It’s time for faceoff facts with Carol Schram in this week’s NHL Stat Pack. It turns out faceoff wins could correlate with team success, with one big exception.
How much do faceoffs matter? They’re just one small component of a hockey game, but in key moments, their importance can become monumental on both sides of the puck.
A quick look at the 2022-23 NHL stats suggests, for the most part, good work on the dot is one component of the best teams’ overall success. There’s also one center who’s doing the best faceoff work in nearly two decades this season — and who might be available to bring those skills to a contender at the trade deadline if the stars align.
Let’s dig into the numbers.
Does faceoff prowess correlate to team success? With one obvious exception, the answer this season seems to be “Yes.”
Here are NHL’s top five faceoff teams, through Monday, Feb. 6, with their position in the overall standings by points percentage in brackets:
1. Chicago Blackhawks – 55.7 percent (31st)
2. Boston Bruins – 55.2 percent (1st)
3. Dallas Stars – 54.6 percent (6th)
4. Carolina Hurricanes – 53.2 percent (2nd)
5. Toronto Maple Leafs – 52.5 percent (4th)
The No. 3 team in the standings, the New Jersey Devils, ranks well in most statistical categories. But Lindy Ruff’s group is a so-so 51.1 percent on the dot, good for 12th place. Captain Nico Hischier and bottom-six pivots Erik Haula and Michael McLeod are all solid in the circle, but while Jack Hughes is having a breakout season in many areas, his faceoffs still need work.
Hischier leads the Devils with 1,005 draws taken and has won 53.6 percent of them. Hughes has taken 226 faceoffs so far this season, and his winning percentage is 33.2 percent.
At the other end of the spectrum, it should be no surprise that the Chicago Blackhawks’ faceoff success this season has Jonathan Toews as its foundation. The 2013 Selke Trophy winner leads his team with 858 draws taken his year and has won a stunning 63.3 percent of them — the best success rate of his career and well above his career average of 57.3 percent. If the three-time Cup winner was amenable to a deadline deal, those steady hands could hold significant value for a Stanley Cup contender.
Toews is currently sidelined with a non-COVID illness and is not expected to suit up for Chicago’s Tuesday game against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Blackhawks have also enjoyed strong work in the circle this season from Max Domi (620 draws, 55.5 percent) and Sam Lafferty (321 draws, 52.7 percent). Both 27, Domi is set to become a UFA at season’s end while Lafferty has one additional year remaining at a very reasonable $1.15 million, per CapFriendly. They could also both be attractive trade-deadline targets.
Tops On The Dot
So far this season, 83 players have stood in for at least 500 faceoffs — on average, a little less than three per team.
We’ve already talked about Toews. His 63.3-percent win rate doesn’t just lead the league this season — it’s the best since Yanic Perreault went 65.2 percent over 861 draws for the Montreal Canadiens in the 2003-04 season.
That was before the beginning of the salary-cap era and before the league was even tracking face-off stats in individual zones.
Here’s the rest of this season’s top five to date. Some wily veterans, to be sure. The youngster, Stephenson, turns 29 in April:
1. Jonathan Toews (CHI) – 828 draws, 63.3 percent
2. Patrice Bergeron (BOS) – 1,145 draws, 61.3 percent
3. Claude Giroux (OTT) – 641 draws, 60.2 percent
4. Chandler Stephenson (VGK) – 757 draws, 59.7 percent
5. Jamie Benn (DAL) – 567 draws, 59.6 percent
Jeff Carter was fifth heading into Monday’s games (566 draws, 59.4 percent), but he’s become a bit of a defensive specialist in the twilight of his career. He has only taken about half as many draws as his teammate Sidney Crosby (1,091 draws, 52.5 percent). But about 80 percent of Carter’s faceoffs come in the neutral or defensive zone, while Crosby starts in the offensive zone just under half the time.
In Vegas, Stephenson is Bruce Cassidy’s top choice in the offensive zone, where he has taken 53 percent of his draws. Limited to just 412 faceoffs over 38 games this season, Jack Eichel has seen his workload split pretty evenly across all three zones, with an overall win rate of 42.5 percent.
Just six players are over 1,000 draws so far this year — and three of them have already popped up in this conversation:
1. Patrice Bergeron (BOS) – 1,145 draws, 61.3 percent
2. Bo Horvat (NYI) – 1,129 draws, 56.0 percent
3. Sidney Crosby (PIT) – 1,091 draws, 52.5 percent
4. Anze Kopitar (LAK) – 1,040 draws, 56.4 percent
5. Jean-Gabriel Pageau (NYI) – 1,026 draws, 56.4 percent
6. Nico Hischier (NJD) – 1,005 draws, 53.6 percent
When Bo Horvat was acquired by the New York Islanders, there was plenty of discussion about his strength in the circle. It’s interesting to see Isles incumbent Jean-Gabriel Pageau also among the busiest players in the league on draws and with a slightly better success rate than his new teammate.
There has been some talk that Pageau could potentially be on the move to now ease some salary-cap pressure on Long Island, but these two should complement each other well.
For starters, Horvat is a lefty while Pageau is right-handed. And the 30-year-old Pageau has been deployed in more of a defensive role this season. He has taken 46 percent of his faceoffs in the Islanders zone, while Horvat is split at about 40 percent in each of the offensive and defensive zones, with the remaining 20 percent in the neutral zone.
Of the 21 workhorses who have taken at least 800 draws this year, only five have a success rate below 50 percent. And they’re not far below that mark — so, still pretty reliable.
1. Logan Couture (SJS) – 902 draws, 46.7 percent
2. Mika Zibanejad (NYR) – 829 draws, 47.8 percent
3. Joel Eriksson Ek (MIN) – 896 draws, 48.4 percent
4. J.T. Compher (COL) – 994 draws, 48.5 percent
5. Nick Suzuki (MTL) – 826 draws, 48.6 percent
The Young Guns
High-end faceoff success is dominated by a veteran crew — players who have matured into their bodies while amassing a book on the habits of every opponent, and every linesman, in the league.
Who’s coming in the next wave? Only a handful of 25-and-under players have taken a minimum of 400 draws this season and won at least half of them.
Keep an eye on Shane Pinto — the 22-year-old in Ottawa is at 52.7 percent over 490 faceoffs. For comparison, his closest rival among this year’s rookie class is Seattle’s Matty Beniers, at 44.3 percent on 578 draws.
Like Pinto, Dylan Cozens was also drafted in 2019. He has taken 708 faceoffs for the Buffalo Sabres this season and won a respectable 49.4 percent.
Two members of the 2018 draft class have been credited with more than 400 draws and are over 50 percent — Carolina’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi (434 draws, 52.8 percent) and Arizona’s Barrett Hayton (684 draws, 50.7 percent).
The 2017 draft class also has two qualifying players. We’ve already talked about Hischier. His 53.6-percent win rate has been slightly bested this year by Robert Thomas of St. Louis (759 draws, 53.9 percent).
Two players who were drafted in 2016 and one from 2015 round out the young guns. New Jersey’s Michael McLeod has also been previously mentioned and has a very impressive 58.7-percent win rate. Toronto’s Auston Matthews is at 52.5 percent over 668 draws. And Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, one of the younger players from his draft class who doesn’t turn 26 until July, is at 52 percent over 654 draws this season.