Why the Rangers need to address the center position this summer

April 15, 2014, by
Derek Stepan is awful at face-offs. It needs addressing.

Derek Stepan is awful at face-offs. It needs addressing.

Not a single team currently ranked lower than the Rangers in face-off percentage this year will be in the playoffs. The last four Stanley Cup Champions (Chicago (twice), LA and Boston) rank 5th, 3rd and 8th respectively in face-off success. All three of the Rangers centers relied on for their offense – Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards (so, not Dom Moore and Brian Boyle) – have less than a 50% success rate, with Stepan winning a paltry 45.2% of his face offs. Can you see the point we’re trying to make?

When Brad Richards leaves the Rangers this summer, the team must ensure his replacement(s) count face-off ability among their skill sets. Face-off weakness is also one why reason why Derick Brassard being retained isn’t a guarantee. Aside from resolving Marc Staal’s contract situation this summer, perhaps the biggest focus for the Rangers needs to be acquiring proven face-off centermen.

When a team wants to play puck possession hockey, be able to control the puck and generate offense they are immediately behind the eight ball when they can’t win draws. The Rangers powerplay has been frustrating and a large part of it’s lack of consistent success is because of face-off ineptitude. Too often the Rangers fail to set up and lose critical time off the clock because the puck is easily cleared by the opposition.

Of course, the impact of draw success goes beyond special teams success. The Rangers are not a particularly big or physical club and if they want to win a Cup (or Cups), for the foreseeable future they will need to go through the likes of Boston, LA and St Louis. All three clubs are big physical teams that grind you down; they come at you in waves and impose their size on you.

If you win the draws and control the puck then there are only so many times those kind of teams can turn you around, get the puck in deep and wear you down in the corners and along the boards. It’s a simplistic theory but a valid one. Win the puck, control the game. The Rangers – smaller than many of their intended rivals – simply must get better in the circles.

Face-off success is critical. It’s why the Rangers need to make a play for one of the Colorado Avalanche centers Paul Statsny and Ryan O’Reilly in the summer assuming either becomes available. With 53.9 and 52.2% success rates respectively either center would help the team not just generate offense but control the puck and tilt the ice in the Rangers favour. Both may turn out to be overpriced, a health risk and/or not generate the offense their contracts may demand but if the Rangers have more offensive zone time it will lead to greater success. If the Rangers want to win Stanley Cups its time they addressed their long standing face-off weakness.


  1. SalMerc says:

    I cannot disagree, but this is an added attribute, not the focus of the search. Yes, we need a center and yes we need to win more face-offs, but we may not be able to find one (fairly priced) center who can be both.
    I would like to see them bring in a face-off coach who can teach technique. Centers and wings need training, as it seems like 25% of all face-offs that someone get thrown out of the circle. I think an awful lot depends on how far they go and what it will take to keep some guys.

    • Chris says:

      I agree they may not be able to get both but it’s critical they try to IMO. I agree on the coaching aspect. I was surprised Messier wasn’t utilized more than the occasional session that was reported.

      I just don’t see how this team can win a Cup when they have no one that can win face-offs in their top six. Stepan may never be a top tier center unless he gets closer to 50%. Imagine how much more effective he’d be with a 49% success rate?

    • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

      It would be nice to have one of the top 2 Centerman better than 50% success rate. Tho that may not be a bad idea. First of all maybe someone can teach Stepan to be at least closer to 50% but sometimes wingers have to take the Faceoff. Tho I heard that a subject discussed at this years GM meetings was to never remove the Center from the dots for an infraction or false start. Just a do over. That makes sense to me. Wingers don’t take Faceoffs. Why should a winger take a Faceoff against a Center that does it 20 times or more per game?

  2. bill goldthorpe says:

    i don’t disagree w/ the premise. though i think the solution in free agency is going to be a 3L center rather then a top six center. the budget just likely isn’t going to be there.

  3. Ray says:

    If Stepan had succeeded at Stastny’s rate, he would have won 132 more faceoffs – roughly 1.6 extra wins per game. Winning an extra 1.6 per game is nice, but as SalMerc points out, it is just one thing to consider among many. Most of the 60 faceoffs that occur each game do not result in scores.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      Right. For me, faceoff % is nice, but only one of many factors to look at.

      I think faceoffs are important at crucial moments during a game. Winning a faceoff late in the game in your own zone up a goal, winning a faceoff late in the game in the opponent’s zone down a goal, etc. Not all faceoffs are created equal.

      Chris does make a good point that a faceoff win every now and then on the PP would be nice, but I’m not sure what exactly the numbers are in that exact scenario.

  4. mikeyyy says:

    Agreed. Because Richie won’t be around and that our 3rd line winger leads the team in points. We need a center. A real center.

    • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

      I know it’s a pipe dream and I said it before but ROR would be the guy I’d go hard after this summer. He’s an RFA and will require a QO of $6 mil. I’d think he’d just accept that qualifying offer on a new contract. Stepan, ROR, Brassard down the middle gives us 3 fairly young Centerman that can play together for a long time. It would be the Rangers core for a long time. They have the wingers and defense goaltending to contend. ROR is 53% career in the circle and he played a lot of wing this year with the log jam up the middle in Denver. He could play wing on a PP unit and is pretty defensively sound for a top 6 forward. It may be impossible but I’d give up a volley of future draft picks. Maybe even a defenseman. Moore or Staal. I don’t like this contract situation with Staal. He shouldn’t get paid more than Mac. He’s gonna want more but he’s been hurt a lot and he’s not as good as Mac. The Rangers can do without him. IMO. Especially if they can get a good return as in a young Center that fills a few different holes the Rangers have. ROR out scored all NYR Centers this season. He would have led the team in scoring. Maybe a 70 point guy in NY.

  5. Frank Cerbone says:

    Dubinsky is an excellent faceoff guy, a career 52.8% faceoff guy.

    Trade Nash for Dubinsky, a physical, defensively responsible, leader, good passer, not a good finisher & Anisimov, a decent faceoff guy, defensively responsible and a 20
    goal scorer.

    Trading Nash “Mr Softie” who had like 11 bodychecks this entire season and only 3 bodychecks over the last 2 months seems like a good idea. Not what you expect from a guy like 6-4, 220.

    Nash, Boyle, & Staal all at least 6-4 just don’t
    have the grit, toughness that goes along with their size.

    OReilly is another finesse guy that doesn’t play the body and had like 22 hits in 80 gms

    Rangers should focus on right side defenseman Niskanen to replace Staal and either Stralman or Diaz. Niskanen can hit, fight a little, and is a MUCH better all aound defenseman than Staal will ever be, and he’s an UFA as well.

    • mattimar says:

      well that trade will never happen..but your points is correct ..3 big guys and no toughness. The biggest problem with the Rangers (and lets hope they win the cup anyway), is buried in the article. THe faceoffs are one thing, but the fact that “for the foreseeable future they will need to go through the likes of Boston, LA and St Louis. All three clubs are big physical teams that grind you down; they come at you in waves and impose their size on you.” is the problem. How can you manage the team for 14 years and still let these other teams “come at you”? Why are the Rangers usually at a physical disadvantage? Speed is great but as I recall the Smurfs did not win the Cup either. Get Niskanen and a center with grit.

  6. Forever 1994 says:

    Oscar Lindberg is a tremendous 2-way center whose ready to be an NHLer. Also, I would imagine the NYR are going to go after Stastny and or O’Reilly after they buyout Richards. Both are very good centers who can score (60 -64 pts. respectively)although O’Reilly is only 23 yrs old.

  7. bernmeister says:

    An upgrade would be nice, but we need to upgrade overall talent, which is a higher priority IMO than chemistry or a specialist.

    Trade Stepan + Girardi, maybe plus, in a package deal, and get a talent upgrade (JVR/EKane, maybe Karlsson with a big plus added by NYR).

    I disagree that Brassard/Lindberg/D.Moore (underrated could play higher line) are bad, and Boyle is better for us as a LW if stays, due to lack of creativity, but he can still take draws and switch over.
    JT MIller is best at C and we need his talent and speed matched with Kreider to help him (and atm, MSL) to really explode. Don’t care about rookie mistakes. Should have already been here this year, not Pyatt and Dorsett.

  8. Frank Cerbone says:

    OReilly is not coming to NY as he is a RFA. OReilly would cost at least two #1 draft choices.

    If Rangers make it to the Eastern Finals, Rangers will not have a #1 in either this year or next year’s draft.

    Can you imagine St Louis only scoring one goal for the Rangers, Callahan signs with Tampa, and Rangers give Tampa two #1 picks?

    • mattimar says:

      I am hoping for a tampa/rangers conference final..

    • SnakeX3 says:

      This is what makes the Callahan deal so ridiculous. The Rangers could have used those draft picks to obtain players that had far more long term value then MSL. Either they keep the picks and develop them or they flip them for an UPGRADE over what they had.

      No disrespect to MSL. When the trade was announced I was very excited, but I misread the transaction and thought the RANGERS were getting the picks as a condition if Callahan signed with Tampa, not that they were giving them away for a 38 y/o. Silly me.

      The problem with the trade isn’t that MSL has been a washout thus far. I expected that since it seems to take every player 40 games to learn AV’s system. I just was hoping that for once the Rangers hadn’t traded youth for a star player that was over the hill. Those picks would have been far more valuable as trade bait for an upgrade at Center unless you are in “Win Now” mode and I don’t see the Rangers winning the Cup with this group even if MSL plays the way he has in the past.

      The Rangers have to get a high quality top six center to compete for a Cup next season. The FO% would be a nice bonus, but as others have said the FO% isn’t required if they can land someone >= Stepan and Brassard.