There is something wrong with Taylor Hall

 

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

  • Kr55

    MacT saying Hall’s game is actually better and Eakins raving about how Hall’s defensive game has improved tells you all you need to know. Hall is being told to do things that don’t work in the NHL and doing it so well that it’s making him a less effective player. It’s just a case of bad coaching. We’re becoming the leafs West now without the awesome goaltending and without the easier conference to play in.

    Sucks we’re stuck with Eakins 3 more years and MacT loves him because his personality is like a mirror image of MacT’s.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    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?

  • Word to the Bird

    No offense Willis, but to suggest something is “wrong” with Hall because he doesn’t generate as many shots is absurd. Besides, what point are you proving by writing this article? Even the most casual of fans can simply look up his boxcars and realize he is leading this team in points despite playing in fewer games than second place. In conclusion, take a step back and don’t suggest he took a turn for the worse in his development, because from where the hockey world is looking this player is becoming more well rounded every game.

  • J.R.

    Oh yeah, Taylor Hall is a terrible hockey player who is obviously on the rapid decline.

    He clearly brings the whole team down. Trade him now if you can (as if any other GM would be stupid enough to take him). We’d be lucky to get a bag of pucks back for a bum like him.

    Seriously, the language in this article is over the top bordering on ludicrous. You lost me on this one Mr. Willis.

  • J.R.

    Willis your articles always blow, but this has to be the worst one I’ve had the misfortune of reading yet. Hall’s the best player on this team, period.

    here’s some stats;

    Hall is 15th in league scoring in te NHL
    Willis is the 15th best “writer” on oilers nation

    go home

  • Ol' Jase

    So I’m guessing any follow up to the notion the the data provide in article may been erroneous is not on the table.

    It was worth a try.

    It would also be safe to assume that you won’t be following up with your “look, everyone’s worse with Hall than without him” comment by maybe posting Hall’s individual S% with those said players as line mates to provide proper context? Or maybe their individual offensive production with or without Hall?

    I think we can safely assume the answer, and the reason behind it…

  • EasyOil

    Wow, a lot of misunderstanding going on in the room tonight.

    Willis is of course not saying “Taylor Hall blows and should be traded”. Take a step back, breathe, and re-read the article. He’s saying that his usually brilliant underlying numbers have taken a huge fall this season, and asking why that is? And in conjunction with that, he’s surmising that perhaps some of Hall’s offence is the product of inflated percentages. Willis is basing this on similar instances with countless other players, a method that has proven time and time and time again to be correct.

    Is it foolproof? No, and JW never claimed it was. It’s just another way of measuring a player, and it generally works – if you choose to understand it. If you don’t, then don’t worry yourself about commenting, you look dumb. It’s fine to not care for advanced stats, but don’t berate those that do simply because they like to see more data on WHY a player/team is playing the way they are.

  • S cottV

    Here is the news flash. The Oilers have had horrible D for years. They haven’t developed one bonafide NHL D man and haven’t traded for one, other than ones they ran out of town after a year or two. Instead, they traded their bigger tougher D. Fistric, Smid. Did nothing on goal tending over the summer. Brought in a smaller local D man (Ferrence). Brought in a new coach. Tinkered around the edges and did nothing to fix the 50 foot hole in the Titanic. The back end. And surprise, surprise. Having a softer D has only made us worse. Having inadequate goal tending hasn’t helped either. But MacT thought the problem was with the coaching? Yeah…..there is no brain trust here. I’m glad he has his MBA. Maybe he should get a job in finance or marketing, take all his old Oiler buddies like Lowe, Buchberger, Acton, Smith…..all of them. And leave. Go manage a team with Gretzky. He couldn’t run one either.

  • As for the rest of you: go home, have a drink, relax.

    If you weren’t such hypersensitive little flowers, you’d realize that the obvious point being made here isn’t that Hall stinks/Hall should be traded or anything equally ludicrous. It’s that, whether through injury or coaching changes, Hall’s game has slipped and most of us haven’t noticed because he’s still getting points.

    Equally obvious is that Hall can get back to being the dominant player he was last season, and the Oilers need him to be that guy.

    As for math problems: I’ve gone through and checked the data six times (literally six times). There’s nothing wrong with the data. If you think there is, feel free to prove it. ,