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The Faceoff Circles: Areas for Concern?

Questions abound for the Caps in the dot

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Brouwer,  Joel Ward, and Eric Fehr took 1,431 faceoffs for the Capitals last season, roughly 29% of the team's total draws... and now all three have departed, by choice or by trade, for other teams.

So how much will their departures hurt the team's ability to win the battle within the circles? Let's first look at how the Capitals utilized their centermen during five-on-five play last season (courtesy of Muneeb).

14-15 Faceoff Burden 5v5

Note: This graph shows the number of draws taken by a player in a given zone divided by the number of faceoffs taken by all of the players listed in that same zone (so it reflects the players' percentage of total draws, not percentage of draws when they were in the lineup).

As you can see, only Nicklas Backstrom took a larger portion of the Capitals' faceoffs than Eric Fehr, who was heavily utilized during five-on-five play as part of Trotz's preferred "shutdown line." What's curious is that despite centering this "shutdown line", Fehr actually played a lesser role in defensive-zone face offs than he did in any other area of the ice; that's something to keep in mind when we forecast into this upcoming season.

Troy Brouwer's biggest faceoff contributions came during his special-teams play. He led the team in power-play draws (his 161 accounted for 35.4% of  the team's extra man total) and won better than 60% of them. While he played a lesser role while the team was shorthanded, he still won over 53% of those draws (and both percentages were well above League average). Some areas of Brouwer's game may leave something to be desired, but his ability within the circles will be missed - and with his departure and Backstrom's recovery timetable, the Capitals may have some early difficulties getting things started on the power play... something else to keep an eye on.

So the Caps have a lot of faceoffs to replace and, unfortunately, don't have a lot of good options to replace them. Have a look:

Player All Situation Faceoff Win Percentage Since Start of 2012-13
Nicklas Backstrom 52.51
Jay Beagle 55.44
Andre Burakovsky 44.64
Evgeny Kuznetsov 44.51
Brooks Laich 45.05
Derek Roy 45.14

Data Courtesy of War_On_Ice

Of the viable options, only two have a win percentage over 50% - so don't be surprised when you see Jay Beagle taking lots of faceoffs this year, particularly late in games while the Capitals are winning, and especially in the right dots.

As for the next two guys on the list, Burakovsky and Kuznetsov are expected to start the season at center, and will likely have to account for a large portion of the departed faceoffs. To get a general idea of what that might mean on the ice, let's assume Beagle's overall number of faceoffs doesn't change too much and split the remaining draws (1,431) evenly between Kuznetsov and Burakovsky. We can then apply each of their career faceoff percentage to that split to estimate how many draws the two would win. The product is about 317 wins for Burakovsky and 319 for Kuznetsov, and when you compare those numbers to last season's results, it equates to roughly 124 draws that were won last year that would now be losses, including more than a few in high-leverage situations.

The good news is that while our eyes may tell us otherwisefaceoffs generally have a negligible overall impact on the standings (and those 124 lost draws only amount to about 1.5 per game in raw numbers). That isn't to say that the Capitals shouldn't make an effort to improve within the circles; it also isn't to imply that they should have Andre Burakovsky or Evgeny Kuznetsov take key defensive-zone draws on a regular basis (they shouldn't). Rather, it's a way of saying that the team's improvement's in other key areas should more than make up for the team's loss in faceoff prowess.

Try not to lose sight of that when lamenting an untimely lost draw here or there... as hard as that might be, given that the last draw the Caps lost ended their 2014-15 season.