Finding Problems on This Team

Jonathan Willis
November 28 2008 10:30PM

Corsi numbers are often mentioned by those folks who believe that we can learn a lot about different players by their statistics. My biggest problem with Corsi numbers is that they give you just a single +/- number; a number which is difficult to apply to game situations.

Vic Ferrari of Irreverent Oiler Fans did something the other day, something I used in a post to look at possible left-wings for the first line. He expressed the number as X/100, meaning that with Player X on the ice, the Oilers managed X number of shots for every 100 opposition shots. I think that in that format, it becomes clearer what that Corsi number means for on-ice performance. Here, then, are the shooting ratios for the Oilers with each player on ice (all numbers at even strength):

Forwards

Dustin Penner: 110/100

Shawn Horcoff: 108/100

Ales Hemsky: 108/100

Andrew Cogliano: 106/100

Erik Cole: 100/100

Marc Pouliot: 92/100

Sam Gagner: 91/100

Robert Nilsson: 88/100

Ethan Moreau: 87/100

Kyle Brodziak: 79/100

Fernando Pisani: 74/100

Zack Stortini: 73/100

Defencemen

Sheldon Souray: 108/100

Lubomir Visnovsky: 107/100

Denis Grebeshkov: 103/100

Tom Gilbert: 100/100

Ladislav Smid: 94/100

Steve Staios: 74/100

Jason Strudwick: 62/100

It would be wrong to look at these numbers without also looking at where each player started their shifts -– because a player starting in the offensive zone is much more likely to record a shot on net than one starting in the defensive zone. These numbers show how many draws in the offensive zone players get for every 100 draws in the defensive zone:

Forwards

Andrew Cogliano: 180/100

Dustin Penner: 164/100

Sam Gagner: 148/100

Erik Cole: 115/100

Ales Hemsky: 113/100

Robert Nilsson: 109/100

Fernando Pisani: 100/100

Shawn Horcoff: 88/100

Ethan Moreau: 80/100

Marc Pouliot: 61/100

Zack Stortini: 42/100

Kyle Brodziak: 34/100

Defencemen

Ladislav Smid: 112/100

Steve Staios: 111/100

Denis Grebeshkov: 108/100

Lubomir Visnovsky: 107/100

Jason Strudwick: 102/100

Sheldon Souray: 96/100

Tom Gilbert: 90/100

Now, if every player in the NHL were identical, these two charts should be in identical order –- players starting in the offensive zone have more shots, while players starting in the defensive zone have more shots against. Looking at these charts, we can make some statements about these players.

The fourth liners (Brodziak, Stortini, and Pouliot) have all been outshot heavily, but that’s probably because they’re getting all of the defensive zone draws. I’ve read people torching these guys, but it is without merit. Looking at the unluckiest of these three, Kyle Brodziak is getting healthy-scratched and complained about on message boards because the 4th line isn’t doing the same job it was last year. How is this guy supposed to generate offense when he’s being sent out in the defensive end more than three-quarters of the time? It’s also why I take issue to the comments tossed out at Stortini or Pouliot (“what do these guys bring?”); are they really expected to be able to dominate the opposition offensively when they’re always being put in defensive situations?

Penner, Cogliano, Hemsky are all generating offence, although they have been put in offensive situations more often than not. There’s a case to complain about both Penner and Cogliano, but they aren’t the problem with the team. Ethan Moreau falls into this category as well; he’s having difficulty creating offence, but he is holding his own given how he has been used.

The biggest problems up front are glaringly obvious –- let’s look at them one at a time.

Erik Cole –- Cole is being used in offensive situations, and despite the excuses being made for him (put on his wrong wing, put with poor linemates, etc) he is a veteran with an excellent track record of dominating opponents at even strength. This season has been an unqualified disaster for him to date, and he needs to turn it around.

Sam Gagner -– MacTavish has made a bunch of different miscalculations this season, but the one that is rarely mentioned is Sam Gagner. MacTavish has put him on the penalty-kill, despite a lacklustre defensive game and a noticeable reluctance to block shots. MacTavish has built this team around him at even strength, giving him minutes regardless of performance, and picking on virtually every player on the team except him. The reason, I believe, is that MacTavish sees something special in Gagner; the same special traits that made him the 7th overall pick, and the same special traits that were on display in the bottom half of last season. This year though, Gagner’s been fed cherry minutes and has responded with a half-hearted effort and ugly results. He’s gotten worse as the season as wore on, and it’s high time for the preferential treatment he gets to end.

Robert Nilsson -– Nilsson’s results mirror Moreau’s. The difference is that while Moreau is doing everything asked of him and handling responsibility for the coach, Nilsson’s played offensive minutes. To be fair, Nilsson found his way into the doghouse and only recently emerged, but he needs to show more.

Fernando Pisani -– Pisani is a personal favourite of mine, and probably most fans after his incredible work during the Stanley Cup run, and his Masterton-worthy comeback last season. Still, prior to his injury, he wasn’t producing like he has in the past. Much of that is probably because he was being played at centre, but when he comes back he needs to do more at even strength.

On the defensive end, the top-four, a source of concern in the off-season, have been excellent. Visnovsky’s ability to move the puck up ice has been rightfully applauded, while Denis Grebeshkov has been pretty good despite injuries. Meanwhile, Sheldon Souray is putting in the very best performance of his career and has been worth every cent paid to him this season, and then some. Meanwhile, Tom Gilbert has been surprisingly effective while handling more defensive zone work than I expected.

The problem in the defensive corps has been the bottom pairing. Staios and Strudwick have both been given easy assignments; playing the opposition’s weakest players and doing so in the offensive zone more often than the defensive zone. Despite their favourable matchups, the Oilers have been routinely and badly outshot with them on the ice. Staios has long been one of my favourite players on the team, and I defended him last year when he was getting leaned on heavily by MacTavish. This year, though, he is being badly outplayed, and I wonder if there is an injury or something going on behind the scenes that is affecting his play. Meanwhile, Ladislav Smid has been OK, but not much more. Still, I think he clearly deserves a spot on the backend over Staios/Strudwick based on this season’s performance.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Gord
November 29 2008, 03:59PM
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Nic analysis, JW! I am a bit surprised you failed to mention Horc's poor performance so far...

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#2 Gord
November 29 2008, 04:06PM
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nevermind, obviously Hemsky is making his stats look great.

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#3 Jonathan Willis
November 29 2008, 04:47PM
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Gord: Horcoff's great by this metric - probably the best on the team. A bunch of defensive zone draws and still a great outshooting rate.

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#4 Fiveandagame
November 29 2008, 06:18PM
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I subtle shift with this team and a major corner can be turned.

When you have so many players underperforming if even half of those guys turn it around the team looks that much better.

Imagine if we were talking about Hemmer, Souray Visnofsky and Horcoff and one of the kids lighting it up? Suddenly its not so bad.

All this team need is for a few of those guys to turn it around. As you point out, for the first time in many years defense isn't our biggest concern. If you look at that, managment and the coaching staff have been good about that. What they need now is the offensive confidence to go out and play like they can, Not above expectations, but just at their ability.

I can understand Tabellini's reluctance to pull the trigger on anything major, as he is right. All of the tools are there for this team to dominate. Maybe what they need is a bit of adversity to rally against to feel like underdogs. Put the idea of US vs the WORLD in them.

I thought a few weeks back that the best thing that could happen to the team would be somebody major getting hurt. (not seriously BTW) It forces guys to want to play bigger than they are and brings out the best in players....but too many injuries and you're f*#cked more than bagged milks call girl.

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#5 Fiveandagame
November 29 2008, 06:19PM
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Damn we need an edit button....or maybe I proof read my stuff more....goilers

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#6 The Towel Boy
November 30 2008, 12:17AM
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JW: You are a machine. Plain and simple. When did you become self aware?

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#7 Dennis
November 30 2008, 09:37PM
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Needs more Rick Rypien!

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