Coaching has been an oft-discussed potential reason for the Edmonton Oilers’ collapse this season. While nobody claims that it is coaching and coaching alone that has the Oilers where they are, some wonder whether general manager Craig MacTavish didn’t make a mistake when he chose Dallas Eakins to replace Ralph Krueger.
How does Eakins’ team compare with that of Krueger, and of Tom Renney at five-on-five?
What is needed for a fair comparison between coaches? A level playing field. Because Ralph Krueger’s Oilers only played against Western Conference teams, we will only consider Oilers games played against Western opponents in 2011-12 and this season.
That introduces another problem. Eakins’ Oilers have played 19 games on the road against Western teams, but only 11 at home. To compensate for that, we will be weighting his home and road games equally so out analysis isn’t impacted by an unbalanced schedule.
What should we compare? We’ll run the gamut of five-on-five statistics: shots, Fenwick (shots + missed shots), Corsi (all shot attempts) and good old goals. All numbers will be expressed as a percentage of total events – in other words, 50 percent represents the break-even mark and a higher number is better. We will also include shooting percentage and save percentage.
Tom Renney comes out looking awfully good here. Steve Tambellini never offered an actual explanation of what he thought Renney was doing wrong behind the bench when he fired the veteran coach, but it is abundantly clear in hindsight that canning Renney was the wrong move. The Oilers did a better job at getting shot attempts, and getting shot attempts through without them being blocked, of getting shots on net, and of scoring goals under Renney than they would under either of his successors. If one believes (as I do) that Renney had the weakest roster of the three coaches, it’s impossible to look at this without thinking he did an awfully good job.
Ralph Krueger vs. Dallas Eakins is where it gets interesting. Eakins’ team did a better job of generating shot attempts, but Krueger’s did better work getting them through to the opposition net. Krueger’s teams also did a better job of winning the goals battle, in large part because the team shooting and save percentages were better.
Eakins’ home/road splits are compelling. At home, Eakins’ team is pretty competitive with Renney’s in the shot metrics, but on the road the numbers fall apart to a degree not seen under previous coaches. I don’t have an explanation for that; it’s something I’m going to watch for in future games but the difference suggests that whatever Eakins is doing on the road isn’t working at all.
The other item to note here is the save percentage splits – that the goalies’ terrible play isolated to home games suggests to me that the bad goaltending this year isn’t necessarily driven by team defence. By that, I mean that while the Oilers allow way more shots than the league average, there seems to be little reason to believe that they’re consistently allowing higher quality chances than other teams. Certainly they weren’t under Renney or Krueger; it’s possible that Eakins is doing something bizarre but I don’t think it’s likely.
Would Edmonton be better off with Tom Renney behind the bench? I think so, yes, potentially much better off (particularly given the benefits of continuity). Would they be better off with Krueger than Eakins? I don’t know, but I believe there’s a strong learning curve for any rookie NHL head coach, and Krueger already had a year under his belt. That has to be balanced against MacTavish getting a guy suited to his style of managing, so I’m not sure there’s a definite answer here.
Both Eakins and Krueger strike me as intelligent, motivated coaches; I think Krueger would have figured things out eventually and I believe Eakins still will, but the big mistake here was making Renney a scapegoat for problems that weren’t of his creation.
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