how each team has performed without that player at 5v5 to evaluate the team’s depth. On average, top lines are deployed for about 30% of a team’s total 5v5 time, leaving a lot of minutes for the depth players who can really make or break a team’s season. It’s also a great way to evaluate how well a general manager has constructed their roster.

Below are the forwards for each team who will serve as a proxy for their team’s first line. Included for reference is their proportion of their team’s total even-strength (5v5) time.

Team Top Line Player TOI%
Anaheim Trevor Zegras 32.6%
Calgary Nazem Kadri 28.2%
Edmonton Connor McDavid 33.6%
Los Angeles Anze Kopitar 30.1%
San Jose Timo Meier 31.9%
Seattle Alex Wennberg 29.0%
Vancouver J.T. Miller 28.9%
Vegas Mark Stone 29.7%

The first table below shows how each team’s top line has performed at even-strength this season, sorted by the team’s current ranking in the Pacific division (based on points percentage). I’ve included the team’s actual results (i.e., goal-share and goal-differential) along with the shot-share metrics like Corsi For percentage (CF%, a proxy for puck possession), and Expected Goals For percentage (xGF%, a proxy for scoring chances) to get a sense of which teams have the right processes in place and if the results are sustainable or not. I’ve also included the team’s shooting percentage and save percentage. A basic heat-map has also been applied to show which teams are doing well or struggling relative to their division rivals.

This second table shows how each team has performed at even-strength without their top line, and included the same data points as the previous table. Again keep in mind, this is for about 70% of the team’s total 5v5 ice time, and will have a major impact on the team’s final standings.

Edmonton isn’t looking too hot here, considering the expectations heading into this season. The top line results at 5v5 have been mediocre, struggling to outscore opponents (+3 goal-differential) and just barely controlling the flow of play. Edmonton’s number’s without their top line are similar to how it’s been the last number of years, with the club consistently getting outshot and outscored – and giving back the majority of the goals that the top line has generated. Their 45.36% goal share without their top line is only ahead of San Jose and Anaheim in the Pacific, and barely ahead of Vegas. It’s a clear indication that management has again done a poor job constructing a competitive roster around their superstar player.

At the top of the division, it appears Vegas is a top-heavy team – controlling the flow of play and outchancing and outscoring opponents with their top line, but giving back everything that’s been gained when their other lines are out there. Vegas’ 44.86% goal-share without their top line is currently only better than San Jose and Anaheim’s, and is the reason why Vegas’ overall 5v5 goal differential is only +1. Seattle is the opposite from Vegas as their top line is the one getting outscored – the third worst goal-share in the Pacific – but getting bailed out by their other three lines that have posted a +26 goal differential. Both Vegas and Seattle are doing a decent job creating opportunities with and without their top lines, a good sign that things should gradually improve. It’ll come down to their finishing talent with either individual players bouncing back or if their management starts exploring the trade market.

Los Angeles and Calgary are pretty similar to one another, doing well when it comes to shot-share metrics regardless of which lines are out there, but are getting sunk by their goaltending that currently ranks near the bottom of the league. They’re both hanging in there though, posting positive goal-differentials with and without their top lines and should continue to remain competitive down the stretch. Calgary’s depth especially should be seeing better results considering their 56% Corsi For percentage and Expected Goals For percentage, but it’ll come down to their finishing talent up front and goaltending. Of the other three clubs at the bottom of the Pacific division standing, San Jose is the most noteworthy as their top line is doing well, posting some of the best shot-share metrics in the division and a 52% goal-share. But they’re clearly lacking everywhere else as their other lines spend more time without the puck and getting outscored at a high rate.

It remains to be seen how Edmonton will make ground in the standings, but it doesn’t appear they’ll see much progress at even-strength, especially when other clubs are posting better shot-share numbers with and without their top lines. It’s again going to come down to what McDavid can do and hope that the rest of the roster can somehow break even in terms of shots and goals when he’s not on the ice. And it’ll be up to the coaching staff to first identify the issues and make the necessary tactical and line-up adjustments. The powerplay is likely going to be the reason Edmonton remains in the race, but it could be over quick if they continue to struggle at even-strength and if the penalty kill continues to be poor.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

What’s going on with Leon? – Part 2

The last time we checked in on Leon Draisaitl a few weeks ago, he was getting lots of points on the powerplay but really struggling to produce at even-strength. His rate of points per hour was well below his career levels, and he was posting some of the worst on-ice numbers on the team with the Oilers getting badly outshot when he would be on the ice.

Likely recognizing Draisaitl’s issues at even-strength and the negative impact it was having on the team’s overall results, the coaching staff made some adjustments to get the forward’s even-strength production back on track. The solution: give Draisaitl more ice time with Connor McDavid.

Over the last ten games, the coaching staff has deployed the two on a line together at even-strength more consistently and it’s done wonders for Draisaitl. In these ten games since November 26th, Draisaitl has posted nine points in 166 minutes of ice time – a points per hour rate of 3.25. That’s a significant improvement from the first 20 games of the season when he had nine points in 306 minutes – a points rate of 1.76 and well below his previous three year average of 2.68.

The table below breaks down Draisaitl’s individual and on-ice numbers in the first twenty games of the season where he spent about 20% of his ice time with McDavid, and the last 10 games where he’s been McDavid’s regular wing man, spending 98% of his ice time with the captain.

A big reason why Draisaitl has been so much more productive is the significant improvement in his on-ice shot-share numbers. Playing alongside McDavid, Draisaitl has seen his on-ice possession numbers (i.e., Corsi) and share of scoring chances (i.e., Fenwick) improve by about ten percentage points, going from around 43% all the way to 53% – levels you would expect from high-end talent. The team is spending far more time playing with the puck when Draisaitl has been on the ice in the last ten games, and the results have been much better as well. Prior to being McDavid’s regular winger, Draisaitl was posting an on-ice goal-share of 45% (a -3 goal differential). Since then, he’s posted a goal-share of 57%, a +3 goal differential in these ten games.

With Draisaitl needing to play with McDavid more often to remain productive, it does make the Oilers more vulnerable to getting outshot and outscored when the two aren’t on the ice. Instead of playing around 18 even-strength minutes per game without one of the two being deployed, the Oilers are now playing about 29 minutes per game without them. The Oilers play about 47 minutes per game at even-strength this season, meaning they won’t have one of their two star players on the ice for about 61.7% of their 5v5 time. Ideally, coaches are spreading out their offence and Draisaitl is a scoring threat on his own line, giving the coaching staff an advantage when it comes to even-strength matchups and overwhelming opponents. But if Draisaitl can’t put up even-strength points and becomes a defensive liability without McDavid, the Oilers coaching staff will need to figure out deployment and tactical strategies for the other three lines to ensure they’re not getting out-shot, out-chanced and out-scored without the two star forwards. This might also require some tweaks to the roster construction, something Oilers management has often struggled with.

Up until this point of the season (30 games in), the Oilers are posting a 49% Corsi for percentage and a 47% Expected goals for percentage when McDavid and Draisaitl haven’t been on the ice. These below-average shot-share numbers have lead to a 47% goal-share, or a -2 goal differential – a major issue for the team that has high playoff aspirations. And while the results without McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice have been better over the last ten games, it doesn’t appear to be sustainable considering they continue to get out-chanced regularly without their star players.

So while it’s great to see Draisaitl produce at even-strength again, it does come at a significant cost – one that could impact the Oilers chances of being a legitimate contender.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Dispirit

With the Edmonton Oilers currently struggling to break even at even-strength (5v5) this season, they desperately need their special teams to keep them afloat and competitive in a fairly mediocre Pacific division. And while the Oilers powerplay continues to dominate and remain one of the best in the league, the penalty kill is struggling mightily allowing one of the highest rates of goals against in the league, completely nullifying everything that their high-octane powerplay has produced.

Over the first 25 games of the season, the Oilers penalty kill has allowed 26 cumulative goals against (3 GF, 29 GA) – a rate of 12.60 goals against per hour, which is fourth highest in the league. One of the main drivers for their poor results is the team’s defensive play, as the club struggles defending the blue line for zone entries and keeping chances outside the high danger scoring areas. And this is reflected in the team’s rate of unblocked shot attempts against (a proxy for scoring chances), which is ninth highest in the league (82.98 per hour) and the rate of shots on goal against which is sixth highest (61.69 per hour).

The team’s defensive play is an issue that’s carried over from last season when they were posting similar numbers, but were being bailed out by the goaltending which posted the 10th best save percentage in the league (87.53%). This year, they’re not getting the same rate of saves on the penalty kill as the current Campbell-Skinner tandem has thus far posted a combined save percentage of 79.58% – which ranks 29th in the league. Campbell is especially struggling on a high-event penalty kill, something that was somewhat expected considering his previous team in Toronto allowed some of the lowest rate of shots against when shorthanded. Among 42 goalies who have played at least 45 minutes on the penalty kill this season, Campbell ranks 39th with a 78.90% save percentage and a -4.73 goals saved above average. Skinner isn’t faring much better, as he ranks 36th in the same pool of goalies with a 80.30% save percentage and 37th when it comes to goals saved above average with -3.21.

These results are especially frustrating when you consider the fact that everything the Oilers powerplay has done for the team has been completely offset by the defensive play and goaltending on the penalty kill. Consider the talent on the powerplay, the cost of these players, the practice time, and the chemistry that’s been developed for them to be one of the best units in the league. It’s all been washed away by a penalty kill that surrenders so many shots, chances and goals against – and preventing the powerplay from being an actual asset. Especially at a time when the Oilers are struggling at even-strength, posting a negative goal differential and below-average shot-share numbers, the Oilers can’t afford deficiencies of this scale.

The Pacific division is wide-open at this point with six of the eight teams currently posting negative goal differentials (in all situations). Fixing the penalty kill, either through tactical or deployment adjustments, has to be a top priority for the coaching staff if they intend on locking down one of the top three playoff spots.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

What’s going on with Leon?

The star forward is among the league leaders in points, but his production and on-ice numbers at even-strength are lower that expected. It’s critical for the coaching staff and management to figure out what’s going on with Draisaitl if they want their 5v5 numbers to improve.

There’s obviously a lot of team-wide issues right now for the Edmonton Oilers, as the club ranks fifth in the Pacific with a 0.526 points percentage and ninth in the western conference. Defensive play has been poor, the offence has dried up, and there’s plenty of questions about the roster construction and the potential internal solutions. It’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staff and management navigate things in such a high pressure season.

Even-strength (5v5) play is the biggest point of weakness for the club as they’re getting out-shot, out-chanced and out-scored regularly – ranking in the bottom third of the league when it comes to performance indicators that drive positive results. And it’ll need to improve if the Oilers want to keep up with the top teams in the league.

One player in particular that is currently struggling playing even-strength minutes is Leon Draisaitl. He’s a proven star in the league and can improve the team’s odds of winning games. And he’s among the league leader in points this season because of his dominance on the powerplay. But his even-strength numbers this season, including his personal numbers and his on-ice numbers, have been poor compared to his previous three seasons – and it’s part of the reason why the Oilers are struggling to win games.

Starting with his personal numbers, Draisaitl currently has nine even-strength points which ranks fourth on the Oilers – a points per hour rate of 1.85. That’s a drop from the 2.68 points per hour from his previous three seasons – a level that top line, star forwards typically produce at. Heading into this current season, Draisaitl’s rate of points ranked 17th among over 500 forwards who played at least 1,000 minutes since 2019, a period in which he’s accumulated the third highest number of points in the league. His current rate of 1.85 ranks 131st among 324 players who have played at least 200 minutes this year – not anywhere near where he should be considering his history.

What’s driving his drop in production is his individual rate of shots per hour which has decreased from 6.43 per hour over the last three seasons to 5.56. And his shooting percentage is also lower than expected, currently sitting at 14.81%. Considering his age and his talent, you would expect to see his rate of shots and his shooting percentage to gradually improve, resulting in better productivity over the course of the season. But there’s a couple other issues to consider.

One reason for his lower rate of shots per hour this season is the fact that the Oilers are spending a significant amount of time without the puck when he’s on the ice, as reflected by the team’s Corsi For percentage (a proxy for puck possession) of 42.83%. The team is also getting out-chanced more regularly when Draisaitl is on the ice with, as reflected by their 43.19% share of expected goals (a proxy for scoring chances and shot quality) – which again is a drop from the levels we’ve seen with him on the ice over the last three seasons. All of Draisaitl’s on-ice shot-share numbers (i.e., Corsi For%, Fenwick For%, Expected Goals For%) are some of the lowest on the team, only ahead of Holloway and Shore. And it’s on the defensive side of things where the Oilers are really struggling with Draisaitl, as they see more than a 17% increase in the rate of shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts and shots on goal against with their star forward on the ice. The rate of expected goals against this season – which factors in shot quality and scoring chances against – increases by 26% with Draisaitl on the ice, going from 2.78 per hour to 3.51.

Draisaitl’s poor on ice numbers at even-strength is pretty significant considering the expectations on him as a player and the team this season. The Oilers top six is supposed to be one of the best in the league, but it’s hard to accomplish anything when a star forward is struggling and the team is failing to control the flow of play and total scoring chances with him on the ice.

What’s worth noting is that Draisaitl is struggling with pretty much every linemate and defenceman on the Oilers, unable to post shot-share numbers like Corsi For% and Expected Goals For% above the 50% break-even mark, regardless of the player he’s with.

The one player that Draisaitl is having success with this season is Bouchard, as they’ve played 90 minutes together and posted a Corsi For percentage of 51.71% and an Expected Goals For percentage of 52.26 – both numbers being well above the team’s current averages. With Nurse having his own issues and posting some of his worst on-ice numbers in his career this season, it might be beneficial to the team, and especially for Draisaitl, if Bouchard saw an increase in his even-strength minutes and more time with the top lines.

Whatever the coaching staff and management decide to do to improve the team, whether it’s internal or external solutions, it’s important to have a firm grasp of the real issues plaguing the team and implementing changes that help improve the odds of winning games. Considering their poor results and underlying numbers at even-strength – where 80% of the game is played – it’s critical they focus here first and find tactical and deployment solutions as soon as possible.

Data and glossary: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Issue detection

Really can’t emphasize enough how much of a drop off there’s been when comparing this season’s results to last season after the coaching change occurred. One of the biggest improvements the Edmonton Oilers made after Jay Woodcroft took over in February 2022 – and what helped drive the overall results – was the team’s possession and scoring chance numbers at even-strength as the club went from around league-average levels to being one of the best in the league.

After the coaching change last season, the Oilers played more aggressively with leads, they spread out their offence across multiple lines and their depth players weren’t getting out-shot and out-chanced as much as they had been in previous seasons. All of these coaching-driven factors played a major role in the overall results at the end of the 2021/22 regular season, and the process behind it all was based on sound logic and reasoning.

Fast forward to this season, and the team isn’t anywhere near where they were in the final thirty-eight games of last season. Their possession numbers and share of scoring chances are currently some of the lowest in the league, with their Corsi For percentage dropping down from 53.71% last season to 47.76% this season. And their share of expected goals is down to 46.29% – which ranks 26th in the league only ahead of Anaheim in the Pacific division.

Now it’s understandable if the Oilers defensive play gets most of the attention as the results are what stands out first. They’re currently allowing the seventh highest rate of goals against at even-strength (2.78), and their penalty kill is allowing 12.04 goals against per hour – the third highest in the league. Management didn’t exactly build a strong, championship caliber defence core either and we’ve seen established players struggle throughout this season and some of the young prospects struggle to gain traction at the NHL level. The team also spent a lot of money on a new starting goalie who is struggling early on this season – which was also somewhat expected.

When we dig into the actual results, we see that they’re somewhat expected as the club is having all sorts of issues preventing shots and scoring chances at even-strength, with their rates all having increased by a significant margin compared to last season. For instance, the rate of expected goals against – which factors in shot quality and the probability of an unblocked shot becoming a goal – has increased by 17.4% this season. The table below shows the other defensive numbers from this season and the thirty eight games under Woodcroft from last season with percentage changes.

What’s further troubling are the issues up front.

With arguably one of the best top-six forward groups in the league, and with the powerplay having a lot of success and McDavid and Draisaitl leading the league in points – it can generally be assumed that the Oilers offence is and will be just fine. But if we take a look at the numbers at even-strength, that’s really not the case. And things have taken a significant hit compared to last season, similar to the levels experienced on the defensive side of things.

The Oilers are only scoring 2.26 goals per hour at even-strength, which ranks 24th in the league and last in the Pacific division. The biggest issue is that they generate some of the lowest rates of shot attempts, shots on goal and scoring chances – all of which have dropped over 10% compared to last season. The Oilers current offensive rates have them in the bottom third in the league for each category – a big drop off from the end of last season where they were closer to the top five in the league after Woodcroft took over.

You’d hope someone in the Oilers management group is aware of this situation and is questioning (a) how the roster was built the way it was, and (b) the coaching tactics and player deployment that is being implemented. There’s a significant problem in Edmonton both offensively and defensively, and it’s critical for the team to get things on track if they want to be considered a championship contender.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Drop off

Pretty rough start for the Edmonton Oilers, securing only four points in their first five games of the season – all of which were at home and included three losses in regulation time.

The issue for the Oilers – which has been an ongoing thing for years now – is their play at even-strength (5v5) where they have only scored five goals in five games. We can’t expect this to last forever considering the talent they have and the fact that the team is currently converting only 4.38% of their shots into goals – the lowest shooting percentage in the league. This is a team that’s typically around the league average rate of about 8.50% and a number of players – including McDavid and Draisaitl – are posting on-ice shooting percentages well below their career levels.

What is concerning, however, is that the team itself is generating a relatively low rate of shots and scoring chances at even-strength this season – numbers much lower than they were last year after Jay Woodcroft took over as head coach. Shot metrics, including the rate of shots for and against and the overall share of total shots, are driven by tactics and deployment – things that are under the control of the coaching staff. So it’s been a little surprising to see the drop off.

The table below shows the Oilers offence as reflected by the team rate of shot attempts (Corsi), unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick), shots and expected goals (xGoals) this season compared to the numbers last season after Woodcroft took over. The numbers have been score and venue adjusted based on Natural Stat Trick’s methodology.

Now I’m using the numbers from last season under Woodcroft as a comparison because that was a really good team we saw in the final 38 games of the season. And they had the results and the strong underlying shot share numbers that top-end teams post at even-strength – levels that the Oilers should be trying to reach to be considered legitimate contenders.

And so far, they’re below where they should be. For example, the Oilers are currently generating about 37 unblocked shot attempts per hour, which ranks 25th in the league, only ahead of teams like Montreal, San Jose, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Anaheim, Chicago and Arizona. This current rate is about 20% lower than where they were last season when they generated over 46 unblocked shot attempts per hour – which was top five in the league. Their actual shots on goal has dropped by 18.6% compared to last season and their rate of expected goals has dropped by 13.3%.

Yes it’s five games, and there’s plenty of time to correct this. But it’s a good topic to ask the coaching staff about considering some of the other higher-end teams are getting positive results due in large part to their ability to out-shoot and out-chance opponents consistently. Pittsburgh for example is off to 4-0-1 start, have scored 19 even-strength goals, are generating some of the highest rates of shots in the league and are posting shot-share numbers (like Corsi For% and Expected Goals For%) above 52%.

That brings me to my next point. Because of their lack of offence and issues controlling the flow of play and generating shots, the Oilers are also posting poor possession and shot-share metrics compared to last season under Woodcroft.

The Oilers currently rank in the bottom third of the league when it comes to things like Corsi For% (46.61%, 23rd overall), Fenwick For% (44.15%, 27th overall) and Expected Goals For% (45.45%, 21st overall), well below where they were last season when they ranked near the top of the league after Woodcroft took over.

And if we look at the top teams from last season, and how they did in their first five to six games, we see that while the results may not have been there right off the bat, at least they were beating opponents on the shot clock and setting themselves up for success. Six of the top seven teams in terms of points percentage last season posted a Corsi For% above 50% in their first few weeks of the season and averaged an expected goals share above 53%. Interesting to see that Colorado was the one team in this group that struggled early on, but managed to turn it around – definitely an outlier that the Oilers can try to emulate.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers can turn things around at even-strength, and the influence Woodcroft can have on the underlying numbers through potential tactical and deployment adjustments. Woodcroft and his coaching staff did set the bar quite high based on the numbers the Oilers posted last season. But it’s important to reach those expectations as soon as possible if the Oilers want to improve their chances of winning hockey games and establishing themselves as contenders.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Trepidation

Ahead of such a high-pressure regular season where the Oilers are expected to contend for the cup, there remains a few question marks across the roster. Up front the Oilers have the high end talent needed to win championships, but it remains to be seen if the rest of the group can consistently outscore opponents when McDavid isn’t on the ice. And on the blue line, things are looking alright with a top four that should be able to hold its own in the Pacific, although no major game breakers exist on the backend like some of the top teams have – unless of course Bouchard takes another step. But as long as the defence core and the top end stars stay healthy, and a couple youngsters emerge as reliable options, a playoff berth should be achievable.

The biggest concern heading into the regular season is in net with 30-year old Jack Campbell starting the first season of a five-year contract. While he should be a more stable option than someone like Mike Smith, his recent numbers have been pretty similar to those posted by the ‘battler’. So it’s unclear if Campbell is really going to be an upgrade.

Over the last three seasons, Campbell has been right around league average posting a 0.916 save percentage at even-strength, which ranks 32nd among 68 goalies who have played at least 2,000 minutes (~42 games). He also posted a +2.54 goals saved above average (GSAA), which ranks 32nd in the same cohort. For reference, Mike Smith was right behind Campbell, ranking 33rd with a 0.916 save percentage at even-strength and 33rd when it comes to GSAA with +2.53. Worth noting too that Mike Smith was a better goalie when it came to high danger chances, posting a 0.819 high-danger save percentage (HDSV%) ranking 42nd, while Campbell ranked 65th among 68 goalies with a 0.794 save percentage.

Even-strength (2019-2022)

And on the penalty kill is where Smith has posted better numbers than Campbell. In the last three seasons, Campbell posted a save percentage of 0.881, which ranked 14th among 66 goalies who played at least 200 shorthanded minutes (~42 games). Smith on the other hand was one of the best goalies in the league, ranking second in the group with a 0.902 save percentage and tied with the Rangers Igor Shesterkin. With the Oilers consistently allowing one of the highest rate of shots against on the penalty kill, both under Tippett and Woodcroft, Smith really bailed the team out posting a +16.47 goals saved above average shorthanded, second only to Shesterkin.

Penalty kill (2019-2022)

The other issue worth monitoring is how well Campbell handles the workload in Edmonton, which will be slightly higher than what he was used to in Toronto as the Oilers do tend to play more of a free flowing game and willing to exchange scoring chances. Over the last three seasons under head coach Sheldon Keefe, the Leafs allowed one of the lowest rates of shots against in the league at even-strength with 28.55, and allowed 39.52 unblocked shot attempts against (i.e., Fenwick). Under either Woodcroft or Tippett, the Oilers were slightly higher than that and closer to league average levels, allowing about 30 shots against per hour and just over 41 unblocked shot attempts.

That’s not too bad of a difference and it’ll be interesting to see if the Oilers can improve their defensive play. But it’s on the penalty kill where things could get a little rough for Campbell. Over the last three seasons in Toronto under Keefe, Campbell’s teammates allowed 64.51 unblocked shot attempts per hour when shorthanded and 47.38 shots against per hour – numbers much stronger than league average levels. The Oilers on the other hand have been fairly poor on the penalty kill allowing 77.80 unblocked shot attempts against per hour and 56.69 shots against per hour over the last three seasons. Those numbers actually got worse when Woodcroft took over with the Oilers allowing 81.65 unblocked shot attempts against per hour and 59.63 shots against per hour after the coaching change in February 2022. As mentioned above, the Oilers goaltending really bailed out the penalty kill and masked some of the underlying tactical issues. Now it remains to be seen if Campbell can do the same, all while adjusting to a new team and system.

We’ve seen a few goalies in recent years now make their debuts with new teams following success elsewhere and falling flat. Jacob Markstrom was the Flames big off-season signing in 2020 following a career year in Vancouver, but saw his numbers take a hit as he adjusted to new teammates and a new system. And the Flames ended up missing the playoffs that season. Philipp Grubauer was another goalie who had posted solid numbers in Washington and Colorado, was even a Vezina trophy finalist, before signing with Seattle in 2021. But he too struggled adjusting to a new system, and the Kraken ended up finishing last in the Pacific. Considering both goalies were roughly the same age as Campbell when they moved to new teams and had similar pressures to live up to new multi million dollar contracts, you can understand why there might be some trepidation with the Oilers goaltending this upcoming season.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Forecasting Leon Draisaitl’s 2022-23

Expectations are going to be high for the Edmonton Oilers as the club attempts to meet and hopefully exceed the results from last season. Make no mistake, winning a round, and hopefully two, is the only way to really justify this management group’s roster construction and asset management this off-season. To be one of the top end teams in the league is going to require consistently outscoring opponents, and having a 50 goal scorer or two is going to help – especially when the rest of the roster has had issues producing in the past without one of the top end stars on the ice.

When it comes to Leon Draisaitl, there’s a fairly good chance he’ll continue producing at the rate he’s been at over the last few seasons. He’s clearly in his prime, has done well staying healthy and has put up 304 all-situation points in 207 games over the last three seasons. That’s second only behind Connor McDavid (325 points) and 50 points ahead of third place Jonathan Huberdeau (254 points). Feels like 100 points is a reasonable target for the 24-year old, and there’s a good chance he’ll surpass that.

But what about actual goals? Is it safe to assume he can reach the 50-goal mark next season? Can we can expect him to surpass that again? Could he even hit 60 and help the Oilers reach the 300 goal mark like five other teams did last season? It’s a lofty goal for the German forward as it’s been accompllished only three times in recent memory: Auston Mathews in 2021/22 (60 goals), Steven Stamkos in 2011/12 (60 goals) and Alexander Ovechkin in 2007/08 (65 goals).

For this exercise, I’m keeping things relatively simple. I’m going to project how many games Draisaitl will play in 2022/23, and then using his average rate of shots on goal per game at even-strength and the powerplay as well as his shooting percentages over the last three seasons, determine how many goals he’ll likely score next season. From there we can figure out what he and the Oilers can do to improve his odds of scoring 60 goals.

First, a summary of the number of goals Draisaitl has scored each season that he’s been in the league, with a breakdown of goals by the various game-states: even-strength, powerplay and penalty kill.

So what’s a reasonable target for Draisaitl next season?

Let’s start with even-strength where Draisaitl has scored 72 goals from 410 shots over the last three seasons, posting a 17.56% shooting percentage – one of the best in the league.

If he plays in 97% of the games this upcoming season (which is the proportion of games he’s played in since his first full season in the league), so about 80 games, and generates 1.95 shots per game, which is what he’s averaged over the last few seasons – he should get about 155 shots on goal at even-strength. And if he posts the same shooting percentage he’s had over the last three seasons (17.56%), he should score about 27 even-strength goals. Now if he can match his career high shooting percentage of 20.53% which he did in the 2018/19 season, he could potentially score 31 – slightly better than what he posted last season.

On special teams, I think we can reasonably expect about 22 powerplay goals from Draisaitl next season. Table below is a summary of his powerplay history.

Based on the rate of shots he’s posted on the powerplay over the last three seasons (1.17 shots per game), he’ll likely get about 93 shots on goal. And if he converts on 23.50% percent of those shots, which has been his shooting percentage over the last three seasons, he’ll get about 22 goals. If he somehow matches the 25.81% powerplay shooting percentage that he posted in the 2019/20 season, he could get to 24 goals matching his powerplay total from last season. And since he’s scored a short-handed goal in each of the last two seasons, and actually scored three times in 2018/19, I think we can expect a shorthanded goal next year as well. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he got two on the penalty kill as his rate of shorthanded shots doubled last season, going from 0.07 per game to 0.15.

So taking a conservative approach and using his rate of shots and his individual shooting percentage from the last three seasons at even-strength and on special teams, we can expect Draisaitl to score about 50 goals in the 2022/23 regular season (27 on even-strength, 22 on the powerplay and one shorthanded). This of course is assuming Draisaitl remains healthy, he continues to play with good players at even-strength. And the Oilers powerplay continues to have the same talent and tactical approach as it’s had the last few seasons with Glen Gulutzan running things.

Now to get anywhere near 60 goals, a few things will need to go right.

First Draisaitl will need to match his career best shooting percentages at even-strength (20.53% in 2018/19) and the powerplay (25.81% in 2018/19). Doing that and generating the same rate of shots per game from the last three seasons (1.95 shots per game at even-strength and 1.17 shots per game on the powerplay) and he could potentially reach 57 goals (31 on even-strength, 24 on the powerplay and 2 shorthanded).

To get more than 57 goals, he’ll need to not only match his career high shooting percentages (as listed above), but also match his career highs in terms of shots per game at even-strength and the powerplay. If he can generate 2.14 shots per game at even-strength, which is what he posted in 2019/20, putting up 170 shots, and convert on 20.53% of those shots like he did in 2018/19, he could get to 35 even-strength goals. And if he can generate 1.41 shots per game on the powerplay like he did in 2020/21, put up 112 shots, and convert on 25.81% of those shots like he did in 2019/20, he could get to 29 powerplay goals. Add another shorthanded one, and he could get to 65.

Considering how well Draisaitl has played the last few seasons, how much time he gets to play with McDavid and how the rate of goal-scoring has increased across the league, it really isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Wildnerness

It’s been pretty baffling watching the Jesse Puljujärvi situation play out in real-time. Part of me is annoyed that the club appears to be ignoring the positive on-ice impacts the 24 year old has had since being drafted. But I’m also well aware that this management group doesn’t always grasp what their team’s weaknesses are, has consistently had trouble identifying professional level talent, and very rarely makes well-informed roster decisions. This is an ongoing issue for the franchise, and doesn’t appear to be improving any time soon under the current ownership.

And let’s be very clear on Puljujärvi: his on-ice results (i.e., goal-share) and the shot-share metrics that predict future results all indicate he’s a top-six NHL winger who helps his team spend more time in the offensive zone and increases his team’s odds of out-scoring opponents. You can pick apart how he gets good results and his finishing ability – those are mostly valid. But there’s no question that his strengths have helped his teammates, especially his most common centerman and drives positive results for his team.

In an industry that’s still dominated by conservative, risk-averse individuals and flawed business practices and decision-making processes, he’s become an undervalued asset because of his size and the way he plays and how he’s personally produced. His deficiencies are being perceived to be greater than his strengths – basically a lot of noise that can be debunked with some progressive thinking and statistical analysis. There’s a lot of inefficiencies when it comes to roster construction and decision-making in the NHL, and this is a perfect one to exploit by an intelligent team.

Now I understand too that Puljujärvi’s group have probably recognized that the Oilers are not very deep on the right-side and might be asking for too much in negotiations, and that could be a reason why the Oilers prefer to move on from him. But this is why you need to identify talent as early on as possible through proper scouting and statistical analysis, and be willing to take on some risk by signing these players long-term earlier in their careers. “Over-ripening” isn’t an efficient approach in a cap world and the Oilers are now in a position of weakness in the trade market and at risk of losing a good player when his value is at its lowest.

The hope now is that the Oilers don’t get robbed in a trade, which has become a regular thing since Holland arrived. Whoever the replacement is for Puljujärvi, they need to be someone that can have a positive impact at even-strength, with and without top end linemates, and can be deployed against top competition. Based on the rumors out there, I’m not seeing any viable options unless the Oilers are planning to take on someone that’s a longer term project. The team has three seasons left with McDavid and Draisaitl to push for a championship, so whoever is acquired needs to make an immediate impact.

Related:

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Previewing the Oilers vs Flames

With the second round about to start, a quick look at how all of the playoff teams performed up until this point. The table below has each team’s even-strength (5v5) shot-share numbers, goal-share, team shooting percentage and team save percentage from the first round, and is sorted by goal-share. I’ve also included each team’s special team numbers, which includes their rate of unblocked shot attempts for (Fenwicks) on the powerplay (PP FF/60) and their rate of goal-scoring per hour (PP GF/60). And also the rate of unblocked shot attempts against on the penalty kill (PK FA/60) and the rate of goals-against per hour (PK GA/60).

We know the Oilers did well in terms of shot-share metrics at even-strength (5v5) in their series against the Kings, thanks in large part to the play of McDavid. Aside from their inability to out-shoot and out-chance the Kings without McDavid on the ice, the team’s overal shooting percentage was also below what they had posted in the final twenty five games of the regular season (9.01%) – an indication that their other top line players are struggling or injured.

The other concern for Edmonton heading into their series against Calgary is that the Flames have performed quite well with and without their top line on the ice – both in the regular season and so far in the playoffs. In the last twenty five games of the regular season, the Flames top line featuring Johnny Gaudreau dominated at even-strength, posting some of the best shot share numbers in the league and a Goals For percentage of 68.29%. Without their top line, the Flames shot-share numbers were still excellent, and they out-scored opponents 34-30, a goal-share of 53%.

Flames (5v5)
Final 25

Corsi For% Fenwick For% Expected Goals For% Goals For% GF/GA
With Gaudreau 54.65 54.39 59.55 68.29 28/13
Without Gaudreau 58.97 57.97 52.52 53.13 34/30

The Flames shooting percentage took a major hit in the first round against the Stars thanks to a strong performance from goaltender Jake Oettinger. And that included the top line who saw their on-ice shooting percentage fall from 12.77% at the end of the regular season to 6.65% against Dallas in the first round. Similar issues for the team when the depth players took to the ice as their shooting percentage dropped from 6.88% in the regular season to 3.53% against the Stars. But as we see in the table below, the Flames continued to dominate the Stars when it came to controlling possession and scoring chances as reflected by their strong shot-share numbers. And the Oilers should probably expect the same in the 60-65% of 5v5 ice time when McDavid isn’t on the ice. The Flames have a more talented roster than the Kings, so it’ll be imperative that the Oilers depth players prevent as much bleeding as possible.

Flames (5v5) vs Dallas Corsi For% Fenwick For% Expected Goals For% Goals For% GF/GA
With Gaudreau 60.34 61.14 64.36 62.50 5/3
Without Gaudreau 60.41 58.70 57.00 50.00 5/5

Something else to monitor is the special teams.

While the Oilers penalty kill had outstanding results against the Kings allowing only 3 goals in 44 minutes (4.10 goals against per hour), they allowed one of the highest rates of shots and scoring chances against and relied on their goaltender to bail them out – an issue that’s carried over from the regular season. The Kings are a heavy shooting team as indicated by their rate of shot attempts in the regular season, so that might have inflated numbers. But knowing Smith’s past performance and injury issues, I’d be a little concerned if his work load remains high. And it’s something the Oilers should expect considering the Flames generated the third highest rate of shot attempts on the powerplay in the regular season, and they maintained those numbers in their series against the Stars.

Also worth noting that the Flames penalty kill in the regular season was excellent, as they allowed the third lowest rate of shots against in the league and the sixth lowest rate of goals against – and they peformed quite well against Dallas. The Oilers though appear to have the Flames number, as they scored 7 powerplay goals against them in the regular season – at a rate of 18.71 goals per hour.

Lastly, the goaltending.

Mike Smith posted solid numbers in the first round, posting a 93.70 save percentage and a +2.61 GSAA, third highest among the 17 goalies who played at least 100 5v5 minutes in the first round. The question now is if he can maintain these levels through another series, especially against a good possession team that can generate offence in waves and across more than one line.

Here’s how the Oilers team 5v5 save percentage, in rolling seven-game segmenets, looked in the regular season. I’ve added a blue line to show what the team’s save percentage has been so far in the playoffs.

What we see here is that the Oilers goaltending has shown spurts over seven game sets, but it’s typically regressed to league average levels soon after, which is what I would expect over the next series against a team like Calgary. Being league-average is still good and can win you games. It just won’t steal you some wins when the rest of the roster might be struggling. I have a feeling the Oilers will need that considering the injuries and the lack of production without McDavid on the ice. So hopefully Smith, or Koskinen if need-be, are up to the task.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.