It’s no secret that the Calgary Flames were lean on right-handed centers last season. Until they acquired Nick Shore at the trade deadline, they simply didn’t have any. While the Flames probably weren’t crippled by having only southpaw centers on a macro level, their 2017-18 season was essentially “death by a thousand cuts” and having to rely on Troy Brouwer as their primary right-handed option in strategic situations probably cost them draws here and there (and some games, too).
The signings of Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik, along with the acquisition of Elias Lindholm, are probably an indication that general manager Brad Treliving is paying attention to both the forest and the trees in the context of his team’s disappointing season.
The Flames had four guys take the bulk of their faceoffs last season:
- Mikael Backlund: 1,410 – 50.0% winning percentage
- Sean Monahan: 1,407 – 50.4% winning percentage
- Mark Jankowski: 810 – 48.8% winning percentage
- Matt Stajan: 482 – 51.4% winning percentage
Two things jump out: the best guy at winning draws was their fourth line center, and all of these fellas are left-handed. The three most-used right-handed options (Brouwer, Shore and Curtis Lazar) combined for 454 draws, fewer than Stajan.
The big challenge for a group of lefties is that about half of draws in games take place on the right side of the ice. The general trend for centers is they’re better at winning draws on the side of the ice that they shoot, their so-called “strong side” – e.g., left-handed guys are better at winning left-side draws, right-handed guys on the right side.
Because of their lack of left-handed options, the Flames were probably hamstrung in some key situations. Tyler Dellow at The Athletic did an examination of how teams took draws on the strong and weak sides, and found that the Flames were one of the league’s weakest teams in that regard… and the Carolina Hurricanes were the second-best NHL club at using forwards for draws on their strong sides. From Dellow:
League average is around 60 per cent of 5-on-5 faceoffs being taken by players on their strong side although, as you can see, the median is a few points lower. There are a few teams that are really aggressive in having players take faceoffs on their strong sides that drive the average up.
It’s probably not surprising to see Treliving emphasize adding right-handed faceoff options when his brand new coach is such a believer in utilizing that strategic advantage. If you look at the players that have been acquired, two of the three were guys that took a lot of draws and had a lot of success for the Hurricanes: Ryan took 940 draws (and won 56.5% of them), Lindholm 793 draws (and won 54.5%).
While Peters is a notorious line tinkerer, the new bodies in town will provide him with plenty of right-handed faceoff options that aren’t Brouwer and potentially make the Flames a more versatile club – and one that’s tougher to beat simply by outmatching their one right-handed guy.
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