Cody Hodgson’s faceoff apprenticeship

Back in October, I wrote about Cody Hodgson’s faceoff prowess and how the young centre’s injection into the Vancouver lineup gave the Canucks 5 quality options in the circle. At the time, Hodgson was winning 52.0% of his draws, and while it was quite early in the season, he had posted an identical win rate in the preseason as well. It didn’t seem far-fetched to assume he could maintain these numbers.

Turns out it was. Through 30 games, Hodgson has won only 74 of 177 faceoffs, or 41.8%. To put this into perspective: the other four Canuck centres all have winning percentages above 50. Hodgson is the team’s worst faceoff option by far.

There are, of course, only four lines. This means that, to make room for Hodgson to centre one of them, the Canucks are going to lose ground in the faceoff circle. And before you say, “Shift Hodgson to the wing,” rest assured that it’s been tried.

Recall that the Canucks played Hodgson at left wing when Ryan Kesler returned from offseason surgery. There was some concern over this move, but Cody said all the right things and the team explained that wing and centre were basically interchangeable in the Vancouver system. It was going to be fine.

Then, after a few games of it being less than fine, all involved declared that Hodgson was better at centre and he was restored to his natural position.

Alain Vigneault likes Hodgson as the third line centre. He’s given the Canucks “three lines that can score”, as Mike Gillis boasted recently on the Team 1040. What’s more, he’s reliable defensively, and he’s nicely sheltered behind two of the game’s best centres in Ryan Kesler and Henrik Sedin, which is ideal for his development: Hodgson’s game is neither 100% power like Kesler’s or 100% guile like Henrik’s, so he’s in a perfect position to study both of them.

And study he will, because he’s a huge nerd.

But Vigneault can’t like Hodgson’s faceoff problems. This is a man who so meticulously deployed his top three centres last season that Henrik Sedin’s offensive-zone start percentage spiked to the very top of the league, and Manny Malhotra’s fell to the very bottom. While Cody has far more offensive skill than Manny Malhotra, the move swapped one of the league’s best faceoff men for one of the league’s worst.

Vigneault’s solution to this problem, of late, has been to mitigate the damage by pairing Hodgson with Malhotra, allowing Malhotra to step in and take faceoffs before peeling off to the wing.

It’s not a new plan. Rookies often struggle with faceoffs (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, for instance, has an insane 38.3 win rate), and the Canucks forecasted Hodgson’s issues. Malhotra was signed as a free agent only after agreeing that he’d be comfortable shifting to the wing and mentoring “a young centre”. This always meant Hodgson.

You learn through experience, after all. Malhotra said as much himself a week ago:

The big thing is that as you become more and more veteran, you play more games and take more faceoffs, you learn what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. You learn situational draws and where you are on the ice, the setups of other teams, and you also get a book on other guys you have to go up against every night.

While Hodgson is developing this skillset, Alain Vigneault is ensuring that his on-the-job training remains in the neutral zone, where it hurts the Canucks the least. What you’re witnessing is a full-on apprenticeship.

In Montreal, for instance, Hodgson took 5 faceoffs, with only one in the defensive zone. Malhotra, his winger, took 15, 12 of which were inside the Canucks’ blueline. In the 6-0 win over Colorado, Hodgson was given 6 opportunities, but not a single one took place in the Vancouver zone. Malhotra took 7 defensive zone draws. Versus Nashville on December 1, Hodgson took only 3 faceoffs. Malhotra took 12, 8 of which were in the defensive zone.

Note: some of Malhotra’s defensive zone draws came on the penalty kill.

The only issue with Malhotra on the third line wing is that he hasn’t been playing all that well this season. And thus, on Tuesday in Columbus, Alain Vigneault swapped him out for Maxim Lapierre.

The same strategy remained: Hodgson took four draws, winning only one of them, and he only took one defensive zone faceoff, which he lost. Lapierre, on the other hand, took five faceoffs, winning four of them, including all three he took in the defensive zone.

This strategy has gone unnoticed by most because of the Canucks’ injury troubles in the forward corps. I think the assumption has been that Malhotra and/or Lapierre have been playing third line wing because of injuries. But that’s not it. Alain Vigneault is more than comfortable moving Dale Weise up to the third line instead. The problem with that is Weise can’t take faceoffs, and until Hodgson is ready, you need someone on that line who can.

Cody Hodgson's faceoff apprenticeship, 9.9 out of 10 based on 8 ratings
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10 comments

  1. Blake Rupert
    December 15, 2011

    Insight y’all. Appreciate.

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    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  2. Chris
    December 15, 2011

    The Salmon’s faceoffs will get better with time. It seems that his work ethic is 100% Crosby, not 100% Ovechkin, so that will bode will for his learning curve.

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    Rating: +4 (from 4 votes)
  3. John Andress
    December 15, 2011

    This tells me two things: 1) Alain Vigneault does not “hate” Cody Hodgson and is giving him the opportunity to develop and 2) The Canucks as an organization has finally found somebody (Mike Gillis) who knows how to develop young players.

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    Rating: +13 (from 13 votes)
  4. Kitty
    December 15, 2011

    Give your webdesigner my kudos. The typeface choices are all stellar.

    And great insight into the Hodgson situation. Interesting stuff.

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    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  5. Jymn
    December 15, 2011

    While Hodgson struggles in the face-off circle, the other parts of his game are humming along nicely. At only 11 minutes per game, Hodgson’s barely has enough time for a single rush at a time. With a Plus/Minus at +4, his game is moving the puck into the offensive zone. He passes like a surgeon. He is not a goal scorer, a role Vigneault has determined to mistakenly place the youngster. He is a play maker whose contribution expands exponentially with the players he plays with. He needs speedy shooters. More time on the point during PP would be wise. Personally, I don’t think Hodgson is being used to his best. His short stint on the wing was not enough for a young player to adapt to Kesler. I don’t think Hodgson will be long for the Canucks. His skills are too great and his learning skill in the circles too deep to remain in Vigneault’s roster. Hodgson could be a much more productive player on another team with a sharp shooter who needs a steady play maker who sees the ice.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      December 15, 2011

      He’s a rookie. Relax.

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      Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
  6. Rory
    December 15, 2011

    Wow, I really like the redesign! I hate most websites new look for the first few weeks, but I dig this one right away. Modern, readable and looks dam good. Also, it fits your writing style.

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  7. Chazz Ranger
    December 15, 2011

    That photo of Hodgson and Hamhuis is priceless. Hamhuis is looking at Nabokov like “Aww, let me guess… someone stole your sweetroll.” and Hodgson looks like he’s about to raise his thumb and forefinger to his forehead in an L.

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    Rating: 0 (from 2 votes)
  8. akidd
    December 16, 2011

    wow, Harrison. extremely well done! scoop.

    “Malhotra was signed as a free agent only after agreeing that he’d be comfortable shifting to the wing and mentoring “a young centre”. This always meant Hodgson.” fits like a 5-pronged jigsaw piece.

    and happy news really. that finally explains why AV has hodgson recently skating with firepower like alberts and mancari again. there is method. whew. the canucks DO care about the development of hodgson…wonderful.

    because hodgson’s linemates combined with the ‘how to’ primer ‘how not to ride a hot goalie(schneider)’ had me scratching my head so hard it hurt.

    i’m always glad to receive some small word that some things in the world actually make a bit of sense. cheers.

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  9. longwalk
    December 16, 2011

    \\\\if the faceoffs were a problem, it would be reflected in Hodgsons plus minus.Two more faceoff wins eve ry three games and he would be 50% .You should also take into account how often a faceoff man is thrown out. I agree with those who say AV hates Hodgson

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