Tuesday, August 4, 2009
First, we lost Vernon Fiddler to Phoenix. Then Scott Nichol moved on to sign with San Jose. And though no official announcement has been made (that I know of), Radek Bonk ran off to the KHL to join Radulov in some Russian hockey love. Thinking back to the 2008-2009 season roster, none of these guys were really integral cogs in the grand scheme of things. But if you look at what they were better at than others, you would find that they all had pretty solid (if not close to top-notch) skills at the face off dot. Between the three, Fiddler’s percentage was the lowest with 54.1%, Bonk at an impressive 59.9% (third overall in the NHL and an individual career high) and Nichol with 54.6%, which, let’s face it, is pretty good considering he played less games than most.
So why am I calling out Jerred Smithson, you ask? Well, in terms of guys left on the team who find themselves more often than not at the face off dot...Jerred Smithson’s your guy. At a 52.6% FO win percentage, his numbers are pretty darn good. Looking at who is left on the team to help in the face off wins, this is where it gets kind of sticky. Jordin Tootoo walked away with a 56.2% FO average last season but that number is skewed due to the small number of times he actually found himself in the circle; a whopping 16. Really though, the only two guys left to put any stock in are Jason Arnott at 50.6% (I can’t believe he ended the year that high because I hardly ever remember seeing him win a faceoff) and David Legwand at 49.8%. Delving further into the breakdown, Arnott and Leggy both faced over 1,000 times at the dot last season. Bonk and Smithson both faced over 700 a piece themselves. Fiddler and Nichol rounded out the list but since we’ve wiped out three of these guys, there is a drastic drop off in terms of players left who can put up these kinds of numbers. Obviously Arnott and Legwand will continue to contribute in this area but their main focus should lie beyond winning a draw. Until some of the younger players can find their bearings and start making an impact, the responsibility of winning face offs lies with more seasoned veterans of the game.
If you wonder why I even bothered to single out these statistics, here’s my reason: face offs are an essential part of the game and crucial to the success of power plays and penalty kills. Face offs can be the spark of momentum shifts in a game, leading to a goal scored and quite possibly, a game won. Radek Bonk might not have been too good at much else last season but at least he knew how to get to the puck in a draw better than almost anyone the Predators have ever had on their roster. So Jerred Smithson needs to step up his game...or really, in this case, keep it up. He averaged more shifts per game than Bonk did last season yet with an additional upside of good penalty killing instincts; something that will also be lacking with the loss of Fids and Scooter. He’s also at the start of his two-year contract extension, making more than he has in any previous season in the NHL. Honestly, I see no reason for him to NOT perform at or above where he was last year. For the success of the coming season, I surely hope his performance only gets better from here.