After Connor McDavid and Edmonton Oilers were eliminated in game 7 of the second round last year it only seemed reasonable that the young team would take another step forward this year. This lead to very high expectations coming into this 17-18 NHL season with previews suggesting they may have Stanley Cup aspirations. This has obviously not been the case thus far as they have struggled early and currently sit second last in the conference, back in that all too familiar draft lottery territory. This is a nightmare start for the Oilers, but signs suggest that if they keep playing the way they are, not only stop sleeping on the Oilers but the league should be afraid.
Why Fear a Bottom Feeder?
Sitting with 6 wins, and 9 losses and a -14 goal differential I probably sound sort of crazy right now telling you to be afraid of this seemingly weak team. However, when we turn away from predictive methods rather than descriptive methods it all begins to make sense. We are closing in on the 20 game mark, which is where shot attempts (Corsi) is about to reach its peak predictive power. In adjusted 5on5 Corsi (from Corsica.Hockey) the Oilers sit at 53.68%, which is the second-best rate in the entire league. This means that they have been controlling the shot clock at the second-best rate in the league, and winning the shot battle is the best predictor of future success. Over time this means as teams regress towards there shot rates the Oilers should skyrocket up the standings.
If you’re not sold on Corsi and think that maybe they are just taking tones of poor quality shots we have another way to predict the Oilers future, expected goals. This method weights shots for how dangerous they are and gives us a more descriptive look at a teams performance. When you weight shots for their likelihood of going in the Oilers sit at an adjusted 55.54 Expected Goals (again second in the NHL) for percentage. This can be visualized nicely with a graphic from hockeyviz.com
Red represents shots taken above average and we can see that not only are the Oilers winning the shot battle, but they have been taking an obscene amount of shots from directly in front of the net. From here we can reasonably conclude the Oilers are one of the best skating teams in the NHL at 5on5 when it comes to generating shot quality and quantity, however, if this is true why are they performing so poorly?
Perhaps the largest reason for the Edmonton Oilers has been their shooting luck. It takes roughly 375 shots to get an idea of a player’s true talent shooting percentage, meaning the sample we are dealing with is almost completely luck based on this young season. So with this in mind lets check how the Oilers forward group’s shooting percentage this season compares to their true talent (last three seasons).
All of a sudden the Oilers struggles begins to make sense. While Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Anton Slepyshev appear to be getting some good fortunes, it is not to a massive degree as they are all still within 2.2% of their true talent. Next up is the unlucky bin where literally everyone else lies. McDavid and Maroon are getting slightly unlucky but again within a few percent of their true shooting talent so nothing dramatic, but after that, it gets really bad. Ryan Strome is shooting at nearly half the efficiency meaning he should have more than double the amount of goals he currently has. The unfortunate part is this doesn’t even make him close to the Oilers most unlucky as we move to the depth of the roster.
Obviously, with the departures of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle the Oilers depth is not what it was or could have been, but what you’re seeing right now is over exaggerating their lack of depth. Fine of the Oiler depth forwards are shooting 0% right now. This is completely unsustainable unless they literally have all forget how to use their hands to shoot a hockey puck, and I think it’s safe to assume these guys can still shoot a hockey puck. Once these players finally get a little of lady luck back on their side, expect the Oilers depth forwards to score significantly more goals while there top heavy guys don’t seem to be signally for a drop-off. Once this happens you will have an Oilers team firing on all cylinders that has the potential to do some damage in the west. If you’re not sold yet we have one other way to quantify how much this noise has cost them in terms of goals.
So it is clear that the Oilers forwards have been extremely unlucky, but how much does it actually matter? We can use Expected Goals (shots weighted for danger) to examine how many goals they have actually scored vs. their expectations to see how much goals noise has robbed them of.
Using Expected Goals we see a very familiar picture. Again Draisaitl, Lucic, and Nugent Hopkins appear to be getting a little lucky as the three are outperforming their XG by a combined total of 2.21. This is a relatively small number that indicated that the Oilers three luckiest shooters have about 2 more goals than they should because of luck in the early season. When we compare that to the next 10 Oilers forwards we see a much more dramatic impact of luck. This group of ten forwards is underperforming their XG by a total of 12.02 goals!
So we can subtract the 2.21 goals on the luckier side from that 12.02 number and we get 9.81 total goals below expected for the Oilers regular group of forwards thus far. This means that poor shooting luck up front for the Oilers has cost them 10 goals from their goal differential and roughly 5-ish points in the standings. All of a sudden we would be looking at a 20 point, 7th in the west and -4 goal differential team. Now some of you are probably confused as this makes them a playoff team but certainly not a scary one, but remember this is just looking at the forwards at 5 on 5, so next up let’s check up on the bluelines shooting luck.
The Oiler’s defense core looks very similar to the forward group. Kris Russell and Matt Benning have been slightly lucky resulting in half a goal more than expected between the two. Again though the vast majority are underperforming expectations with the rest adding up to 3.67 goals below expectations. Again we can add the two together and we get 3.15 goals below expectations for the Oilers blue line. Then when we add this with the 9.81 goals lost by the forwards we get 12.96 total goals below expected. Overall this means if they had league average shooting luck thus far they should be or a 21 point, -1 goal differential team that sits in a tie for third in the western conference just from a little shooting regression at 5 on 5. Although this makes them look decent, this still not necessarily scary. Of course, there is more to hockey than just even strength so lets transition to special teams to see what effect luck has been there.
It should surprise nobody at this point, but the Oiler’s have also been unlucky on special teams. First, we can see the powerplay. They have been expected to score 11.42 goals on the powerplay this seasons, but have only scored 7. This means that the inefficient shooting on the power play has cost them another 4.42 goals this season. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a Connor McDavid lead powerplay to continue on this path throughout the season. Next up is the penalty kill, which again is more of the same. They have only been expected to surrender 12.21 goals against but have actually given up 16. This means Cam Talbot and the PK unit have cost the Oilers another 3.71 goals below their expectation.
Again, it’s probably not realistic to expect this pace to continue all year long. So if you assume special teams perform to expectations the Oilers would add another 8.21 goals to their total. For those keeping score at home that means that overall shooting luck has cost them 12.96 goals at 5on5, and 8.21 on the PK and 21.17 overall. Add this to their current output of a -14 goal differential and this leaves the Oilers as around a true talent 25 points, +7 goal differential team so far this season. This means if we do our best to eliminate luck the Oiler’s are roughly good enough second in the west and third in the entire NHL. All of a sudden this makes the Oilers look #actuallygood as one of the best teams in the NHL with elite top-end talent, a good goalie, and some of the best possession metrics in the league. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a team all non-Oilers fans should be afraid of going forward.