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

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

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).

Sunday, 1 November 2015

11/1/15 October Revisited

I paid money to go to the Halloween game. I even got the wife into my old Oilers jersey from the '06 run. We were so cute it was horrifying; truly a deep Halloween costume. I was feeling a comeback there, but it didn't go well. Neither did October. Let's review.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Saturday, 12 September 2015

09/12/15 Forecasting the Oilers' 2015-16

I know we're almost into training camp already but I wanted to reserve judgement on the Oilers' off season until it seemed that all the moves had been made. Here are some final thoughts and predictions on a number of items.

1) Will The Oilers Make The Playoffs?

There are a wide range of predictions when it comes to the Oilers' finish this year. Connor McDavid changed the perception of the team in a big way, but let's not put the cart before the horse. Of the eight Western Conference playoff teams last year, I could see the Oilers jumping ahead of only Calgary and Vancouver. Unfortunately, they still have to contend with Los Angeles, Dallas, Colorado and San Jose. The Oilers were 27 points behind the worst of those teams last year (SJS), so when the music stops I don't see them having a chair. Put another way, a 30 point improvement to 92 points would still only have been good for tenth place last year. It's a huge leap to get all the way to the post season.

2) How Did Peter Chiarelli Do?

Connor McDavid doesn't count when it comes to evaluating front office performance this off season, because it was a no-brainer pick that the Oilers got for being incompetent. However, Chiarelli did some nice things in my mind. He identified an available goaltender who was probably the best bet to become a starter and didn't overpay for him. He was in on Dougie Hamilton but didn't overpay for him, and those two things somewhat offset his overpayment for Griffin Reinhart. Reinhart is just slightly too young to be what the Oilers really needed, but he fits the age range. Even if he tops out as a #3 it's a good addition, especially because this team will be so top-heavy in salaries up front. Even if you lack a true number one, you can win with a bunch of twos and threes. I like the addition of Sekera too, of course, but he only replaces Petry. That's not a knock on Chiarelli though, because when you take over from incompetent people you need to start by undoing what they have done. Adding Sekera seemed to be the start of that.

3) How Many Points Will McDavid Get?

Here's another one with a wide range of theories. McDavid may be a Crosby-like talent or better, but scoring is down in the NHL and the Oilers haven't exactly set the world on fire offensively of late. There was a pretty large spike in power play opportunities and goals per game across the league in Crosby's rookie reason, due in large part to rule changes. Both numbers have since dropped off. Even more interesting, league average save percentage in 2005-06 was just 0.901 and has gradually risen to 0.915 last year. The Penguins scored 243 goals in Crosby's rookie season, which was 18th in the league. Last year, the highest scoring team was Tampa Bay with 259 goals. The Oilers had just 193.

Crosby was involved in 42% of Penguins goals in 2005-06, but he also played over 200 minutes more than the next-highest forward on his team, and almost 500 more minutes than the fourth-highest forward. We know that the distribution of ice time will be different in Edmonton because of the number of weapons the Oilers have. I'm going to be somewhat generous and assume the Oilers will jump to 220 GF, even though league average scoring has been stable for the last four years. Let's also assume that McDavid will get plenty of opportunity, while acknowledging the other players that will need to get ice time. Could McDavid be involved in as much as 30% of Oilers goals? In this scenario McDavid would finish with around 66 points. I'm guessing that's the range we should expect.

4) How Many Games Will Darnell Nurse Play?

The Edmonton Oilers have been one of the NHL's most injured teams since the 2009-10 season. If that trend continues, and we have no reason to believe that it won't, then it won't be long before the Oilers are forced to use all the best players they have. Even if Nurse doesn't make the team out of camp, I'd say he'll be in the lineup before November ends and there's a good chance he'll stick after that. I'm going to guess that he gets into 60 games and is among the league's top ten rookies.

5) How Many Games Will The Oilers Win?

Last year the Oilers won their tenth game on January 9th, 42 games into the season. They lost 20 of 21 games from November 11th to December 27th. That's a quarter of the season with one win. If they can simply avoid going sideways for an extended period, as they have been prone to since 2009-10, they should be able to eke out a few more wins. The new coaching staff is going to make a big difference here. Even though the players would say otherwise in public, they seemed to tune out Dallas Eakins' tyrannical regime in a hurry. Also, the players aren't fools. They must have known the dysfunctional way that the team was being run. Change and stability will go a long way in not letting a few losses break them down mentally. Much will hinge on the goaltending as well. If everything breaks right, I could see 35-38 wins being realistic. 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

05/10/15 Learning To Love Again

Optimism is a foreign feeling for Oilers fans. It's certainly strange for me. It's a bit hard to believe now but this blog started out with a very optimistic view of things in Oilerland, and slowly transitioned to bitter cynicism. I have to admit that emotionally I'm having trouble figuring out where to go from here.

McDavid is heaven sent, of course, but I think getting MacTavish out of the driver's seat will be more important in the long run. I respect Craig MacTavish, just like everybody else, but seeing him removed along with Kevin Lowe felt like... well, it felt like this:

But then we got word that MacTavish is going to be number two under Chiarelli, and we still haven't heard anything about Scott Howson. On one level this makes perfect sense. Being an outsider, Peter Chiarelli is tasked with figuring out the Oilers' entire organization while going into a very important draft and off season. Firing the people who have key information wouldn't make sense.

Oilers fans know all that on an intellectual level, but there's still that nagging bug in our ears that says: MacTavish is still part of the decision-making process, and Lowe wasn't fired, he was shuffled around again.

It's going to take action from Chiarelli to silence the doubt -- actions like seeing Justin Schultz for what he is, getting rid of Ference and Nikitin, and hanging on to good but unpopular players. We won't get all the answers we need right away. However, each move that shows a departure from the old ways will make the entire hockey world feel better.

I wish things hadn't played out this way, because all the very good things that are happening feel just a little tainted. I suppose when the general manager being demoted is a good thing, there are bound to be mixed emotions. Oilers fans were writing open letters that sounded like breakup notes, which is a measure of the commitment we all feel. It's a silly cliche to care this much about a hockey team, but we do. Hunkering down in a warm place to watch an Oilers game instills a strong sense of community, especially when the games matter. If not for hockey, what on earth would you look forward to in November? Or January?

It's been a long time, but I remember freezing my butt off fortyish times a year to watch the Oilers play. I remember the sweet relief of reaching the entrance to the arena and the warmth of the foyer after walking from the car. I remember the couple we sat next to every game. It's as vivid as if it happened yesterday. Canadian hockey fandom is a meme, but it's impossible to overstate the connection it creates. Rememeber how everyone was your best friend in 2006?

And it's precisely that attachment we feel that makes it hard to trust again. Even if it's not Mike Babcock, the Oilers are probably on the verge of getting a great new coach, they have a winning and experienced GM, and Connor-freaking-McDavid. So why don't things feel like they're going to be okay? I want them to be. But we'll see.