The Edmonton Oilers under three coaching regimes

Todd Nelson6

I like Todd Nelson as a coach, and strongly suspect that the combination of a new coach and an influx of new personnel did good things to a team that seemed to be badly in need of some fresh air.

With that said, the team’s current 3-1-2 run under Nelson is built on things that are not going to last.

Some Basic Stats

Dallas Eakins 19

The Oilers have had three coaching regimes this year, starting the season with Dallas Eakins before transitioning to a Craig MacTavish/Todd Nelson coaching tandem and finally settling on Nelson alone as interim coach. Some of the basic even-strength numbers for those three coaching configurations make an interesting study:

Coaching regime Goals Shots SH% Goals Against Shots Against SV%
Dallas Eakins 46 705 6.5% 71 723 0.902
MacTavish/Nelson 9 106 8.5% 17 129 0.868
Todd Nelson 12 95 12.6% 7 144 0.951

There are a lot of interesting items in those numbers, but two absolutely need to be hammered home:

  • No coach is going to get 0.951 EVSV% goaltending from Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth for a prolonged period of time.
  • No team is going to consistently get 12.6 percent shooting at evens for a prolonged period of time, and that’s especially true for a team like the Oilers.

What A Difference?

Todd Nelson

I happen to think Nelson is an excellent coach. I got to see him and his team regularly last year, talking both to him and his players on and off the record. I came away impressed and convinced that he deserved a shot in the NHL and that he was likely to make the most of it.

I also don’t think it’s fair to dismiss those shooting and save percentage changes entirely as luck.

Some of it may be strategy, but the majority of it almost certainly isn’t; looking at NHL teams over the years coaches do seem to be able to make incremental improvements in shooting and save percentages but Scotty Bowman himself couldn’t suddenly make a team simultaneously twice as good offensively and twice as good defensively as it was only a week or two prior.

Some of it is doubtless regression. Eakins team was incredibly snake-bit at both ends of the rink; we’re talking about a team that was converting shots to goals at a rate 20 percent lower than it did under the same coach the year prior while simultaneously the goaltending imploded. People are welcome to think whatever they like about Eakins (my guess is at some point he’ll get another NHL job and do well) but the fact is that the 2014-15 Oilers were executing at well below the rate they’d established under him the previous year and that was always unlikely to last. 

My own theory is that a series of changes all at once helped, too. The coach and 20% of the roster changed in a very short period of time, and the influx of new players – Derek Roy, Rob Klinkhammer, Matt Fraser, Anton Lander, along with a return to health for Benoit Pouliot – undoubtedly shook things up internally. The Oilers were a stagnant group, and a series of changes like that can help shake an organization out of a rut, stopping things from snowballing.

And, of course, some of it is doubtless just pucks going in at the right end of the rink and not going in at the wrong end of the rink. 

With the other changes has come a decent drop in the Oilers’ possession numbers. Some of that is due to score effects – at evens under Eakins, just under 40 percent of all shots were taken with the team trailing, while that figure is just over 10 percent under Nelson – but even in score-tied situations we’ve seen a drop. Eakins’ team took 51.6 percent of all shot attempts at evens with the score tied; Nelson’s team so far is down to 48.0 percent (though of course it’s still so early that the latter number may fluctuate wildly).

But as much as the possession numbers are down a little and the current stretch of games is being driven by unsustainable percentages, what I take from this is that the Oilers are still a team that could finish the year well. The shooting percentage and save percentage will fall, but if they stay near league-average levels (they weren’t far off under Eakins in 2013-14) and Nelson can keep the possession numbers in the 50 percent range there’s no reason Edmonton can’t win half its games in the final half of the season.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Slapshot

    SMALL SAMPLE=DUMB DECISION

    I have very fond memories of the posts that appeared here after Ben Scrivens had played about TEN OR TWELVE games for Edmonton last year. “He’s the real deal…sign him now, long term…as much money as it takes…
    SCRIVENATOR…stop searching, the Oilers have found a legit number one goalie!”

    Obviously the Oilers are playing better under Nelson. Why would you NOT wait and see how things go in the next 40 games. Consider the coaches who might be available this summer if certain teams miss the playoffs or go out early: Tippett, MacLellan, Hitchcock, etc. Why would you not actually CONSIDER all qualified applicants?

    Many posters on this site are like Oilers management: they don’t learn from their (numerous) past mistakes.

  • Slapshot

    The Eakin’s hiring set this team back at least two years and it may still end up costing us Yakopov. I just hope Nelson can turn this team and Yakopov around,early indications are all good.Nicholson should be skyping Mactavish at the end of the season and tell him he is fired, just based on the Eakins fiasco.

  • Slapshot

    Don’t hang me for being positive, but this team bears some real resemblances to the New York Islanders of last year and the year before…. I would take Hall and Ebs as soon as Tavares and Okposo.. I think this thing is about halfway to something very different than what we have had….They did some D upgrades and things changed IMO….

  • pkam

    What? Nelson’s record is 3-1-2? I was at the Wings game which was a loss so it means I watch the only regulation loss under Nelson? Looks like my luck is worse than Eakins.

    Despite the loss, I saw some positive things in that game. Both Eberle and J. Schultz did one timer in that game. Eberle’s one timer scored the game tying goal with about 4 minutes left. And Schultz one time from near the blue line, never before.

    I really don’t know how Nelson can make Eberle and Schultz to one time the puck. I guess donuts plays an important role.

  • camdog

    Successful leaders often have the type of experiences others can learn from. Near the end of his tenure, here are a few from the President and CEO of Hockey Canada, Bob Nicholson:

    “Our last Olympics was a perfect example with people like Steve Yzerman and Mike Babcock, every staff person was involved in so many areas that’s how you put a great group together and that’s how you have fun and also win.”

    http://olympic.ca/2014/04/10/5-lessons-from-bob-nicholsons-16-years-leading-hockey-canada/

  • llong33

    Coach Nelson has been playing some “Notorious Big – Sky’s the limit” to the team before they play. As opposed to Eakins playing some… weird forest sounds and birds chirping, and repeating “chop wood, carry water.”

  • srelio

    I agree with you guys, another rookie coach is the last thing we need. With that being said have you seen the oilers play lately, i might be mistaken but last game i think i saw someone go to the net! About that higher shooting percentage, its almost as if actually going to the net results in more goals. I dont want to say anything too soon but if we continue to play better under nelson then please dont wreck it kruger style. If there is one thing ive learned over the last nine years it that the oilers can always can always get worse, if rock bottom actually exists we are still nowhere near it, so when something comes along that actually improves the oilers dont look at it funny, dont touch it, and for the love of god please dont jinx it.
    on an unrelated note i think shultz might win the norris this year

  • srelio

    If Nelson can get this group going till the end of the year, I would give him back the reins next year.

    Anyway, if this continues, I am going to buy a Carolina and Buffalo jersey, because I am cheering for them more then the Oilers.

    Can we not get better and get Mcdavid?

  • Anton CP

    Eakins maybe a good coach for a veteran team, but not for the Oilers. Being a rookie coach was not the reason why Eakins failed on the Oilers, both Cooper and Roy were also rookie coaches that ended the season of being the finalists of Jack Adams with Roy winning it. Being a rookie coach is not an issue, it has more to do about the coaching styles.

    If no one can identify after the first game of LAST season that Eakins clearly has no clue about how to handle the team, then you are not watching it close enough. Oilers had 2 goals lead at one point then all of sudden that players are lost on ice and Jets score 3 straight to beat the Oilers in the end. After Oilers led by 2 goals that Oilers were on PP 3 times that cannot get anything done. Hall gave away a really bad pass and led to Trouba score a blueline slapshot. For a coach that was preaching about defense that gave up 3 goals after led by 2 is not a good indication that he knew how to set up a proper defense.

    I will say this again, Eakins was trying too hard to sell his brand of hockey without any proven track record. How can he make anyone buy into his scheme? When he came to Edmonton that he took down all the past glories of photos meant one thing: now it is era of Eakins (but I have nothing to show for yet).

  • Hey guys don’t forget… Chop Wood Carry Water… Nothig like hearing that and getting pumped up… I feel a coach creates an environment where players either like and want to be at the rink or feel like they have to be at the rink as it’s there job and there is a major difference… I seldom saw Eakins pat guys on the back and his regime from the outside appeared to be a military strategy room… Taking donuts away from the media, who cares, what benefit will that give to the current group. I feel the oilers are being more successful now as they are more relaxed, confident and enjoy playing… From my past experience major major difference as you actually want to go to the wall for your coach and team. Eakins came in blowing hot air but had no substance to deliver. A perfect example of damage is nail yakupov, how does a kid with tremendous offensive ability look so lost In the offensive zone, 0 confidence and it’s the coaches job to establish that.

  • Anton CP

    ok JW… dont you think this article is a bit of a reach? I mean you are comparing 1 & 1/2 years to a couple of month’s sample size. it doesnt make sense. you’re throwing all sorts of stats out there , which are interesting I will admit, but it doesnt jive my friend. Show me the stat for “willingness to play for your coach”. better yet Show me the stat for “higher compete level”. you can’t, can you? basing everything on stats is idiocy. they’re humans not robots. I get a real kick out of guys who base all arguements on numbers. STATS DO NOT TELL THE WHOLE STORY.

    • Anton CP

      He is also missing games coached within that number.

      Eakins: 31 games (1.48 GPG, 22.7 SPG)

      Intern Nelson/MacT: 5 games (1.8 GPG, 21.2 SPG)

      Nelson: 6 games (2 GPG, 15.8 SPG)

      And if you paying attention about how many of those goals were scored by getting in front of goalies which means that they are start to shoot with efficiency instead of just randomly fire it at goal. Most importantly is that Oilers are able to have lots of odd-man chance rush (including the 2 on 0 ended up with zero shot) which cut down the shot attempts.

    • Jayz

      I get your point but I have two beefs with it.

      1.) In hockey there is a statistic called goals. It is a statistic. It is also the most important thing.

      2.) Stats are indicators of everything else. Teams that get more goals tend to be good. Maybe compete level is getting them there, maybe raw skill – it doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t result in goals nobody should care, because in hockey you win by scoring goals, and if something doesn’t help you win it doesn’t matter.

      You may not like JW throwing stats around, but they are indicators of things like effort. They are the difference between a guy who is trying hard but doesn’t belong in the NHL and a legitimate NHLer who is putting in a ton of effort. Both guys are battlers, but only one will help your team get goals. If you just go by effort and compete level they may look the same, but the stats help tell you which one is which. Stats matter, and every good intangible thing that is actually helpful to a hockey team (“grit”, or whatever) had better eventually turn itself into a stat: goals.

      • Anton CP

        Well said Dave, but another stat is goals against. Effort and compete probably indicate better towards defence. Of course without goaltending it all goes out the window. Anyway, the effort/compete has improved in my opinion and that makes it at least watchable.

  • The reason 12.6% SH is not sustainable, despite coaching, quality of shot and net traffic, is that it necessitates the opposite goalie to have SV% of 87.6%. In other words, they need to face a team (goalie) as bad as the “Oilers under Eakins” every game the rest of the way and that ain’t happening.

    Then again, that 12.6% thing is skewed by the recent 5:2 against Chicago where they only taken 20 or so shots. If you take this out or wait a few more games for it to even out you get a more accurate assessment.

    Such is the danger of small sample size.

  • Anton CP

    Simple fact remains Eakins could not make a successful system for this team. That has yet to be seen for Nelson. Eakins received two training camps to do so Nelson received the team in shambles. The players hail nelsons practices and every former player of Eakins comments on the slow pace of his. These coaches are so different in philosophy you can’t draw conclusions between the two. Where as Krueger showed some success and his philosophy is much closer to nelsons in the way he is friendly and nurturing to his players. We seen a team ice by Krueger with out a training camp with signs of life. At the end of kreugers tenor everyone thought he needed a veteran assistant with him behind the bench and I wouldn’t be surprised or upset if that’s the route Mact takes this time.