In Gordon’s Absence


This summer the Oilers traded away their 4th line
centre, and by doing so they all but guaranteed that many of their forwards
will be deployed differently in the fall.

It may seem ridiculous to read, perhaps as ridiculous as it
feels to write, but there’s no denying that Boyd Gordon played a relatively
unique role not just on this team but in the NHL. His loss, even though he occupied a role on the 4th line, will impact the Oilers substantially.

The story on Boyd Gordon is all about usage. He is a defensive zone specialist. He brings limited offense (career high of 29 points), but he
is a faceoff machine. While the evidence points to faceoff wins as
relatively unimportant in the bigger picture with regards to possession, the
15-20 seconds immediately after a puck is dropped it can mean a lot. You don’t need
to give a hoot about advanced stats to know that if you are in your own zone,
and the opposition has put their top line out there, it is going to be important
to keep the puck away from them and get out of the zone.

That starts with the faceoff.

During Boyd Gordon’s two seasons as an Oiler nobody was put on the ice for more defensive zone draws at even strength. That’s
not anecdotal. It’s a fact. During that time the Oilers sent Gordon over the
boards to diffuse those dangerous situations a total of 1146 times. The next closest NHL
player was Paul Gaustad at 987 times.

Naturally, that kind of deployment continued on the penalty
kill as well. Among the most used penalty killers in the NHL over the last two seasons, Boyd Gordon was again number one in defensive zone starts. You expect a
high proportion of DZ starts when killing a penalty, but his dominance in that
category should start to make us wonder who will take all those faceoffs now
that Gordon is gone.

The Oilers will most likely run RNH, McDavid, Lander, and
Letestu down the middle next year and I wanted to show how abnormal Gordon’s
usage was to reinforce that absorbing his faceoffs is not something to be
scoffed at. I wanted to show just how often these players were being used on
the dot last season in a per 60 basis. There’s no advanced math at all. It’s
just total Even Strength Faceoffs (ESF) divided by total Even Strength minutes
(ES mins) and multiplied by 60. The Letestu numbers obviously come from his
deployment in Columbus. I’ve also included their percentage of 5v5 starts in
the defensive zone out of the possible offensive, neutral, and defensive zone
starts. Finally I included their even strength faceoff percentage (ESFO%) from the 2014-2015 season.

Gordon 880 ESF. 708 ES mins. 75.6 F/60, 58.6% DZ, 58.1 ESFO%

RNH 1132 ESF. 1237 ES mins. 54.9 F/60, 22.1% DZ, 44.3 ESFO%

Letestu 494 ESF. 549 ES mins. 54.0 F/60, 37.1% DZ, 55.2 ESFO%

Lander 385 ESF. 459 ES mins. 50.3 F/60, 32.4% DZ, 51.9 ESFO%

McDavid – unknown



Boyd Gordon’s usage is obviously unique among the bunch. For
example, he is the only one to have taken more faceoffs than he did play
minutes at even strength. The rate at which he took faceoffs is almost 40%
higher than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He also spent an extremely disproportionate
amount of time in the defensive zone and dominated the field in actual faceoff
winning percentage.

The point I am trying to make (but taking the long way of
getting towards) is that there will be big changes in usage without Gordon in
the lineup. Even if McLellan opts to disperse all those faceoffs, and all of
those defensive assignments between Lander and Letestu, those two players will be
taking on more work than they are accustomed to.

As for Todd McLellan, he’s also going to find the Oilers
situation down the middle substantially different from what he is used to working
with. The Sharks have had the great benefit of having two of the NHL’s best
faceoff men also be among their top players. Most would argue that
Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski are indeed San Jose’s best pivots. They consistently
rank above 15th place in the NHL among faceoff leaders and their offensive
prowess is well known. In part (just a part) because of their success in the
dot they can be depended on in the attacking or defending side of the puck.

In fact, on the same list that has Gordon as number one with a
bullet in total defensive zone starts over the last two seasons, Thornton and
Pavelski are sixth and eighth respectively. Their overall
percentage of DZ starts is much lower than Gordon because they play so much
more than him and in many spots, but there’s no question that McLellan let his
big guns get the Sharks out of trouble situations.

Here are the same sets of numbers I provided above but for the
Sharks from last year.

Couture 889 ESF. 1180 ES mins. 45.2 F/60, 31.5% DZ, 48.8

Pavelski 814 ESF. 1256 ES mins. 39.9 F/60, 33.5% DZ, 55.5

Thornton 747 ESF. 1163 ES mins. 38.5 F/60, 34.5% DZ, 58.9

Sheppard 499 ESF. 732 ES mins. 40.9 F/60, 36.9% DZ, 50.3

One thing you’ll notice is that Thornton and Pavelski had a
much lower rate of taking faceoffs than any Oiler centre on the roster this
coming year. They actually played on a line together and split faceoff duty
quite a bit.

Coming back to the Oilers, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has also
developed a solid reputation as a defensively conscious player, but his coaches
have preferred to have him start away from the defensive zone. McDavid is going
to be a raw rookie and will need time to develop his skills on the dot. He’ll be a star in this league but he’s still just a skinny
18 year old. Lander is just now establishing himself as an everyday NHLer and
Letestu is pretty clearly a bottom six player.

For the Oilers players who have become accustomed to having
a crutch like Gordon, this coming season is going to be a massive adjustment.
For the new coaching staff, not having the two headed monster of
Thornton/Pavelski is going to be a massive adjustment. I look forward to seeing
how McLellan deploys his lines and who steps up in Gordon’s absence.

  • B_Oliver

    Boyd Gordon was a huge asset for the Oilers, but this past season, as good as he was, his back kept him off the roster more times than we liked. I think this recurring problem will only get worse and trading him was the right thing to do for the team, although most of us fans hated to see him go. Lander has the skills and strengths to replace him – with time – and with the new coaching staff working with him and ALL the players, I am sure face-offs will be high on their agenda. Lander should have been on the team months earlier than he was, and we know who to blame for that. I think he will be as good as, if not better than Gordon eventually – he has the size, the skill, the drive and youth on his side. I like what is happening during this off season.

  • Zarny

    I believe the rule change on face offs comes in this season. All DZ face offs are at a disadvantage. Ie stick in 2nd. Face off % will need further explanations now.

  • bradleypi

    So if we look at the bottom 6, the Oilers have removed two 10-15 point scores in Gordon and Fraser and replaced them with two 20+ point scorers in Letestu and Korpikoski. Looks like a clear win, and my guess is Mclellan will have a plan for faceoffs… I mean he isn’t Dallas Eakins here

  • NJ

    I think Gordon’s distinctive face off style (very low stance, dropping quickly to the ice for a two handed swap at puck) helps him to win a fair share in the defensive zone, but it also takes him out of the play while not tying up the opposite center.

    Good to have the puck? Sure, but at a cost of fewer option for an outlet pass.

    The Oilers can do withouthaD-zone specialist if they can keep the puck in the other zones to begin with. Better forward puck support, better outlet pass, fewer turn over, stronger cycle game… Easier said then done, probably.

  • srelio

    Remember when Gordon would come in to take PP draws then instantly swap for another forwards? It wasn’t that RNH or Gagner were so horrible at faceoffs, moreso it was that Gordon was THAT good. Godspeed Commissioner.

  • I think I’ve learned a bit about Chiarelli with Gordon’s move.

    It would be easy to keep that 4th line the way it was. Gordon was a fan favorite, played hard through some losing seasons, and has a good amount of utility as thoroughly mentioned in the article.

    Despite all this, Chiarelli decided to tweak the roster even further. MacT would’ve kept him through the remainder of the contract, for pretty good reasons too.

    It says a bit when a GM isn’t afraid to go after a fan favorite in order to take a move that many consider an educated risk.

    Is possible he made a bad move here. At the same time I can see it possibly paying off. The fact that he is trying something is welcome in my eyes.

  • TKB2677

    More the most part, I had no issue with the Gordon signing. He was a good Oiler. Played his ass off and tried to do whatever he could to help the team win. On the Oilers he probably played more than he would on a lot of teams based on their lack of centers and he even had some sporadic time on the PP. At the same time, he is a defensive 4th line, making 3 mill. That is A LOT of money to pay for a guy that isn’t going to give you much offense. He wins a lot of faceoffs but isn’t overly physical. In the NHL these days you need your lower line guys to be getting you at least 10 goals, plus have some physical play and do all the things Gordon does.

    Letestu isn’t a crusher but he does all the things Gordon can do. He probably won’t have quite as high faceoff percentage but he will be well over 50% and you can count on him to score you more than 10 goals easily. Korpikoski can play on your 3rd line. Brings some size, brings some speed, he actually bangs a lot of bodies and he has the ability to score you in the low teens in goals. The Oilers lack speed, physical play, size and scoring in their bottom lines. So I think taking Gordon as much as I respect and appreciate what he did for the Oilers and replacing him with Korpikoski and Letestu is a positive step.