What can we learn from the Silvertips’ faceoff numbers?

The WHL website is tracking new statistics this season. Here’s one examination of some new data.

As a former Everett Silvertips beat writer, one of my favorite things about the 2017-18 season so far has been the new statistics available on the WHL website. The league is now tracking both shots by individuals, as well as faceoffs taken and faceoffs won by individuals. For someone who’s a stat guy, this is fantastic data from which we can try to glean information, especially considering I no longer get to see all of Everett’s home game.

The individual shot data I’m sure will be useful in estimating things like player Corsi numbers. But what I want to examine today is the faceoff numbers.

Of course, we can use the faceoff numbers to see how the the Tips are performing on faceoffs, and the answer is that they’re performing pretty well. Through their first 13 games Everett has been involved in 816 faceoffs and won 416, which is 51.0 percent. That’s a solid percentage.

But that’s not what I’m interested in. What I’m curious about is who’s taking those faceoffs.

While looking at he WHL website I spontaneously decided to click on the faceoff column in the player statistics section, just to see which players were leading the league in faceoffs taken. The answer was a bit of a shock. The leader by a longshot was Everett’s Matt Fonteyne with 321. Then in third with 271, just two out of second, was Everett’s Riley Sutter. The Tips had two of the top three players in the league in taking faceoffs. I found that quite remarkable.

Maybe it’s an aberration based on Everett having played 13 games, tied for the most in the league. To test that I decided to look at the percentage of a team’s faceoffs a player took, rather than total faceoffs. Now, the league doesn’t keep team totals (as best as I can find), so doing every team would be a counting slog, more than I wanted to do. So I decided to limit the comparison to the rest of the U.S. Division. What I did was figure out the percentage of faceoffs a team’s top two players took. First, here’s Everett:

EVERETT through 13 games: 816 faceoffs

Fonteyne: 321 for 39.3 percent

Sutter: 271 for 33.2 percent

Others: 224 for 27.5 percent

So Fonteyne and Sutter, Everett’s top two centers, have taken 72.5 percent of the Tips’ faceoffs. That seems like a large number, but is that really the case? To find out let’s take a look at the rest of the U.S. Division:

PORTLAND through 10 games: 622 faceoffs

Alex Overhardt: 208 for 33.4 percent

Cody Glass: 144 for 23.2 percent

Others: 270 for 43.4 percent

Top two: 56.6 percent

SEATTLE through 8 games: 371 faceoffs

Donovan Neuls: 146 for 39.4 percent

Matthew Wedman: 85 for 22.9 percent

Others: 140 for 37.7 percent

Top two: 62.3 percent

SPOKANE through 12 games: 554 faceoffs

Jaret Anderson-Dolan (10 games): 159 for 28.7 percent, prorated to 34.4 percent

Hudson Elynuik: 130 for 23.5 percent

Others: 265 for 47.8 percent

Top two: 57.9 percent prorated

TRI-CITY through 11 games: 656 faceoffs

Nolan Yaremko: 200 for 30.5 percent

Michael Rasmussen (8 games): 147 for 22.4 percent, prorated to 30.8 percent

Others: 309 for 47.1 percent

Top two: 61.3 percent prorated

So the other four U.S. Division teams all have their top two faceoff men taking between 56.6 percent and 62.3 percent of their team’s faceoffs. Everett’s top-two percentage of 72.5 is way more than any other team in the division.

That gap is meaningful, but what exactly does it mean? Well, what it seems to suggest to me is that Everett coach Dennis Williams is playing his top two lines significantly more than the other teams in the division, and by extension perhaps the entire WHL. Given I’m not at the games I can’t confirm this to be true. It’s possible there’s factors that skew the data. Williams might be putting Fonteyne and Sutter out with other lines just to take the faceoff before skating off. If this is indeed happening, please let me know.

But when I was at Everett’s season opener, one thing I noticed is that Williams seemed to have his top forwards on the ice more frequently than his predecessor Kevin Constantine, and that Williams seemed more inclined to try and get better matchups by putting his top players out against the opposition’s weaker lines. This data does nothing to refute that observation.

Anyway, that’s just one person’s look at the numbers. Whether the conclusion that Everett is playing its top forwards more than other teams is a good thing for the team, that’s a topic for another conversation.

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