The overrated value of a faceoff

Cam Charron
August 01 2011 09:23AM

 

Every so often, an analyst will talk about how a certain player deserved a "three star" nominee because he won two or three big faceoffs. Even more so often a coach will send out two centremen in a high-leverage situation to win a key, late draw. The question is whether this tactic has a tangible value.

Let's use the Corsi number here. The Corsi number is, of course, an advanced +/- statistic that counts every goal, saved shot, missed shot and blocked shot while a player was on the ice and is a reliable indicator of which team had possession of the puck when a player was on the ice. Since a won faceoff essentially gives one team possession over the other, logically, faceoff percentage would correlate well to a player's Corsi number.

In the beautiful, scenic spreadsheets offered at Behind The Net there exists data on 1799 players who have played 60-or-more games over the course of a season. I looked at a few, key bits of data from those players to determine faceoff value.

Microsoft Excel kept crashing on me, so I couldn't label the chart. However, the Y-axis indicates a player's Corsi number while the X-axis indicates the team's faceoff percentage while he was on the ice. I've added a trendline, as well:

With an r-squared value of .015, there is little correlative value between winning a faceoff and actually turning the possession into anything tangible.

I ran a similar correlation between where a player started his shift [ Offensive zone starts / Total Offensive and Defensive Starts ] and his Corsi number. Let's see this result:

The r-squared value is .160. It doesn't mean that there's a determination in where you started your shift as to having tangible possession, but it does show us that the location of the puck is more important than who actually has the puck. This is where the dump-and-chase gets away with being a still useful, method of zone-entry. A team concedes possession for puck location and works to get it back in a similar spot.

Oilers blogger Tyler Dellow has looked at the value of a faceoff on the penalty kill recently and I have to add that I've come up with a similar conclusion at even strength. There's a 60-40 split between the top and the bottom regular faceoff men in the league. At 10 draws a game (roughly) that equals two touches of the puck on your defenseman's stick before anything can happen on the play.

I will add, however, that there are some faceoff specialists who double as strong defensive players: Manny Malhotra, Jarrod Smithson, Steve Ott, Paul Gaustad and [I guess] Selke winner Ryan Kesler had strong seasons on both draws and preventing shots. Players like Zenon Konopka and Jarrett Stoll had less generous defensive numbers, and Jonathan Toews, who came second in Selke voting purely by virtue of his faceoff skill was 169th in shot prevention among the 314 forwards who had played more than 600 minutes this past season.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#51 book¡e
August 02 2011, 03:24PM
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Marcus wrote:

You're pretty much questioning whether or not puck possesion is important. LMFAO

Well, you may be LYFAO, but while doing so, you are identifying yourself as someone who would have trouble thinking more than one move ahead in a chess game.

Winning faceoffs would clearly have some value in NHL hockey, however, this value may be very very small given the number of times that possession changes and the nature of the advantage of that possession. The positioning and nature of immediate possession after the drop of a puck may have very little influence on the outcome of games. The math provided in this analysis suggests that may be the case. So, it may be that team building strategies that emphasize winning faceoffs (and selecting personnel based upon that) may be a poor strategy.

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#52 Neal Schmidt
August 02 2011, 03:53PM
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Hemmertime wrote:

Yes. By some. I like Toews, he is a very good Center and a great leader. That being said without Patrick Sharp being as good as he is as a #2 (or 1B) Toews would not look near as good as he does and the expectations on him would be ten-fold. People would complain about how he only gets cracked 70 pts for the first time this season and say he's disappointing. The person who mentioned Doan is a good example of good player bad team. Toews has his great reputation because of good player + great team.

You know who puts up Toews point #'s (does it on Wing not Centre, and C's should get more pts) and plays against the other teams toughs? Hemsky. Toews 0.89 PPG last 3 seasons, Hemmer - 0.91. Much much much worse team (Stanley cup vs Last) and yet most people regard 83 as a decent second line RW and praise the hell outta Toews. The east people are so uneducated about the Western Conference its laughable. We have the east force-fed to us on all channels so at least we know enough about the Eastern Conf. to usually wipe the floor with the East fans in the pools.

Even more food for thought: Would you trade RNH and a 2nd rounder for Toews? Its tempting, but I think I'd lean towards no. Toews took a step forward this year but doesn't strike me as a 100 pt man. RNH might be 60-90, but Ill take that risk over guaranteed 70

There is NO WAY you can get Toews from the Chicago Blackhawks for Hemsky and a first round pick. Even a top pick.

And Toews is on a Selke path not a Hart one. Eventually, I think you will see Kane and Toews split on two separate lines so each can go towards their respective "trophies." Which is really saying contribute using their individual talents to their fullest.

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#53 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
August 02 2011, 04:19PM
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Hemmertime wrote:

Yes. By some. I like Toews, he is a very good Center and a great leader. That being said without Patrick Sharp being as good as he is as a #2 (or 1B) Toews would not look near as good as he does and the expectations on him would be ten-fold. People would complain about how he only gets cracked 70 pts for the first time this season and say he's disappointing. The person who mentioned Doan is a good example of good player bad team. Toews has his great reputation because of good player + great team.

You know who puts up Toews point #'s (does it on Wing not Centre, and C's should get more pts) and plays against the other teams toughs? Hemsky. Toews 0.89 PPG last 3 seasons, Hemmer - 0.91. Much much much worse team (Stanley cup vs Last) and yet most people regard 83 as a decent second line RW and praise the hell outta Toews. The east people are so uneducated about the Western Conference its laughable. We have the east force-fed to us on all channels so at least we know enough about the Eastern Conf. to usually wipe the floor with the East fans in the pools.

Even more food for thought: Would you trade RNH and a 2nd rounder for Toews? Its tempting, but I think I'd lean towards no. Toews took a step forward this year but doesn't strike me as a 100 pt man. RNH might be 60-90, but Ill take that risk over guaranteed 70

I'd trade RNH + 2nd for Toews in a heart beat.

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#54 book¡e
August 02 2011, 06:07PM
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Matt Henderson wrote:

Or maybe the stats and formulas used for the study arent the best way to interpret whether winning a faceoff is important.

Considering the great disconnect between the focus of professional coaches and management's desire to win faceoffs with regularity and this study's result showing that "Winning faceoffs is over-rated", maybe the results and how they were contrived should come into question before the concept that winning faceoffs is important comes into question.

I can fully agree with that - its always wise to take a critical approach to such things. It was just that the LMFAO statement sounded a lot like blatant and arrogant resistance to any notion of challenging the 'obvious'. There are many instances where prevailing common knowledge has been successfully challenged by careful analysis.

Now, with that said, at a quick glance, the argument made here does appear to be well put together.

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#55 stevezie
August 03 2011, 02:11AM
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Rick wrote:

That's some ace research right there.

How about a good player who is young vs a bad player who is experienced or a good goalie who is small vs a bad goalie that has size?

Why not compare apples to apples instead?

Obviously going with the best players available is where you start but in the games within the game further skillsets and player attributes do matter. And in this case where the coaches are outright telling you that it's vital then it's pretty much a non-question.

Experienced hockey guys agreeing on something doesn't make it a "non-question." The establishment has been wrong plenty of times before; one reason the game today is different than the one played in 1950 is a series of people realized that "common knowledge" was wrong and exploited widely used but flawed tactics. Lafleur's Canadiens couldn't beat many teams in the alleys, but they won a lot of cups.
Again, no one is saying faceoffs don't matter, but maybe Yanick Perrault was a waste of a roster spot for that last year. Maybe the ducks were right to look past Cogliano's faceoff problems. Maybe when comparing apples to apples you're putting too much value on shininess when you should focus more on taste and texture.
This actually was some ace research, though not by me. I thought Dellow really nailed it.

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#56 Marcus
August 03 2011, 02:32AM
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book¡e wrote:

Well, you may be LYFAO, but while doing so, you are identifying yourself as someone who would have trouble thinking more than one move ahead in a chess game.

Winning faceoffs would clearly have some value in NHL hockey, however, this value may be very very small given the number of times that possession changes and the nature of the advantage of that possession. The positioning and nature of immediate possession after the drop of a puck may have very little influence on the outcome of games. The math provided in this analysis suggests that may be the case. So, it may be that team building strategies that emphasize winning faceoffs (and selecting personnel based upon that) may be a poor strategy.

You clearly identify yourself as the man that points out the obvious. Maybe I am playing presumptuous after you led the way with your enigmatic chasm. Maybe I have the attention span of a gnat, maybe I think this topic is useless. Maybe my opinion doesn't weigh on you because I provided no back-up for my laughter. It appears I don't need to when you so eloquently spell it out for me.

When a team is 3pts back of a playoff spot, a few more faceoffs won on the PP, and who knows. The analysis would have no bearing on an organization in a league that with such intense parity, requires every inch

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#57 Rick
August 03 2011, 08:07AM
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@stevezie

Nah it's still pointless research.

Only someone looking to justify a spread sheet will compare different player types with different skills to make a point.

Anyways, the comment about coaches wasn't a suggestion that old timey hockey guys are always right, it was pointing out that these guys put an emphasis on the importance of face offs and they are the ones that are currently running the game.

Faceoffs are important because the coaches put an emphasis on it, rightly or wrongly.

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#58 Wax Man Riley
August 03 2011, 03:51PM
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i'm sure it has already been said, but some stats must be taken into context. An offensive zone faceoff in the first 5 minutes when the game is 0-0 does not matter as much as an offensive zone start with 30 seconds left when the offensive team is on the powerplay and down 5-4.

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