Lay off the Orange Crush: Edmonton still lost the Hall for Larsson trade

Evan Presement
April 30 2017 08:00AM

Recently, talk surrounding last summer's Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade has picked up. Why? Well, Larsson and the Oilers are in the second round of the playoffs while Hall's Devils are focused on the draft lottery.

I had the pleasure of discussing Hall vs. Larsson's value with a few Oilers over the last few days and yes, they all (with a few exceptions) believe that either: 1) Edmonton flat out won the trade or, 2) it was a deal that "had to be done." And if you disagree with that, you're an idiot.

Both of these positions are wrong. Unlike many who defend the trade, I'll actually be providing evidence other than wins and losses to back up my stance.

Before I get into things, let's play a quick game. Can you guess the player?

PLAYER A: 50.02 CF%, 14 EV pts, 2.68 xGA60, 8.85 SCA60
PLAYER B: 51.31 CF%, 14 EV pts, 2.32 xGA60, 7.19 SCA60

Drumroll, please! Player A is Adam Larsson. Player B is Mark Pysyk. One completely saved a franchise, the other is a never-talked-about acquisition who was traded four days earlier. Apparently it's really hard to acquire these guys, though. Ah, well. Onwards.

Anyways, despite the position in which the Oilers currently find themselves, the Hall for Larsson trade is still a massive failure and a black mark on the organization. Here's why.

Taylor Hall wasn't the issue in the first place

There's this idea that a team can't win with a player like Taylor Hall. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Isn't that the same narrative that followed Phil Kessel throughout his career until, you know, he won a Cup (and should have won the Conn Smythe) with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The difference between these two players is that Hall is better.

There were a few other narratives that surrounded Hall throughout his time in Edmonton but there are two that bug me the most: That he was bad defensively and he was a locker room cancer.

Before I get into the actual Hall vs. Larsson debate, I just want to talk a bit about both of these topics.

No one argues that Hall isn't a great scorer - that's something everyone can (and does) agree on. When it comes to defense, though, ask any Oilers fan and they'll tell you that Hall was a huge part of the reason the team was porous defensively. Except for, you know, that's not even remotely true.

Yes, it's true that for years the Oilers were terrible defensively. However, the moment Hall stepped on the ice, things seemed to change for the better. Here's a look at how Hall impacted his team with and without him on the ice during his last season, and his career, with the Oilers.

Here are last season's results:

2015/16 season CF% SCF% xGF%
Hall on ice 51.88 55.15 54.57
Hall off ice 47.55 46.57 46.76

To put those numbers into perspective, 47.5 possession from last season would put the Oilers just above the Buffalo Sabres for eighth worst in the NHL. Meanwile, a 51.88 mark would have ranked eighth best. Funny how that works.

Also, both Hall's SCF% and xGF% ranked second on the Oilers, behind only Connor McDavid.

Without Hall on the ice, Edmonton's results cratered. Their possession numbers, coupled with their expected goals and share of scoring chances, were horrendous.

If you think that's a one-off, here are Hall's results from his career as an Oiler:

Career w/ EDM CF% SCF% xGF%
Hall on ice 49.54 50.14 49.95
Hal off ice 45.25 43.08 43.72

Hall made everyone who ever played with him better - it shows in the results. Now, you're probably thinking "but you already talked about his offense, what does this have to do with his defensive capabilities?"

You know the saying "the best defense is offense?" Well, yeah - it's true.

I'm not going to post year-by-year (I want to keep this part as short as possible) but here's a look at how the Oilers defended shots against with and without Hall on the ice last season.



So, not only was Hall essentially the only player keeping the team from being expansion-level bad before McDavid came along, but Edmonton actually defended better than average when he was on the ice. Wow. Who'da thunk it!

As for the part about Hall being a locker room cancer, here's the thing - who cares? Look at a guy like Patrick Kane. He's a well-known scumbag, yet somehow people are able to forget that and only focus on his play on the ice. Hall? Who cares if he's a bad teammate? His results on the ice speak for themselves and he made his teammates better. That's about the best thing a teammate can do, is it not?

Anyways, Taylor Hall was (and is) a great player. Anyways, to the trade.

Adam Larsson has not 'stabilized their d-core'

This is the most frustrating argument I've come across so far just because it's blatantly not true. Before I start to get deeper into this subject, I'd like to preface it by saying that I don't dislike Adam Larsson as a player. I think he's a decent piece that has some value. The argument I'm trying to make is that Taylor Hall's value far outweighs that of Larsson, both defensively and offensively.

Now that that's out of the way, I'm going to touch on the notion that Larsson has completely re-shaped Edmonton's blue line. Do the Oilers have a better d-core than they did last season? Yes. Are they better defensively as a team? Yes, they are. The question is, how much better are they and why did they get better?

The first thing that needs to be addressed is that the Edmonton Oilers improved in a number of other areas this season. Whether it was the Lucic signing, the fact that McDavid played an entire season, the development of Draisaitl, the emergence of Patrick Maroon, Cam Talbot playing all but nine games... Some people talk about the Oilers' overhaul like the Larsson acquisition was the only thing that happened. That's incorrect.

Let's take a look at some of Edmonton's basic defensive numbers from this season compared to last.

  CF% xGA60 SCA60
2015/16 48.9 2.55 8.39
2016/17 49.98 2.62 8.78

Interestingly enough, Edmonton's expected goals against and scoring chances against actually worsened (slightly) this season. Funny, considering I was told repeatedly that this was a much, much better defensive team than last season.

Also, if you take a look at their penalty kill numbers, their PK was actually more effective last season, clicking at 81.1% compared to 80.7% this season. Again, it's an incremental difference, but it completely goes against the notion that this is a team that has significantly improved defensively.

As for what happens when Larsson's on the ice, the Oilers actually seem to do a better job preventing shots from in close when he's off the ice compared to when he's on.



His relative-to-team numbers back this up. Take a look:

Adam Larsson CF%Rel RelxGA60 RelSCA60
2016/17 -0.05 0.09 0.03

Again, these aren't numbers that scream 'defensive stalwart'. These are numbers that scream 'average defender on a very average defensive team'. Wow, it's almost like that's what Larsson's been his entire career.

So, if it's not Larsson that's been the driving force behind Edmonton's supposed defensive turnaround, what's the reason?

Other areas of the team have drastically improved

It's almost like adding the best player in the universe to your roster for an entire season would have a positive effect on the team, huh? Crazy, I know - considering Oilers fans go out of their way to not give McDavid credit, instead heaping praise on Larsson, Russell, Kassian, and the like.

As I mentioned, there were a number of moving parts with the Oilers this year. They signed Lucic. They got 73 quality starts out of the first true number one they've had in years. They got their full first season out of McDavid. They coaxed nearly 30 goals out of Patrick Maroon, and Leon Draisaitl took massive leaps forward as a player.

Add all these together and what do you get? A competent team.

Another part of the equation that I haven't mentioned yet has been the emergence of Oskar Klefbom as a legitimate top-pairing defenseman. Klefbom is really, really good, and Larsson played 1,058 even strength minutes with him this season. The next highest amount of time Larsson's played with a defender is Kris Russell. They played 164 minutes together.

There's absolutely no doubt that Larsson's results have been positively influenced by Klefbom. When together, the pair sits just below 50% possession. When apart, Larsson sits just over 50% possession, and Klefbom sits over 52%.

Just to give anyone reading this an idea of how good Klefbom is, here's an easy visual: 

Also, just for fun, here's what Larsson looks like:

It takes a really stubborn fan to look past all the changes and improvements the Oilers made this offseason and conclude that Adam Larsson, of all people, was the driving force behind all the success.

Taylor Hall has had a much better all-around impact than Adam Larsson this season

I know I've kind of touched on this already, but to be good defensively, you don't have to be 'good defensively'. I know that sounds strange but, when you think about it, it's absolutely true. The more you have the puck, the less the opposition has the chance to score on you. I'd rather have a player who drives play any day of the week over a player who lets the play come to him but knows how to position himself when it does.

Because most people don't think this way, Taylor Hall got labelled a bad defensive player. I've already shown that he was anything but bad defensively with his time with the Oilers in the first portion of the article, and I'm going to show you that nothing's changed since his departure.

This is how New Jersey defends with (left) and without (with) Hall on the ice:

I mean, come on - that's pretty impressive. How can anyone say that Hall doesn't have a positive impact defensively? It makes no sense. Also, just to show how much of an impact offensively he's made on New Jersey, here's their shot locations with (left) and without (right) him on the ice:

Obviously, Hall is having an extremely positive impact on the Devils. This is why the 'the only thing that matters to me is wins, and Hall clearly isn't doing enough for New Jersey' argument is so insanely stupid.

Listen, hockey is arguably the most team-centric sport there is. In basketball if you had LeBron James on your team, you're making the playoffs. In football, same goes for Tom Brady. Baseball's different because it's a number of 1 on 1, isolated matchups. Hockey's a completely different beast.

Remember when Sidney Crosby scored 102 points in his rookie season and the Penguins won 22 games? What about when Alex Ovechkin scored 106 points and the Caps only won 29 games. Were they not doing enough to help their teams win? That's a BS argument and anyone who uses it to defend or bash a player doesn't deserve the time of day.

Getting to Larsson, I know I already posted this above, but just to reiterate: The Oilers did a better job suppressing shots from the slot while he was on the bench (right) rather than when he was on the ice (left):

I feel like I need to repeat myself when I say that Larsson isn't a bad player and I don't have it out for him. However, as the guy touted as completely re-shaping Edmonton's back end, the numbers don't do a good job of backing that thought up.

Larsson's shot locations for while he's on the ice are slightly better than when he's on the bench, so I'll give him that. However, he plays his most forward minutes with McDavid, Lucic, and Eberle, so I'm sure that has something to do with it. Also, Larsson is a decent puck mover, but I wouldn't exactly say he's known for his offensive abilities.

In conclusion...

It was a bad trade then, and it's a bad trade now.

Would the Edmonton Oilers be in the same position now had they kept Taylor Hall? Unless things had gone sideways, the answer is yes, absolutely. I mean, sure, good for Edmonton for succeeding with Larsson instead, but it was a huge downgrade nonetheless.

I already know that people who disagree with this article are going to say "The Oilers were dealing from a position of strength. McDavid, Draisitl, etc. They could afford to lose Hall." Listen, if I owned five Ferrari's and traded one straight up for a Subaru Impreza because I needed a hatchback, is that a good trade? No, it's not - stop being silly.

I'm happy for the Oilers - I really am. They're a team that's been down for so long and it's nice to finally see them do well. Plus, it's always more fun when Canadian teams do well at the same time.

This isn't a hit piece on the Oilers, their fans, or Adam Larsson. It just bugs me to no end when a narrative is pushed and it simply isn't true. Here, check out this tweet from Pierre LeBrun...

It's not hard to find those guys, and it's not 'exactly' what anyone needs. He's a nice piece to have, but he's not the answer.

Truth is, he probably never will be.

I'm @e_presement on twitter, I'm always right in my analysis, and I love the game.