I keep saying don’t read the comments and yet, I keep reading them.
This time, a cranky Caps fan complained, “At this point is Kuzy ever going to improve at the dot? He’s been steadily terrible since he arrived in DC and shows no sign of improvement.”
To which I felt obligated to reply:
Faceoff w/l record have been shown time and again to have very little correlation to game w/l records. This is true when looking at both individual FO performance and team performance and when looking at it in the course of a single game as well as over an 82 game season.
That’s because the outcome of the draw is in isolation. The stat only tells you which player pushed the puck which direction. Did the draw winner’s team gain or lose possession with the draw? Did the team that gained possession post-draw produce a shot attempt from the ensuing play. Did the shot attempt become a shot on goal? Did the shot on goal produce a goal? You don’t know, the raw stat doesn’t tell you.
And, the stat treats all FO attempts equally. There’s no contextual breakdown. Is it at 5s, on the PK, on the PP, at 3s in OT? Is it in the neutral zone, the defensive zone, the offensive zone? Is the score tied, close? Is it early or late in the game? You don’t know, again, because the raw stat doesn’t tell you.
There’s so many unknowns about the circumstances of the draw and what actually happens with the puck that it is very difficult to predict using Face Offs what a win of a FO might produce. So, conventional wisdom is that the stat, by itself, might not hold a lot of meaning in terms of it’s predictive value.
However, the act of taking a faceoff in the reality of playing the actual game, certain FO attempts are more valuable to win than others. A defensive zone draw into a set clearing play during a penalty kill is more valuable than a neutral zone draw at evens. A draw trailing by one, late in a game, in the offensive zone, into a set scoring play is more valuable than the opening faceoff. A draw at 3s in OT is more important than a mid-game score during a blowout. And, so on.
In those singular moments, maybe a player’s propensity to win more often than not might make a difference. It’s why Jay Beagle was so valuable to the Caps because he was very, very good at situational draws. Would you rather someone who win’s 53+% of the time or someone who loses 53+% of the time? Of course you’d want the 53-plus winner in there whenever possible. Kuzy isn’t that go-to guy for those moments. And, that’s kind of the knock on him. He will be on the ice in big situations but cannot be relied on to take the draw with any efficiency. For better, or worse, that’s the reality of who he is right now – a sub-50% win rate. The problem with judging him solely on that is that we still don’t know much about the draws themselves to best judge if he’s really terrible when it counts or just bad at taking meaningless ones.
Overall, Kuzy’s first full season at center he posted 44.6%, which is essentially his career average to date for FO. This season, while it’s a far cry from being competitive he is at 47.2% on about 300 draws, which is up from last season’s abysmal 38.7%. Again, not saying by any stretch of the imagination he is good on the dot but this is an improvement, albeit slight, from where he was and good enough to fall within the top-100 in the league for FOs with over 300 attempts.
For context, Joe Thornton and Connor McDavid both have 47% win rates with similar draw numbers and Jack Eichel is taking almost 200 more draws is putting up a 47% win rate. Nathan MacKinnon and Jack Hughes have similar draw numbers and but worse win rates, both in the low 40s. And, the list goes on for sub-50% performance on top six forwards putting up at least 300 draws.
Even on the Caps, Backstrom is just a tick higher than Kuzy but still sub-50% this season coming in just barely over 49%. For the rest of the top-six the numbers are even worse for Vrana, Wilson and Oshie when they take draws while Ovi’s 100% rate is predicated on the fact he’s only taken a single one thus far. It’s a team-wide problem with only Eller over 50% while taking more than 300 while Steph and Dowd are both around 100 attempts at the 50% mark. Everyone else in the bottom six is just as inept as the top-six.
However, maybe you don’t always need him to be good at FO either. He has great vision on the ice, and a decent shot. So, maybe what you really want is someone else to win the draw and put it TO him so he can distribute the puck to a shooter or take the shot himself.
Unfortunately, the rest of the players he’s routinely on ice with are actually worse than he is taking the draw as noted above. And, even as we saw with having a speciality like Beagle, not every circumstance allows getting a FO expert onto the ice to take advantage of Kuzy’s post-FO capability to drive play.
So, what you’re left with is hoping that most of the draws Kuzy is forced to take are in low leverage situations and, maybe, although it’s not a comforting thought, that taking low leverage FOs is not exciting and therefor the losses aren’t about skill as much as about focus, it’s not meaningful so maybe he’s phoning them in more often. he wouldn’t be the first player to be thought to not be giving 100% in all aspects of the game throughout the entire game and season, but this isn’t actually what I’m accusing him of either.
I guess what I’m really getting at is generally FO% is about as useful as +/- in terms of being a stat. It’s just something to talk about at the water cooler because it’s a stat that’s almost as old as the game itself, particularly when he butchers that one really important FO and the result is a lost game.