Forgetting the back line for a moment, one of the Flyers’ most glaring weaknesses is in those eight little circles found throughout the ice surface…the faceoff dots. While Claude Giroux continued to improve in that department, to the tune of 54.5 percent this past season — good for 19th in the league — he was pretty much the only option the club had when they needed to win a draw. Subsequently, nobody in the entire league took more faceoffs than Giroux.
Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn took the second and third most draws on the team, but only won them at a clip of 43.9 and 45.5 percent, respectively. Max Talbot was the next best at 47.9 percent efficiency, but only took a total of 192 draws before his season-ending injury.
The issue is that the Flyers already have an abundance of centers. Giroux, Couturier, and Schenn are shoe-ins, as long as none of the latter two are traded this offseason. That only leaves the fourth-line center spot as available, which is ideal. Teams frequently employ a faceoff specialist as their fourth-line center.
However, many people are already assuming 2012 first-round draft pick Scott Laughton, another center, will make the team. It’s not a stretch of the imagination by any means as Laughton already had a solid if unspectacular five-game showing with the Flyers last year, and then put up 56 points in 49 games, followed by 13 points in seven playoff games back in the Ontario Hockey League with Oshawa. He finished his year with the Phantoms managing three points in six games.
With Laughton in the mix, you’re already at four centers and Laughton is not a particularly strong faceoff man at this point in his career (44.2% in a very small NHL sample size), so something has to give. Do the Flyers bite the bullet and continue to employ Giroux as their only reliable faceoff man?
If Schenn or Couturier are traded, which is something I’ve already speculated as a possibility, it would then potentially open up a spot at center on the third or fourth line, depending upon where Laughton ultimately plays. That spot could have been cemented by late-season acquisition Adam Hall, but it appears the organization is more than willing to let him walk.
I thought that Hall fit in well with the Flyers toward the end of the year, and I would not be opposed to kicking the tires on bringing him back. He won 59 percent of his one-on-ones with the Flyers, and 56.4 and 55 percent with the Lightning in the two years prior.
Other free agent options that were in the top 20 in the league in faceoffs include Boyd Gordon (eighth), Jerred Smithson (13th), Michael Handzus (14th), and Matt Cullen (17th). I think that both Handzus and Cullen would be too pricey in addition to being long in the tooth. Smithson has some pretty terrible advanced statistics, and is also 34 years old himself. Gordon is a bit interesting however.
Gordon is only 29 years old and is coming off faceoff percentages of 57.3 (8th), 57.3 (8th), and 58 (did not qualify) in the past three seasons. He just completed a two-year contract that had a cap hit of $1.325 million. He could price himself out of the Flyers who are probably looking to go even cheaper in the fourth line center role, but I would certainly think he’s worth considering.
Despite the glaring weakness, the number of in-house options at center for the Flyers may preclude them from bringing in a player to help in the face-off circle. However, if they do determine there is room for another center (due to a trade, or what have you), I think that Hall and Gordon are two names worth more than just a first glance.