BLINDSPOTS: WHAT THE OILERS DON'T SEE

Robin Brownlee
October 17 2010 01:32PM

When it comes to organizational blind spots, the Edmonton Oilers seem as incapable of recognizing the importance of having centres who can win face-offs, and doing something about it, as the Philadelphia Flyers have been at finding goaltenders who can stop pucks.

While the Flyers have been unable to get it right in the blue paint since Ron Hextall retired, a weak link that's been obvious to everybody but the people making the decisions in the City of Brotherly Love, Edmonton's management has become equally inept at recognizing how badly the Oilers are wanting on the face-off dot.

Ever since the Stanley Cup run of 2006, fans, bloggers and even some MSM types have been looking at the stats and eyeballing Edmonton's personnel down the middle as the Oilers have slid from the top of the heap on the dot to the depths of futility. If we can see it, why can't the Oilers?

If they see it, too, might they consider addressing the issue?

That futility was on display yet again in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames, a loss that leaves the Oilers 2-2 on the season and 29th in NHL face-off percentage at 40.2.

ALL THUMBS

As of this morning, not one of Edmonton's full-time centres is winning draws at even a 45 per cent clip, let alone at 50 per cent, the acceptable cut-off mark for mediocrity.

Shawn Horcoff is 31-45 on the dot for 40. 8 per cent. Sam Gagner is 18-35 for 34.0. Colin Fraser is 20-26 for 43.5. Andrew Cogliano is an abysmal 7-20 for 25.9. Only Gilbert Brule, who shares face-offs with the hopeless Cogliano, has good numbers: he's 13-6 for 68.4 per cent.

I get it that the percentages from the first four games, taken on their own, aren't conclusive. But we've been talking about the Oilers ineptitude on the dot a lot over the past two seasons. Outside the addition of Fraser, the personnel hasn't changed. Neither have the results. This has been an area of decline that's spanned four years, not four games.

In 2005-06, the Oilers were second in the NHL in face-off percentage with 53.4. Jarret Stoll was 56.8. Mike Peca was 54.9. Horcoff was 52.7 and Marty Reasoner was 52.5. In 2006-07, the Oilers slipped to eighth at 51.5. In 2007-08, they finished 12th at 50.5.

In 2008-09, they were 25th at 47.9. Last season, they were 30th at 46.4.

Trend?

FIX IT ALREADY

There are a lot of reasons why the Oilers have been a bad team since the 2006 Cup run. Injuries have played a part. Special teams, too often, have been a laughing stock. Goaltending? Hit and miss.

The constant since Stoll, Peca, Horcoff and Reasoner were a quartet, has been an inability to win face-offs. It shouldn't be a news bulletin, but, based on the team's failure to address the matter, it is with GM Steve Tambellini. Outside bringing in Fraser, who was 48.8 per cent in Chicago last season, nothing has been done.

If Tambellini and coach Tom Renney see a fix from within, it escapes me. Cogliano? No. What about Gagner? Maybe. Brule? Another maybe. I expect Horcoff to bounce back, but the Oilers need two centres, at a minimum, who win more face-offs than they lose, no?

I'm not as worried about the relationship -- one that's up to debate -- between face-offs and winning and losing games here and now as I am about how this unfolds moving forward. This is a rebuilding team. They aren't winning jack right now, even if they're top-10 in the circles.

But down the road two or three years, if everything else goes right and this team is ready to contend, are we going to be talking about the same problem?

-- Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#101 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
October 18 2010, 01:14PM
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@Cowbell_Feva

"I am not one of these people who trolls boards and listens to the bulls#$& that the Edmonton media speaks about Horcoff."

No, you pretty much fall into the one trick pony, raving lunatic catagory.

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#102 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
October 18 2010, 01:27PM
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The length of Taylors shifts seems to be garnering some attention this week. The trend in todays game leans towards a shorter more energetic shift for most players, i say let Hall have at'er. Nothing wrong with a one minute shift give or take, put him with a couple other guys that have the same stamina that he has. What is there to lose, other than fewer too many men oti penalties as well as the awkward 3-4 second transition between lines. There's much for Taylor to learn in the coming years but perhaps Taylor could show the Oilers a new thing or two as well, let the future captain of this team alone.

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#103 Jonathan Willis
October 18 2010, 01:45PM
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@ Quicksilver ballet:

This may be of interest to you.

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#104 Jonathan Willis
October 18 2010, 01:50PM
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Even-strength faceoff numbers from last season (min. 200 draws):

Brule: 52.6%

Potulny: 48.4%

Horcoff: 48.3%

Penner: 47.1%

Gagner: 47.0%

Pouliot: 43.8%

Cogliano: 42.3%

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#105 michael clarke
October 18 2010, 03:51PM
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Robin you stated that Horcoff was 31/45 with a 40.8 % faceoff percentage? That would equate to 68%? Or did you mean to say 21/45 which would be 46%. To be 40.8% he would have to be 18/45. Could you please check that faceoff percentage again for us.

please and thankyou.

p.s. To all of the OilerNation. Get out and Vote.Make your vote count. Don't sit on the sidelines.Make yourself heard as we do on OilersNation.

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#106 Crash
October 18 2010, 03:56PM
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michael clarke wrote:

Robin you stated that Horcoff was 31/45 with a 40.8 % faceoff percentage? That would equate to 68%? Or did you mean to say 21/45 which would be 46%. To be 40.8% he would have to be 18/45. Could you please check that faceoff percentage again for us.

please and thankyou.

p.s. To all of the OilerNation. Get out and Vote.Make your vote count. Don't sit on the sidelines.Make yourself heard as we do on OilersNation.

I believe 31/45 means 31 faceoffs won and 45 faceoffs lost. So it's 31 out of a total of 76 for a 40.8% success rate.

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#107 michael clarke
October 18 2010, 03:57PM
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Oilers89 wrote:

They should try bringing in a retired faceoff ace to help teach how to win a faceoff, if they are not going to bring in a center to help.

Remember when they brought in Adam Oates? He is a guy I would look to for that kind of teaching.

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#109 Cowbell_Feva
October 18 2010, 04:35PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

"I am not one of these people who trolls boards and listens to the bulls#$& that the Edmonton media speaks about Horcoff."

No, you pretty much fall into the one trick pony, raving lunatic catagory.

You don't even make sense. One trick pony, raving lunatic? If you are going to TRY to insult someone (over the internet yet) maybe come up with something good/funny/relevant?

If you haven't figured out that the Edmonton media somehow brags-up Horcoff in some kind of blind religious fashion you must be one of the misguided disciples that can't think for himself and can only listen to the bias opinion of those speaking this blasphemy.

I'm guessing because Horcoff works hard on the ice, and is available to the media and is polite that they seem to give him the benefit of the doubt when talking about his ablilities. I am not the only Oiler fan that has a knowledge of the game that thinks Horcoff is very highly overrated. If anything IMO he is one of their worst forwards....his plus/minus last year could be an indicator of that, no??

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#111 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
October 18 2010, 05:15PM
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Cowbell_Feva wrote:

You don't even make sense. One trick pony, raving lunatic? If you are going to TRY to insult someone (over the internet yet) maybe come up with something good/funny/relevant?

If you haven't figured out that the Edmonton media somehow brags-up Horcoff in some kind of blind religious fashion you must be one of the misguided disciples that can't think for himself and can only listen to the bias opinion of those speaking this blasphemy.

I'm guessing because Horcoff works hard on the ice, and is available to the media and is polite that they seem to give him the benefit of the doubt when talking about his ablilities. I am not the only Oiler fan that has a knowledge of the game that thinks Horcoff is very highly overrated. If anything IMO he is one of their worst forwards....his plus/minus last year could be an indicator of that, no??

Seemed pretty clear to me: What percentage of your posts are anti Horcoff? 80? 90? Looks like a one trick pony.

Considering the time and effort you put into your one passion that puts you into the raving lunatic category.

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#112 dawgbone
October 18 2010, 05:46PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

Clean draw wins are not "rare." You're overstating. At the same time, there's no denying the Oilers have been lousy on the 50-50 pucks. Mind you, there's less of those if you have an accomplished centre.

The reason Adam Oates had consistently high face-off percentages wasn't because he had wingers winning all the 50-50 pucks in every stop with every team of his long career. It's because he was damn good at taking face-offs. Cogliano isn't lousy in percentage primarily because his wingers aren't helping him, it's because he's no good on the dot.

They are rare. I'd say less than 30% of faceoffs result in a clean win (which is when the centre is able to get the puck to 5 or 6 feet in the direction he's trying to win the draw to.

There are definitely guys who can win them cleanly far better than others, but they are the exception. The difference between being 52% and 48% or a 48% and 44% face-off man is often small.

The Oilers for a while had guys who were not only good at face-offs (Reasoner, Stoll, etc..) but guys who were good at getting the puck (Smyth, Pisani, Torres). As you strip these guys away and don't replace them you lose an important part of winning face offs.

I'm not suggesting that Cogs is 25% because he has no winger support, but the Oilers are hurting at face-offs in general because of the lack of winger support.

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#113 Robin Brownlee
October 18 2010, 05:54PM
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@dawgbone

No, they aren't "rare."

Something that occurs 30 per cent (assuming you aren't way off in saying clean draws happen that seldom), even 25 per cent of the time in any given game, is not rare.

No-hitters are rare. Hitting for the cycle is rare. Wanye having a date or a shower is rare. A hat-trick at the NHL level is relatively rare, though not nearly as rare as the previous three examples.

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#114 guymez
October 18 2010, 06:41PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

If the Oilers address their faceoff deficiencies this season they might win a few more games. How will that help them draft in the top 3 this year? How?

It's in the team's best interest to stay brutal on the dot. This team is already capable of finishing out of the lottery, the last thing I want to see is them to get JUST good enough to ensure they wont make the playoffs OR pick high.

I sense your comment was tongue in cheek, but what the hell...I'll comment anyway. One would think that winning faceoffs might help with the development of players like Hall, Paajarvi and Eberle. Puck possession as opposed to chasing and retrieving after 70% of the faceoffs would be a nice change of pace.

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#115 dawgbone
October 18 2010, 07:11PM
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@Robin Brownlee

Way to argue semantics.

You are calling me out on that while your whole piece essentially says "The Oilers are terrible at face-offs and management doesn't even know it!".

Really?

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#117 Archaeologuy
October 18 2010, 08:40PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

What good is another lottery pick if the team continues to show they can't improve? Sooner or later you need to start showing you can improve. If not then kiss good-bye whatever remaining good players we have.

That's a pretty ridiculous thing to say. Why couldnt the core of the team be getting better AND the Oilers pick in the lottery?

Vets like Penner and Hemsky are obviously looking like they're maintaining their good play.

That leaves the young core to look at for the future of the Oilers.

For me on the NHL club that's Gagner, Eberle, Paajarvi, Hall, Cogliano, Smid, and Peckham.

The three kids are raw rookies. How could they not get better? Everything we've seen from these kids suggests that they have every chance to be special players.

Gagner, at 21, is already centering the top line and playing quite well. His most glaring deficiency is on the faceoff dot. If he can prove to maintain his good play on the top line all year and produce 55+ points then that's clear improvement.

Smid (24) is coming off neck surgery and is playing against better competition than he ever has before. By the end of the season if he hasnt emberassed himself then he's clearly improved his role with the club.

Peckham is breaking into the NHL. If he establishes himslef as a full time player then he's clearly improved.

That leaves Cogliano. If he cant improve his lot this year then yes, maybe it is time to move on and let him try his hand in a different situation. He should play either on the wing or on a different club if he cant improve at all this season.

There are plenty of select INDIVIDUALS who can improve without the team improving all that much. Adding lottery pick players only helps the club. With better goaltending and a healthy group it will be tough to select top 5.

Adding better F/O men is the wrong move right now. The kids need to learn how to play away from the puck anyway.

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#118 ubermiguel
October 19 2010, 12:32PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

No, they aren't "rare."

Something that occurs 30 per cent (assuming you aren't way off in saying clean draws happen that seldom), even 25 per cent of the time in any given game, is not rare.

No-hitters are rare. Hitting for the cycle is rare. Wanye having a date or a shower is rare. A hat-trick at the NHL level is relatively rare, though not nearly as rare as the previous three examples.

"Yes they are!", "No they aren't!" Not exactly a high quality debate.

Dawgbone and RB have inspired me to actually pay attention to draw quality though. Thursday's game will be a good opportunity to look at a good face-off team v. a bad one. Just looked it up, all of Minnesota's centres are over 50%!

I'll be watching for how many draws are "clean", how many are won by the non-centres.

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#119 Robin Brownlee
October 19 2010, 01:02PM
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@ubermiguel

Don't characterize me as being in some schoolyard shoving match with the poster you mentioned. He was wrong in characterizing something that happens 25-30 per cent of the time as being rare and I pointed that out.

If the poster in question didn't have a habit of coming here and nitpicking because nobody gives a squirt of pee about what he's writing on his website, I probably wouldn't have bothered.

One other thing. High quality debates aren't often the product of an exchange that begins with one of the parties hiding behind a fake name, "ubermiguel."

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#120 Traktor
October 19 2010, 03:13PM
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Replace Gagner, Cogliano with Stoll and Reasoner and this is still a bottom 5 hockey club.

Edmonton could win 100% of faceoffs every game this year and they would still miss the playoffs.

Gagner could win 100% of his draws and still wouldn't be as good as Chicago's 3rd line center David Bolland.

Horcoff could make only make only 3.5 million dollars a year and he would still be making 2.4 million more than Dom Moore who is a much better hockey player than Horcoff.

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#121 michael
October 20 2010, 05:10PM
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Robin Brownlee wrote:

No, I didn't write Horcoff was 31/45. I wrote Horcoff was 31-45. You did a bunch of math suggesting what I might have meant without checking that 31 wins and 45 losses is 40.8? Seems odd.

Thank you I missed the dash. I read 31/45 rather than 31 wins and 45 losses. Thank you for the clarification. My mistake. Either way the point you made regarding faceoffs is clear. The team needs to get better. Does it need to get better now. Or does the team include that in its plan for the teams development over the next few years. It would be easier to trade for a competent faceoff man but at what cost to the team longterm? I would prefer we have the puck rather than have to expend energy chasing it 2/3 of the time. But what I think matters diddly to what the goals of the team are in the longterm.

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#122 Wanyes bastard child
October 20 2010, 09:27PM
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Thank you Robin, he annoyed me too.

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