85 Below Zero

Frozen Phil

The Edmonton Oilers have a pretty massive obstacle to overcome on their road back to respectability: an 85-goal hole separating them from break-even. What was the breakdown of that deficit last year, and where does the team have the most room for improvement?

  • Even Strength: +138/-208 (-70)
  • Power Play: +41/-7 (+34)
  • Penalty Kill: +4/-50 (-46)
  • Empty Net: +8/-10 (-2)
  • Shootout: +5/-7 (-2)
  • Penalty Shots: +2/-1 (+1)
  • Total: +198/-283 (-85 total)

The biggest gap is obviously at even-strength, where more than 80 percent of the Oilers’ deficit was created, but there was also a minus-15 deficit generated between other situations too, with the majority of it coming thanks to a moribund power play (the Oilers were one of the least-penalized teams in the NHL, which made up for the vast majority of their issues while shorthanded).

Todd McLellan

If we make the assumption that Todd McLellan’s famous power play can bump the Oilers up to at least even at special teams (San Jose had the second-best power play in the league during McLellan’s tenure, so this seems reasonable) what needs to happen at five-on-five?

Even Strength

Defensive mess

For the purposes of this assessment, I’m going to look at five-on-five only, where the Oilers were minus-66 on the 2014-15 season. Here’s how the issues break down there:

  • Shooting percentage: 7.1 percent. The league median was 7.7 percent, which on the Oilers’ 1,844 shots would have bumped the team up from 131 goals to 142 goals (11 goals below break-even here, or 16.6% of the problem).
  • Save percentage: 0.902. The league median was 0.923, which on the Oilers’ 2,007 shots against would have bumped the team down from 197 goals against to 155 goals against (42 goals below break-even here, or 63.6% of the problem).
  • Shot differential: Edmonton actually did reasonably well in this regard. Assuming median shooting and save percentage numbers, the Oilers would have been out-scored 142-155 (13 goals below break-even here, or 19.7% of the problem).

(Numbers via war-on-ice.com)

No surprise what the major trouble here is. The Oilers were not a good team in terms of shot differential and they weren’t a good team in terms of burying the shots they did get, but those two items combined for just one-third of the difference between Edmonton and an average NHL team. The real issues were in the defensive zone, where a low save percentage was responsible for fully two-thirds of the team’s problems.

Much of the blame must fall on the defence. According to war-on-ice.com, Edmonton finished 28th of the NHL’s 30 teams in terms of allowing high-danger scoring chances against.


It’s worth noting however that the two teams behind the Oilers on that list (Buffalo and Toronto) both finished much closer to the NHL’s median save percentage line than Edmonton did; the Sabres 0.923 save percentage at five-on-five was average and Toronto’s 0.918 was just below it. Both were miles ahead of the Oilers’ ugly 0.902. So goaltenders Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth must shoulder a significant share of the blame, too.

On Saturday we looked at the Oilers’ defence, and on the basis of personnel it’s hard to be optimistic that it will be much better; the hopes of the team are basically that Oscar Klefbom will be vastly improved or that Griffin Reinhart/Darnell Nurse can step into the top-four and move the dial immediately.


The other point where people will be optimistic is coaching, but then this isn’t the first time that fans have been optimistic that coaching would fix things. Ralph Krueger’s 2012-13 tenure gets a lot of fond recollection these days, but his Oilers finished dead last in the NHL in terms of high quality scoring chances against, and Tom Renney’s 2011-12 team was scarcely better at 28th overall, pretty much in-line with the team’s results over two years under Dallas Eakins. Todd McLellan’s Sharks were also below the NHL average in this category last year, so it’s probably prudent to be cautious in predicting improvement here.

Cam Talbot

The team’s best hope is Cam Talbot, the 28-year-old veteran of 57 NHL games. Fellow blogger Darcy McLeod has been bullish on Talbot’s level of ability and not without reason, but until Talbot can demonstrate his competence over a longer term there’s risk involved here, just as there was with Ben Scrivens a year ago (Scrivens, incidentally, can help too with a rebound campaign).


  • Natejax30

    Go get Jones from Nashville already. Get it done and the defence will be set for years to come. Nurse/Jones with klefbom/sekera.

    So what if we need to give up a skilled prospect like draisaitl. We are strong enough down the middle and no way can we expect to keep all of these kids after their entry level is done. Great teams set their d up with 2 studs (Keith/Seabrook) for example.

    Watching the oil, its easy to see that getting the puck out of our end is the biggest issue by a landslide. Use our strength, shore up the d.

    It is unacceptable to not try to get to the post season.

      • Zarny

        Draisaitl isn’t too risky to trade for Seth Jones.

        The Oilers have 5 forwards that were top 3 picks + Eberle. They have zero defenseman who were top 3 picks + Nurse. That’s a 6:1 ratio.

        Moving 1 of their forwards for an equivalent D would be a smart move; even if it was Draisaitl.

        • hagar

          They aren’t trading him straight across. If that’s what y’all meant, then yeah that makes sense. I don’t think Leon should be used as a sweetener for any deals though.

    • fran huckzky

      You are dreaming if you think you can get Jones straight up for Drai. It’s fine to say go get somebody but you need to be a lot more realistic about the price. I would love to get a new Grand Cherokee for my old mini van but I got to find a dealer to do the trade.

  • Zarny

    Please land another premier defenceman ( Jones would fit perfect)
    and put Shultz up on wing. He’s got plenty of speed, less defensive
    responsibility, great hands and can score.

  • hagar

    Am I excited about the coming season? Oh yeah. Have I been burned before? Oh yeah. So am I striving mightily to temper my expectations and thinking more like 2/3 years down the road/ Oh yeah.

  • hagar

    Willis: In our last 8 years we have had an endless supply of 55.00+ CA/60 Dmen.

    52.00 is good!

    We got 38 gm of 51.78 CA/60 from Tarnstrom in 07-08.

    Fayne 1st comp 41.52 in NJ.

    Sekera 1st Comp 51.78

    Nkitin 1st comp 54.6; 2nd comp 50.95

    Gryba 2nd comp 51.22

    Klefbom 2nd comp 54.40; 46.27 with Petry.

    Nurse 3rd comp 2 nhl Game 45.38

    Reinhardt in 3 gm with a NHL Dman 44.03

    Schultz 3rd comp 63.95 1st 2 seasons; 56.55 last year.

    Ference 2nd comp 62.16 done like dinner

    We want sub 52.00 for all our D to be competitive.

    You can also establish a Ca/60 curve for goaltenders to get an expected EVGA/60 for any given Ca/60.

    Talbot’s curve is a .50 EVGA/60 better at any given CA/60 point than Scrivens.

    Nilsson is .40 EVGA/60 better at any given Ca/60.

    We are going to 2 goalies who are on average .45 EVGA/60 better on their curves than Scrivens/Fasth.

    We have added A sub 52.00 1st comp D. Sekera

    We have added a sub 52.00 2nd comp D. Gryba

    We should be able to play Nikitin in his more suited sub 52.00 2nd comp role.

    Fayne will be partnered with a sub 52.00 1st comp partner were he generates sub 46.50

    Klefbom has shown shown a clear sub 52.00 2nd comp ability with valid nhl dmen.

    Ference needs to PB.

    Schultz showed a marked improvement under Nelson. This is the show me year for CA/60.

    Saying this is the same D is silly!




    Reinheart – Nurse


    This is not a 55.00+ ca/60 d group, other than d men 6 and 9.

  • hagar


    Phanuef 1st comp last 3 yr 67.89 1 of worst def d in league.

    Franson 2nd/3rd comp 60.52

    Chara 1st comp 48.61

    D. Hamilton 1st comp 49.21

    Boychuck 2nd comp 51.52

    Doughty 1st comp 45.24

    Muzzin 1st Comp 42.19

    M. greene 3rd comp 48.86

    Hjarlmasson 1st Comp 47.47

    Oduya 1st comp 48.47

    Keith 2nd comp 50.39

    Ekblad 2nd comp 47.55

    B. campbell 2nd comp 47.22

    A. Larsson 1st/2nd comp 45.25

    Deykeyser 1st comp 47.26

    Mcdonagh 55.83 Lundquist and Talbot have elite ca/60 curves.

    Gives you an Idea of Elite Dmen Ca/60.

  • hagar

    I was too busy to reply sooner, this may not be seen by many, heh…but I think the Oilers had two very different looks in this season under the different coaches. Under Eakins shots against were kept extremely low, while Nelson had more shots against. Eakins neutered the offense for the sake of a very safe style, and Nelson let the offense blossom, with Nuge and Ebs being top NHL scorers since the All-Star break.

    I’m missing shootout and penalty shots data here because I’m a newb at this 😛

    Eakins portion (31 games):
    Even Strength: +46/-71 (-25)
    Power Play: +12/-5 (+7)
    Penalty Kill: +2/-18 (-16)
    Empty Net: 0/-5 (-5)
    Partial Total: +60/-99 (-39)

    MacT portion (5 games):
    Even Strength: +9/-17 (-8)
    Power Play: +1/0 (+1)
    Penalty Kill: 0/-2 (-2)
    Empty Net: +1/0 (+1)
    Partial Total: +11/-19 (-8)

    Nelson portion (46 games):
    Even Strength: +76/-109 (-33)
    Power Play: +27/-2 (+25)
    Penalty Kill: +2/-30 (-28)
    Empty Net: +4/-5 (-1)
    Partial Total: +109/-146 (-37)

    Uh oh, I’m missing one game here somehow…well take these sloppily put together numbers for what they are, despite missing one game you still see some trends…

    There was ‘ugly’ to be found under various circumstances under the different coaches. There is a clear contrast in numbers when it comes to PPs, and pulling goalies (a futile effort under Eakins, and a reasonable 50/50 chance under Nelson). The PK got worse under Nelson.

    It shows how much of an effect a coach could have on a team that would be largely the same roster in both situations. Things like shooting percentage went up under Nelson a full point, and I don’t think that’s due to people getting hotter, they were in better positions to score.

    I don’t think this affects Willis’ analysis too much, but it does demonstrate that the same roster (for the most part) can radically change their fortunes under different coaches, which gives me hope for a season with some experienced coaches.