• Are we there yet?

    by  • June 7, 2012 • Uncategorized • 25 Comments

    As expected, Steve Tambellini got his extension from the Oilers. It’s for an undefined period of time. Also aggravatingly undefined are the expectations, as John MacKinnon noted in his piece about the extension:

    Where did Tambellini envision his team by the end of his shiny new mandate?

    “I hope we’re a continual playoff team,” Tambellini said. “Let’s see how we develop here.

    “Our goal is only one thing here — it’s to win a championship. And there’s a price to pay to win a championship.

    “You have to pay a price of developing, you have to pay the price of doing the right work to bring the right people in here. You need the right coaching staff.”

    And when might all this development mature into a winner?

    “We’re going to get there as soon as we can get there,” Tambellini said.

    Expectations and timelines have been a bit of a sore point for me for a while with this meandering fiasco of a hockey club. Tambellini is pretty good at refusing to set any sort of public goal or expectation, lest someone point out that the Oilers aren’t getting there but it’s pretty obvious that they haven’t achieved what they set out to do in two of the three years where he’s been the guy. In 2009-10, he thought he was putting together a playoff team with veteran coaching and an MVP calibre goaltender; they finished thirtieth. While he wouldn’t say what his expectations were last year, he did say he didn’t expect to be in the draft lottery and the decision not to renew Tom Renney’s contract also suggests pretty strongly that the Oilers did not accomplish that which they set out to do.

    The somewhat frustrating thing from the perspective of the fan is that it’s difficult to know what the timeline should be. The Tambo fanboys throw around references to the Chicago model and the Pittsburgh model and the cynics mutter about Atlanta and Columbus but there’s been little in the way of hard data produced to show what the norm is for teams on the path that the Oilers are walking. So I set out to produce something.

    I’ve taken each season from 1995-96 to present and converted the point totals such that there are 2.24 points awarded per game, as there was in 2011-12. I’ve then created two groups of teams and looked at how they performed in their next five years. The first group is teams getting between 57 and 67 points in a season. I’ve summarized how those teams progressed in the table below.

    To the extent that Tambellini had expectations of competing for the playoffs in 2011-12, I think that those expectations were probably unrealistic. It’s more than a little unfortunate for Tom Renney that he ended up not getting renewed; the Oilers improved about as much as most teams coming off a 62 point season do. If you figure it takes 85 points to get into playoff contention, only two of 22 teams coming off a 62 +/- 5 point season managed that.

    Jason Strudwick had a piece at OilersNation a little while back in which he said that Scotty Bowman couldn’t have made the Oilers into a playoff team; after Renney was let go, Bob Stauffer went on the air and suggested that Strudwick owed his career to Renney and that they were old friends and that this was one friend looking out for another. The data seems to agree with Strudwick insofar as teams as lousy as the 2010-11 Oilers don’t really make great leaps forward the following year.

    Now, you can take this table and argue that Tambo is behind the curve. In 2009-10, the Oilers put up 62 points. The average team improves by about ten points a year. The Oilers didn’t have a better record in 2010-11 and then went up about ten points this year. Tambo added two useful players to the 2010-11 team in Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall and the team went nowhere. That’s not the way these things normally work. If you’re charitable, you might say that they were just punting on the year and, while I don’t think that they intended to seriously contend for a playoff spot or anything, it’s a bit unusual that they just sat at the bottom of the standings, like a fish that’s died and sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

    What if we just look at the teams who had two terrible years in a row, as the Oilers had endured entering the 2011-12 season. I defined a group of teams between 57-67 points in year one and fewer than 70 points in year two. It produces the following:

    We’re focusing on the YR+2 column here and considering that against the 2011-12 Oilers’ season. The 1998-99 and 1999-00 New York Islanders aren’t really an appropriate comparator because of what they ultimately did to rebuild – acquire Alexei Yashin, Mike Peca and Chris Osgood, amongst others. The 2006-07 Pittsburgh Penguins absolutely exploded in their YR+2 but that’s not really a fair comparator either; the Pens improved their save percentage by nearly 20 points and added Evegeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, amongst others. It seems to me that there are three teams identified here as being comparable to the OIlers in terms of coming off of two horrendous years: the 2006-07 Chicago Blackhawks, the 2001-02 Tampa Bay Lightning and the 2002-03 Atlanta Thrashers.

    As you’ll note, Edmonton’s point total compares pretty well with those teams. All of them posted about the same point totals. It’s YR+3, or what will be the 2012-13 season for Edmonton where the separation started to occur. Tampa Bay improved by 24 points, the Blackhawks by 18 points and Atlanta by only five. Chicago and Tampa Bay went on to better things; Atlanta went on to not much and, ultimately, to Winnipeg.

    It’s probably worth commenting a little bit on just how Chicago and Tampa Bay went about improving so much. Chicago added Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Robert Lang, who ended up being three of their top four scorers on the season. Chicago probably deserved a playoff spot but was done in by some crappy goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin. Tampa Bay saw the trio of Martin St. Louis, Vinny Prospal and Vinny Lecavalier increase their goal production from 54 to 88, as the Lightning went from scoring 178 goals to 219 goals.

    I then tried slicing the data another way, to see if I could get a bigger sample to work with. I created a group of teams with between 69 and 79 points – the Oilers point total this year +/- five points. You’ll notice that the values tend to roughly correspond with the values from a year later for the teams getting 62 +/- 5 points. For example, those teams averaged 84 points in YR+2; these teams averaged 85 points in YR+1. The teams travel roughly the same path, with the teams starting from 62 +/- five points just being a year behind.

    As you’ll note, making the playoffs the year following a year like the Oilers just endured is awfully tough to do – only a quarter of teams managed to produce 95+ points. Realistically, you’re looking to set yourself up for a playoff push in the following season. What then, should you hope to see in order to feel confident that you’re on the right path?

    Well, of teams that posted fewer than 90 points in YR+1 (39 teams) just ten of them went on to make the playoffs in YR+2. Basically, there’s not a lot of difference between being a 75 point team and a mid-80s team in terms of becoming a playoff contender. For teams with 90 points or more in YR+1, (22 teams) 59% of them made the playoffs. That’s a pretty high hurdle for the Oil to climb over next year.

    What if we cut at this another way? What are the odds of making the playoffs in YR+1 with X points in YR? The story there is pretty much the exact same: teams with 87 points or fewer have about a 24% shot at making the playoffs in YR+1. Teams with 88+ points have a 44% shot at making it. I suspect that we see the drop in probability of making the playoffs compared to looking at teams that are clearly rising because we’re now including teams that aren’t young and improving.

    What does it all mean? Well, I think it means that the bar for a successful season next year, one in which you can say “This is clearly a team headed in the right direction” is awfully high. I’m thinking somewhere along the lines of 88 points or more. Anything less, and the Oilers start to look more like the Atlanta Thrashers than they do the Chicago Blackhawks or Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Is it likely to happen? I’ve got my doubts. It sure looks like something close to last year’s team will return. Hemsky being healthy for a year is going to help but the Regression Fairy’s coming for Jordan Eberle, which will negate some of that. Adding Nail Yakupov will, in theory, be helpful but young players aren’t generally all that great at the NHL level. If pressed, I’d guess that they end up high 70s or low 80s.

    That doesn’t set them up very well for a playoff push the following year. Even if you’re willing to overlook the entire 2009-10 cratering and what that says about his judgment, even if you’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on 2010-11 – if this team isn’t in the high 80s in points next year, it will be undeniable that they’re off the rebuild pace. Surely that’s a standard that we can all agree on, even if Tambo himself refuses to admit to any goals or expectations?


    25 Responses to Are we there yet?

    1. Brett Mitchell
      June 7, 2012 at

      “We’re going to get there as soon as we can get there”..


    2. June 7, 2012 at

      Excellent post. Would be interested to see how the cap affected comparable teams’ standing going forward as well.

      What worries me most is that the Oilers seem blissfully unaware (or are simply refusing to say anything publicly) about how the cap will affect their ability to keep and add talent once Hall, RNH, and Yak/Murray come off their rookie contracts. Gagner and Dubnyk are RFAs this year, Hall, Eberle, and MPS next, and RNH after 13/14, the first year you project them as a playoff team (if all goes well).

      Examined one way, the Oilers have a ton of flexibility with cap space going forward (http://stats.nhlnumbers.com/teams/EDM?year=2013). Examined another, the history of the Tambo regime doesn’t give you any reason to believe they’ll use this cap space judiciously, or accurately peg the market for many (below average) players.

      So, an undefined timeline can quickly turn into a 1-2 year window before they’re forced to shed key talent or surround their best players with ELCs. It’s plausible to be a regular playoff team with this formula, but I’d love to know when exactly they expect to be a serious Cup contender.

      • RiversQ
        June 7, 2012 at

        Great point. This is my biggest concern. The Oilers seem to be approaching this rebuild very slowly. I think they counted on organic growth in 2011-2012 that didn’t really happen and judging by the blueline moves (“Holy cow, we’ve got a lot of defensemen”) and status quo between the pipes, they seem to be expecting player development to pick up the slack again. I think they’re in serious trouble, if they don’t try to kick start this thing by making some deals and choosing some good FAs. The door slams shut so quickly.

    3. Triumph
      June 7, 2012 at

      To me, what separates teams like the nascent Lightning and Blackhawks from the Thrashers and possibly the Oilers is defense. Sure, both teams had a bunch of guys appear from outside the team to become solid scoring threats, as you know. We know the Oilers have the forwards, at least in the top 6. But the Thrashers in their history never developed a proper defenseman besides Tobias Enstrom, and that they did after they had already cratered the franchise. The Lightning had guys like Boyle and Kubina, and Chicago developed Keith and Seabrook. The Islanders, who Atlantic Division fans fear as a constant bogeyman waiting to ruin their dreams of the playoffs, don’t have anyone besides Travis Hamonic.

      That’s why it’s critical to me that Edmonton try to trade for a defensive prospect or young defenseman this summer. The Colten Teuberts of the world will not save them. Dean Lombardi has been applauded for this Los Angeles Cup run, but what he managed to do was to fob off excellent prospects/young players for established talents, something which I and others thought he was incapable of doing.

    4. June 7, 2012 at

      I’m very curious to see what this team can do next year, and I’ll confess that I’d need to do a lot more digging to feel comfortable predicting a standings finish at this juncture.

      It seems to me that the Oilers had difficulty converting goal differential to standings points this year; they finished minus-27 (I haven’t adjusted for empty netters, etc.) and landed 74 points, while Calgary finished minus-24 and landed 90 points. Add in the fact that Khabibulin was miserable (and, if the new coach likes working as a coach, that he won’t be used as frequently this season) and there seems to be a case that a leap isn’t implausible.

      On the other hand, if they lose Smyth that will hurt (conventional wisdom to the contrary) and I’m betting the PP slides.

    5. Tyler Dellow
      June 7, 2012 at


      Figure 3 goal difference equals a point. 27 goals = 9 points below average. So 73. Then add some OT/SO winner points.

      In other words, Calgary lucking out with their GD doesn’t mean Edmonton will.

      • June 7, 2012 at

        The average Western Conference team had 10 SOL/OTL points this year. Add that to 73 and you’re at 83 points.

        Like I said, I haven’t dug in enough to feel confident with a prediction, and if recent years have taught us anything it’s that you don’t often go wrong betting on the Oilers to fail. I just tend to think the points this year undersold the team’s improvement (though admittedly, they had some luck too) and that with DD as starter (if he works out) things could get better in a hurry.

        I’m open to being convinced otherwise; I’m just not sure myself that the team will flounder as badly as outlined here.

        • dog
          June 8, 2012 at

          I guess Tyler isnt necessarily predicting the Oilers for next season – hes setting a benchmark for Tambo

        • dawgbone
          June 8, 2012 at

          I also don’t expect the Oilers to win 4 games by 4+ goals. That seems rather high for a team with a 32-40-10 record.

        • Oilswell
          June 10, 2012 at

          Yeah, its a good point that you make, although I’m not sure if redoing the analysis with goal differential will make things much different. As Tyler notes, points correlate to GD so maybe table 2 with six data points things even out for establishing prior behavior of the cohort. But if you’re trying to assess where the Oilers are relative to that historical curve you’re probably starting with a less reliable measure of the Oilers possition (adding to the error bars using points rather than GD). Said another way, the baseline probably doesn’t shift much using points instead of GD due to averaging, but its less convincing knowing where the Oilers are against the baseline.

          I tend to view likelihood of making the playoffs or contending for the cup as epiphenomena that fall out of getting better as a team. And if so then goal differential seems like a pretty good starting point for analysis.

    6. quirky mcjerk
      June 7, 2012 at

      Now, now, we can’t make predictions on next year until free agency. Now that Tambo has a new mandate to continue ‘the plan’, he will surely address this team’s weaknesses and deliver us into post-season territory!


    7. Jeff
      June 7, 2012 at

      Trade for Kulemin trade for Peter Holland and Justin Schultz. Now he is a good GM after this

    8. Lee
      June 7, 2012 at

      I agree with Triumph. You can’t just look at the players the team added once they bottomed out to assign a realistic timeline for competitive recovery. You also have to look at the legitimate prospects the team had in the system at the time the rebuild commenced.

      Tambellini isn’t paying just for Lowe’s sins. He’s paying the sins of an organization that drafted poorly for over two decades! The Oilers’ prospect cupboard wasn’t just bare. They didn’t even have their own freaking cupboard (i.e. AHL team) for a while. After the Pronger debacle, the Oilers had nary a single blue chip as the starting point for their nucleus. The gold rush of the dynasty covered a lot of drafting & development mistakes during the 80′s and 90′s but eventually those markers come due.

      Possibly Petry is our nascent Keith or Seabrook, but that still leaves the Oil one solid D behind the Hawks as a starting point. I agree that getting close but not into the playoffs is the most realistic expectation for this season, AND I think a reasonable one given where they were personnel wise when this process started.

    9. June 7, 2012 at

      One thing of note for the 11-12 Oilers is a massively improved goal differential (-76 -> -27, or +49). At the very least less Khabi and more offensive pop (If Eberle can fight off a slump) should give the Oilers a shot at mid 80′s next year.

    10. speeds
      June 7, 2012 at

      Tyler, one thing that this sort of analysis may not perfectly capture is that EDM is better positioned to jump up the standings than most basement teams, specifically teams like NYI or ATL, because they have a lot more money to spend – it’s reasonable to think it’s tougher for one 60 point team, spending to the cap floor for the foreseeable future, to improve than a different 60 point team that can spend to the cap ceiling when they choose to for competitive purposes.

      • speeds
        June 7, 2012 at

        well, “most” might be overstating, but at least some.

      • Doogie2K
        June 8, 2012 at

        That would require the money to be spent wisely. The Oilers’ track record does not support this assumption.

    11. RiversQ
      June 7, 2012 at

      “As you’ll note, making the playoffs the year following a year like the Oilers just endured is awfully tough to do – only a quarter of teams managed to produce 95+ points.”

      Doug MacLean has the answer. They just need five pieces this offseason. No problem for a cagey horse trader like Tambo.

      • PDO
        June 8, 2012 at

        Two top 4 D, two top 9 wingers, and a goalie.

        Holy crap, Doug Maclean is right about something hockey related. The Mayan’s were right.

        • dog
          June 9, 2012 at

          nah them Mayans – longest cup drought in history – they never learnt to draft the best player available

        • RiversQ
          June 11, 2012 at

          No kidding, he was right but he said it like it was no problem at all. Five real players in a single offseason is awfully difficult. Lowe managed to have a pretty awesome CBA Transition offseason and got just two players in Pronger and Peca. He followed that up with four acquisitions in season, but had to give up one in Reasoner to do so.

    12. Slopitch
      June 7, 2012 at

      The other item is 60 missed games between Hall, Nuge and Eberle. As a group there should be improvement amongst those 3 too. Elite talents.

      • marconiusE
        June 8, 2012 at

        …but you have to remember that there is the same probability this upcoming season that important members of the team get injured again. Sure maybe Hall, Nuge & Ebs stay healthy, but maybe the goaltending duo both get injured or Smid, Petry go down leaving us with no first pairing.

      • Ben Carter
        June 12, 2012 at

        Injuries: every team has ‘em. Tired of this excuse for the Oilers. A quick search suggests the Oil were middle of the pack in this regard in 11-12.


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