• Patience Should Be Exhausted

    by  • April 9, 2013 • Hockey • 31 Comments

    With last night’s loss in Anaheim, this season is now virtually certain to end with the Oilers missing the playoffs. If you listened to Shawn Horcoff and Taylor Hall talking after the game, you can tell that they know. Horcoff had a note in his voice that I haven’t really heard since the end of 2006 from him, sounding like someone who has had all hope extinguished. Hall sounded beaten down.

    When this season’s over, after the Oilers go 5-2-2 or so in their last nine games, there’s going to be a chunk of the media and the fanbase that’s going to point to this season as a critical step forward for a young team that’s learning how to win games. It’s consistent with historical narratives about hockey. It will be completely untrue. This season is the first of the years in which you can win a Stanley Cup with Taylor Hall as your best player thrown away because of how screwed up everything else is. I don’t expect them to put together a Stanley Cup contending team overnight but when you’re starting with a player of his calibre and you’ve had three years since you admit the rebuild started in 2010, you really ought to be doing better.

    To my point about young teams learning how to win games and all that and how that’s not really the issue here, I’ve assembled a list of guys who played in Edmonton from 2010-12, when the Oilers finished 30th and 29th, and so far this year. I’ve then gathered their SF and SA data for those periods, which I’ve presented below. I’m just using time in Edmonton for Ryan Smyth and Eric Belanger (and I’ve excluded Nick Schultz rather than pick through his data from last year).

    The key data in this table is the SF/SA columns and the DIF column. In brief: five of the Oilers who were here last year are at least matching what they did in terms of their SF/SA. Eberle and Hall have both seen big jumps in their numbers. I was critical of Eberle last year because I didn’t believe the offence was real – this is a far, far more positive sign from him than last year’s big S% year. The guy’s a good hockey player, even if he’s not what the Oilers thought they were buying.

    The rest of it though…good lord, what a disaster. Horcoff and Jones have kind of posted similar numbers to last year, albeit in awfully small samples due to injury. Smyth’s numbers say he hasn’t performed as poorly as is widely believed, at least relative to last year. Then it just gets ugly. It’s easier to appreciate the scale of this if I do a comparison between the actual shot differential when given players are on the ice and what it would have been if they’d had the same SF/SA ratio as they had in the 2010-12 seasons.

    Let me explain this table. Jordan Eberle has been on the ice for 311 SF at 5v5 this year. He’s been on the ice for 276 SA. 311-276=35. If the Oilers had taken 48% of the shots with Eberle on the ice, as they have for the past two years, they would be getting outshot 282-305 with him on the ice, which is a shot differential of -23. 35-(-23)=58. So, the Oilers have a shot differential that’s 58 shots better this year with Eberle on the ice than it would be if they were performing as they had between 2010-12 with him on the ice. Repeat for 18 other players.

    It is, I hope, pretty apparent where things are really going off the rails for the Oilers this year. Start with Smid and go down. The numbers for what is basically the second line (Hemsky, Gagner and MPS) and the fourth line (Petrell/Belanger/Eager/Smyth) are horrific. Even if we thought the fourth line guys were bad last year – and I did – they seem to have gotten dramatically worse for some reason. I’ve seen a lot of talk about Gagner on Lowetide’s site, how he cheats for offence but I think it does bear mentioning that he was once a guy who, while not great, didn’t get slaughtered at ES. This year, it’s Stalingrad out there.

    Let’s look at this from a different angle. Between 2010-12, the Oilers got outshot 3858-3358 at 5v5. That means that they took 46.5% of the 5v5 shots. When Jordan Eberle wasn’t on the ice, they got outshot 2835-2415 – they took 46% of the shots. This year, they’re getting outshot 948-784 – that’s 45.3% of the shots. When Jordan Eberle isn’t on the ice, they’re getting outshot 672-473, which means they’re getting 41.3% of the shots. When Eberle is on the ice, as I mentioned above, they’re outshooting 311-276. (I’m using Eberle here because he’s a decent proxy for the Kid Line, in that he misses fewer games than Hall.)

    I’m going to write this paragraph in bold because it’s so astonishing to me. If the Oilers had simply managed to run in place for this season when Jordan Eberle isn’t on the ice, they’d be getting outshot 894-838 overall, which is 48.4% of the shots. This would be better than they have done at any time during the period in which the NHL has collected detailed information about who’s on the ice for a shot for/against. It would likely make them about 8 or 9 goals better in the old goal difference column, which is worth 2 or 3 points in the standings. You can look at the standings yourself and see how that would change things.

    The Internet’s Woodguy had a theory about why the Oilers have had such a hard time this year:

    I have no proof, but by eye the Oilers up ice pressure system where the D steps up and the Fs cover has not worked well. F’s don’t cover when they should, D making bad decisions on when to step up. I think that system is sound, but both the players (moreso the D than F imo) need to implement it better.

    It would also help to have better players. To run that type of system requires everyone knowing exactly where everyone else is supposed to go and actually executing it (see Jones lollygagging everywhere on the ice creating holes where they are not supposed to be) So when I see the Oilers getting more lit up in terms of SA/60 and then by eye I see way more odd man rushes, which often turn into multiple shots against, I think I can see why the corsi is in the tank.

    4-93-14 are just so goddam good together it doesn’t show up in their numbers, but its show up everywhere else. Petry was a rock last year and this year he looks hesitant and unsure when to step up and when to skate backwards and mind his gap. I really do think a lot of the SA is due to the system with poor implementation and meh players. An upgrade in D and a full TC to teach the system will help.

    They seem to be getting better at is as well, but this year is pretty much lost.

    I don’t know of any evidence that contradicts that theory. I’m not saying that I endorse it but it strikes me as plausible. I don’t know how else to explain what’s gone on this season – it’s absolutely bizarre to see most of a team collapse the way in which the Oilers have done.

    So, to circle around to the main point that people should take away from this: the rebuild has worked, insofar as the Oilers now have a first line of highly skilled guys who they drafted and developed. This should be a playoff contending team. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, whether it’s tactics or players who can’t implement the tactics or both, they aren’t a contender. That has to fall on management and there have to be some hard questions of the coaching staff and management as to why they can’t assemble a group of players and coaches who can support the fruit of the Oilers being terrible forever.

    Oh – one more nugget: I threw this fact out on Twitter last night: “Teams that picked first and couldn’t makes playoffs in next three years since 92: TB (92/98), OTT (93), ATL (99/01), CBJ (02), NYI (09).”

    That is not respectable company in which to spend one’s time.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    31 Responses to Patience Should Be Exhausted

    1. Jerod
      April 9, 2013 at

      Oilers play well when there is a lot of ice and space. When teams take that away Oilers look bad.

      Vancouver proved that. They took them seriously April 4th and pounded them.

      In my mind Oilers have regressed and I had low expectations this year.

    2. Rick
      April 9, 2013 at

      Every year same thing, the elephant in room is management. Until that changes Oiler fan should get use to disappointment .

    3. Sven
      April 9, 2013 at

      Is it reasonable to assume a young team needs more coaching than an older, more experienced group of players? In a compressed season like this one, the young Oilers have had little time to practice systems and unit play, and were often being individually counselled on the airplane while travelling from one venue to another, if I read Krueger’s comments correctly. They didn’t have the benefits of the usual pre-season to start bringing it together. If this had been a regular season with significant periods between games for rest and practice, do you think the Oiler would have a better record than they have now?

      • dawgbone
        April 9, 2013 at

        I don’t think that’s the issue because the kids are the ones getting the job done.

        • spOILer
          April 10, 2013 at

          They’re out-scored in nearly every loss. They are SOOOOOO not getting the job done.

          • Tyler Dellow
            April 10, 2013 at

            I can’t tell if you’re kidding or not.

          • Anonymous
            April 11, 2013 at

            Ummm this seems like common sense

    4. jim
      April 9, 2013 at

      Your an idiot

      • Pete
        April 9, 2013 at

        You raise a valid point.

      • dawgbone
        April 10, 2013 at

        Glass stones, houses, your, you’re, etc…

    5. Neil
      April 9, 2013 at

      Hire Brian Burke for the Oilers serve it with a little Schadenfreude

    6. Rich
      April 9, 2013 at

      Tyler – very thoughtful article. Thank you for all the work to show what’s going on with the other forwards, and defense. It’s very consistent with with what Jonathan Willis has been saying as well and I agree with your conclusions..

      Other than Woodguy’s apt comment on the system, I would like your opinion as to why the team has such a difficult time getting the puck out of their zone. Those comments certainly apply as to what happens in the transition from offense to defense, but – and maybe it’s me – they don’t explain why they are unable to efficiently exit their zone.

      I don’t like just saying “saw it good”. Certainly, can see times when Gagner cheats for offense and gets caught up near the blueline. Same w/Jones and most of the wings who are playing high and not helping out low. Is it possible that rather than playing a system like a Nashville – who try’s to outnumber you down low, that the Oilers are trying to play everything 1:1 and simply don’t have good-fast-strong enough players?

      Thanks.

      • April 9, 2013 at

        I think you nailed it on the head Rich, one of the main reasons the Oilers are getting outshot is failure to exit their own zone and the reason they cannot exit their zone is the lack of “poise” on the backend. I have never seen an Oiler team try and force/ring it around the boards as often as I have this season. Forcing it around the boards or hard off the glass should only be used as an absolute last resort. If you watch other teams they reverse the puck, go D to D, circle back, hold on to it for an extra second until the winger or center is open up the middle, or just eat it before they ring it around the boards or off the glass in desperation. Those types of transitions are absolutely necessary to get the puck out. The Oilers have become so predictable this season, all they ever do is ring it, hope it gets to the winger, then hope the C is there to catch the one touch pass up the middle. Although that is a decent exit strategy once in a while, it’s pretty easy to break up if you know it’s coming every time. Dmen have been pinching down on our wingers all season because they know it’s coming around the boards and the Oilers have been getting hemmed in all season because of it. I’m not sure if it’s lack of poise or talent on the backend or if it’s a strategy Ralph/Steve Smith actually employ…..maybe a little of both.

        It would be interesting to see some data that correlates failed breakout attempts vs. shots against as I believe this is the main reason the Oilers are getting outshot. Teams will always get chances off the rush. it’s all about limiting those second/third/fourth chances by making a read to recover the puck then making the correct play to transition back and that all starts from the defense. I bet if you count how many times Phoenix rings it around the boards or goes hard off the glass compared to the Oilers tomorrow night it’s a least 2 or even 3 to 1.

        The Oilers need both a better breakout system and better personnel to execute it. Signing Streit is a start but no guarantee. I would seriously look at trading both Gagner and Hemsky for defensive help if it’s available. Losing Gagner would create a hole at 2line C but I think the Oilers would be better off shifting Horcoff up and playing Lander/Smithson/Belanger (or veteran free agent or 2013 draft pick) in 3/4 lineC if there’s an opportunity to acquire better Dmen. I suspect the shot differential for the 2/3/4 lines would take a drastic turn for the better if they had a good defensive group/system behind them.

        • Kell
          April 9, 2013 at

          @Denny – I was going to disagree with ypur sentiment that the issue was the “poise” of the defence, but then yoy came around to what Tyler’s article made me think back on – systems.

          I think every oil fan has complained of “cheating” for offence during breakouts and we’ve all heard about lack of puck support in their own zone. Last night, I watched jones pass back in his own zone to the right dman, turn, and hustle up the ice tot take up position along the rw boards at the centre ice red line… without noticing he skated past an opposition player who pressed the dman and cut him off as a passing option… and then stood still as the dmen both back pedalled and coughed up the puck. Then I noticed theother winger was skating.

          I’m not the most knowledgeable observer when it comes to positioning and systems, but it seems to me that many of these players seem to be so focused on their position within the system that they fail to open up appropriate passing lanes and support the puck.

          Of course, I think gagner is the antithesis to my suggestion, as I think he’s too often out of position to be a passing option… and i’m a gagner apologist…

        • Leopard37
          April 10, 2013 at

          I seem to remember the year before we got Pronger as having worse break outs. Everybody was calling for the coaches head and it was simply not enough skill? strength? of the D to get the puck out of the zone. Executing a system can help, but the opposition can execute their own system to counter. The lack of a true top end Dman is the major issue of this team.

          Will J. Schultz develop into that Dman? Will our window close before he does?

    7. Anonymous
      April 9, 2013 at

      A couple of observations. 1. Oilers D has been in chaos for several years now and yet we never hear any concern about Steve Smith and the job he is so obviously not doing. 2. Gagner and Hemsky are totally expendable. Gagner has not resolved his consistency issue and can not play defense at all while Hemsky can’t find chemistry with anybody and is a highly talented, fancy player who plays as an individual and not as a teamate. Please trade both and get a quality return for them be it players or picks. Lastly, if we are aware of shortcomings on the Oilers, why do management (Tambellini and Lowe) do so little to add even singular small pieces to the puzzle? They have repeatedly dropped the ball at the drafts, the trade deadlines and on UFA’s in general. I am worried about the future of this hockey team.

    8. AnonymousGuy
      April 9, 2013 at

      This article was bang on.

      4-93-14 are great, but if they don’t get it done, it just doesn’t seem to get done. And even some games when they are playing great the pucks don’t go in.

      This is a 3 man team right now. It’s astonishing how bad the rest of the roster is. All the team has to do is be mediocre and the top line will do the rest. Just go even. That’s it. The top line will carry you if you do that. Yak seems to be getting lucky enough to create offense that sort of makes up for his ridiculous mistakes this year.

    9. Oiler Al
      April 9, 2013 at

      This should be a fast skating transition team with quick skating and strong puck handling forwards.
      This can’t happen with the current defense , who loose puck battles and are unable to quickly and effectively move the puck up to the forwards , especially against hard fore checking teams. The plays die before they have a chance to enter the zone.

    10. Hambone
      April 10, 2013 at

      Tyler, I tried to reproduce Jordan Eberle’s projected SF-SA numbers using the 2010-12 data, but it didn’t work for me. I tried using equivalent ratios to get the numbers you have (282-305) but didn’t get the same ones. Must be my crappy math skills.

      Anyway… on to the important question: does this mean that the problems come down to coaching after all? Do the Oilers management need to turn into Brad Pitt and force Philip Seymour Hoffman to execute their plan, à la MoneyBall?

      • Tyler Dellow
        April 10, 2013 at

        Sigh. Or my crappy addition skills. It doesn’t change my point but it should be 287-310. I read 587 where I should have read 597 for Eberle’s total shots in my spreadsheet.

    11. Benhur
      April 10, 2013 at

      One obvious problem the OIlers continue to have is own zone turnovers (OZT). Over the last 9 games the oilers OZT is averaging 22.5 and the oppositions is 7.4. These turnovers turn into scoring chances, goals & puck possession time in the offensive zones.
      The game plan for opposing teams is to forecheck hard with the forwards hard on the D and the centre and D pinching the boards which works against the Oilers. It worka…usually although the Blues game was an extreme aberration. The Blues had 3 OZTs while Oilers had 31! And the Oilers won 3 -0.
      Improving their breakouts to the opposition average of 7 a game would go a long way to improving their +/- shots diff. and scoring chances.

      • Tyler Dellow
        April 10, 2013 at

        This is interesting stuff Benhur – where are you getting it from?

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    13. fourfourtwo
      April 10, 2013 at

      Hey Tyler,

      Is there anyway to show what oilers would do if they had even just “bin 3 or 4″ players (from your previous analysis on corsi) on lines 2-3-4, with our top line and goal-tending. It might show what could have been with even a small upgrade on each line to address our issues.

    14. Ass Moses
      April 10, 2013 at

      You don’t need to look hard or deep. Don’t need to break out the new math. The on ice problem is as follows.

      Fistric, Mark
      Peckham, Theo
      Petry, Jeff
      Potter, Corey
      Schultz, Justin
      Schultz, Nick
      Smid, Ladislav
      Sutton, Andy
      Whitney, Ryan

    15. Bruce McCurdy
      April 10, 2013 at

      The guy’s a good hockey player, even if he’s not what the Oilers thought they were buying.

      The guy’s a good hockey player, even if he’s not what you thought the Oilers thought they were buying.

      • Tyler Dellow
        April 10, 2013 at

        Hah. You better tell Tambo that – he was talking about Eberle scoring 80 points.

        • TheOtherJohn
          April 10, 2013 at

          I know of no one, or at least anyone I respect, that would seriously try to argue that Jordan Eberle is not a good hockey player. He is! He’s just not a $6m hockey player. That’s what the Oilers thought they were buying for 6 long years.

          I have no difficulty waiting 4 or 5 years and revisiting the issue Bruce. Nor would I have any difficulty saying I am wrong if Eberle continues to improve on the wondrous scoring statistics he achieved last year. I expect though that you will come back with equal candor and say geez that was NOT a value contract if the scoring does not follow that electric trajectory.

          Who knows with hindsight Kadri & Eberle may turn out to have 2 of the best value contracts in the NHL

          • Bruce McCurdy
            April 11, 2013 at

            Way too soon to know, that’s for sure. I’m glad Eberle is going to be an Oiler for the foreseeable, though. As for contract value, that’s a mug’s game when the thing hasn’t even kicked in yet. This year he is producing quite well for < $1.2 MM, let's hold his feet to the fire for $6 MM value when he's actually getting paid that amount.

            • Tyler Dellow
              April 11, 2013 at

              Have these guys ever signed a contract you didn’t like? It’s fair to point out Eberle isn’t producing like a $6MM guy when they could have waited a year to decide.

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