Experience, Commitment and Leadership Helping Blackhawks Exceed Expectations

Experience is a huge deal. As is leadership — something Jonathan Toews knows well. I mentioned in this morning’s bullets an interview Mark Lazerus of The Athletic did with Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson while the team was in Anaheim. Circling back to that article, here’s what Davidson had to say about Toews’ role in the room this season:

But [Toews has] been an amazing leader as always with this group. I think he’s been one of the main reasons for our success early on with the production, and then also just the leadership and how he’s brought the group together — different things like putting together some team-building stuff off the ice. He’s been great about that. He has a lot of value for us. 

After a year away, Toews rejoined the team last season and fought through struggles the likes of which he hadn’t experienced as an NHL player. He was trying to find his game and get things clicking on the ice — all while the organization around him — its captain — imploded.

After Stan Bowman was punted and Jeremy Colliton received his one-way ticket to anywhere, the Blackhawks ship turned course a little. But it was still an awkward, broken season for everyone involved. The summer that followed brought more upheaval in the organization, this time on the roster.

The group put together by GMKD and his staff is playing much better than anyone outside the Blackhawks’ dressing room thought they would, and that’s a direct reflection on the room itself. And Toews’ leadership on this team has been noticeable from the jump this season.

We’ve seen plenty of in-game adjustments and changes from one game to the next from the team, which is a credit to the new coaching staff led by Luke Richardson. And that difference is not only something some of us notice in the box score. It’s very real.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the Blackhawks being the best team at the faceoff circle in the entire NHL. That was before the Kings game, in which everyone on the Blackhawks roster struggled badly for the first time this season. In the second game against the same team, Chicago reversed course and handled their business as we’ve come to expect this season thus far.

In the first game, LA came into Chicago and won 60 percent of the draws. For his part, Toews won 3 of 16 faceoffs in regulation (and then his only one in overtime before he scored the game-winning goal).

One week later on their ice, Chicago flipped the script and won 68 percent of the faceoffs. Toews won 18 of 21 faceoffs in the game — a dominant performance against a team he’s had his share of battles over the years.

I asked Toews about the differences between the two games against the Los Angeles Kings, specifically at the dot, in the context of what the Blackhawks are doing differently this year to make adjustments in games and between matchups against opponents.

“I think with Laffer and Domes and Jujhar or whomever is down the middle taking draws, I think it’s just a pride thing,” Toews said after the morning skate on Monday. “I think it helps a lot especially when you’re on the penalty kill or taking d-zone draws in big situations, it’s not only the centermen but everyone chipping in those moments. When we keep coming up with possession it makes it hard on other teams to generate anything or sustain anything in your zone so I don’t know if its something we’ve over-prepared for but we have experience down the middle with guys who are ready when they step in the circle and they’re working and competing to win those draws.”

At the risk of banging on the same drum as I have since the start of training camp, when he answered this way it got my attention. “It’s a pride thing” and “we have experience down the middle with guys who are ready” are a couple things maybe some people on the outside thought the Blackhawks had recently but it didn’t always show up in the box score or the standings.

A follow-up question to Toews asked about how things have been different this year and how he feels about the room with Richardson calling the shots one month in. There have been plenty of times Toews has been asked about Richardson’s demeanor as the head coach or how he’s helped the team improve this season. But this time, Toews opened up a little more than he had previously.

“One of the biggest things comparing to teams the last few years regardless of what you have on paper it doesn’t really matter if there’s no stability and consistency. Through our lineup guys know what their roles are and what to expect from each other and what we all need to bring to find a way to win the game that night. When your job and your role is straightforward and aside from that everyone’s bought in and everyone’s chipping in, it’s a much more clear cut what you have to do in a game.

“Whereas the last few years we’ve been all over the place. Some nights it looked like effort was there and some others it looks like it’s not but I think it comes down to simplicity. [Richardson] has the presence. The other night he came into the locker room after a not-so-great first period in Anaheim and he didn’t scream and yell and get emotional. He was stern but demanded more of us and we went out there and played better and responded. He’s a solid coach and a great leader who we’re all responding to right now.”

As these words came from the captain it captivated my attention. He doesn’t need Dwayne Johnson to dust off his old schtick as The Rock to yell at him to “Know your damn role!” Toews is getting some respect from his head coach and the guys have all bought in and we can see the contributions coming from every part of the roster.

Richardson was asked after the morning skate about his approach to the first intermission in Anaheim and he just said they’re men and want to be treated like men so he treated them as such. Seems pretty simple, right? No shouting or flipping tables. Just a calm “You’re a professional and this is the NHL so do your job or someone else will” comment before getting into the X’s and O’s of where they needed to improve.

Richardson’s been the perfect coach for this roster. And Toews’ leadership continues to show itself as he works on making his team better. They’re a good match.

written by

Tab Bamford has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks for almost two decades. He joined Bleacher Nation as the lead Blackhawks writer in May 2022. Tab is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and is the author of two books about the Blackhawks: "100 Things Blackhawks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" (Triumph Books) and "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter/X/Instagram/Threads at @The1Tab

more blackhawks news

Nazar’s Terrific Debut, Lots of Gold, Impressive Attendance, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

I think we're all still glowing from the NHL debut of Frank Nazar III last night for the Blackhawks. He skated 15:55 in the game -- including 2:13 on the power play and 1:04 short-handed -- and finished the game...

Blackhawks 2, Canes 4 — Three Stars, Key Takeaways

The Blackhawks were out-shot 9-2 in the opening 20 minutes. That didn't matter because a kid making his NHL debut handled the scoring part. When Carolina tied the game 4:10 into the second, the shot totals were 15-3 in favor...

WATCH: Frank Nazar Scores On His First NHL Shot!

Oh my sweet Lord almighty it's all happening right now. Frank Nazar signed his entry-level contract on Saturday, got to Chicago early enough to chat with the Blackhawks coaches this morning and then it was game time. Rookie lap? Check....

Blackhawks vs Hurricanes – Lineups, Broadcast Info, Game Thread

Sunday evening gives us the 2023-24 home finale for the Blackhawks at the United Center. And you know who's playing? And wearing No. 91? Frank Nazar III. Let's go!!!!! Nazar will skate at center on the third line, and Taylor...

Nazar Signs, Denver’s Title, Ludwinski’s Debut, Arizona’s Caps Lock, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

Where do we begin with our Sunday bullets? After an off-day (only a practice) on the calendar with three games left in the regular season, one would think it was relatively quiet. Not so much for Blackhawks fans (if, you...

Blackhawks Sign Frank Nazar to Entry-Level Contract — That Starts NOW!

On Saturday afternoon, the Chicago Blackhawks announced the team has agreed to a three-year, entry-level contract with University of Michigan forward Frank Nazar III. The deal has a $950,000 salary cap hit. And it begins immediately. Right now. As in,...

Del Mastro’s Debut, Misiak to Rockford, Frozen Four, More Coyotes Drama, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

When the month of April began, head coach Luke Richardson was asked about the final seven games being effectively a playoff series for his team; every team left on the calendar for the Blackhawks was fighting for a playoff spot....

Blackhawks 1, Predators 5 — Three Stars, Key Takeaways

After two terrible starts in a row, the Blackhawks wanted to come out better and perform well in their final two home games. Well... Andreas Athanasiou took a penalty at 5:25 into the game and Filip Forsberg scored for the...

Blackhawks vs Predators – Lineups, Broadcast Info, Game Thread

The penultimate home game of the 2023-24 Blackhawks regular season is upon us. And it's against a Central Division rival who has playoff aspirations. And we're going to be treated to another NHL debut this season. Defenseman Ethan Del Mastro,...

NHL Notes: Stanley Cup Playoffs Update, Sid’s Still Got It, Matthews 70 Watch, More

Not long now until the Stanley Cup Playoffs get going, but there are still a few spots to be decided. Last night's NHL action saw plenty of playoff positioning at stake. We'll break down what happened on Thursday and what...

Latest News

Rays vs. Angels Probable Starting Pitchers – April 15

The Tampa Bay Rays (9-7) and the Los Angeles Angels (7-8) face off at Tropicana Field on Monday at 6:50 PM ET, beginning a four-game series.The Rays will give the ball to Zach Eflin (1-2, 6.35 ERA), who is eyeing...

Blue Jays vs. Yankees Probable Starting Pitchers – April 15

The New York Yankees (12-4) start a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays (8-8) on Monday at Rogers Centre. First pitch is at 7:07 PM.This contest's pitching matchup is set, as the Blue Jays will send Chris Bassitt (1-2)...

Giants vs. Marlins Probable Starting Pitchers – April 15

The Miami Marlins (3-13) kick off a three-game series on Monday against the San Francisco Giants (6-10). The matchup begins at 6:40 PM ET at LoanDepot park.This contest's pitching matchup is set, as the Giants will send Kyle Harrison (1-1)...

Rangers vs. Tigers Probable Starting Pitchers – April 15

The Texas Rangers (8-8) and the Detroit Tigers (9-6) face off at Comerica Park on Monday at 6:40 PM ET, beginning a four-game series.The Rangers will give the nod to Michael Lorenzen and the Tigers will turn to Reese Olson...

Mets vs. Pirates Probable Starting Pitchers – April 15

The Pittsburgh Pirates (11-5) start a three-game series against the New York Mets (7-8) on Monday at Citi Field. First pitch is at 7:10 PM.The Mets will call on Adrian Houser (0-1) versus the Pirates and Martin Perez (1-0).Mets vs....

Phillies vs. Rockies Probable Starting Pitchers – April 15

The Colorado Rockies (4-12) kick off a three-game series on Monday against the Philadelphia Phillies (8-8). The matchup starts at 6:40 PM ET at Citizens Bank Park.This contest's pitching matchup is set, as the Phillies will send Aaron Nola (2-1)...

Alexander Canario Is Reportedly Being Called Up

Jesse Rogers jumped on ESPN1000 this morning to share a pretty big, pretty surprising, but hopefully not-as-concerning-as-it-sounds news: The Chicago Cubs are calling up outfielder Alexander Canario. Unfortunately, Rogers didn't have the other half of the coming roster move, so...

Orioles vs. Twins Probable Starting Pitchers – April 15

The Baltimore Orioles (9-6) host the Minnesota Twins (6-8) on Monday to kick off a three-game series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The matchup begins at 6:35 PM ET.The probable pitchers are Cole Irvin (0-1) for the Orioles and...

It’s Been Another Slow Start for Cubs Outfield Prospect Kevin Alcántara

I can't tell you how many times I said it last year, offered an excuse, but one that had some teeth: "don't worry about Kevin Alcántara's slow start, as this is his first month in a cold-weather assignment, he'll be...

Best MLB Prop Bets Today, April 15, 2024

In one of the 15 compelling matchups on the MLB slate today, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Mets square off at Citi Field.If you're looking for MLB prop bets for today's games, we're here to assist you. Below...

more blackhawks news