The Flames At The Dot



Even before the rebuild, one of the biggest holes for the Calgary Flames has been face-offs. This season, they’re 30th in the league. Last season they were 28th. They were even 30th during Brent Sutter’s last year as coach. Being bad at face-offs isn’t a new phenomenon, and seems to be immune to changes in management, coaches or players.

Here’s a brief situational look at how the Flames are doing at the face-off dot after 11 games.


Team-wide, the Flames win roughly 42% of face-offs at center ice. The breakdown among the regular centers is like this: Joe Colborne is at 47% (but has taken the least neutral zone draws), Mikael Backlund is 43%, Sean Monahan is 40% and Ben Street (now in Abbotsford) is at 31%. Matt Stajan’s at 57%, but has only taken 23 draws (as opposed to Backlund’s 65).


Overall, the Flames are again at 42% in the offensive zone. Player-by-player, that breaks down to 57% for Street, 43% for Backlund, 63% for Monahan and a miserable 31% for Colborne. Monahan has taken the most offensive zone draws of the regular centers, while Colborne has not-shockingly taken the fewest. Stajan’s at 58%, but has only taken a dozen draws in the offensive end.


Arguably the most important zone to win your draws in, the Flames have had some success in the defensive zone – although they’re still losing 52% of their draws and winning a mere 48%. Sean Monahan leads the regulars at 50%, followed by Backlund at 48%, Colborne at 47% and Street at 45%. Backlund’s taken 87 of the team’s 216 draws in their own end , which is a pretty big proportion (about 40%) and shows how he’s been deployed by Bob Hartley thus far. Stajan’s at 42% in his own zone through 19 draws.


When things are even-keel, the Flames fare at 44% overall. The team’s leaders are Stajan (50%), Street (46%), Monahan (45%), Backlund (43%) and Colborne (41%). Backlund takes the most of the team’s even-strength draws (92), followed by Monahan at 70.


Overall, the Flames win 45% of their power-play draws. Curtis Glencross actually takes a number of these and has fared pretty well for somebody who’s not a natural center. He’s won 47%. Of the regular centers, Monahan takes the most power-play draws and, to be blunt, has been getting killed. He’s won just 29% of his PP draws.


The PK is where the Flames have been getting killed (in terms of getting scored on a lot) and they’re not amazing in the face-off circle, winning just 44%. Matt Stajan has won 64% of his draws, followed by Backlund at 59% and Street at 23%. Backlund has taken the majority of Calgary’s short-handed draws, which combined with his percentages make him pretty damn useful as a defensive player.


On the whole, Calgary’s won about 44% of their face-offs, which places them dead-last in the NHL. Stajan’s got the best team-wide winning percentage (at 52%), but he’s also only played three games, so there’s no telling where his percentages will end up over a longer span. Backlund leads the regulars at 45%, followed by Monahan and Colborne, both around 42%. Considering that Monahan and Colborne are both fairly inexperienced, they’re likely to get better over time, but the team obviously has some work to do. They were excellent against Washington, so hopefully they can keep it up.

  • Burnward

    Here’s the thing about stats, I know I hate losing a draw in my own defensive zone when I play.

    No stat will ever convince me that it doesn’t impact the game.

    • Here’s where nuance is lost in these stat discussions – no one is saying that cleanly losing or winning a draw in the offensive or defensive zone is meaningless. It can definitely have an impact, which is one of the reasons we correct for zone starts in possession rates.

      The thing is everyone in general in the NHL is almost as good as everyone else at it. So unless a team or player is remarkably great or poor at it at, the overall impact over time is muted.

      It’s a meaningful distinction that is dissolved by the binary nature of these arguments.

      For the Flames, I think the team needs to work on this aspect of the game because they are currently worst in the league. You definitely don’t want to be at the wrong end of the distribution.

      Young centers almost always suck at this, but the good news faceoffs are something a kid can improve at over time.

  • Something I’ve wondered for a while… is there any bias in this stat, like for example the way hits are counted rink to rink?

    Calgary is probably very strict (winger wins, following the play at the dot right through possession), but are other rinks?

    We still suck at it regardless.

    • My guess would be Billins, actually. They brought him in this summer, and he’s been putting in good work with the farm team (ie. maybe they want to reward him). Moreover, they don’t lose anything (developmentally speaking) by playing him very little (or not at all).

  • mattyc

    From Fear the Fin:

    winning draws while shorthanded should mean that your penalty kill will have greater success. Right?

    Surprisingly, that’s wrong. The correlation of shorthanded faceoff percentage and penalty kill percentage is actually in the negative at -.17. Now these numbers don’t confirm that the lower your faceoff percentage is the higher your PK percentage will be– after all, correlation does not imply causation, and saying that you would be better off losing all your draws doesn’t make sense at all. However, this is suggesting that, amongst the league as a whole, a good faceoff percentage does not equal a good kill over the course of a season

    Copper and Blue also has a nice round-up:

    Basically, I’m not sure why we’re focusing so much on faceoffs either, but I’d be open to enlightenment.

    • SmellOfVictory

      I think faceoffs are in the realm of physicality: they’re nice to have if you can get them, but they shouldn’t be a goal unto themselves. Don’t get players solely as faceoff specialists, just as you shouldn’t get players solely because they play physically. I imagine they do contribute overall to better possession, but the effect isn’t large enough to warrant taking an inferior player who can win an extra 30 draws/season or whatever.

      • piscera.infada

        Don’t tell that to Team Canada who picked Bergeron in the last Olympics as a defensive zone faceoff specialist. I understand what you’re saying, but IMO a center who’s no good at faceoffs is like a goalie who can’t control rebounds – it’s not all they’re asked to do, but it is an important part of their job.

    • piscera.infada

      It’s tough to make a direct statistical correlation, but just from the eyes-test there is importance to faceoffs. If we’re going to use ‘advanced stats’ to discuss possession, and likewise chart possession to be a reasonable judge of player quality, I don’t understand why an act that can instantly determine whether or not you have possession (the majority of the time) is overlooked with such determinism.

      I understand the statistics are difficult to chart with regard to faceoff wins and losses, as often the effects of a won or lost faceoff occur a good deal of time after the faceoff was won or lost (ie: a powerplay that works the puck around the zone for a minute before a goal is scored), or is fairly minimal in terms of not being on the ice (ie: a won faceoff following an icing, when the line that iced the puck has been on for a long shift).

      I’m not saying faceoffs are the penultimate judge of player value, but I’ve never been one to argue that it is not an important part of the game. If you actually think that losing a defensive zone faceoff on a penalty kill is something to slough-off as unimportant (regardless of cherry-picked stats) – then I certainly take issue with that view, as we’ve seen it time and time again with the post-Yelle Flames.

      • mattyc

        Pretty much what everyone else has added. I don’t think faceoffs are meaningless, just that it’s a minor part of the game, that is swamped by parity. Furthermore, it’s rare to even have a clean win. Most often it’s some messy scramble where it pops out somewhere non-ideal anyways

        I’m of the belief that it’s not irrelevant, just that, as far as team skills go, it’s in one of the lower tiers of things I would focus on improving.

      • Faceoffs are potentially important, but the issue is teams and players tend to cluster so much in the middle that the differences don’t tend to be meaningful. For instance, if you are a 50% player, you win 5 out of 10 draws on average. If you’re a 40% player (which is a big shift in the NHL), you win…4 out of 10.

        Where you gain or lose a true advantage is in the margins…so guys who are 60%+ or above probably bring real value over time. Similarly, guys south of 40% are a problem.

        As for why we’re tracking them…for interests sake in part, but also because it points perhaps to why Hartley is making certain decisions on the ice.

        • piscera.infada

          Faceoffs are potentially important, but the issue is teams and players tend to cluster so much in the middle that the differences don’t tend to be meaningful. For instance, if you are a 50% player, you win 5 out of 10 draws on average. If you’re a 40% player (which is a big shift in the NHL), you win…4 out of 10.

          I agree with you. I think the big thing with faceoffs is situational, so that would have to be part of a statistical calculation. Obviously, a faceoff at centre-ice or the blue-line dots is going to have far less of a burden on the outcome of a game than a faceoff in either your offensive/defensive zone will. I think it’s entirely pragmatic to want your top centreman to win those big defensive faceoffs, just like you want him to be able to win those offensive zone faceoffs on a PP. Chasing the puck into your own zone every time you start a PP is far less desirable than getting set up with possession.

          I like the stat, and I hope it keeps up – but the reason I’m so passionate about it is likely because I played centre my whole life, so I get it far more than other positions.

          • SmellOfVictory

            It’s also an incredibly small proportion of time within the game. If there are, for sake of argument, fifty faceoffs per game, that’s maybe a couple of minutes of the game. It affects initial possession, but there’s a lot of time in-between faceoffs for possession to be gained or lost; and that’s more important, in an overall sense. It’s why, to use the Team Canada argument earlier, Team Canada invited Bergeron as a defensive faceoff guy rather than Malholtra; they’re both amazing on the dot, but Bergeron is an elite two-way player whereas Maltholtra is not Olympic calibre.

          • Matty Franchise Jr

            This comment makes me sad, because I can’t give it more than 1 Like.

            The faceoff stat describes a moment in time that lasts about 1 second. After that, the faceoff stat doesn’t describe what is happening in the game.

  • piscera.infada

    I find it interesting that this article appeared here. I remember at the end of last season, I posted on this site that the Flames needed to get better in the faceoff circle, and that I believed that drafting a kid named Monahan would probably help them at that (once he gets a little more experience at the NHL level, of course). That was immediately met with several posts claiming faceoffs don’t matter, or at least, don’t have any effect on winning. I just don’t understand why it now matters… What’s the deal?

    Is it perhaps because now that our faceoff percentages are statistically horrible – instead of statistically brutal – people are now noticing how bad it is? ‘Cause it’s been bad for a loooooooong time.