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The Edmonton Oilers With and Without McDavid (Part III)

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NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

An area that the Oilers will need to address going forward is their scoring production when McDavid is not on the ice. The young captain is the offensive catalyst that drives play and elevates his team when he steps on the ice. But when he’s on the bench, there’s been a significant drop in the team’s goal-share at even-strength.

Heading into Tuesday’s night game against the Sharks, the Oilers had outscored their opponents 36-22 at even-strength with McDavid on the ice, which translates into a 62.07% goal share. Without him, the Oilers have been outscored 43-51, a goal-share of 45.74%. The Oilers do appear to have an okay proportion of the shot attempts (Corsi For%) without McDavid as they have a 50.51% share without him, and a 54.71% share with him. Corsi provides value here as it serves as a proxy for possession and predicts a team’s future goal share. When we look at the expected goals for percentage, which measures the quality of the shots generated and also predicts future goal share, the Oilers drop from a 56.25% share with McDavid on the ice to 45.71% share without him.

If we look at the rolling 10 game averages of the different metrics with and without McDavid, we start to see a pattern that should be of some concern for the team.

First up is a graph with the Oilers goal-share broken up into three lines: the team’s goal share with McDavid (blue), the team’s goal-share without McDavid (orange) and the team’s overall goal-share (black) (with and without McDavid).

Corsica Hockey

As expected, the trend lines for goal share fluctuate quite a bit. Goals don’t happen all that often compared to shots and shot attempts. And there’s always external factors like shooting percentages and save percentages that influence how often shots become goals, so we see a lot of volatility over the first 42 games. As a team, the Oilers rank 10th in the league with a 51.97% goal-share, but as we see here, it’s largely driven by McDavid. The Oilers without McDavid have put together a couple 10-game stretches where they do have a goal-share above 50%, but it hasn’t been often enough to push the needle.

Looking at the team’s proportion of shot attempts, we see far less volatility over the course of the season, and see some pretty steady trends. A team’s ability to generate shots is driven by the coaching tactics, which tend to stay consistent through a season.

Corsica Hockey

Here we see again McDavid driving the team’s share of shot attempts, which as a whole ranks 9th in the league with 51.57%. The good news here is that the Oilers without McDavid have posted a Corsi For% of 50% or higher for most of the season. What’s somewhat concerning here is a downward trend in not only the team’s Corsi For%, but also McDavid’s on-ice share. There is a bit of an uptick in the most recent stretch of games, but those are largely driven by the team’s strong performances against New Jersey and Ottawa. The key for the Oilers now will be to maintain good possession numbers, with and without McDavid, as they compete for a playoff spot.

Looking at the team’s proportion of expected goals, a measure for shot quality, we see again McDavid driving the team’s offence for most of the season, with the team doing quite poorly without him.

Corsica Hockey

The team as a whole currently ranks 18th in the league when it comes to expected goals for% with 49.58%, and that’s pretty much all due to McDavid. Without him, the team is hovering around the 45% mark, with a recent stretch that has them barely over 40%.

Again, metrics like Corsi For% and Expected Goals For% serve as predictive metrics for future goal share. Icing and deploying the best possible line-up to win the shot-share and generate quality chances is going to be important for scoring goals, winning games, and competing for a playoff spot.

What next?

The one issue I see right now that could impact the team’s performance without McDavid and as a whole, is that the team is not distributing the ice time appropriately among defenceman. After the first 42 games, Kris Russell and Adam Larsson lead the team in time on ice per game at even-strength. While both players have provided good depth to a roster desperate for experience, neither drives offence at an acceptable rate.

Player Games Time on Ice/Game
KRIS RUSSELL 35 17.59
ADAM LARSSON 42 17.23
ANDREJ SEKERA 40 16.09
OSCAR KLEFBOM 42 15.92
DARNELL NURSE 25 15.26
MATTHEW BENNING 30 15.01
ERIC GRYBA 22 14.77
BRANDON DAVIDSON 9 13.42

Over the course of the season, we can also see (below) that Russell has been receiving a higher proportion of ice time (black line), while other, more skilled defencemen like Oscar Klefbom (yellow line) have gradually seen a decline.

Hockey Viz

What’s interesting here is that Russell’s gradual increase in ice time starting around game 25 of the season aligns with the gradual decline in the team’s share of shot attempts and scoring chances around the same time. The other factor at play here is Nurse’s injury that’s had him out of the lineup since the end of November. Nurse was playing quite well for the team at even-strength, carrying the puck with more frequency and leading the team in individual shot attempts. He was playing in more of a depth role, which is ideal for a defensive prospect, but his impact to the team’s even-strength play can’t be overlooked.

Ideally, players with the skill set of Russell should be playing at their established NHL level, further down the defensive depth chart. The minutes he’s currently getting should be given to someone like Klefbom, who has far more offensive upside and has the ability to drive offence. As we see above, Klefbom’s ice time had also started declining around the 25 game mark.

A glance at each player’s performance with and without the different centermen on the team indicates that Klefbom has a better impact when it comes to shot share and expected goals. On the flip side, all five centers do far better away from Russell when it comes to the predictive metrics. Only Letestu posts a better on-ice expected goal share with Russell than without him.

Klefbom

Corsica Hockey
Corsica Hockey

Russell

Corsica Hockey
Corsica Hockey

The issue is the team’s play without McDavid, and as we see above, Klefbom could be the answer the team desperately needs. Deploying him more often improves the chances the team gets production from the other lines, as they cannot rely solely on McDavid for offence. Maintaining the status quo will only add to the team’s current decline in possession numbers and expected goals, and would negatively impact the team’s chances of making the playoffs. It’ll be critical for the coaching staff to recognize the team’s underlying numbers that have been in a steady decline and make adjustments accordingly.

Data: Corsica Hockey, Hockey Viz