This is part of a series looking for reasons for the Oilers Corsi% collapse in 2012-13 by examining things on a shift-by-shift basis. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here. Part 4 can be found here.
I’m going to shift gears a little bit here and talk about faceoffs. Craig MacTavish spoke about faceoffs in his end-of-season press conference.
“I think the critical draws are, obviously, defensive zone draws and apparently, from the analytics people, every 40 draws that you lose in the defensive zone, one will end up in your net in the next thirty seconds. So (MacT facial expression), it’s valuable but there are ways you can help support a centreman who has trouble winning faceoffs. You can give him some suport in the defensive zone, play him with somebody who can take some faceoffs…”
The Oilers were worse at winning faceoffs in 2012-13 than they were in 2011-12. In 2011-12, they won 47.4% of 3429 faceoffs. This year, they won 44.6% of 2023 faceoffs. (41.8 per game in 2011-12 and 42.1 in 2012-13.) I’ve heard different estimates tossed around than that which MacT is using; well, it’s more that I’ve heard it expressed differently, but anywhere from 80-100 faceoff losses/wins equals one goal difference is sort of the usual estimate that I see people come up with.
People go crazy when they hear this for some reason and seem to lose their minds. They forget that a) faceoffs are zero-sum and b) basically the entire league is between 40% and 60% at draws. Everyone wins and loses a lot of draws. The value’s in the margins but there simply aren’t a lot of players there. Let’s drill further down into this, with a look at how things changed for the Oilers in 2012-13 from 2011-12.
Two interesting things that caught my eye in this table. First, the changes in the winning and losing percentages in the three zones on the ice. They were up about 1.9 percentage points in the offensive zone – YAY! – but down 4.4 percentage points in the neutral zone – BOO! – and down 5.1 points in the defensive zone – UGH. The impact of this, compared to last year, was exacerbated by the fact that the Oilers had a different split of O/N/D zone draws this year. They had slightly fewer draws in the offensive/neutral zones and more in the defensive zone. Those things are probably somewhat interrelated – more defensive/neutral zone losses probably means more shots at your net, which probably means more faceoffs in the defensive zone. The inevitable crushing spiral of life for a team that spends too much time without possession.
Let’s peel back another layer of the onion and look at individual performance. 25 guys have taken at least one 5v5 faceoff for the Oilers over the past seasons (weirdest name on the list: Jeff Petry). I’m going to limit myself to eight of those guys: Sam Gagner, RNH, Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger, Anton Lander, Ryan Smyth, Taylor Hall and Jerred Smithson. The other 17 guys have taken 328 of the 5452 5v5 draws over two seasons; you don’t gameplan around guys like that and the data’s too limited to find much of interest anyway.
So here’s the data for our eight guys, with some points of interest highlighted:
I talked about how the ZoneStarts changed this year in an earlier post on this topic. This is kind of a look inside that data. What should you notice? I’ll touch on this in more detail but it should be immediately apparent that Gagner and RNH took a much greater share of the Oilers’ draws this year than they did in 2011-12. In terms of where guys were taking draws, the ice got steeper for Gagner and RNH. Gagner saw a slight bump in his share of faceoffs that were taken in the defensive zone.
RNH saw a much larger increase and a precipitous decrease in the volume of offensive zone draws that he took. I really do think that some improvement on his part this year was hidden by the fact that the path got steeper for him. Also, just from a development perspective: it’s interesting to see that north of 40% of his faceoffs were neutral zone draws in both 2011-12 and 2012-13. The neutral zone is probably the least costly place to get a young guy faceoff reps and it’s nice to see the Oilers doing sensible things – note Lander’s number as well.
Belanger saw a change in his numbers as well – he experienced dips in his volume of offensive and neutral zone faceoffs and a significant increase in the share of defensive zone faceoffs that he took. Again, I hasten to add that there is a bit of a chicken/egg thing going here, albeit one that I’m going to try and suss out: to the extent that Belanger/Gagner saw their Shot Attempt Against (SAA) numbers change, was an increase in defensive zone faceoffs (or, as we’ll see, doing worse taking those draws). Of course, being lousy will lead to more defensive zone faceoffs, so you have to be careful parsing this in your brain .
I’ve included Smithson just to point out that Tambellini’s final move as general manager was to acquire a faceoff specialist who took an inordinate amount of neutral zone faceoffs during his brief time with the Oilers. A fitting end.
One of the things that increasingly bothers me in thinking about ZoneStart is that it’s entirely possible that we should be allowing for the outcome of the faceoff in considering adjustments. It’s not the fact of the defensive zone faceoff itself that’s the suspected Corsi killer; it’s the losing of the faceoff. I’m digressing a little bit here, but in Big Oilers Data II, I pointed out that Jeff Petry’s shift with 1+SAA percentage rose this year. His ZoneStart was essentially unchanged but the Oilers faceoff percentage on defensive zone faceoffs with him on the ice fell from 50% to 44.3%. It may be that this is something someone ought to look into. *Looks around hopefully.*
Alright – back to my eight takers of faceoffs that I’m looking at that. In the same vein as my point about Petry, let’s look at how they did in terms of winning their draws in the various zones in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
Hmm. I feel like “Nuge won 29.3% of his offensive zone faceoffs in 2011-12″ is something that really ought to have been brought to my attention already. Nuge stunk in the defensive zone at taking faceoffs again although he really wasn’t that much worse than last year. Horcoff is down more significantly, although his case is sort of complicated by his hand injury – he was 11W and 11L in the defensive zone when he broke his knuckle, 23W and 22L overall – the decline was all post-return when he was presumably playing with a weakened hand. Belanger was the same fellow in the defensive zone that he was last year. Lander had a better year, although in minimal ice time.
And then there’s Sam Gagner. Man, that’s a terrible faceoff percentage in the defensive zone and (of note, for those of us wondering why his volume of shifts with at least one SAA rose so dramatically) a considerable drop from what he did last year. He sustained a big drop in the neutral zone too, although I find that less troubling.
If you paid attention to the OIler centres and their litany of exploding shoulders, hands, groins and feet this season, you probably won’t be surprised to learn some guys took much more significant roles in terms of taking draws this year than last year. Unfortunately for the Oilers from a faceoff perspective, the guys who had body parts break tended to be guys with a track record on the dot; the guys who stayed relatively healthy were guys who haven’t displayed a ton of proficiency on the dot. Let’s take a look at how the allocation of faceoffs in each end changed this year.
You can see that about 80% of the faceoffs in each zone in each year were taken by the Oilers’ four main centres: Gagner, RNH, Horcoff and Belanger. If you think of them as pairs: RNH/Gagner (bad at faceoffs) and Horcoff/Belanger (good at faceoffs), you can see how the share of faceoffs kind of flipped this year.
So basically large chunks of faceoffs that were being taken by Belanger/Horcoff were transferred to Gagner/RNH. RNH’s surprising step forward in offensive zone draws notwithstanding, he and Gagner struggled. Except, not only did they struggle, they now struggled while taking 46%+ of the draws in a given zone rather than no more than 37.5%. A lot of the Oiler decline in faceoff stats probably comes down to that.
This post is a bit of place setter for the next post, in which I’m going to look into at least one thing (and possibly two, depending how many words it takes me to deal with the first issue): whether we can find an answer for the reason that Sam Gagner had such a poor year taking neutral and defensive zone faceoffs and, perhaps more importantly, to what extent did the change in their split of faceoffs O/N/D and their success rates (Gagner in particular) affect their results?Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org