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, 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 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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#2 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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#3 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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#4 Tim in Kelowna
January 16 2014, 10:56AM
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I'm not a fan of advanced stats, but they have their place. This isn't it.

Hall is one of the few things going well for the Oilers.

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#5 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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#6 Dave
January 16 2014, 10:11AM
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Taylor or Tyler?

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#7 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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#8 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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#9 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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#10 Bryzarro World
January 16 2014, 09:17AM
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Ya... The Org is garbage..

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#12 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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#14 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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#15 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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#18 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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#19 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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#20 Kent Wilson
January 16 2014, 10:29PM
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Feel free to argue or disagree all you want folks, but the ban hammer is going to come out for those issuing personal attacks at the writers of this site.

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#21 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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#22 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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#23 They're $hittie
January 16 2014, 11:13AM
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His scoring is right on and he is not the problem. Screw Corsi!

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#24 Ed in Edmonton
January 16 2014, 11:29AM
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Interesting article. Keep up the good work.

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#26 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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#27 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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#29 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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#30 nina russo
January 16 2014, 11:47AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Player shot attempts percentages with and without Hall this season:

  • RNH: 43% with/46.9% w-o/-3.9% change
  • Eberle: 46.2% with/47.7% w-o/-1.5% change
  • Gagner: 39.3% with/47.7% w-o/-8.4% change
  • Hemsky: 40.8% with/50.0% w-o/-9.2% change
  • Perron: 40.8% with/48.7% w-o/-7.9% change
  • Arco: 49.0% with/48.6% w-o/+0.4% change
  • Yakupov: 40.0% with/47.2% w-o/-7.2% change

That's the whole list of forwards to play more than an hour with Hall this year.

Some of it's likely related to getting tough competition, but the pattern seems pretty clear.

This is the best Stat and should have been the focal point of the article in my opinion.

EVERY player (except Arcobello who remained roughly the same) got WORSE while playing with Hall -- saw their relative shooting percentages drop -- that is the most important Stat because it reflects the effectiveness of the player relative to his line mates.

Leaving quality of shots aside, this is cause for concern.

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#31 redhot1
January 16 2014, 03:18PM
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So the fans accept advanced stats when Smid was brought up, but disregard them when Hall is mentioned? Rose coloured glasses much?

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#32 GriffCity
January 16 2014, 11:18AM
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Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things wrote:

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.

Tough questions? Or stupid ones? I certainly don't have any problem with articles or questions that "ruffle feathers" but when it's a bunch of drivel, then that's something else.

Why not write an article on how players face-off percentage is lower on days when they shave their beards, or how too much sock tape can be a bad thing? Those would make as much sense as the correlations in these ridiculous blogs.

Just saying, there are other players to criticize more before Hall.

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#33 nina russo
January 16 2014, 11:57AM
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Rama Lama wrote:

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.

I agree with the first part, but Krueger wasn't the answer. He may have been an effective assistant coach, but not a guy to drive and inspire this team to greatness. This eam needs to get behind a guy that knows how to lead ... like a Patrick Roy in Colorado but with more experience and a proven ability yet young enough to relate to the youth on this team.

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#34 Puck JammeR!
January 16 2014, 02:59PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Points, you mean?

No, the one that results in a mathematical impossibility

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#35 DisappointedFan
January 16 2014, 03:56PM
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@redhot1

So I guess I should re-iterate for you in case your rose coloured glasses have you asking more questions..no one cares about the stats on Smid because he's no longer an a factor on the Oilers. We just nod and say "Sure..."

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#36 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
January 16 2014, 04:04PM
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Over use or abuse of statistical analysis pains me. However, a select few, and JW is among them, are pretty disciplined with their analytics. It makes his articles interesting and worth reading. Statistics when used properly can add or enhance perspective. Good article. Thanks JW.

I don't see JW raking Hall here, I see him adding perspective to the conversation.

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#37 Ari Gold
January 16 2014, 05:34PM
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Great article.

I love the counterpoints to MacT, with the data to support it.

In addition, I'd suggest that Hallsy's body language hasn't looked great this year either. Hall and Ebs in particular look quits 'down'. There's obviously a lot going on in that dressing room that we don't know about.

My concern now, can Hall, Ens and Eakins coexist?

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#38 J.R.
January 16 2014, 07:35PM
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@JackFromRedDeer

Don't get me started on that useless, no talent Nugent-Hopkins kid.

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#39 Mike Krushelnyski
January 16 2014, 10:57PM
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@Kent Wilson

The writer of this one looks like a giant baby

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#40 Willis must go too
January 17 2014, 02:46AM
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It's time for this troll writer to go too. Go hate on another team.

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#41 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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#42 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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#43 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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#45 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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#46 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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#47 S cottV
January 16 2014, 10:56AM
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I agree with a prior poster, that MacT was probably refering to more recent play and or plays in his assessment of Hall. Trying to spin it more overly positive than it is, which is his job with the media.

The truth is that he still has 200 foot holes in his game to work on. I think he is paying more attention to it, but - still a long ways to go.

To me - Hall has to more fully accept that he is not playing with ideal complimentary players around him, at this point in time.

RNH is not yet a bonafide top 1C in this league. Eberle and Gagner are small and Gagner isn't a natural winger. There are no top pairing d men on the team.

The above adds up to a lot of territorial pressure and the worst thing Hall can do, is to overly try and make up for it. Sure - some making up for it fits his abilities but going too far and it's gonna end up in the back of our net.

One day - hopefully he gets better complimentary players around him but that day is not here and he would do well to more readily accept this.

In the meantime,

More emphasis on north south as opposed to east west.

More dump and forecheck with purpose as opposed to possession entry

More shots on net and going to the net for rebounds, as opposed to trying extra passes for a picture perfect goal.

More awareness for appropriate risk and return on offense as opposed to trying to make something out of nothing. Avoid situations that can easily lead to dangerous counter attacks. Pick your spots - be more patient.

More effort on backchecking / backpressure and be aware of and react to trailer threats from behind, as he has very little awareness of this.

Do your job in your own zone without any shortcuts. Stop sucking solely on the puck. Be aware of whats going on around you and where the puck is. Err to the side of caution and defence - not to clearing the zone ahead of the puck, to get a jump on offense.

Show leadership, interest and enthusiasm for keeping the puck out of our net.

This would help the advance stats, plus / minus and result in more Oiler wins...

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#48 Ken
January 16 2014, 11:05AM
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Bring Krueger back. Team is going the wrong direction . Was a lot better last year and they should have given Krueger a full season.

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#49 pkam
January 16 2014, 11:08AM
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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.

So in summary, you wrote an article with some stats of a phenomenon that is not obvious to us, and that you do not know what is causing it, and you think this phenomenon is only temporary and will not last?

So what is the focal point, or the message, of this article?

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#50 Puck JammeR!
January 16 2014, 11:14AM
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"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."

Sounds like a very useful and reliable statistic.

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