If you hit the rewind button all the way back to early June, before the trade frenzy around the NHL Draft that saw Kirby Dach head to Montreal and the Blackhawks hit the reset button (more officially than at the trade deadline), I wrote a lengthy piece discussing my concerns with the Blackhawks’ depth at center.
Back then, the Blackhawks were looking at huge question marks at the dot. Jonathan Toews was coming off the hardest season of his career (after taking a year off because of health), Dach was terrible at the dot, and beyond those two, we collectively wondered if Sam Lafferty or Jujhar Khaira (when healthy) would fill a spot or two down the middle.
When free agency opened, the Blackhawks surprised some people when they signed Max Domi to a one-year, $3 million deal. It was obviously a prove-it deal for a player who had a nice postseason in Carolina, but was still looking to re-establish himself in the NHL.
As the summer progressed and Domi was introduced in Chicago, it became clear the organization was at least going to try to run him out as the team’s top-line center. And, full disclosure, I was one of many who wondered if a player who was around 44 percent at the dot in his career could handle the workload on the top line.
When the Blackhawks stole Jason Dickinson from the Canucks in a salary dump trade at the end of training camp, they suddenly had surprisingly good depth at center. And now, half-way through the 2022-23 season, the Blackhawks remain the best faceoff team in the NHL.
Domi’s play has stood out almost every night this season. And those questions some — again, including me — had about him as a top-line center, have been answered with a resounding yes. Among centers in the NHL who have taken at least 500 faceoffs this season, Domi ranks 13th with a 55.9 win percentage.
Let me put that 55.9 percent into some context for you. It’s the same percentage as last year’s Selke Trophy runner-up, Calgary’s Elias Lindholm. It’s the same as Bo Horvat and Boone Jenner. And it’s better than noted defensive centers Aleksander Barkov, Phillip Danault and Jordan Staal.
The offense has followed. Domi leads the Blackhawks with 13 goals this season and has 30 points in 41 games; he’s on pace to get close to his career highs of 28 goals and 72 points that he set in 2018-19 in Montreal.
Stats don’t tell the full story about Domi, though.
The goal he created for Patrick Kane in the closing seconds of Saturday night’s loss to the Kraken does.
That play might not have happened for many other players. Chicago was down four goals, had played a terrible game, and there were less than 20 seconds left in regulation. Seattle could have easily controlled the puck and the Blackhawks could have allowed the clock to run out.
Domi isn’t wired that way. He attacked the puck, created the turnover and fed Kane on the doorstep for what, in the greater scheme of things, was a meaningless goal. That effort isn’t lost on his teammates or his coaches. And that effort is why many wonder if the Blackhawks will look to take advantage of the value Domi has created for himself on the trade market or look to extend the 27-year-old center to build around him in the short-term.
Kane recognizes what Domi goes through on a daily basis to get himself onto the ice as a diabetic, and appreciates everything that he has brought to the team this season.
“Maybe besides [Jake McCabe] I think he’s been our most consistent skater this year,” Kane said after the morning skate on Tuesday. “It’s been a pleasure to play with him. The way he deals with himself with the whole diabetes thing and how he takes care of himself every second of every day to make sure he’s ready to play. He’s obviously very passionate very emotional about the game. He wants to do well. He shows that fire and passion on the ice. Which I think is really good. Shows you care. Shows you love the game. Shows you wanna do well. He’s such a great teammate too. He’s always on the positive side. Always looking to help guys around the room and have a positive vibe around the room. He’s been great the whole year.”
He wasn’t named the Blackhawks’ all-star this season, but I would confidently argue he (or McCabe) should have been the team representative headed to Florida for my birthday. And Kane is spot-on that Domi and McCabe have been the two Blackhawks players who have most embodied the effort and attitude the team wants to have as the foundation of it’s culture moving forward.