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The Devils Need to Improve their Faceoffs

The Devils have not been a very good faceoff team over the past several seasons. They have one dominant faceoff man, and seemingly everyone else is sub par at best. Is this an issue for the team going forward, or does it not matter? Let's discuss.

The best faceoff man on the team, hands down.
The best faceoff man on the team, hands down.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

While thinking of ideas for this article, I really wanted to come up with something else to write that was positive for the New Jersey Devils.  Two weeks ago, I was very optimistic about how well the team will do at preventing goals.  Last week, I was still optimistic about the team's potential improvement in possession categories.  This week, I wanted to do something similar.  While I am sure that if I kept digging I could have easily come up with a stat that should see some improvement, I ended up landing on faceoff wins.

At first, when I thought about doing faceoffs, I thought there was a chance that I could write an article being optimistic about improvement in the category.  I mean seriously, the Devils last season had a FoW% of 47.3%, good for 27th in the league, and the year before that they were at 47%, again placing them 27th in the league.  Those are dismal numbers, and ones that are ripe for improvement.

Then, however, I thought about the centers on this team, and those who would likely be taking draws this season.  I went to the Devils website to check out the rosterTravis Zajac is still the top line center, and hands down the best faceoff man on the team.  He has not had a season where he has won less than 52% of his draws since 2008.  He is a beast in terms of faceoffs, and that is great for this team.

After him, however, the same names as last season show up as those who will most likely be handling faceoff duties.  The second line will most likely be centered by either Patrik Elias or Adam HenriqueElias has a career 43.1% FoW%, and while Henrique is certainly better than that, he is only at 47.9% with over 3100 career faceoff chances.  That is barely better than the poor team average.  Then, the third line could potentially see Jacob Josefson, as Ray Shero has noted that he wishes to give Jacob a good look this season.  And while Josefson is certainly better than either Elias or Henrique, he is still a career negative faceoff man, having over 1500 career faceoff chances with a 49.1% FoW%.

Fourth line faceoff duties on this team have generally been handled by Stephen Gionta over the last few seasons.  While Gio is a fan favorite and the energy he showcases out on the ice is palpable, his prowess in the faceoff circle is not exactly top notch.  In fact, of all the guys I mentioned so far, he is by far the worst, with a career 39% FoW% with over 1300 career opportunities.

Who else is out there? Well as far as centers go, the link above to the Devils main website lists a lot of them.  Most of them, however, are not faceoff guys.  Kyle Palmieri is listed as a center on the main website, but he has really been a career right winger, and only has 49 career faceoff attempts.  He is not a guy to rely on for faceoff wins.  Jiri Tlusty is also billed as a center by the Devils, but he only has 81 career faceoff attempts over the course of 416 games played.  He obviously was never asked to be a faceoff guy in Carolina, Winnipeg or Toronto, and I don't expect John Hynes to have him take draws here either.

Sergei Kalinin was a center in the KHL, and he did take faceoffs there.  However, according to the KHL's main stats webpage, he has a career 45.2% FoW%, and that is with 1435 career faceoff attempts.  He clearly is not much of a better option over the guys listed above, with the exception of maybe Gio or Elias.  And it would be impossible to tell how the transition to the NHL would affect his faceoff percentage, but I believe it is safe to assume that it would not drastically improve.

If anyone else were to take over faceoff duties, it would be a young forward from Albany or juniors.  Pavel Zacha is listed as a center on the Devils website, and really is the only other name listed there that could see a decent amount of playing time at the NHL level.  However, I am not sure at this point if there is any way to access his faceoff stats with Sarnia last season, or if the OHL keeps those stats.  If anyone knows them, please list them in the comments.   Either way, do you really expect him to get enough playing time to make a considerable difference in the overall team's faceoff performance?  I would doubt it.

What Does It All Mean?

Well, in reality it most likely means that New Jersey will not see much improvement on the dot this season.  If the main players attempting faceoffs for this team, other than Zajac, are Henrique, Elias, Josefson, and Gionta, then the Devils are most likely doomed to be in the bottom of the league in FoW% again.  Zajac is the lone reason why the Devils are not actually worse.

To me, this represents a problem.  It is not a major problem like possession or shots generated, but it indirectly leads to both of those issues.  Clean faceoff losses give the other team a strong grip on possession, which over the course of the season hurts NJ.  The extra attempts generated off of a faceoff win by an opponent will add up over time to really hurt a team's ability to possess the puck.  Also, it leads to fewer shots generated for the Devils.  Offensive zone faceoff wins can be a huge boon for shot attempts and shots on net, and if the Devils cannot win offensive zone draws, they will lose out on those scoring opportunities.

In the end, is it a significant issue?  Probably not.  Even at 27th in the league, the Devils still win 47 out of every 100 faceoff attempts.   But there is a difference between 47/100 wins and, let's say, 51/100 wins.  Those extra four wins might not seem obvious at only 100 faceoffs, but multiply that by 10, or by 20, and those extra faceoffs lost really begin to hold weight.  If the Devils want to right the ship with possession and offensive shots generated, one way to do that would be to improve their faceoff capabilities, and this season, I do not see that happening.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you think that having a poor faceoff team is a real issue?  If so, why is it such an issue?  Or are you on the opposing side, and do you not believe this to be a major issue?  If that is the case, why not?  Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.