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.