*** See note at end of article about the title and graphic ***
Wait a second, sez you. “Improved”? The Oilers were 0.378 in last year’s Death March – wazzup with 0.400?
You’re saying the Oilers, despite McDavid and McLellan and Talbot and other changes, will barely improve this season?
No! I think the Oilers will be something around 0.500 for the season – call it 82 points in 82 games, and maybe more if this years goalers can eat some lunches instead of getting their lunch eaten.
That’s a genuine improvement, right?
What I want to make clear is this: even for this improved Oiler team, the first 20 games are going to be crazy tough. A slog. A toil. A grind. A struggle to exist, to resist.
As fans, we need to recognize this and not get down in the dumps if the Oilers pull just 15 points out of those games. That would be expected.
Call this a pre-emptive “don’t panic” article!
It’s the Competition
We should expect the Oilers to struggle through the first quarter of the season, because they face a seriously tough schedule of teams to start the year.
Now, there are other reasons why the first bunch of games will be tough.
It’s fair to expect a little bit of confusion early, due to the massive influx of changes, is it not? With the hefty roster turnover (Lowetide figures 35%), chemistry and coordination will also take some time. You know, the elemental telepathy and exchange of energy.
Not to mention the minor issue of a fourth new head coach and system in the last five years.
So that will probably cost the Oilers a few points early as well.
But realistically, it’s mostly about the competition.
A Simple Competition Model
Here’s how I look at it: as noted earlier, I expect the Oilers to break even this year – mid-tier for the league, and somewhere near the middle to bottom of the 10-20 range of teams.
Now, how does a mid-tier team build that .500-ish record?
I’d expect that the team would be able to make hay against weak teams, hold their own against fellow mid-tier teams, and struggle against the best teams.
Numerically, call it having an overall record of 0.333, maybe a bit better, against the top teams; 0.500 against the middle teams; and 0.667, maybe a bit better, against the bottom feeder teams.
That gets you to around .500. That’s my ‘model’ for the season. Reasonable?
The First 20
Here’s how the first 20 games shake out using this model*.
Just three are against mid-tier teams (Caps, Habs, Pens) – and these particular three are tough. On my list, the Caps are at the top of the mid-tier. The Pens are just a spot or two behind them, and that may not be giving them enough credit for the offseason changes.
Six are against bottom-tier teams (Flames x 2, Canucks, Flyers, Coyotes, Devils).
The remaining eleven are against what I would call established top tier teams (Blues, Wings, Kings, Preds, Wild, Ducks, Hawks).
So relative to a “normal” schedule of 6 to 7 of each category, that’s heavy on the tough teams, normal on the weak teams, and half weight against mid tier teams that are pretty near top-tier.
*Note that these tiers are my own classifications – I use a simple standings model where I project scoring chances and special teams shot rates, with some minor adjustments for offseason changes. So I consider the Kings to be top tier and e.g. the Flames and Habs … not. For the purposes of this exercise, I have swapped the Canucks, mid-tier last year, with the Oilers.
Crunch the numbers, assuming the average win rates I gave you above against each of the tiers, and you would expect the Oilers to run about 0.458 through the first 20 games.
If you give the Flames and the Canucks credit for being mid-tier teams – they’re not, but the Oilers need to prove it this year – instead of bottom feeders, that expected record drops to 0.442.
Adjust that again to give a bit of time – oh, 15 or 20 games! – for McDavid and McLellan and the roster to struggle a bit to get on the same page system-wise … and I’d say suddenly you’re staring 0.400 in the face.
We can see how things look if we do something similar for last season. The Oilers were clearly in the bottom tier, and here’s how they did*:
Against top-tier teams: 9-19-2 (20 out of 60 points, or 0.333). Hey, lookit that! As a bottom-feeder team last year, 0.333 is probably better than expected. The same 0.333 or a bit better is my expectation this year.
Against mid-tier teams: 7-12-8 (22 out of 54 points, or 0.407). OK, maybe that’s reasonable for last year. The Oilers were not a mid-tier team last year (despite our best hopes), so it makes sense they’d be below 0.500 against these teams. I might have hoped for a bit better, but it was what it was. The goal is 0.500 this year. Prove you belong in this tier.
Against fellow bottom feeders: 8-13-4 (20 out of 50 points, or 0.400). Oy vey. That’s not good. Sub-.500 against the worst of the worst. In fact, the Oilers last year did more poorly against fellow sh*te teams than they did against the mid-pack of teams.
*Again, this is my classification of the teams – if you repeat this exercise, you may come up with something a little different, as no doubt there will be some debate at the margins as to who is top vs mid, and mid vs bottom.
Now, a lot of that putrid record has to do with going 0-4-1 against both Arizona and Calgary (and yes, I consider the Flames a bottom-feeder, like COL, like TOR, each of whom managed a run of unsustainable results for a season before falling back into the toilet).
There’s your season in a nutshell. Lose to the losers and you’re a “top pick lottery” team, and deservedly so.
Oh well. We gifted the Flames a playoff spot, but got McDavid et al, amirite?
That’s How It Is, How It’s Going to Be
That’s also where the improvement has to come. It shouldn’t be hard to sustain last years mostly losing record against the good teams! What the Oilers need this season is about 2 or 3 more wins against mid-tier teams, and 7 or 8 more wins against the bottom feeders. That’s the battleground, that’s where this season succeeds or fails.
So based on the level of competition, expect the Oilers to go 0.400 or so to start the season – and that’s not a big deal. We’ll need to remind each other of this if we get too down in the dumps!
It’s after that where they need to get on track for the season. One win against CBJ, three wins against ARI, and a couple of wins against CGY and VAN gets you more than halfway there. Find just four more wins than last year against the other 25 teams and you claw above 0.500.
C’mon lads. Make it happen. You can do it!
*** @mlse tells me that the quarter pole in horse racing is the last quarter of the race, not the first quarter. So just treat the horse racing graphic as decorative rather than illustrative! So much for my career as a jockey ***
Note that using this model, I can look at “The Road to 500”, by assessing the entire schedule as a series of game sequences, and look at an expected record for each sequence.
Here’s what that looks like using 10-game blocks (last two are 11 games). This shows the date range, the projected points%, and the point totals for block and season. This is unadjusted for the ‘early season new system struggles’ I mentioned. Ideally, if we see that, we’d also see the Oilers have a much stronger finish to the season than what it looks like here.
And of course, a real schedule entails winning and losing streaks, so the real thing is going to be far more volatile than this.
I may track these 10 game segments during the season to see how the Oilers do.
|THU, 8 OCT 2015||TUE, 27 OCT 2015||0.433||8 to 9||8*|
|THU, 29 OCT 2015||FRI, 20 NOV 2015||0.500||10||18*|
|MON, 23 NOV 2015||FRI, 11 DEC 2015||0.517||10 to 11||29|
|MON, 14 DEC 2015||SAT, 2 JAN 2016||0.517||10 to 11||39|
|MON, 4 JAN 2016||SAT, 23 JAN 2016||0.500||10||49**|
|TUE, 2 FEB 2016||SAT, 20 FEB 2016||0.517||10 to 11||60**|
|TUE, 23 FEB 2016||SAT, 12 MAR 2016||0.500||11||71**|
|MON, 14 MAR 2016||SAT, 9 APR 2016||0.530||11 to 12||82**|
*So figure on one or two points less in the each of the first two 10-game runs
**Which means in the New Year, we need to get a point or so more during each of the last four sequences
If you’re feeling brave and want to see how I arrived at these clearly nonsensical results, you can download my:
Not much in the way of explanations embedded in either of these, so you’ll have to do some formula hunting!
I have three Rush lyrics easter eggs in this article, instead of my usual one.