Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom recently gave an interview to the Swedish website Hockey Sverige (English translation can be viewed here) and one his comments caught my eye. When asked about the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade, he thought the team had improved and said,
“Taylor has been our best player in recent years, but it’s also hard to tell what he has contributed. He never played his best games against the tougher teams, which we really needed it. However, he was fantastic when we met the little worse [teams].”
It makes sense that players in general will score more points against weaker teams. Weaker teams usually lack depth and don’t have a top goaltender which is a recipe for giving up more goals against. Top players should be able to take advantage of this matchup mismatch. But is there any proof that Hall himself has racked up points against weaker teams but contributed less against stronger teams? Khlefbom has since updated his quote saying all of the Oilers key players have underperformed, but I will investigate his original comment to see if there is any merit behind it.
An easy cut off point between stronger and weaker teams is playoff qualification. As the Oilers haven’t qualified for the playoffs in any of the previous three seasons, a majority of their opponents are playoff qualifiers (on the flip side, a playoff team plays a majority of their games against non-playoff games). One can argue that the current playoff format doesn’t accurately qualify the league’s top 16 teams but for our analysis, it is a good cutoff point. Of the 210 regular season games Hall has dressed in over the past three seasons, 115 games were against playoff teams (54.76%) and 95 games were against non-playoff teams (45.24%). Let’s first look at his production metrics:
Hall has scored goals at a slightly higher rate against playoff teams than non-playoff teams over the past three seasons but his first assists and assists per 60 minutes of ice time against playoff teams is lower against playoff teams than non-playoff teams by a little larger margin. Combining Hall’s goals and assists, his Pts/60 is higher against non-playoff teams but not by much (2.50 to 2.34). In total, Hall has posted a 2.38 Pts/60 rating over the past three seasons, seventh best in the league. Following Hall is Colorado’s Matt Duchene at 2.32 Pts/60. There isn’t enough of a drop off in production to support Klefbom’s claim that Hall never has his best games against tougher teams. Let’s now look below the surface into shot attempt and goal statistics to see if there is any difference there in Hall’s performance against playoff and non-playoff teams.
Hall allows almost identical shot attempts against against both playoff and non-playoff teams but records over 7.5 shot attempts per 60 minutes of ice time for less against playoff teams compared to non-playoff teams (Note: all shot attempt and goal statistics are score, zone and venue adjusted). Hall is individually affected by this as he records over 1.5 individual shots on net (iSH/60) and over 2.5 individual shot attempts (iCF/60) less against playoff teams. Regardless, Hall’s production hasn’t fallen off but the minus five shot attempts per sixty minutes of ice time for Hall’s teammates may partly account for Hall’s drop in assists against playoff teams. As Hall scores goals at a higher rate against playoff teams but records more shots on net against non-playoff teams, he has a higher SH% against playoff teams (9.52% compared to 7.33%).
In total, Hall has posted a 49.56% CF% against non-playoff teams with a 3.06% CF%Rel but just a 46.41% CF% against playoff teams with a 1.48% CF%Rel (Note: the CF%Rel statistic isn’t an exact calculation but an average of Hall’s CF%Rel each game).
Looking at goal statistics, Edmonton scores goals at about the same rate whether Hall is playing against playoff or non-playoff teams but there is a large disparity for goals against. Hall gives up 2.37 GA/60 against non-playoff teams but that number jumps up almost one whole goal per sixty minutes to 3.26 when playing against playoff teams. Going back to my original hypothesis, this makes sense as Edmonton’s lack of defensive depth and weak goaltending has contributed to them not making the playoffs in recent memory. Despite this large increase in goals against against playoff teams, Hall has remained a very impactful player posting a 13.39% GF%Rel against playoff teams and a 14.37% GF%Rel against non-playoff teams (Note: Like the CF%Rel statistic, GF%Rel isn’t an exact calculation but an average of Hall’s GF%Rel each game).
In conclusion, there doesn’t seem to be any merit behind Klefbom’s comments saying Hall never played his best against tougher opponents. He produces at a very similar rate against both playoff and non-playoff teams and remains a positive impact player compared to his teammates in regards to his shot attempt and goal statistics.
It is possible that the Oiler’s bench was continuously counting on Hall to score a big goal in a close game where they found themselves down by a single goal but he wasn’t always able to come through which led to Klefbom’s comments. With this scenario, Klefbom and likely other Oilers’ teammates were ignoring what Hall had done earlier in the game to get the Oilers within a single goal.
Follow Steve Ness on Twitter: @QuickkNess