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In Search of Progress: A Look at Shots and Saves During the Tenures of Dallas Eakins, Todd Nelson, and Todd McLellan

Looking into the numbers to see how the Oilers have performed under their last three coaches.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

With the Oilers now officially eliminated from the playoffs for a record tying tenth straight season, a lot of fans, myself included, are looking even harder than normal for signs of progress. And after a decade of a failure we're willing to find progress in just about anything. The team was eliminated on March 20th instead of March 12th? That's progress if I ever saw it. It took 75 games to be mathematically eliminated instead of 66? Sounds like progress to me. The team is on pace for 71 points after finishing last season with 62? You guessed it, progress.

When I compare last year to this year though, one thing jumps out at me right away: goaltending. Dallas Eakins was fired after 31 games, and while I'm not going to say that he didn't deserve to be fired, the results were what they were and he's the man who's ultimately responsible for that, I can't completely separate those results from the terrible goaltending that he got to start the season. And so when I go looking for progress it's hard for me to figure out where to start because the raw numbers don't feel like an apples to apples comparison.

If you're a regular reader of this site you're probably seems a comment or two, and even a FanPost, from GCW_69 along this same line. Those comments helped keep this idea at the front of my mind, which in turn made my stumbling on the custom query function at such a pleasant surprise because now I could split last season into two parts to better see how the team performed under Eakins (in both 2013/14 and the first 31 games of the 2014/15 season) and Todd Nelson, and how that play compares to the Oilers under Todd McLellan this season.

Everything that follows is based on five-on-five play and all data is courtesy of First up some of the basics.

Games Wins Pts G+/- Wins
Dallas Eakins 2013/14 82 29 67 -50 29 67 -50 0.9133
Dallas Eakins 2014/15 31 7 19 -25 19 50 -66 0.9018
Todd Nelson 2014/15 51 17 43 -41 27 69 -66 0.9019
Todd McLellan 2015/16 75 29 65 -34 32 71 -37 0.9159

As you can see I had to carry the save percentage to a fourth decimal place before I could find a difference between the goaltending last year with Eakins and Nelson behind the bench. Given the difference in the wins and losses of the two, this is not what I expected to see. I suspect that if I dug deeper into some of the special teams there might be a much bigger difference there. A project for another day, perhaps.

The table also shows us something that we expected to see, and that's that the save percentage this season is a whole hell of a lot better, 14 points better in fact. So what kind of affect does that have on the overall goal differential? Be warned, if you're looking for signs of real progress you might want to stop now.

Dallas Eakins 2013/14 3771.66 2054 32.7 128 178 -50 173 -45
Dallas Eakins 2014/15 1488.17 723 29.1 46 71 -66 61 -40
Todd Nelson 2014/15 2525.99 1284 30.5 85 126 -66 108 -37
Todd McLellan 2015/16 3553.96 1820 30.7 119 153 -37 153 -37

So there you have it, the team's improved even strength save percentage this season basically accounts for all of the improvement in even strength goal differential, and at a projected -37, it's a goal differential that still sucks. If you were looking for a sign that this team is moving forward, or perhaps has already turned the corner, this probably didn't make your day. But because I'm a nice guy I'll leave you with one final table table that might make you feel better.

TOI GF60 GA60 GF% xGF60 xGA60 xGF%
Dallas Eakins 2013/14 3771.66 2.04 2.83 41.8% 2.28 2.78 45.1%
Dallas Eakins 2014/15 1488.17 1.85 2.86 39.3% 2.20 2.43 47.5%
Todd Nelson 2014/15 2525.99 2.02 2.99 40.3% 2.16 2.90 42.7%
Todd McLellan 2015/16 3553.96 2.01 2.58 43.8% 2.45 2.55 49.0%

In terms of expected goals the Oilers should have seen better results this season. The goals against actually match up quite well when compared the expected results, but the goals for just haven't been there for whatever reason this year. So the improvement that we've seen this season in the goal differential might be mostly related to better goaltending, that doesn't mean that there hasn't been some progress buried somewhere else though.