• Steve Who?

    by Tyler Dellow • January 6, 2012 • Uncategorized • 8 Comments

    Steve Tambellini spoke to Jim Matheson the other day, giving a sort of update on where things are at this season and relative to his expectations. I’ve been kind of tracking what Tambellini says about expectations this season because it’s never been entirely clear to me what, exactly, he and the Oilers were expecting. Unsurprisingly, he says all sorts of silly stuff – Derek Zona takes apart his nonsense about the goaltending – but he also says that “I’m not going to put a number on (the number of points I expect). I want to finish as high as possible,” he said. “Again, I don’t want a lottery pick.”

    That does seem to be a bit of a line in the sand. Avoid the lottery. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single, stumbling step that may actually have come about because you tripped and all that.

    Of course, as it stands, the Oilers are in lottery territory. Have they really been a lottery team though? Let’s peel back the onion a little bit. Here are the NHL’s regulation time standings this year along with regulation time goal difference, good through the Buffalo game (so it doesn’t include last night, another one goal loss).

    2

    I’ve sorted this by winning percentage in regulation. As you can see, the Oilers were 22nd at the time I put this together. Their goal differential is pretty solid though – a -2 compared to lots of double digit minuses around them. A 9-2 pasting of Chicago will do that, to a degree. On the surface, it kind of looks like they’ve been a bit hard done by – the Wild have picked up 9 more points in two more games with the same goal difference.

    As most readers of this site know, there’s a pretty strong relationship between goal difference and standings. It’s a good way to do a quick check and see if a team is getting what it deserves. On this, I think that you can argue that the Oilers aren’t. Also worth pointing out – they’ve only gone to overtime four times this year, less than half of the league average. I’ve written about this before, during the 2007-08 season, when the Oilers were getting into OT at an extraordinary rate:

    I don’t think that the evidence would support the argument that there’s some skill in taking a game to a shootout – after correcting for the incidence of ties (which tend to increase as goals per game fall and parity increases), the correlation year over year in tie games by team is 0.02. The general theory amongst the people who write about sports through a lens of numbers is that if a result isn’t repeatable, it’s probably not due to a skill – that would suggest that while the Oilers performance in the shootout may or may not be due to their skill, the frequent opportunities to use those skills has its genesis in luck.

    It’s fun looking back on the comments to that post – I assume all of the people who thought that I was undervaluing the Oilers wonderful skill at taking games to OT in 2007-08 are now highly critical of them for their failures to do so now. They’d still be wrong but I can’t imagine that they’d be so inconsistent as to accept evidence that casts the Oilers in a better light while rejecting evidence that doesn’t.

    ANYWAY – here’s a graph illustrating the relationship between goal difference and points so far this year. You can see a pretty clear trend line running through it, even if I didn’t bother putting one in. Teams to the left of that line are getting less bang for their goal difference dollar; teams to the right are getting more. Note Montreal and Edmonton, right around the 0.4 mark, slightly under zero goal difference. Both seem to not be getting the bang for their goal difference.

    1

    Inefficiency at turning goal difference into standings points is one thing. If that were the only criteria, you could make a pretty good argument that this Oilers team is a cut above the past two years, things are trending in the right direction and Tambo über alles. What about the underlying data though? I’ve grabbed two different sets to look at. The first is this year Oilers’ team in relation to the past two years and the second is this year’s Oilers’ team in relation to the other teams in the lottery race. I’ve put Edmonton next to Montreal in the second comparison for reasons that will become obvious.

    3

    So at 5v5, this year’s team has a shockingly similar share of the shots to last year’s team. Why are they -7 instead of the more traditional -24 or so at this point in the year? PDO. The 5v5 goaltending’s produced a better save percentage which has kept the goals against down and a few more pucks are going in.

    A point on PDO – while we say it reverts towards 1000, it actually regresses towards whatever the true talent is. A good rule of thumb for 5v5 is that the goalies will post a .920 and the players will score on 8% of shots; it’s not true with bad goalies. I’m not sure that I’d be inclined to bet on Edmonton’s PDO ending the year above 1000. Who’d you rather bet on from here – Carey Price or Nikolai Khabibulin?

    In any event, if you were asked, “Is this edition of the Oilers better at 5v5 than the 30th overall teams?” you’d have a hard time saying yes, on this data. They also don’t compare particularly well to the teams around them in draft lottery contention. It’s all percentages separating them from those teams.

    4

    5v4 is more of the same in terms of percentages. The Oilers are producing about the same volume of shots that they’ve produced the past few years. They’re markedly below the shooting rates of the other teams in the hunt (poor Montreal can’t buy goals on the PP despite generating lots of shots). Are the Oilers better at 5v4 now than they were in the past two years? Only to the extent that the S% increase is real and, in any event, they’re susceptible to a cold run even if it is real.

    5

    4v5 looks like there might be some genuine improvement after the past couple years. A 12.5% decrease in opponent’s shooting rates is real and nothing to sniff at. Again, an improved save percentage hasn’t hurt either but it’s not a good thing to bet on going forward.

    In short, as much as the Oilers can legitimately say that they’ve probably had luck running against them in terms of turning goal difference into points and in getting into OT games, they’re probably somewhat lucky to have the goal difference that they do, as they don’t really look appreciably better than the other bad teams on the underlying stats. They probably are a legitimate lottery team. Again.

    Assuming that they are, what does this mean for Steve Tambellini? If “not being in the lottery” was this season’s pathetic goal and it wasn’t met, that’s two pretty ignominious failures in three years, the first being the Pat Quinn era. I assume that they were, if not trying, at least pretty cool with stinking last year.

    It’s hard to look at this team and identify ways in which Tambellini has actively made it better, as opposed to passively accepting the blessings that the NHL forces upon the inept. He’s got a pretty long list of bad moves, including a troubling habit of acquiring guys who are defective. He’s made a lot of low percentage plays that have burned him, including Khabibulin, whatever he was trying to do with Sheldon Souray last year and Cam Barker. The Ben Eager contract looks asinine. He doesn’t really seem to be engaged in actively sifting through coal in the defenceman market.

    Montreal provides another fun contrast here too. They’ve got a much more defensible case that they’re experiencing hard luck this year than the Oilers do but it’s not good enough. People get fired. While I’m not necessarily defending that, I do think that there’s something to be said for unmet expectations meaning new faces in jobs. If the Oilers can’t meet the most pathetic of goals, isn’t it time for someone else in Edmonton?

    About Tyler Dellow

    8 Responses to Steve Who?

    1. Darren
      January 6, 2012 at

      I hear Mike Milbury and Doug MacLean are still available.

    2. Garnet
      January 6, 2012 at

      Tambo does know that every non-playoff team is in the lottery, right? I welcome this story from Matheson because it suggests the first concrete, and genuinely demanding, standard of performance for the management, one that might lead to someone important (hint, hint) getting canned over the team’s awful state.

    3. Jason Gregor
      January 6, 2012 at

      The Oilers have 32 PP goals 5on4 at the midway point of the season, last year they had 41. Wouldn’t you say they are significantly better on the PP. I would argue that the combination of RNH and Eberle have made them much more dangerous.

      Is it possible to account for the amount of “easier” goals this year, basically from better passes, than last? I think that is the major factor on their PP. They, mostly started by RNH and Eberle, move the puck around so much more crisp and clean that they actually have an advantage with the extra man now.

      I’m not sure if it is even possible to calculate that, but to me that is the biggest difference on the PP. Rarely does RNH stand facing the boards. For years we’ve seen their PP waste time with guys having their back to the play.

      Just a thought if it is possible to look at that. I’m assuming we’d have to break down every PP goal, but the cross seam pass from RNH to Eberle is the most effective new addition to the PP that I’ve seen.

      I thought this team would be about 22nd, and it seems your numbers reflect that’s about where they are at. Sure not technically a lottery team, but not much better.

      I’d argue that being a lottery team (which is really only the bottom five who have chance at #1) is better than 22nd, higher draft pick, and while I understand they want to be in “meaningful” games in March, I never thought it was realistic.

      I expect the Oilers to make some changes after the season, and they are justified.

      But keep in mind teams that are consistent losers change coaches and GMs, excluding the Islanders, more than most and in many cases, NHL, NFL and NBA they never seem to improve.

      I’ve always wondered if they make too many changes, thus never allowing for any sort of continuity. Because let’s face it, if the Oilers fired Tambellini this year, his replacement would have Hall, Eberle, RNH and another top pick to start his tenure, which would automatically give him a better starting ground.

      Will the new guy be a better GM, or will have a better chance at success. I’d lean towards the latter, but of course we’ll never truly know. Is Stan Bowman better than Tallon was, or did Bowman inherit a near perfect situation.

      Either way, it is completely fair to question whether Tambellini deserves another year.

    4. January 6, 2012 at

      I expect the Oilers to make some changes after the season, and they are justified.

      Don’t get hopes up. I understand the point about upheaval, but if you keep hiring poor executives and coaches you’re going to be constantly having upheaval when the predictable results happen. He has worse than poor results as a General Manager. The positives in/on the org/roster is what it is because of the drafting. Period.

    5. Dennis
      January 6, 2012 at

      Just because the Isles don’t know how to find suitable replacements, it doesn’t mean the Oilers will make the same mistakes.

    6. January 6, 2012 at

      I know you’re looking at season totals here, but do you take any encouragement from the team’s performance with the score tied? They finished 29th and 30th in 5v5 Fenwick % with the score tied in the last two years, but are up to 14th this season at 50.2%, which is a pretty substantial jump. That dips to 22nd and 48.3% with the score close, but even that is a substantial improvement on last season. I don’t want to sound too optimistic because I wouldn’t bet on them to finish the year out of the bottom five at this point in time, but I do think the team is quite a bit better than they were over the last two years.

      • dawgbone
        January 6, 2012 at

        How much of that was a result of the first 15 or so games of the year?

    7. Robert Cleave
      January 7, 2012 at

      I just ran the numbers at Vic’s, which always seems to have small percentage differences from BTN, but anyhoo:

      The first 14 games, with the Oilers having a 9-3-2 record after beating Montreal, show the tied numbers as Fenwick .490, EVSV% .961 (!?!), EVSH% 6.5, PDO 102.6.

      In the 26 games since then, the Fenwick-tied is actually better, at .505, with the EVSV% .896, EVSH% 7.9, PDO 97.5. As Tyler noted, that SV% might be closer to the Oiler goalies’ true talent level than the standard .920, but that’s another discussion altogether.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *