The Blackhawks Have A Problem

Since the coaching change, the Blackhawks have been a different team. Obviously four straight wins — without trailing for a single second — points to a significant improvement on the ice. Many aspects of the team’s play have been much better since Derek King was installed as the head coach.

But there’s still one glaring issue that complicates other aspects that need to improve.

The Blackhawks suck at the dot.

Through last night’s game, Jonathan Toews has taken 326 faceoffs. Kirby Dach ranks second on the team with 150 total draws taken. And Dylan Strome, who has played in only nine of the team’s 16 games, ranks third.

The Hawks are relying too heavily on Toews again. But that’s a problem that comes from necessity; nobody on the roster is good at it other than him.

Dach has shown great strides in every part of his game other than faceoffs. We see flashes every night of the potential that many believe will make him a superstar in the league soon. And that play is why he’s centering the line with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat — one of the most envious spots in the entire NHL. He has two legit scorers on his line and both are producing at an all-star level.

Unfortunately, Dach hasn’t been good in the faceoff circle. To be honest, he’s been terrible.

Dach has won only 30 percent of his faceoffs this season. He’s winning only 28.8 percent at even-strength and 20 percent on the power play. Those are ugly numbers that one might expect from a wing who occasionally has to step into the circle, not from a team’s top-line center.

For a team that is desperately trying to generate offense, having a center on the line with Kane and DeBrincat who consistently loses faceoffs means they’re chasing the puck to get possession before they can turn on the offense.

That’s a problem.

Some have considered moving Dach off the dot. A move to the wing wouldn’t be a career-ender for Dach; he’s still a terrific player whose strengths in every aspect of the game other than faceoffs benefit the team and his linemates. But, if the Hawks want to control the puck, his continued struggles aren’t helping.

So the question becomes what to do at center if the Blackhawks want to control the puck more frequently.

Kirby Dach

Stay the course

If we take a step back from all of the money the Blackhawks spent in the offseason (thanks, Stan) and the reality that the Hawks went for it this year (except for the head coach who started the season), the reality is that the organization should still be in a building mindset.

Chicago is not rebuilding any more because they signed Seth Jones and others to multi-year deals that imply the Hawks want to win sooner than later. But they should still be building — developing prospects to improve the roster around the guys who are the next generation (Dach, DeBrincat, Jones, etc).

With that in mind, allowing Dach to continue working on his game and allowing him to struggle with the mindset that it’s a long play, committing to him as a center who is still only 20 years old may be the smart move. Not every center comes into the league and wins faceoffs the way Toews has for so much of his Hall of Fame career. It’s possible that, with time and more reps, Dach improves.

But we need to see steps in a positive direction. And, right now, Dach isn’t showing improvement at the dot. And his inability to win faceoffs hurts the team’s offense.

Jonathan Toews Blackhawks vs Avalanche

If they want to win now

An obvious answer would be to move Toews, who is winning 59.5 percent of his faceoffs, to the spot between Kane and DeBrincat. But that loads up one line and puts question marks everywhere else on the roster.

Let’s play it forward, though. If the Blackhawks did move Toews onto a line with Kane and DeBrincat and bumped Dach to the wing, what would that do to the center position on the depth chart?

Strome doesn’t have a strong history in the faceoff circle, but he’s been surprisingly effective this season. Yes, it’s been limited because of missed games (thanks, Jeremy) and he’s averaging less than seven faceoffs per game, but Strome is winning 55 percent of his faceoffs for the season and 55 percent at even-strength. The area where he needed to improve has seen him do a very nice job when he’s had the chance this season. And it might be time for him to get more opportunities.

Beyond Strome, the Blackhawks don’t have a lot to be excited about in the circle. Henrik Borgstrom, who has missed time as well, has won 41.5 percent of his faceoffs thus far. Philipp Kurashev has won 42.6 percent of his chances. Reese Johnson is at 47.8 percent, which is the highest of the young options for the Blackhawks. Ryan Carpenter, who has historically been around 50 percent, has won only 45 percent thus far.

So what could/should the Blackhawks do for lines to maximize their limited ability to win faceoffs? Here’s a thought:

Alex DeBrincat – Jonathan Toews – Patrick Kane

Brandon Hagel – Dylan Strome – Kirby Dach

Dominik Kubalik – Henrik Borgstrom – Philipp Kurashev

Ryan Carpenter – Juhjar Khaira – Tyler/Reese Johnson

Once Hagel, Mackenzie Entwistle and Tyler Johnson are healthy, the Blackhawks will have to send a couple bodies back to Rockford. Mike Hardman might be on his way out once Hagel is ready, which could be during the road trip.

Kubalik and Kurashev have spent time on a line before. Putting them back together could help their individual play, and having Borgstrom between them could make that at least an intriguing line.

Khiara has actually won 54.6 percent of his faceoffs this season, albeit in limited opportunities. He has been on Toews’ line for most of the season, but bumping Toews up to the top line would obviously mean he needs a new home on the roster. Putting him on the fourth line with Carpenter and either Johnson would be a strong bottom line.

What are your thoughts? Should the Blackhawks leave Dach at center and let him work through his struggles or should they move him to the wing?

33 thoughts on “The Blackhawks Have A Problem

  • November 18, 2021 at 9:45 am

    Tough call, because he is a 20 year old who has only played in 100 Nhl games, give or take a game, so far. Playing top C role with so many things to try and master in so little time is a huge ask. Just had his first real training camp this fall due to injury so setbacks have hampered as well. Kane and Cat are putting up good offensive numbers playing with him, their possession numbers don’t seem to suffering playing with him, compared to earlier in season with TJ or on seperate lines. So maybe fos not as big a priority to the coaches right now as we are making it to be.

  • November 18, 2021 at 9:55 am

    Jalen Luypen- takes FOs for Dach – 2 to 3 years from now

    I agree with Tab- Dach needs to be moved off of the 12/88 line- really
    Considering 12/88 are putting up numbers and Dach isn’t + Dach is terrible at FO + Dach tends to be Puck-centric ( while skating w/ possible best playmaker in last decade)

    get him off that line _asap!

  • November 18, 2021 at 10:12 am

    Dach hasn’t shown he is an elite prospect as of yet, but you know the Hawks will overpay him to stay with the club…..his next deal needs to be a bridge deal at about 1.5 mil for 3 yrs…..that’s about it. The kid can’t score and sucks at the dot….nothing more needs to be said.

  • November 18, 2021 at 10:19 am

    Put Toews with Kane and DeBrincat. He can be out there for the faceoffs and from what I have seen,he is going to wave to get off the ice in about 35 seconds anyway. Maybe he can provide something because he now does not fall into the category of someone that we have to split up to spread the talent. I noticed last night that Reese Johnson was taking draws and playing Center so maybe toss him out there with Dach and Hagel. Let Carpenter center for Kubalik and Kurashev. Have Khaira center the 4th line.

  • November 18, 2021 at 10:41 am

    Why not move Strome to the top line, we know he has chemistry with DeBrincat. Then move Dach to wing to play with Toews and Hagel, giving us a strong defensive second line to make up for the lack of defense on the first line.

  • November 18, 2021 at 11:08 am

    Tom L- because Strome isn’t very good.

  • November 18, 2021 at 11:13 am

    “Stosh” aka Stan Makita was the Dean of the Dot: youthful memories can embellish over time but I seem to recall him hovering in the high 80% and even over 90% at times tho it was not an official NHL stat till 2005: Wish Hawks had him to teach the centers now…only a fading Toews has a clue on the Dot: maybe get the all time leader since 2005, Yanic Perreault, to return to his old team to teach that invaluable skill.

  • November 18, 2021 at 11:56 am

    Leave Dach where he is . Dach, Kane and Scrappy Doo have looked great the past couple games they will only get better.
    The case of Dach being poor at the dot ….put Tyler Johnson out there for face off then roll Dach on ice . I know Johnson is out right now but he is great at the dot and puck possession is so important.
    There is a guy named Pius Suter who is 50 percent at the dot this season ,he had pretty good hands too .Kinda miss Hinostroza`s speed grit and ability to crash the net, those to mentioned players i thought were helping our rebuild cause. But what did Stan know ?

    Go Hawks go

  • November 18, 2021 at 12:39 pm

    Strome still is glacier slow and soft as can be are just a couple of reasons not to put him with Kane and Debrincat. He is truly a Line Killer

  • November 18, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    Agree with not putting Strome with Cat and Kane – they’d never get the puck out of the D zone

    I’d ride with Dach Cat and Kane for a while longer – hasn’t McKinnon been quite bad at the dot too – Kirby plays much better D than Strome and right now as good as Toews – FOs are important situationally but most of the time not as important as people want them to be

    Dach is already one of the best defensive forwards which is a good reason to keep him where he is for now – other than Dach and Toews and then Hagel and Tyler Johnson once they’re back who amongst Hawks forwards has enough physical presence and puck skills to be reliable in the D zone – maybe Khaira but that to me is a much bigger problem than Dach’s FOs

    The D corps is stepping up I believe but there aren’t enough good defensive forwards to support them – continually hoisting the puck out of the zone is not being a good defensive player – at times it’s necessary but usually it’s a just a turnover – continually being outmuscled and not winning puck battles especially on the boards is is an unfortunate strength of this forward group and those that can win a board battle (RJ, Carp for example) can’t then make a good pass to transition up the ice – those that can make a pass can’t win a board battle (Strome Kurashev Borgstrom for example)

  • November 18, 2021 at 1:51 pm

    I too would leave Dach out there for a while longer with Cat and Kane. He’s still only 20 years old and he’s being asked to do a lot. He’s not getting any worse, he can only get better with experience.

  • November 18, 2021 at 2:30 pm

    Hawks have 99 problems and Kid Dach is just one… I think there is a song like that

  • November 18, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    Another thought on Dach playing Center between 12 and 88 now and going up against opponents top 1 or 2 fo guy and having him learning from that in this season. Honing his craft that way in a season like this may pay dividends 2 or 3 years down the road.

    Wrap agree all the talk about leaning on a few players for offense but nobody talki g about Toews, Dach and a few others being leaned heavily on to get the puck out of dzone. Maybe not the whole reason their offense is suffering but likely plays a big part of it. Toews shifts are averaging close to 48 sec, avg. shift for a foward is 47 seconds. Also averaging over 19 mins. per game last 5 games, as high as 22mins one game. So don’t think conditioning is that big an issue.

  • November 18, 2021 at 5:30 pm

    As you know, I brought this up after last night’s win. I thought about Toews centering Kane and DeBrincat. That seems like the right thing to do. After that is where all the questions come in. Let me start with Borgstrom. I don’t think he’s been given enough time, at center, to know if he’s an option. Strome is hot & cold. After that is where there is a logjam of centers. Khaira, Carpenter, Gaudette. All have center experience. But they’re all 3rd/4th line guys. That does give King a plethora of options with the bottom 6.
    What about Dach. The kid, as you have said, is a major talent. Does King drop him to 3C and help him get some confidence at the faceoff or will that shake his confidence all together? Strome is a playmaker more than a shooter. Apparently, for now, so is Dach. I just don’t know enough about Borgstrom to know what his strengths are. Shooter? Passer? I don’t know. So, what to do? It may be wise to breakup Kane and DeBrincat…for a few games. Here’s line combo’s that could be a temporary option.

    Hardman-Khaira-R. Johnson/Carpenter

    These lines break up the power of Kane and DeBrincat. If that’s too big a leap then drop Hagel to the 2nd line.
    Here’s an out of the box thought. Send Kurashev down to Rockford and bring up Brett Connolly. Place him on the 3rd line with Borgstrom and Carpenter/Gaudette.

    I don’t want to send down R. Johnson just yet. Having him with Khaira and Hardman gives the team an old fashioned BANG/CRASH Line. It makes teams look over their shoulders if they dump and chase.

    King has time to figure out the “center issues”. Because of Stan Bowman, the off season lunacy stopped the “rebuild”. Toews, Dach, Strome, Borgstrom. These are the top centers. King has the luxury of figuring out who is an actual NHL center and who is a wing. There’s no shame and no loss with this. If anything, it gives the team clarity. It gives Rockford the option of moving Lukas Reichel to center and, if this is the plan, develop him at that position. There’s zero reason to rush his development.

  • November 18, 2021 at 8:56 pm

    Eventually I’m sure there will be line changes but until they lose multiple games I don’t expect any changes other than some tweaking when Hagel is back

    I’d like to see what Borg has too but maybe he has to show more to get more – that’s usually the way it works

    He hasn’t been much of a factor since coming back

  • November 18, 2021 at 10:37 pm

    Wrap its funny how we see different players, that is exact thoughts i had on Gaudette he needs to show more when he gets in, hasn’t really hit his stride since being acquired, maybe with a better chance he would. Thought Borgstrom was looking pretty good, even first game back thought he came out looking fine, but ended up sitting alot as game wore on. Last night he didn’t do much but he wasn’t alone. When Hagel and TJ return maybe both be sitting.

    TimW looks like King likes R. Johnson as somebody who possibly can be a rugged 4th line C and win a bunch fos, plus play pk, if handled right. Skating and not finding just a little bit of offense may be what holds him back. Khaira RJ Entwistle could make an interesting 4th line at some point this year.

  • November 18, 2021 at 11:59 pm

    Believe we are all on the same page we are playing for the future. If we possibly make the playoffs anything can happen. Can we give Dach neutral zone draws only. Send Toews out there to win in offensive faceoffs.

    Also believe we are going to regain many picks. I see minimum 8 players to get back assets. Little problem is we gotta play them. Three goalies Subban and Delia best case a 4th or 5th gladly take a 6th or 7th. MAF definitely a #1.

    Playoffs teams need veteran bodies. Carpenter for a pick. Connelly for a pick and eat half. It still will be less than what we buried. Teams also remember what TJohnson does in the playoffs. Thinking we get something and hold a mil ala the Saad trade. High pick, 2nd or 3rd and a prospect.

    deHaan’s play could get us a number one also. Marc Savard generated a number one. Gus for a 4th is gravy. Gus will have fetched us two picks in his two stays with us.

    Future looking good.

  • November 19, 2021 at 7:04 am

    Thank you for this article. I have posted my concerns about this elsewhere a couple times. The other issue is Kane and DeBrincat aren’t good at draws either. Otherwise, one of them could take the draws. I think that’s why JC was trying Johnson at center there because he is pretty decent at it. If Dach would center a line with a winger that could take the defensive zone draws, that would be best for now. They really can’t do that with the injuries they have. They need Hagel, Johnson, and Entwistle back because the 4th line is barely NHL ready.

    You hate to waste Dach’s talent with lesser linemates, but moving Strome between 88 and 12 wouldn’t be a horrible idea. You can’t waste their TOI always chasing the puck. Maybe you put Dach between Kurashev and Borgstrom. Kurashev isn’t good at draws, but 42% is a heck of a lot better than 30%.

  • November 19, 2021 at 8:13 am

    Also thinking that we get someone to take the defensive face off then go for a change if they win it. Probably only R Johnson to do that cuz don’t think JT or TJ will go for that.

  • November 19, 2021 at 9:46 am

    Assuming Dach stays as 1C for now, Strome is gettiing a second chance to show he can be 3C after sitting in favor of Borgstrom getting that shot early on, now Borgstroms role seems reduced. Assuming Hagel slots back on with Toews and Kubalik, with Khaira likely bumping Kursahev or RJ off 4th line. When TJ returns does he fit in with middle between what likely would be 16 and 22 giving a career almost 50% fo guy for a 4th line or on Stromes wing on 3rd line in 13 or 86s spot. Entwistle could be a while yet before he is ready to add back on the mix.

  • November 19, 2021 at 11:48 am

    I really don’t understand what more the Hawks have to see from Strome. He was freed from the Colliton dog house and hit the ice as the exact same player that was sat down. He is of no consequence on the ice. After all these years he still has not improved his skating. He is a coaster and a ghost that will never live up to what he was supposed to be. The Hawks are way past time from getting rid of him.

  • November 19, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    TimW, maybe they are trying up his trade value, with Borgstrom under contract for another year they can sit on him as he isn’t in the tdl expiring contract rental type player category.

  • November 19, 2021 at 12:58 pm

    He is only 20…big kid who will get stronger and with Toews help, I think he can be really good at the dot…leave him there.

    Somebody will have to fill me in on why Borgstrom is on this team…he is absolutely useless.

  • November 19, 2021 at 6:44 pm

    Chuckie83, I agree with you on Borgstrom. He had better start being a productive player because this new regime did not trade for him . I know he is coming back from illness but from the start of the season he has shown nothing. I watch other teams with guys on the bubble and when they get their opportunities they are like the tasmanian devil when they hit the ice in a game. The Hawks have the Stromes,Nylanders,Borgstroms,etc that just float around and waste their opportunities with heartless lackadaisical play. Hagel is a very good example of a player who seized his opportunity and made it impossible to take him out of the lineup. Now if we had about 4 more like him.

  • November 19, 2021 at 9:55 pm

    Watching the Minnesota Duluth game with Walt Kaiser tonight. Pretty impressive if he can be close to that level when ready for Nhl. Plays pk, Qbs the pp, strong defensively, likes to jump into offense, good skater, smart passes, alot to like. Hope he adapts to Nhl schedule and speed of the game someday.

    Borgstrom played 1st 6 games when whole team sucked big time, then missed 9 games with covid. Back for 2 games where got 7 minutes give or take each game. Some have him pegged as useless and shipping him back to Sweden, lol, tough board. Actually look at the analytics on him, the team fared better when he is on the ice than when a lot of the other forwards are on the ice.

  • November 19, 2021 at 10:51 pm

    There have been games before Borgstrom missed time that he was effective- he can skate pass not terrible defensively and probably has a good shot

    However he hasn’t shown that since he’s returned – hopefully that’s because he’s still working his way back into game shape

    Interested to see if Khaira with Strome and Borg can spark that line- I think some of the reason for Borgs low TOI is because he plays with Strome who King clearly doesn’t trust defensively and with good reason

    Khaira could bring some defensive responsibility to that line allowing them to play more – we’ll see

    McDavid with another ridiculous goal last night beating 3 Oliers to tie the game in the third

    Should be a fun game tomorrow

  • November 20, 2021 at 8:40 am

    Wrap Hardman, C. Dach, Entwistle and possibly Slaggert in couple of years who good things being said about, a wrecking ball who is a strong skater with good hands. Those are the best power forward prospects right now. Hopefully Hardman when healthy establishes himself in that role. Khaira while he is out can fill in fine but his puck handling skills are questionable.

  • November 20, 2021 at 12:00 pm

    Ian, We are also are going to need a couple of quality Centers to drive the play. The offensive stats that the Hawks are getting from their current group of Centers is beyond pathetic

  • November 20, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    I wish they would put Hardman with Dach or Toews and leave him there. I would also like to get a long look at Reese Johnson at Center. I have seen enough of Carpenter

  • November 20, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    JR: MAF for a #1? He will have to improve tremendously and the team that wants him will need their #1 goalie out for the year and what will we need to include to get their late #1? a #3?
    deHaan for a #1? Really?.
    Overly optimistic IMO.

  • November 20, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    TimW agree the forward group needs some work. If new Gm gets the ok to step back and develop for a year or 2, Bowman never really wanted to do that, last year forced his hand on it, then see what he really has got from Lankinen and Soderblom being able to carry the load until Comesso’s time hopefully arrives. See what the young D can give to support the top 3 right now or make 1 or 2 of them expendable. Obviously power forwards are lacking, need to see if a couple can developed to bolster lineup, Hardman maybe and the other Dach the best hopes right now, maybe some more hopefuls are part of tdl returns. Agree center needs to be bolstered if not through development, maybe a ufa, Horvat in summer of 23 or before like Jones. Him and K. Dach make a very good 1-2 combo for a number years, to build around Cat and Reichel. Kane may stay around too, after Toews contract up nobody knows whst happens there at this point. Could even see an off season deal where the Jets with 38 yr old Stastny an ufa, use his Caphit and some retained salary to acquire Toews if he wants go there. Don’t really see too many others of current group establishing themselves as long term pieces yet for the top 9 forwards.

  • November 20, 2021 at 2:14 pm

    Bob a team without their no.1 goalie for MAF to return a 1st rounder, see Oilers tonight Mike Smith, may need another team to retain some salary to make it work though, if it were to happen.

  • November 20, 2021 at 2:58 pm

    Good point Ian. I watch the Oilers every chance I get and it appears their missing piece this year is a reliable #1 Goalie. Fleury would be perfect for them. I would not want to make a Cup run relying on Mike Smith even if he is healthy.

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