The faceoff circle has been the center of major discussion throughout the Vancouver Canucks’ 2018/19 season. Whether it’s Bo Horvat leading the league in draws taken by a ridiculous margin, the contributions of Jay Beagle, or Elias Pettersson’s continued struggles on the dot, faceoffs have been the focal point of multiple Vancouver storylines. That probably makes this as good a time as any to discuss whether they’re even worth talking about in the first place.
Despite the wide swath of advanced statistics now available, faceoff win percentages continue to be looked at as a quintessential hockey number—but their impact on the game may be highly overrated. As a case study, we’ll take a look at the Canucks’ faceoff-related stats this season to see what, if any, correlation can be found between faceoff success and success in general.
The Canucks’ Faceoff Trend
|Vancouver Faceoff %||46.7%||45.4%||49.5%||51.1%||47.9%|
Before we embark, it’s important to look to the past for a bit of context. The Vancouver Canucks’ overall performance in the faceoff circle is down by more than 3% this season from where it finished last year. Overall, the Canucks’ faceoff percentage has been all over the place in recent seasons, and while it had seemed to improve under the coaching reign of Manny Malhotra before this year, it’s hard to say there’s been any correlation between it and the team’s win percentage—at least on the surface.
Does Winning Faceoffs Correlate To Winning Games?
|Vancouver Record When Winning Or Tying The Faceoff Battle||Vancouver Record When Losing The Faceoff Battle|
There’s no obvious connection between the Canucks’ long-term success and their faceoff percentage, so next, we’ll look at its correlation to their success on a game-by-game basis. As of this writing, the Canucks have played 45 games, which makes for a relatively decent sample size.
As the numbers reveal, if there’s any correlation between the Canucks’ winning percentage on the dot and their winning percentage on the scoreboard, it’s the opposite of what one would expect. So far, Vancouver actually does significantly better overall when they lose the faceoff battle to their opponents than when they win or tie it—with records of .375 and .552 respectively.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily suggest that the Canucks are better off losing draws and should start doing it on purpose. Instead, it’s probably evidence that there isn’t a strong relation between winning faceoffs and winning games—at least as far as the 2018/19 Canucks are concerned. If there is any correlation, it must be on a situation-by-situation basis, which would be much more difficult to track.
Does That Jive With Results Across The NHL?
The numbers do not support a correlation between the Canucks’ faceoff success and their overall success, and that absolutely jives with most of the leaguewide inquiries that have been done on the subject. A handful of in-depth studies—including this one from Sports Illustrated in 2017—were unable to find any tangible connection between faceoffs and achievement for teams or individuals on either a short- or long-term basis.
Faceoffs Across Different Situations
|Even Strength Faceoff %||Powerplay Faceoff %||Shorthanded Faceoff %|
One small inkling of faceoffs being consequential can be found, however, in the Canucks’ faceoff record across different situations. The team’s win percentage dips dramatically when they’re shorthanded, and that certainly seems to correspond with their woeful performance on the penalty kill. Vancouver’s struggles with shorthanded faceoffs aren’t the sole reason for their PK troubles, but they’re probably a factor.
Faceoffs Across Different Zones
|Offensive Zone Faceoff %||Neutral Zone Faceoff %||Defensive Zone Faceoff %|
Since we looked at faceoffs across different situations, we may as well look at them across different zones, too—though there’s not much to report. The Canucks have been significantly worse at draws in the neutral zone, but it’s hard to imagine why that would be—and they are, fortunately, the least impactful kind of faceoff.
Jay Beagle’s Impact On The Lineup
|Vancouver Record With Jay Beagle||Vancouver Record Without Jay Beagle|
Jay Beagle was signed as a UFA this offseason to fill a number of utility roles, including that of faceoff specialist. Thus far, his winning percentage on draws has actually trailed Bo Horvat’s, but Beagle has still come mostly as advertised when it comes to faceoff prowess. But has that made a difference?
Vancouver does have a significantly better record with Beagle in the lineup than they do without him, and his absence from the team did coincide with the darkest days of the season thus far. However, Beagle brings a lot more to the table than just faceoff abilities, so it’s impossible to draw direct conclusions. It’s probably fair to say that his presence on the dot has made a difference this year, but it’s difficult to say exactly how much of a difference.
The Elias Pettersson Factor
|Vancouver Record When Elias Pettersson Wins At Least 50% Of His Faceoffs||Vancouver Record When Elias Pettersson Does Not Win At Least 50% Of His Faceoffs||Elias Pettersson’s Production When He Wins At Least 50% Of His Faceoffs|
|6-4-0||10-13-4||17 points in 10 games|
Elias Pettersson’s success, or lack thereof, in the faceoff circle has been the topic of much discussion this season—it as, after all, arguably the only area of the game in which he has struggled.
While the Canucks do perform better when Pettersson wins at least 50% of his draws, it’s a marginal difference and doesn’t point to much in the way of correlation. More intriguing, however, is the fact that Pettersson does much better as an individual when he dominates the dot—with 17 of his 42 points coming in the ten games in which he won at least half of his faceoffs.
Faceoffs Versus Corsi
|Player||Faceoff %||Corsi For/SAT %|
As this author’s last piece noted, the Canucks’ Corsi leaderboard is a mess in 2018/19, and that certainly holds true when it comes to comparing it to the faceoff charts. While it would make sense that faceoff success might correlate to possession—as a faceoff win usually means gaining possession of the puck, at least temporarily—there’s not much to work with here. The team’s three best faceoff men—Horvat, Beagle, and Brandon Sutter—have the worst SAT% among centers, but that can probably be attributed to the heavier defensive minutes they are asked to shoulder.
In the end, it appears that success in the faceoff circle doesn’t really correlate to success on the scoreboard—not for the 2018/19 Canucks, and not for any other NHL team, either. While winning a big faceoff at a key moment can certainly change the game, such an event is relatively rare, and the vast majority of faceoffs just don’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Faceoffs can be important on a situation-by-situation basis, but their overall impact on the game appears to be highly overrated.