Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire
After a great 7-1-0 start and an eighth place finish in the 2016/17 NHL regular season, it is easy to forget the Oilers finished 29th of 30 teams during the 2015/16 season.
As they ready to battle San Jose on home ice in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, TP examines how Edmonton earned the title as most improved team for the 2016/17 season.
Before we look at the numbers, a quick word on how TP contributions capture the performance of a team and its players:
Each NHL team has 18 skaters per game that make both offensive and defensive contributions. Those contributions may be very significant, like McDavid or Crosby make on a regular basis, or span all the way down to zero or negative. The systems and structure of a team help determine whether those contributions are maximized in leading to wins or function more individually. At the end of a game, each team has a cumulative total of individual contributions. The comparative balance of those contributions, along with goaltending, determines the winner and the loser in the game. The average of these contribution levels, over several games or a season, reveal the in-depth detail behind winning and losing over that time frame.
How did Edmonton improve from the 2015/16 to 2016/17 season (at even strength)?
TEAM: The Oiler’s overall contribution level increased 24.4%, their offensive contributions increased by 16.8% and their defensive contributions increased by a huge 50.6%.
FORWARDS: Oiler forwards were responsible for just under 15% of team improvement, while the Oiler’s d-core drove the remaining 85+%.
DEFENSEMEN: The Oiler’s d-core increased overall contributions by over 109%, rising from a rank of 30th to 14th among 30 NHL d-cores. They had a massive increase in defensive play of 198%, and an increase of 51% offensively.
Where did all that improvement come from on the back end?
For comparison purposes, we order the top six contributing d-men from highest to lowest for the 2015/16 season, do the same for the 2016/17 season, then compare the relative improvement for each of the 6 spots (not adjusted for strength of competition). The highlights of that comparison are below:
Andrej Sekera occupied the first spot this season and last. In the 16/17 season he increased his overall contribution by 28.9% and increased his defensive contribution by almost 100%. His offensive contributions were identical each year.
Kris Russel challenged Sekera at the top but as the season played out he settled into the second spot. His contributions represent a 26.6% increase in overall play and over 110% improvement defensively over the second spot in 15/16. His offense represented a marginal drop.
Oscar Klefbom occupies the third spot for 16/17 and represents an 8.6% increase in overall play from the 15/16 season. He led the group in offensive contributions but has the lowest defensive contributions among the top six Oiler d-men. His defense was down slightly this season.
Adam Larsson occupies the fourth spot and his overall play represents an increase of 24.2% for the fourth spot from the 15/16 season. His defense increased over 40% and offense rose 18% from the fourth spot in 15/16.
The fifth and sixth d spots were filled by a variety of players in the 16/17 season and the consortium managed to significantly outperform the 15/16 contributors, particularly in defensive contributions. Often the greatest value of bottom two d-men is the ability to deliver reliable 'mistake free' minutes.
We will soon find out whether the Oiler's and a much improved d-core can continue to generate contributions that lead to wins in the NHL Playoffs. Match-ups will be a major factor vs the Sharks and Edmonton's top four d-men will be prominent in that battle.
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