Faceoffs and Shawn Horcoff

Jonathan Willis
October 21 2009 11:11AM

After much hue and cry over the Oilers’ faceoff failures last season, the criticism of the team’s performance in that department has lessened. Of course, a 5-2-1 start lessens the criticism in every department, but the team has actually seen modest improvements, going from 47.9% last year to 49.4% this year.

That 1.5% increase basically works out to one extra faceoff win per game; which suggests that people like me may have raised too much fuss over last season’s struggles in the faceoff circle.

Still, it’s far too early to congratulate Quinn on improving the team’s faceoffs, or to congratulate Steve Tambellini on fixing the problem, because the reality is that the one of the biggest reasons the percentage has shifted is because Pat Quinn is using Shawn Horcoff on more faceoffs than Craig MacTavish did last year.

Consider this simple breakdown:

2008-09 Faceoffs

  • Horcoff: 53.9% success rate
  • Rest of the team: 44.4% success rate
  • Percentage of faceoffs taken by Horcoff: 36.86%

2009-10 Faceoffs

  • Horcoff: 54.0% success rate
  • Rest of the team: 46.3% success rate
  • Percentage of faceoffs taken by Horcoff: 40.50%

When you put all those numbers together, it means that of the 1.5% increase in faceoff percentage, nearly one-third of it (0.4%) was caused simply by Quinn’s decision to use Horcoff more on draws. Much of the rest can be attributed to Andrew Cogliano, who went from being the worst faceoff man in the NHL in the last decade to simply being below-average. If he can keep that up, it will make a significant difference to the Oilers season percentages (and really, it's a huge leap forward).

The real question though is how much using Horcoff for faceoff duty is hurting this team. Last year, the question of how much those extra faceoffs hurt the rest of Horcoff’s game was raised more than once around the Oilogosphere. This summer, Jason Gregor asked Horcoff about it in an interview (I’d post the link, but it seems to be gone), and Horcoff responded thusly:

 

"Honestly, there were times where it's taxing. There were times where at least in the third period I was taking every defensive zone faceoff for the majority of the games, and it gets tough. As easy as it sounds to just jump on the ice, take a faceoff and get off, it saps energy. You don't get the recovery time on the bench to get your legs back under you. A lot of times I was going on and off the ice four times within a minute and half, two minutes. It was a little bit tough."

 

"But, like I said, a player never complains about ice time. He enjoys being out there as hard as it is. I enjoy taking faceoffs. I've always taken pride in that part. It's a great one-on-one battle in the game and I like doing it. But, at the same time, a little bit of help would be nice in there."

 

Last year, Horcoff took 1756 faceoffs. This year, he’s on pace for 1804. Last year, Horcoff led the league in faceoffs taken. This year, he’s on pace to lead the league in faceoffs taken. Last year, he took far more defensive zone than offensive zone draws. This year, he’s taken far more defensive zone than offensive zone draws. Last year, Shawn Horcoff had his worst season since the NHL lockout. This year, given that his regular LW is J-F Jacques and his powerplay time has been reduced, he’ll probably be in tough to match last year’s results.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Gregors dirty 'stash
October 21 2009, 12:54PM
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This "log jam" can be cleared up by dumping MAP, Nilsson, SMAC....

There is a few mil right there. If it were only that simple though, we are all experts on here!!!!

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#52 Gregors dirty 'stash
October 21 2009, 12:55PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

Horcoff is the best option right now, plain and simple. Until Gagner or someone else steps up Horcoff will be the best option.

Sure I would love to move Horcoff, but not unless we are trading for someone that can fill the void or if someone takes his spot from within the club.

not to mention the contract...

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#53 Bucknuck
October 21 2009, 12:58PM
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When the deal was done he was worth it with the cap going up every year by a few million and Horc getting 0.9 pPg for two of the last three seasons before the signing. He had twenty goals in 50 games that year and that is worth what he received. It's hard to crucify KLowe over that. It's easy to look in hindsight and say "Yeah but the cap went down and the economic crisis and blah blah blah." He has of course dropped off the last couple of years, but I don't think you can blame Lowe for that.

All you folk talking about "whiffing", is it possible that the large amount of faceoffs and running on and off the ice might just be messing with his rhythm and also his focus. Twenty odd minutes a game is ridiculous for a forward. Take him out of the faceoff situation and he might score a few more of those.

watch him positionally on the ice at any given time and his vision of the ice has prevented many chances for the opposition long before they happen. Many shots taken from the outside are done so because the forwards aren't having the ability to drive deep against our centreman. Unfortunately most fans don't see any of that kind of play, they only notice the "whiffs".

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#54 GSC
October 21 2009, 12:58PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

~You know what? You're absolutely right.

The fact that I've written a number of articles about Horcoff clearly shows bias. After all, how many articles should an Oilers' blogger write about the team's first line centre? Maybe one?

Yes, after four years, eight games with poor results clearly show the masses were right all along. Because my agenda precludes honest evaluation of the subject, I need to toss out an article.

I'm primarily motivated by a desire to appear smart, something which becomes mopre and more doubtful every day.~

As for my motives, you don't have a clue.

You don't know, for example, that I decided I was going to write an article entitled "Pat Quinn's Faceoff Solution" and explain how Quinn had improved the Oilers' faceoff numbers. You don't know that when I looked at the data I realized a good chunk of the cause was because he was using Horcoff more than MacTavish did. You don't know that once I realized that Horcoff was going to be used in the same role as last year (albeit with less powerplay time) I decided I'd refocus the article on that.

No - all you know is that I think Horcoff's a more valuable player than you do, that I talked about his role in the article, and that you're right and I'm wrong. Therefore, the whole thing must have come about because of some grand plot of mine.

But go ahead, keep guessing my motives. Your ignorance of them hasn't kept your mouth shut so far, so there's no reason that it should in the future.

Of course I didn't know where you were going with this article to begin with, or what the title was, or the rationale you used. Why not state that in your findings? "I began to research (such and such), but found this..." That kind of thing makes your research look less biased.

You're explaining this to me now, postmortem. Why not do this in the article itself? That's what I was looking for, JW. The fact that you entitled the article "Faceoffs and Shawn Horcoffs" is suggestive, at least to me it is.

As for your agenda, it's simple to see really: why would you evaluate the statistics and write these articles if you're not trying to persuade someone to agree with you?

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#55 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 12:59PM
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Gregors dirty 'stash wrote:

This "log jam" can be cleared up by dumping MAP, Nilsson, SMAC....

There is a few mil right there. If it were only that simple though, we are all experts on here!!!!

Moving your 13-16th forwards doesn't open up a spot on the current lineup

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#56 GSC
October 21 2009, 01:00PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@GSC

What, exactly, are we arguing about?

You acknowledge pretty much all of my points about the last four years and then suggest that Horcoff hasn't played well to start the season and that you worry it may continue.

I acknowledge pretty much all of my points about the last four years and then suggest that Horcoff hasn't played well to start the season and that I worry it may continue.

Don't we almost always seem to come to this conclusion? LOL.

I just like to hear someone explain themselves if I feel that there is an underlying basis to an article that should be considered. You always do a good job of that, I can't say otherwise.

And that doesn't just go for your articles, that goes for pretty much anything (I'm an analytical ass).

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#57 AdamfromOilfans
October 21 2009, 01:01PM
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OilBaron wrote:

Playoffs. They are better overall with him out of the lineup based on his production and failing defensive play and giveaways.

You're kidding right?

Horcoff is currently playing the most minutes of any Oiler forward. He's facing the toughest competition on a nightly basis and taking the lion's share of the faceoffs.

Is he overpaid at $5.5MM/season? Probably yes, but that doesn't mean he's not a critical cog in the machine.

It should really be clear, given that Horcoff has the same responsibilities under Quinn that he had under MacTavish, that Shawn Horcoff is the #1C on this team. It's not close. There's absolutely no debate about that in the minds of two successive coaching staffs...just in the eyes of some fans who can't see past his contract.

Now, ideally, I'd like to see us have a great offensive center emerge over the next couple seasons, and Shawn Horcoff becomes the Rod Brind'Amour to that player's Eric Staal. I think that Brind'Amour is the best comparable to Horcoff, and if #10 can have a similar career, the Oilers do well. Now, Brind'Amour's top season was 97 points, but that was in a season where there were 8 players with 100+ and several more within spitting distance. It was another era. But Brind'Amour is still logging more minutes than any other Hurricane forward and he was absolutely vital to their Cup run.

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#58 Gregors dirty 'stash
October 21 2009, 01:03PM
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@Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

Thats true, I am no hockey expert I jsut thoguth they may help clear the way for a faceoff man.

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#60 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 01:09PM
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@Gregors dirty 'stash

I would like one as much as the next guy, but who do you bump from center at this point? Also as stated the management staff had multiple chances to fix this in the off-season and even now, but it is apparent they rather let the kids play through their problems and learn. And really is that a bad thing? Like I said earlier we are no contender, so maybe now is the time for these kids to learn, not 3 years from now when we need them to win draws in the playoffs.

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#61 Word
October 21 2009, 01:11PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

Mike Peca year

Horcoff 52.7% Stoll 56.8% Peca 54.9% Reasoner 52.5%

Team was 53.4% which was 2nd overall

If 1.5% is a negligible increase and only wins you 1 extra faceoffs per game (just borrowing Willis' math), then at 53.4%, the Oilers were winning less than 3 more faceoffs per game in the Peca Year than they are now (49.4%)...

So... the difference between 2nd in the league (which was some kind of bragging right?) compared to now (which is some sort of embarassment?) is only double the "modest improvement"?

Stats are ridiculous. Now we need some kinda special Corsi* Faceoff Calculator for quality and importance of faceoff opponents, otherwise I'm not all that concerned about 2.7 faceoffs per game. <p? *I'm being facetious.. Corsi actually interprets the calculation of TOI to compared to PPG while considering SH% with prevalence of STDs and H1N1... right?

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#62 Dan the Man
October 21 2009, 01:15PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Fun question, for everyone:

If Horcoff gets hurt and is out for the season next game, are the Oilers closer to the playoffs or the draft lottery?

I am not a Horcoff hater and we don't really have a better option as a number one centre right now anyways but the blame for Horcoff's contract should be placed squarely upon K-Lo's shoulders.

Horcoff is very valuable to this team. I don't think anyone can dispute this fact, regardless of how you feel about him.

In the 8 seasons he's played in the NHL he's had 2 seasons where he averaged close to a point a game, in the other 6 he's been slightly over a half point per game (.53)

IMO the 2 seasons at close to a point per game are an aberration, he will get his 50-60 points this year and probably avaerage around 50-55 points for the balance of this contract.

When all is said and done however this is better with him that wothout him.

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#63 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 01:16PM
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Word wrote:

If 1.5% is a negligible increase and only wins you 1 extra faceoffs per game (just borrowing Willis' math), then at 53.4%, the Oilers were winning less than 3 more faceoffs per game in the Peca Year than they are now (49.4%)...

So... the difference between 2nd in the league (which was some kind of bragging right?) compared to now (which is some sort of embarassment?) is only double the "modest improvement"?

Stats are ridiculous. Now we need some kinda special Corsi* Faceoff Calculator for quality and importance of faceoff opponents, otherwise I'm not all that concerned about 2.7 faceoffs per game. <p? *I'm being facetious.. Corsi actually interprets the calculation of TOI to compared to PPG while considering SH% with prevalence of STDs and H1N1... right?

For the record we are 16th in the league, so it's not like we are horrible as a whole. The problem lately compared to back in the Peca year was that we had multiple players that could take a draw and if one went down or one was in the box you didn't have to worry too much.

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#64 Word
October 21 2009, 01:18PM
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Umm... I'm not a math guy, so forgive what will likely be an error, but if Horc accounts for 0.4% of a 1.5% increase, then 1.1% is attributable to the other guys. Since there's only about 4 or 5 guys (im too lasy to look this up) who take faceoffs with any regularity, I was wondering:

Has any player contributed greater than a 0.4% impact on the improvement?

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#67 Oil Fever
October 21 2009, 02:46PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

If you haven't been convinced by the other 3000 articles I've written with the math, I'm not going to convince you by telling you about defensive zone draws, quality of competition, or that Horcoff's easily one of the NHL' 100-best offensive forwards since the lockout.

So why should I waste my time?

I'd love to see your list of the other 99 and who exactly got bumped on the 101st side and up.

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#68 Ogden Brother
October 21 2009, 03:18PM
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GSC wrote:

Of course this is going to be thrown out there as a reason/excuse for Horcoff's offensive woes. And maybe it is the case.

Or, could it be that he's just not that good offensively, and that the boxcars of previous years were all smoke and mirrors?

I'd like to add a stat in regards to Horcoff: number and frequency of whiffs. If he were a baseball player, Horc would be at the bottom of the batting order. He'd be the typical one-dimensional infielder who can field, but can't hit.

That's how I see it.

I'd really like to see some numbers behind the "whiffs" Horc is putting, I was at the game Tuesday and was watching for "whiffs" from other guys, Horc had a couple but so did Grebs/Vish/Hemsky and a few others.

Everyone is beeting the whiff drum, lets see someone put some proofs behind the endless claims.

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#69 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
October 21 2009, 03:20PM
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Ogden Brother wrote:

I'd really like to see some numbers behind the "whiffs" Horc is putting, I was at the game Tuesday and was watching for "whiffs" from other guys, Horc had a couple but so did Grebs/Vish/Hemsky and a few others.

Everyone is beeting the whiff drum, lets see someone put some proofs behind the endless claims.

Is there a whiff stat out there? I don't think so. Horcoff is an easy target because he has them at bad times or when no one is near him.

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#71 Ogden Brother
October 21 2009, 03:35PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

Is there a whiff stat out there? I don't think so. Horcoff is an easy target because he has them at bad times or when no one is near him.

I doubt it, but for the amount of times I see it posted here, I'd like to see one of the masses step up and prove he whiffs a disproportionate amount of times.

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#72 Senator Theo
October 21 2009, 03:35PM
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Gregors dirty 'stash wrote:

not to mention the contract...

If Scott Gomez' contract is moveable, anything is possible.

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#74 Ogden Brother
October 21 2009, 04:43PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I'd actually like to see it, since I think he whiffs more often than most but not nearly as much (relative to others) as people think.

Agreed (more then avg but not near to the extent that it's mentioned). He's had a few glaring whiffs, gets called out on it and now everyone is watching for it - how myths are spread.

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#75 BK
October 21 2009, 07:35PM
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I don't get it! By your OWN STATS JW, the rest of the team has improved by 1.9m and yet the improvement is based on Horc taking more draws? With stats this small VS a full season I say that the likely projections will see an improvement with or without Horcoff.

If Horcoff is gone for the season, we ARE definately out of the playoffs without another move. There is an argument that the cap space makes room for a move this season, or at the deadline, but we are not a better team with him gone alone.

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#76 chartleys
October 21 2009, 09:13PM
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IF any of you on here in the Horc hate brigade also believe that:

We would have an easier time moving ethan moreau than horcoff in a deal

That the monetary figure of 7 million carries greater significance than the cap hit

That we should be peddling gilbert, grebs or smid

That the bulin contract is a beauty

Lift your hands off the key board and walk away from your computers please. There is no sense to bother commenting really. There would be a better chance of getting through to an unmanned muppet than your ilk. Out of all the instances of poor cap and personal management Klove has produced in his term, this one is very low on the list.

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