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Shallow Depth

NHL: Western Conference Qualifications-Chicago Blackhawks vs Edmonton Oilers Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

While there were signs of life during the regular season, the Oilers results without McDavid on the ice at even-strength (5v5) were once again poor.

With McDavid deployed, the Oilers outscored opponents 64-48, an elite level goal-share of 57.14%. He typically plays for about 35-40% of the team’s total time, within which the Oilers tend to out-shoot and out-chance opponents, spending longer periods of time with the puck in the offensive zone. Without him, for about 60% of the total time, the Oilers were outscored 51-68, a goal-share of 42.86% – similar to what Detroit, Columbus and Buffalo finished their seasons with.

A big reason why the Oilers were outscored so badly without McDavid was because they were regularly out-shot and out-chanced. They posted a Corsi For percentage of 45.38% and an Expected Goals For percentage of 45.18% (score-adjusted), which was actually the lowest numbers posted in the McDavid era. And it was really on the offensive side of things where the club struggled. While their rates of shots against and goals against were around league average without McDavid on the ice, their rates of shots-for and goals-for were worse than the bottom-feeders of the league.

There was a point in the season where the Oilers shot-share numbers and goal-differential without McDavid at even-strength was starting to improve thanks to some roster adjustments and the improved defensive play of the club. But as we see below, things really went downhill from about the middle of the season. Over the final 25 games of the year, the Oilers were regularly outshot and getting outscored 15-28 (a 34.88% goal-share) – making it difficult to have much confidence in the club’s depth heading into the playoffs.

Thankfully, McDavid went absolutely supernova in his pursuit of 100-points to close out the season and bailed out the roster, but it should be yet another warning sign for management that they need to do a better job of identifying talent and building a stronger roster around their star player. It’s been a problem that the franchise has struggled with since McDavid’s arrival, not even once being able to reach the 50.0% break even-mark for goals and shot metrics without him on the ice. As mentioned above, this season the Oilers depth posted their worst shot-share numbers (i.e., Corsi For% and Expected Goals For%, score-adjusted) in the McDavid era.

As I’ve written in the past, measuring the team without McDavid is a pretty good way to evaluate the general manager’s work. We know McDavid is going to be dominant when he’s on the ice. But can Holland and his management group figure out how to build a roster that can get positive results, even break-even results, when he’s on the bench? The best teams in the league have figured it out, why can’t the Oilers?

Right now the issue comes down to proper roster evaluation and construction. Taking a look at the forwards who played at least 100 minutes this season, and what their numbers were like without McDavid on the ice with them, it becomes apparent that it’s the professional-level players that management has trouble identifying and acquiring to surround their internally developed players with.

This table sorts all of the forwards by their on-ice Corsi For percentage, with a heat map applied. Keep in mind, 45.0% is the team average Corsi For% without McDavid on the ice. What stands out are the players with shot-share metrics in the red, as all of them except one are professional players that Holland either acquired or re-signed to new contracts. Some of these players even spent time with McDavid over the last couple of seasons, but weren’t productive enough to stay in the top six.

The main takeaway from all of this is that McDavid has yet to have a strong supporting cast around him, and the blame falls squarely on management, the professional scouting department and the teams’ evaluation and decision making processes. The fact that these professional-level players spent more time without the puck and getting out-chanced – and out-scored this badly – should be driving change within the organization.

The Oilers desperately need to figure this out ahead of what should be a busy off-season. The ability to identify talent that can drive offence to replace those that can’t is paramount if the Oilers want to build a championship contender. It’s great the Oilers are in a playoff spot and the potential is there for them to win a couple rounds. But until they figure out how to properly construct a roster, their success is unlikely to be sustainable.

Data: Natural Stat Trick