A faceoff is a subjective stat, so there is no 100% conclusive ruling on it per say. For example, a takeaway and a giveaway, and even hits are a subjective stat. The NHL will have a stats keeper at the game tracking the action. That person marks down a hit when they deem there was a hit. Some players have big hit numbers or big takeaway numbers at home compared to on the road, because the home arena stat keeper/tracker is somewhat biased towards that team and might call one play a hit that someone else would not call a hit.
It’s not like a goal or a shot attempt. That is not subjective. When the puck goes in the net, it’s a goal. If a player moves the puck in the direction of the net with his stick, that’s a shot attempt. Those stats are’t subjective. They are definitive.
The faceoff probably falls in between these too. It’s not as subjective as “was that a hit or not?” But it’s also not as definitive as a goal. It’s something that has a definition, yet is still sometimes murky.
So the basic definition of a faceoff win would be a play in which the players team gains possession of the puck.
Possession of the puck does not have to be long. A deflection would not count as possession, but as long as a teammates has his stick on the puck, that would be possession, and a faceoff win.
Now there are probably scenarios that can be created that can be extremely subjective. Such as what if the puck immediately flies into the corner and their is a 20-second puck battle? It can get very subjective. In this example let’s say Toews is taking a defensive zone faceoff. Puck is dropped and Toews flings the puck backwards towards his teammates, but it gets deflected into the corner. There is then a 20 second puck battle and the opponent gains possession of the puck. In this scenario, one could say “Toews won the faceoff, he flung the puck backward” or “The opponent won the faceoff as they gained possession first even if it was 20-seconds later.
So there can be a gray area that is the scorers or stat keepers decision. But a scenario like that doesn’t happen often. Usually a faceoff is easily determined and doesn’t turn into the gray area.
But even if Toews flings it back to Duncan Keith, who has it on his stick for only one second, and then the opponent takes it and has possession for the next 2 minutes, that’s a faceoff win for Toews. His team clearly touched the puck and it was not a deflection.
A couple things to consider about the faceoff…
Wingers are very important. Usually the play for the center is to play the puck backwards to a defensemen. However, a center could attempt to “tie up” the opposing center. In this scenario, both centers are bodied up on eachother and unable to play the puck in which the wingers come crashing in to try and gain possession. Artem Anisimov historically isn’t that good at the faceoff dot, but I would surmise that Kane and Panarin also are a negative to his faceoff%. One could arguably say that Anisimov plays with smaller wingers who aren’t as likely to fly into the scrum during a “tie up” in order to win the puck and thus the faceoff. During a “tie up” two wingers might battle for the puck and thus battle for which of their centers will get the faceoff win. In an important faceoff, a team might want a more physical player on the wing to be able to win a puck battle if there were to be a “tie up” on the faceoff.
Another thing to think about is sometimes a center loses a faceoff on purpose.
Let’s just jump right into an example. It’s late in the game and the Blackhawks are up 1. It’s an offensive zone faceoff and Toews is taking the draw.
Toews doesn’t want to have a scenario where he flings the puck backward, his D-man misplays the puck, and an opposing winger quickly grabs it and streaks down the ice for a prime scoring chance.
So Toews might lose the faceoff on purpose in that he will try to fling the puck forward into the corner. In the end, the opponent will likely win the faceoff, but Toews lost it on purpose. If the puck gets put into the corner on an offensive zone faceoff, it’s then the farthest away possible from Corey Crawford, the opponent has no opportunity to create a breakaway chance. And even though Toews loses the faceoff and Hawks don’t gain possession, the play is a safe move. So there will be times a center loses a faceoff when they actually wanted to lose it.
Also, one can question the importance of a faceoff in a game that’s often back and forth. Yes winning faceoffs can have its value, but is it really worth say bringing in a “faceoff specialist” who is deficient in other actual hockey skills?
A faceoff can be very meaningful in special teams where gaining possession in the offensive zone is the number one key to scoring on the Power play. Or on the PK winning a faceoff, dumping the puck deep, and instantly killing 20-30 seconds of a power play is crucial.
But as for even strength, play is so back and forth, and the ice is so contested that the faceoff stat can be somewhat overrated or overvalued. That’s not to say it doesn’t have value. It does. But with few stats for the general public, or the people who don’t like advanced stats, they gravitate towards faceoff stat. The faceoff is a stat the announcers know about and the general public know about. Therefore, announcers usually go to the faceoff stat often when calling a game, making it seem more important than it is. Somewhat like batting average in baseball. Yes, it’s important to hit the ball, but many people put too much value into batting average simply because it’s mainstream, the announcers always mentions it, and people historically didn’t understand or know about on-base percentage, slugging, and other more advanced stats.