• The Maple Leafs and Defensive Zone Faceoff Losses

    by  • March 27, 2014 • Hockey • 5 Comments

    I wrote a post last summer in which I laid out how long a faceoff having been in a given spot on the ice affects the Corsi% as well as the size of the impact. It included this graph and comment about defensive zone losses.

    Is this useful information? I think it is. I was struck by this comment about Colton Orr earlier this summer:

    I think Orr has proven he’s more than just an enforcer. He was used a little on the third line this season, he is one of the more reliable guys at chipping pucks out, knowing the conditions of the game, chipping pucks out and chipping pucks in, changing smartly, and he’s very responsible on the back check.

    This came from a man who is paid money to coach a professional hockey team. A proposition: if Colton Orr is “one of the more reliable guys at chipping pucks out” it will show up in his numbers following defensive zone faceoffs and they won’t be horrible. Reality: the Leafs had a 10.7% Corsi% in the 37 seconds following DZ faceoff losses last year with Colton Orr on the ice. Whether he’s good at chipping pucks out or not, teams are crucifying the Leafs in a situation in which a player’s defensive ability would appear.

    Orr was on the ice for 12% of the Maple Leafs defensive zone faceoff losses at 5v5 in 2013. Amongst guys who were on for at least 10% of their team’s DZ losses, Orr’s 10.7% Corsi% ranks 3,428th out of 3,447 people with enough TOI to qualify. The Leafs were a garbage fire of historic proportions when they lost a DZ draw with Orr on the ice. That said, Orr actually surpassed the figures posted by a couple of other heavies last year: Chris Thorburn, Ryan Reaves and BJ Crombeen all posted even worse figures.

    As far as Cronin goes, you wonder. Is he insane? Is he lying? Is he aware of how poor the Leafs results were in a defensive situation like this with Orr out there? I have no idea. We’re starting be able to measure stuff finely enough that we can ask these questions though. It’s hard to imagine any sort of a defence for the guy as a hockey player, no matter what the Leafs might say.

    If you look at that graph at the top, you see that the Corsi% of a team losing a defensive zone faceoff has tended to be at right about 25% over the past few years. I’ve pointed this out before but teams coached by Randy Carlyle, a “defensive coach”, tend to stink at this. The 07-08 Ducks: 21.5%. 08-09 Ducks 24.2%. 09-10 Ducks: 18.9%. 10-11 Ducks: 21.0%. 12-13 Maple Leafs: 21.3%. Below average. Every year. Most years by a lot.

    I wrote about Dion Phaneuf yesterday but I didn’t have this data handy so I took a half hour today and generated it. The 2013-14 Maple Leafs Corsi% in the 37 seconds following defensive zone faceoff losses? Through their March 5, 2014 game against the Rangers, it’s 19.7%. Another terrible number.

    There’s a point to be made here about whether it’s bad systems or bad players. People love to talk about forwards not backchecking or defencemen pinching resulting in rushes against. When we start from a defensive zone faceoff loss though, we’re starting with five Maple Leafs between the puck and the net. Even when you force all of the Maple Leafs players to start behind the puck, the Leafs still get killed relative to the NHL.

    The curious thing is, it’s not uniform. Different players seem to be affected differently. Here’s how the Leafs various defencemen have done following defensive zone faceoff losses.

    Phaneuf’s Corsi% in these situations is less than half that of Jake Gardiner. Let’s look at how the Leafs have done second by second following a DZ faceoff loss with one of those players on the ice.

    Up until about 15 seconds, it’s pretty close. From that point forward, the Leafs are far more likely to generate a shot attempt with Gardiner on the ice than they are with Phaneuf.

    At the other end of the ice, it gets ugly pretty quickly. The Leafs are much more likely to give up a shot attempt with Phaneuf on the ice than they are with Gardiner following a DZ faceoff loss.

    This does not mean that Phaneuf is a bad defender or that Gardiner’s great. It does suggest that there’s something going on when Phaneuf is on the ice that is seeing the Leafs get slaughtered. It could be who Phaneuf plays with or against. It’s possible that it’s chance. If the Leafs had a really first class analytics program, the type you’d expect a business valued north of $500MM to have, they could probably solve this problem very quickly.

    Instead, they have an unspent analytics budget, a coach who is into his sixth full season of seeing his team get slaughtered off defensive zone faceoff losses and they’re very likely to suffer a playoff miss that probably costs them at least $10MM. Heck of an operation.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    5 Responses to The Maple Leafs and Defensive Zone Faceoff Losses

    1. wowzers20
      March 27, 2014 at

      I wager that Phaneuf mostly plays with McClement in the defensive zone. He is terrible at breakouts.

    2. Danny
      March 27, 2014 at

      Dz fo losses are tracked with particular players on the ice or is there some work that goes into this?

      • dawgbone
        March 31, 2014 at

        They are in the play by plays. It says FO, who it was won by and who was on the ice for both teams.

    3. Steven
      March 28, 2014 at

      For some reason I had nothing to say in the quoted passage above originally, but it strikes me that what Greg Cronin is saying could be addressed more directly than corsi. It seems like he cuts the ice in half and doesn’t even care about offense. So I wonder if a better way to attack that question isn’t so much corsi, but Shot Attempts against per Dzone faceoff loss. Maybe Colten Orr’s corsi is so bad not because he is bad at limiting shots against but because he has zero skill on the attack.

      I took your numbers for Leafs defensemen and did calculate rates. Gunnerson and Phaneuf have similar corsi%, but Gunnerson gives up ~5% less SAA/DZ FO Loss then Phaneuf, but he also generates less SAF per. Gardiner and Franson are about the same at SAA/DZ FO Loss, but Gardiner is much better at generating SAF then out of the players with large number of DZ FO Losses.

      It might be interesting and probably address Greg Cronin’s comments about Colton Orr if we did the same thing for the forwards. Is Colton Orr’s Corsi% in these situations so bad because he gives up SAA more often, or because he generates nothing on the attack. If Greg Cronin is right, it will be the later, and her should be on par or better in SAA/DZ FO Loss than the team as a whole.

      I have done a lot of reading of Advanced NFL statistics over the years and one of the common threads there is that NFL coaches are risk averse. I wouldn’t be surprised if the data showed that NHL coaches are the same. In defensive zone situations, they might be trying to limit shots attempts against, rather than maximize corsi. I am not sure if this would also come out just from the SAA/DZ FO losses, or if you might need to some how weight for quality of competition.

      Then it would be interesting to see how those numbers stacked up with coaches decisions on which players to deploy near the end of a game where they held a 1 goal lead, and all they care about is limiting what they give up, rather than maximizing what they get on the attack.

    4. D Green
      March 30, 2014 at

      Noticed the reference to MM in the values – I take it thats millions as in M is a thousand – I know it’s common in finance but personally I think it’s potentially confusing to the layman ?

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