Understanding new faceoff standards could make or break Dominic Moore's shot with Leafs
Veteran centre competing for job on 4th line
Toronto Maple Leafs centre Dominic Moore was caught off guard.
In his first pre-season game in his return to the Leafs on Monday, Moore lined up against Ottawa Senators forward Ben Sexton for a faceoff at 4:00 of the first period. When he attempted to win the draw, he was given a warning by linesman Tony Sericolo.
On Moore's second attempt, he was given a minor penalty for a faceoff violation.
"[The officials] talked to us about it before the game about some changes," Moore said. "But I didn't know what to expect."
Article 76.4 of the NHL rulebook states that during faceoffs, "the players taking part shall take their position so that they will stand squarely facing the opponent's end of the rink, and clear of the ice markings [where applicable]."
It was enforced loosely in the past, but the league is calling it by letter of the rule, one of a few changes made for the upcoming season.
"The goal is to reward skill on the faceoff and not guys who cheat," said NHL senior vice-president of hockey operations Colin Campbell in a phone call on Wednesday. "The rule has always been there."
The ability to win faceoffs has become a staple for what Leafs coach Mike Babcock looks for in a fourth-line centre.
Area of need
Last season, the Leafs struggled to find a player who was consistent enough for the coach's liking. After trying out centres Frederik Gauthier, Ben Smith, Peter Holland and Byron Froese, the Leafs acquired veteran forward Brian Boyle from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 27.
The Leafs signed Moore, 37, to a one-year $1 million US contract on July 1, hoping he would fill the void left by Boyle, who signed a two-year deal with the New Jersey Devils on the same day.
Moore won 54.6 per cent of his faceoffs during the 2016-17 regular season. He was 22nd best among players with a minimum of 500 faceoff attempts.
But winning faceoffs under a new standard could prove tough for players who are unable to adapt.
"Keeping feet behind the hashmark at the faceoff circle changes the technique in which a player can attempt a faceoff," Campbell said. "Some players are known to drop a knee or spin into the circle once the puck is dropped, you won't see that anymore."
Campbell insists this new standard is here to stay and they won't back off despite some negative reaction.
Babcock not buying it
"I know they told us, but they're not going to keep doing it like that, are they?" Babcock told reporters following the Leafs 6-2 loss to the Senators on Tuesday. "They want it this way; it's still supposed to be a competitive situation, I don't know if it is anymore."
Moore wasn't the only player to struggle with faceoffs. Through two pre-season games, three Leafs have been penalized for faceoff violations while every centre has been kicked out of the faceoff circle at least once through two games.
"It's tough with those rules to remain consistent," said Leafs forward Nazem Kadri. "I assume maybe there will be some leeway throughout the last part of the season. I think they're just going to feel it out from the beginning and see where it goes."
For Moore, winning a spot as the team's fourth-line centre could come down to how he adapts to the changes. Newcomer Miro Aaltonen poses the biggest challenge to Moore at the spot.
"He's a guy like a bunch of them battling for a fourth-line centre spot and there are a number of guys in that battle," Babcock said of Moore.
The Leafs have six pre-season games remaining, which gives players like Moore more time to manoeuvre around the new faceoff rules. However, it's clear the standard isn't fully understood by some players, which can put players on the bubble of making the final roster feel like they are in an uncomfortable spot.
"There maybe needs to be a bit more dialogue about this," said Moore.