The Hurricanes were the second worst face-off team in the league last season with a success rate of 44.6%, only .4% higher than the Edmonton Oilers. I saw this is a big problem when I was tracking the team’s defensive errors because there were many opposing goals that resulted from the Canes losing a face-off in their own zone. Then I read a post over at Flames Nation which addresses the point that winning a face-off is overrated in the grand scheme of things and shows evidence that where a player’s shift location began is more important than winning the face-off. He also brings up the point that the difference between the best and worst regular face-off men in the league is about 20 percent with most players having a face-off rate between 40-60%. David Steckel and Manny Malhotra’s being the only ones with a success rate of over 60%
How much does winning the draw contribute to team success? Last year, some of the best face-off teams were also the best territorially:
Vancouver and San Jose were the two best face-off teams in the league by nearly 2 percent and they also had the two best team corsi percentages with the score tied. After those two, it gets jumbled a bit and you’ll have good face-off teams like Florida play poor territorially while bad face-off teams like Calgary and Buffalo outplayed their opponents 5v5. So there is some correlation but you have to be either a really good or really bad team at taking draws for it to make a distance. That brings up another question; is it worth it to spend money on “face-off specialists” in the off-season to make your team better? It is if said player can do more for the team than just win draws.
Carolina signed Tim Brent from the Toronto Maple Leafs to a two-year deal this worth $1.5 mil this off-season because they needed a fourth-line player who could win face-offs and that’s what Brent can bring to the table. He had a 52% face-off rate last season and started over 60% of his shifts in the defensive zone. Sounds like he can help here. The problem is that he can’t do much else as he was hammered at even strength with a -16.6 corsi relative rating and didn’t do a lot to get the puck out of his own end. You can do a lot worse if you’re in Carolina’s situation but just how much did the Canes and other team’s players suffer due to poor face-off rates over the years?
x-axis = Faceoff Percentage, y-axis = Corsi relative rating
Answer: Not that much.
Eric Staal has consistently been bad at taking draws and he has no problem creating momentum on his own despite that. He does this while taking a lot of tough zone starts, too. In fact, in 2008 he was only 45.3% effective at faceoffs and posted a relative corsi rate of 15.3, scored 38 goals and 82 points. Steven Stamkos has also posted faceoff rates of less than 50% in all three of his season and he ended up on the positive end of the corsi spectrum despite that. Bryan Little was terrible at face-offs in Atlanta and he has had no problem helping carry the play there. Nicklas Backstrom’s first few years in Washingotn were the same way too. Then you have players like David Steckel, Zenon Konopka, Jimmy Slater and Eric Christensen who can win face-offs but not do anything to get the puck out of their own zone or drive the pace of play, which makes you question how valuable some of these “face-off specialists” are.
Going back to Vancouver and San Jose having the best team face-off ratings, it should be noted that their top face-off leaders were Malhotra, Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture respectively. Vancouver utilized Malhotra in a way to give their top-six players easier minutes and allowing the Sedins to have some of the most ridiculous OZ% rates the NHL has seen in awhile. Meanwhile, San Jose’s top face-off guys are all very offensively gifted and Pavelski has emerged as an excellent two-way player.
In short, the Canes addressing their need for players who can win draws would definitely help but signing someone who can only do that isn’t the way to go. The decision of whether a team wins a face-off or not isn’t important enough to spend $1+ mil a year on a player who specializes in that as the events that occur after the draw are much more important when it comes to determining who controls the play.