Hockey

Atop the Sugar Pile: Melting Edition

It’s been a hot minute since this fair website did one of these, and for a while this season the team hasn’t looked that horrible in 12 years. Although we’ve seen some improvement over the past 25-ish games with Derek King at the helm, the Hawks are still fraught with issues that will take quite a few years to fix. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

The Dizzying Highs

Alex DeBrincat – God help him if he ever leaves us. The Cat has been the main scorer as of late, netting a quarter of the Blackhawks goals so far this season. His offense is so valued that he has been bumped down to the second line to try and generate more chances with Toews and Kubalik, and it worked out well for Kubalik last game as he was able to score on a play set up by the Cat. DeBrincat is also the pity representative for the Hawks at the All-Star Game this year, and it is well-deserved considering the plethora of highlight-reel goals he has scored for us this season.

Defensive Improvement – Compared to the galaxy-brained Systems that Jeremy Colliton was forcing on young and impressionable hockey players, Marc Crawford has been able to help restructure the back end so they give up slightly less chances than they did before, and look better while doing so. Under Colliton, the team had a 46.3 CF% and under King they’ve improved slightly to 47.2%. Their newer, grinding style has almost everyone playing more defensive-mindedly, preferring to get greasier goals at the net or waiting for Kane or the Cat to work their magic. It also helps the defense that the Hawks are getting better goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury, as the man continues to garner up wins and another shutout or two for his storied career.

The Terrifying Lows

The Offense – It’s gotten a little bit better as of late, but more guys are definitely going to need to step up in the immediate and distant future, especially considering we can likely kiss this year’s first-round draft pick goodbye. Kane and DeBrincat are in on 35% of the team’s goals, and after them the top points-producer is Seth Jones with 25 points (22 assists). The 3rd-highest scorer on the team is Brandon Hagel, who is tied with Kane for 9 goals. Kubalik has recently been picking up the pace with two goals over the past two games after a six-game pointless streak, and hopefully he can continue to produce because God knows we need it. The Hawks have the 4th-worst goals for per game in the league with 2.37, and because of it there is a very low margin for error for the defense in order for the Hawks to pull out a win these days.

Future Goaltending – Let’s be honest: the Blackhawks will be a bit of a stopover for Marc-Andre Fleury. Although I’m not sure the Hawks will be able to deal him at the trade deadline because of how hesitant he’s been in the past to uproot his family to a new city, he will become a free agent this summer and I think it’s unlikely the Hawks will re-sign him. Kevin Lankinen’s contract will also be up this summer, and although he’s been a serviceable backup, his numbers don’t exactly scream NHL starter: .884 save percentage, .899 at evens this year? No thanks. Arvid Soderblom is next in the pipeline, but at only 22 years old and playing his first season in North America, he will need more time before getting thrown to the wolves in front of this team. It will be interesting to see how the Hawks deal with this glaring issue in the offseason.

The Mushy Middles

Derek King – It wasn’t hard to rise up from rock bottom, which is where Coach Cool Youth Pastor left this team when he got fired. But interim coach Derek King has been serviceable so far. Everyone keeps talking about how much more confident they are on the ice, although that doesn’t stop Kane from looking like he doesn’t give a shit if his team is losing during a mid-January game. (And can anyone blame him?) They’ve had a lower goals against per game with King: 2.92 vs. Colliton’s 3.91. However, after a 4-game win streak to begin King’s tenure with the Hawks, they leveled out a bit with a 14-9-3 record, which included a six-game losing streak and another four-game winning streak. He’s doing about as much as can be expected with the current roster, but it’s still hard for me to see him staying on as the permanent head coach unless Marc Crawford becomes The Man Behind the Curtain. And if that happens, then God help us all.

Landon Slaggert? – I recently watched the Hawks’ 2020 3rd round draft pick have a career game against Ohio State on Friday night, where he absolutely dominated offensively. He scored a goal and assisted on the other two Notre Dame scored, including the overtime winner. And the Hawks coaching staff should be pleased to hear he showed GRIT and HEART when he flattened a Buckeye and took a roughing penalty in the 2nd period, watched as the Bucks couldn’t complete a single successful zone entry in the ensuing powerplay, and scored minutes after coming out of the box. He was super quick on his feet and might be able to max out as a Brandon Hagel-like surprise success in the NHL. Granted, this is all after seeing by far his best game of his college career so far, so maybe I need to temper my expectations. He’s still a few years away from being able to sniff the NHL, but at least there could be SOMETHING bubbling down the pipeline.

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