Make no mistake, something had to give in Edmonton. But unfortunately for coach Dallas Eakins, he was a victim of bad luck rather than bad coaching. History shows the Oilers are destined to improve.
With due process, the results will come. For the Edmonton Oilers, the results have been long overdue and Dallas Eakins lost his job on Monday because of it. The NHL is a results-oriented business – it always has been – so when a team wins three of its last 22 games, someone’s getting fired. But if the goal is long-term success, then the process should be the number one priority. Improve the little things that lead to wins and eventually they will come.
That’s a hard thing to preach to Oilers’ faithful when the process has been flawed for almost a decade in Edmonton, but there are genuine signs this team is improving, like a big improvement in puck possession that the standings don’t show. That’s not to exonerate Eakins of all faults with the Oilers. Eventually something tangible has to be seen out of improvements in the process. But the losses have more to do with rotten luck then it does with Eakins own inabilities to coach. That leads to PDO, a somewhat controversial topic when it comes to some hockey fans. PDO adds shooting percentage with save percentage and is a decent indication of how fortunate a team has been. The farther a team is away from 1000, the luckier (or unluckier) they’ve been. Over a long period of time, most teams will hover around 1000, but during short stretches it can be much more volatile. One way to think about PDO is as a statistical manifestation of the hockey gods. What goes around comes around in the hockey universe. Some teams get good bounces and some teams get bad bounces, but the karma won’t last forever in either direction. Eventually everything evens out and most teams get what they deserve. That’s why having the puck is so important because it’s a controllable skill that will often offset the bad bounces. Right now the Oilers have a league-low PDO of 967, which would be the lowest mark ever in a full season (Florida was slightly lower in the lockout-shortened year). Not only that, it’s a pretty rare feat at the 30 game point too. Since 2007-08, there’s only been five teams that have had a PDO lower than 970 in their first 30 games. As a result, they didn’t win many games for the most part.
Predictably, every team had a PDO much closer to 1000 in the following 52 games, and four of the five teams had a significantly better win percentage due to regression. The same should be expected for Edmonton. The argument some have against that is some teams are just not very good and while that justification may seem to apply to an Oilers team that is short on talent, it’s unlikely. To show that, take the Oilers top 12 forwards and 6 defensemen in ice time and throw this season’s shooting percentages out the window. Instead use what’s already known about these players from their last three seasons because it’s not fair to just expect that they all collectively lost their scoring. Multiply each player’s shot totals by their historic shooting percentage to get an expected goals for based on their past skill level, then use the same method for goalies. It’s not perfect, but it’s a decent ballpark of how unlucky the team has been.
With their average three-year percentages, the Oilers would have 11 more goals and 15 less against. The 26-goal swing is worth roughly nine standings points, which would bring the team to 28 points in 31 games. It’s a 74 point pace which is a lot more respectable, but still terrible. They’re not the worst team in the NHL, but any way you slice it, they’re still very far away from being a contender.