How About Those Faceoffs, Anyway?

Among the many problems the Leafs are facing right now - from breakouts to special teams to scoring - one that has begun to catch my eye is their faceoffs. Currently, the Leafs win 48.8% of their draws, which is good (or, rather, not so good) for 23 rd in the league. Though this obviously isn't their worst statistic, given that they sit 28th in the overall standings, I thought I'd look for some patterns in the numbers.

Read on after the jump for more analysis, including a player-by-player and a zonal breakdown of Leaf faceoffs.

It seems that lately, faceoffs have been worse than usual, as the Leafs have only won the majority of faceoffs in two of their past eight games - against Edmonton and Montréal - both victories.

The average faceoff winning percentage in a Leafs win this year? 52.83%. Average faceoff winning percentage in a Leafs loss? 46.94. OT and SO losses sit at 47%. Furthermore, when losing more than half the draws, the Leafs' record is at 3-9-3, and while winning more than half, their record improves to 9-8-2. Long story short, you don't need advanced stats to understand how critical winning the draw is.

Faceoff_graph_medium 

One of the things that the NHL doesn't do is provide faceoff winning percentages for individual players, so I've tallied up the numbers to see how our boys have been doing. I've also tabulated all of the faceoffs by zone, since I was curious to see who was most successful on different ends of the ice. Check out the Google Docs file if you'd like to see the complete chart.

Perhaps surprising to some is the fact that John Mitchell is overall easily the best centre we have on the draw at 55%. To be fair, his is still a rather small sample size, but it's worth mentioning that he's been good so far.

Bozak is at 51% overall, which is good, but it isn't as well as he did last year, and he also sees far more offensive zone faceoffs that Mitchell. Grabovski and Brent sit at 49%, so I'd like to see those numbers improve a little. Kadri's faceoff numbers are terrible, though I would expect that with some extra strength and a little experience, we'll see his numbers come up rather quickly.

In the Offensive Zone, among players with at least 10 OZ faceoffs under their belt, these are our most successful forwards so far:

Player

Total Faceoffs

Winning %

Kulemin

10

55

Brent

70

54

Kessel

25

52

Grabovski

158

51

Bozak

227

50

Mitchell

30

50

Zigomanis

10

50

Kadri

31

45

Versteeg

16

44

 

In the Defensive Zone, using the equivalent 10-draw criterion:

Player

Total Faceoffs

Winning %

Mitchell

45

60

Bozak

131

51

Versteeg

16

50

Zigomanis

14

50

Brent

171

48

Grabovski

103

48

Kessel

13

31

 

In the Neutral Zone, we have:

Player

Total Faceoffs

Winning %

Mitchell

35

54

Versteeg

16

53

Bozak

175

51

Brent

97

46

Grabovski

185

45

Kessel

17

41

Kadri

31

32

 

Here is the percentage of draws taken in each zone for each player with a minimum of 30 faceoffs, as well as their total number of draws and overall winning percentages:

Player

Off. Zone

Def. Zone

Neu. Zone

Total FO's

Overall Winning %

Bozak

43%

25%

32%

533

51%

Brent

21%

51%

29%

338

49%

Grabovski

36%

23%

41%

446

47%

Kadri

45%

10%

45%

69

38%

Kessel

45%

24%

31%

55

44%

Kulemin

63%

22%

15%

32

47%

Mitchell

27%

41%

32%

110

55%

Versteeg

31%

31%

38%

51

49%

Zigomanis

33%

45%

23%

31

48%

 

It's important not to get too caught up in these numbers, since several of them represent a relatively small sample size for very young NHLers - most notably Kadri. That said, it's not too much to hope that Kadri will improve on these numbers in a big way, and sooner, rather than later. This is one of those instances where the phrase "regress to the mean" doesn't quite apply (because Kadri himself doesn't really have a mean faceoff winning percentage), but since, by and large, draws are won and lost with a high degree of luck, I would expect his numbers to trend upwards. Furthermore, I'd like to think that the kid will only get stronger and more experienced as time goes on.

Bozak is actually performing well enough on the dot so far this season, although it unfortunately hasn't translated into much in the way of offensive production. He takes most of his draws away from our net, so he seems to be getting good opportunities. A look at his Zone Start says that he's about the middle of the pack among players who have played at least 20 games so far this season, but keep in mind that the Zone Start records where the player starts and finishes the shift, and does not necessarily rely on faceoffs.

Tim Brent is fulfilling his duties about as well as could be expected for an AHL plug-turned 3rd line centre. He takes more defensive zone draws than any other of our C's, and wins close enough to half of them that he's not worth talking about any further.

It's hard to nag on Grabovski for anything given his overall level of play lately, especially in the face of the rest of the team's futility, but faceoffs are one area where he could still stand to improve. He's 26, and although his overall game will not likely ever change drastically, fine-tuning something like faceoff technique isn't out of the question.

Once again, it's a small sample size, and so Kessel's faceoff prowess shouldn't be judged too harshly, but I would expect that his numbers would bounce up a little, if only because after a period of re-adjustment (he played centre in college), he would find his form.

Neither Kulemin nor Versteeg are natural centers, and so their spot-duty as C isn't a big concern.

As previously mentioned, Mitchell is actually performing well on the dot, and this may, in part, explain his presence on the roster. It doesn't explain the incriminating photos he has of Ron Wilson, but that's another matter altogether.

Oh, and for the last time, Mike Zigomanis' faceoff winning percentage wasn't doing us any favors. 

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