April 09 2013 11:23PM
The Oilers goal this season was to play meaningful games in April. Mission accomplished as the Oilers are in the hunt, albeit a long shot now, to make the playoffs.
But is being in the playoff mix after 36 games misleading, when we discuss the improvement of the Oilers? Let's take a deeper look.
Many, me included, feel that the Oilers have improved this season and that they are closer to being a playoff team than in previous years. However, when I looked at some stats, they suggested that I, along with many fans and possibly some within the Oilers organization, might be wrong.
I took a step back, tried to block out the stellar play of Taylor Hall, and started crunching some numbers. I didn't look at fancy stats, just the old fashioned wins, losses, shots and goals. I believe some of the advanced stats have merit, while others don't appeal to me, but the one stat that I never doubt; Wins.
We can all use corsi, fenwick, PDO, +/-, zone starts, quality of competition and other stats to back up our argument, but once you peel that away, all that matters in the NHL is whether you win or lose.
Players and coaches and organizations who win are always held in higher regard. It turns out that Oilers haven't won more games this year than they did last year. Sure they have four more points, due to OT/SO losses, but are they actually a better team this year than they were last year?
Let's look at some numbers and discuss if this team is actually improving.
2013 AFTER 39 games...
The Oilers are 16-16-7 (39pts)… with 99 GF (60 ES and 32 PP) and 105 GA (72 ES and 23 PPG).
Here is their record during the first 39 games in the previous two seasons...
- 2011…13-19-7 (33 pts)…with 99 GF (77 ES and 20 PP) and 126 GA (87 ES and 36 PP).
- 2012…16-20-3 (35 pts... with 106 GF (69 ES and 33 PP) and 108 GA (80 ES and 25 PP).
The Oilers won the exact same amount of games as last year. They picked up four more points by going to OT/S0. An improvement, but marginal. Their GA is down slightly this year, but so are their goals for. Their ES scoring has taken a big dip.
When I brought this up on air earlier today, people said it would be more accurate to look at games near the end of the season, since some players played in the AHL and overseas.
So here are the numbers from the final 39 games. (I know not an exact comparison, since 9 games left, but still near the end of season.)
- 2011...11-23-5 (29 pts)... With 82 GF (55 ES and 24 PP) and 118 GA (81 ES and 34 PP)
- 2012...16-17-6 (38 pts)... With 96 GF (74 ES and 18 PP) and 109 GA (84 ES and 22 PP)
The Oilers took big steps from 2011 to 2012, but they haven't shown the same improvement this year. In the first 39 and final 39 games of 2011/2012, the Oilers won 16 games; the exact same amount as they have this year.
In the most important category, wins, the Oilers haven't improved.
Here is where it gets cloudy. Many feel the Oilers are better now than they were last year.
They will argue Hall has emerged as a superstar and Devan Dubnyk has become a solid #1 goalie. He isn't top-ten, but compare his numbers to the rest of the starters in the NHL and he'll be in the top half.
Others will claim Justin Schultz has shown potential, Sam Gagner and Magnus Paajarvi have taken big steps and Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins along with Hall are one of the best lines in hockey.
All valid arguments, but even after all that, the Oilers haven't won more games. So what is the problem?
Let's look at some other trends:
Take a look at the Oilers special teams the past three seasons...
- First 39 games of 2010/2011: PP…14.6% and PK 75%.
- Final 39 games of 2010/2011:PP... 15.8% and PK 79.2%
- First 39 games of 2011/2012: PP…21.0% and PK 84.2%.
- Final 39 games of 2011/2012: PP...19.7% and PK 82.2%.
- 2013… PP is 22.7% and the PK is 84.0%.
Both special teams took a big jump last year, and they've maintained them this season. The addition of J.Schultz and Nail Yakupov has improved the PP slightly, which is good considering their PP was top-five last year.
Their PK is virtually the same, which is fine considering they are top-ten on PK. It will be more challenging to maintain their dominant special teams play than improve on them moving forward.
SHOTS FOR AND AGAINST A BIG PROBLEM
The one area that the Oilers haven't improved in is their shots for/against ratio. In fact, they've gotten worse this year. It is hard to win consistently when you are getting outshot and outchanced.
Here are the numbers...
- First 39 games of 2010/2011: SF…1000 and SA…1349… -349
- Final 39 games of 2010/2011: SF…1068 and SA…1160… -92
- First 39 games of 2011/2012: SF…1026 and SA…1201. -175
- Final 39 games of 2011/2012: SF...1046 and SA... 1193... -147
- 2013…SF..1055 and SA…1281. -226
The Oilers were horrific at the start of 2010, and they made a massive improvement in the second half. The disturbing trend for the Oilers is that last season they improved during the season, but this year they are even than they were at the start of last season.
The scary part is that the Hall/Eberle/RNH line has been outshooting the opposition most nights, so that means the other lines are getting crushed. You can believe the Oilers' core will be better in the future because of the kids, but how long will it take for all of them to be consistent in the same season? Is it even fair to put that much pressure on all the young players?
OPTICS WILL ARGUE THESE NUMBERS
When I brought up this topic on air today, many disagreed with me suggesting that of course the Oilers have improved, because their young player are better, and they will continue to improve moving forward.
There is no debate that Hall and Gagner have had great seasons, but Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins' numbers are down so they essentially balance each other out. Paajarvi has played better in many people's eyes, but he only has 11 points in 34 games. He has improved on his numbers from last year, but he is producing fewer points than he did as a rookie.
Yakupov has played well for a rookie, and he has essentially replaced Ryan Smyth's offence from last year. I'm not debating that they won't improve, but will the organization surround them with enough quality players to help them win? The youth is maturing, but the results aren't improving.
That has to change.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
For many a four-point improvement is good enough. The Oilers wanted to be playing meaningful games in April, and they are, so that is good enough. I watch the games and some games I feel they are improving, and others I see the exact same issues that I've seen for years.
Not strong enough. Not big enough. Not consistent enough. And it isn't fair to blame the kids, because they are just learning how to compete in the NHL. It is up to management to make some moves that actually help this team, not players who end up in the pressbox or minors.
Maybe the better question should be: is the organization ready to improve this team in ways other than waiting for all the kids to develop? I think it is risky business to assume all the kids will develop into proven, consistent NHLers. I suspect they will, but will they all do it next season? I don't think so.
Despite all the great individual plays we've seen from the Oilers this season, the results aren't there. If Edmonton was outshooting and outchancing their opponents on a nightly basis, and not winning, that would be a different story, but the clubs hasn't found a way to avoid being outshot by an average of 5 shots per game.
The only playoff teams that are winning despite being outshot are Toronto (-4.5) and Washington (-3.9). Anaheim is -0.3, but essentially they are even. The Oilers need to shoot more, but they also need to cut down on the shots against. Another year of experience will help the young players, but that won't be enough for this team to improve next season.
If the Oilers don't make some roster moves that impact their top-nine forwards and top-four defence, I don't see how they can improve enough to become a playoff team in 2013-14. It is great that they are in the mix, but the last three games showed they have a long way before becoming a contender in the Western conference. The three biggest games of the year and the Oilers got outscored 10-2 and got outshot 105-75. That is a big gap.
The Oilers' brass can't ask, or expect, much more from their young kids next season. It will be up to Steve Tambellini and Kevin Lowe to make some astute moves in free agency or via trade to ensure they surround their young players with some key contributors. Thus far, the attempts to add those types of players have failed, and because of that the Oilers haven't improved.
The kids are better, the future looks brighter, but the harsh reality is that the Oilers have yet to see any marked improvement on the ice or in the standings. The young players have gained experience, but I believe the kids are pulling their weight, now it is up to management to pull theirs, and make this team competitive next season.