March 19, 2013

Stevens: Faceoff Win Percentages are Fuzzy Stats

by Neil Stevens |

Calgary's Geoff Snider (right) has won 207 of 270 faceoffs for a league-best 77 percent this season.
© Brad Watson

The most dubious NLL statistics are the ones reflecting faceoff win percentages.

Here's an example: Toronto was dominant in posting a 13-8 win last Saturday in Philadelphia. The stat sheet shows the Wings winning 17 of 24 faceoffs for a success rate of 71 percent and the Rock winning seven of 24 for a success rate of 29 percent, but anybody who watched the game would question the numbers because it seemed that Rock players were holding their own in gathering in loose balls from scrums that followed faceoffs.

It just seems so unlikely that a team could win a game so decisively while relinquishing possession of the ball as often as the stat sheet suggests.

Everybody agrees that faceoffs are important. To score goals, you have to have possession of the ball, and winning faceoffs provides instant possession.

''Obviously, if you come up with possession you go on the attack,'' said Toronto Rock GM Terry Sanderson. ''I would sooner have our offense with the ball rather than having to defend the other team.

''Faceoffs are very important. We've got guys who try but there are other guys in this league who are so damn good that they just pick up the ball and go with it.''

Geoff Snider falls into that category. He's won 207 of 270 for Calgary. That's a league-best 77 percent success rate. He executed his role well last year and helped the Roughnecks finish first overall during the regular season, and they are one of the best teams again this year.

His younger brother Bob Snider of the Washington Stealth is winning 63 percent (196 of 312).

Philadelphia's Jeff Reynolds is third most proficient at 62 percent (85 or 137). When he's been hurt, the Wings have used CJ Costabile, who checks in at 38 percent (33 of 86).

The top three teams in faceoff winning percentages all are better than .500 in the standings.

Buffalo is a win below .500 but Jay Thorimbert has been among the league's best at the center dot with a win rate of 60 percent (173 of 288). Minnesota is three games below .500 but don't blame Jordan MacIntosh because he also is on the plus side at 54 percent (149 of 277).

Edmonton is one game above .500 and Jeremy Thompson sits at 44 percent (111 of 251) according to NLL stats; Colorado is three below .500 and Ilija Gajic is at 41 percent (98 of 240); Rochester is two games below .500 and around 35 percent with Dylan Evans (49 or 134) taking most of the draws; and Toronto has the NLL's best won-lost record with a team win rate of only 33 percent.

Scramble all the numbers, ponder Toronto's futility on faceoffs, and it is impossible to come up with a consensus on the relevance of this statistic.

If faceoffs are so important, we ask Sanderson, how has his team managed to get to 8-3 when NLL stats suggest it wins so few of them?

''We're just a well-rounded team,'' he replies. ''We're not the best offensive team but we're very good.

''Defensively, we're not the best but we're very good. On special teams, we're very good there, too. If we were dominant in all aspects of the game maybe we're 11-0, but we're not. There are some shortcomings with us that we're working on.''

He could pull out all of his hair trying to figure out why Stephen Hoar has gone from 51 percent on faceoffs in 2012 to 37 percent this year (58 of 157).

''We've been better with [Patrick] Merrill,'' Sanderson said.

He won't say that the NLL's statistics are wrong but he questions the numbers posted in Philadelphia for Merrill — five wins and 15 losses.

''The ball was out and in play an awful lot on Saturday,'' he said.

Merrill will take the majority of faceoffs going forward. He's at 36 per cent (20 of 56) since taking on the task a few weeks ago. Sandy Chapman (19 of 78 – 24 percent) was less effective than Hoar.

''What we're hoping for is for our draw guy to get the ball out so we can fight for it and not have the opponent pick it up clean,'' said Sanderson.

It's a tricky aspect of the indoor game, and one not easily understood by scanning the stats.

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli — a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor — are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

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