Really, between about 2007 and the summer of 2012, I found it hard to get excited about talking about the Oilers in terms of what needed to happen to make the playoffs. Guys like Lowetide would write posts talking about how Kevin Lowe needed to make a move to bring in some guys and I’d be reminded of an episode of the West Wing, when the fictional President Bartlet was planning to announce that he’d lied about having MS, the staff tried to plan for dealing with it and the press secretary thought they were all insane:
You guys are like Butch and Sundance peering over the edge of a cliff to the boulder-filled rapids 300 feet below, thinking you better not jump ’cause there’s a chance you might drown. The President has this disease and has been lying about it, and you guys are worried that the polling might make us look bad? It’s the fall that’s gonna kill ya!
There were so many holes with the Oilers that worry about specific things was sort of pointless.
That’s not really the case any longer. I’m still firmly in the camp that figures the Oilers are a playoff contender (Lowetide posted a great comment from one of his commenters in this post that neatly encapsulates why I think that, which means that the details sort of matter again.
As I’m sure many of you are aware, the Oilers are looking like a much better 5v5 team this year, regardless of what the scores says. They’re within a whisker of being a 50% Fenwick Close team, which wasn’t really true in 2009-10 and 2010-11, although 2011-12 saw them take a step forward towards respectability, just clearing 48%. This year, they’re at about 49.6%.
What makes that 49.6% figure all the more interesting is that the Gagner/Hemsky pairing is having an absolute hell of a team at 5v5. Here’s there Corsi data together this year (pre-Phoenix) and what they’d done prior to this year.
So, prior to this year, boy Gagner and shoulder surgery Hemsky were 49.6% in the Corsi department over 1074.25 minutes when playing together. This year Gagner, who looks quicker and stronger and Hemsky, who seems better with another year between himself and shoulder surgery are getting slaughtered. It’s hard to fathom.
I thought I’d dig into it a bit and wanted to compare them to a duo that’s doing really well – RNH/Eberle, who are currently cruising at about 55% of the Corsi events when they’re on the ice at 5v5, which is really, really good. It may not be them who are driving that – they’ve played a ton of time with Hall – but this works for my purposes.
I went through the PBP and pulled the 5v5 shifts for the two pairings I want to compare. Gagner/Hemsky have played 287 to 299 for Eberle/RNH. Things that are interesting, to me anyway, is the different distribution of shift lengths for the two pairings:
So, for example, RNH/Eberle have played 6% of their 299 5v5 shifts together at a length of between 10 and 20 seconds. Gagner and Hemsky tend to get dinged with a lot of short shifts at the end of PPs, which drives up their short shift number. It’s probably not surprising that RNH/Eberle have a tendency to take longer shifts – 17.7% of their 5v5 shifts extend beyond 60 seconds, compared to just 10.1% of the 5v5 shifts for the more experienced Gagner/Hemsky pair. I would imagine young players taking longer shifts than they should is the bane of hockey coaches everywhere.
I want to shift over now to looking at Corsi events on their shifts. What I’ve done is count how many Corsi events occurred on each shift and then counted each shift with 1, with 2 etc. We’ll start with Corsi events against:
This looks awfully similar to me. The Hemsky/Gagner duo is slightly more likely to have a Corsi event against during a shift but not particularly more likely to get hemmed in or anything.
When we switch to the Corsi For, I think that we can see something awfully interesting. The Hemsky/Gagner pairing is about as like to have a shift in which they generate one shot attempt; RNH/Eberle edge them 27.4% to 26.8%. Where it falls apart for Gagner/Hemsky is in generating sequences with multiple Corsi attempts.
It strikes me as odd that Gagner/Hemsky are so poor at generating multi shot attempt shifts. If you think of this as being a sequence, a shot attempt is made and, if the puck is recovered, things continue until another shot attempt is made. I know that, anecdotally, Hemsky doesn’t shoot the puck enough and plays too cute but it doesn’t seem to make sense that, even when they do shoot the puck, Hemsky/Gagner are so poor at generating second and third attempts. It suggests that they aren’t recovering the puck very well.
I’ve redone the previous table and included a line that re-imagines what the 89/83 pairing would look like if they continued to get zero Corsi attempts on the same number of shifts but re-distributed those shifts on which they got at least one in the same proportion as the 14/93 pairing. It’s not perfectly obvious, but it would be a pretty substantial increase, something in the order of 34 Corsi attempts because of the extra multi-shot sequences there.
To me, there’s something not right going on from the Oilers’ blue line north when Hemsky/Gagner are on the ice, although I’m not sure what it is. I’ve joined in with others in kind of hammering Gagner for his defence and praising RNH and I acknowledge RNH has played tougher minutes, but it’s tough to find a lot of difference between them in the defensive zone when you look at is this way.
My theory as to the offensive troubles of Gagner/Hemsky is tied to Yakupov, mostly in terms of him being 19 and needing to learn how one goes about creating ES offence in the NHL as opposed to in junior, where first overall draft picks can create it all on their own. In Yakupov’s defence, it’s not like things have gone any better without him, although it’s a smaller sample that mostly consists of d-zone faceoffs and periods when the Oilers were defending a lead.
This is a pretty important question though. Why aren’t the Oilers comfortably north of 50% in terms of Fenwick Close and looking pretty good for a playoff spot? Hemsky/Gagner are getting hammered. Between 2009-12, it was a sort of interesting theoretical issue, something that, like about ten other things, was acting to keep them out of the playoffs. That’s no longer the case.
A technologically advanced team could do analysis like this a lot more quickly than I have and then pair it with work being done on the qualitative side of the operation. It took me a while to assemble this data – a team that invested in having a proper piece of software built could pull this sort of thing up with a few keystrokes and then compare Gagner/Hemsky this year to themselves in past years and see if they could identify the issue. They could also make a pretty informed guess about whether this is just noise (which is probably tied with “something to do with Yakupov” on my list of theories) or something more important. They could work with the video coach on what he sees when things have gone well and poorly and try to find a way to get their numbers back on the rails.
Hopefully, the Oilers are that team.
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