Just how good are the Edmonton Oilers?

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 1:16 am by Jonathan Willis

It’s a Friday in December and the Edmonton Oilers are not
only in playoff position, but they’re there on merit. The really scary thing?
If the underlying numbers are to be believed, the rest of the season may go
even better.

53.5% Score-Adjusted


As of today, the Oilers’ score-adjusted Fenwick rating is
. Analytics-inclined readers don’t need a lot of explanation as to the
meaning of that number, while those on the opposite end of the spectrum aredoubtless
suppressing a comment about spreadsheet hockey in this very moment. For anyone
in-between those two extremes, though, this deserves a bit of time.

First, the metric itself. Score-adjusted Fenwick, to my way
of thinking, is the Cadillac of shot metrics. Fenwick is a giant plus/minus of
all shots and missed shots—it’s like Corsi, but doesn’t penalize teams for
blocking shots. The negative of that is the sample size is a little smaller. The
positive is that it tends to have a closer relationship to goals and scoring

It’s a leading indicator. Goals and even scoring chances bounce
around a lot, but given time tend to converge at Fenwick.

Adjusting that number for score gives a clearer picture. Teams
that fall behind early in games can look better by the shot metrics than they
actually are, because trailing teams tend to be more aggressive. Likewise,
teams that take a lead early tend to be more conservative. This, incidentally,
is where most of the ‘they keep losing when they out-shoot the other team!’
noise comes from – go down 2-0 early and you’ll probably out-shoot the other
team, but you’ll also probably still lose.

What’s important, though, is that 53.5 number. It’s fifth in
the NHL right now, on-par with what San Jose and Pittsburgh managed
last year
. It’s also basically equivalent with what Chicago and Tampa Bay did
in 2014-15
. In other words, the Oilers are controlling play at five-on-five.

This is the first time that’s happened in the analytics era.
Here’s what the team looks like year-by-year (I’ve included the head coach in brackets):

  • 2007-08 (MacTavish): 46.2%
  • 2008-09 (MacTavish): 46.8%
  • 2009-10 (Quinn): 44.8%
  • 2010-11 (Renney): 44.6%
  • 2011-12 (Renney): 47.3%
  • 2012-13 (Krueger): 44.9%
  • 2013-14 (Eakins): 43.6%
  • 2014-15 (Eakins/Nelson): 47.0%
  • 2015-16 (McLellan): 47.7%

Edmonton’s been a bad team for a long time, and it shows
here. The increase this season is stunning, so stunning that I’m not sure it
can last. Even if it doesn’t, the Oilers are primed for their best possession
season in forever.

What about goals?

Oilers fans

Edmonton is not just out-shooting, but it’s also out-scoring
its opponents. The Oilers have scored 53.1
percent of the goals
at 5-on-5 this season, a number almost exactly in-line
with their Fenwick rating.

Again, this compares reasonably well to good teams.
Pittsburgh scored 55% of all 5-on-5 goals in its games last year, while San
Jose managed 53%. Going back a year further, Chicago was at 54% and Tampa Bay
at 57%.

Put in more common terms, the Oilers today have a plus-10
goal differential, the fifth-best total in the league. If it continues—and based
on how they’re scoring their goals, it will—they should finish around the
plus-33 mark on the year, again basically on par with the Pens and Sharks a
year ago.

Keep doing that and the wins will come.

The standings don’t perfectly reflect goal differential
(there’s a lot of noise in NHL standings, with much of it due to the league’s overtime/shootout
policy) but they generally come close. Over the last 10 seasons, just eight
teams have missed the playoffs while posting a goal differential of +10 or
better; only one has missed the playoffs with a goal differential better than
+20 (Colorado, +21, 2006-07).

If Edmonton keeps scoring 53 percent of the goals and taking
53 percent of the shots, we won’t find ourselves wondering whether or not they’re
a playoff team. Instead, we’ll be wondering just how far in the postseason they
can go.