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21st Century Hockey Analysis Begins

It's late in the game, you need a goal, and there's a key faceoff coming up in the offensive zone. You need to get a shot on net right away, but who are you going to send out to take the draw? Common wisdom would suggest running down the player statistics by Face Off Win Percentage, and sending your best player out there, assuming he's not winded from a recent shift.

Chances are, however, that the common wisdom is wrong.

I've recently gathered detailed game information from the entire 2005-2006 regular season, and analysed the results of over 45,000 non-neutral zone faceoffs that took place across more than 1,200 games. Based on when a faceoff in either end of the ice resulted in the offensive team getting a shot within 5 seconds of the drop of the puck, I've ranked the players as to how often offensive zone faceoffs result in immediate shots (given a minimum of 100 such draws). On average, a shot (defined as either a goal, save, blocked shot, or missed shot) took place within 5 seconds of the puck drop 9.09% of the time last season. So who fares better or worse than expected when looking at this particularly important slice of game performance? The answers might surprise you.

Take Yanic Perrault, for example, often lauded as one of the best faceoff men in the game. In 358 offensive-zone draws, only 19 shots resulted, for a paltry 5.38%. If you look at the league leaders in FOWin% from last season, Anaheim's Andy McDonald and Atlanta's Bobby Holik ranked 6th and 8th respectively. Pretty strong faceoff guys, right? When it comes to creating shots they rank near the bottom, however, producing at only 6.5%, well below the league average. Anaheim would do better using Todd Marchant (13.33%), and Atlanta using Steve Rucchin (10.45%).

On the plus side, look at Chris Kelly, from Ottawa. He ranks 80th out of 85 players in the NHL's official faceoff numbers, but he produced shots in the offensive end 12.81% of the time, 20th on this list and second-best on his team behind Antoine Vermette. The leader in this category was Montreal's Tomas Plekanec, who produced shots at a 17.78% clip. Montreal would be wise to invest in some heavy-shooting defensemen, as Steve Begin came in 3rd at 16.00%.

Peruse the list below, and add some helpful commentary the next time you're yelling at the hometown coach during your next NHL game. And stay tuned for more of this kind of detailed analysis coming in the weeks ahead. I'm excited about the data I've assembled and am looking for promising areas to research, so if you have a suggestion, feel free to leave a comment...

The Top Shot Producers (with last year's team):
Tomas PLEKANEC, MTL 17.78%
Antoine VERMETTE, OTT 17.42%
Steve BEGIN, MTL 16.00%
Marty REASONER, EDM 15.88%
Jamaal MAYERS, STL 15.38%
Michael PECA, EDM 15.11%
Brett MCLEAN, COL 14.61%
Jarret STOLL, EDM 14.17%
Eric BELANGER, LA 14.16%
Travis GREEN, BOS 13.90%
Jan HRDINA, CBJ 13.87%
Clarke WILM, TOR 13.64%
Alexei ZHAMNOV, BOS 13.59%
Stephane YELLE, CGY 13.59%
Alyn MCCAULEY, SJ 13.50%
Petr CAJANEK, STL 12.91%
Jerred SMITHSON, NSH 12.87%
Chris KELLY, OTT 12.81%

The Rally Killers:
Mark BELL, CHI 3.30%
Marcel GOC, SJ 3.83%
Keith TKACHUK, STL 4.20%
Serge PAYER, FLA 4.42%
Teemu SELANNE, ANA 4.64%
Vaclav PROSPAL, TB 5.07%