Beyond Face-off Percentage, Part 1: Quality of Competition

Henrik Zetterberg (photo credit: Anna Enriquez / zomgannalolz@flickr)

The newest stat on is the Quality of Competition (QoC) face-off percentage: a measure of the difficulty of a player’s face-off opponent pool, consisting of a weighted average of a player’s face-off opponents’ face-off percentages against the rest of the league.

The value is read like a face-off percentage; 50% is average and higher is better. Most players will have values close to 50% but for those who deviate from 50%, it can identify cases where a player has faced unusually strong or weak competition.

To illustrate how this stat works and how it might be useful, we will study two players whose face-off percentage alone may not be telling the whole story:

(All numbers as of 11/7/2014)

Zetterberg has taken 176 face-offs against 39 different opponents this season, but 38% of his face-offs have come against just 4 strong players: Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Bozak, Brandon Sutter, and Ryan Getzlaf.

To more precisely express how difficult Zetterberg’s competition has been, we can take all 39 of those players he has taken face-offs against and calculate their face-off percentages against non-Zetterberg players; then, calculate the weighted average of those face-off percentages, weighting them by the number of face-offs they took against Zetterberg. The result is Zetterberg’s QoC face-off percentage.

Thanks to that skewed opponent pool, Zetterberg’s QoC face-off percentage is an extremely high 55.1%; to put that in perspective, no other player with 100 face-offs is above 53%. That 55.1% is very likely to come down as the season progresses and Zetterberg faces broader competition. According to data from 2013-14, player QoC face-off percentage closely approaches 50% (or perhaps slightly above) as the number of face-offs taken increases.


Now let’s take a look at Malhotra. He is posting amazing face-off numbers as he usually does. But unlike Zetterberg whose opponent distribution is top-heavy with strong competition, Malhotra’s opponent pool is much weaker. So while 62.8% is a marvelous face-off percentage, the fact that he has done it against a QoC of 48.4% suggests that his numbers might slip if he were to go up against as many skilled face-off takers as a top line player like Zetterberg.

So thanks to QoC face-off percentage, we can draw two conclusions:

  • Zetterberg is having a much better year in the face-off circle than his good-but-not-great 52.3% face-off percentage would indicate.
  • Malhotra, while an excellent face-off taker, is perhaps not the superhuman that his raw numbers would make him out to be.

You can view QoC face-off percentage for the league or on individual player profiles.

Photo credit: Anna Enriquez