This week I'm going to take a closer look at face offs as a fantasy stat. I joined my first league this year using face offs, I tried to go with an open mind but I don't think I'll ever join a league that uses the stat again. I understand how important winning a face off is to real hockey (it's no coincidence Washington, Chicago and Philly lead the league in FOW) but I think it might be the dumbest fantasy stat to use in your league.
Below are four reasons why I think face offs are something you shouldn't be using in any fantasy league... ever. If you disagree I would love to hear it in the comments. Like I said, I've only been using face offs for a short time so maybe I'm missing something.
All of the analysis below completely ignores defensemen for obvious reasons. Only one d-man (Derek Morris) currently has more than one faceoff win. All statistics are up to games played on Dec 17th, 2010
Follow the jump for a closer look at face offs...
Reason #1 - The difference between good and bad is pretty insignificant.
There are a few players who seem to stand out from the crowd....
Top 10 in FO Winning Percentage 2010 (min 100 FO wins)
1) David Steckel - 27 gms with 221 FOW's a 64% pace
2) Jim Slater - 28 gms with 139 FOW's, 63%
3) Manny Malhotra - 29 gms with 333 FOW's, 62%
4) Adam Hall - 31 gms with 136 FOW's, 61%
5) Paul Gaustad - 32 gms with 238 FOW's, 61%
6) Jeff Carter - 33 gms with 156 FOW's, 61%
7) Scott Nichol - 30 gms with 152 FOW's, 61%
8) Jonathan Toews - 34 gms with 439 FOW's, 60%
9) Zenon Konopka - 29 gms with 268 FOW's, 60%
10) Ryan Kesler - 29 gms with 319 FOW's, 58%
Konopka: helping owners in two categories... and only two categories.
... and some that really struggle to win face offs
The Bottom 10 in FO Winning Percentage2010 (min 100 FO wins)
10) Andrew Cogliano - 31 gms with 151 FOL's, 43%
9) Tomas Fleischmann - 31 gms with 130 FOL's, 43%
8) Nik Antropov - 32 gms with 110 FOL's, 43%
7) Artem Anisimov - 34 gms with 202 FOL's, 42%
6) David Legwand - 18 gms with 102 FOL's, 42%
5) Brandon Sutter - 30 gms with 284 FOL's, 41%
4) Alexander Burmistrov - 33 gms with 204 FOL's, 41%
3) Tuomo Ruutu - 30 gms with 159 FOL's, 40%
2) Marcus Johansson - 21 gms with 124 FOL's, 38%
1) Derek Stepan - 34 gms with 201 FOL's, 38%
With two each on the list it's no surprise that the Rangers and Hurricanes are the bottom two in the league in faceoff winning %.
So that means everybody else is between 43% and 58%. That's not a lot of spread. Here's a closer look:
69% of the players with >100 FOW are between 45% and 55%. Why are you going to overpay for one of the few specialists in FO's when the difference between good and bad is just a few percentage points? When you take the natural variation that happens with data (i.e. luck) and injuries into consideration there really isn't much separation between players.
Reason #2 - It's all about the chances.
The variable which has the biggest impact on FOW's is (not surprisingly) how many face offs you take. Let's look at the...
Top 10 in Face Off Wins
1) Sidney Crosby - 33 gms with 440 FOW's
2) Jonathan Toews - 34 gms with 439 FOW's
3) Paul Stastny - 31 gms with 341 FOW's
4) Manny Malhotra - 29 gms with 333 FOW's
5) Ryan Kesler - 29 gms with 319 FOW's
6) Tomas Plekanec - 31 gms with 319 FOW's
7) Nicklas Backstrom - 33 gms with 315 FOW's
8) Rich Peverley - 33 gms with 313 FOW's
9) Antoine Vermette - 31 gms with 312 FOW's
10) Saku Koivu - 34 gms with 308 FOW's
Every single one of the players above is on the Top 20 list for face off's taken.
There is a big difference between the number of FO's each team in the league gets. I'm not sure why (maybe penalties or goalie tendancies) but some teams have more face offs then others. Three teams currently have more than 2,000 face offs, four are under 1,700. That's a big difference. Since it's pretty close to a coin flip, face off wins appear to be more team specific than I would have originally thought. Check out the graph below of the 30 NHL team and the correlation between face off's taken and won:
(Click for a larger version)
The big outlier on the plot (high # of wins and relatively low face offs) is the Canucks. Who knew?
Reason #3 - Yahoo!'s ineffectiveness impacts your league even more
Imagine you are an owner and you draft your two centers... let's say Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Steen (your only source of faceoff wins) and the next thing you know they get moved to the wing. Bye-bye faceoffs.
Both Malkin and Steen only qualify as centers in Yahoo! leagues so you couldn't even trade them to another team or playing them on your wing. Malkin has only 38 FOW's this year. He's not a very strong face off artist (~40%) but he's been playing a bit more on the wing this year which limits his chances as well. Steen has just 14 FOW's this year as he's has been playing a ton on the wing... but Yahoo! doesn't seem to care.
Malkin and Steen are the two most extreme examples, but this kind of thing happens to a lot of players even if it's just for a few games.
However, if you do use FO's you can use this to your advantage. Here are some players that have won a good chunk of face off's (>100) but qualify as wingers in Yahoo! leagues. Load up on these guys, stick 'em on the wing, and you'll guarantee yourself the FOW category:
Pavel Datsyuk - 31 gms with 284 FOW's... qualifies at LW
Vernon Fiddler - 30 gms with 281 FOW's... qualifies at LW
Jerred Smithson - 31 gms with 232 FOW's... qualifies at RW
David Backes - 30 gms with 213 FOW's... qualifies at RW
Bryan Little - 27 gms with 207 FOW's... qualifies at RW
Claude Giroux - 33 gms with 202 FOW's... qualifies at RW
Joe Pavelski - 32 gms with 188 FOW's... qualifies at LW
Danny Briere - 30 gms with 179 FOW's... qualifies at RW
Jeff Carter - 33 gms with 156 FOW's... qualifies at RW
Patrick Sharp - 33 gms with 153 FOW's... qualifies at LW
Adam Hall - 31 gms with 136 FOW's... qualifies at RW
Patrick Marleau - 32 gms with 109 FOW's... qualifies at LW
Adam Burish - 31 gms with 107 FOW's... qualifies at RW
Tuomo Ruutu - 30 gms with 105 FOW's... qualifies at LW
Jochen Hecht - 32 gms with 105 FOW's... qualifies at LW
Jarome Iginla - 32 gms with 101 FOW's... qualifies at RW
Your success or failure in FO's is going to depend on who Yahoo! calls a center and who they don't. I really don't want my season depending on Yahoo!'s mysterious positional eligibility rules, do you?
Reason #4 - Face off data is not readily available
Putting this together I quickly found out how hard it is to find good FO data. You can find FO% data at NHL.com but I couldn't find anywhere with game to game face off data. I don't really want to go hunting for info when I'm doing my analysis of who to draft, deal or dump.
I would imagine the one big argument for FO's is that it makes it more like the real NHL. I think that the impact it makes to fantasy team is much lower than what it makes to an NHL team. The fantasy teams that are leading FOW seem to be doing it in a bit of a fluke. At least that's been my experience.
Way too many issues, not enough benefits. So don't do it. Don't select anything to do with face offs as your stat categories next year. You won't get me joining your league if you do.