With each day, the Chicago Blackhawks fall and slip a little further downward. The gap between them and the top team in the league, the Boston Bruins, becomes more and more pronounced. However, the Blackhawks are among the NHL's elite in one area, faceoffs. That should count for something, right?
I've seen many articles discussing the importance of faceoffs, and they often ask the same question, "Does winning faceoffs actually matter?" This isn't a new conversation and there are numerous articles about this. Our own Kyle Graden even delved into the topic here.
If you're interested in seeing how this conversation has evolved, here's one by Evan Sporer from 2107 found in Sports Illustrated. Or we could go back further, like this one from 2015 by Dom Luszczyszyn, now at The Athletic, but had previously produced content for outlets like Hockey News. Do you want something more recent? Try this one from 2021 by Alison Lukan on the NHL's site for the Seattle Kraken. All of these articles approach the idea that winning faceoffs is a bit over-rated.
This brings us to the irony of the 2022-23 Blackhawks. It's mentioned in just about every game they play, but Chicago is #1 in the league in faceoffs. They are killing it at the dot, but nowhere else. In fact, the team's faceoff success and poor position in the standings seem to underline the idea that maybe faceoffs aren't as important as they seem. It's just possible that the Chicago Blackhawks are proof of concept that the importance of winning faceoffs can be exaggerated.
On one hand, it is nice to see a marked improvement in an area where Chicago has been relatively mediocre. I'd like to see improvement in statistics like HDGA (High-danger scoring chances against that lead to goals), but that is the subject of another article. Beyond Jonathan Toews, who has a career faceoff % of 57.2%, the team has struggled in recent years. Don't take my word for it, see for yourself. Last year, Chicago was 29th in the league in faceoffs. Not great, but oh what a difference a few off-season acquisitions can make. Unfortunately, the faceoff success throughout the lineup isn't helping the team win games, or much else.
Remember Kirby Dach, Chicago's former #3 overall pick that was traded to Montreal? He couldn't win a faceoff to save his life, or at least it felt that way. "He's a bust!" people might be saying prior to seeing him traded away. "He'll never replace Toews on the top line," was another sentiment I suspect people had when was with the Blackhawks. They might be right, but his success in Montreal speaks to problems elsewhere. Dach still stinks at faceoffs, but he's playing extremely well. His FO% shouldn't determine his overall value, just like it shouldn't determine a team's chances of winning.
It's a macro (team) and micro (player) view that provides evidence supporting the idea that faceoffs can be an overrated metric. It ultimately doesn't really matter how many faceoffs a team wins if they can't win games. If a team can't clear their own end, or can't put passes together in the offensive zone, winning a faceoff won't matter. Ultimately, it's futile to win at one statistic but fail at everything else.