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Assessing the Oilers after 25 games

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While the results haven’t been great, are the Oilers at least playing like a top-end team? And is it worth moving assets ahead of the trade deadline?

Calgary Flames v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

An important and hopefully obvious question the Edmonton Oilers management group should be asking at this point: is this team any good?

With the trade deadline coming up and a playoff spot up for grabs, a proper evaluation of the results is critical to know which direction to take this team. I know if I was overseeing the management group, there would need to be some performance thresholds or indicators in place to determine if assets should start being spent to drive a playoff run or if it was time to make decisions geared to winning next year. There’s a lot at stake here both financially and when it comes to asset management, so it’s important to look at all of the information available and determine how good this team is and if they can be a legitimate contender or not.

In my mind, the Oilers don’t need to be a top-ranked team today, but they need to at least be playing like one and have underlying numbers similar to those posted by previous top-ranked teams. Since top-ranked teams typically finish the regular season with a 0.600 points percentage or better and are in the top ten leaguewide, it was a simple exercise to identity who the top teams were and establish some key performance indicators based on shot-based metrics that can predict future results. And by doing so, I was also able to find how league average teams did as well as bottom end teams. This way I could assess which level the Oilers are at offensively and defensively, and guide my thoughts on what course of action management should take.

Lets start with actual results at even-strength and focus on the rate of goals the Oilers are scoring and allowing this season, and their share of the total goals for and against (i.e., goals for percentage). Based on the last three regular seasons, here’s how the top teams, average teams and bottom teams have performed when it comes to goals. There’s nothing really surprising here – top teams outscore opponents and on average have a goal-share above 53%, while league average teams just break even.

Metric (5v5) Top Teams League Average Bottom Teams
Goals For/60 2.67 2.45 2.27
Goals Against/60 2.31 2.45 2.59
Goals For% 53.58 50.01 46.72

After 25 games this season, the Edmonton Oilers have a goals for percentage of 48.08%, having posted a -4 goal differential (50 goals-for, 54 goals-against). That would have them between league average levels and the levels posted by bottom end teams. Offensively, the Oilers are doing well due in large part to their top players, currently scoring 2.52 goals per hour, which is slightly above league average rates but below what top teams have posted in previous seasons. Unfortunately, the Oilers are giving it all back this year, allowing 2.72 goals against per hour, which is even worse than what bottom teams allow on average (2.59).

Goaltending has obviously been an issue, with the team posting a save percentage of 91.21%, which as we see below is closer in line to what bottom teams have posted on average in previous seasons. The Oilers shooting percentage of 8.53%, on the other hand, is closer to what top end teams have posted.

Metric (5v5) Top Teams League Average Bottom Teams
Shooting% 8.46 7.99 7.6
Save% 92.28 92.02 91.9

So it’s clear when comparing the Oilers to previous teams that the actual results aren’t quite there yet, but are the Oilers at least playing like a top team? Are they controlling the flow of play, generating more opportunities than they are allowing, and maybe just need their goaltending to be league average to improve their spot in the standings? To do that, we’ll look at the Oilers rate of shot attempts, for and against, and the Oilers’ share of the total shot attempts for and against (i.e., Corsi), which can be used to predict future goal share (Source).

Metric Top Teams League Average Bottom Teams
Corsi For/60 58.41 56.37 54.68
Corsi Against/60 54.29 56.37 58.5
Corsi For% 51.84 49.99 48.29

The Oilers are currently posting a Corsi For percentage (score and venue adjusted) of 49.17%, which is just below league average levels. The team is generating 53.40 shot attempts per hour, which is slightly lower than what bottom teams have generated. And they’re allowing 55.2 shot attempts per hour, which is slightly better than league average levels. Based on the Oilers underlying shot-based metrics, there’s little indication that the club is playing like a top team and we really can’t expect their goal-share to reach 53% any time soon. And it really is no surprise that the club is getting outscored at even-strength (5v5), especially considering how badly the team gets outplayed when their depth forwards on the ice. Without McDavid or Draisailt on the ice at even-strength (5v5), or about 40% of the team’s total ice time, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For% just under 45%. Even with Draisaitl on the ice, the Oilers spend more time without the puck posting a Corsi For% of 47.39%.

Even if we look at the expected goals, which measures the quality of the unblocked shots taken, it’s a similar story. The Oilers currently have an expected goals for percentage of 50.23%, generating 2.32 expected goals per hour and allowing 2.30 expected goals against. Since they’re generating a lot of chances like a top team and at the same time allowing chances like a bottom team, they land in that league-average range.

Metric Top Teams League Average Bottom Teams
Expected Goals For/60 2.37 2.29 2.19
Expected Goals Against/60 2.21 2.29 2.39
Expected Goals For% 51.72 50.01 47.86

Based on the Oilers current underlying shot-based metrics, we can confirm that the Oilers aren’t playing like a top end team and we can’t expect the results to be any better than league average if things continue this way. While there are signs of life offensively, their defensive numbers are more in line with bottom end teams of the past – something that has to be a spot of bother for the coaches and management as the club had similar issues last season.

While the Oilers could consider moving assets to improve their results, it might be in management’s best interest to hold on to their picks and prospects and find cap space for next season. I’m just not convinced that one or two moves will make a big impact at this point as their issues run a lot deeper and across the roster. There’s the goaltending that needs to be fixed, but who knows how a new netminder will do when the club is allowing a high rate of shots and chances against. There’s the issue of spending significant time playing without the puck and in the defensive zone when McDavid or Draisaitl aren’t on the ice, but who knows how much of an impact another depth forward or defenceman is going to have. The biggest issue underscoring all of this is the Oilers pro scouting department and if their player and goalie evaluation methods are ever going to improve and become a strength of the organization. This group’s results have not been good recently and you have to wonder why the Oilers would continue making million-dollar decisions based on their input.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers approach the trade deadline as it’ll give us insight on how much faith the Oilers have in their current roster to turn things around, and how desperate they are to be a contender this season. I’d rather they collet assets now by moving players whose roles are likely to be diminished next season and have internal replacements. Players like K. Russell who has seen his minutes decline, and Kassian who likely won’t be back in the top six again when he returns from injury, have value in the league – and it tends to be higher in-season when teams are gearing up for playoff runs. Whatever decisions the Oilers make, they need to have the future in mind and figure out how to consistently contend for championships.

Data: Natural Stat Trick