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  • Better Know: The Minnesota Wild's Faceoff Struggles



    Before we dig in too much, it's worth noting that this analysis should be kept in perspective. Faceoffs are important, they give a team an edge, but they don't single-handedly win games, no matter what the NHL / SAP advanced stats videos seem to indicate. To give a sense of the scale, War on Ice's research while working toward their Wins Above Replacement stat calculates that a team gains one goal per 76.5 faceoffs won.

    The Mikko Problem

    Before we start digging into handedness, zone separations, shots after the draw, and home vs. away differences, it's worth noting that one of the team's biggest problems is that they rely too much on Koivu for face-offs. It's out of necessity more than anything, but any opponent knows exactly who is coming onto the ice for an important draw. Koivu took 35.9% of all of the team's faceoffs.

    The chart below shows each of the team's top five faceoff takers this season with winning percentage, quality of competition, and the number of faceoffs they average per game.


    Net Shots Post Faceoff

    Faceoffs.net founder Craig Tabita outlined a new statistic in January that looks to quantify the effectiveness of faceoff wins. We've all seen a clean win to the point that results in a shot on net or even a goal and we've seen the scrum where it isn't entirely clear who really won the draw. Both of those count as a win for a center. It's a binary result. Win or lose. Tabita's Net Shots Post Faceoff (NSPF) attempts to quantify the amount of offense a center creates through their draws.

    Tabita goes in-depth on the topic at Hockey Prospectus, but briefly, the result is that NSPF is "the balance of shots on goal and missed shots ('Fenwick' shots) in the 10 seconds following even-strength zone faceoffs, per even-strength zone faceoff."

    We'll look into this year's data below, but it's worth noting that on January 31st, Tabita aggregated data from the 2009-10 season through January 29, 2015 on NGPF, which is net goals post faceoff, constructed on the same principle as NSPF but for goals. Since 2009-10, Koivu ranks eighth among NHL centermen who have taken at least 1,000 draws.

    But it also gives an idea of how few goals actually result directly from a faceoff. Since 2009-10, Koivu's faceoff skill has directly resulted in 18 goals. It's an advantage, but it's a slight advantage.

    Below you see offensive data for NSPF and NGPF for the Wild and Blues, with the first category being the total number of offensive zone, even strength faceoffs taken.

    Here's the inverse statistic, NSPF in the defensive zone.

    What's immediately clear is that outside of Koivu, the Wild don't match up in the faceoff circle. Koivu is great, but so is Backes and so is Stastny. Goc is also excellent and Lehtera is solid. None of these adjectives apply to Coyle, Granlund, Brodziak, or Haula, though Coyle is surprisingly strong in the defensive zone, but we'll circle back to that shortly.

    Pressing Your Advantage

    But, is there any way that the Wild can take advantage? Are there chinks in the Blues' armor?

    There are a few ways to approach the problem, most of which require last change and the ability to choose the faceoff match-up, which only the home team gets. Here's a breakdown of the difference between home and away faceoffs for these 10 centers.


    On the road, things get ugly. Outside of Koivu, only one center is above 45% and one is below 40%.

    Here's the big problem with getting too excited about the bump received from last change: It's only useful in a vacuum. The Blues get a pretty incredible bump at home as well, but importantly, the dip in numbers you expect to see on the road is only slight for the Blues and their centers are largely better on the road than the Wild are at home. That's how wide the gap is.

    Dividing the Zones

    One of the troubles that lack of faith in the Wild's ability is that it can effect deployment. Below, take a look at how the 10 centers fare in each of the ice's three zones.

    Lefty vs. Righty

    Another way we can breakdown faceoffs is how centers fare against left-handed opponents and right-handed opponents. It can make a difference for many players in how they set up and approach the draw.

    Here's a look at how the 10 centers fare against lefties and righties.

    I'll exclude Koivu here because the difference for him is basically nothing and he's winning the majority of faceoffs against both left-handed and right-handed opponents. There are a few interesting things to see here on the Wild's end...

    but I'm not going to talk about any of them because each of the Wild's centers fares better against right-handed centers than left-handed centers. Four of the Blues' five centers are left-handed. The lone right-hander that could maybe become a target for Yeo at home in order to cast some balance (should the rest of the match-up align to the team's liking) is David Backes. Every metric says that Coyle, Granlund, Brodziak, and Haula are going to have a tough time grabbing a winning percentage against Backes no matter what the situation is.

    And the Good News Is

    The good news is that faceoffs are just faceoffs, because the Wild have just a single weapon in faceoffs and are completely out-matched everywhere else.

    There's also this piece by Garret Hohl where he finds that the self-correlation from regular season faceoff success to post-season faceoff success isn't particularly high and that it's not a very good indicator of a team's goal% in the postseason.

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