Following the Oilers signing of Markus Granlund to a one-year, $1.3 million contract, we were immediately informed of his experience and success on the penalty kill in Vancouver. And that it was a reason why the Oilers signed him.
The Oilers were 30th on the PK at 74.8 per cent with Chicago 31st at 72.7 per cent last year. Granlund did his best work on a shutdown line with fourth-line centre Jay Beagle and helped the Canucks 11th overall penalty kill with centre Brandon Sutter. (Source: Edmonton Journal)
When you get information like this - that’s obviously being distributed by the management group that just invested in a player, and probably the player’s agent as well - it’s always a good exercise to suss out just how much of an impact an individual player had on the overall success of the team.
Markus Granlund, via conference call, considers himself a winger more than a centre but says he's happy to play either. PK is a role where he's hoping to help the Oilers.— Daniel Nugent-Bowman (@DNBsports) July 1, 2019
In this case, we know that the Canucks had a decent penalty kill last season, finishing 13th in the league allowing 6.86 goals against per hour. This was due in large part to their ability limiting shots-on-goals against, ranking 9th in the league allowing 48.3 per hour. Had their goaltending been league average (their team save percentage ranked 21st in the league with 85.80%), their penalty kill very likely would have finished in the top ten. And we also know that Granlund led all Canucks skaters in total ice time on the penalty kill, and was third among forwards when it came to average ice time per game. So naturally, one could connect the information and assume that since Granlund played significant minutes on the penalty kill, he must have had a positive impact.
But when you dig into Granlund’s on-ice numbers, you realize that that’s not the case at all.
In the team-leading 183 penalty kill minutes that Granlund was on the ice, the Canucks allowed a rate of 9.16 goals against per hour. To put things into perspective, the Oilers penalty kill allowed a rate of 9.21 goals against per hour, good for 30th in the league. In the 236 penalty-killing minutes that Granlund wasn’t on the ice, the Canucks allowed a rate of 5.07 goals against per hour, which is right around the rate the Lightning and Coyotes posted as top penalty kill units last season.
Now the rate of goals against are heavily influenced by the goaltenders performance, which as mentioned above was below league average, so you can’t put everything on Granlund. Having said that, the rate of shots against - which players do influence as it’s part of their job - also saw a jump when Granlund was on the ice compared to when he was on the bench. Last season with Granlund on the ice, the Canucks allowed 54.31 shots-on-goals against per hour; without him that number dropped significantly to 43.63. What’s alarming is that even the season prior (2017/18), Granlund’s penalty kill numbers were just as poor. The team allowed the second lowest rate of shots against (49.8) in the league; with Granlund on the ice they allowed 60.71 shots per hour and without him they allowed 45.29. For someone being touted as a penalty kill option, it’s strange that his former team had so much better success limiting shots without him on the ice.
It’s also worth looking into the impact Granlund had on his teammates, specifically the defencemen, to see if someone else was potentially driving up his on-ice rate of shots against. Below is a graph showing what the rate of shots-on-goal against were when Granlund was deployed with the various Canucks defencemen last season, and how those defencemen did away from Granlund. Included is the team’s overall rate of shots-on-goal against (grey line across). Again, I focused on shots as it’s something that the players can influence, while the rate of goals against are more reliant on the goaltender’s performance.
Across the board, the most commonly deployed Canucks defencemen saw their own on-ice rate of shots-on-goals against drop on the penalty kill when they didn’t have Granlund on the ice with them. For whatever reason, each defencemen’s numbers would jump when Granlund was deployed with them, making you wonder why that would happen and how the Oilers think they’ll mitigate the issue. This of course is assuming they know about Granlund’s past penalty kill numbers - they did just sign him to a contract and penciled him in as a penalty kill option.
Considering how poorly the Oilers performed on the penalty kill last season, and the massive impact it’s had on their overall goal-differential, you would think that the Oilers have identified their needs and have a plan in place to bring in the right personnel and tactics. So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Data: Natural Stat Trick
Related: Penalty Kill Expectations - The SuperFan (2019, May 30)
UPDATE: 2019, July 5 (11:50 PM)
Couple important points I want to add based on some of the feedback I received.
First, we can assume Granlund was on Vancouver’s first penalty kill unit based on his total ice time. However, as I mentioned in the article, his average ice time per game was third among forwards last season, meaning when the roster was healthy and Brandon Sutter was available, Granlund was moved down to the second powerplay unit where he’s probably better suited.
Another question I received was how Granlund’s on-ice numbers compared to the top penalty killing forwards on other rosters. Below is a list of 31 forwards (one from each team) and their on-ice rate of shots and goals against relative to their teams.
One thing that stands out is that because this group of players likely played against the other team’s top powerplay unit, their on-ice rate of shots against were higher relative to their team - the average among the group is +5.45 shots against per hour. So it should be no surprise that Granlund’s numbers were poor. Having said that, compared to his peers, Granlund’s on-ice rate of shots against (+9.36), as well as goals against (+4.04) relative to his team were one of the worst.