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Assessing the forwards away from McDavid

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NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Edmonton Oilers Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

With the expansion draft coming up and the start of free agency soon after, there’s been a lot of discussion around the ways in which the team could improve certain areas of the roster and which players the Oilers should send away to make things happen. And it’s really been the forwards, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot, that have been discussed as being potentially moved to acquire required assets.

Before jumping to trade possibilities, something I wanted to see was how each Oilers forward did this past season at even-strength (5v5) in terms of on-ice goal-share and on-ice shot share, but with one catch. Because the Oilers as a group were much better with McDavid than without him, I wanted to see how each player did when the captain was on the bench.

Oilers (5v5) CF% GF% Sh% Sv% PDO
With McDavid 52.9 62.1 10.74 92.41 103.15
Without McDavid 48.2 48.9 6.97 92.86 99.83

The issue for me with last season’s team is that they should not have been getting outscored and out-shot when they were without their best player. There’s enough talent among the forwards, and an experienced coaching staff behind the bench, that they should have been able to reach at minimum a 50% share of shots and goals. Depth is going to be critical for long-term success, so I think it’s important to know, before any forwards are moved out, which ones have done well away from McDavid and which one’s may have been relying a little too much on him.

Below is a table of the regular forwards from the 2016/17 regular season, and what their on-ice shot share and goals-shares were at even-strength (5v5) when McDavid was on the bench. I’ve also included each forwards on-ice shooting and save percentage to see if there were any external factors impacting their on-ice goal share. The table is sorted by Corsi For%.

Player CF% GF% Sh% Sv% PDO
Maroon 54.0 50.0 7.1 92.2 99.2
Khaira 53.3 50.0 2.5 96.3 98.8
Puljujaarvi 53.0 50.0 3.1 96.8 99.9
Eberle 50.6 51.0 6.7 93.0 99.7
Lander 49.4 46.2 7.5 89.7 97.2
RNH 48.9 45.9 6.3 92.4 98.7
Lucic 48.5 47.8 6.7 92.7 99.4
Pouliot 48.1 50.0 6.6 93.7 100.3
Draisaitl 47.9 44.2 8.2 91.5 99.7
Kassian 47.5 52.4 8.6 92.4 101.0
Caggiula 47.0 46.9 6.0 93.5 99.5
Desharnais 47.0 47.4 9.4 89.9 99.3
Letestu 46.4 52.2 8.2 93.0 101.2
Slepy 46.1 62.5 5.4 97.3 102.7
Hendricks 45.1 45.8 7.3 91.6 98.9
Pakarinen 44.5 66.7 8.2 95.7 103.9
Pitlick 44.4 45.8 9.9 89.7 99.6

Now goal-share is obviously the most important thing, but it’s not exactly wise to bank on those numbers when making decisions for the future. There’s a lot of luck involved in scoring goals, and there’s a chance that a player’s on-ice results could have been influenced by some hot goaltending or a higher-than-normal on-ice, or personal, shooting percentage. Shot-share does a better job at predicting future goal-share than actual goals, so I’ve displayed each player’s on-ice numbers below. I’ve also added a red line to show what the team’s shot-share was this past season without McDavid (48.2%).

Couple things jump out.

Patrick Maroon put up some decent numbers with and without McDavid this season. A bit of a knock on Maroon has his been that his personal shooting percentage was 16.9%, meaning some of his production could very well be luck driven. But looking at his 54% shot-share away from McDavid, I think it’s fair to bet that his goal-share should continue being 50% or above. And as discussed a few months ago, Maroon tends to have a positive impact on the other forwards he’s played with in Edmonton, something to keep in mind for next season if the Oilers want to spread around the offence.

The only other top six forward who posted a shot-share above 50% this past season without McDavid on the ice was Eberle. It wasn’t the winger’s strongest season, but he still posted a goal-share of 51% away from McDavid and didn’t ride any percentages. He continued getting regular, top-six minutes playing with Nugent-Hopkins and Lucic, and it’s worth noting that he was quite often on the ice against the other team’s top lines. Something to keep in mind when rumors swirl about the Oilers trading him and his lack of productivity.

And just for reference, below is the Even-strength Forwards Network diagram for the Oilers 2016/17 season, available at Hockeyviz.com. This gives you a sense of who each forward played with when they weren’t with McDavid.

Source: HockeyViz

The other forward worth discussing here is Leon Draisaitl, who had an outstanding year playing a prominent role on the top line. There’s understandably a lot of hype around him and his importance to the Oilers going forward, and he’s positioned himself to cash-in on a heavy, long-term contract. What’s a little troubling is the fact that both the team’s shot-share and goal-share took a dive when Draisaitl’s was on the ice without McDavid. The 44.2% goal-share is especially troubling considering his on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage are right around a normal range. I’m optimistic that Draisaitl can be a significant contributor to the Oilers offence, but I’d like to see more evidence of his abilities before the Oilers sign him to an expensive deal.

Whatever decisions the Oilers make this off-season, they have to take into account how each of their current players produced away from McDavid. To be successful, they’ll need better production from their second offensive line and depth forwards, and really can’t afford to move out the players who have posted decent shot and goal-shares away from McDavid. The issue, for me at least, is the Oilers depth forwards, the third and fourth lines, who regularly got out-shot and out-scored by the opposing team’s depth players. And if there is a need to move out one of the top six forwards like Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins or Pouliot, the team not only has to replace them with someone as good, but someone that has demonstrated an ability in the past to drive offence when away from their elite teammates.

Data: Hockey Analysis