Are the Edmonton Oilers actually good?

I have been a serious hockey fan for three years now. Before that, I was a casual fan, who watched my beloved Florida Panthers be a very bad hockey team for a very long period of time. The earliest season I ever remember intently watching is the 2007-2008 season, when the Detroit Red Wings bested the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Stanley Cup.

Over that entire time span, the Edmonton Oilers have been a bad hockey team. There’s no way around it; after a glorious run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, the Oilers have been the worst team in the NHL, by a laughable margin.

Looking at raw standings points, and prorating the lockout season to 82 games, the Oilers have averaged only 71.8 points per season. The next closest team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, averaged 81.2 points over that same time-span. The almost ten point gap between 29th and 30th is greater than the gap between the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins, and the 11th place St. Louis Blues.

The NHL has LITERALLY designed its entry draft in such a way that the worst teams get a chance to load up on excellent, young talent. The Edmonton Oilers have somehow managed to take that talent, and completely squander it. The list of terrible management decisions goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on. The amount of digital ink spilled over the ineptitude of the Edmonton Oilers would be enough to fill an actual swimming pool.

Then, over the offseason, they actually traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson in a one-for-one deal. Straight up, just Hall for Larsson. Over the past three seasons, Hall ranks 18th in the league in points per game. His total wins above replacement over those three years stands at 6.62. In that same time span, Adam Larsson has a WAR rating of -1.96. When I first read about the trade, I remember having to read the announcement five or six times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything; my brain literally couldn’t comprehend that the return for Taylor Hall was only Adam Larsson, and not Larsson plus a couple of first round picks as well as a high-end prospect.

Then they traded Nail Yakupov for a third round pick, another pitiful return for a potentially gifted forward, and actually signed Kris Russell with the intent of playing him on their NHL roster. The Oilers just continued to make bad moves, bad trades, and given their history, the 2016-2017 season looked like a gigantic¬†“#HereComeTheOilers” punchline just waiting to happen (“Taylor Hall scoring a goal in the final minute of Game 82 to eliminate the Oilers from playoff contention” gigantic).

So you can imagine the surprise that was elicited from Hockey Twitter when the Oilers were recently given 10/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, the second highest odds in the entire league (tied with the Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Montreal Canadiens). For people that hadn’t exactly been following the league too closely (*guilty raises hand*), the Bovoda announcement prompted a quick Google search to check the Oilers record this season, and then instant disbelief.

Sure, they got off to a hot start, going 7-2-1 in their first 10 games, and yeah, they have Connor McDavid, who’s probably the best player in the league at the age of 19, but… they’re the Oilers! There’s literally no way that they could be good, right? I mean, this is one of those constants in life, at least for a hockey fan. Death, taxes, and laughing at the Edmonton Oilers as management’s feeble attempt at a hockey team plummets to the bottom of the league standings, right?

Normally, I wouldn’t even consider the possibility of having an idea that someone could have a notion that there was a chance that the Oilers could be good, but I witnessed the Chicago Cubs win Game 7 of the 2016 World Series after blowing a three run lead in the 8th inning last night. Anything is possible, friends.

So, let’s take an in-depth look at the Edmonton Oilers, and see if they’re actually a good team this season. This process is going to be weird, and foreign, and I will say nice things about the Edmonton Oilers and the way they are playing right now. Bear with me.

EVEN STRENGTH PLAY

At 5v5, here’s how the Oilers fare in shot attempts, unblocked shot attempts, scoring chances, and goals. I’ve included their shooting percentage, save percentage, and PDO stats as well. League wide ranks are in parentheses.

Team CF% FF% SCF% HDSCF% GF% SH% SV% PDO
Edmonton Oilers 50.0% (14) 50.6% (12) 51.4% (10) 53.4% (8) 56.4% (7) 7.7% (16) 93.5% (7) 101.1 (8)

The Edmonton Oilers are a break-even Corsi team, that gets a favorable share of scoring chances (particularly high-danger scoring chances). Whether or not the scoring chances continue to end up in Edmonton’s favor, they’re still break-even in shot attempts. Given Cam Talbot’s career 92.8% save percentage, and the mere presence of Connor McDavid, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Oilers maintain a 101.0 PDO at 5v5 for the rest of the season. If you get break even shot attempt numbers, with a PDO of 101.0, you’re going to out-score your opposition at 5v5. It may not be to a drastic degree, but it’s still going to happen.

At 5v5, the Edmonton Oilers will likely finish the season over 50% GF%. That’s a good total. At 5v5, the Edmonton Oilers are a good hockey team. (THAT SENTENCE JUST FEELS SO WRONG)

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Edmonton Oilers currently have a penalty differential of 0. They’ve taken 40 penalties, and drawn 40 penalties. This is neither good, nor bad; it is simply average.

Their power play has converted on 4 of 29 chances, a conversion rate below 15%. For a team with Connor McDavid, this is a really bad number. The shot attempt metrics don’t paint a better picture of the power play, and Edmonton’s unit ranks 24th in the league in FF60. Again; they have Connor McDavid on the roster. I have no idea how their power play is that bad.

The penalty kill has been good from a goals standpoint, killing off 90% of opposing power plays (27 for 30). Most of that, however, has been driven by a 95.1% save percentage. Median save percentage on the penalty kill last year was around 86%, so be prepared for some regression. Considering that the Oilers are 29th in FA60 on the penalty kill, the save percentage regression might hit extra hard.

So, on special teams, the Edmonton Oilers are not a good team. They don’t have a positive penalty differential to make up for the poor power play and penalty kill units, and though those two units could improve over the course of the season, they haven’t been good to start the season and that’s all we have to evaluate them on.

OVERALL

Most of the game is played at 5v5 nowadays, so I feel pretty safe in saying that the Oilers are – at the very least – a team capable of breaking even in terms of goal differential. A little bit of improvement to their special teams, and they could actually be one of the top ten teams in the league.

SOME THOUGHTS

To say that the Oilers “could actually be one of the top ten teams in the league” just seems wrong, and angers me greatly, mainly because Peter Chiarelli has not done a good job of managing the Oilers ever since he’s taken over. Here’s a total breakdown of all of Chiarelli’s trades.

ADDED LOST
Griffin Reinhart

Cam Talbot

Eric Gryba

Lauri Korpikoski

Zack Kassian

Niklas Lundstrom

Pat Maroon

Adam Larsson

Zach Pochiro

Conditional 3rd round pick

Two 3rd round picks

Two 5th round picks

Martin Marincin

Brad Ross

Travis Ewanyk

Boyd Gordon

Liam Coughlin

Ben Scrivens

Philip Larsen

Justin Schultz

Teddy Purcell

Martin Gernat

Taylor Hall

Nail Yakupov

1st round pick

Two 2nd round picks

3rd round pick

Two 4th round picks

7th round pick

On the left side, you have a handful of solid NHL acquisitions. There’s Cam Talbot, Adam Larsson, and Pat Maroon; all three are capable NHL players, but none are remotely close to being all stars. The Oilers also managed to add three third round picks, and two fifth round picks. The rest is essentially noise.

On the right side, there’s a lot of NHL-caliber talent. Taylor Hall is a bona-fide elite player, while Nail Yakupov is at least a capable third line scorer, with potential to be more. Teddy Purcell is also a decent depth option, as is Martin Marincin and Justin Schultz. Incredibly, the Oilers gave up a first round pick, two second round picks, a third round pick, two fourth round picks, and a seventh round pick over the course of Chiarelli’s trades.

There’s a strong case to be made that the group of players on the right is better than the group of players on the left, and the draft picks on the right are definitely more valuable than the draft picks on the left. The Oilers have gotten fleeced in trades ever since Chiarelli took over, which isn’t surprising given how his tenure in Boston ended.

SOME MORE THOUGHTS

Despite the poor trading history, Chiarelli actually hasn’t doled out terrible contract to free agents, unlike his predecessors. The Milan Lucic signing may be a bit overboard on term, but Lucic is a good player and has fit in well so far. The Kris Russell signing is only for one year, so it’s not absolutely atrocious; he is, at the very least, a 6th defenseman at the NHL level, and is better than some of the other options the Oilers have (like Griffin Reinhart). Adding Drake Caggiula could pay off in the future, and Chiarelli hasn’t signed any completely ineffective skaters to long-term contracts like other GMs have in the past (*cough* Dave Bolland *cough*).

EVEN MORE THOUGHTS

Chiarelli has been “good-not-great” in free agency, and terrible in trades. The Oilers were not a good team before he took over, and finished 29th in the league last year. How can Edmonton possibly be a good team this year?

I gots a couples of reasons for yous.

  1. Cam Talbot posted a 91.7% save percentage last year, which is around league average, but below¬†his career average of 92.5%. If he reaches 92.0%, and plays 60+ games this season, that will be a noticeable boost to Edmonton’s goals against totals.
  2. Connor McDavid is probably the best player in the league right now. With him on the ice, the Oiler’s are getting 52.4% of the shot attempts, 58.1% of the scoring chances, and 60.0% of the high-danger scoring chances. That’s resulted in them posting a 72.6% GF% with him on the ice. They’re below 50 percent with him off, a trend that probably won’t change going forward.
  3. Adding Lucic, Larsson, Russell, and Jesse Puljujarvi as well as the development of Oscar Klefbom, Brandon Davidson, Darnell Nurse, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and Leon Draisaitl has improved the Oilers considerably. It’s shocking how easy it is to actually field a good team when it’s loaded with high draft picks, and it makes the Oilers performance over the past decade all the more laughable; a GM could literally come in, and not be the worst GM in the league, and it should have resulted in a winning team.

The funny thing is, Chiarelli lucked into most of the reasons his team is good this season. Sure, picking up Cam Talbot was a shrewd move, as was signing Lucic, but other than that, everything else has basically been gifted to him. Picking up Adam Larsson was easy given that the trade bait was Taylor Freakin Hall, and the development of all of Edmonton’s young guns has had nothing to do with Chiarelli; those players likely would have gotten good anyway.

FINAL THOUGHTS (I PROMISE)

The Oilers should not be Cup favorites. There are plenty of holes in the roster, and they still don’t quite have the talent to match other teams in the league (Andrej Sekera as your top defenseman? Good luck against San Jose, or St. Louis, or Chicago, or Dallas, or…).

They should make the playoffs this year, though, and could finish the year as one of the top-ten teams in the league. The Oilers might actually be good this year.

I guess that’s fitting considering how the rest of 2016 has gone.

(all stats are 5v5 score and venue adjusted unless mentioned otherwise. Taken from naturalstattrick.com and corsica.hockey.)

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