30 Thoughts: Analytics say Oilers luck should turn

Have Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins been lucky this season?


I don’t know what it means, but I do know it’s all about luck. It’s easy to calculate: just add save percentage to shooting percentage and presto! you’ve got a number. For example, the Penguins have a .922 save percentage, and a .111 shooting percentage.

Combined total: 1.033. That’s the highest in the NHL.

(Before we get back to the math lesson can everyone on both sides of the analytics debate ask Santa Claus to give them a sense of humour for Christmas? Glenn Healy calls them “analidiots” and the next morning, some nutbar is e-mailing to compare us to people who still argue in favour of creationism. Everyone should learn to laugh a little.)

Anyway, the theory behind PDO is the more you go above 1.000, the luckier you are. The lower you go, the unluckier you are. The critical part is this: eventually, your luck is supposed to even out.

Unless it doesn’t.

Last year I asked a few NHL executives about this stat. Do you consider it? What does it mean? How does it affect your evaluations? That kind of stuff. A couple of them said it helps you identify who might in line for a bounce-back year (or a dropoff), but the tricky part is whether or not you can use it to identify team-wide, in-season trends.

“The thing I hate most about that stat,” one assistant GM said, “is how the (bleep) am I supposed to guess when a player’s luck is supposed to change? Do I just guess? If I trade him when he’s lucky and he continues to stay lucky, are you going to tell your fans, ‘Well, the law of averages said he wasn’t supposed to continue like this.’”

You know who is dead last in this category right now? Edmonton. The Oilers’ total is .961, 11 points below Columbus. The last team to finish that low for a full season? Atlanta, who posted a .957 back in 1999-2000.

Someone in the Edmonton organization did something awful to a black cat.

Now, here’s the biggest question: Is there any way on earth the Oilers can sell that?

Edmonton’s taken a deep dive into the analytic wading pool this season, and, when things were rough early in the year, the organization’s mood was positive, because the underlying numbers weren’t bad. And the PDO was low — very unlucky.

Now, as the losing streak reaches 10 games, it’s only getting worse. Never mind the stats, emotionally Monday night was as rough as it gets. Oiler castoff Tobias Rieder scored twice on the same penalty kill. Oilers captain Andrew Ference referred to some players “moping around” as a “joke.”

There were mistakes on the ice and empty seats in the crowd.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, these are the most dangerous times for a franchise. This is when your worst mistakes are made. Edmonton fans will hate to hear this, but what’s the point in a short-term move that pushes you to 25th?

It’s best to just ride it out, see who plays like they care, what pick you get and make your long-term decisions then — when more teams are in position to make moves.


1. I wrote last week that I thought it could be a matter of days before David Perron was traded from Edmonton. There’s no point in splitting hairs over how many “days” that gives me to be correct, as I clearly was premature.

That’s not to say the Oilers aren’t trying but there are a few things I learned in the aftermath of the original story. First, it is going to be very hard to trade any winger for a top-flight centre, unless that winger is an absolute game-breaking stud. Second, Perron’s been available longer than I realized. He certainly has value, but it’s going to be hard for the Oilers to get what they need with him as the centerpiece of a deal.

2. Are the Flyers trying to get creative with potential moves? Whatever they would like to do, there are a limited amount of players other teams like. What Philly has done in the past is say, “Okay, if you want that guy, you also have to take this contract we’d like to shed.”

This theory is very sensible on paper — and certainly worth a try — but, at a time when cap dollars are tight and there are questions about the future, it is tough to do. Some of those contracts have significant term remaining.

3. Ron Hextall recently pulled a trick out of Paul Holmgren’s playbook, scolding his players in-person in the hopes of stoking competitive fires. The Flyers went 39-21-10 after Holmgren ripped them during a 7-0 loss to Washington back on Nov. 1, 2013. Philadelphia is now 1-4-1 after Hextall did it two weeks ago.

Ed Snider ripped their (lack of) secondary scoring to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi, but, if you ask opponents, the biggest surprise is the Flyers just don’t seem to be the Flyers. Win or lose, games against them were mean and physical. But not right now. It must be driving Hextall and Craig Berube nuts.

4. One executive on Philadelphia and Edmonton: “Their most valuable asset is their 2015 first-round pick. That will get them something big.” No way. Can’t see it.

5. Something to file away for the future: What will Ottawa do in goal? The answer appears to be, “Nothing, for now.” That’s the smart move as the Senators see how things play out over 82 games. But, I think there are other clubs (Buffalo and Edmonton among them) who will consider holding assets just in case.

The most interesting thing is Ottawa has the flexibility to deal with this on a team-by-team-basis. Does a potential trade partner prefer Craig Anderson, or Robin Lehner? Both are signed long-term, which helps their trade value. Again, anything happening this season is unlikely. But next summer? Keep an eye on it.

6. Sean Bergenheim still takes a regular shift for the Florida Panthers, but Tomas Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky continue to see their minutes drop. Fleischmann has one game above 14:30 since Remembrance Day. The most minutes Kopecky’s played in the past four games is 13:46.

All three are impending UFAs and all three are available. Word is GM Dale Tallon is willing to be creative, possibly by keeping some salary if it improves the return. Wonder if someone needing power play help looks at Fleischmann? He’s got the highest cap-hit, so the Panthers would probably have to eat cash, like they did with Kris Versteeg.

7. Apparently, the forward generating the most interest is Brad Boyes. Pittsburgh is believed to have interest in him, needing a winger with a good number ($2.625 million). The problem is, Tallon may not want to trade him. Boyes is signed for one more year and playing in a prime offensive role.

8. What kind of winger is Pittsburgh looking for? Guys like Pascal Dupuis, Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz; smart enough to recognize that playing with Crosby and Malkin means straight lines, simple plays and recognizing you need to go where they need you to be. Watch Blake Comeau’s first two goals last week against Toronto. He goes to the net and stays there. The problem is, “it’s not as easy as you’d think,” to find them, one exec said.

9. After Sidney Crosby got his stick/arms up on Riley Nash last Friday, I couldn’t help but think about an old conversation with an NHL coach. If they see a hit to the head coming, he tells players to get an elbow or stick up because he’d rather kill a penalty than see them get a concussion.

He did add you shouldn’t try to kill the other guy, but do it more defensively than offensively. Knowing Crosby’s history and seeing a potential collision, I wonder if he got the same advice (not that it’s any consolation to Nash).

10. This should make Montreal fans sick: one of the comparables used for Brendan Gallagher’s extension was Brad Marchand. The average annual value for Marchand is higher because Boston needed to buy more UFA years than the Canadiens did.

11. Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin has kept quiet about what’s going on with Alexander Galchenyuk’s next contract. Gallagher’s was pretty simple as these things go, and it was done in just a couple of weeks as a very happy player was willing to forego a bridge for some long-term security.

It’s not that Galchenyuk is unhappy, but his situation has different variables. His offensive ceiling is higher, and, at some point, he’s going to be a centre, a more valuable position. There hasn’t been a ton of talk between the two sides yet, either. That’s why the expectation is he will opt for shorter term, and the Canadiens probably won’t mind.

12. When Alexei Emelin was fined for his collision with Brian Gionta, he apparently was told that if he’s going to throw those hits, he’d better make sure contact comes to the body, and not the head.

13. I could see Montreal being one of those Eastern teams with interest in L.A.’s Jordan Nolan, Boston too. The Kings have options because some opponents would gladly consider Kyle Clifford or Dwight King if that’s what GM Dean Lombardi wanted to do. The Oilers have chased this kind of body for a while now.

14. Blue Jackets president John Davidson spoke to team majority owner John P. McConnell on Sunday. “He understands the situation,” Davidson said Monday. “When you’re not winning, people want you to sacrifice things to put on a Band-Aid. This is a full-fledged open wound, a Band-Aid doesn't help.”

So, don’t expect Columbus to make silly, short-term moves. “There’s nothing you can do,” Davidson added. “The analogy I use is it’s like building a wall, one brick at a time. Now the wall is knocked over…is it doctors, trainers, conditioning, the coach? When you break down the injuries, none of these people are to blame. All of a sudden a tsunami hit us.”

They are on-pace for 550 man-games lost to injury.

15. If Davidson has one concern, it’s that the Blue Jackets “slipped with their work habits,” particularly in last Friday’s 5-0 loss to Vancouver. “We don’t want or like that. You could see how deflated we were when they made it 2-0. No matter where this goes, you have got to deal with it. You have to enjoy the battle.”

They did, gritting out a 2-1 home victory over Florida, a team that came in with only two regulation road losses.

16. Davidson had some great lines in this conversation. “We’re not in this position because we are a bad hockey club, but because everyone is hurt. We’ve been kicked right in the teeth. We’ll wait for them to heal, and then we’ll eat again.” I’m going to steal some of these.

17. Finally, on Columbus: when asked if anything was happening on the contract front, Davidson said, “That’s Jarmo’s department.” Mr. Kekalainen, the GM, said via e-mail that RFA-to-be Sergei Bobrovsky’s agent, Paul Theofanous, “told us he doesn't want to negotiate during the season.”

So that’s that, for now. But the Blue Jackets have another key player who is unrestricted: 27-year-old Nick Foligno. He’s played very well with career-high ice-time. Word is they really want to keep him and Kekalainen wrote he’s contacted agent Pat Morris about a possible extension.

18. Interesting little storyline in the Toronto minor-midget ranks. The CHL and OHL have to decide if a talented young forward named David Levin is eligible for the regular OHL draft or the CHL import draft.

Levin, thriving for former London and Lethbridge head coach Lindsay Hofford with the Don Mills Flyers, was born in Israel to Russian parents. There is only one rink in Israel, and it is four hours from his home. He played a ton of roller hockey until he was 12. His father was his coach. Good coach? “He was pushing me every day, really tough on me,” Levin said, laughing. “Little bit scary, but yeah, good coach.”

19. At that age, his parents, Pavel and Lena, asked him if he wanted to move to Canada and live with relatives here to further his hockey interests. “The first year I came, I was not that good,” Levin said. “Inline hockey skating to ice skating is different. It took five-six months of working hard to improve. Israel was not like this. I feel very good now.”

20. If Levin is eligible for the OHL draft, he can be selected in 2015. The import draft means he must wait another year, and the possibility he goes elsewhere in Canada. “I’ll go anywhere,” he says, “although the London Knights are my dream. I like them, really good coach.”

Levin went to the same high school as 2015 NHL draft-eligible forward Mitch Marner. The extra year is an issue though, which makes the USHL and/or NCAA an option. What could help him is that his aunt and uncle have guardianship. Whatever the case, the CHL has a decision to make.

21. After the 2014 Calder Trophy voting was announced, one exec I regularly talk to was apoplectic (and no, he doesn’t work for Calgary, have unruly hair and refuse to tie his tie). “No problem with Nathan MacKinnon winning,” he said, “But how does a 19-year-old centre with 22 goals finish eighth?” Sean Monahan is on pace for 26 this season, but more impressively, he’s doing it without veteran support down the middle.

Asked if Monahan is part of the leadership group, GM Brad Treliving paused before answering, “Yes. You don’t just want your young players to be part of the team, you want them to feel they can be more than that.” As injuries ravaged their forward units, Treliving said Monahan was nudged even further. “He’s younger than some of the guys we called up, but he’s played more games. Could he show them how to prepare and what it takes?” It appears the answer is yes.

22. The Flames are the analytics target right now, with their underlying numbers worrying the pocket protectors. Treliving, who dabbles in this, says he’s not too concerned.

“If we were still winning games the way we were earlier in the season, that would be a problem.” He’s referring to nights like Oct. 15, when Calgary beat Chicago 2-1 despite being outshot 50-18.

23. Boston’s John Ferguson, discussing his father (John Sr.) and Daniel Alfredsson: “I think my father considered Pavol Demitra (227th overall in 1993) and Alfredsson (133rd in 1994) two of his best draft picks. He was very proud of the players more so than the picks; he always felt a real connection with them. In Daniel’s case, my father always took great pride in how good he was for that organization for so long. He did have a sense Daniel had some of that combination of skill, ability and character Thomas Steen had. (Steen played for John Sr. in Winnipeg) Alfredsson definitely outstripped any projections my father had for him as a pro.”

24. Something to watch during Capitals games: how much time players stay on the perimeter in the offensive zone.

“Everything (Barry Trotz) does with us is about what it takes to win in the playoffs,” Brooks Laich said Saturday.

Apparently, one of those items is video indicating whether or not the Capitals push toward the front of the net, or just lollygag on the outside.

25. Next week’s board of governors meeting could clear up some of the Coyotes’ roster future. Once Andrew Barroway is approved as owner, GM Don Maloney should have a better idea of what he can do with Antoine Vermette, for example.

26. If you’re a talented, young defender approaching free agency, the number is $20 million. Marco Scandella’s five-year contract at that figure is right in line with Jake Muzzin’s, while Jake Gardiner’s price was a teeny bit higher. Alec Martinez is expected to come in around there, too. Like Gallagher, there isn’t any no-trade protection in Scandella’s deal.

27. If Victor Hedman wasn’t injured, would Eric Brewer have a been a Duck sooner?

28. The Sabres found a football in their dressing-room area before their 6-2 win over Toronto on Nov. 15. They ditched pre-game soccer for pigskin and are 5-1 since. The moral of the story? When struggling, buy your team the Wilson Model F1100, aka “The Duke.”

29. Latvian pride may push Zemgus Girgensons up the All-Star voting results, but that doesn’t mean he’s undeserving of a spot. Last year, as a 19 and 20-year-old, only Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford and Cody Hodgson played more at five-on-five among Sabres forwards.

This year, he’s right with Ennis atop the list. Here’s another one: two Buffalo front-liners with at least 10 games played have been on the ice for more five-on-five goals for than goals against. They are Girgensons (16-12) and Brian Flynn (5-4).

30. During my third-year of university—while getting into the late rounds of our annual playoff pool—one of the guys picked Jock Callander, a 31-year-old forward who had 112 points for Muskegon in the old International Hockey League.

We thought he was insane. He said he read somewhere the Penguins might use him, so why not take a chance? Callander was indeed called up, and he grabbed four points in 12 games as the Penguins retained the Stanley Cup. The guy who picked him won the pool (by two points, I think).

The rest of us swore about Callander for years, but he had a real good career, playing almost two decades. It was nice to finally meet him this past Sunday while he was working for Colorado’s AHL team (Lake Erie) in Toronto.