As we pass the quarter pole of the 2010-2011 season, it is about time I take a look at this year’s edition of the Copper and Blue. I will go through the vital team statistics through 23 games and then put together a quantitative analysis to predict how many points the Oilers might have by the end of the year.
Below are two charts taken from Hockey-Reference.com. The first show the Oilers performance last year against the league average. The second presents the same information for this season. Click on the image to view a larger and more legible version.
I am going to go straight to the goals for and goals against columns. The team is scoring at a similar clip to last season but is giving up a league worst goals against.
Special teams are a big part of what is going wrong this year. While the team is drawing and taking penalties very close to the league average, their power play is a lot worse than last year and their penalty kill is historically dreadful at a 68.54% kill percentage.
I have watched the Oil in person twice this season, including last Saturday night’s game up in Edmonton against the Sharks. The 4-3 final score does not do justice to how badly the Oilers were outclassed. Two late goals masked the fact that the Oilers do not have the horsepower to offensively dig themselves out of a hole. They also do not have the ability to lock down on defense and keep their opponent to the outside. By my eye, the goaltending this year has been pretty solid. That is truly a scary thought given the number of goals against so far this season.
Checking out some team stats on NHL.com, the Oilers are averaging 25 shots for per game, 2nd worst in the league. They are averaging almost 35 shots against per game, again 2nd world in the league. Finally, their faceoff win percentage is third worst in the league. It is somewhat surprising the Oilers have won as many games as they have through 23 games.
The table below is a simple projection of the Oilers come the end of the season.
I do not believe the above table represents where the Oilers will end up this year. The PK% should improve which will help the goals against. Last season, the worst PK in the league hovered around 75%. My hope is a more consistent PK will also translate to a small improvement in 5 on 5 play. Both would reduce the final goal’s against which should bump up the final points. Before anyone gets too excited, we are talking about maybe finishing 13th in the Western Conference instead of 15th. We are talking about different shades of stink.
To come up with a more precise estimate of the Oilers final point tally, I made use of my old favourite, Alan Ryder’s Player Contribution Model. An explanation of the model is here, with my estimate of the 2009 Oilers team here. My biggest regret from last season was that I talked myself into manipulating the numbers to give the Oilers an outside shot at the playoffs. My first run of the model had the Oilers in the 65 point range but I did not trust my work. 65 points seemed improbably pathetic; little did I know…
To avoid the same mistake this year, I hid the total column. My estimate is my estimate.
Recapping my methodology:1. Pull into Excel the current Oilers roster’s 2009-2010 Player Contribution data including minutes played (broken into even handed, power play and short-handed play).
2. Take each players PC for EH, PP and PK and divide by minutes played in each situation. This gives me PC per minute of ice time. I lumped the propensity to draw penalties and take penalties into the EH play.
3. Create a theoretical roster (no players yet) that was broken into 4 lines, 3 pairs of defense, 3 power play units, 4 pk units and assign minutes played in a season to each line. I used Ryder’s allocated minutes for his theoretical all star team analysis.
4. Stick the current Oilers players into this roster, putting individuals on lines, including special teams. I did not worry too much about the accuracy of the lines as they seem to change weekly. 5. For the goalies, I took Khabibulin and Dubnyk’s last season PC and divided by minutes. I then assumed Bulin would play 80% of the games.
6. For the rookies, I found another player as a proxy. I used Matt Duchene’s numbers from last year for Hall. I used Gagner as a proxy for Eberle and then bumped his numbers up. For MPS, I used Cogliano as a starting point.
7. I then adjusted the ‘2010 PC’ for each player to take into account injuries. To keep things simple, I only adjusted Khabibulin and Dubnyk’s relative playing time. To the extent a Hemsky, Penner, Whitney, Gilbert or K Foster get hurt, I would expect the Oilers point total to go down.
8. Finally, I adjusted the ‘2010 PC’ for a performance adjustment for the season. This is where I have the temptation to manipulate the numbers. To keep things simple, I assumed that players under 23 years old would improve, while players over 30 would drop in performance. I also dropped Penner and Hemsky a bit based on their play thus far this season. Lastly, I trimmed the defense numbers to reflect the poor team defensive play thus far this year.
The chart is below, including each players 2009 PC figure in the far right column. My unadjusted point estimate was 79 points. After adjustments, my prediction is 71 points for the Oilers this year. I am basically assuming that the team will be marginally better the rest of the year than they have been thus far.
If I had the chance to manipulate things, I would have revised Hall and Eberle’s numbers down. Their 45 and 49 PC will likely put them in the top six rookie forwards this year which seems a bit unlikely. I would also knock down Smid and Foster’s points. 50 PC for Smid represents a career year; a 64 PC for Foster seems incredibly high for a guy who seemingly does not do much from night to night. Lastly, I would have assigned a lot more value to Dubnyk. A PC of 24 is negligible for a goaltender and I think Dubnyk is playing better than marginal.
Oh well. At the end of the day, there will be some players who outperform my prediction and some who underperform. The only thing I can be sure of is that I will be wrong.
Looking ahead, the two things that I am going to keep an eye on are the shot differential and penalty kill percentage. If they remain stubbornly bad, the team is likely going to end up with sub 70 points. A significant improvement might get the team into the upper 70’s with a dramatic and unrealistic improvement required to break 80 points.
As a fan, I am kind of hoping that the team ends up in the lower 70’s for a high draft pick next year. The Oilers need to find themselves a franchise defenseman next time around. Adam Larsson of Sweden, come on down. Last year, we had the ‘Fall for Hall’. This year, I propose the ‘Blarsson for Larsson’ or perhaps the ‘Lay down for Adam’.