The Edmonton Oilers forwards and the possession war

It’s no secret that the Oilers have been losing a lot of games, and those struggles are reflected in the possession numbers of their forwards. Some – people like David Perron and Jordan Eberle – have done relatively well despite the team around them. Others have floundered badly, and some of the names on that list are extremely surprising.

The Chart

I’ll briefly explain the statistics above, all calculated using five-on-five data collected from

  • Corsi/60 is the total of all shot attempts for minus all shot attempts against when a player is on the ice, divided into average 60-minute chunks. So in David Perron’s case, in an average hour with him on the ice the opposition averages one shot attempt more against the Oilers than the Oilers manage.
  • On-ice SH% is the percent of shots the Oilers take that go in the net with a given player on the ice. So Jordan Eberle’s 10.3 percent isn’t his personal number; it’s his number plus that of all of his teammates when he’s on the ice.
  • On-ice SV% is the same as shooting percentage, except of course that this time it’s goalie performance with a given player on the ice.
  • PDO is the combination of shooting and save percentage, and typically regresses to 100 (though it tends to be a little higher for skilled players and a little lower for fourth-liners).
  • ZoneStart is the percentage of non-neutral zone shifts started in the offensive zone. Here Nail Yakupov’s 68.8 percent means he starts two shifts in the offensive zone for every defensive zone shift he starts.
  • QualComp is each player’s rank among forwards in ExtraSkater’s quality of competition ranking (based on the average TOI of the opposition players each Oilers forward has seen.

Highlights and Lowlights

Taylor Hall has been a Corsi beast for years; this season the Oilers are getting killed with him on the ice. He’s taking on the toughest matchups but clearly needs some help. Interestingly both he and Ales Hemsky have significantly better numbers when they play away from each other.

Jordan Eberle and David Perron are unsurprisingly doing quite well by these numbers, but so too are Mark Arcobello and Ryan Smyth. Arcobello, of course, has been a healthy scratch recently this season and never even got a chance last season because he’s seen as too small for a fourth-line job, while Smyth was given up for dead by many portions of the fanbase. Both guys look like solid contributors here.

Poor, poor Boyd Gordon. Not only is he facing a brutal zone start (he gets more than four defensive zone shifts for every offensive zone draw he takes) but the goalies aren’t making saves (0.865 save percentage) when he’s on the ice. His numbers here are pretty good given the context.

Less good: Dallas Eakins’ physical fourth line. The duo of Will Acton and Luke Gazdic are getting lit up by the opposition; thus far the Oilers have gotten away with it because the goalie has been making saves with that duo on the ice (0.959 save percentage for Acton, 0.982 for Gazdic) but eventually that will stop and these two will get shown for what they are. It’s particularly galling given that they’re playing terrible opponents and getting lots of time in the offensive zone.

An interesting contrast to Acton and Gazdic are Ryan Jones and Ben Eager. Jones and Eager seem less willing to provide the physical play that a guy like Gazdic does, but they’ve done a much better job (in tougher minutes, too) of not letting the opposition ragdoll them in the shots column.

Another unsurprising find: Nail Yakupov and Sam Gagner are struggling here. Yakupov’s problems in the early season are well-documented, and his Corsi numbers bear it out (and are more damning given the minutes he’s playing), while Gagner has of course been problematic since coming back from a pre-season injury.

What else stands out here?

  • 24% body fat

    This team sucks. Lots to like though. Replace N Schultz, Potter, Larsen, Grebeshkov with Ekblad, Nurse, Klefbom, Fedun.

    Let them develop next season in the NHL and get there feet wet. That way everyone is ready when McDavid joins the oilers.

    Play off run in 2016.


    here come the trashes.

    Oilers fans this is our fault for continuously buying merchandise, and going to games, and giving away generous arena deals, and not holding the organization accountable for an inferior product.

    What do you do when you buy a faulty inferior piece of electronics. You take it back and demand a refund.

    Over under on Trashes +36.

      • Serious Gord

        true, but that seems to be the plan of attack:

        miss the playoffs this year, probably miss next year, then make the playoffs in 15-16 and contend in 16-17. The problem is that by then there will be RFA issues all over the place…

      • 24% body fat

        I agree, I do think they will be an upgrade on the number 4 – 7 though. My comments went on why I thought we should do this. And that is so we get McJesus.

        The losing doesnt look like it will stop anytime soon so we might as well get a shiny new toy to tide us over.

        • At some point, I think you have to say ‘no more tanking’ and actively try to win. The Oilers have been at that point for a few years now. I think it’s pretty clear that MacTavish recognizes this, though so far his efforts haven’t worked out.

          • 24% body fat

            However they arent actively tanking, they are just losing. I believe the three rookies would be an upgrade. Two of them are big and nasty with skill. Unless Hemsky is traded for a power forward that can slot top 9 and some how a top 4 dman (a regular team top 4, not oiler top 4) than we are stuck in limbo. And seeing how the oilers top 6 forwards are not tradable according to Mac T how are we suppose to get these guys. You could move the 1st rounders, but this years is too valuable so it is too late and only an idiot would trade next years if his team sat in a lottery position like the oilers.

          • Please show us any example where throwing three rookie D into an NHL lineup was a good idea. We’ve done that here in Edmonton with forwards and it hasn’t worked out so well. Whereas if you look at most competent teams you might see one or maybe two new guys being broken in at the most. And even then they don’t get prime time for a couple of years.

            Oilers on the other hand…


          • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

            This is what I don’t understand about DSF’s “the Oilers could have drafted Perron” argument.

            I personally like the way they acquired Perron. If they’d drafted him, he probably wouldn’t be nearly as good as he is today.

          • 24% body fat

            I didnt say it was a good Idea, I said it was an upgrade. And While they are all young, Klefbom a mid first rounder has had a few years to develop, Nurse an early first has had an extra year and is ready and Ekblad is an exceptional player and more than physically mature. They are a clear upgrade over the bottom 4 guys we have now.

            And since when does this management do anything right other than the perron trade.

            Gagner was ready for the NHL period. It was not his development that held him back it was the team situation and five different coachers. Look even today on good teams the best of rookies dont produce the way he did as a barely eligible player in the league. HE was not old for his draft but extremely young. Situational not rushed.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    I have been wailing incessantly since Arco has been pulled out of the lineup!!!! I live in Calgary and the monkeys at the zoo would be able to figure out that Arco should be in the lineup. What is wrong with this picture??? I don’t get it. You need heavies on the 4th but certainly you don’t need 3 do you? Give your head a shake Eakins.

  • wiseguy

    I have heard MacT and the organization are big believers/followers of analytics but is Eakins? Given a lot of the suspect coaching so far I think not. Do you know JW?

    • I don’t know the answer to that. His hesitancy to use Arcobello would certainly seem to suggest that if he’s using stats he’s not using these ones (or scoring chances, for that matter, where Arcobello also excels) as a key plank in his decision making.

      • I was going to look but I assume someone has done the math already and you know about it.

        Do 4th liners not usually have a lower shooting percentage than other players. ie. Could the 4th lines high onsv% not be related to the fact that they usually play 4th liners as well?

    • justDOit

      Early in the season, Eakins was asked this in a presser. He replied that he does indeed look at the adv stats, but he makes decisions based on the coaching staff’s impressions as well as the stats – not too much emphasis on either.

  • 24% body fat

    oh if I could take this line from the above stat explanations and go back in time a few threads ago. See pkham, SV% IS truly a Goalie stat.

    On-ice SV% is the same as shooting percentage, except f course that this time it’s goalie performance.

  • Hey J.W,here are some numbers for you,we are 3-0 and in that run we have outshot,out hit scored on the powerplay and cycled the puck well.who would have thought a winning team could be done with HARDWORK rather than looking at fancy numbers to tell us we suck!when the oilers shoot,hit and cycle they are successfull,when they chase and get pushed around they are not!

  • Serious Gord

    Thanks for the stats – lots to chew on, little of it good.

    Hall definitely has some ‘splainin’ to do. As does gagner especially when you consider that he wasn’t playing during many of the very worst early games.

    Is there anyone who can explain why acton is playing and acrobello is not, other than it is flat out nepotism?

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      Eakins’ answer is the standard line of “heaviness.”

      Meaning, I think it is fair to say he’d play any “heavy” player in the 4C spot (regardless of familial ties) if he had access to him and is basically dead set on not playing Arco on the 4th line.

      Arco is basically waiting for an injury or horrible play within the top 9 (at center or on the wing), likely candidate is Smyth but he’s playing great so… Arco is out of luck.

      The other option is that Acton line finally getting lit up (it’s just a matter of time) and Eakins opting for a change… but in that case, I’d expect Lander, Horak, or Pitlick (whenever he’s healthy) might get the 4C spot over Arco.

      heaviness. It’s a disease of NHL thinking.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    “What else stands out here?”

    One thing most have been looking for is the performance of the players who were essentially the 2line last year (esp. Gagner and Hemsky).

    Gagner 5×5 CF%:
    11-12 (Renney): 0.489
    12-13 (RK): 0.431
    13-14 (Eakins): 0.458

    Hemsky 5×5 CF%:
    11-12 (Renney): 0.504
    12-13 (RK): 0.441
    13-14 (Eakins): 0.480

    Neither are back to Renney levels and Gagner still has a long way to go (injury, early return and small sample size probably explains part of it), but both are clear of RK levels so far. That’s a good sign.

    Yakupov has also improved from 42.5% CF 5×5 to 45.7.

    It is worth noting this improvement.

    I also think the sample size is probably too small on Eager to draw any conclusions.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    In regards to the high on-ice SV% of Acton and Gazdic, isn’t that something that’s prevalent year to year with fighter/physical 4th liners? I remember George Parros for example always having sky high SV% numbers when he was with Anaheim. Shawn Thornton is another example of a 4th liner…Brian McGrattan. I’m not sure why when a guy bleeds shots against their goalie tends to play better. But it definitely looks like there’s some sort of trend there just by looking at the numbers for those types of guys. Any thoughts on that?

    • Mikey

      Might have something to do with the fact they are playing other fourth liners. These other fourth liners are better hockey players than most fourth liners, but still can’t shoot or deke like a second or first liner.

    • wiseguy

      High save percentage is likely attributed to 4th liners playing against 4 th liners. Even when you give up chances, they are shots by the mcgrattans, parros’, and Thorntons of the league.

  • 24% body fat

    In regards to the high on-ice SV% of Acton and Gazdic, isn’t that something that’s prevalent year to year with fighter/physical 4th liners?

    I remember George Parros for example always having sky high SV% numbers when he was with Anaheim. Shawn Thornton is another example of a 4th liner…Brian McGrattan. I’m not sure why when a guy bleeds shots against their goalie tends to play better. But it definitely looks like there’s some sort of trend there just by looking at the numbers for those types of guys. Any thoughts on that?

    • Good eye, Jon.

      In my experience, yes the save percentages for fourth liners tend to be a little higher. I’ve always believed this was a consequence of matching up against poor finishers (the same reason that fourth-liners’ on-ice shooting percentage tends to be a little low). From what I’ve seen, the combination of a slightly higher SV% and a slightly lower SH% tends to lead to a slightly sub-100 PDO in total.

  • Oilerz4life

    Stats mean nothing. At least we’ve seen a glimmer of hope lately that the Oilers are on the right track. It may take longer than hoped for, but at least Mac T is willing to make trades. Eventually we will get it together. Remember, we’re not a big market club like down in the states. We’ll get there, you can pack up your stats and put them in your file cabinet. Its just a bunch of boring garble. Most of those stats represent when the Oilers were riddled with injury, so they’re misleading and arent worth the paper they’re printed on.

    • Reg Dunlop

      Stats mean nothing? Not worth the paper they’re printed on? First off, this internet thing is largely paperless, so…

      Secondly, as the Corsi indicates, Smyth has looked like a solid contributor. While everyone with eyesight thought Smyth was done, stats say he has been solid. Is Corsi a reference to ex-oil goalie Jim Corsi? They both are/were of very limited use. Smyth is so done that he would be just as valuable if he took off the skates and played in his boots like a hockey Dad coaching mini-mites.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    A 1-2 punch of Nuge and McDavid would have me giddy. Whichever team gets the 1st overall next year is never going to let that pick go, though. It’s a catch 22: I’m hoping we finish at least out of the bottom 5 next year, but then we miss out on the McDavid express.

  • pkam


    Despite the poor Corsi number at ES, the interesting thing is Acton, Gazdic, Jones, and Eager are all positive in the +/-.

    In other words, they are badly outshot yet they outscored their opponents.

    Any explanation to this strange but interesting phenomenon?

        • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

          This is true. Now I’m thinking it’s Dubey bringing his A game when he sees those four on the ice. I know I’d be a little more on edge with those guys playing in front of me.

    • Two items:

      1. Lots of luck. No forward with significant minutes gets a 0.980 save percentage from his goalie, especially when the goalie has played the way Dubnyk has.

      2. Weaker comp. With that said, the guys Acton and Gazdic are playing against aren’t very good finishers, either.

      The thing about shots data is that, over time, the goal data falls into line with it. Over relatively short spans – and especially for guys that don’t get a lot of ice-time – the goal data can mislead. Eventually, Acton/Gazdic will get out-scored at roughly the same rate they get out-shot.

  • S cottV

    Confirms that our top 2 centremen are getting eaten by top 2 opposition lines. Hopkins in over head for now, but will probably get better, as he fills out – gets stronger and gains more experience. Gagner probably skewed by injury recovery and limited minutes in the sampling, but – he is not quite big enough in the 2nd centre rotation. Both are struggling to score which reflects in finish numbers for themselves and those that they play with. Both lack strengh and presence to carry the play more in the offensive zone, so they are getting scored on – more than scoring. Without domination in the middle on the top 2 lines, particularly difficult for high end wingers to get going. May get better with RNH maturity and Gagner’s full injury recovery. In the meantime, Gordon being made to pay for some of this imbalance in the middle. Starts in own zone reflective of lack of zone play by top 2 lines and lack of confidence in RNH and Gagner to win faceoffs and handle the heavy go in the d zone. RNH really struggles in his own zone and it is unfortunate that he has to learn to handle it vs top 3 opposition forwards. Made worse by a lack of legit top 2 defencemen to support him. Belov (not bad) and J Schultz (scary while he goes thru his own learning curve) is certainly not an ideal compliment. The lack of dominate presence in the middle and dominate presence in the back end – makes for a tough go re any real progress for these stats. Otherwise – we play way more in the other teams zone and all these numbers follow suit for the better.

  • I’d like to see a breakdown of Taylor Hall season when he played center verses wing. Also when he was playing with Sam or Nuge once he returned to his natural position. I think it would paint a tale. I think playing with Ebs and Nuge, he will return to beast form.

    Also seeing Arcobello at the top. What can you honestly say that hasn’t been said before. Who cares if he is 5’8”, he’s running wild with the wolves. Proof Eakins only puts so much stock in advanced stats. But I also admit I am surprised Gagner’s numbers are as good as they are though. I thought they would be worse.

    Gordon is a beast. Anyone complaining at 3 million right now. Signing was MacT’s finest. Full marks. Ridiculous zone starts, and the guy produces. Wish we had two defensively responsible centers with good faceoff percentages playing right now?

  • Great read, and great explanations of these advanced stats. I am a little skeptical in how the sats may have been skewed by poor early season goal tending and injuries.

    Having said that, can you do a comparison of a middle of the pack team. Maybe a team not lighting it up, but one that is in the hunt so we can see kind of where our numbers need to be in order to get there?

  • 24% body fat


    is there corsi close stats for individual forwards? my buddy always say that yak only scores when the game is no longer close. if there was such astat, it would help identify those players vs the ones who actually matter whent he game is close.

  • Mikey

    I have a question JW. Assuming your scoring chance figures are similar to the ones Dave Staples used today on Cult of Hockey it seems we have a slight edge in overall scoring chances, but trail badly in shots. Does this mean we have adopted a kind of ‘don’t shoot until you see the whites of the goalie’s eyes’ approach, while other teams fire more from outside the primary scoring areas, crowding the net and going hard to it for rebounds, so that the scoring chances they do get are better, and they score on a higher percentage of them?

    • I would try a Joensuu, Arco, Jones against softer teams such as ourselves… Play them 8-10 minutes a night 5×5 say in a back to back situation and see what you get.

      I remember Glencross, Brodziak, Stortini. Only real goon was Stortini. It was the only time in his career he was a consistant NHL’er. My point is why not see if you can have a Chicago fourth line that’s effective for more then 5-7 mins a night like Chicago. Acton, Gadzic are AHL’er.

  • JW said it best when he attributed Hall’s poor corsi to the matchups. For much of the season Eakins was putting hall out against the opposition’s top players by choice.

    The last bit has been nice to see Gordon, Perron, and Smytty used as the shutdown line. Those guys are sick!! hope they can do it against a real opponent like Chicago.

  • When selecting Team Canada it is interesting that management can choose from all the best NHLers to fill out their 4th line. Yet the players they choose are all skill players…

    odd… no emphasis on grit.


    • 24% body fat

      Canada’s 4th line in Vancity when it started was Toews, Morrow, Richards I believe. All of them were gritty and skilled. Isn’t most teams emphasis on having as many 5 tool players that are skilled and gritty. It just isn’t feasible in the NHL obviously because of the talent pool is not as deep. If you have too much skill that lacks the intangibles you got the OIlers. Every player Canada had were top 6 forwards and top pairing defenders.

  • How much weight do people put on these moneyball stats? Too many intangibles in Hockey to make them very important. Examples did the other team bring their A game , who was playing that night, who was injured, was it back to back games, hot goalies, bad luck, when they got on the ice.

    I personally think that these type of stats are useful once you made a decision only to confirm what you already thought.

  • wiseguy

    JW, obviously faceoff percentage tells a story with any center. So much of the problem with possession statistics with Nuge and Sam is poor faceoff prowess which affects their Corsi. I have felt that the coaches should have utilized Hall on the draw more regularly, like Calgary did with Iggy. I think it made logical sense to do that this season to take a strain off RNH who came off shoulder surgery. I think it would of benefited RNH and his play might of been better. The one positive with Hall when he did play center was his decent faceoff percentage. I can’t see why it would not improve your top lines numbers and overall possession. With Gagner, well heck I’d try Arco with him for the same reason. But he would be on wing.

    I’m not saying its a fix, or that I don’t understand the nuances of the game like the coaches obviously, but it’s just a simple observation.

  • Could the Oilers be deliberately tanking Acro’s season to get a value contract? Or are they just destroying another asset?

    For the record NHL07 supports my theory of 4 scoring lines will destroy anyteams forth line goons.

  • Gagner’s struggles aren’t anything new. In his 8th season, if he hasn’t gotten it by now, he won’t. Time to shift him to the wing where the defensive responsibilities are less so his offensive gifts can shine without the taint of his weak defensive play in the middle.

  • OilClog

    The most surprising thing about nerdstats is that the squinty-eyed weasel Stapes gets paid to peddle the narrative he builds off them.
    It’s just a feel-gooe exercise for Oiler fan to distract from the fact that you’re paying $100 a ticket to watch a gargabe franchise trot out a collection of garbage players. e

  • wiseguy

    Enough with the corsi numbers already. Think of it this way. When your top line isnt production as a whole and your bottom line isnt playing good defense as a whole. add to that, weak goal tending. the team wont win. its not an individual stats game, its a team game. thank you willis for more and more individual stats.

  • wiseguy

    Ok, lets put it on the table.
    The Oilers aren’t even a story anymore. Their play is poor and they are not competitive enough to play many teams in the NHL. Sports writers need to stop regurgitating, manipulating, and reworking this fact, to fill columns. We know it.
    So, with another spin, I am not sure why anyone would bother to write an article which provides the reader with in-depth stats and analysis, in order to ultimately point where things might be going wrong as it relates to individual and team performance. This is easier than one thinks. Look at each of the players the Oilers have on their roster. Then calculate level of talent and contribution. Then factor in how the rest of the team impacts that player’s performance. You will quickly see that there is a moderate level of talent with MANY marginal NHLers on the squad. Case in point, Will Acton. Sorry to say but this man is not an NHL caliber player, even as a fourth liner. He does not have the skill to play in the NHL at this time, and would better himself by playing in the ECHL or AHL.
    Then look at the established NHLers on the Oiler team. The Oiler’s team Captain, Ference, at best, was an average defenceman on a talent thick blue-line with the Bruins. But the Oilers put the “C” on his jersey which usually represents, skill, leadership and intellect. Yet, the Bruins chose to send him packing. What does that tell you?
    Let me help. Eakins, Mctavish and Lowe really don’t know what they are doing.