Faceoffs

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.

  • ubermiguel

    They miss Reasoner and Stoll. A reliable face-off winning centre = more wins. You need two reliable guys in key situations in case one gets tossed from the circle. Horcoff’s been forced to take too many keys draws over the last 2 years.

    • Jodes

      Absolutely.. Kevin Lowe made two huge mistakes by trading Stoll and letting Reasoner go and never bothering to even try and replace what they brought.

      I don’t know about you guys, but I’m sick to death of hearing “We have to work at it from within”. Signing Fraser was movement in the right direction, but we’re not there yet.

      I’m sorry, but its time to look elsewhere for that F/O specialist that can come and teach our rookies and younger players the art of the face off.

      Is it really that hard to find? Especially with so many teams tight up against the cap?

  • Wanyes bastard child

    yay! You guys made the font bigger.

    Either that or my eyes have super powers from the Scientist and the Archaeologist doing secret experiments on me, and instead of increasing the size of my junk, they made my eyes stronger.

    ~ thanks anyways, guys ~

  • Should we also be worried that these are home game stats. We should have an advantage there…but it looks like we don’t. Why are PK stats lower…too much digging in and gripping the stick too tight? Kinda strange.

  • Ducey

    Good points JW,

    The results on special teams point to the overall problem in assessing faceoff wins. If the puck isn’t cleanly won then its up to the wingers to get it. If they don’t then the center gets a loss on the faceoff. Maybe the “poor” percentages are indicative of a wider problem than just the centers.

  • @ Velo:

    It’s pretty simple, really; when one side has five guys and the other side has four, the team with more guys on the ice has a better chance at recovering the puck.

    We often perceive faceoffs as a one man centre vs. centre battle, but the reality is that the wingers and even the defence can be involved.

  • Feynman

    Not enough data to even be remotely accurate. Wait 10 to 15 games in and then compare face-off stats. These could change drastically in the next few games! Brule looks the strongest in the circle thus far.

  • Ducey

    http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy

    i’m hoping i’ve sent the right link to who likes the pugilistic aspect of our game…Colton Orr gets dialed in by a Deryk Engelland of Pitt last nite…glory be Deryk’s an ETown product. he can fight a bit as well!
    …KO’d Orr good
    ***********************************************

    i’d like to see one thing and one thing only tonite …a win for the first time in 13 attempts in Minni.
    I’ve always dreaded watching the Oil play that Wild brand of trap hockey…the kids need to keep their heads on swivels ALL NIGHT so as not to get clutterbuck’d and the rest falls into place with an end to end furious offense…defense? not so much.
    *alas i think we win 7-6 in regulation, our goalie is human* and we’re still damned exciting to watch…

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Montreal fans are spoiled, snivelling babies. They littered the ice after Stamkos’ tying goal last night – what a shameful display.

    Do they not remember the remarkable run their team went on last spring? We’d have bronzed a statue of Cammalleri if that happened.

    It is entirely possible that at some point later this season some team like the Oil gets an opportunity to deal them Khabibulin and Cogs, obtaining Carey Price in return. For their bad karma, Price may just churn out Vezina-like performances for supportive fans.

    Va t’en faire foutre, lesquelles qui insultes la tradition de la glorieuse chemise tricolore.

    • smiliegirl15

      Supportive Fans???!!!

      Here in Edmonton??

      Our starting goalies nickname is ReKhabibulin……..seriously.

      Price would be lucky to get dealt to TB, so he can hide in broad daylight like Vinny Lecavalier.

      • D-Man

        Really? We won a couple of playoff series back in the late 90’s and everybody welcomed Smyth, Weight, and Cujo back like they had taken Vimy Ridge.

        Christ, we weren’t even good enough to win the Calder Cup last year, and after the first game of the 10-11 season Rexall Place was covered in ejaculate from our collective excitement.

        Habs fans suck. They haven’t adapted to the fact that the NHL now has 30 teams and that, on average, you only make the conference finals every 7.5 years.

        Rat-faced, chainsmoking, church-going Habs fans. Welcome to the 21st Century.

        • Cowbell_Feva

          Habs fans would’ve slit their grandmothers throats to wash Halak’s jockstrap last summer

          All Canadian teams have insanely high highs, but the hate we dish out for players not living up to the fans expectations is brutal in any Canadian city

          You mention Smyth, Weight, and Cujo, I counter with Arnott, Comrie, Pronger

          • Comrie f*#^ed Tommy Salo’s wife! He apologized, we forgave and signed him, and he go mononucleosis in the year that shall never be mentioned again.

            With regard to Arnott and Pronger – touche.

            In contrast, however, Oiler fans rarely hate the team, we just hate certain players.

            And you forgot the guy that’s allergic to clearing the zone cleanly – Tom Poti.

          • I’ve been a Caps fan since 87′, so following both teams, I’ll never forget Tom Poti………..ugh

            Trust me though, if Price came here, we’d love him off the get go, and as soon as he cost us a game like he has in Montreal, us fans would be all over him like he were the goaltending version of Cory Cross. Book it!

  • O.C.

    Trending but too early…

    Situational face-offs tell a lot. TR will put the goods out when important, but how can you see results, if you don’t experiment? Where? Neutral zone face-offs. Best place to see how Joe NewOiler fares in the puck drop duel.

    Those will probably be the suckiest stats of the sucks.

    Then again, how do we know that the opposition isn’t trying the same thing, and sending out face-off flunkies as well? All teams have just established their rosters, and every team needs a few reg season games to test the talent pool.

    Time heals all wounds. That is irrelevant here tho so don’t try and draw an analogy. But, time also means more games played and more numbers and better data.

    And it’s time to beat Minnesota.

  • Cervantes

    “Build from within” really doesn’t work when you completely lack what it is you need.

    “Within”, we have Horcules, and after that a pretty average looking Fraser, Brule who doesn’t take a lot of draws so he’s artificially inflated, and then a very sub-par pair in Cogs and Gags. The only guy who’s shown he can step up is Penner, and the team refuses to convert him into a big, strong, faceoff winning 2-way centre. I can understand that though, we have way too many of those.

    Fact is, there’s an abundance of 3/4C PK killing faceoff winners out there, even guys who have a career win % over 50! Tambi’s utter, stubborn refusal to add that key required piece to this team is baffling. Is he hoping Zorg will step up and suddenly become a 50% guy? Cogs is suddenly going to put on 30 lbs and become an own-zone force? Or maybe the faceoff faerie will come down and sprinkle magic pixie dust on the team and we’ll do it by committee all year.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love 3 scoring lines. But that 3rd line centre needs to be a Swiss Army Knife of a player who can pair up on a PK and contribute some wins in the circle. Someone like Marty Sakic. If ONLY he hadn’t been so expensive this summer! What did he get bounced for again? A 7th rounder and a promise to bring coffee for everyone to the contract signing? Yeah, but he’s not a great guy in the ro…. well, ok, but he can’t win a fac… ok, but he can’t score on a QMJHL goal…oh.

    *sigh* The bottom line is that we need 3 large, responsible, faceoff winning forwards to pair with an offensive threat on the PK. We have Horcs, we have Penner, and we need #3. Throw any of those out there with any of Eberle, MPS, Cogs, Hemmer, and you have a pretty good PK with a real threat of a shortie. Tambi, for all his reshuffling, has continually ignored #3, and we can’t wait for VV and Pitlick to be not just NHL ready, but NHL good. This will continue to hamstring this team, and a losing, poorly designed team is no way to teach your kids and bring out the best in them. Tambi needs to make a move and flip one of our small offensive centres to someone who needs cap relief and scoring upgrade and has a solid 2-way faceoff winner they could move. If ONLY we could find a team like that…

    PS: On the bright side, at least we didn’t do something stupid like sign Malhottra for $3M a year or something. Ha! Ha! Who would do something idiotic like that?



    What?

      • Cervantes

        I still can’t believe O’Marra got an NHL contract. After what was by all accounts an awful season last year, he still gets a shot at the bigs? Fortunately, he keeps pushing himself down the depth charts, so we’ll soon be rid of him.

        VV and Hartikainen are two guys I’m pretty big on. I like how quickly they’ve progressed and what they showed at camp. Hopefully a year in the rough-and-tumble AHL shows them how to use the body more and they push for a spot. Both Jones and Foster are in their last year, and if neither impresses I could see VV and Hart getting a serious look to replace them. And if Lander comes over too… well, that 4th line doesn’t bother me too much.

        And yes, the two trade baits on this team right now are Cogs and Gags. Both sub 6′ playmakers with potential that is recognized leaguewide. They’re our most valuable chips, and if we’re lucky will turn into a larger mid-20’s two-way faceoff winning centre. Both on reasonable contracts. Both proven 15-20 goal scorers. Frankly I’m surprised they’re both still around already. There’s a few teams near the cap that could stand an addition of playmakers and a reduction in dollars, and I honestly don’t see this team being seriously harmed by moving either of them. And I’m a big Cogs fan. (and I’m not even kidding!)

    • D-Man

      I don’t think Tambo ignored getting a decent centerman – I think there’s only so much one can accomplish over the summer prior to preseason… First priority – Get cap space… Done with some trades/buyouts Second priority – Change attitude in dressing room… Done with some buyouts and sending a certain individual to Hersey… He also has done wonders by shuffling Quinn out of the equation (although I’m still not sure why he was hired in the first place)…

      With that in mind, I’m guessing his next priority is dealing with the three headed monster we have as goaltenders (not sure why he’s dragging his heals on sending JDD down, maybe a trade in the works??) After that – I think we’ll have some time to assess whether we have anyone to step in for that role we need to fill… I agree that Pitlick won’t be ready by the end of this year… Maybe Vande Velde?? We’ll see how he does with a full year of AHL under his belt…

      I can live for another year without that 52% centreman – after all, we are in rebuild mode.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Good point. The only top centreman available this summer was Jason Spezza. It likely would’ve cost us a package of oh, say, Penner, Cogliano, and Smid just to get him.

    The we would’ve been stuck with his $7M salary.

    Spezza and Hemsky would be our best two players, but that might’ve guaranteed us an 11th place finish in the conference and served as massive disruiption to the re-build.

    I’d prefer to draft Sean Couturier or Ryan Nugent – a much better long-term proposition for the Oil.

    Rome wasn’t built in a day. Wasn’t it Mr. Burke. Don’t you wish you had drafted Tyler Seguin, Mr. Burke? Don’t you?

  • Cervantes

    “Only so much”??

    Yeah, after all, he is just one guy. We’ll be a much better team when we can finally flesh out that front office, and he can have a team of scouts and experts and Senior Advisors who can say “Hey Meathead, stop evaluating and start doing!”.

    It’s not ridiculously hard to seperate “areas for growth”, aka scoring, defense, developing a goalie, from “areas we’re lacking”, aka solid PK and FO skill. Baring another Bubonic Plague, we’re unlikely to be a bottom 5 team this year (bottom 10, possibly)… so why screw around with another year of obvious holes, when you can get either (a) a young-ish kid in here who fills those requirements, so he can grow with the team, or (b) a decent vet in here who fills those requirements, so he can teach the kids and stop them from getting their asses handed to them. Either way, you improve your team, your players as a whole, and the room.

    Also, you stop forcing the coach to send Hockey Jesus out on the PK to stop a puck with his face.

    Yes, Tambi did good work since the trade deadline, and as much as I thought his first year was cause for concern, he made hard choices this year and should be lauded. But you don’t get to say “I made 3 hard choices this summer, therefore I get out of this easy one!”. We didn’t invite any vets to camp, we didn’t PTO any faceoff winners, we made no effort to address the gaping void in a significant part of the game. Everyone knew VV and Pitlick weren’t making this team. 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.

    So, unless Hall gets sent down (which he will if he doesn’t start contributing soon), Tambis focus, the scouts focus, the front offices focus, needs to be “who is the best and most available young FO winner, and what can we do to get him”. I expect he’ll come from a cap-crunch team, cost 2 bodies and a pick, and already come with a multi-year, multi-dollar contract, but that’s OK. He won’t be a top-line centre, and that’s OK too. He’ll be a hard-minutes centre to compliment Horcules and take pressure off of Fraser (who is lacking, so far), and the immediate results will be (1) Better PK and DZ starts (2) A fresher and feistier Horcules (3) Lower liklihood of injury to a Top6 player (4) Better shutdown of teams top lines and (5) 74 identical articles on ON because every GD writer feels the need to chime in with a 5 paragraph “Me too”.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      “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?

      • Cervantes

        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.

    • D-Man

      Yes… Only so much… One must remember that in order to trade for a body, one needs a willing party. We don’t know whether or Tambo was looking or not, but again – I don’t think that gaping hole was a huge as our team culture/leadership, the need to make room for our youth, add depth to OKC and give ourselves cap room should we decide to pursue a FA or two… To use the cliche, Rome wasn’t built in one day – we have another year or two to address this need – hence the luxury of an effective rebuild.

      For argument’s sake – name me a youngish centre that fills our need, but at a reasonable price… I don’t consider Malholtra a good candidate, although he’s youngish, a great centreman, but at $3 million/year is overpriced… I would argue that we’d look at a contract like Brule’s (around $2 million/year)…

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        Over the last two summers:

        Lombardi

        Higgins

        Belanger

        Williams

        Metropolite

        Nicol

        Konopka

        Moore

        Betts

        Palhson

        Reasoner

        Fiddler

        Goc

        All would have been nice addtions to our bottom 6.

        • D-Man

          I agree with Betts, Pahlson and maybe Goc… Do you know what price tag they carry?? How many on that list are under $3.0 million?? And we would also want to exclude any skaters over 30, assuming we’d want to maintain the theme of getting a ‘youngish’ centerman…

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Very few were over 3 million (if any)… but why does it matter? We’ve got cap space to spare.

            I’d prefer a 27ish guy, but again it’s not really that important as the signing would be more of a stop gap until hopefully a good bottom 6 center emerges.

          • D-Man

            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…

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            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.

        • There aren’t many names on this list that are a significant upgrade in the guys we already have, and may only serve to hold back players like Vande Velde who might earn a spot on our roster.

          Adding Justin Williams or Matt Lombardi (although I’m not sure why they would want to play for last-place Edmonton) would only marginally upgrade the team. Both of these players would cost in excess of $3M, and as mentioned, prevent us from seasoning a younger player.

          Just because you CAN sign a better player than your current, doesn’t mean you SHOULD sign a better player than your current.

          Management, contrary to your assertion, isn’t lazy or stupid. It’s that they have a plan – that plan will make us a top-10 team in 3 years. Your plan would lead to perennial mediocrity.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Technique,timing, quickness and strength, i’m sure are all elements that can be taught/passed on. Maybe Renney should send all the forwards home at the end of the off season with a stick made of iron and a box of pucks and tell them not to come to camp till they wear those pucks out.

    How difficult can it be, top hand on the shaft goes to the side of the opponents head leaving the lower hand to draw the puck back.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      K – thanks JW. I only get to learn about these tidbits from my teammates around the beer-league locker room. I was under the impression that this was a fact.

      Didn’t Comrie also get a “James Wisniewski” right after he proposed to Duff?

      I don’t mean to spread gossip that is fallacious, just info that is salacious.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    Thank god the numbers are finally being put forth. I have said for multiple years now that Horcoff was a bad centerman, nevermind even being considered a #1 center. Alas, he has been given that role by the Oilers to my demise.

    Yet somehow he continues to get heralded by the large majority of the media as the Oilers best faceoff man. Dont believe me ask Mark Lee from CBC stating that exact fact on opening night when Horc faced off against Iginla with 40 seconds left in the 1st period. Not sure how this out-right lie is even uttered, because only Cogs had a worse faceoff percentage last year for the Oil.

    On top of all this is the fact that Horcoff is still on the PP! Poor Hall and Eberle have to deal with having him as the bottle neck on their line. He was the worst player on the ice on opening night and still got 3rd star of the game! WTF! Hopefully for the sake of the Oilers pucks continue to bounce off him and go in, but as all Flamer fans know, that wont happen!

  • Cervantes

    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.