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.
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.
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.