2011 NHL Free Agent Faceoff Specialists: Should the Oilers Pursue Scott Nichol?

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2011 NHL Free Agent Faceoff Specialists: Should the Oilers Pursue Scott Nichol?
Scott Nichol fights Mike Brown - AP Photo/Gus Ruelas

According to this TSN article, the Sharks don't plan to re-sign Scott Nichol, their fourth line center. The 36-year-old Edmonton native played 56 games and scored seven points until he was knocked out by Maxim Lapierre on a questionable hit.

Now I know what you're thinking: Why do the Oilers need another Colin Fraser? The answer: He's actually more dynamic than Fraser. The Hockey News describes Nichol with the following pros and cons:

ASSETS: Has a motor that will never stop working. Doesn't shy away from physical contact, despite his lack of size. Can take opponents off their game. Is solid defensively and can win faceoffs.

FLAWS: Is prone to injury, due to his kamikaze style of play, and is also a limited point producer at the NHL level. Takes a few bad penalties from time to time.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Agitating defensive center with a bundle of energy

Now, in a rebuild of the nature the Oilers have undergone, it is always with the utmost care that you sign veteran free agents. Certain types you sign when you are making the transition to a playoff team. Others you sign as organizational depth. Yet others are meant to be role models or mentors in the room.

The Oilers have experimented with the Steve MacIntyres, Colin Frasers, Jason Strudwicks and the Nikolai Khabibulins.

It boggles my mind though, that since the departure of Jarret Stoll and Kyle Brodziak, the Oilers have not filled the role of penalty kill and faceoff specialist. Though Scott Nichol is listed at 5'9", 180 lbs, the veteran centerman can fight, hustle and check.

Nichol also comes with a proven track record at winning faceoffs, something the Oilers have not had since the retirement of Oates and the departure of Stoll (and Horcoff's good shoulder). Scott Nichol is a 60.6 percent faceoff man (2009-10). The NHL doesn't seem to have his 2010-11 numbers even though he played 56 games—which is strange.

Nonetheless, very few of the free agents on this year's UFA list fit the bill for what Nichol brings.

He brings energy, veteran savvy and proven faceoff ability.

Other UFA players who are also possibilities as faceoff specialists:

  • Brooks Laich
  • Jason Arnott
  • John Madden
  • Todd Marchant (it's retro Oiler week, with the Smyth rumours!)
  • Zenon Konopka
  • Marcel Goc
  • Kris Draper
  • Rob Neidermayer
  • Tomas Kopecky
  • Marty Reasoner
  • Chad LaRose (a Nichol comparable)
  • Jerred Smithson
  • Craig Conroy
  • Andrew Ebbett

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Great names on this list, but none of these guys had a higher faceoff percentage than Scott Nichol. Unlike Yanic Perreault, Nichol can really skate for a 36-year-old, too!

The Oilers have been rumoured to be interested in Zenon Konopka over the last week though just about everybody else on that list has some advantage over him except perhaps the toughness. But the MacIntyre solution over the last couple of seasons turned out to be just an unused roster spot.

No offense to the big guy, but when nobody's fighting you but guys are still getting hurt—you're not doing your job as a nuclear deterrent. A lot of experienced names on that list, some of which are guys who are rumoured to be interested in retiring or have a shortlist of teams that they want to go to.

For example, it's hard to imagine Craig Conroy would want to play in Edmonton.

However, for me, the main concern is bringing in a guy who will eat up valuable ice time for the developing young players. Of specific concern is the ice time that should go to guys like Anton Lander and Chris Vandevelde (and maybe even Ryan O'Marra)—guys who would be in a Scott Nichol role.

I don't think it ever hurts to have more than one of these guys on your bottom line though.

Often in the playoffs on defensive zone faceoffs or penalty kills you will see teams line up two centermen—just in case one gets tossed—to increase their chances of winning the faceoff and getting the puck down the ice (after which they change on the fly to get the right winger out).

If the Oilers are getting a veteran center who can play all forward positions to ride shotgun with the Landers and the Vandeveldes, my vote goes to hometown boy Scott Nichol.

(In the next couple of days I will examine some of the other names on that free agent faceoff specialist list.)

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