BLINDSPOTS: WHAT THE OILERS DON’T SEE

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.

  • I vividly remember in the 06 playoffs (before the icing rule) the announcers commenting Oil Vs Sharks, that the Oil were not afraid to ice it as the would more than likely win the subsequent face off.
    2 things have conspired to make faceoffs crucially important in the NHL 1) The icing rule 2) the power play offensive zone start. All took place as the Oil became weaker in the draw not stronger!

  • Jodes

    “If Tambellini and coach Tom Renney see a fix from within, it escapes me”

    I swear the next time Kevin Lowe or Steve Tambellini say that “we’ll fix our faceoff problem from within” I’m going to snap..

  • Oilers89

    Robin

    Could not agree with you more.

    In 2006 the Stoll/Peca RH and Horcoff/Reasoner LH tandems was near perfect in face-offs. Now…….we are handing the puck to the other team on PK in our own end. It is brutal to watch. When we traded for Fraser it was, in part, because he could win some face offs. Not that he had done it in the past. He does not look like answer in face off dot

    I do not get it. Obvious flaw that has been in place since Stoll traded and we do squat to fix it.

    PS part of Horcoff’s problem is taking draws to Khabby’s right as that is a left handed centers weak side. We, through a lack of RH centers, are asking Horcoff to take draws he should not be able to win and then are surprised when he loses.

    Understand not having perfectly balanced RH/LH tandems a la 2006 but to have 3 centers at 40% and no RH face off expert is, quite simply, stupid.

    Kinda like saying XXX is a good starting pitcher but walks an awful lot of batters……. that generally means he is not as good a pitcher as you thought

    • Cowbell_Feva

      On your 3rd paragraph…I agree that it is harder to win draws to your forehand than it is to win to your backhand. However…WHO is suprised when Horcoff loses a face-off?? Sure as hell ain’t me!! He has been doing it for how many years now?

      I think that Brule or Frasor should be taking any/all important face-offs because they seem to be the only ones with a hope in hell of winning the odd one.

      How Shawn Horcoff is on the PowerPlay is beyond me!?! He can’t win a draw to save his life, and hasn’t won a puck battle since he was at the University of Michigan! The only special teams he should see is in the video room. Poor Poor Poor Eberle and Hall. I pity them. They are already better hockey players than him, yet he is their “mentor”. Good god may I hope they block out every word that comes out of his mouth.

      • Dude, do you watch the Oilers? Or do you just troll boards? REGARDLESS OF SALARY, Horcoff is:

        1) The best faceoff man they have (except maybe Brule, judging by the last two seasons.)

        2) The most consistent forward on the team right now aside from maybe Hemsky.

        3) A proven PPG player in the NHL when he’s healthy.

        4) Winning puck battles constantly and getting Eberle and Hall the puck as much as he can.

        Seriously, watch a game or two.

        • Cowbell_Feva

          Listen fella. I have watched every Oilers game since well before Shawn Horcoff came into the picture. I am not one of these people who trolls boards and listens to the bulls#$& that the Edmonton media speaks about Horcoff.

          I think you need to contact your eye doctor and book an appointment because all 4 of your points are absolutely hilarious. Best face-off man?? Look at last years faceoff percentages and then re-assess that bone-headed statement. Only Cogs had a worse percentage. That will not change this year.

          The only consistency that Horcoff has is turning the puck over. I have said it before, but he is the bottle neck on that line. Hall is still feeling his way into the league, and Eberle is head and shoulers a better player (at both ends of the ice). He doesn’t panic and blindly through the puck to the other team. He has vision and poise, something Horcoff lacks.
          A proven PPG player?? This doesn’t even warrant a responce. He is a grinder for crying out loud!!

          And to wrap up the comedy, you say he constantly wins battles! Wow, you really must have zero hockey sense, or glauccoma. Even Mark Lee had to comment on it during the game on Saturday night. By the way I never mentioned anything about salary, but that further makes my point about him being a overpaid plug.

          Kevin Lowe, is that you?!?

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

            “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.

          • Cowbell_Feva

            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??

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

            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.

          • “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.”

            You, clearly, are an intellect of biblical proportions.

        • Points 2 and 3 are fictional.

          Horcoff has been wildly inconsistent since his shoulder surgery. Hemsky is definitely (not maybe) the most consistent player on the club.

          Horcoff is nowhere near a proven PPG guy in the NHL when healthy. He had a single 50 game stretch at a PPG in his career year. That is all. It’s hard enough to argue that Hemsky is “near a PPG guy” even though he’s been over 0.9 ppg post-lockout. Horcoff doesnt even come close.

          Point 4 is also debatable, but #1 is unquestionable right now and that’s all that matters. In a perfect world Horcoff would be all those things you listed, but 1 of 4 is all he needs to be on this team’s PP.

  • GSC

    They’ve been reeling on the dot ever since the ill-fated Greene & Stoll for Visnovsky trade. Ugh.

    Gagner was 2/15 last night, and he’s certainly not the answer in the middle. Brule hasn’t been given a chance, and he definitely deserves a look given his early success on the dot.

    Bottom Line: this team misses a Jarret Stoll something fierce.

      • Oilers89

        Sounds good, I really cannot understand why they don’t hire a faceoff coach, they have a rich owner and throw money at everything else, they might as well hire one.

        • I agree to a certain extent, although I’m sure one of the coaches they have SHOULD be able to teach faceoffs, you would think. Mike Sillinger was a centre for about 20 different teams, so he’s probably seen some good faceoff artists…

          Part of the problem is that they can practice all they want against teammates, but if NOBODY is any good at draws on the team, the only way to get better is during the games, and they are definitely getting schooled.

    • Good point, but Brodziak is an example of the Oilers not seeing the big picture.

      On a case by case basis, the Oilers could point to perfectly good reasons why so many centres have come and gone.

      — Stoll had concussion issues.

      — Peca wanted to be back in the EC

      — Reasoner seemed like a spare part

      — Brodziak was soft

      Likewise, management could cite plausible reasons why they haven’t picked up other guys to fill the void in the past 3-4 years.

      — Malhotra wanted too much money when they looked at him (before he signed elsewhere at a cut rate).

      — They didn’t see Konopka as a reasonable option when they could have got him three years ago for nothing.

      — They expected Gagner or Cogliano to develop more quickly in terms of taking draws.

      The Oilers have made a lot of bad calls case-by-case, but it’s not all hindsight here is it? At some point, shouldn’t somebody in the organization have recognized this glaring weakness down the middle and done something to address it?