ARE THE OILERS IMPROVING?

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. 

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

    • Are you kidding me, that sewgment with Spec yesterday was awesome! thats what sports talk radio is all about….passion! I’m thinking he”ll be back, don’t mean to speak for Jason..but huge props to that yesterday

  • The Oilers are averaging 22.5 turnovers per game in their own zone while the opposition is averaging 7.4 over the last 9 games.
    That is an ugly stat and defenitly contributes to being outshot.
    If you cannot get out of your own zone you can’t mount much of an attack!
    Surprisingly they have 5 wins and 4 losses over those nine games with a five game win streak.
    Obviously they will not be a winning team until they can exit their own zone without turnovers.

  • Oilfred

    “In the most important category, wins, the Oilers haven’t improved.”

    Wrong. The most important category, the ONLY category that matters, is points.
    That is what gets you to the playoffs.

    Last year we collected 76 of a possble 164 pts. 40%
    This year we have collected 39 of a possible 78 pts. 50%

    It doesn’t matter HOW we get those points, as dumb as the loser point is, it counts!

    We have improved a fair bit. That is the only contadicting I can do with the article. Improving a fair bit doesnt mean much when you had miles and mile of improving to do! The rest of the article I give a big +1

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    Lack of skill.

    Biggest reason this team isn’t going anywhere.

    Watch how many times we can’t break a cycle in our zone.

    Watch how many times we grenade the puck around the boards or behind our net without giving the recipient (if there is one) even a slight chance to make a play.

    Watch how many times we dump the puck in with no speed/support to get it.

    Watch how many times we lose puck battles on the boards because we don’t support each other.
    Opposition will have 2 guys digging for the puck, while there’s only one Oiler in there. The other is standing behind the scrum, waiting for the puck to pop out. This happens when we’re on the PP too.

    All this equates to turn overs and momentum shifts. And against solid teams, it goes on the ENTIRE GAME!

    We need players that can make better plays.

    • DSF

      B.M. —— Could not agree more with you.
      You are dead on.. your description is pretty much
      a replay of all their games. Almost every game the same old , same old. The scary part is that there is no change or improvement to this circus!

      Its up to the coaching staff to make changes and correction to the flaws of the teams play.

      This is a very soft team and is not hard on the puck from both sides.

      One thing for sure, with all the standing around
      they save on skate sharpening.

      • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

        I’m glad others are seeing it. Because I don’t hear it being talked about much. The soft part? Sure. But the poor puck decisions over and over. I don’t recall that getting much publicity.

        And I agree. It’s got a lot to do with coaching. But I’m also not sure if the players we have are capable of much more than that.

        Skate sharpening gets into the tens of dollars territory for me in the winter months. I can’t imagine what the Oilers are paying. Good decision!

  • Rob...

    If we are just discussing whether or not this team is better than last year based on wins and losses, you should only be comparing last year’s win-loss record vs. Western Conference teams against this year. The Oilers record was better against Eastern Conference teams last year.

    The sample size for eastern play is rather small. But might hint at 6-10 more points by this point in the season if Eastern teams were mixed in, especially using next season’s format of a home & home vs. every team in the league.

    • DSF

      Of course you would expect the WC teams that are better than the Oilers would benefit even more from playing EC teams.

      Comparing points this season to last is pretty “pointless” since the conditions are so different.

      What matters most is how the team performs in relation to other teams in the conference.

      Last season, the Oilers finished 21 points out of the playoffs.

      At their current rate, they will miss the playoffs by likely 6-8 points which, over and 82 game schedule would be in the range of 12-16 points.

      So there is a small improvement.

      As Gregor notes though, that continuing trend of being outshot by such a wide margin in virtually every game is huge red flag.

      • Rob...

        “Of course you would expect the WC teams that are better than the Oilers would benefit even more from playing EC teams.”

        You might be right, but my argument wasn’t that the Oilers would be a playoff team this year if they played eastern conference teams. The point was that the Oilers win/loss record would be better than it currently is if we played eastern conference teams.

        • DSF

          Might be.

          Might not.

          The Oilers play in a division that features the two worst teams in the league…Colorado and Calgary.

          Hell, even Florida is 6-4-0 in their last 10.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    It’s tough to SELL THE FARM when nobody wants any of our overpriced chit!

    Like some here have been preaching these last two years, outside of the fab 5, every effort should be made to liquidate the few pieces that are moveable. I know there’s more than a few Chris Campoli’s on this roster, but letting guys like Whitney,Jonesy and possibly Mark Fistric leave for diddly squat is inexcuseable. To an ever rebuilding club like Edmonton, draft picks are the only hope/currency the Oilers have. Buying (Smithson) when Steve should’ve been selling leads me to believe Tambellini is the George Costanza of the NHL. 3 more draft picks this summer look pretty good now, don’t they George?

    • Fans wanted those players traded for draft picks. That’s what’s inexcusable. Those players are worth more than 7th round draft picks. Fans don’t care about the playoffs. They just care that Oilers make a trade and that they can bash the trade.

      The problem I have is Oilers fans will bash every move the team makes. If the team ever makes the playoffs, Oilers fans will bash the team for making the playoffs instead of finishing 30th.

      Oilers fans are never happy unless they can bash the team. It’s what Oilers fans do best.

  • DSF

    Maybe the solution is in the sytems being used. Let RNH, Hall, Eberle and J Schultz play that up tempo style and dominate like they have. Everybody else just play the trap and wait till the #1 line is ready to go again.

  • DSF

    Everyone who comments on this site has an angle on what the Oilers need to do…….fair comment for the most part.

    JG you state in your article, that current attempts to surround the youth with complimentary talent, have failed…….and that we should not expect them to carry this team? Totally agree with that except I’m confused on what management has done to surround the youth with talent? What talent?

    Making deals for fourth line players, in my mind does not constitute what is needed. All we hear from Oilers management is that ” they have a plan” and we just have to trust their plan and be patient. We are told there are no deal out there and we should not expect players as a result of trades. We do nothing at trade deadline because Tamby does not want to send the wrong message to the team, after they win five games.

    I suspect these clowns have no plan to do anything……….the Oilers management seem to think they work for the CIA, and trot out Tamby occasionally to say two part of nothing, except for all of us to be patient.

    BS, BS, BS,………they have no plan and I’m not buying the concept of improving marginally as something to be proud of.

    • Biggest clowns are the Oilers fans. Oilers can only sign UFAs that no one else wants. True UFAs won’t sign in Edmonton because of the fans. Most players that have NMC or NTC have Edmonton on the list of teams they don’t want to be traded to. You know why that is. It’s because of the fans. Oilers fans have a habit of running players out of town. Word gets around and that’s the reason Oilers have a difficult time signing good UFAs.

      • The Worrier

        Sure Edmonton has it limitations. Frankly, I would not live in Edmonton unless I made $6M / year. However, fans are fans regardless where you live or what prosport league they support. They will bitch and complain. Even if this rebuild is successful and they win the Cup the Oilers management will be thrown under the bus.

        I think there are far more important reasons for Edmontonians to be upset. It is April and there is snow outside!

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Not sure I buy your argument………there are fans in about 10 markets that get more rabid fans than Edmonton, including Calgary where I live.

        UFA will come but know something else that the average fan does not know…….that being that management here is inept and incompetent. There are a lot of ex-Edmonton Oilers players that have a beef with how they were treated here…….that is the main problem, NOT the fans.

        Until these clowns are moved ( Lowe and Tamby) nothing will change with the fortunes of the team. We will be counting on drafting for our fortunes…….god help us, we will need it.

  • smiliegirl15

    Spec wasn’t listening to what Gregor had to say yesterday regarding the stats. I was starting to wonder if he was being deliberately obtuse. I think Gregor’s objectivity is kind of refreshing. When you look at it with wins and losses, and shooting percentages, the Oilers really haven’t improved. I think if RNH and Eberle had had the season they had last year, their stats would be a lot better.

    Fortunately, this season still goes to show that behind the first line of Hall, RNH and Eberle, we have a lot of third and fourth line guys. On a better team where would Gagner fall? Would he be a second line centre? Probably not, unless he had a couple wingers of size with him.

    The kids are doing great and they are improving but they need some solid vets beside them. The team as a whole hasn’t show enough improvement. Until they can get their shooting percentages up and bring a full effort every game, they’re still wandering in the desert. There have too many games where they’ve been there in body but definitely not in spirit.

    People keep saying you have to be patient. Oiler fans have been extremely patient, maybe too much so. Mr Dithers is not the man to take the Oil to the next level. We need a man who can make some good hockey deals because it’s now been proven players want to play here so chasing waterfalls is over.

  • The Worrier

    I didn’t think as a fan base we were expecting playoffs this year? The team is giving it a run and will probably fall short. You have to learn how to win and thats what’s happening right now. Finishing just outside the playoffs is a huge improvement from 2nd last and we haven’t even played the last 9 games yet. Throw out the numbers, I think it’s obvious when watching that this team is improving. They’re young and inconsistent.. All that being said, are there improvements to the roster to be made? Yes. But in time I’m sure management will make these moves. The core is just not good enough YET.

    • Rob...

      The Oilers are going to miss the playoffs again and there are still some major flaws on this team that management continues to ignore and you’re critical of Jason’s use of rainbows? I hope it’s due to Iridophobia.

      • The Worrier

        No I don’t have a fear rainbows. Truth be told I just come to this site to scroll down to the “What Does It Mean” section too look at the hot chicks. It is disappointing to find a rainbow instead of photo of a beautiful woman staring at me in my rainbow thong.

        The Oilers seasons are disappointing enough. With this criticism I am confident Gregor will change his future posts. I am not confident that crticism of Oilers management will lead to change. But then I am not guy who sees life through rainbow coloured glasses.

        • Rob...

          What I find funny is the air-brushed/photo-shopped fake cleavage and slimmed bodies on many of those beautiful women. That, in my opinion, is adding rainbow coloured glasses to life.

  • Rob...

    wins and losses. thats the only relevant statistical measure at this point. this year allows krueger to get his feet wet, and by next year if they dont make the playoffs then heads should roll. enough is enough.

  • Rob...

    i agree that they haven’t improved in respect to wins compared to past years. but each year is different. how do they compare to their competition this year and how did they compare last year or year before? they were at or near the bottom of the league the last 3 years, and now they are closer to the middle, probably in the 15th-20th ranged.

    i appreciate that you (Gregor) are putting the heat on Oilers’ management. not many pundits are ripping them like you, as they deserve to be ripped

  • vetinari

    Because our players, our lines and our systems change so much from year to year because of continuous coaching and player changes, it’s hard to tell what is truly improving and what is actually declining.

    I feel like we are on some type of treadmill and have made a few strides ahead, but the fact remains that our GM has to either draft, trade, or sign for several key players to make this team competitive. And to date, the only mode our GM knows is “draft”– he still has to learn the “trade” and “sign” portions of the job.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    My 2 bits:

    Coaching this year has seemed to emphasize a defence first mentality. I can appreciate that. However, it took far too many games to figure out how to dump the puck into places where there were players or where players were going. Plus, they just weren’t driving to the net once they won the battles down low.

    In addition, lousy shots were taken on net when players were driving, 2 on 1 or 2 on 2, to the net. A simple wrist shot that was gobbled up by the tender. No rebound. Slap shot, it’s not just a good movie.

    Things that still need to be addressed.

    Offence needed to be more of a priority, IMO. Was that strategy or players issues? I wonder.

    A lot of peeps have a hate on for the management. I get it. For me, I’m not sold on the coaching to this point. No real practice time make it real hard to properly assess. But, I’m not sold.

    It’s been a long, short season which plays a factor in looking at whether this year is better than previous ones. My freakin’ liver hurts. That’s my scientific research on the subject….

    I still believe they need to push for that final playoff spot. Giving up now teaches this young core nothing.

    Draft high? Mah! Learn to win.

    Yes, I intentionally wrote 2 bits instead of 2 cents. Y’all got the bonus rant because I’m pissed off, man!

    Win damn you, win! lol

  • vetinari

    Players will generally play where they think that:

    1.) they have the best chance to win a Cup;
    2.) they think that they and their families will be treated the best; or,
    3.) they think that they will paid the best.

    Right now, #1 hasn’t been a reasonable expectation since 2006. As for #2, this is where former players and their experiences in Edmonton hamper us (see: Souray, Comrie, Poti, Coglianno, Marchant, Omark, Smyth the first time he was traded, Arnott, etc.). That doesn’t even count guys like Nylander or Heatley who refused to become Oilers. As for #3, Katz’s money is clearly earmarked for the first rounders for the next decade or so.

    What does that leave us to entice free agents to fill gaps in our lineup? Likely not much unless we trade for them.

  • BK

    @michael

    You could have stopped at “Thank you.” I would say “you’re welcome”.

    That’s how people with the manners beyond those of a four-year-old deal with opinions differing from their own.

  • BK

    Using stats in shortened season vs regular season is skewed. League placement at the end of the season is the best comparative sample.

    Two seasons where the same number of competing teams faced an equal amount of games in the given season. 29th place to ___ place is the best test of improvement in such a skewed comparison.

    Quoting the other percentages year over year is miscalculated (seen mainly in the fact that most fans would agree the level of play increases with fewer games left to play).