Opinion

Can I Open My Eyes Yet?

There was a lot of hubbub around the Oilogosphere on Wednesday. The Oilers uncharacteristically came back from a first period, 3-1 deficit on Tuesday against a surging, if not underachieving, Washington Capitals team… in Washington. HEADY TIMES!

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While others now seem content to put their hopes in Todd Nelson I choose to ask, is this real? Are they on the right track, FINALLY? Or is it just another cruel backswing of the hockey Gods’ humility axe, preparing to crash down on our collective necks as we peek our heads out, over the glass, whilst looking for some sign of hope?

As I haven’t written much in the past 8 months. I’ll remind you all to put on your fancy caps as I tend to look at the game through the lens of fancy stats in hopes of teasing out some confidence in my analysis. Those of you who don’t care to follow the numbers can stop here:)

A Brief Thought

As is the norm with a re(re-re-re)building team, the fancy stats and traditional stats shouldn’t be expected to be strong. Out scored, out shot, more losses than wins, et cetera, et cetera, are all to be expected. And even if we’ve had far too much a fill of the wrong side of the stats ledger, this season is again proving no different. Our “beloved” Oilers are at or near the bottom in numerous categories and in the basement of the league standings… again. To say I am disappointed by the team’s performance is a gross understatement. I’m crushed. (Never before have I cared less about hockey in general)

That all said, I’m still watching the underlying numbers, watching the odd partial game and occasionally reading the must reads.

Additional Brief Thoughts

There is still some wonderful work being completed in the fancy stats department since guru Dellow and his merry group of stat heads left the building of public openness. Possession and shot metrics are still developing and one of the most recent developments has people saying, with mild confidence, that scoring chance numbers may have more predictive ability than Fenwick and Corsi numbers, in some instances.

With those developments I think we may start to see more people join the analytics support chorus from the group of possession stats detractors. In the past I’ve had numerous conversations with people that pit shot quality against possession metrics and it’s my opinion that the people doing the work may be closing the gap on a solution. They are adding another tool to the numbers arsenal for how hockey performance is evaluated. This is good.

War On Ice

The people of War on Ice have taken the NHL’s game reports and given us different info than what we had when Extra Skater went dark. Hextally and the home plate isn’t a new concept (shot location), but the WAR people have translated it into raw scoring chance numbers (SCF, SCA) and percentages (SCF%) for all games and situations in a very usable, especially for the layman, fashion.

To cut to the chase, here is a chart I have constructed. It is a 10 game rolling chart of possession and scoring chance numbers for the Oilers this season. (I am not an individual educated in statistics so take what I say with a grain of salt. This is just one guy sussing out his thoughts on what is going on)

game close oilers 14-15A Few Notes
  • The X axis is the 10 game segments.
  • GC (game close), GT (game tied), ScAd (score adjusted)

For a brief while this season, under the dismissed Dallas Eakins, the Oilers actually managed to put together a stretch of hockey where they were pushing the pace while the game was within a goal either way. Had it not been for (once again) historically bad goalkeeping, he may still have a job.

Since The Mact/Nelson ere began things have gotten better result wise but… is it real?

Going Down
  • Possession numbers when the game is close or tied have actually gone down since the M&N era began.
  • The Oilers are being out shot-attempted at horrific pace.
  • The scoring chance differentials (shots from the home plate area) have also grown larger and not in favour of the Oilers.
Going UP
  • Surprise, Surprise! The Oilers’ combined shooting and save percentage (PDO) have regressed.
  • They’ve moved out of last place…

The story being thrown around by some is that possession numbers, analytics, paralysed Dallas Eakins. The result was supposedly screwed numbers that showed a coach not directing the players to play the way they should be. They weren’t going to the hard areas to score goals, taking too many soft shots from the perimeter. A flawed approach and the message from the coach lost on the players.

I see that line of thinking as slightly suspect, mildly disagree with it, and as a I result I’ve been told to watch the game(!) I would see the difference now. I have watched a bit, again, of the “new” Oilers and I admit that they have lost the utterly listless look. But I want you to look at the numbers to see what is really happening.

To help find out if what Dallas Eakins was doing was something so strategically different and fatally flawed, here are the raw, averaged, scoring chance numbers. (from War on Ice, scoring chance defined here)

SCF/60 SCA/60
DE   28.2   32.8
M&N   24.3   29.5
  • The Dallas Eakins coached 2014-15 Edmonton Oilers were a team that was being out-chanced in the scoring chance areas of the ice, on average, by 4.6 chances per game.
  • The MacT/Nelson 2014-15 Edmonton Oilers are a team that is being out-chanced in the same areas at a rate of 5.2 chances per game.
  • The raw numbers in both for and against have dropped under M&N. Lower event hockey.

So possession differential is crashing, scoring chance differential is too but they are banking a few wins along the way. As it was put to me, Todd Nelson almost has as many wins in 11 games as Eakins did in 31. (As an aside, the fact that they only have 2 regulation wins in those 11 games under Nelson doesn’t seem to have any bearing on how people think the team is performing)

Poop-Emoticon

Conclusion

I’m not blind. Something clearly has changed. The goaltending was bound to improve and it has. How much of that is Nelson? It is very debatable in my humble opinion. Some of the possession losses can be loosely attributed to them playing with the lead for a change, but the score adjusted scoring chance numbers kind of put that to rest. How the message is being delivered to the players probably has changed. They are responding by not appearing to give up when adversity strikes. It’s a good sign but I really don’t believe that all the pain is over. This is a team still in serious need of a makeover and fans should prepare for more hurt. I think it’s coming.

Thanks for reading. Feel free follow or yell at me on Twitter, @borisnikov.

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