Edmonton Oilers' two-year extension of utility forward Devin Shore flies in the face of analytics

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Breaking news from Edmonton Oilers camp, that the club has agreed to a two-year extension with utility forward Devin Shore.

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In a very progressive change from long-established norms, the club actually released financial details of the extension, establishing Shore’s annual average value at $850,000 per season through 2022-23.

The Oilers did have RFA rights on the 26-year-old and didn’t waste much time in getting a deal done. Indeed, GM Ken Holland had singled him out at his year-end avail as a player he intended to re-sign. We wrote at the time: “Holland praised the player’s ability to play either centre or wing or to wait his turn in the press box without creating waves.”

Shore arrived in Edmonton this past January on a Professional Tryout, a four-year NHL vet in search of a job. He made a sufficiently strong impression at camp to be signed to a one-year pact at the NHL  minimum of $700,000 on Jan 13, the day the season opened. After clearing waivers, he found a utility role on the club, bouncing back and forth between the taxi squad and sporadic bottom-six roles at centre, left wing, and the penalty kill.

After playing just 11 of the first 25 games and clearing waivers a second time, Shore became an almost-regular down the stretch, playing 27 of the last 31 games, many of them on the left side of a hard-hitting checking line with Jujhar Khaira and Josh Archibald.

Shore started the playoffs in the pressbox, but played Games 3 and 4 in Winnipeg and found himself among the 9 forwards still in the rotation when Dave Tippett shortened the bench during the long overtime in Game 4. And to his credit, Shore had a strong showing in that game.

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On the season, he tallied 5 goals and 4 assists in 38 games. He posted some decent results on the “without the puck” side of the spectrum:

  • his 73 hits and 10.55 hits per 60 both ranked fourth among Oilers forwards
  • his 26 blocked shots were fifth among forwards, and his 3.75 blocks/60 second best
  • his takeaway/giveaway ratio of 15:8 was the best on the team
  • he was decent on the faceoff dot, winning 53% of his 108 draws

But his on-ice flow-of-play results (a.k.a. analytics) suggested that “without the puck” was the default state of affairs on his watch. During his six hours of 5v5 play, the Oilers had below 40% of all shot metrics from shot attempts to shots on goal to scoring chances to high danger chances.

Below 40% means the other team had more than 3 looks for every 2 the Oilers had. Measured in shots on goal, about 20 for, 32 against per 60 minutes of action. Indeed, of the 389 NHL forwards who played at least 300 minutes in 2021, Devin Shore was the only one with a shot share below 40%.

Here’s the bottom 10:

To break even under such a deficit, the team would need to post massively better shooting percentages than their opponents. In fact the Oilers converted just 7.3% of their shots during Shore’s ice time, their opposition 8.7%, resulting in a dismal goal share of just 35%. In raw terms: 9 for, 17 against.

That last part is a bit odd given Holland’s recent assertion about goal differential at 5v5 being “the analytics I look at”. One wonders how much stock the organization puts in any of this type of data when a player with such objectively weak “fancy stats” and a career plus/minus of dash-58 becomes a priority signing.

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Colleague David Staples recently wrote a feature post on this player, pointing out that by our own game-by-game analysis here at the Cult of Hockey showed his results to be nearly the weakest among wingers (though in fairness some of those results came at the more challenging pivot spot). On the penalty kill he leaked chances against at the highest rate of any Oiler in the last two seasons. Those chances did not generally result in actual goals, as opponents scoring just 5.31 goals per 60 minutes on his watch, second best among regular forwards on the unit. This “process bad / outcomes good” dichotomy is not uncommon in small sample sizes, but doesn’t give rise to great confidence going forward.

Still, the organization clearly liked what they got from Shore, who came with zero acquisition cost and at minimum salary. The now five-year veteran of 326 NHL games now has two years of job security at a small but affordable raise, at a cap hit than can be buried in its entirety in the AHL if need be. But given the apparent confidence of both his GM and his coach, that seems unlikely; for better or worse, Devin Shore has carved out a depth role right here in Edmonton. Begging the question, will his return improve a perennially-weak bottom six or simply maintain the status quo?

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

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Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

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