Prior to this season, the away team’s center had to put his stick down in the circle before the home team’s center. It didn’t matter what zone the faceoff was in or which team was currently attacking. This gave the home team’s center a distinct advantage as he could see how his opponent is set up and with a high Hockey IQ, could likely determine where the opponent wanted to put the puck once the referee dropped the puck and how to best counter it.
This past offseason, the General Managers (led by Carolina GM Ron Francis) proposed a rule change to the faceoff procedure that was later ratified by the NHLPA’s Executive Board and the NHL’s Board of Governors. Rule 76.4 now reads:
At the eight face-off spots (excluding center ice face-off spot), the defending player shall place his stick within the designated white area first followed immediately by the attacking player. When the face-off is conducted at the center ice face-off spot, the visiting player shall place his stick on the ice first.
The faceoff advantage has now shifted from the home team to the attacking team. The objective of this rule was to create more offense and by giving the attacking team’s center a faceoff advantage, it will likely lead to sustained pressure and more scoring opportunities.
While more offense is good for the sport of hockey and the NHL, this rule change gives a distinct disadvantage to a select group of top centermen: ones who take a majority of defensive zone faceoffs on home ice. Many of these centers have a high faceoff winning percentage (FO%) and were often tasked with winning the defensive zone faceoff to regain possession of the puck and then move up ice. As the home team, these centers were used to having the advantage in the faceoff dot but now are at a slight disadvantage. I found 18 centers from the past season that qualify in this group (of all qualifying players with > 500 TOI, < 50% ZSO%, and > 200 Faceoffs taken).
All 18 of the centers listed have a lower three year average FO% on the road compared to at home where they will now have the stated disadvantage in the defensive zone. For many of these players, the drop from home FO% to away FO% is several percentage points (overall average is 3.35% lower on the road). While Sean Couturier, Nazem Kadri, and David Backes take the highest percentage of defensive zone faceoffs, they have a FO% differential of less than one percentage point so this rule change shouldn’t impact them as much as it will affect Charlie Coyle, Patrice Bergeron, and Claude Giroux, who are significantly weaker in the faceoff dot on the road compared to at home and will face a tougher test this season. The center’s overall home FO% will also take a drop as a majority of their faceoffs are taken in the defensive zone. A lower FO% could directly impact their possession and goal statistics as well, especially if they fail to effectively breakout the puck or continue to get caught on the ice after icing the puck.
While they may have less of an advantage in the faceoff dot, the home team still has the advantage of the last line change allowing them to get favorable matchups.
On the contrary, this rule change positively impacts the centers opposing the previous group. This group of elite centers that this rule change include those who take a majority of offensive zone faceoffs on the road. They will now have the luxury of putting their stick down in the faceoff dot second without revealing to the defending center where they want to draw the puck. Here I found 23 centers that qualify for this group (of the same qualifying players with > 500 TOI, > 50% ZSO%, and > 200 Faceoffs taken).
In a similar fashion to the previous group, all 23 centers have a higher FO% at home than on the road and will benefit from this rule change (the average FO% Diff is over 4%). John Tavares leads this group in ZSO% where he takes over 72% of all non-neutral zone faceoffs in the offensive zone on the road. Tyler Seguin, Mikko Koivu, and Mikael Granlund have the highest FO% differential and likely will benefit the most from the faceoff rule change.
Giroux and Ryan Getzlaf are the only two players to appear on both lists. The rule change should positively impact their FO% and succeeding play in the offensive zone on the road but negatively impact their play following a defensive zone faceoff at home.
Follow Steve Ness on Twitter: @QuickkNess
All data from War-On-Ice.com.