Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fantasy Value of Face-offs

Fantasy hockey leagues these days are tracking more and more stats with sites like fantrax offering the ability to cover more than just goals and assists. It is now common to have leagues include peripheral stats suck as hits, shots, blocked shots, and even shoot out goals. However, very few fantasy leagues track face-off stats. So why include them in the November Roto report?

Winning your pool is accomplished by identifying value. I am not talking about what players are forecast to score the most. I mean what players offer the best value.

For example, who has more fantasy value; Phil Kessel or Zach Parise?
Right now Kessel is leading the league in points, so him right? I say no. At the end of the season Parise will outscore Kessel. No. 81 is a great player, but he has only shown to be a goal scorer. Parise however, is a proven scorer as well as an all-around player.

Courtesy TSN Photography
 Why does this matter to fantasy hockey you ask?

The answer is simple. It is unlikely Kessel will maintain his current pace. He has come out of the gate extremely well and exceeded all realistic expectations, but he is not consistent enough of a player to maintain his current pace. He is a one dimensional player. He is very good, but Parise is better because he is more complete and therefore should be valued higher than Kessel. 

What does this have to do with face-offs?

Nothing specifically, but face-offs are an important factor in a hockey game. Players who win draws with consistency are relied on by the coach and will see more ice time and play in key situations. Players who have a winning percentage have tremendous value in the NHL and that value carries over into fantasy hockey.

Offense only players when not scoring, will receive reduced ice time where as all-around players when not scoring, continue to see a regular shift. Players that win face-offs regularly will be used regardless if they can score or are on a hot streak.

Here is a review on some of the best at face-offs in the NHL and what it means to their fantasy value.

David Steckel- led the NHL in face-offs last season playing for Washington and New Jersey with a 62.3% success rate. It is important to note that Steckel only took 820 draws. In 14 games this season he has already taken 258 draws and has a 60.1% winning rate. Steckel has taken 76 of Toronto’s 86 short handed face-offs. With Tim Connolly constantly injured Steckel has even seen time on the PP winning six of 10 draws taken. On the Power play after winning the draw, Steckel goes to the front of the net. At 6-5, 217 he provides a net presence screening the goalie and looks for tips and rebounds. If he did not excel in the dot he would not see any PP time. Steckel is tenth overall in total ice time and averages 14:34 minutes per game.  It is his face-off proficiency that separates him from the other Leaf depth players such as Mike Brown and Philippe Dupuis.

Jonathan Toews- Currently leads the NHL in face-offs with 62.3%. He is a perfect example of value. Toews has shown he has a scoring touch but is also very responsible defensively, has tremendous hockey smarts, is an excellent skater and plays a physical game. Toews soaks up ice time in every situation and often is on the right side of the puck due to his proficiency in the face-off dot. While Toews is not off to as good a start as Kessel, his value is higher because he is a complete player. Count on Toews to out score Kessel in the regular season, and go further in the playoffs.

Pavel Datsyuk- Another example of an elite two-way player who is more than just goals and assists. Datsyuk is also off to a slightly slow start and is currently on pace for 60 points. But with a face-off rate of 59.3% Datsyuk leads the team in all face-off situations and wins. With all the ice time he receives and his history of two-way play and consistency count on Datsyuk to finish the year at a point per game.

Jason Spezza- This season Spezza is transforming from a one dimensional offense only player into a more complete all-around player. Now in a leadership role for the team he is excelling. Gone are the drop pass turnovers. Part of Spezza’s game that has evolved is his face off proficiency. Spezza currently leads the league in face-offs taken at 342. This tells you that if he is scoring or not, he will be getting prime ice time.
“It’s just something I try to (take) pride in,” said Spezza.
“I want to be out there taking big faceoffs. It’s something I’ve worked on quite a bit in the last three years and I feel it’s something that I’ve been able to get a lot better at.”
“When I came here, I don’t think I was as good. It’s one of those things where if you work at them, you can get better at them. I’ve put a lot of time in trying to work on them.”

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins- Nugent-Hopkins is having a great season as a rookie with 12 points in his first 14 games playing 16:35 average time on ice. However, like Spezza and most rookies, his face-off skills need improvement. At only 32.2% he is dead last in the NHL. Head coach Tom Renney has been insulating him from the face-off dot in the defensive zone and he has taken no short handed draws yet. Clearly, his inability to win a draw is limiting his ice time and his line mates Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.

Face-offs are a key element in special teams.  Having immediate possession in the offensive zone to start the power play is critical. Losing the draw can often use up 20-30 seconds before the team with the advantage can gain possession in the offensive zone. The top power play % teams in the NHL as of November ninth are Colorado at 29.2% and Vancouver at 26.4%.  They are also second and third behind Boston at winning face-off % with 53.2% and 52.9% respectively

Speaking of Boston, it is no coincidence that they are the Stanley Cup Champions and leading the NHL in face-offs. Last years cup run showed how important winning the draw can be. Boston was able to control the momentum of the series based on Bergeron and Krejci’s ability to dominate on draws.

While face-off stats may not directly contribute to your fantasy teams points, they do have a significant impact on a player’s value. It is clear that players who have a winning record in the face-off dot are leaned on by head coaches. Those players see increased and regular ice time.  Being proficient at winning face-offs is a key element in being a complete player and will ensure quality ice time regardless of whether or not that player is consistently scoring. That makes a player have value to his NHL team, and to your fantasy team.

This article was written for the November issue of the Top 100 Roto Keeper Players at 

Peter Harling of Harling Fantasy Hockey covers the Ottawa Senators for The Hockey Writers. Peter also writes for Fantasy Hockey Coach contributing to the annual draft guide and author of the Fantasy Hockey in Canada column.
Follow Peter Harling on Twitter: @pharling

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