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Are Toews, Blackhawks Cheating on Faceoffs?

Wild coach Yeo says yes, but Hawks captain denies it

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In the Stanley Cup playoffs, accusations of manipulation, from embellishing penalties to calling timeouts while up four goals, are par for the course. On Wednesday afternoon, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews addressed one such controversy when he spoke to ESPN Chicago’s Scott Powers.

    In the interview, Toews was told of statements made by Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo that the Hawks are “cheating” on faceoffs by keeping their sticks in the air while in the faceoff circle instead of putting at least the toe of the stick on the ice, as mandated by NHL rules. Here is a quote from Toews:

    “I don’t know if they’re trying to get the attention of the officials to try and get their help or something of what. If you’re losing draws, you got to find a way to do something different. You’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to be ready to go when the puck is being dropped.”

    Translation: he thinks the accusations are a bunch of hogwash, saying that he didn’t “know why so many people were complaining about it.” A quick look at the numbers for each team’s top four faceoff takers shows that Toews may be right on the money:

    Player:   Reg% PO% Diff.
    Brodziak, Kyle   49.40% 46.80% -2.60%
    Cullen, Matt   54.70% 60.30% 5.60%
    Koivu, Mikko   54.00% 52.60% -1.40%
    Konopka, Zenon   60.70% 42.10% -18.60%

    The numbers from regular season to postseason have been a bit on the inconsistent side for the Wild. Mikko Koivu has won 52.6% of his draws, down slightly from 54% during the regular season. Matt Cullen has actually seen his number go UP quite a bit, while Zenon Konopka has seen his plummet downward.

    Meanwhile, here are the Hawks’ numbers:

    Player:   Reg % PO % Diff.
    Handzus, Michal   55.00% 41.20% -14.80%
    Kruger, Marcus   46.20% 47.10% 0.90%
    Shaw, Andrew   44% 42% -2%
    Toews, Jonathan   59.90% 64.40% 4.50%

    Only Toews has gone up significantly, and even he was already a 60%+ winner during the regular season. Shaw and Kruger were basically around the same, but Handzus is the Hawk that has decreased the most.

    A limited sample size of faceoffs will only tell us so much statistically in this instance, but one would think that if the Blackhawks were cheating in the faceoff circle, that they would actually be winning significantly more draws than the Wild. The truth, however, is far more bland:

    Game MIN CHI
    1 41 41
    2 26 31
    3 40 32
    4 31 36
    Total 138 140

    That’s right. Over the course of four games, the Wild have won TWO fewer draws than the Chicago Blackhawks in nearly 300 faceoffs. Yeo’s contention that the Blackhawks are cheating in the circle is a naked gambit designed to gain a sympathetic ear from officials dropping the pucks, but it’s hard to fault him for gamesmanship with his team down three games to one and facing elimination on Thursday night at the United Center.