It is a very common number to throw around in the hockey community. The classical thinking is that if a guy is less than 50% he isn’t good at faceoffs, and if he is more than say 53% he is good at them.
But I’m here to say that face-off percentage (FO%) is one of the worst stats to reference when evaluating a player’s performance. Here’s why:
Let’s say we have two players who both take the same amount of faceoffs. Player A wins 45% of his faceoffs, while Player B wins 55% of his draws. The difference is 10%.
Now we’re at about the ⅓ mark of the NHL season and by glancing at the stats page you can see most regular NHL centerman take about 20 faceoffs a game (that’s a little on the high end).
So now if we use the Player A/B comparison, the difference between a player who is commonly thought to be very strong in the faceoff dot and one who needs to improve is 2 faceoffs per game. A very minute difference especially when you consider that the basic FO% stat does not account for a plethora of variables that all drastically affect who wins and loses the faceoff.
If a centerman ties up the opposition off the draw and does his job well, but his wingers or defensemen aren’t quick enough to jump on the loose puck, then he is given a faceoff loss, and we’ve already discussed how drastically that 1 percentage can affect a player’s number. That specific centerman has done his job perfectly, yet he is given a loss through no fault of his own.
The other thing that isn’t taken into account with basic the basic FO% stat is quality of competition, which is very important. To illustrate this, I’m going to revert back to my Player A/B example.
Let’s say that Player A is an elite level scorer who regularly is forced to go up against the other team’s best checking forwards, the Ryan Kesler’s and Joe Thornton’s of the league.
Player B, on the other hand, is just your everyday third liner and when he is put out on the ice, it’s usually against the other teams 2nd, 3rd or even 4th best centerman, simply because of how the matchups work.
Now we have 2 players who are being forced to try and win faceoffs against completely different skill levels of opposition and are being graded on the exact same number that doesn’t take that difference in opponent quality into account.
My other beef with the over-use of the stat is how those who reference it often, will usually just automatically assume a high FO% will mean a good two-way forward. When in reality the two have close to nothing to do with each other.
Yes, being good at face-offs will help you in being a good two way forward, but I’ve already added that being good center men and having a good FO% stat hardly relate.
As for being a good defensive forward simply because of a high FO%, we’ll that number doesn’t show a player’s ability to recover from a lost draw. I will take a player who’s slightly worse at face-offs but can recover from an immediate loss of possession with strong puck skills and good positioning. That’s something that gets overlooked as well when FO% is used too generally.
So when you really look at what FO% is, it’s a very minimal stat that doesn’t take into account who the certain player has to match-up against and will punish a player for things that are out of their control, such as teammates getting to loose pucks.
So maybe face-offs is one of those things that simply needs to be put to the eye test, or maybe someone with a greater knowledge of computers and what not can develop a more complete number in place of basic face-off percentage.
Until then I will continue to contest any use of this number.