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

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

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:


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. 


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. 


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.


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.


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). 


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. 


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).

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.