With the Oilers powerplay sputtering in recent games, defencemen Justin Schultz is getting a lot more attention from fans and media. The criticism is well deserved. Despite getting the most powerplay minutes among Oiler defencemen every year, and being trumpeted as a powerplay specialist by the team, Schultz has scored 5 powerplay goals and 35 assists over the past four seasons as an Oiler. The most troubling issue is that his last powerplay goal was in the 2013/14 season.
We know from previous research and analysis (Fear the Fin, Pensburgh, Hockey Prospectus), including the original work from the late Tore Purdy, that the best predictor of goal scoring success on the powerplay is the team's Fenwick For/60 (FF/60), or the rate at which a team can generate unblocked shot attempts. As a point of reference, I plotted every team's FF/60 and Goals For/60 on the powerplay from the past 7 years below. There are cases where a team does not shoot often and still finds success, but for the most part team's are not able to sustain that year over year.
When reviewing the Oilers FF/60, we can see why they do not have any sort of history of being a strong powerplay team. The Oilers are often either below average or average when it comes to that particular metric. And we can also glean from the stats that teams with a strong reputation of powerplay success, such as San Jose and Detroit, tend to have a higher than average FF/60 year over year.
Over the past eight seasons, the Oilers have posted about 65 unblocked shot attempts per 60 minutes of powerplay time, which, as we saw above, lands you on the low to average end of goal scoring. With Todd McLellan, who has had a history of success with San Jose on the powerplay, and better personnel, we should expect to see the FF/60 improve.
So what about Schultz?
Over the past four seasons, the amount of unblocked shot attempts that the Oilers generate on the powerplay has been 65.4 when Schultz was on the ice. But when you compare him to other defencemen who play regular powerplay, he's often below average.
Below is a table comparing Schultz to other defencemen who have averaged over 1.95 minutes a game on the powerplay, and played a minimum of 45 games. Please note, the limit in 2012/13 was 25 and for this season, I set it to over 18 games (to match Schultz's sample size) . I've also included individual unblocked shot attempts as a proportion of the total on-ice unblocked shot attempts. This gives a better sense of how many of the shot attempts a player was on the ice for came from his stick. There isn't a strong correlation between this metric and powerplay success as teams often use their defencemen differently.
What we see here is that in his first season, Schultz was the one making the unblocked shot attempts, but the team didn't generate a whole lot when he was on the ice. He was still able to collect points on the powerplay, and actually finished in the top 10 among defencemen. The two seasons after that, he took fewer shots, the team did okay when it came to FF/60, and his point production steadily declined. This might be because of coaching, or maybe the grind of a full season, I can't say for sure.
What we've seen this season, however, is Schultz is taking more shot attempts, but unfortunately that hasn't translated into a higher FF/60 or points for that matter. In fact, his point production is one of the worst in the league, and the team has actually done better with young Oscar Klefbom on the ice (68.72 FF/60 and an iFF proportion of 25%) when on the powerplay.
I suspect that Schultz's higher individual Fenwicks this season are a result of the new coaching staff. Reviewing the Sharks powerplay data, I found that McLellan's defencemen took around 20-24% of the teams unblocked shot attempts on the powerplay, and typically deployed four forwards. Players like Dan Boyle, Jason Demers and Brent Burns were regular contributors, with the play often going through them. The problem for Schultz is that he doesn't have a strong shot, but still does well moving the puck when he's in the offensive zone.
Without a doubt, the Oilers need to find a better option on the powerplay. Schultz has struggled, with his overall production and the team's ability to generate unblocked shot attempts on the decline. McLellan needs his powerplay units to generate those shots and have defencemen play an active role on a consistent basis. Oscar Klefbom is the obvious choice to have on the first unit, but with him out of the lineup, Andrej Sekera or even Brandon Davidson should see more minutes with the man advantage.