Advanced Faceoff Stats Volume 2: The Best NHL Offensive & Defensive Zone Faceoff Specialists

In Volume 1, we looked at advanced faceoff statistics and who the best and worst faceoff specialists were in the 2015-16 NHL season. If you have not yet read it, I strongly suggest checking out Volume 1. That’s were I explained the faceoff stat that we will continue to use throughout this series. I’m not going to go over Net Shots Per faceoff in every post, so make sure you learn about the stat before continuing in this advanced faceoff stat series.

In Volume 2, I will look at the post faceoff possession of players by zone. By doing this, I will be able to determine which centers were the best faceoff specialists in the offensive zone and which were the best in the defensive zone. You might be surprised by the Chicago Blackhawks center that appears in the bottom-10 rankings of defensive zone specialists.

A quick reminder that Net Shots Post Faceoff analyzes shots for and shots against that occur within 10 seconds of every puck drop. Each players number isn’t the raw shot +/- number. Instead it’s how that player compares to league average with league average being defined as zero, above league average being a positive number, and below league average being a negative number.

First, let’s take a look at who were the best and worst offensive zone specialists overall last season.

Players like Sidney Crosby, Anze Kopitar, Claude Giroux, and Tyler Seguin were the best faceoffs specialists last season in the offensive zone. Sidney Crosby leads all centers with a +34. This means that in all of Crosby’s offensive zone faceoffs last season, his team produced 34 more shots than if a league average center took the same faceoffs in Crosby’s place. So Crosby’s faceoff skill added 34 extra shots for the Penguins than a league average center. Pittsburgh might score 1 or 2 goals off of 34 extra shot attempts. So one could say, Crosby’s offensive zone faceoff skill was probably responsible for an extra goal or two for Pittsburgh last season.

Some of the worst offensive zone faceoff specialist include Jack Eichel, Aleksander Barkov, Adam Henrique, and yes Artem Anisimov. Remember how Sidney Crosby’s +34 meant he was 34 shots better than league average? Well Artem Anisimov’s (-35.67) meant he was 35 shots below league average last season. This means that a league average center taking the same exact faceoffs would likely produce 35 more shot attempts for Chicago over the course of the season. As Crosby’s elite faceoff skill probably resulted in a couple goals for Pittsburgh, Anisimov’s subpar faceoff skills likely resulted in Chicago scoring 1 or 2 goals less than they would have with a league average center taking the same offensive zone faceoffs.

So one can start to ponder how important the faceoff is when looking at centers. If the BEST offensive zone center only adds 1 or 2 extra goals and the WORST center is responsible for 1 or 2 less goals scored per season, then the faceoff skill probably isn’t that important. Now this is only looking at even strength offensive zone faceoffs, and not special teams faceoffs which are more important. However, it does further appear that the faceoff shouldn’t be that valued of a skill. That’s not to say it has no value. We just showed the type of value it brings. But if one is trying to evaluate a centers overall talent, other qualities such as shooting, passing, skating, checking, etc, should take precedent over faceoff skill when analyzing a player.

Okay back to offensive zone faceoffs. We looked at the net shots centers were above or below league average last season, but that number can be exaggerated by one player taking more faceoffs than another. For instance, a player will likely have more goals if he has double the playing time of another player. That’s why we use goals per 60 minutes to even the playing time for all players. With Net Shots Post Faceoff, I use PER 60 FACEOFFS to illustrate the shot rate above or below average each center is per 60 faceoffs. Like goal scoring rate puts every scorer on the same playing field, Net Shots Post Faceoff per 60 faceoffs puts every center on an even playing field.

Here are the best and worst offensive zone faceoff specialists by rate.

Let’s look at Joe Thornton who comes in as the 4th best offensive zone faceoff specialist. His +6.3 means that for every 60 offensive zone faceoffs Joe Thornton takes, San Jose produced 6.3 more shots than they would have if a league average center took the same 60 faceoffs.

Likewise, Artem Anisimov was 3rd worst in the NHL last season with (-6.3). This means a league average center taking the same 60 offensive zone faceoffs would result in Chicago producing 6.3 more shots.

Joe Thornton is 6.3 shots per 60 faceoffs better than league average.

Artem Anisimov is 6.3 shots per 60 faceoffs worse than league average.

Now let’s do the same thing, but this time we’ll look at the best “defensive” zone faceoff specialists overall and then by rate.

Vincent Trocheck, Jordan Staal, Patrice Bergeron, and Ryan Kesler were some of the best defensive zone faceoff specialists last season, while Brandon Dubinsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Connor McDavid, and yes Jonathan Toews were some of the worst defensive zone faceoff specialist last season.

Jonathan Toews’ (-14.37) means Chicago gave up 14 more shots than a league average center would have taking the same number of draws. That was 7th worst in the NHL last season. Still, only giving up 14 extra shots over the course of a season isn’t bad when looking at the big picture and overall impact of faceoff skill. However, It’s still bad in relation to other centers.

Now I know what some of you might be thinking. How dare some stat question the brilliance of Jonathan Toews in the faceoff circle. Because of this I will disregard everything about this stat and claim it to be useless.

Hold on. Just hold on. First of always be open to new ideals. The world was once known to be flat. The nutrition industry once suggested people should avoid healthy fats. Many things thought to be true have been questioned and proven wrong.

Now I’m not saying this stats “proves” anything. As I’ve said before, it’s not perfect, but it’s does add context and more understanding of the faceoff. But here is the one thing that might make you a believer in this stat. Toews was once elite in this stat. One of the best centers in the league in Post Faceoff Possession. From 2011-13 he was near the top. From 2014-2016 he has declined towards bottom of the league. The point being is that Jonathan Toews is considered a great faceoff center yet the chart i just showed you says otherwise. Well that same stat once showed he was one of the best faceoff specialists but has steadily declined over the years. This is a teaser for Volume 4 of my faceoff series where I will look at Jonathan Toews career season-by-season faceoff numbers to show how they went from the good, to the bad, to the ugly.

Alright, all we have left is the best and worst defensive faceoff specialist PER 60 FACEOFFS.

And there you have it. Four total charts showing the best and worst offensive and defensive zone faceoff specialists last season.

I’ll be back soon with Volume 3. Lastly, I’ll post the Volume by Volume outlook so you know what to expect.

Advanced Faceoff Stats

Volume 1: Intro to faceoff stats and who are the best and worst faceoff specialists.

Volume 2: Further discussion of faceoff stats including the best and worst offensive and defensive zone faceoff specialists.

Volume 3: Analyizing the Chicago Blackhawks center faceoff skill.

Volume 4: Jonathan Toews season-by-season faceoff outlook.

Volume 5: Marcus Kruger season-by-season faceoff outlook.