The Edmonton Oilers off-season makeover made up with an analytics brush

Article content

It has, over much of the past 15 years, been fair to criticize the Edmonton Oilers of being a perimeter team.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Too many of their players have attempted to make a living outside of the faceoff circles and not enough in the lanes leading directly the blue paint.

So, in the off-season, the club set about looking to change the complexion of their forward ranks. It was an effort to surround their high-end forward talent such as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with complimentary players capable of pushing back the opposing defence. That, in turn, should give active Oilers blueliners such as Tyson Barrie, Evan Bouchard, Darnell Nurse and Duncan Keith more room to operate in the O-Zone. It’s not a small thing. It’s a big difference to the Oilers attack.

Two of the results from that effort were gritty forwards Zach Hyman (through free agency) and Warren Foegele (via trade). It remains to be seen if those 2 players can have the intended impact on the Oilers attack that I describe above. But this is a considerably different look for this team: Forwards that can skate, with a nose for the net and a consistent ability to finish.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

How these two came to be Oilers is a story if how this organization has begun to evolve in a game increasingly influenced by fancy stats. It’s one thing to have an analytics team. It’s quite another to have someone in a position of influence willing to listen to that advice.

Enter Edmonton Oilers pro scout Bradley Holland.

Like his more-famous dad, Brad Holland also played although as a forward unlike his goaltender father. After 2 point-per-game seasons with the Chatham Maroons of the Ontario Jr. B league, Holland played 3 years of NCAA hockey with the Division I Sacred Heart University Pioneers. A good, honest player.

Holland’s college studies led him to the Fordham Law School and eventually a position at Goodman’s, a well-respected legal firm in Toronto. Highly educated as a critical thinker. Good traits to have as a pro scout. Holland then spent 2 years in the Toronto organization, where he was exposed to the Leaf’s analytics department as well as a young winger whom he formed an association with. He also put in 6+ years at the NHL video department.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Now in his 3rd year as an Oilers pro scout, Holland who came to the table with not only the observation that the club needed a fresh dimension but also with a list of players who excelled executing that new vision by going to the net. In 2020-21, both Zack Hyman and Warren Foegele finished in the Top 5 in the National Hockey League in that aspect of the game. It was a big reason why the Oilers targeted them in the off-season. Ken Holland discussed the approach Wednesday, on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer.

Now, anyone who has read my work here at The Cult of Hockey will know that I am not a believer in assessing game or players by statistics alone. I grew up in a hockey family with NHL roots. I also played a little and coached a little, and as a result I am a big “eye test” guy. I don’t believe there is a replacement for that.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

However, there is a decided advantage to checking the eye/ear test with data. It is the old “is this really what I’m seeing/hearing” filter that I encounter often in my day job when I’m not writing about my life-long love of hockey. I spend hours daily cross-referencing subjective analysis with data.

The Holland team has done a good job of lifting the Oilers out of the depths of the decade of darkness and into a playoff team. But to go from playoff participant to post-season winner, you need every edge. 11th over-all is tough to achieve. But those extra 2-3 wins that make you a Top-5 teams are tougher still.

I also mentioned that it’s one thing to have an analytics department (the Oilers DO have one, contrary to what some would have you believe). It’s another to have the boss listen to what it is that they’re saying.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Ken Holland has a long winning history of leaning heavily on his scouting staff. He has a reputation as an empowering manager who hires good people and then lets them do their jobs.

But he hasn’t always had an advocate of advanced statistics on his staff. Until now. And on top of all that, if you don’t think the other guy at the table named Holland has his boss’s ear…

Is this step up in the analytics game the dawning of a new age in Edmonton Oilers ops? While there is a long way to go, it is headed in a better direction.

The proof? Will be in the pudding.

Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins

Recently, at The Cult…

STAPLES: The Josh Archibald COVID conundrum

McCURDY: Rookie goalie gives young Oilers a puncher’s chance

STAPLES: Duncan Keith takes one for the team?

Advertisement

Story continues below

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Latest articles

Related articles