How Did the Blackhawks Become the Best Faceoff Team in the NHL?

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How Did the Blackhawks Become the Best Faceoff Team in the NHL?

Chicago Blackhawks

Being at many of the Blackhawks’ practices this season I’ve noticed the centers off to the side working on faceoffs together. They do one drill that’s rapid fire, where the coach will drop pucks quickly and the skaters will hack at it as quickly as they can.

The drill can get intense at times, but usually ends with the guys laughing or talking through something. On more than a few occasions I’ve seen the younger Blackhawks centers asking one specific veteran for help or advice, and he’s willingly given it.

And that’s somewhere the Blackhawks have made an enormous improvement early this season.

Rough Few Years

As a fan sitting at home the past couple years, one of the things that was painfully easy to notice was the Blackhawks losing faceoffs. Since the Blackhawks last won the Stanley Cup in 2015, they haven’t won over 50 percent of their faceoffs as a team and the last couple years have been especially bad.

Here’s the Blackhawks’ team faceoff percentage since the last Stanley Cup championship with their NHL rank following in parenthesis:

  • 2015-16 — 49.3% (22nd)
  • 2016-17 — 47.5 (29th)
  • 2017-18 — 49.3 (21st)
  • 2018-19 — 49.5 (19th)
  • 2019-20 — 49.9 (17th)
  • 2021 — 46.3 (29th)
  • 2021-22 — 49.6 (16th)

The most significant outlier in that group is obviously the 2021 season, which was both cut short because of COVID and also had no Jonathan Toews in the lineup. The return of 19 to the lineup by itself made the Blackhawks better in the circle, and the team jumped from the bottom three in the entire league back to the middle of the pack.

What are the Blackhawks doing at the dot this year?

  • 2022-23 — 59.8 (1st)

Yes, you read that correctly. The Chicago Blackhawks are the best faceoff team in the NHL entering Tuesday night’s game. How are they doing it?

19’s Return

Toews has been one of the best faceoff men in the entire NHL during his Hall of Fame career. Since the start of the 2009-2010 season (Chicago’s first championship season), the only player to have a higher faceoff win percentage (min. 9,000 faceoff attempts) in the entire National Hockey League than Toews’ 57.5 is Boston’s Patrice Bergeron. And, if not for Bergeron, some might argue Toews would have more than one Selke Trophy at home; Bergeron has owned that award.

Having Toews back at what appears to be full strength this season obviously makes a huge impact. And Toews is having a very good year at the dot even by his standards. He enters Tuesday night’s game against the Islanders ranking third in the NHL with a 64.9 win percentage.

I’ve pointed this out before, but it’s worth saying it again here: one of the two guys above Toews in faceoff percentage right now is Max Domi, who leads the league at 67.2 percent.

This is a guy who, in 501 games to start his career before arriving in Chicago, had won 46.4 percent of his faceoffs. Now he’s the league leader? Domi talked about the impact Toews has on the team at the dot and noted that he’s been one of the best in the game over the past decade. And he isn’t alone in giving Chicago’s captain credit.

Before Tuesday’s game I talked to Jason Dickinson about what makes the Blackhawks so good at the dot this season and what he shared was very insightful. I asked him what about working with Toews has helped him this season and his response impressed me.

“Even when [Toews] beats me up at the dot, I can appreciate what he’s doing and learn from it,” Dickinson said. “Losing to him isn’t necessarily a bad thing because I can see what I did wrong and what he did right. And he’s been easy to talk to him about that stuff and learn what he was seeing and how was he able to take advantage of my positioning even when I’m on my strong side and he’s on his ‘weak side’ he still wins them fairly clean and I can learn a lot from that.”

If you recall, Dickinson joined the Blackhawks at the end of training camp when he was traded to Chicago for Riley Stillman. So he didn’t get to work on the little things the entire preseason with his new teammates. But his perspective that he can learn even while losing will go a long way in helping him sustain his good start to the season.

That perspective also reinforces why the Blackhawks’ new front office wanted him. Remember: we’ve been told this season is about building culture as much/more than winning games. And guys who have this outlook on the game are only going to help the overall organization move in the right direction.

Chicago’s Secret Weapon

After the morning skate on Tuesday, Domi was asked how the Blackhawks — but especially him — were doing so well in the faceoff circle to start the season. His response was two words: Yanic Perreault.

“Obviously as a team we’re doing pretty well at the dot,” Domi said. “It’s still early but we work it for sure. When you have someone like Yanick that helps you out who was one of the best – if not the best – ever and he gives you little tips here and there about playing the position. It’s a whole game within the game. Some of it’s mental but a lot it’s pretty simple stuff – stick positioning and whatnot – he’s helped me a lot with that kinda stuff.”

A few Blackhawks fans might remember Perreault as No. 94 in Chicago during the 2007-08 season. Since Perreault joined the Hawks’ coaching staff in 2013, players have come through Chicago and raved about about how well he coaches the game at the dot.

By title, Perreault is a “player development coach,” but in reality, he’s a faceoff jedi. He was considered one of the best faceoff men in league history, and now he’s passing his craft on to another generation of players. Dickinson was late to the party this season, but he told me only one meeting has made a huge impact on his game.

“I’ve only met with [Perreault] once but we spent a good 15-20 minutes together after practice going over different techniques and what he sees,” Dickinson told me. “He broke down some of my clips to show me where I’m strongest and where I can get the most out of my draws and my best chance for success. Ever since we talked that’s been on my mind – what he told me my success comes from is what I try to do every time I’m at the dot. And I don’t want to give away my secrets.”

Group Effort

Dickinson told me there’s more to winning a faceoff than just the centers, and that’s another area where this Blackhawks team is simply outworking opponents many nights.

“I’ve also noticed a lot of guys jumping on secondary pucks,” he told me. “You might lose a draw by a couple inches or a foot but somebody jumps through to get the loose puck. A lot of battle goes into faceoffs. Most of them aren’t super clean and not all skill. It’s a lot of grit and getting right into the dot and having your wingers do the same thing.”

He also pointed out that the Blackhawks’ third line has a bit of a built-in advantage — and we’ve heard head coach Luke Richardson talk about this earlier this year as well. Having 2-3 guys who can play center on a line is a huge plus because, if one guy gets tossed, another who can potentially win a draw comes in. And Richardson noted that he uses that as an advantage, telling his guys (especially the third line) to feel free to cheat a little because the other guys on their line can adequately step in.

Dickinson said that goes a long way, but also being able to focus on his strong side has been a great thing as well.

“It’s nice on my line that Laffer is a righty so he can take draws on his strong side and I can take them on my strong side,” Dickinson said. “That automatically is going to give you a little bit more of an advantage.”

If guys like Domi and Dickinson can continue learning from sessions with Perreault and drills with Toews, they’re going to continue showing improvement. The style of play Richardson is preaching is driven by having the puck, so the Blackhawks winning the majority of their faceoffs is key to winning games this season.

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Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab