The Faceoff Myth

While it doesn’t have much to do with today’s game, or this playoff series, or anything current really, the topic of Tyler Bozak and money he could potentially make was making the rounds again on Twitter this morning. Naturally, I’m left unamused by this, because the concept of Bozak cashing in on a large deal, particularly with Toronto, makes me want to run around in circles anticipating the apocalypse. Of course, while many share the sentiment, there are others who are okay with locking him up.

Some feel that letting Bozak go means investing in a big name, and that this year’s crop isn’t up to par. Some feel his familiarity with Phil Kessel is an asset. But a lot of the defenders of him will go all in on one aspect of his game: faceoff ability.

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Bozak recieved a lot of praise this year for what he did inside the circle. He lead the Leafs in draw winning percentage, and finished tied for second in the NHL in faceoff wins. These are both important, right? Not quite. Let’s look at some stats.

Bozak 46 934 559 504 1063 52.6
Grabovski 48 747 323 315 638 50.6
Kadri 48 770 250 315 565 44.2
McClement 48 732 203 190 393 51.7

As you can see, Bozak plays a lot, and wins, loses, and takes more draws than anybody else. Maybe making everybody into a 20 minute player will change the results a bit?

Bozak 48 960 575 518 1093 52.6
Grabovski 48 960 415 405 820 50.6
Kadri 48 960 312 393 704 44.2
McClement 48 960 266 249 515 51.7

As it turns out, this still isn’t a great indicator of how much better he is at the draw, because he’s still taking way more faceoffs. It seems weird to say that with everybody now on equal minutes, but shows that Carlyle is more prone to put out the Bozak line after a whistle and let the others come in on the fly, to take advantage of that higher winning percentage. The exception being defensive zone starts, which make up a large amount of Grabovski and McClement’s draws.

Still, there must be a way to figure out the practical difference. Rather than just stretching their minutes, why not give every player the same responsibility? This is what happens when you have all four regularly used centres take the same amount of faceoffs, which happens to be the average taken between them.

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Bozak 48 796 349 315 664 52.6
Grabovski 48 796 336 328 664 50.6
Kadri 48 796 294 370 664 44.2
McClement 48 796 343 321 664 51.7

The result is interesting. The gaps between the four centremen have now vanished! Just for fun, look at the best (Bozak) and worst (Kadri) numbers. There’s a gap of 55 faceoff wins over a 48 game season, which seems like a lot, but amounts to just 1.14 extra wins per game. When the average game has 60 faceoffs, that’s not very important. Sending out McClement to take the same draws and head off would’ve made a practical difference of just 0.125 wins/game.

While faceoff ability is a positive asset, the reality is that the practical difference between a "great" and "poor" drawman is almost insignificant. What you can do after the draw is won or lost becomes much more important, and in that regard, Bozak is rather unproductive for a guy looking for a big pay raise, particularly compared to his peers that play on the same line.

Also worth nothing, while speaking of production: Amongst players who finished top 5 in faceoffs taken, he has the second lowest points per game in the past five seasons.

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2012/13 PPG 2011/12 PPG 2010/11 PPG 2009/10 PPG 2008/09 PPG
Giroux 0.98 Spezza 1.05 Staal 0.94 Crosby 1.33 Horcoff 0.66
Bozak 0.61 Staal 0.85 Toews 0.95 Stastny 0.98 Carter 1.02
Staal 1.10 Plekanec 0.65 Plekanec 0.74 Plekanec 0.85 Richards 1.02
Stepan 0.92 Bergeron 0.79 Vermette 0.57 Vermette 0.79 Koivu 0.85
Koivu 0.77 Tavares 0.99 Stastny 0.77 Weiss 0.75 Crosby 1.34

What you’ll notice is that the players that are close to him, or in Antoine Vermette’s case, under-producing compared to him, are having down years. Plekanec’s first year in the top 5 had him as a 70 point scorer, Vermette fell from a 65 point campaign, and Horcoff had 50 points in 53 games the year prior. Similar results can be found going beyond top 5 and beyond the past five years; playerss who take a lot of draws aren’t sent out because they win draws, but because they’re very good hockey players. Bozak, on the other hand, is near the bottom of this list with a year that’s in line with the rest of his career.

In conclusion, Bozak’s biggest bargaining chip going into free agency is his faceoff ability. He and his agent would be wise to milk it, but the reality is that it really doesn’t make all that much of a difference on a game by game basis. Somebody who is weaker on the draw will not lose enough more for it to make a team worse. The ability to win a draw is a bonus to a productive centre, something that Bozak hasn’t proven himself to be despite having talented, point producing wingers. One would be smart to look at other options in his price range.

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  • justVisiting

    Jeff, I know it’s a small sample size, but I’m thinking that if the Leafs are as interested in Clarkson as Dreger says they are, it might be best to just cut Bozak’s contract and promote Joe Colborne, insulating him with two good wingers – Matt Frattin and Joffrey Lupul, for example.

  • justVisiting

    Get rid of Bozak and try to bring in Sam Gagner. A better player, leader for around the same pricetag (or maybe even less considering he’s an RFA). Gagner also grew up a Leafs fan…

  • justVisiting

    i’m gonna go ahead and disagree w you on the importance of a good fo guy. if there’s 1 or 2 fo’s you want to win when they make a difference, it’s in a the late minutes of a close game. that d-zone/o-zone win can be huge. now maybe bozak’s 52% isn’t a big enough superiority to warrant it, but you’ll have to travel far n wide to find a coach not interested in puck possession off the drop. you watch an when boston has d-zone fo bergeron’s out there and if it’s late and close, there is one or even two other centermen with him. in their cup run he was winning 65% – THAT’s worth the money.

  • justVisiting

    “i’m gonna go ahead and disagree w you on the importance of a good fo guy. if there’s 1 or 2 fo’s you want to win when they make a difference”
    But you can rely on him to win those at 52%? It’s not like the other coach won’t want his big faceoff guy out on those critical faceoffs.

    Quite the impassioned rebuttal. I like how you stated your responses to each point.

  • justVisiting

    I think something missing in faceoff stats is who the guy faced. Kadri and Bozak probably see a much different distribution of faceoff opponents.

    Faceoff stats need an Elo rating system to help make comparisons between players more meaningful (it’s a rating system devised for chess players. It allows you to guess the odds of one player beating another even though they typically face different quality players).

    I’ve been meaning to throw together a faceoff database to come up with Elo ratings of centremen, but haven’t found the time.