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February 14, 2011
Illegal Curve
Worst Faceoff Men

by Richard Pollock

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By now, we know that faceoffs have a significant effect on each and every hockey game. Coaches look for every possible edge and likewise do not want to surrender an edge to the opposition in any statistical category. Over the past few weeks, we have examined the best faceoff men in the NHL and also looked at the home vs. road advantage when it comes to taking a draw.

But what about the NHL's worst faceoff men?

Do some teams just not have enough quality faceoff men on the roster, so their coaches are forced to roll out poor faceoff men night after night?

Alternatively, maybe some players are just so good in other aspects of the game that their lack of faceoff acumen does not inhibit their head coach's willingness to roll them out at center night after night?

To examine this issue further, let's take a look at the worst faceoff men in the NHL over the past four seasons (minimum 678 faceoffs):

Worst faceoff men, 2009-10

Rank	Player			Team		Faceoff %
75	David Backes		STL		47.3
76	Tim Connolly		BUF		46.8
77	Shawn Horcoff	 	EDM		46.4
78	Chris Kelly	 	OTT		45.6
79	Artem Anisimov	 	NYR		44.9
80	Mike Ribeiro	 	DAL		44.8
81	Matt Duchene	 	COL		44.0
82	Daymond Langkow	 	CGY		43.5
83	Nik Antropov		ATL		43.4
84	Eric Staal		CAR		41.8

Worst faceoff men, 2008-09

Rank	Player			Team		Faceoff %
75	Steve Reinprecht	PHX		46.3
76	Tyler Arnason		COL		46.0
77	Mike Ribeiro		DAL		45.5
78	Eric Staal	 	CAR		45.3
79	Mikhail Grabovski	TOR		44.5
80	Dave Bolland	 	CHI		44.4
81	Nathan Horton		FLA		43.7
82	Olli Jokinen	 	CGY, PHX	43.4
83	James Sheppard		MIN		41.5
84	Josh Bailey		NYI		41.1

Worst faceoff men, 2007-08

Rank	Player			Team		Faceoff %
77	Patrik Elias		NJD		45.6
78	Michal Handzus		LAK		45.6
79	Pavol Demitra		MIN		45.3
80	Mike Ribeiro	 	DAL		45.0
81	Eric Staal		CAR		44.9
82	Daymond Langkow		CGY		43.7
83	Olli Jokinen		FLA		43.1
84	Jordan Staal		PIT		42.2
85	Jochen Hecht	 	BUF		42.0
86	Evgeni Malkin		PIT		39.3

Worst faceoff men, 2006-07

Rank	Player			Team		Faceoff %
76	Anze Kopitar	 	LAK		46.1
77	Matt Stajan		TOR		46.1
78	Stephen Weiss		FLA		45.9
79	Daymond Langkow		CGY		45.9
80	Jeff Carter		PHI		45.4
81	David Legwand		NSH		45.3
82	Eric Staal		CAR		45.2
83	Maxime Talbot		PIT		44.4
84	Olli Jokinen		FLA		44.3
85	Evgeni Malkin		PIT		43.3

One will notice that many of the players appearing on this list are or were star players. Evgeni Malkin, Eric Staal, Olli Jokinen all posted impressive point totals in the seasons that they found themselves at the bottom of the faceoff standings. So there is certainly some truth to the notion that top skilled players who are not great faceoff men will still get significant ice-time/faceoff opportunities.

What about the worst faceoff performers who also had the worst point output?

Let's look at the bottom ten point producers from the above lists:

Worst point producers among worst faceoff men, last four seasons

Season	Player		Team	Points
2007-08	Handzus		LAK	21
2008-09	Arnason		COL	22
2006-07	Talbot		PIT	24
2008-09	Sheppard	MIN	24
2008-09	Bailey		NYI	25
2007-08	Staal		PIT	28
2009-10	Anisimov	NYR	28
2009-10	Kelly		OTT	32
2009-10	Horcoff		EDM	36
2006-07	Carter		PHI	37
2009-10	Langkow		CGY	37

Of the above listed of players, aside from the poor point totals and faceoff figures, something stood out: Age. Of the ten players listed, six of the ten were 22 or under during that particular season.

The four players who were over 22 years old were Michal Handzus (30), Tyler Arnason (29), Chris Kelly (29) and Daymond Langkow (33).

Tyler Arnason has not played in the NHL since the season in which he finished bottom ten in the NHL in faceoff proficiency and posted a meager 22 points. If you can post points and not win faceoffs, there is a spot for you in the NHL. If you cannot post points but can win faceoffs at a high rate, there is a probably a spot for you in the NHL. When you cannot do either, you have trouble keeping a job in the NHL.

Daymond Langkow has not played in the NHL this season, although that is because of his freak neck injury incurred against Minnesota last season and not his lack of faceoff success. Having said that, Langkow was a repeat offender on the faceoff list and his point total had dropped in each of the past four seasons since the 2006-07 season. Whether his ice-time would have dropped this season is anyone's guess, but Langkow is a responsible two-way veteran hockey player who, while not worth his contract, is still better than replacement level.

Chris Kelly is a checking line center who has only really had one season of faceoff success (2006-07). Considering his lack of proficiency in the faceoff circle and 38-point career high, Bryan Murray probably wants back that four-year, $8.5 million contract extension he handed out in the summer of 2008.

Michal Handzus's season in 2007-08 was an anomaly. Look at his faceoff figures from two seasons prior (53.2% in 2005-06) to 2007-08 (he was injured for most of 2006-07) and look at his figures the past two seasons: 54.5% in 2008-09 and 50.9% in 2009-10. Moreover, Handzus is winning draws at a 51.2% clip this season.

Overall, it appears there are a number of ways to categorize the players listed as the worst faceoff men over the past four seasons:

Star players: Eric Staal, Evgeni Malkin, Anze Kopitar, Patrik Elias, Olli Jokinen (he was a star player post-lockout Flames fans) to name a few.

Solid second- or third-line players: Daymond Langkow, David Legwand, Stephen Weiss, Matt Stajan, Pavol Demitra, Jochen Hecht, Mikhail Grabovski to name a few.

Very young players (22 and under): Josh Bailey, Jordan Staal, Artem Anisimov, Matt Duchene, Maxime Talbot, Jeff Carter, James Sheppard to name a few.

Veteran players with faceoff issues and point scoring issues: Tyler Arnason.

There appears to be a significant issue with young players and faceoff troubles. Next time, we will examine that issue in greater detail.

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