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The Oilers Powerplay is Good

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NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

With the trade deadline approaching, the Oilers will have the chance to make some key decisions that can not only impact their push for the playoffs, but also their long term goal of building a championship contender. It’ll be important for the Oilers to retain, and possibly acquire more draft picks and prospects, as those will be critical building blocks moving forward.

The Oilers could address a number of existing weaknesses, including the center and right-wing depth up front, as well as their back-up goalie position. One could also make the case that the team should look to add an offensive defenceman to improve the defence core and potentially quarterback the powerplay. But as General Manager Peter Chiarelli indicated earlier this week, that might not be high on the priorty list.

Yes it’d be nice to have a pure powerplay d-man but I’ve been satisfied with [Andrej Sekera and Oscar Klefbom] on their respective units. Yes we could always improve our powerplay, is that the solution? It’s one of them but that’s certainly not on my shopping list this trade deadline. [On follow-up question as to how expensive it might be] You saw what it took to get a Top Four right-handed D [Adam Larsson] and you can extrapolate from there. (Source: Cult of Hockey, Edmonton Journal)

One area that the team has done well in this season is their overall powerplay. Now, looking at their efficiency with the man advantage, typically recited on game broadcasts and posted at NHL.com, the team ranks 12th in the league with 20.4%. But, if you look at the actual goal scoring rate, as in how many powerplay goals they get per 60 minutes of powerplay time, they’re first in the western conference and sixth in the league with 6.85 goals.

Team Goals For/60
Columbus 7.76
Pittsburgh 7.50
Buffalo 7.25
Montreal 7.03
Washington 6.86
Edmonton 6.85
Anaheim 6.84
NY Rangers 6.82
St. Louis 6.77
Toronto 6.71

The good news here is that not only are the Oilers having success, but it’s something that should be sustainable going forward. One way to measure that is it look at how well the team is able to generate unblocked shot attempts, which has been shown to correlate well with a team’s ability to score on the powerplay (Source: Objective NHL). The club currently generates 71.72 unblocked shot attempts (Fenwicks) per hour with the man advantage, which ranks them seventh in the league, just behind Washington and Pittsburgh, and above the league average of 66.44. The Oilers Fenwick rate is something that has gradually increased since the start of the season, thanks in large part to veteran Mark Letestu, who eventually started getting more ice time on the powerplay and provides the team with a right-handed option to distribute and shoot the puck.

Data: Corsica Hockey

It’s important to note in the graph above that the goal-scoring rate has taken a dip over the most recent stretch of games, which will likely influence the overall perception of the Oilers powerplay and understandably so - a rate of 6.00 goals per hour is just below league average. This is a results-based game afterall, but it’s important to look at the powerplay from a few differernt angles including the team’s ability to generate shots, which the Oilers continue to do well at. As long as the team is able to generate shots, we can expect the goals-scoring rate to bounce back.

The other driver of the powerplay, as anyone would guess, has been McDavid. With their captain on the ice, the club generates 81.26 unblocked shot attempts per hour, and has a goal scoring rate of 8.61 goals. Without him, the team’s rate of unblocked shot attempts drops down to 58.36 per hour, and the goal scoring rate drops to 4.04. To put things into perspective, the team’s rate of shots and goals without McDavid is close to what the bottom five teams in the league produce this season on the powerplay.

Looking at it from that angle, a case could be made that the second powerplay unit, that does not have McDavid on it, may need an upgrade in the form of an offensive-minded, right shot defenceman to quarterback the group. I would argue that instead of spending assets on that type of player today, the team could look to their existing group of players and re-adjust their combinations.

The most recent second powerplay unit features Sekera at the point with Eberle and Maroon, Nugent-Hopkins and Caggiula up front. When Eberle has the puck, he has four left-handed shots to distribute the puck to, which can impede the team’s ability to generate shots. One change that the Oilers should look to make is replacing Caggiula with Anton Slepyshev who shoots right and does have some offensive ability to his game. Slepyshev currently ranks third on the team among forwards when it comes to shots on goal per hour at even-strength with 7.89, only behind Nugent-Hopkins and McDavid. This change won’t make the second powerplay unit as potent as the first, but it could potentially impact the group’s ability to generate shots.

What this change would also do is save the Oilers from investing too heavily in a powerplay specialist, something that may cost a premium at the trade deadline. The Oilers have to establish a proper window to contend for a championship very soon, and replenishing their pool of picks and prospects is going to be an important part of that overall strategy. Rather than focus on an area of the team that’s actually been pretty good and could use a minor tweak using internal resources, the team should be looking to acquire picks, prospects, or even players on value-contracts, at the trade deadline, and making more impactful changes in the summer when more options are available.

Data: Corsica Hockey