Mysteries of the Edmonton Oilers Revealed! Gaetan Haas is the King of the House

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There’s some discussion about whether or not the Edmonton Oilers need to bring in another depth centre for the playoffs.

Names like Luke Glendening, who will be 32 next month, Brandon Sutter, 32, and Derek Ryan, 34, have most often mentioned as possible incoming centres.

I’m not against the Oilers adding a depth centre. It’s always good to have plenty of useful players at the key centre position. Edmonton had another tough lesson in this general rule this season when Kyle Turris struggled mightily at centre. The team was left scrambling to find one or two players who could get the job done, especially when it came to coverage in the defensive slot, where Turris’s struggles were most pronounced and alarming.

But I’m going to caution against the Oilers paying any kind of significant price to bring in another centre, and also caution against benching either one of the two players now doing the job, Gaetan Haas and Jujhar Khaira.

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Haas is — by far and it’s not even remotely close — the team’s best defensive centre.

Indeed, if any Edmonton centre were going to be pushed for the Selke Trophy that goes to the NHL’s best defensive forward, it should be Haas, not Leon Draisaitl who is most often mentioned (This isn’t to suggest I’d personally push Haas for this award. I wouldn’t, mainly because he’s yet to face off consistently against the most elite attacking players on opposing teams. He’d have to consistently meet that challenge to be a true candidate for the Selke and he’s yet to do so even, according to PuckIQ numbers,  as he’s acing it against the lesser competition he now tends to face).

Draisaitl certainly has some good moments on defence in high pressure situations, and he’s an excellent face off man while Haas is weak in that one category, but no other Oilers centre comes close to Haas when it comes to back checking, angling in the neutral and defensive zone, supporting Edmonton’s d-men below the circles in the d-zone and, most crucially, effectively blanketing opposing snipers in the House, the Grade A scoring chance area in front of Edmonton’s net.

Haas is the King of the House.

Can the Oilers actually find someone who will clean the House?

There are some folks who put such a high value on winning face offs that they’re not going to buy anything other argument. They’ll argue that winning face offs, especially on the penalty kill, is so crucial that the Oilers have no choice but to bring in a veteran centre.

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I agree that it’s important to win face offs, especially on the PK. It’s great to win the puck off the first draw and ice it.

At the same time, hockey is full of individual reads, decisions and battles and, thousands of them every game. Face offs are a small percentage of those reads, decisions and battles.

If a Centre A wins 60 per cent of his 20 face offs in a game but gets it right on just 40 per cent of his other 100 reads/decisions/battles in a game is he really better than Centre B, who wins 40 per cent of 20 face offs, but 60 per cent of his other 100 reads/decisions/battles?

In total, Centre A wins 52 out of 120 reads/decisions/battles, but Centre B wins 68 out of 120 battles.

And what about the single most crucial battles for a depth centres, the ones in the defensive slot? The main job of this class of player is to make sure that his team does not get scored on when they’re on the ice.

If Centre A loses every every third battle there, do you really want him over Centre B, who loses just one in ten such battles?

You may think I’m exaggerating here but I’ll suggest this is close to the real difference between Turris and Haas in the defensive slot this year.

Numbers and eye test agree on Haas

I know some of you don’t trust statistics when it comes to rating players. I have serious questions about a lot of the analysis that is regularly done as well.

But when every single metric says the same thing, that Haas is a much, much, much better defensive players than Turris, and a better defensive player than any other Oilers centre, I put some weight in it.

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And I put a ton of weight in that when it also passes the smell test, when it compares well with what I’ve been seeing of Haas with my own eyes and careful review.

In the Cult of Hockey’s review of all goals and Grade A scoring chances against, we find Haas makes the least number of mistakes in both categories.

In his 181 even strength minutes, he’s made four major mistakes on Grade A chances against, 0.33 per game (15 min. ES playing time).

McDavid has made 36 such major mistakes on Grade A chances against in 599 minutes, 0.90 per game, which is an improvement over his play last year.

Khaira has made 17 in 221 minutes, 1.15 per game.

Draisaitl has made 46 in 565 minutes, 1.22 per game.

Turris has made 20 in 219 minutes, 1.37 per game.

I’m not a big fan of using on-ice numbers like Corsi and Fenwick to rate individual players because they’re numbers earned by large groups of players, with their results typically and somewhat erroneously ascribed to the action of one player. But it’s worth noting that in every major category of on-ice numbers, the Oilers have the least shots, goals, scoring chances against when Haas is on the ice and the worst when Turris is on the ice. Draisaitl, meanwhile, has an outstanding official NHL goals plus-minus, but a lot of that comes from good goaltending and even better defensive puck luck when he’s bene on the ice. Based on his high rate of major mistakes, he’s been lucky not to have been out on the ice for more goals against.

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My final reason for being worried about the Oilers trading for a centre?

I give Ken Holland and his European scout credit for identifying and signing Haas out of the Swiss league. Strong play.

And there’s been other good Oilers signings and trades under Holland as well, such as useful players Riley Sheahan, Josh Archibald, Mike Smith and Tyler Ennis last year, and Slater Koekkoek, Dominik Kahun and Tyson Barrie this year.

But sprinkled in there we also have bad signings or trades this year and last year, such as Turris and Andreas Athanasiou.

All I’m saying is that whoever scouted Turris, maybe you don’t listen to that guy when on Sutter, Ryan and Glendening this year. And make a careful review of Haas and Khaira before you’re convinced they even need replacing.

I have nothing to say myself about the merit of Sutter, Ryan or Glendening, as I haven’t watched them closely over a significant number of games. I’m a little worried about the age of each player, as checking players become highly suspect when they inch even a wee bit past their “best before” date.

But, mostly, I’m not convinced the Oilers have a problem that needs fixing in the depth centre department.

P.S. This in from Jack Michaels of the Oilers, the latest lines for the team:

Draisaitl-McDavid-Puljujarvi

Kahun-RNH-Yamamoto

Archibald-Haas-Kassian

Shore-Khaira-Chiasson

Neal-Turris-Ennis

It looks like Yamamoto is healthy again, which is excellent news for the Oilers. He’s a key two-way winger for the team. I’m liking the look of that second line, as Kahun, RNH and Yamamoto are all smart players, and both Kahun and Yamamoto are solid on defence. They can give RNH the support he needs in the d-zone.

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