New York Rangers: Face-off improvement needs to be top priority with new coaching regime

New York Rangers, Mika Zibanejad
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Regardless of who is hired to be the next head coach of the New York Rangers, the toughest task at hand is improving the team’s faceoff win percentage which was ranked 31st in the NHL last season.

Puck possession is an essential part of winning hockey games. For the New York Rangers organization, face-off wins are something they have lacked over past seasons and it has cost them much-needed points at the most important times of a hockey year.

Mika Zibanejead and Ryan Strome have been the most consistent number one and two centers on the team.



Zibanejaed had been the player to take the biggest draws in most instances, but his struggles on the ice offensively this season took a toll at the face-off circle.

Ryan Strome also had the opportunity to be the difference-maker but was not successful for the most part. Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, getting the call and getting the job done have been on two different ends of the spectrum.

The Numbers

If one would want to look at how the team did this past 56 games season, the numbers are easy to find. Just head over to NHL.com, click on stats, and face-off percentage.  Then scroll to the bottom, the very bottom, that’s right!  The Rangers were dead last in the category.  The organization had an efficiency percentage of 44.5%.

Another way to look at that stat could be the Ranger’s opposition won 55.5% of face-offs, 55.5% of the time the team left the faceoff circle without possession of the puck. It’s hard to defend your defensive side of the ice or get scoring chances in the offensive zone when you can’t get the puck on your sticks.

How bad is this issue, from the 2014-15 season through 2020-2021 the Blueshirts have played 536 hockey games.  The Rangers were ranked 31st during this period, dead last again.

The NHL breaks down face-off percentage by zones.  Last season the Rangers had 1,069 offensive faceoffs winning 44% of them.  Inside the team’s defensive end the club took 1,046 draws with a 44.3% efficiency rating. The team was ranked 30th in offense win percentage and last in defense percentage (shocking).

The Rangers top 5 centers and their faceoff percentages per Hockey-Reference were;

Mika Zibanejad -46.3%
Ryan Strome -43.2%
Filip Chytil -42.8%
Kevin Rooney -45%
Brett Howden- 46.6%

Ways to Improve

How to improve this area varies depending on the direction the staff wants to take. The Rangers know they need to improve but also have to make sure they don’t disrupt the balance of the team.  Subtracting one piece and adding another needs to be accomplished without a major disruption to the lineup.

  • Hire a face-off specialist – Many teams hire a former NHL player who was successful at winning draws. Choosing this route keeps the lineup, especially on the top two lines, intact while improving the team’s chances of winning draws.   Some names that come to mind that could help are; Manny Malhotra- 58.85%, Joe Nieuwendyk – 58.56%, or the team’s president, and Gm Chris Drury who had a career 54.97 percentage to the face-off dot.
  • Free Agency- The organization could look to a player who will become a free agent at the conclusion of this season. There are some names out there that might fit with the team, but in a time where the Rangers would like to stay in the “younger” side of the market, this may not be the best way to go unless a fourth-line center position could be negotiated.
  • Trade – Trades are always fun to speculate on, but many forget the most important part of a trade.  It is not who you are obtaining but who the Rangers would be willing to give up. Drury is not going to bring in a top-five or 10 NHL centerman who can win face-offs consistently without sending a Kaapo Kakko, Pavel Buchnevich, or Chytil the other way. Whoever is coming to New York via trade has to be the deal-breaker Drury needs with an immediate impact.

At the end of the day improving the team is not an easy fix, but in order for the Rangers to take the next step, the organization needs to find the right players.  Before Drury can focus on that, he needs to hire a head coach and staff.

 

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