Faceoffs

Jonathan Willis
October 13 2010 07:54PM

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 3: Gilbert Brule #67 of the Edmonton Oilers skates on the ice in a game between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers during an NHL game on October 3, 2009 at Rexall Arena in Edmonton, Canada. The Flames defeated the Oilers 4-3. (Photo by Jimmy Jeong/Getty Images)

There are a lot of reasons not to be worried. The season is two games in, and it’s pretty hard to see much meaningful in two games. Not only that, but the Oilers have won both of them, and the off-season’s biggest question mark, Nikolai Khabibulin, has been splendid. Still, faceoffs have been pointed to as an area of concern.

Oilers Nation’s Jason Gregor highlighted the faceoff issue in his most recent column:

[The Oilers’] most glaring weakness has been their faceoffs; Again. Shawn Horcoff and Colin Fraser were supposed to be good, but they are 40% and 42.3% respectively. Gilbert Brule is 70% on the ten draws he has taken, and you wonder if Renney will start to use him more. They were awful against Florida, 33%, and that was a big reason why the Panthers always seemed to have the puck. It is early, but Renney admitted he is concerned, so I'll be curious to see what he does to improve it.

Given the problems of the last few seasons, it’s probably a good idea to be aware of the issue and keeping an eye out, but something struck me about the percentages Gregor quoted: the two players most of us expected to be good, Horcoff and Fraser, are also the two guys taking a lot of faceoffs on the penalty kill. This got me to wondering whether that could be submarining their totals, so I went back and got the Oilers faceoff numbers by game state. They are as follow:

 

Even Strength

Player Wins Losses Percentage
Gilbert Brule 2 1 66.67%
Colin Fraser 9 9 50.00%
Shawn Horcoff 8 9 47.06%
Andrew Cogliano 6 9 40.00%
Sam Gagner 6 12 33.33%

 

Power Play

Player Wins Losses Percentage
Sam Gagner 2 0 100.00%
Gilbert Brule 5 1 83.33%
Shawn Horcoff 2 2 50.00%

 

Penalty Kill

Player Wins Losses Percentage
Sam Gagner 1 2 33.33%
Colin Fraser 2 6 25.00%
Shawn Horcoff 2 7 22.22%

Those numbers help show the debate in a little more balanced terms:. We see Horcoff’s just one faceoff below the 50% mark, while Fraser is at exactly 50% at even-strength. Like most teams, the Oilers have done a tremendous job winning face-offs on the power play, taking home 75% of the draws.

Shorthanded, the opposite is true: they’ve won only 25% of draws. Brule’s been a beneficiary of a lot of power play draws, while Horcoff and Fraser have seen their overall number plummet thanks to taking a lot of penalty-killing faceoffs.

That said, as the season goes on this should balance out – the 75/25 split on special teams was much smaller last year, and I’d expect that as we get further into the season we’ll see the difference shrink (though it won’t ever get to a 50/50 balance).

That isn’t to say that Brule’s faceoff wins on the power play don’t matter, or that the struggles of Horcoff/Fraser on the penalty-kill don’t matter either, just that it’s important to take into account where these players take their draws when comparing them. Still, if Brule’s power play numbers stay solid I don’t see why he wouldn’t end up getting more faceoffs at even-strength.

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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 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
October 14 2010, 04:37PM
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D-Man wrote:

I guess that's my point... We're in a rebuild - why bother signing a 'stop-gap' player?? I agree hopefully with Lander, VV, Pitlick or Hartkinen perhaps we have that player in the future... I can't justify spending over $3.0 million for someone who isn't going to be here a year or two later... Unless we need to add a piece here or there for a 'Cup run, let's keep that cap space open...

this is probably my biggest pet peeve here:

"let's keep that cap space open..."

I don't know if people think cap space carries forward or something, but their is zero benifit to have left over cap space at the end of the year.

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#52 Cervantes
October 14 2010, 05:54PM
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Why worry about "holding back" a player who won't play here this year, and maybe next? Why worry about "cap space" when we have plenty? Fact is, you want to build a winning culture, YOU WIN. If you lack an important piece of the team, you don't win.

Tell me, who's going to be the faceoff mule if Horcules goes down again? Who's going to keep this team over 40%? Hell, who's there to help out so he doesn't get exhausted by game 40?

Fact is, the Oilers have needed Stoll (or Stoll 2.0), and continue to need him. A youngish (or hell, even late 20's early 30's guy who's not signed for 10 years) Pk/Fo/Tough Minutes guy is more than just a piece of a puzzle. He's a guy his teammates look to when times are tough, he's the one you want to see out there when you take a bad penalty, he's the one you're cheering from the bench for in the last minute of a one goal game. He's not a "waste" of an extra million, and he sure as shucks doesn't "hold back" a 19 year old NCAA player or a young Finn. When they're ready they can step up. For now, this young team could sorely use that kind of player, to look to when times are tough and be inspired by and feel secure with. It will help them compete, and help them win, and those are both things this team desperately needs to feel it can do.

If we're at the bottom of the standings come January, you can bet your bottom dollar it will be a result of a 76%PK and a team 46% FO.

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#53 Cervantes
October 14 2010, 06:02PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

"And now that he's wasted NHL contract slots on O'Marra and other AHL lifers and we're (IIRC) 2 from the limit, we can't really poach off the waiver wire either"

How does the fact that the team is 2 contracts from the limit prevent them from filling a need off the waiver wire?

It doesn't prevent us, but it does mean we need much, much more caution. I'd be much happier to be 4 contracts away. It's a question of how many chances you get to take, because you really, really don't want to be stuck at 50. So we pretty much have 1 player now that we can claim. Who? This guy? Is he good enough? Will another, better guy come through later? Gotta have one spot open in case we need to make a package deal later on and take more bodies back.

What I'm saying is, when you're a few bodies away from the limit, you're more willing to take a chance. Greiss? Good goalie, probably, but now instead of a debate about his merits, it becomes "is this really the one guy you wanna go with"? There have been a few "maybes" come through this month... but when you're so tight up, it really becomes hard to pull the trigger.

Also, I have a general problem with Tambi wasting NHL contracts on players who sure as shoot weren't gonna play here. No way O'Marra makes the team. Reddox, I love the kid, but he was always on the outside looking in. I think Ondrus got one too. And JFJ? Will he even play this year? He's about as useful as a coke machine that will only take nickles.

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#54 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
October 14 2010, 09:30PM
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Cervantes wrote:

It doesn't prevent us, but it does mean we need much, much more caution. I'd be much happier to be 4 contracts away. It's a question of how many chances you get to take, because you really, really don't want to be stuck at 50. So we pretty much have 1 player now that we can claim. Who? This guy? Is he good enough? Will another, better guy come through later? Gotta have one spot open in case we need to make a package deal later on and take more bodies back.

What I'm saying is, when you're a few bodies away from the limit, you're more willing to take a chance. Greiss? Good goalie, probably, but now instead of a debate about his merits, it becomes "is this really the one guy you wanna go with"? There have been a few "maybes" come through this month... but when you're so tight up, it really becomes hard to pull the trigger.

Also, I have a general problem with Tambi wasting NHL contracts on players who sure as shoot weren't gonna play here. No way O'Marra makes the team. Reddox, I love the kid, but he was always on the outside looking in. I think Ondrus got one too. And JFJ? Will he even play this year? He's about as useful as a coke machine that will only take nickles.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the team can simply cut loose AHL fodder if they need an extra contract spot.

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#55 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
October 14 2010, 09:31PM
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~Good thing we don't have a 3C that can PK or win FO~

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