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With Oilers forward Connor Brown scratched tonight, could Evander Kane be next?

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Photo credit:James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Sunil Agnihotri
6 months ago
With the news that Edmonton Oilers forward Connor Brown is scheduled to be a healthy scratch for Thursday’s game against New Jersey, one has to wonder how the Oilers got into this situation and if there might be other players who could also see the press box.
Removing Brown from the lineup makes sense as he’s only had one point in his 23 games this season, and he’s posted a -9 on-ice goal differential at even-strength (5v5) – a goal-share of only 20.0 percent (3 goals for, 12 goals against). And this is while playing 60 percent of his total even-strength minutes with either Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid, so there have been plenty of opportunities. The Oilers could see their results improve with Brown in the press box, as they typically see the most significant drop in their shot-share numbers when Brown is on the ice. And they tend to do better at out-shooting and out-chancing opponents without him.
Looking at his even-strength shot-share numbers this season relative to his team, Brown is well below where we would expect someone who has played regularly in the top six. The table below lists all Oilers forwards who have played at least ten games this season, sorted by their ice time at 5v5. I’ve applied a simple heat map to each category to show how each player compares to their teammates. You can also find a short glossary for each metric at the end of the article.
Without Brown on the ice this season, the Oilers have posted a Corsi For percentage of 58 percent and an Expected Goals For percentage of 62.65 percent – indicating that the club is dominating when it comes to the flow of play and out-chancing opponents. Whenever Brown has been deployed this season, these numbers drop significantly, with the team’s Corsi For percentage dropping by 6.72 percent and the Expected Goal share dropping by 12.43 percent. So not only are his results (i.e., goal-share) some of the worst on the team, but his performance numbers that influence those results have also been in the tank. And this likely played a big role in the coach’s decision to scratch the player.
The table above also highlights the negative impact that Evander Kane has had on the team this season, making me wonder if he’s also at risk of being scratched.
Like Brown, Kane has also had plenty of time in the top six, playing the third-highest number of minutes and getting to play alongside McDavid or Draisaitl (or both) for 66 percent of his total ice time. And while he has put up 13 even-strength points in 29 games this season, Kane also has an on-ice goal differential of -8 (15 goals for, 23 goals against) – which translates to an on-ice goal-share of only 39.47 percent. That’s one of the lowest on the team, and one of the worst among top six forwards league-wide.
When it comes to the underlying shot-share or performance numbers, the Oilers do a much better job controlling the flow of play and out-chancing opponents when Kane hasn’t been on the ice this season. Again, very similar to Brown, the Oilers see a drop of 6.04 Corsi For percentage points and 9.71 Expected Goals For percentage points with Kane deployed. Like Brown, removing Kane from the roster might improve their odds of outscoring opponents and winning games. And that’s a major issue considering the expectations for him and the Oilers this season.
Kane is someone whose on-ice even-strength numbers have gradually been declining year-over-year, so it isn’t shocking to see his performance deteriorate and him post poor on-ice results this season. The problem for Edmonton is that Ken Holland and his management team didn’t do enough to mitigate the risks associated with signing a physical forward who would surpass 30 years of age during his contract term and another forward in Brown who is nearing 30 and coming off of major knee surgery. The Oilers have now committed a lot of their current and future cap to forwards who are being a drag and actually hurting their chances of clinching a playoff spot. And because of the laundry list of poor decisions made by Holland since 2019, the club isn’t deep enough or has an influx of young talent that could take on those important top-six minutes. So, as frustrating as it is to see key players like Brown and Kane struggle this season, the blame has to fall on management for doing a poor job constructing the roster.
Data: Natural Stat Trick
  Glossary:
  • Corsi for percentage (CF%) – The proportion of all the shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., corsi for/(corsi for + corsi against). This is used as a proxy for possession and is the best at predicting a team’s future share of goals (GF%). (Source: Hockey Great Tapes – Draglikepull)
  • Fenwick for percentage (FF%) – The proportion of all the unblocked shot attempts the team generated and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Fenwick for/(Fenwick for + Fenwick against). This is used as a proxy for shot quality and considers shot blocking a repeatable skill.
  • Expected goals for percentage (xGF%) – This is a weighting placed on every unblocked shot based on the probability of the shot becoming a goal. This depends on the type of shot, location and uses historical shot and goals data to come up with the probability for each unblocked shot.
  • Goals for percentage (GF%) – The proportion of all the goals that the team scored and allowed that the team generated (i.e., Goals for/(Goals for + goals against).
  • Shooting percentage (SH%) – The percentage of the team’steam’s shots on goal that became goals (i.e., total goals divided by the total shots on goal).
  • Save percentage (SV%) – The percentage of the team’s shots on goal against that were saved (i.e., 1-(totals goals allowed divided by the total shots on goal against)).

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