The past couple weeks, I’ve seen more noise about the Hawks “faceoff struggles” than I have in a long while. It’s almost like people seem to feel that the Hawks were a dominant faceoff team for the entire Quenneville Era, which they most certainly have not been. And it’s almost like we didn’t figure out that faceoffs don’t really correlate to wins and losses and good and bad team, which we kind of have. Let’s delve deeper, hmmm?
Here are your top five best faceoff teams: Arizona, Carolina, Minnesota, Anaheim, and St. Louis. That’s two surefire playoff teams, two teams completely out of it, and one on the very borderline. Yes, you’ll find only non-playoff teams in the bottom five, but you’ll also find Nashville and Chicago in the bottom 10. That hasn’t stopped the Predators from being one of the best even-strength teams in the league.
Last year, your top five faceoff teams were the Bruins, Blues, Hurricanes, Canadiens, and Hawks. Again, two non-playoff teams, two Cup contenders, and whatever the hell you consider the Habs of last year. Three years ago the best faceoff teams were the Predators and Sharks, one missed the playoffs and the other coughed it all up in the first round.
What we’ve come to understand is that faceoffs don’t matter to teams that are good at even-strength. You can lose draws regularly and it’s ok if you can get the puck back quickly or suppress shots and chances when you can’t. The best faceoff team this year is the Yotes, and they’re the fourth-worst possession team in the league. So what are those faceoffs getting them? The Kings are the best possession team in the league, and they basically break even on their draws. Because when they don’t have the puck, they don’t give up much and when they get it back they hold onto it for a while.
The Stars rank just above the Kings in faceoffs, but are the third best possession team. Sure, winning more draws probably boosts their possession rates just a tad, but they’d still be a good possession team if they lost more draws than they win. The Preds give up the least amount of scoring chances per 60 in the league and are one of the worst faceoff teams. Ditto the Panthers. The Penguins generate the most chances per 60 in the league, and they’re 12th in faceoffs.
What you’re really saying when you complain about the Hawks’ faceoff fortunes is that they’re not a good even-strength team, i.e. can’t get the puck back quickly, can’t hold onto it when they do, and give up a lot when the other team has it. And this is true. They’re 12th in Team Corsi, which is as low as they’ve been during this era. They average giving up more shots than they take for the first time under Q. The people are only noticing faceoff problems, even if they exist, because what used to come after it not longer happens as regularly. Faceoff losses matter more when teams can put it in TVR’s corner whenever they want and pretty much do as they please once they do. That didn’t matter as much when it was Oduya or Seabrook wasn’t a walking advertisement for Stan’s Donuts. When the Hawks win a draw, they only have one d-man who can join the rush, or start it, or support it regularly. Gustafsson tries but has a lot to learn. Ehrhoff can’t get on the ice. That’s what you’re saying when you complain about faceoffs.
Again, this fits into the grand debate about whether these problems are entirely structural or entirely based upon a lack of focus before the playoffs. Which probably means it’s both. But winning more faceoffs isn’t going to help as much as some think.