By The Numbers: Jackets Owning the Faceoff Circle

Antoine Vermette was tops on the Jackets for winning faceoffs in '10-'11. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

As we get closer and closer to training camp (and to stories that matter!), this week we elected to take a look at one of the strengths of the Blue Jackets: faceoffs. As the organization continues to load up on centermen, it's important to look at how well they do one of the most important things a center can do: win draws.

Columbus as a team has done rather well in the faceoff circle in recent years. This past season, they were eighth in the NHL with a 51.2% winning percentage. It might also surprise you--as it did me--to know that Antoine Vermette took the fourth-highest total of faceoffs in the league with 1540. And, his 55.6% success rate was 15th in the league for players who took enough draws to qualify. Good news, all.

How did the rest of the boys do? And, how do the new guys fare? Further, could we analyze the numbers to see who might be the best guy to move to the wing from the now-glut of centers on this team? Let's break it all down... with numbers.

First, let's look at the team stats. Over the past five seasons, here's the breakdown for the Blue Jackets as a team (ranks are based on FO %):

Season FO Won FO Lost FO % Rank
06-07 2326 2312 50.2% 14th
07-08 2420 2210 52.3% 2nd
08-09 2397 2284 51.2% 11th
09-10 2324 2234 51.0% 9th
10-11 2459 2345 51.2% 8th

At last, it appears we've hit on one stat in which the Jackets of the last half-decade have actually done pretty well in across the league.

How about the specific players this past season? We touched on Vermette above, but how did everyone else do? For the guys that qualified to be in the "league leader" discussion (i.e., took more than 700 draws this past season), a few Jackets make appearances among the 86 qualifiers:

Player FO Won FO Lost FO % Rank
Antoine Vermette 856 684 55.6% 15th
Samuel Pahlsson 675 623 52.0% 37th
Derick Brassard 414 474 46.6% 72nd

Nothing too surprising there, I don't think. In addition to Vermette being fourth in the league in number of draws take, Pahlsson was also 18th. It's clear who on the roster Scott Arniel wants taking the draws.

But, to take it a step further, let's look at the Jackets as a whole, including the new guys and not including guys no longer with the club: 

Player FO Won FO Lost FO%
Antoine Vermette 856 684 55.6%
Samuel Pahlsson 675 623 52.0%
Derick Brassard 414 474 46.6%
Jeff Carter 331 274 54.7%
Derek MacKenzie 246 227 52.0%
R.J. Umberger 111 109 50.4%
Vinny Prospal 69 59 53.9%
Derek Dorsett 19 32 37.2%
Rick Nash 7 17 29.2%
Matt Calvert 3 6 33.3%
Jared Boll 0 6 0.0%
Tomas Kubalik 1 0 100.0%

First things first, did you know Jared Boll took SIX faceoffs last season? I sure didn't. But, if you look at the numbers, it sure looks like Derick Brassard's time in the center circle may be coming to an end.

Of all the guys who took significant draws (and I'm counting even Prospal, considering he took that many in just 29 games), Brassard's percentage is by far the worst. This is not a huge knock on Brassard; it's just time to move him to another position because there are clearly enough options at center in terms of winning draws.

So, what I'm willing to say just based on this particular aspect of playing center is that I believe the four centers should be: Jeff Carter, Antoine Vermette, Samuel Pahlsson, and Derek MacKenzie. In other words, Jeff Carter displaces Derick Brassard, like most people thought. I will say I originally thought Vermette might be the best candidate to move to the wing, but with these numbers in my face I am firmly in the camp of keeping Vermette at center and moving Brassard.

To that end, my top two lines would be:

Nash--Carter--Prospal
Umberger--Vermette--Brassard

This gives you two guys on each line who can take draws, and also puts two guys who will take the majority of them who won a combined 1187 faceoffs at a success rate of 55.3%. No arguments there! And, this sets up my next point:

The Power Play

Here's where we start to break it down even further. Vermette was again near the top of the league (sixth) in Power Play faceoffs won with 148 (against 110 lost) with a success rate of 57.4% on the Power Play. Very nice. For his part, Carter only took 109 Power Play draws, but won 60 of them for a success rate of 55.0%. In other words, further evidence that these two should be the Jackets' scoring line centers, and should continue that onto the Power Play. Seems to me that having two centers who win a combined 56.7% of their faceoffs... well, that would help. Now, what about...

The Penalty Kill

talked last week about the PK, and about the depressing numbers there. Know what might help? Winning some draws on the PK. Guess who led the league in short-handed faceoffs won... Samuel Pahlsson, with 170. He also lost 160, which was fourth-worst. In other words, Pahlsson took A LOT of short-handed draws. The most in the league, in fact (Blair Betts of the Flyers took one fewer at 329). Pahlsson's success rate on the PK was 51.5%.

Derek MacKenzie took 60 short-handed draws, and won 32 of them (53.3%). Obviously, both of those rates are above 50%, which is good. Seems to me, though, that MacKenzie could get a little more time playing "center" on the PK to even out the workload with Pahlsson. Overall, though, their combined success (202-for-390, or 51.8%) isn't too bad.

So, while I know the bottom two lines have some shuffling to be done based on training camp, it's pretty safe for me to say that the two centers should be Pahlsson and MacKenzie. Obviously, it will depend on what Scott Arniel wants to do with his lines, but these four picks give the team two offensive, a defensive, and an energy line, all with solid options in the faceoff circle.

Summary

This, again, is one area of the team that is strong. The club has six guys who took a fair amount of faceoffs last season and were above 50%. That's a good problem to have. And, thanks to the addition of Jeff Carter--and to a lesser extent Vinny Prospal--it gives the team multiple options for success on both of their top lines. Finally, it allows them to move Derick Brassard to the wing, thus hopefully taking some pressure off of him and allowing him to focus purely on his offensive game.

This also means that, if he makes the team, there's no pressure on Ryan Johansen to step in and win a bunch of faceoffs. He, too, could find time on a wing. According to Tom Reed today, however, coach Arniel has said that if Johansen makes the team he will play center and NOT be moved to the wing. I really don't have much argument here, but if Johansen is on a line with MacKenzie it would allow for some faceoff insurance. Johansen's faceoff stats are not available online, sad to say.

But overall, the club has options, which is never a bad thing, and continues to be strong in the faceoff circle.

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