There is something wrong with Taylor Hall

Jonathan Willis
January 16 2014 09:05AM

 

According to the general manager Edmonton Oilers, Taylor Hall is coming along nicely as a hockey player. He is making good decisions and playing better than ever this season.

Maybe he's right. But the data emphatically points to something having gone sideways in the game of the Oilers’ best offensive player.

MacTavish

David Staples, in his fantastic interview with Craig MacTavish last week, mentioned to the G.M. that most of the Oilers’ young stars had seen their play slide under Dallas Eakins. MacTavish disagreed, and specifically noted Hall’s play.

“I don’t think it’s accurate in what I’m seeing,” said MacTavish. “When you talk to people that know hockey very well they will tell you that they are seeing structural changes in Taylor Hall. His game is changing.”

MacTavish specifically noted Hall’s play on a goal against Tampa Bay on January 5:

MacTavish described the play as “living to fight another day” – Hall opting for the dump-in rather than trying to beat two players and turning the puck over and favourably compared that style of play to the one employed by Anaheim’s top line.

The Data

Here’s the thing: if Hall’s game has improved, over time we should see that in the results. So, for example, if he’s avoiding the bad high-risk plays he did in years past we should (all else being equal) expect to see that reflected in numbers like his shots against totals. If his two-way play overall is improved, the Oilers should be out-chancing the opposition more frequently than they have in prior years.

But that isn’t what’s happening.

The chart above looks complicated, but it’s really very simple. What we’re looking at is Oilers shot totals with Hall on and off the ice over the last two seasons.

Last year, Edmonton out-shot their opposition by six shots an hour with Hall on the ice. They were out-shot by nearly 10 shots per hour with Hall off the ice; in other words, the Oilers shot differential improved by 16 (a massive, massive number) when Hall stepped on the ice.

This year, it’s a disaster. The Oilers have actually improved significantly with Hall off the ice – instead of getting out-shot by 10 shots per hour, they’re only being out-shot by half that (and yes, that’s pathetic, but it still represents a pretty big improvement). The problem is that suddenly the Oilers are terrible with Hall on the ice. Not only are they allowing 2.5 shots more per hour than they did a year ago, but they’ve gone from generating 36 shots per hour with Hall on the ice down to 27. That’s a massive drop, a 25 percent reduction in shots for.

Well, maybe Hall’s playing tougher minutes. Except that he isn’t; we can go back and look at who Hall is playing and to quote from that linked Tyler Dellow post, “At home, where Eakins has more control over the matchups, Hall seems to be getting matchups as easy or easier than last year.”

Well, is Eakins is starting him less in the offensive zone? Nope; according to Behind the Net 55 percent of Hall’s non-neutral zone shifts were in the offensive zone last season. This year that number is 57 percent.

Hall’s still scoring, but if the shot numbers don’t improve that isn’t going to last.

The chart above shows two statistics. The first is on-ice shooting percentage, and there’s a pretty clear pattern. With Hall on the ice in three of the last four years, the Oilers have done a slightly better job than the NHL average of finishing on their shots, scoring on between 9.0 and 9.5 percent of all shots taken. This year, the total is 11.3 percent.

That means either the Oilers’ top line has evolved into the league’s best finishing line… or it’s riding a streak of goals going in that isn’t going to last.

The second number is “individual points percentage,” which is a fancy way of saying the percentage of goals a player is on the ice for that he gets points on. So a player who is on the ice for 10 goals and picks up nine points, he would have an IPP of 90.0 percent. What we’ve found looking over years of data is that some years a player picks up points on a weirdly high number of the goals scored when he’s on the ice (generally coinciding with a career year) and sometimes doesn’t get those points (generally coinciding with a terrible points year). Over time, though, those totals average out.

Sidney Crosby is the best player in the league at this (big surprise, he’s driving the offence on his line) and generally averages out in the 85 percent range. Taylor Hall topped 90 percent last year and this season is over 100 percent - somehow he has 29 five-on-five points despite only being on the ice for 27 five-on-five goals.

All of this is a long way of saying that Taylor Hall’s great point totals are not to be trusted. The Oilers aren’t generating shots when he’s on the ice. He’s getting away with it because Edmonton is scoring on a high percentage of their shots when he’s on the ice and because he’s picking up points on all of those goals and some other ones besides. History suggests, rather strongly, that these things will not continue.

What to Make of It All

So we find ourselves in a situation where the data we have directly contradicts the statements of the general manager. MacTavish sees Hall’s play as progressing nicely; the data says he’s fallen off a cliff.

Neither of these is to be dismissed lightly.

MacTavish was an excellent coach in Edmonton, something which was dramatically emphasized by what happened to the team when he was replaced by Pat Quinn. He knows much, much more about how players should execute a system than I do, and much, much more than the comments section here knows too.

On the other hand, I’ve lost track of the number of players I’ve seen riding a percentage bubble who have seen their numbers fall dramatically in the years that followed. Jordan Eberle is probably the best recent Oilers example because people will remember the debate following his breakthrough 2011-12 campaign (76 points in 78 games). In the 96 games since he has a total of 74 points, a 63-point pace over 82 games. It’s a fall that was predicted for the same reasons I’ve cited above with Hall.

I hate to disagree with MacTavish, but the data has been awfully reliable in the past and there’s really only one way to interpret it. Something has gone sideways with Hall’s game this season.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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 OilDieHard
January 16 2014, 09:16AM
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i dunno, i think Hall's play is fine. at lest he's not playing like Gagner!

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#2 Bryzarro World
January 16 2014, 09:17AM
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Ya... The Org is garbage..

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#3 Al Nols
January 16 2014, 09:22AM
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Willis, good article.

However, is there a way to examine this in another manner? Let me explan: watching games this year, I notice that Hall often takes a pass in the Oilers zone and starts carrying the puck up from the his defensive zone. Presumably this is because our defence is so weak and we don't have many defenders that can carry and/or pass the puck up effectively through the neutral zone and/or into the offensive zone. This seems to put extra pressure on the forwards (and by my eye Hall specifically) to make a play to make a neutral zone and then an offensive zone entry. Hence the very high number of turnovers...

Thoughts?

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#4 Renegade
January 16 2014, 09:23AM
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I don't think there is anything wrong with Hall. I think it's a matter of Eakins system not being tailored for the players.

A sign of a good coach is not to force players to fit a system, but come up with a system that fits the players.

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#5 Wigswag
January 16 2014, 09:23AM
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I've watched the games and you can't deny Taylor drives the play for that line. They have stuck Yak on the line to try and jump start him and now Gags. It's not Taylor's fault if they aren't shooting or hitting the net.

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#6 hankthetank
January 16 2014, 09:24AM
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Nothing is wrong with Hallsy. He is trying to do what his coach asks of him.

Title SHOULD read:

Is Eakins ruining Taylor Hall?

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#7 Truth
January 16 2014, 09:25AM
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Hall gets a point 108% of the time when a goal is scored while he's on the ice? Nice.

All Eakins talks about is his improvement as a defensive player. Hall himself talks about altering his style to extend his career. I think the two of them in conjunction mean a player that takes less offensive chances and leans to safe play over taking the risk for a scoring chance. If the data doesn't lie, he would be better off for the team as a risk taking wild man like he was in his first couple of years, no?

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#8 brad
January 16 2014, 09:25AM
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I don't think MacT's comment was regarding the whole current season. I think it was his view of Hall in a smaller sample of games lately. Maybe Hall is realizing that he is a d liability and is trying to improve and the GM wanted to give him a boost, who really knows. But a whole article about statistically showing Hall and and the team's defensive issues because the GM made 1 positive statement seems a bit overdone. I don't think 1 positive statement in a terrible year makes MacT oblivious to his teams situation.

but just IMO

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#11 camdog
January 16 2014, 09:33AM
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Don't know what to make of this article, but do have to give you credit for the articles you wrote in respect to Eberle a year or two back. His output wasn't sustainable and so far you have been 100 percent right.

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#12 OILERSORDEATH
January 16 2014, 09:34AM
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Meh, not buying that at all sorry. Hall's been just fine in my eyes. The problem is the team is just a big huge pile of steaming $hit.

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#13 Shifty203
January 16 2014, 09:46AM
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Silly Willis, You can't write an article criticizing #4 here. He is the messiah, the 2nd coming of christ. He could shoot the puck directly into his own net, and it would be someone else's fault.

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#14 Reg Dunlop
January 16 2014, 09:46AM
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I think Hall is preoccupied with his desire to be traded. Hopefully he sticks around long enough to introduce Scrivens to a few thin blondes with fake racks so he doesn't miss his wife so much when she refuses to relocate. Face reality, Ben. She was going to dump your hick a$$ as soon as the thick paychecks stopped flowing in a few years anyway.

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#15 DisappointedFan
January 16 2014, 09:47AM
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Here's a good read for you Willis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation

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#16 Freewheeling Freddie
January 16 2014, 09:52AM
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The oilers have to find a permanent line mate to play with Hall and Hopkins. Not 89 .This is where a very BOLD move might have to come into play. Advanced stats and corsi numbers are a bunch of crap .The only stats that matter are wins and losses .And I can tell you the Oilers don't have nearly enough. Hall is playing his heart out. With the 2 bold trades we should shoot up the standings and be at least 14th in the west.

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#17 Shifty203
January 16 2014, 09:58AM
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DisappointedFan wrote:

Here's a good read for you Willis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation

@Dissapointedfan

Did you even read the article, or the link you've provided? Not once did Willis try to infer a cause. He simply stated the numbers show Hall's play dropping off.

If you want a leg for your arguement to stand on, try actually disputing the numbers.

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#19 eljosho
January 16 2014, 09:59AM
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Is it anything to do with D pairings on the ice with Hall? Not sarcasm, just curious

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#20 jimb01101
January 16 2014, 10:00AM
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Reg Dunlop,

Ben Scrivens is an Edmontonian with plenty of family and friends in town. I'm sure if he is married she's spent plenty of time in our snowy wasteland of a hometown.

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#22 Spydyr
January 16 2014, 10:07AM
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You know what is wrong with Hall? His coach and his system.

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#24 cambosmash
January 16 2014, 10:09AM
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It looks like Hall has improved his game in the offensive end. He is able to control the puck on the boards and keep possession for long periods of time once they've gained the zone. His TOs at the offensive blueline seem to have decreased. He has become a monster on the offensive boards.

In the defensive zone he's getting pushed off the puck. He attempts backpasses through the legs numerous times a game to get the puck out near the blueline. He has issues clearing the puck and gives the other team possession back frequently. He has become a 12-year old girl on the d-zone boards.

I have no idea how he can regress so much in the defensive zone that it's counteracting and even overcoming how much he's improved his possession in the O-zone.

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#25 wintoon
January 16 2014, 10:11AM
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Do the figures Willis has developed in any way reflect the lilelihood that everybody is funneling the puck through Hall in the offensive zone rather than playing to their personal strengths. When you have an alpha male like Hall, somewhat lesser players tend to defer to the alpha player. Can this, in part, explain the lower numbers with Hall than without? Curious.

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#26 Dave
January 16 2014, 10:11AM
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Taylor or Tyler?

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#27 Rama Lama
January 16 2014, 10:12AM
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I totally agree with this article.........tough questions to ask but justified. Every part of our game has regressed, PP, PK, 5 on 5, Goals for, Goals against, you name it.

Eakins has totally lost this team and most astute observers can see this in the way players have reacted to his systems. This coach is too busy preening himself in front of the media ........this seems to be the only skill he has.

I for one believe that Mac T's biggest mistake was to listen to this egomaniac and then fall for his double speak. We were on the right track with Krueger.......he had the ears and respect of the players.

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#28 jim
January 16 2014, 10:13AM
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Shifty203 wrote:

Silly Willis, You can't write an article criticizing #4 here. He is the messiah, the 2nd coming of christ. He could shoot the puck directly into his own net, and it would be someone else's fault.

Yeah, Any more negative articles you'll be traded to Flamesnation....

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#29 MacT
January 16 2014, 10:14AM
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Willis, no story here MOVE ON!!! Hall is a great player ...try and be more creative in your posts!

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#30 GriffCity
January 16 2014, 10:16AM
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Hall's play has been hot and cold I will give you that much but certainly not deserving of an entire article. Not when players such as Gagner and Eberle have been doing far worse this season. Hall is still the Oilers best offensive player.

I kind of hate having to rag on you JW but so many of your write ups have no substance to them. If you're going to criticize, do it on a player that everyone will agree on, trust me there are several to choose from.

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#31 Steveo
January 16 2014, 10:16AM
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I think it's way to much over analysis. There is way more to hockey that advanced stats show.

Since when did hockey become all about advanced stats and cap space? Seems more and more like accounting lately than a hockey game.

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#32 Kevin
January 16 2014, 10:17AM
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JW writes interesting article. Then takes his critics to the woodshed for a good spanking. Fine entertainment!

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#33 Sisyphus
January 16 2014, 10:18AM
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Nothing is wrong with Hall. The coach is trying to teach defensive skill (admittedly, not teaching very well, but that's another issue). Long story short is, MANY very talented offensive players struggle when learning this side of the game. However, they normally have other skilled teammates who can pick up the slack in the learning process. T. Hall does not--it's a one-man show most nights, and he cannot do it all himself.

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#34 Toro
January 16 2014, 10:19AM
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I never did agree with Oilers getting rid of Kreuger after only 48 games when the team finally was improving in the standings, and Eakins style of coaching isn't built for this Oilers team, I wonder if Eakins has a longer leash because Mac T won't wanna admit that the coaching change was the wrong move.

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#35 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
January 16 2014, 10:20AM
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GriffCity wrote:

Hall's play has been hot and cold I will give you that much but certainly not deserving of an entire article. Not when players such as Gagner and Eberle have been doing far worse this season. Hall is still the Oilers best offensive player.

I kind of hate having to rag on you JW but so many of your write ups have no substance to them. If you're going to criticize, do it on a player that everyone will agree on, trust me there are several to choose from.

The stats presented don't match what I've seen by eye either, but what a stupid comment this is.

Willis, please propagate the giant circlejerk that these comment threads have become. Pick an article topic that won't ruffle any feathers. That's why we all come to this website, isn't it?

People rip on Bob Stauffer constantly for not asking the tough questions, then pile on when Willis does.

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#36 nWo4life
January 16 2014, 10:22AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I do want to make one point which I think most have picked up on. We're comparing Hall's underlying numbers to his fantastic performance last season. I don't think there's any doubt that Hall is an exceptional player, and given that his talent is bound to win the day eventually.

His underlying numbers have dipped sharply this season, and I only see two plausible possibilities: coaching or injury. If it's coaching it might be a case of short-term pain for long-term gain or it might be that Kreuger had a better idea of how to deal with the player than Eakins does. If it's injury, he'll heal. In either case, I doubt we're looking at a permanent drop-off.

Perhaps last season shot +/- was an outlier?

How did these numbers look in years prior to 2012/2013?

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#37 The Real Scuba Steve
January 16 2014, 10:23AM
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Too bad no other player is feeding on his evolution of his game, What happens when Hall is comfortable with his game and is sick of his team? Hemsky made the play-offs what? 3 times in his whole career while playing for us. I don't think Taylor Hall will finish his contact here, and that is being realistic.

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#38 Truth
January 16 2014, 10:23AM
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MacT wrote:

Willis, no story here MOVE ON!!! Hall is a great player ...try and be more creative in your posts!

You're reading this!? You should have requested a second opinion after reading Willis' article on overvaluing your players. You dropped the ball on that Hendricks trade yesterday.

Just let us all know, on which extremity does Lowe wear his Stanley Cup rings?

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#39 Fish
January 16 2014, 10:28AM
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I wonder if this is related to the 8:00 am practices that Struds referred to as a "reverse curfew". Is there a little too much extra curricular activity going on for Hall to be effective? He is a young stallion with fame, loads of money and beautiful puck bunnies lining up for him.

Coincidence does often mean random and unrelated events

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#40 Fish
January 16 2014, 10:29AM
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Not saying he isn't a great player, but there could be a link.

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#41 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
January 16 2014, 10:31AM
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It could be a classic case of "hero syndrome" wherein a team is so bad, so deficient in so many areas, that certain individuals, because of their finely honed competitive spirit, take it apon themselves to carry the team, to provide above and beyond effort to compensate for those around them. Of course it is unsustainable over time.

I think MANY Oilers players have suffered this syndrome over the past several years. It's why so many players hit the crapper here, get traded, and eventually rebound somewhere else.

It's the reason that our injury rate is so high. Asking players to make up for overall team deficiencies by blocking more shots, taking more risks physically....like Arcobello taking runs at players much bigger than himself...like Hemsky being constantly injured because he feels forced to go into the tough areas because there is no power forward to do it for him, It's the reason why Petry shows flashes of brilliance then looks pathetic. It's like asking the engine in your eight cylinder car to run on six cylinders, it might get you to the gas station, but it's going to breakdown soon enough.

On the good teams, the balanced teams, the effect is the exact opposite. The effect of good overall TEAM play is that it takes a load off of individual players. It's the reason these teams can take players from anywhere and make them look better than they looked before....ala the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Black Hawks.

SO, is there something wrong with Taylor Hall?....Yes there is.....What's wrong with Taylor Hall is that he plays for the Edmonton Oilers.....and there would be something wrong with Sidney Crosby if he played here too......and that my friends is on the management.

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#42 Truth
January 16 2014, 10:35AM
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@Fish

Could be quite the opposite. If he was a much better player in his first seasons here they should remove the curfew. He used to be a regular at a few spots on Friday and Saturday nights.

I still think it comes down to coaching. It's the reverse Perron, if Hall played with Hitch in St.Louis, or god forbid under Lemaire in the old Wild system I would guess his numbers would be ugly.

Krueger was admittedly run and gun, create chances off the transition. That plays directly to Hall's strengths. Eakins is a get the puck in the corner, turn it over, cycle the puck, create a matchup problem or defensive lapse, and create a scoring chance. Not Hall's game at all.

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#43 Old Timer
January 16 2014, 10:39AM
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All these so called advanced stats, including corsi, fenwick and even the old reliable plus/minus, are just a bunch of bull poop.

Anyone who has laced them up or even watched the game for a few years can tell who is playing well and who isn't by focusing on that player while they are on the ice.

I don't need some silly stat to tell me that Hall's game has changed over the last year. Last year, everyone was saying how great he was playing, but to a trained eye there was a lot of bad habits in his game. He is now doing a lot of small things correctly but still gets burned occasionally when he tries to do a fancy play rather than the easy one. I expect that in two years time if he continues to evolve, these turnovers and errors will have all but totally left his game.He will be a much more complete and better player than he ever would have if Eakins had not forced him to make these changes.

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#44 Dave
January 16 2014, 10:40AM
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DisappointedFan wrote:

Here's a good read for you Willis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation

I swear to God this is only a revelation to the people who bring it up. Willis knows this. Everyone knows this. It isn't a bloody epiphany. It also doesn't imply things are completely unrelated either so let us drop the high school philosophy crap and get back to reality.

Something has made Taylor Hall's numbers dip. Maybe it's the coach, maybe it's luck, or maybe the Oilers franchise is a negative vortex that absorbs talent and it has finally impacted Hall. But most of his numbers are down, and the ones that aren't are *likely* to go down as well, because there is a correlation between underlying numbers being bad and then the scoring numbers going down (and that correlation remains true even if the cause is unrelated).

Having Eakins as the coach is the first true departure from the old guard since Renney and Krueger were both with the young kids from the start, so maybe it's part of transitioning to learn a new style of play. Do we have numbers looking at if he's slowly getting better as the year goes by? That might suggest it's part of his learning curve (and I wonder if there was a similar curve when he cracked the NHL).

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#45 gm_armchair
January 16 2014, 10:41AM
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I think the biggest difference is Hall's linemates and him playing center earlier in the Year. Eakins needs to put Hall and Yakupov together more often, they're a dynamic duo when playing together, for a short stint last year they probably averaged 2 pts a game each, this year they had 2 good games together then Eakins broke them up cuz the third game they didn't generate much.

It's clear that Hall and Yakupov don't like each other very much, but it's better than having Yak and Ebs together on a line who hate each other (I'm only half joking with this last paragraph)..

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#46 Dqgc
January 16 2014, 10:43AM
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@Jonathan Willis

I see a couple other possibilities:

Could it be possibile that a young rich athlete is enjoying to excess the many fruits and temptations that are available to young rich men? It wouldn't be the first time, and, with nothing to play for except pride and stats... (Could Eakins' 8am practices be a team internal way of handling?)

Or maybe it's not so nefarious - maybe just human nature that when there's "nothing to play for" in a 22 year old mind, that subconsciously that extra gear stays in reserve?

Or could it be his shoulder? Or maybe it's because we're in the Pacific division this year?

But a good article none-the-less. If nothing else it could start some entertaining controversy.

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#47 Lochenzo
January 16 2014, 10:45AM
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Thanks for the numbers. A little surprising that they're that bad, but I am aware of some warts in Taylor Hall's game so I'm not totally blown away.

Taylor Hall has cut down on the turn overs in the neutral zone that plagued him early in the season. But he still makes some unnecessary turnovers in the offensive zone. Just silly little things. If he cuts down on that, those shot differentials will improve.

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#48 2004Z06
January 16 2014, 10:51AM
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Yet another reason why the only stat that matters is wins vs. losses. There are 4 other players and a goalie on the ice at the same time! You don't think that their on ice performance may have something to do with Hall's individual stats?

Lets look at the line as a whole rather than the individual. This is a team game after all!

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#49 NewfoundlandOil
January 16 2014, 10:52AM
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http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/games/1345952/edmonton-oilers-vs-dallas-stars/

Here is the link to the highlights of the Stars game.

WRT Taylor Hall, he, Nuge and Gagner are on the ice for 2 of the goals against, but from what I see Hall's positioning is excellent and he is covering his man. On two occasions his linemates blow coverage to allow a goal against. I know we are talking shots here but lets assume these serve as examples.

At 15 seconds, the first Dallas goal, Ference goes down to try and block the pass but fails and is out of the play. Nuge gets knocked down in front of the net and loses his man. Hall is covering the winger in the far circle. Schultz id late to come back (I believe he pinched on the play at the other end). Gagner coasts into the zone, knees straight, stick horizontal watching it all unfold. Hall was not the problem on this goal, but tow of his linemates were taken out of the play, one was late coming back and the other (Gagner) just counldn't be bothered....

At 40 seconds, Hall not on the ice but worth a note. On the PK Arcobello way blows his coverage on Jamie Benn on the point which allows the easy pass and gift to Benn.

At 50 seconds, Two D go in deep against two Stars players to try and win the puck battle. Hall is on his side on the half wall available for the outlet pass. Both Nuge and Gagner (both playing center at this point) are late to the show. Neither gets a man and are seen turning up ice as the goal is scored.

Just a couple examples from the last game where I note, in this context: 1) Hall's positioning is good, but his assignment is not primarily as a defensive forward, he is the outlet man. 2) Horrible blown coverage by Ference, Schultz, Arcobello, Gagner and Nuge directly led to these goals. 3) Is this what Eakins means when he states he assumed the team could play basic defense?

I know the WOWY suggests otherwise but I still wonder if its these types of plays, Hall's specific deployment as an offense first guy, and consistent blown coverage by his linemates are having an impact on his season.

Gagner on the first goal, sheesh skate ffs, get involved. He looked totally disinterested.

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#50 Kr55
January 16 2014, 10:55AM
Trash it!
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trashes
Cheers
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cheers

Is Eakins trying to turn us into the Leafs? Playing a dumb style of hockey that completely depends on luck to win? Then claim to everyone you're a genius and everything you're getting players to do is the right thing and stats guys are dumb.

Guess he did come from the leafs system, so it's not that much of a stretch.

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