What counts as a successful season for the Oilers?

During the pre-season, Connor McDavid was asked what he would consider to be success. His response: a “winning season.” I couldn’t agree more. Elliote Friedman of Sportsnet believes the Oilers being a playoff team is “crazy.” McDavid’s expectation, though, is realistic. For instance, if the Oilers finish with 9 overtime losses (ties), 36 regulation time losses, and 37 wins, that’s 83 points; 12 more wins and 19 more points than last season. With average goaltending, I believe the Oilers can do that.

However, because there is a lot of luck to winning games (38%), and sometimes significant randomness in goals even over an entire season, I would want a more reliable measure of success, which would be using the team’s shot metrics. As of last season, there is a new and improved Shot Attempt differential (SAT% or Corsi%), which war-on-ice blogger, Matt Cane, refers to as Weighted Shot differential. This metric involves giving more weight to goals than to shot attempts. At this point, the weight given to goal is an estimate. Specifically, we would attribute 5 times more weight to a goal compared to a shot attempt. Based on Kane’s analysis, this estimated weight seems to work well in predictive models of future success; out-predicting SAT differentials by a small, but statistically significant margin.

Last season, the Oilers had an even-strength score-adjusted SAT differential of 47.3% (ranked 24th). (Score-adjusted accounts for how shot differentials change based on the score of the game. Once teams get a lead, they typically generate fewer shots relative to teams who are behind.) Adding goals to the SAT differential, we have Weighted Shot differential of 51.5% (ranked 23rd). The Weighted Shot differential of teams ranked 14th to 18th ranged from 55.2% to 54.2%. If the Oilers were to move up 5 places, this would be about a 50% score-adjusted SAT% and a 54% Weighted Shot differential. I would consider these values a successful season regardless of the win-loss record. In terms of how close this is to a playoff team, teams with a SAT% of 52.5% have a 90% chance of making the playoffs.

But what about assessing the team throughout the season? Early in the season, I think a plausible index of improvement, or Progress Index, can be derived by comparing the shot metrics of a game to the previous season’s series. Specifically, we  can compare Weighted Shots (WghSh%; 1 point for goals, 0.2 points for shot attempts); Shot Attempts (SAT%; blocked, missed, and shots on goal), Scoring Chances (SC%; as defined by war-on-ice), and High-Danger Scoring Chances (HSC%; i.e., shots from the slot area). As usual, all the data is collected from war-on-ice.

In fact, I did this sort of comparison already in assessing the Oilers first two games.  The table below is example of this analysis. (For a detailed interpretation, follow this link.) What’s helpful about this analysis is that it shows the team’s performance relative to previous performance. For example, if the Oilers’ SAT% after a game is 48%, in absolute terms, this is an “unsuccessful” game. But if last season the Oilers averaged only a SAT% of 44% against the team, 48% turns out to be a 4% improvement (i.e., Progress Index = 4%).

[table id=17 /]

Once the Oilers play more games, we can compare different shot metrics to the previous season’s number of games in increments of 10 games. For instance, after game 10, we would compare the same shot metrics after game 10 of last season, and so on.

Like last season, about 2 to 3 times a month, I will be updating my Fancy Stat Power Rankings using Weighted Shot differentials at even-strength (80% of the ranking), along with a Shot-Attempts For (per 60 minutes) for power-play, and Shot-Attempts Against (per 60 min) for penalty kill. Special teams each account for about 10% of the ranking.  I post these rankings on Twitter, if you’d like to follow.

The everyday fan loves to see wins. Who doesn’t love to win? But unfortunately, because of the luck factor, we can’t use win/loss as a primary indicator of improvement. Instead, by using shot metrics, we have a more reliable measure of improvement; one that will predict future success and tell us if the Oilers are truly on the right track.

Thanks for reading. Please leave any comments or questions below. Question to the reader: Where do you think the Oilers will finish this season?

Walter Foddis Written by: