a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

Welcome to Oil Acumen. All Oilers, all the time... Occasionally other stuff.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

11/27/16 Jason Arnott and the Great Eberle Debate


This is a re-post of an article I wrote back in July of 2012:

An off season debate is swirling around Jordan Eberle's shooting percentage. To some, Eberle has reached his high water mark; to others he's only just begun. Another Oiler had a similar problem in the early part of the 1990s and it created expectations that contributed to him eventually being sent out of town. That player was Jason Arnott.


As an NHL rookie way back in 1993-94, Jason Arnott scored 33 goals on just 194 shots. While it seemed then that the sky was the limit for Arnott, it turns out that those 33 goals were a career high. Arnott matched the feat fifteen seasons later with the Predators in 2008-09, and also managed to crest the 30 goal plateau in 2005-06 with 32 tallies.

In that 1993-94 season, Arnott's shooting percentage was 17% in a time when an average of 10.7% of shots were going into nets league-wide. Over the course of Arnott's career, his shooting percentage would be north of 16% just two more times. Those were the two seasons in which Arnott reached 32 and 33 goals. His career shooting percentage is 12.1%.

Arnott would be traded in 1998, after just 208 more games as an Oiler. In those games he fired the puck on net an impressive 748 times (3.6 per game), but scored only 67 goals (9.0% shooting).

The bright side? So far Arnott has scored 417 goals and 938 points in a long career of 1244 games. Just shy of being elite, Arnott has still been a very solid contributor to six NHL teams and spent a total of 18 years in the league. He won the Stanley Cup in 2000 with the Devils and scored the clinching goal in double overtime of game six.

If Eberle follows a similar career path the Oilers will have a very good player on their hands. Even if he's just a 27 goal man like Arnott.

Injuries and a perceived lack of effort played a part in Arnott's fall from grace in Edmonton, but so did a decline in his shooting percentage. He went from an 11.5% shooter in 1995-96 to 7.7% the following year, and finally fell to just 5% in his last 35 games as an Oiler in 1997-98. Nevermind the fact that he was a shot machine (and therefore theoretically a possession machine). The once-untouchable 33 goal rookie was ultimately shipped out of town in a crate marked "Fragile" and "Damaged Goods."

The Oilers and their fans must not make the same mistake with Jordan Eberle. He and Arnott are very different players, but they are similar in the amount of hope and expectation they evoke in the fans. If Eberle goes on to score 30, 40 or 50 goals each season, everyone will be happy. But if he ends up as a 25-27 goal man, the most important thing will be to not chase him out of town because of a perceived decline. Arnott never topped 60 points with the Devils, but he also won the Stanley Cup.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

11/20/16 Notes From A Five Game Skid



So the Oilers lost five straight games and a lot of fans jumped off the bandwagon. Understandably so, really. This team has a funny way of drawing you in and then crushing your hopes and defecating all over them. But this time, things are a little different. 

When the Oilers have gone on winning streaks in the past, usually it involved a lot of lucky breaks and unsustainable underlying numbers. Losing streaks, typically, were more indicative of the kind of team that the Oilers really were. Dig a little into the numbers behind this losing streak, however, and you find something interesting. 

The Oilers had a shooting percentage during that five game skid of just 4.62%, which is pretty abysmal. (8 GF on 173 shots, 34.6 shots per game)

Over that same span, the team had a save percentage of 0.871, which once again is well below league average. (18 GA on 140 shots against, 28 shots against per game).

This is where PDO comes into play. For those who don't know, PDO is the combination of team save percentage and shooting percentage. It tends to regress toward a sum of 100 over long periods of time. If league average shooting percentage is, say, 9%, then of course league average save percentage would be 91% (or 0.910). Anything below that could be considered unlucky, and anything above would be lucky.

Really all you need to know is that over the five game losing streak, the Oilers had an all-situations PDO of 91.72, which we could consider exceptionally unlucky. The lowest even strength PDO in the league last year belonged to Carolina at 98.3. 

But you could tell that they were unlucky just by watching the games. The other interesting thing is that the Oilers were controlling and, in many cases, dominating possession. During the losing streak they had 322 shot attempts to their collective opponents' 219. As a team the Oilers got 59.5% of all the shot attempts in those games. 

As of this writing, the Oilers are 8th in the league in Shot Attempt Plus/Minus (5x5), and 11th in the league when the games are close. That means that they are controlling the flow of play pretty well, which is usually indicative of a good team over the long haul. 

Our best guess at scoring chances is what NHL.com calls Unblocked Shot Attempts. Since a blocked shot was never going to go in, it's a better way of tracking actual chances to score. The Oilers are 7th in the league in USAT Plus/Minus. 

There is a caveat to all this, though. A lot of these results are coming from times when the Oilers are trailing in games. We know that score effects come into play and when teams are leading they tend to give up more shots. When you give up goals in the first two minutes all the time, like the Oilers have lately, you have to work harder to catch up, and that might skew some of these numbers a little. However, the fact that the Oilers are performing well when trailing is also something to be pleased about.

The biggest takeaway from all this is simple: the recent Oilers losing streak isn't a team regressing to being the terrible train wreck that they were all along. Unlike past years, the team played well enough to win those games and simply didn't. Really good teams tend to avoid stretches like that, but the Oilers have at least shown that their early success wasn't simply a mirage that the losing streak exposed. This is a decent team.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

11/06/16 Odds & Ends: Are The Oilers For Real & Can They Make It?


Are you a believer? Here are a few thoughts on the hot start for the Oilers.

1) The Oilers didn't win their ninth game of the 2015-16 season until December 2nd in game 26. The year before that it took them until January 6th in game number 40! In the 2011-12 season, the Oilers started 9-3-2 by November 8th and proceeded to collapse, winning just 23 of 68 games the rest of the way.

2) In that 2011-12 season, the Oilers allowed 406 shots in those first 14 games (29 per game on average), but allowed just 20 goals against (a 0.950 Sv%). The team ended up -376 in shot attempts on the year. So far, the Oilers have allowed 400 shots on goal (30.8 per game) and allowed 31 goals (0.922 Sv%). Right now they're -29 in shot attempts.

3) What do all those numbers mean? There's certainly room for a collapse in the style of 2011-12, but things are a little better than that year. And let's be honest, they're winning almost 70% of the time right now. That'd be around 56 wins over a full year, which is the same amount that Washington had last season as the best team in the league.

4) It's difficult to gauge how many wins a team needs to make the playoffs. Last year, Minnesota took the last spot with just 38 wins and 87 points, but the year before that it took the Flames 45 wins and 97 points to lock up the final playoff spot in the West. Let's split the difference and say it may take in the neighborhood of 41 wins and 92 points to make the dance (41-31-10).

5) The Oilers would need to go 32-29-8 in their final 69 games to reach that mark. Doable? Maybe. That's a winning percentage of just 46%, which is a fair dip from where they are now.

6) What the Oilers really need to avoid is a stretch like last year when they went 7-16-5 from December 26th to February 26th. Winning 25% of the time for a third of the season would sink any hopes of playoff contention.

7) Speaking of playoff contention, 78 points got you tenth place in the West last season. The Oilers would need just 59 more points to get there. That'd be a record of, say, 25-35-9. I think it's fair to assume that the Oilers will be in the mix down the stretch, barring complete catastrophe.

8) The Oilers had just 31 wins last season, and they have gone seven seasons without cracking 35 wins (2008-09 was the last time with 38). Given that, if the Oilers manage to win 26 more times this year (37% of the time), it will represent a considerable milestone. That's more a measure of their long run of futility than an endorsement of their improvement, but hey, one step at a time.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

7/6/16 In Defense of Adam Larsson


By now you've probably read every statistical breakdown and opinion piece on Adam Larsson that you can find. You've probably made up your own mind about the trade, and my goal here is not necessarily to change it. What I do hope to do, however, is provide my perspective on why I don't believe the trade is quite as outrageous as some have said. 

Part of the reason I hope to do that is because I kinda wrote that I would consider a Hall for Larsson swap... About two hours before the trade broke. Here are the reasons:

REASON NUMBER ONE

If you're anything like me, by now you've read comparisons between Adam Larsson and the best right-shooting defenders in the league. Sadly, Larsson does not fit into that very exclusive group - at least not yet. But the point is not that Larsson may get better, it's that those top pairing, right shooting defensemen don't get traded. The Oilers weren't getting one. No, not even PK Subban, who was traded for another player like him, which the Oilers lack. 

REASON NUMBER TWO

Adam Larsson is in a sweet spot of his career that could pay off very big for the Oilers. He's young enough that he's not untouchable in a trade, but he's old enough that we know he is capable. He's on a very team-friendly contract for a long period of time, and many of those years should be his prime. They also happen to coincide with McDavid's prime years, and Larsson's contract may help them absorb McDavid's raise better than the big ticket of an established defender. There aren't many players in the league that fit that description; even fewer could be acquired in a trade. 

REASON NUMBER THREE

The player that you would consider to be fair value for Hall wasn't getting traded for Hall. There was probably never going to be a Hall for Ekman-Larsson swap, or Hall for Pietrangelo, or Hall for Subban. Those players would leave gaping holes that Hall simply does not fill. There was no getting the Taylor Hall of defense in exchange for Taylor Hall. Also, the Oilers have had a tendency during the last decade to hold on to players when they have value, and trade them when their value is at its lowest (think Hemsky, Perron, Gagner, Petry, Dubnyk, etc). Does that mean you have to trade Taylor Hall? Not necessarily, but Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins don't have the kind of cache around the league that they once did. Even in Edmonton the bloom has come off the rose a bit with Eberle, so imagine the rest of the league's perspective. They probably could have traded him for a lot when he scored 30 goals and 70+ points, but that ship has sailed.

REASON NUMBER FOUR

The Oilers shifted their strength from left wing to right defence. From a purely positional standpoint, that's an improvement. Larsson doesn't give you on defense what Hall does from the wing, but this team could barely be called a team at all because of the lack of balance on the roster. At some point, one of the big names had to be shifted for some help on D. The optimal time may have passed already but it still needed to be done. That's not Chiarelli's fault, per se, but he'll deal with the consequences.

CONCLUSION

The Oilers lost this trade, in a vacuum, no question. Hall > Larsson. However, there is the beginning of a team here. At least I think so, you may disagree.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

6/29/2016 Odds & Ends: Free Agent Edition and Trade Talk!


This time of year turns all of us grown-up NHL fans into little kids on Christmas Eve. Some day there will be blogs written by eight-year-olds predicting what presents are going to be under the tree. If there aren't already, I dunno, I didn't check. In the meantime, you'll have to settle for a bunch of thoughts on trades and free agency.

Milan Lucic and Taylor Hall

Gene Principe tweeted that he has two sources who claim Lucic to Edmonton is basically a done deal. Of course, in true Lucic fashion, the player shot back that the report is "bullshit". I know we've been saying this for, oh, the last eight year or so, but the Oilers are a team on the rise. At least they're on the right side of the development curve as compared to Vancouver. That should give them an edge over Lucic's home town. Lucic fits nicely with what Chiarelli is trying to build, but does that make Taylor Hall expendable? 

Over their careers, Lucic has averaged 0.61 points per game, which makes him about a 50-point player. Hall, meanwhile, has averaged 0.86 p/g, making him about a 70-point player. What's more, Hall is much more likely to carry that production forward for the next four years (the term left on his deal, which will expire when he's the same age Lucic is now). 

However:

Taylor Hall is a winger. You can't keep all your shiny toys and hope to ever build a balanced roster. If the right deal is there, signing Lucic and trading Hall makes some sense. The right deal might actually materialize, too, because Hall is special. Normally a GM would have to be an idiot to trade a very good defeseman for a winger, but it changes things when that winger happens to be one of the very best in the game. A Taylor Hall trade may not see you get exactly one-to-one value, but the difference is made up in the positional upgrade.

Hall has averaged almost nineteen minutes per game for the Oilers over his career, but if he's not scoring he's not necessarily doing much in that time. He isn't really breaking up the cycle or grinding the opposition in the corner. He has averaged only eight seconds of PK time over his career (I know, I was surprised too).

Don't get me wrong, I love what Hall brings. I even argued against trading him at least once - hell, I even named the article "Don't Trade Taylor Hall"! But McDavid, Draisaitl, Puljujarvi and potentially Lucic have changed that position somewhat. Nobody on this team except #97 will get you the return that Hall will, and in terms of importance wingers come last. It might be time to think it over.

Adam Larsson Trade

I was listening to Bob Stauffer yesterday, and he was hinting at the Oilers trading for New Jersey's Adam Larsson. Funny how things go. The Oilers could have had Larsson at the 2011 draft, and now they could conceivably trade the player they took - Nugent-Hopkins - for the defenseman. On the other hand, RNH may not be enough, which brings us back to Hall.

Adam Larsson is 6'3", 205 lbs, shoots right, and averaged over 22 minutes per night last season. He didn't get buried possession-wise, despite starting in the the offensive zone only 30.5% of the time(!) and playing the toughest competition. His partner, Andy Greene, didn't seem to be carrying him, either. He was a plus-15 if you're into that sort of thing, threw 163 hits, and blocked 148 shots (both good for second on the Oilers). And he's only twenty-three.

The Devils were last in Goals For this past season, they only had two players over 20 goals (actually, they both had 30), and nobody over 60 points. They need scoring badly but they're not exactly brimming-over with defensemen, either. I don't see Larsson getting traded to any team, but he's a perfect fit for the Oilers. This is the type of player that I personally would consider giving up Hall for. You lose a lot offensively (Larsson had just 18 points), but you gain in every other area. 

Demers

What's it going to take to sign Jason Demers? The player is just fine; he's not ideal but he's perfectly serviceable. But somebody is going to offer him a boatload of cash, and I hope it isn't the Oilers. Granted, the Oilers need help on the blueline, but he's going to give you what, 30 points? I realize I just made the opposite argument with Larsson, but that's because Larsson is signed for another five years at just over $4 million. Demers' cap hit was already approaching that number, so where's he going to end up now? I just wanted to officially note that I'd be cautious about giving the guy too much money so that later I can say I told you so to someone.

Shattenkirk Hopes To Be Traded

Kevin Shattenkirk has said through his agent that he hopes he'll get traded soon. So that's neat. Right shot, 6 feet, 202, good possession numbers, about a 48-point player. The Blues need scoring because, despite their strong success, they were just middle of the pack in Goals For. After Tarasenko there isn't much to break a game open offensively. Since they're going to be trading Shattenkirk anyway, it would make sense to try to add something that could help them get over that hump. Another excellent fit for the Oilers, who should be right in the middle of everything over the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

12/13/15 Points: Can They Make It?


The Edmonton Oilers find themselves just two points out of a playoff spot on Sunday morning. Most fans are rightfully happy just to still be hanging around. But is it possible that the Oilers will actually make the playoffs this year? The short answer is yes, it's possible.

Let's take a quick examination of the numbers. Last year, Calgary locked up the last playoff spot in the west [grumble] with 97 points, and a record of 45-30-7. To reach 97 points this year, the Oilers would need a record of something like 30-13-9 over their last 52 games. That's a tall order (57.6% winning percentage) for any team, especially one that has won just 43.3% of the time so far. But things don't end there.

The Pacific Division is weak, which has allowed the Oilers to hang around. The third place team, Vancouver, currently has a worse W/L record than the Oilers. Hooray, loser point! They're also on pace for just 82 points - a significant drop off from Calgary's total last year. To better that record, the Oilers would need to finish 23-20-9 (or thereabouts). Moreover, twenty-one of the Oilers' last 52 games are against division rivals, including, critically, three each against San Jose and Calgary

Arizona, the second place team at the moment, is also just a .500 team and it has some real underlying trouble. And it's in the underlying numbers where we find that the division is wide open.

At 5x5, the LA Kings are running away with the league, nevermind the division, in Corsi For %. Anaheim also has good possession numbers, but they can't score (4.9% team shooting percentage, the lowest in the league). Over time that should even out, and Anaheim is still good enough to finish second in this bad division, but they won't make up the difference on LA. But that third spot is up in the air.

Arizona is pitiful in possession, 28th in the league in CF%. However, they're riding the best 5x5 shooting percentage in the NHL right now, and still they're just breaking even in the standings. What's more, they're minus-14 in GF/GA. When those hot hands stop filling the net, which they will, expect the Coyotes to sink like a stone.

Vancouver, meanwhile, is 24th in the league in CF% and their PDO (the best way we know to measure how lucky a team has been) suggests that the Canucks simply are what they appear to be. The underlying numbers don't seem to indicate that they're any worse than the team that has won 36.6% of the time so far, but they're probably not any better than that, either.

The three remaining teams, San Jose, Edmonton and Calgary, are 13th, 20th and 21st respectively in CF%, with almost no daylight between the Oilers and Flames.

So far, the Flames have enjoyed the sixth-highest 5x5 shooting percentage in the league, but they've been bad because they can't get a save. The Oilers' team shooting percentage is 12th-best and the Sharks' is 16th. All three teams are in the bottom four in 5x5 save percentage, with Calgary at the very bottom of the league.

If things remain relatively equal in net for the three teams, then offense will probably make the difference between who makes the playoffs and who doesn't. That is, of course, where Connor McDavid comes in, and it makes his injury even more unfortunate for the Oilers.

The positive side, on the other hand, is that McDavid will play again this season, just as the Oilers will need a boost in their scoring. The key will be to stay within striking distance of that final playoff spot until McDavid returns, and Anders Nilsson appears to have something to say about that. 

Nilsson is closing the gap of the Oilers' luck this year. Even with his recent performances, this team is near the bottom of the league in save percentage at even strength. If he can keep this going and pull the team to a respectable average, it may be the Oilers and not the Flames who zero in on the Sharks for that final playoff spot.

We've seen that things don't always follow the numbers perfectly in practice, but the picture they're painting is of a mediocre Oilers team in a very bad division. That may be enough.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

11/29/15 Odds & Ends: Predictions, Trade Talk, Goaltending


Fun fact: the Edmonton Oilers are tied in the standings with the Calgary Flames. Except the Oilers have a minus-12 goal differential, compared to Calgary's minus-31 (which is the worst in the league).