One of the more interesting issues around the Edmonton Oilers this season has been the performance of the team when Connor McDavid hasn’t been on the ice. The second-year forward has been an absolute offensive force for the club, consistently using his skill and speed to lead the attack and create scoring opportunities at will. Over the course of the season, the Oilers as a team have maintained a decent share, right around league average, of the shot attempts, scoring chances and goals, thanks in large part to the play of McDavid.
What we’ve come to realize though after 71 games is that the Oilers are icing two very different teams: one with McDavid that can outshoot and outscore opponents, and another one without McDavid on the ice that posts numbers below league average. With McDavid on the ice at even-strength (5v5) this season, the Oilers have an incredible goal-share of 61.17% (outscoring opponents 63 to 40). Without McDavid on the ice, the team can only muster a goal-share of 48.72%, having been out-scored 80-76. When it comes to shot-metrics, which are used to predict future goal-share, the Oilers have a Corsi For% of 53.16% with McDavid on the ice, having outshot opponents 1,151 to 1,014. Without McDavid, the team has a Corsi For% of 48.49%, below league average and a troubling number considering the expensive personnel on the roster. Please refer to the Appendix for descriptions of the five metrics.
Now the good news is that the secondary lines have recently been contributing more. Jordan Eberle appears to have bounced back from his poor start and has been productive on a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic. The trio have played 220 minutes together so far, and hold a Corsi For% of 51.39%, scoring five even-strength goals together and allowing six. The newly formed trio of Montreal castaways featuring Benoit Pouliot, David Desharnais and Zack Kassian have now played roughly 48 minutes together, outscoring opponents 4-2 (a goal-share of 66.7%), and getting 48.8% of the shot attempts. Worth noting that this line is riding a 17.4% shooting percentage, which is likely to drop off eventually.
While the goal-scoring has improved without McDavid on the ice, a closer look at the shot metrics indicates that the secondary offence is still sputtering. Below is a graph with the five metrics broken out into rolling 25-game segments, capturing the team’s performance without McDavid.
Starting with the Oilers goal-share (GF%) in orange, we see that the team has gradually improved over the course of the year with their most recent stretch of games standing out. However, if we look at the share of shot attempts (CF%) and the unblocked shot attempts (FF%) without McDavid on the ice, we see the blue and gray lines representing those metrics steadily decline, starting around the point when McDavid, Maroon and Draisaitl were placed on a line together. Over the most recent 25-game stretch, the Oilers have a Corsi For% of 45.36% without their captain, which would rank them near the bottom of the league. Their share of scoring chances without McDavid has been poor all season, at one point posting below 40% of the total events over a stretch of 25-games, and is now at 42% since mid-January.
With the share of shot attempts and scoring chances and expected goals all steadily declining when McDavid isn’t on the ice, it’s difficult to remain optimistic about the goal-scoring from the secondary lines. The good news is that the Lucic-RNH-Eberle line, which does often see the other team’s top lines, is having success, having posted good possession numbers at even-strength. The Oilers will require the newly-formed third line, centered by Desharnais, to continue producing, but the trio will need to be better at controlling the shots against to ensure success.
Where the Oilers really need to focus on is the fourth line, which despite playing the other team’s bottom six forwards, is not producing nearly enough offence. The Oilers do have internal solutions to improve their chances of winning shot-shares and goal-shares, as players like Jujhar Khaira and Anton Slepyshev have shown their ability to contribute at the NHL level. It’s an area of the roster that may not seem significant considering the limited minutes it plays, but a couple of minor tweaks could give the Oilers an edge, and improve the team’s overall numbers without McDavid on the ice. With the playoffs becoming a real possibility, it will be important that the Oilers have all four lines producing, as depth becomes more and more critical for success. The club cannot afford to throw away shifts and ice below average players who can’t contribute offensively, and should look to improve in areas that can make or break their season.
Heading into the off-season, the team needs to address their issues on offence, as little has improved over the course of the year. The team must ensure that their isn’t a significant drop off in productivity when McDavid isn’t on the ice, as we know the best teams, the ones that contend for championships, tend to have depth that can contribute. And if the Oilers intend on building a real championship contender, they’ll need to solidify their depth and ice a lineup that is optimized for offence.
Data: Corsica Hockey
Appendix A: Description of the metrics used
- 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, slightly 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).