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The Edmonton Oilers With and Without McDavid (Part II)

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NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A while back, I looked into how the Edmonton Oilers did across five metrics with McDavid on the ice and McDavid off the ice at even-strength (5v5) (Source). Those five metrics were:

  • Corsi For% (CF%) - The proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., Corsi For/(Corsi For + Corsi Against). This is used as a proxy for possession and can predict a team’s future share of goals.
  • Fenwick For% (FF%) - The proportion of all the unblocked shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., Fenwick For/(Fenwick For + Fenwick Against). This is used as a proxy for shot quality and considers shot blocking a repeatable skill. It can also predict a team’s future share of goals, slightlty better than Corsi.
  • Scoring Chances For% (SCF%) - The proportion of all the scoring chances (as defined by Corsica Hockey) that the team generated and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., Scoring Chances For/(Scoring Chances For + Scoring Chances Against),
  • Expected Goals For% (xGF%) - This is a weighting placed on every unblocked shot based on the probability of the shot becoming a goal. This depends on the type of shot, location and uses historical shot and goals data to come up with the probability for each unblocked shot. This has been found to be a better predictor of future goals than Corsi and Fenwick. (Detailed explanation can be found at Corsica Hockey)
  • Goals For% (GF%) – The proportion of all the goals that the team scored and allowed that the Oilers generated (i.e., Goals For/(Goals For + Goals Against).

Here’s how the Oilers are looking with and without McDavid after 35 games.

Here we see that the club is relying heavily on their captain to score goals and generate chances and high quality shots this season. On the bright side, the team is posting a share of shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts above 50%, which is significant as the franchise has historically been very poor when it comes to these metrics, often ranking near the bottom of the league. Before this season, the Oilers have only once in their last 8 seasons posted a 25-game stretch of 50% CF% (Source). So the goals aren’t coming as often with McDavid off the ice, but the team isn’t getting caved when it comes to the number of shots.

While it’s expected that teams do better with their star players, there should not be a significant drop off without them. What we’ve seen in the playoffs year over year is that depth and consistency is critical for a team’s success. Ideally a team’s management group compiles a balanced roster and establishes a five or seven year window where they can be legitimate contenders. To do that, the team needs offensive output from across their roster, something the Oilers have struggled with so far this season.

Since the end goal is a championship, I looked into the last six Stanley Cup finalists to see how the team did over the regular season with and without their best player (which is based on the total number of points they accumulated in the regular season). Not an exact science, and there’s plenty of things you can alter, but I’m comfortable with this simple method.

2013/14 - Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

2014/15 - Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

2015/16 - Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks

2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Takeaways

  • All six finalists did well across all five metrics in their regular seasons with their best player on the ice. Shocking, I know.
  • All six finalists had a Corsi For% of 50% or above during their regular season without their best player on the ice.
  • All six finalists had a Fenwick For% of 50% or above during their regular season without their best player on the ice.
  • Five of the last six finalists had a Scoring Chance For% in their regular season at 50% or above without their best player on the ice. The 2014/15 Blackhawks were an exception.
  • Five of the last six finalists had an Expected Goals% in their regular season at 50% or above without their best player on the ice. The 2014/15 Blackhawks were just under 50% without Toews.
  • Five of the last six finalists had a goal-share of 50% or higher in their regular season without their best player on the ice. The lone outlier was the San Jose Sharks, who posted a ridiculous 70% goal-share with Thornton, but a 44% goal-share without him. This may be due to some luck, as the team’s PDO was 104 with Thornton on the ice, but it dropped to 98 without him.

My objective here was to show how the Oilers are doing with and without their best player, and get a sense of how they match up with the teams that recently made it to the Stanley Cup finals. We’re only in year two of the McDavid era, but we can get a sense of what areas the Oilers need to improve on going forward if they want to compete for a championship. As it stands today, there are positives for the Oilers, as the club as a whole is above 50% when it comes to their share of shot attempts, scoring chances and goals. The issue, like it would be for any team, is that they’ll need strong scoring depth to be true contenders and ensure there is no significant drop off when their best player is on the bench. There are pieces in place that the team can build on, but steps will need to be taken to ensure McDavid is surrounded by a reliable supporting cast to contend for a championship.

Data source: Corsica Hockey