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.

Playoff aspirations

coppernblue.com.full.54273Heading into their game against Arizona, the Edmonton Oilers rank fifth in the Pacific and sit just two points out of a wild card playoff spot. They’ve accumulated 45 points in 44 games (going 21-20-3) – a points percentage of 51.1%. Worth noting that the league average points percentage is 55.5%.

At even-strength (5v5), the Oilers have a goal-share of 46.34% (76 GF, 88 GA), which ranks 24th overall and 12th in the west. The Oilers powerplay (5v4) ranks 10th in the league, scoring 8.04 goals-for per hour. And the penalty kill (4v5) ranks 16th in the league, allowing 7.03 goals-against per hour. The Oilers are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, scoring 2.75 goals per game and allow the eighth highest rate of goals against (3.18).

Those are pretty lousy results, due in large part to a lack of scoring depth up front, and goaltending that is currently below average (89.66% team save percentage, 24th in the league). It’s pretty surprising that despite their poor results this season, including some extended slumps, the Oilers are only two points out of a wild card spot.

So the question becomes: is this team a real contender for the playoffs?

We can look at what the results have been, determine the rate at which they’re collecting points, and simply extrapolate it out to 82 games. Assuming the team continues at the pace that they’re currently going, collecting 45 points over their first 44 games, you can make a rough estimate that the Oilers are on pace to finish with somewhere around 82 to 85 points. This of course would be well below what previous wild card teams have finished with in the west. Last season, the Kings finished with 98 points and the Avalanche finished with 95. In 2016/17, the Flames and Predators finished with 94 points.

The problem right now for the Oilers is that there’s nothing about their results, their underlying shot-share metrics (which we can use to predict future results) or their roster talent that indicates they have the ability to go on a significant run over the remaining 37 games and secure a playoff spot.

The Oilers currently rank in the bottom third of the league when it comes to possession metrics (i.e., Corsi), as well as their proportion of unblocked shot attempts (i.e., Fenwick, which is used as a proxy for shot quality). They’ve struggled on both sides of the puck, generating very few scoring chances and high danger shot attempts, and allowing one of the highest rates against. The club has trended downward as the season has wore on, posting a 46.68% Corsi-for percentage (29th overall) and a 46.20% Fenwick-for percentage (28th overall) over their last 25 games.

It’s also worth comparing the Oilers to the other western conference teams that are currently competing for a wild card spot. Below are each team’s results and underlying shot-share metrics over the last 25 games. I’ve also included the player driven factors – team shooting percentage and team save percentage – as well as the team PDO which gives us a sense of how lucky or unlucky each club has been.

Team Colorado Minnesota Anaheim Edmonton Vancouver
Corsi-for% 51.49 51.65 49.44 46.68 47.98
Fenwick-for% 51.44 52.56 49.35 46.20 48.03
Scoring chances for% 54.41 54.49 47.99 45.56 44.69
High-danger Corsi-for% 50.54 57.79 46.20 40.90 45.37
Goals-for% 45.92 46.88 49.44 45.63 47.73
Shooting% 6.77 6.86 7.31 8.61 7.55
Save% 91.45 90.73 92.79 91.34 92.51
PDO 0.982 0.976 1.001 1.000 1.001

Of the five teams who are currently in the playoff race, the Oilers have the worst proportion of shot attempts-for and scoring chances-for – outcomes that are largely dependent on the coaching staff and the roster constructed by management. These results really don’t give us a lot of confidence that their future goal-share will improve and be above 50.0%. Unless of course the team shooting percentage jumps ahead of league averages or their goaltending suddenly becomes red-hot – factors that are largely outside of the control of the coaching staff and management.

What’s interesting is that the Avalanche, who are in a brutal slump right now, with only two wins in their last ten, have good underlying possession numbers but are struggling to convert that into goals. Considering the talent they have, and the results they were getting earlier in the season, I’d expect that to gradually improve. Minnesota is another team whose results could gradually improve considering how good they’ve been at generating and preventing shots and scoring chances, but their goaltending has been dragging their results down.

It’ll be interesting to see how this playoff race turns out. The Oilers are definitely in it, and have the high-end talent to drive overall results. Unfortunately, they lack scoring depth up front and haven’t been the same offensively without Klefbom. It’s going to be really important for the Oilers to properly assess their situation and be realistic about their playoff chances. The last thing they need to do is make a decision based on results that are a mirage, and do something that hinders their long-term goal of winning a championship. Unfortunately, it’s been management’s lack of foresight and flawed decision-making process which has them in this situation – where they’ll be dependent on their players producing well above their career norms and league averages to make the playoffs.

Data: Natural Stat Trick

Full article is posted at The Copper & Blue.

Focusing on scoring chances

coppernblue.com.full.54273One of the interesting underlying trends this season, aside from their rapidly declining shot-share numbers, is the Oilers rate of scoring chances for and against at even-strength. They currently rank 23rd in the league when it comes to their share of the total scoring chances (SCF%) with 47.76%, generating 25.01 scoring chances per hour (21st in the league) and allowing 27.35 per hour (22nd). Note that the scoring chance data used here is based on Natural Stat Trick’s definition of the metric, which you can read more about on their glossary page.

Below is the Oiler’s share of scoring chances this season at even-strength, in rolling 10-game segments to demonstrate the trend. I’ve also included the team’s declining shot-share, specifically Fenwick For (or unblocked shot attempts), which is used often as a proxy for shot quality. Fenwick data is much larger of a sample size than scoring chances, and can give us a little more confidence in our interpretation of the publicly available scoring chance data.

20190104 - scoring chance and fenwick trend

The Oilers rate of scoring chances for and against have gotten worse since Hitchcock arrived, with the team’s overall numbers taking a hit after he replaced McLellan behind the bench and taking another hit after Klefbom was hurt. Below is the team’s rate of scoring chances for and against per hour broken out by rolling 10-game segments, which gives us a better idea of what the trend has been like over the first forty games this season.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Settling Nurse Down

coppernblue.com.full.54273Following the first period of Thursday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, Oilers play-by-play commentator Jack Michaels and his co-host Bob Stauffer discussed the team’s struggles, focusing on the poor play of Darnell Nurse. The 23-year old defenceman had been on the ice for three of the four goals against in the first period, having made some poor reads and decisions with the puck in his own zone. What was interesting was that both commentators suggested that Nurse was struggling because of the absence of Kris Russell who has been Nurse’s most common defensive partner this season.

It may sound a little strange considering Russell has historically been a drag on his teammates offensive numbers, consistently posting poor on-ice shot share numbers relative to his team. But this season, it does appear that Nurse is in fact posting better on-ice numbers with Russell as his partner than without him.

Before digging into the numbers, it’s worth mentioning that the warning signs of Nurse’s individual struggles were apparent early in the 2018-19 season and have continued through the first 37 games. Among regular Oilers defencemen this season (those who have played at least 100 minutes), Nurse has the lowest on-ice goals-for percentage at even-strength (5v5) with 43.10% – a goal differential of -8 (25 GF, 33 GA). The team’s possession numbers as well as their share of unblocked shot attempts (a proxy for shot quality) have also been at their lowest this season when Nurse is on the ice – a 47.44% Corsi For percentage and 46.94% Fenwick For percentage.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Mediocrity

coppernblue.com.full.54273After 37 games, the Oilers are 10th in the western conference with a record of 18-16-3. They’ve collected 39 points – a points percentage of 0.527 – and are two points out of a wild card spot.

At even-strength (5v5), the Oilers have a -4 goal differential (64 goals-for, 68 goals-against) – a goal-share of 48.48%, which ranks 20th in the league. The team has struggled offensively, scoring at a rate of 2.15 goals per hour – the sixth lowest rate in the league. The Oilers have a done good job preventing goals – allowing a rate of 2.29 goals against per hour, ninth best in the league – due in large part to some good goaltending that ranks 10th in the league with a 92.44% even-strength (5v5) team save percentage.

On special teams the powerplay (5v4) currently ranks 8th in the league with a goals-for per hour rate of 8.25, and their penalty kill (4v5) ranks 22nd in the league with a goals-against per hour rate of 7.76.

The Oilers’ results after 37 games have them in a playoff race for sure, but there’s really nothing about them that indicates they’re anything better than a wild card team. Almost every metric at even-strength and on special teams has them either at or below league average numbers, suggesting that if they are to have any success it’ll be player/luck driven – either a league leading team shooting percentage or team save percentage.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Tobias Rieder’s injury and its impact to the Oilers penalty kill

coppernblue.com.full.54273Some bad news for the Edmonton Oilers as the club announced that they will be without the services of Tobias Rieder for one month. The winger suffered an upper-body injury in Tuesday night’s win against Montreal (Source).

In 18 games this season, Rieder has played predominantly on the second line alongside Leon Draisaitl, registering seven assists. Five of those assists have come at even-strength (5v5), giving him a points per hour rate of 1.53 – ranking him seventh on the team among forwards.

While his offensive output hasn’t been great, it’s his versatility on the roster that will be missed the most.

”It’s a blow that hurts us in a number of different areas. He became a very trustworthy player for us. A very solid defensive player, one that you could put out in any situation. Up front, he was creating well while maintaining that responsible aspect of the game.” – Todd McLellan (Source: Edmonton Oilers)

Rieder has been deployed as part of the second powerplay (5v4) unit this season, as well as the penalty kill (4v5) where he ranks just behind second on the team in the number of minutes played shorthanded (28:24) and the average number of minutes played per game (1:34).

Considering how poor the special teams were last season, and how it impacted their final results, it’s critical to assess what Rieder’s absence will mean to the team as they try to remain competitive.

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Hindering offence

coppernblue.com.full.54273A quick follow up to something I found last week when digging into Oscar Klefbom’s early season numbers.

To re-cap, with Klefbom on the ice with him this season at even-strength (5v5), McDavid’s on-ice Corsi For percentage (i.e., a proxy for possession) was 55.08% – a great proportion, right around where we would expect things to be when an elite forward is on the ice with a very good offensive-minded defenceman. And for good reason, we’ve seen the coaching staff play Klefbom as much as possible this year with the top offensive forwards to squeeze out every bit of offence possible.

Now I was expecting both players to post a a slightly lower Corsi For percentage without one another, but was surprised to see McDavid take a significant hit – dropping down to a 45.94% on-ice Corsi For percentage without Klebom this season. Below is what the results were after 13 games.

  • McDavid with Klefbom (111 mins) – 55.08% CF%, 75.0% GF% (6 GF, 2 GA)
  • McDavid without Klefbom (101 mins) – 45.94% CF%, 66.67% GF% (4 GF, 2 GA)
  • Klefbom without McDavid (129 mins) – 55.17% CF%, 62.50% GF% (5 GF, 3 GA)
  • Oilers without Klefbom or McDavid (271 mins) – 46.40% CF%, 35.0% (7 GF, 13 GA)

Knowing what we know about McDavid and his ability to drive offence, I think it’s fair to assume that something is dragging him down – either the play of an individual player or perhaps the team’s overall tactics. The fact that Klefbom’s Corsi For percentage has stayed above 55.0% without McDavid made me focus on McDavid’s numbers and what his numbers were like with the other defencemen.

To get a sense of how each defencemen has done this season after 14 games and what their on-ice possession numbers have been like with the four lines, I pulled their on-ice Corsi For percentages with each of the regular centermen, using these forwards as a proxy for the lines. The most common deployment has been McDavid, Draisaitl and Strome centering their own lines. And I picked Brodziak as a proxy for the fourth line as he really hasn’t spent much time with the other regular centers. I could have picked Khaira, but he’s played about 15 minutes with Strome this season.

Below are the results. I’ve highlighted the Corsi For percentages in green if it’s above 52.0% and highlighted them in red if it’s below 48.0%. Anything between 48.1% and 51.9% is in yellow. The Oilers team Corsi For percentage is currently 50.32% (14th in the league).

11-06-2018 4-17-09 PM

We’re obviously dealing with small sample sizes, so the idea here is to look at what has happened rather than predict what’s likely going to happen in the future. This isn’t a final word on what the Oilers should do. Rather it’s about highlighting these numbers and asking further questions around why they’re happening.

Focusing on McDavid’s numbers, we see that his on-ice Corsi For percentages are well above the team average of 50.32% except when he’s with Nurse or Russell. When McDavid has been on the ice with both of them, the team has scored only once and allowing none – an on-ice goals-for per hour rate (GF/60) of 0.94, well below the 3.0 mark that we would expect when McDavid is on the ice. What’s especially concerning is the drop in offence whenever McDavid is on the ice with Nurse. When McDavid is on the ice without Nurse, the team generates 66.6 shot attempts per hour (CF/60). That number plummets to 55.0 when Nurse steps on the ice with him. The team rate right now is 57.12 (14th in the league, right around league average).

The rate of unblocked shot attempts for (i.e., Fenwick, FF/60, a proxy for scoring chances) also takes a significant hit when Nurse is on the ice with McDavid. McDavid’s on ice rate goes from 58.4 unblocked shot attempts per hour without Nurse to 38.6 with Nurse. The team as a whole generates 44.54 unblocked shot attempts (12th in the league, right around league average). In my mind, at no point should McDavid have an on-ice rate of shots and scoring chances below the team’s average..

I don’t think Nurse has magically become a bad player. In 2017/18 he played most of his minutes with either Larsson or Russell. And with either partner, he didn’t drag down McDavid’s possession or offensive numbers this badly.

  • McDavid with Nurse-Larsson: 300 mins (5v5), 53.04% CF%, 62.77 CF/60, 50.38 FF/60
  • McDavid with Nurse-Russell: 147 mins (5v5), 49.69% CF%, 64.88 CF/60, 51.09 FF/60

I suspect that there’s something tactic-wise that the coaching staff is doing differently this season when Nurse is on the ice or they may have adjusted something about his game. Whatever the case may be – it’s impacting McDavid’s offensive output and should really be addressed. Especially if Nurse is going to continue leading the Oilers defencemen in ice time at even-strength.

Data: Natural Stat Trick