Despite what some “experts” say, face-offs really matter

  

On a couple of higher profile Blackhawk podcasts recently, hosts have suggested that faceoffs really don’t matter that much in hockey, that their importance is “overrated.”

This has been stated in the context of pushing a Nick Schmaltz is “out of position at wing” narrative, in part because his faceoff percentage is typically close to 40% overall—which is abysmal and untenable for an NHL center.

But I digress. This article in only indirectly about Schmaltz (and the rest of the Hawk centers). It’s really about the under-appreciated (apparently) importance of faceoffs to winning hockey.

Let’s begin this with a basic—and highly ironic—premise. Because so often the “interwebz experts” who proclaim that faceoffs don’t matter, are also those who spout Corsi as the underpinning of every trivial tit for tat (or tweet for tat, whatever).

Here goes: if you want to be a possession team—ie, fuel the ongoing Corsi frenzy of so many would-be analytics gurus—and direct more shots at your opponent’s net than they direct at yours—you have to first possess the puck.

 Let that sink in.

Sure, hockey is a fluid game, which is in part why it’s so difficult to quantify the importance of one particular aspect of play—like faceoffs. And there are other ways to gain possession of the puck.

But, faceoffs are clearly one of the ways, if not the most obvious way, you gain possession.

I will grant, neutral zone faceoffs are probably somewhat less important. But, offensive and defensive zone faceoffs are highly important, especially in power play and penalty kill situations. 

Win a clean draw to your defenseman on the penalty kill in your zone, and 9 times out of 10 that puck is going hard around the boards and out. Win the draw to your defenseman in the offensive zone on the power play and you have a good chance of setting up and initiating a play.

It’s not brain surgery.

But to this point, this is all somewhat theoretical. And I will dive into some supportive numbers here in a minute.

But first, let’s climb into the Wayback Machine and set the dial for June 2015, the third periods of Games 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Hawks and the Lightning, when Jonathan Toews, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw and (especially) Antoine Vermette essentially stymied the Lightning’s comeback hopes in one goal games by winning draw after critical draw. And if you don’t recall, I suggest you go back and watch those latter stages of those games, or read Tampa coach Jon Cooper’s post-game comments.

To possess the puck, you have to win the puck.

So let’s look at some numbers. In those playoffs, where the Hawks won the Stanley Cup.

Vermette ranked third in the playoffs among centers at a dominant 58.9%. Toews was ninth among centers at 56.1%. Kruger and Shaw were both 50%. As a team, the Hawks were third in the playoffs that year in all situations at 53.1%, and they had to go through some of the league’s best faceoff men: Mikko Koivu, Ryan Kesler, Nate Thompson, Val Filippula.

More specifically, the Hawks were 59-52 in the dot on the power play, and even at 49-49 shorthanded.

The following year, when the Hawks lost in the first round in 7 games to the Blues, overall, they were 49.9% for the series, and a terrible 13-26 shorthanded.

The year after, 2016-17, they were swept in the first round by the Predators, and their faceoff% was just 47.2.

Certainly, other factors contributed to that postseason decline. But again, the maxim applies: possessing (shooting) the puck requires winning the puck.

And, despite what they tell you, faceoffs matter  . . . in actual hockey.

All I have for now. Comment below.

Follow @jaeckel 

Center Ice Forums Despite what some “experts” say, faceoffs matter

Viewing 14 posts - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)
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  • #8884
    John Jaeckel
    Keymaster

    On a couple of higher profile Blackhawk podcasts recently, hosts have suggested that faceoffs really don’t matter that much in hockey, that their impo
    [To continue reading full article, click here: Despite what some “experts” say, faceoffs matter]

    Apparently, all goalies are Vikings

    #8886
    Alan Parsons
    Participant

    Im in 98% agreement, my only quibble/pet peeve is the second part of the faceoff that doesnt seem to have a statistic named for it and that is puck retrieval after one or another player “wins” the faceoff.  There are faceoff wins where one touch later the puck is turned over.  I would like to see the statistics of a faceoff win that turns into enough possession time where a shot on goal is registered.  Or a faceoff win where the puck is turned over quickly.  Sometimes it isnt all about the guys at the dot.

    Puck retrieval is a hard to quantify skill that goes hand in hand with faceoff percentages.

    I also thought that the theory behind the Schmaltz playing with Anisimov where each player only takes the draws on their strong side was interesting.  Anisimov to the wing would be the better move, he can still get to the net.

     

    #8887
    John Jaeckel
    Keymaster

    Im in 98% agreement, my only quibble/pet peeve is the second part of the faceoff that doesnt seem to have a statistic named for it and that is puck retrieval after one or another player “wins” the faceoff. There are faceoff wins where one touch later the puck is turned over. I would like to see the statistics of a faceoff win that turns into enough possession time where a shot on goal is registered. Or a faceoff win where the puck is turned over quickly. Sometimes it isnt all about the guys at the dot. Puck retrieval is a hard to quantify skill that goes hand in hand with faceoff percentages. I also thought that the theory behind the Schmaltz playing with Anisimov where each player only takes the draws on their strong side was interesting. Anisimov to the wing would be the better move, he can still get to the net.

     

    Totally agreed, good point, and sometimes a center’s winning % has something to do with the willingness/support he gets from his wings in the circle.

    Apparently, all goalies are Vikings

    #8890
    Jeff Osborn
    Keymaster

    Alan, I think you’re talking about this which, 2 years ago, Artem Anisimov was the worst in the league at

    https://puckbase.com/stats/post-faceoff-possession

     

    oh look…Nick Schmaltz was 8th worst in the league last year.

    @PuckinHostile on Twitter

    #8891
    Alan Parsons
    Participant

    lol.   thats PERFECT.   ugh.

     

    I like Schmaltz, except that he sort of seems like he is a prima donna out there.  Meh.  TRADE SCHMALTZ AND KANE

    #8892
    Alan Parsons
    Participant

    that is a great stat.  maybe we should all follow that more closely.   SCHMALTZIE FOR SCOREYPERRYZDEEZNUTZ WHO SAYZ NO

    #8893
    Alan Parsons
    Participant

    and anisimov wasnt any better last year.

    #8897
    Tim M.
    Participant

    In the 1970s, Roger Nielsen told Scotty  Bowman that his junior team center, Doug Jarvis, was the best faceoff man in hockey. Sam Pollock wouldn’t draft him because he was too small. Finally, after Toronto drafted him, in the same summer Scotty got Sam Pollock to get him in a trade, all because he could win faceoffs. Jarvis took all the important faceoffs for the Canadiens as they won four cups in his first four years

    #8898
    Alan Parsons
    Participant

    but who did the Canadians take instead of Jarvis?  the lesson might be, trading something you dont want for something you need was the better way to get the guy.  perhaps that was better work by the GM?

    #8899
    Power29
    Participant

    Thank you for the emphasis on the importance of faceoffs!!!! A puck possession team needs to be above 50%. I loved your example if Hawk center men vs the Lightning. Your point only makes it clear that the Hawks need to trade AA & Schmaltz. The return would be very good and make a distinct difference for the Hawks!

    Trade AA & Schmaltz now!

    #8902
    Alan Parsons
    Participant

    The Canadians picked Brian Engblom with the 22d pick and Jarvis was the 25th pick.

    #8926
    DK002
    Participant

    John no question face-offs matter.  I still think Schmaltz is overrated in general – but Bowman needs something to hang his hat on.

    Get ready for a long slog of a season – hopefully followed by changes in the front office.  Start with a new Pres of Hockey Ops.

    #8928
    Chico Maki
    Participant

    I don’t see how people can say faceoffs DON’T matter. (double negative?)   Especially on the PP and PK, you win the draw, you control the puck.  If you control the puck on the PP, you can score.  If you control the puck on the PK, the opposition can’t score.  The entire point of hockey–scoring goals.

    IMO, Schmaltz isn’t a #1 (or #2) center.  At least not yet.  I think some of his numbers were inflated playing with Kane.  I’m not sure the long term plan should be giving Schmaltz big dollars/term.  If they could flip him, I wouldn’t be against it.

    If this season is a total bust, as I fear it might be, I can see Keith getting moved at the deadline.

    #8929
    Tim M.
    Participant

    I don’t see how people can say faceoffs DON’T matter. (double negative?) Especially on the PP and PK, you win the draw, you control the puck. If you control the puck on the PP, you can score. If you control the puck on the PK, the opposition can’t score. The entire point of hockey–scoring goals. IMO, Schmaltz isn’t a #1 (or #2) center. At least not yet. I think some of his numbers were inflated playing with Kane. I’m not sure the long term plan should be giving Schmaltz big dollars/term. If they could flip him, I wouldn’t be against it. If this season is a total bust, as I fear it might be, I can see Keith getting moved at the deadline.

    If he doesn’t improve his faceoffs, he’ll be a winger. That’s where centers who can’t win faceoffs end up

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