Faceoffs and Shawn Horcoff

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.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    We may not have an issue right now with faceoffs, but lets see what happens when Horcoff isn't in the lineup. Then what happens?

    It is nice to see guys getting better on the draw, well except O'Sullivan who looks like Cogliano did last year.

    The smart hockey guys will tell you faceoffs mean very little if you know what to do when you lose a faceoff. Seems to me that is the area that Quinn has worked on.

  • GSC

    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've made up my mind on Horcoff, as I assume most people around here have.

      The idea that four years of results – results which put Horcoff right in with Chris Drury and Daymond Langkow – are 'smoke and mirrors' seems dumb to me, but suit yourself.

      Most guys don't have careers as long as the number of games Horcoff has played since the lockout.

      • GSC

        So, rather than stick to the math and stats that you swear by and almost always cite, you just go with "I've made up my mind on Horcoff"?

        That's fine, but don't expect others to simply let that slide.

        As for the "smoke and mirrors" remark, that's why I said could be. I wanted to see what you had to say about it, since you and the other stats guys usually look beyond the boxcars.

        Long story short, my point is that you're just as guilty of bias towards a player as the rest of us.

        • 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?

          • GSC

            Your idea of convincing someone is to revolve everything around a certain statistical formula and stick to it…except when it starts to take a negative turn, like it is here.

            All I wanted was to know why you aren't following your usual methods of evaluation here? You responded with an answer basically stating that you're biased.

            Why should I be convinced? Because your stats said so? Those same stats are telling a different story now, and you choose to ignore it because you're just as capable of bias as the rest of us.

          • GSC

            And we return to the fact that you have an agenda. How many of those articles that you've written centre around Horcoff?

            The masses aren't happy with Horcoff, you and some other bloggers decide to form a different argument based on statistical formulas in order to present a counter. Fine, that's cool.

            But now that there's the possibility that the majority of fans who aren't happy with Horcoff might be right, you retreat to that same old agenda and throw some more crap at everyone to digest. Really, what was your reason for posting this article? Because Horcoff's production is down and the heat is on when it comes to prognosticators claiming that he's not going to produce.

            We all get what you're trying to do. You want to come across as the more cerebral or intellectual hockey fan. That might work for arguing against some out there, but not all.

          • ~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.

          • GSC

            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?

    • Oil Fever

      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.

    • Ender

      I'm an acknowledged Reasoner fan and I'd take him back on this team in a second. That said, I wouldn't trade him for Horcoff and I don't think that's what you're suggesting either.

      If you don't want to send the wrong message, you better throw up some ice-time and qualcomp numbers, just to make it look like you're being somewhat fair.

      Your point, I'm sure, is that a player who's not expected to score a ton and is earmarked only for faceoffs and specialty situations can be had for a lot less than $5.5M. Fair comment, but we of course probably recognize that Horcoff is not (supposed to be) that guy.

      • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

        It's funny though trade Horcoff for Reasoner and then you have 4mil for an offensive player if that is what you want.

        Say we moved Horcoff and ended up with Frolov and Reasoner. Would we be a better team?

    • GSC

      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.

  • Hemmertime

    I haven't noticed 13 winning a lot of draws cleanly but he has improved exponentially when it comes to tying up his fellow pivot and thus allowing his wingers the chance to win the ensuing scrum.

  • Milli

    Horc may be saddled with a HUGE contract, but give the guy his due. He is a solid hockey player, makes good decisions, reliable in the dot. Anyone out there would have signed the contract in a HEARTBEAT. Has he missed a few one timers? Ya. Wow, lets trade him lets send him to the minors. Should Quinn do diferent from MacT and not use Horc to win draws at key times? HELL NO. Wanna bitch about the dough, bitch at KLo.

  • GSC

    We have four lines to run, and regardless of how many face-offs he can take or win, it would be great to have other centers get there percents higher to take pressure off Horcoff, and balance the team better!!

    Did we not have three centers in high percents in the Mike peca days?

    What we do after the win, is big…and what is helping..!!

      • Bucknuck

        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.
        *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?

        • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

          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.

  • GSC wrote…

    Why should I be convinced? Because your stats said so? Those same stats are telling a different story now, and you choose to ignore it because you're just as capable of bias as the rest of us.

    I've no doubt I'm capable of bias, but the fact of the matter is that 8 games in the stats aren't all that meaningful on an individual level. Horcoff's played less than 100 minutes of 5-on-5 time.

    To illustrate, using the current numbers and projecting:

    Dustin Penner will score more than 50 goals and 90 points.
    Gilbert Brule will score 47 goals and 82 points.
    The Oilers will have 8 20-goal scorers, including Zack Stortini.
    Jason Strudwick will record 40 points.

    I'm not ignoring the stats, I'm cognizant of their limitations. The difference should be obvious.

    • GSC

      In fact, I'll even go out on the limb and admit several truths regarding Horcoff:

      1) He has been a top 100 offensive forward since the lockout.

      2) He has produced 50+ points in four seasons, not too shabby given that in one of those seasons he missed the final 29 games.

      3) He is an excellent faceoff man and defensive centre. He's usually very good in those respects, although he's been lagging lately (injured?)

      4) He's generally underappreciated by many fans.

      But there's give and take with this. Yes, your stats now are suggesting a negative trend and may not likely continue. But what if they do? You chose Stortini and Strudwick as examples of early trends, where common sense tells us that they won't continue at this rate. But you also chose Penner, who is kind of a wild card at this rate. He's shown more in these first eight games than he has since he signed the offer sheet. Does he continue on the upward trend?

      The same can be asked for Horcoff on the downward trend. Yes, he's being overloaded with responsibilities on draws and in playing defensive hockey, but he's also struggled in the latter aspect of the game. Could this be a sign of things to come? Your historical trends suggest otherwise, and as a man with a history degree myself I tend to look at those trends first. But I also look at the present and what he's doing on the ice…so far, I'm not liking what I'm seeing.

      And for the record, although it's not published online or anything like that, I called Horc a 1st line centre in the 05-06 and 07-08 seasons given his production and his jack-of-all-trades ability. Right now, I can't make that call.

      I, for one, hope he turns it around. He needs to, because he's a key cog with this team and until Tambellini finds a replacement who makes less money to do a lot of the things that #10 does, he's an important part of the team. That much should be obvious.

  • Dyckster

    OB JR. said "The smart hockey guys will tell you faceoffs mean very little if you know what to do when you lose a faceoff. Seems to me that is the area that Quinn has worked on."

    This is a VERY good point. A lot has been made regarding our woes in circle and to a certain point justifiably so. What would be nice, but is likely impossible to track, is the percentage of face-offs won/lost cleany, without any intervention from the wingers. Maybe a lot of the Oil's problem is related to how the wingers react (or don't react) to a faceoff type scrum. Yah, the ultimate reponsibility still lies with the centreman, the wingers though need to recognize when to support the faceoff and when not to. I'm just sayin.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      And with that I have heard mix feelings on the wingers helping out. The one negative is that the wingers are too focused on moving to the center after the draw, instead of the usual cover your guy or gun out of the zone.

      From what I gather this is only a quick fix until the centers learn how to take draws.

  • Dyckster

    Horc is brutal for 5.5 million and all this guy can do is take faceoffs. The only goals he ever scores are onetimers from hemmer. I am sure tamby looks at this deal and curses k lowe

  • Tooles

    Perhaps I'm missing the part where "the masses aren't happy with Horcoff". Despite being our faceoff workhorse and best defensive forward he was our 4th-highest goal-scorer last year. I'm pretty darn happy with guys who produce in the face of adversity.

  • MrOiler

    There's been way too much talk about faceoffs in Oilerville. Sure, it's a nice clean and tidy stat to point to, but the theory is too simplistic. Winning faceoffs is not a panacea.

    The reason it seems to mean a lot in Edmonton is because the Oil have trouble winning battles to take the puck back – i.e. they're weak in their own end and they can't regain puck control.

    Winning battles and puck control is the problem, but that is much harder to measure statistically so you don't hear about it as much.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    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.

  • @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.

    • GSC

      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).

  • Gregors dirty 'stash

    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!!!!

        • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

          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.

  • Bucknuck

    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".

  • GSC

    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?

  • 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.

  • 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.