And we’re back with the season’s first edition of Atop the Sugar Pile. For those of you who need a refresher, this is our recurring look at the good, the bad, and the just mildly mediocre in the Hawks universe at a given moment. Only three games into the season we have a very small sample size right now, but why should patience, timing, or logic dictate what we do around here? Fuck that. Without further ado, let’s get to it:
The Dizzying Highs
Jonathan Toews: Well, well, well…didn’t I tell you just a couple weeks ago that Toews is not the washed-up has-been people were worried he was deteriorating into? The answer is yes, yes I did. And it’s probably the only accurate prediction I’ll have all season. Now to be clear, I said he’d have a better year, not an amazing year, but with the way things are going he could end up proving me wrong all the same (and the accurate prediction count will go back to zero). So far Toews is tied for the team lead in scoring with 6 points, 5 of which are goals plus a hat trick. He’s gained at least one step back, maybe more (although it’s early days still and we’ll see how well he maintains that). And beyond just raw scoring, he’s doing things like out-muscling defenders and keeping the puck in the zone, as happened in the Toronto game when he created the possession and passing that led to Top Cat’s thing of beauty. With Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kahun, in fact, his line has a 54.8 CF% (evens), and Toews himself is sporting a 56.3 (same). Will he actually stay on pace for 80+ points? No, that seems extremely unlikely. But he’s got the speed, the possession, and the scoring that we need, and he’s starting the season in exactly the right way.
The Terrifying Lows
Brandon Manning: Yeah, you knew who would be in this category. This guy is a clueless oaf who should be toweling off cars at the Fast Eddie’s down the street from me. But instead he’s playing professional hockey for REASONS. He was personally responsible for multiple goals in the Ottawa game. His possession numbers are wretched: 44.8 CF% and a CF Rel that’s hovering around -15. And it’s not even that he himself sucks—he’s also the worst possible partner for Brent Seabrook. Nachos needs someone who covers for his shortcomings, not someone whose own incompetence exacerbates those shortcomings. Seabrook had a crucial goal in the first game to tie it in the third, but take a guess where his other numbers are at. That’s right, they’re in the toilet. And Manning had nothing to do with the goal, so he can’t bask in any reflected glory there. At one point on Sunday during the Leafs game he actually skated into Seabrook at center ice. How do you not see an ass that large in the middle of the ice and at least maneuver around it? No, Brandon Manning is like the cone of ignorance where Bart brings down the intelligence of all the kids around him. Fuck this guy.
The Creamy Middles
Henri Jokiharju: One could argue that HJ belongs in the Dizzying Highs, and indeed he’s performed better than expectations and those expectations were already pretty damn high. But just as his youth has positives like speed and exuberance, it also has drawbacks like inexperience. And so it has been: he’s leading the team in possession with a 69.2 CF% (NICE), and also a team-leading CF% Rel of 21.8, although it should be noted that he’s starting nearly three-quarters of the time in the offensive zone. And to top it all off he’s got 5 assists, so he’s managing to be a quality defensive player while making offensive contributions like everyone hoped/expected. But, at moments he has been outgunned, such as a couple times in the opening game and when getting smoked by John Tavares on the Leafs’ third goal on Sunday. However, he’s, you know, playing defense as is his job description, and that’s more than we can say for some of the jamokes we’re stuck with. HJ will at times be a dizzying high, and at times he’ll be terrifyingly low, but at least to start he’s comfortably in a good middling place.