Everything Else

The keystone combo lives to fight with each other another day.

Coming on the heels of the Blackhawks most exciting win of the season, John McDonough emerged from his palace high atop the United Center to announce to the unwashed that the future Hall-of-Fame coach and (likely) future Hall-of-Fame executive will indeed be back next year.

I get why this may come as a shock, or upsetting to some, but the path for the Blackhawks was chosen at the trade deadline when they shipped off Ryan Hartman amidst whispers that he and the coach did not get along. At the time, the Hawks were playing some of their worst hockey of the season (Hard to believe, I know). They had just lost 9 of 10 and were wrapping up a stretch of 7-13-2 hockey that all but vanquished any hopes of the playoffs.

If the coach had truly lost the room and the front office was looking for an excuse to make a change behind the bench, that was a golden opportunity.

Instead, Hartman was dealt and the slog of the regular season continued.

Since the trade deadline, the Hawks have looked like they did for most of this year: Stretches where they look great and stretches where they look not so great. In between that, there were games where they had absolutely zero chance of winning thanks to goalie play that can only be described as “sub-optimal.” Perhaps others saw it differently, but it seemed like the only time the Hawks ever “quit” on a game was when they realized their goalies weren’t going to give them a chance to win. The games in Winnipeg and against Colorado jump immediately to mind.

It reminds me of when the Hawks ran up against lesser opponents with goaltending issues in previous years. If the Hawks weren’t too busy playing with their food and could jump out to a quick lead, the 2 points would be in the bag by the 2nd period. I guess if you do this long enough, everything comes back around. Time is a flat circle and all that.

In the meanwhile since the deadline, there was still the continued growth of players like Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz and Vinnie Hinostroza. At the very worst, DeBrincat and Schmaltz have played their first full NHL season and will now be better off for it. Hinostroza has solidified his spot as a NHL regular, whether it be here or somewhere else. Are we painting a clear enough picture for maintaining the coach yet?

Sam has written enough words about Stan Bowman’s job that he could probably write his biography at this point. There’s no need to rehash that and nothing has changed since the trade deadline, save for a few contract extensions. Which, by the way, a team likely wouldn’t let a lame duck general manager do.

That brings us to their current contracts. Joel Quenneville still has two years remaining at $6 million. Stan Bowman was extended in January 2016 and his contract runs through the 2020-2021 season.

For an owner to hit the EJECT button at this stage for either of them, the Hawks would have to be looking at a Phil Emery/Marc Trestman type situation. Seeing as though this was a combination that won three Stanley Cups, brought stability to the franchise for a decade AND were missing their All-Star goalie for the majority of the season, you can understand a little leeway.

This whole episode almost makes me wonder if the Hawks could have learned something from the other teams in town and became more transparent with the media and fanbase. The cap was not going up and last year’s free agent class sucked to high hell. With nothing in the pipeline other than DeBrincat close to providing an impact, it was quite apparent the Hawks were going to be doing some heavy lifting with the roster.

Instead of the now cliched “One Goal” bravado and tough talk of how unacceptable a sweep to Nashville was, imagine if Stan Bowman laid the groundwork for his heavy lifting by preparing the growing pains on the horizon.

Would the Blackhawks have drawn any less fans this year if he said in August, “While we would love to see Connor Murphy be a top pairing defenseman from the start of the season, helping him reach the level of his projections when he was a 1st round pick may take some time and we will be patient with him through the process.”

Would there be a mad rush of season ticket holders looking to cancel their plans if he said “The ultimate goal is always the Stanley Cup but we do recognize in a hard cap league that developing your own talent is critical to sustained success. And developing that talent does come with some growing pains. So while you may see us take one step back in the short-term, we feel confident we’re putting ourselves in position to take three steps forward in the long-term.”

If anything, they probably would have avoided some of this scrutiny and definitely some of the anger. Instead, we’re served this Q & A done by friend of the program Scott Powers where the team president basically says in so many words that there was no long-term plan at the start of this year, and that the people in charge will come up with a new plan and what that new plan will be is going to be great.

Welcome to Halas Hall West.


Everything Else

Do you believe in miracles?


Anyways, since you’re here I felt it necessary to add on to a point that Sam made in his post yesterday about Brandon Saad and the scouting department. This was something I’ve been pondering for awhile now. Everyone loves to discuss the roles of Stan Bowman, John McDonough and Joel Quenneville and the (perceived) power struggle between the three. Yours truly, included.

However, when discussing Bowman it’s important to keep in mind who is feeding him the information that he’s using to base his decisions. After all, he and his galaxy brain alone are not watching thousands of hockey games per day, compiling a database of players, their tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, etc.

I’m talking about the scouting department. For the purpose of this exercise, we’ll break it down in three categories with the man in charge for the Blackhawks organization:

  • Amateur (Mark Kelley since 2008)*
  • European (Mats Hallin since 2013)
  • Pro (Ryan Stewart since 2012)*

If I had to rank the returns the Hawks have received from these three departments, it would go European, Amateur and then Pro very well below that.

The returns the Hawks have gotten from Europe are nothing short of miraculous in this decade. From Artemi Panarin to Antti Raanta and even down to Michal Kempny, the Hawks are/or have gotten a ton of value from their European efforts. Hell, David Kampf looks like a piece that could be a part of something down the road. I can’t think of one guy they acquired from Europe who didn’t at least look like a NHL player or would be deemed a mistake signing.

Mark Kelley became VP of amateur scouting in 2015 after being director of amateur scouting since 2008. For the time being, let’s look at his work since his fancier title. You can thank him for the Hawks selecting DeBrincat in 2016. Henri Jokiharju is obviously being penciled into future plans and has put together a terrific campaign in the WHL thus far. Those are the two big names. Then there’s others like Ian Mitchell, Chad Krys, Graham Knott, Matthew Highmore, Nathan Noel, Dennis Gilbert. You get the point. There’s still a lot of TBA in the pile; although Knott we can probably launch to the career AHLer pile but he was the 54th pick in the draft. At the very least, DeBrincat is a grand slam that will be a feather in Kelley’s cap and will get him a ton of leeway as we move forward.

That brings us to the pro scouting department and Ryan Stewart. It’s at this point I may recommend closing your eyes. I started thinking about the Hawks pro scouting department yesterday when I saw Elliotte Friedman mention that the Hawks may consider moving Saad (again) to clear cap space. Then when Sam brought up how his scoring droughts in Columbus should have been noticed by the pro scouting department, I knew it was time for a deeper dive.

Since Ryan Stewart took over pro scouting, here is a glimpse at some of the names the Hawks have acquired with pro experience. I’m warning you, cover your eyes:

  • David Rundblad
  • Brad Richards
  • Kris Versteeg (The Return)
  • Antoine Vermette
  • Kimmo Timonen
  • Tim Erixon
  • Artem Anisimov
  • Andrew Ladd (The Return)
  • Trevor Daley
  • Rob Scuderi
  • Brian Campbell (The Return)
  • Ryan Garbutt
  • Marko Dano
  • Jiri Sekac
  • Dale Weise
  • Tomas Fleischmann
  • Richard Panik
  • Johnny Oduya (The Return)
  • Patrick Sharp (The Return)
  • Brandon Saad (The Return)
  • Connor Murphy
  • Tomas Jurco
  • Anthony Duclair

It’s obviously quick to judge on Duclair and the early returns have looked promising. We’ve covered Saad ad nauseum and it’s not anyone’s fault in the front office that Connor Murphy is being punished for not being Niklas Hjalmarsson circa 2013. Anisimov filled a need. Brad Richards did the same for a year. Perhaps I’m missing a few more solid acquisitions. Please don’t say Jordan Oesterle.

The rest of the names on that list, though…Woof.

Ladd was clearly not the same player when he was re-acquired and had no business skating on a top line of a Cup contender; same with Versteeg as he was coming off knee surgery. The Hawks said they watched Kimmo Timonen skate at practice when he was making his way back from blood clots and said he’d have no problem keeping pace. Then he was nearly murdered by Anaheim and we all wept in horror as we watched. Rundblad, Weise, Fleischmann – there’s no need to relive any of that.

I get that the Hawks have had to go on the cheap when it came to acquiring guys with pro experience because they needed a lower cap hit and certain guys were Hail Mary acquisitions (Erixon, Panik and Sekac come to mind). But the names I mentioned in the previous two paragraphs were all guys where a ton of resources from other departments were sacrificed so the Hawks could acquire them. And their returns (other than Versteeg in 2015 and even that was not a home run) have brought back essentially nothing.

This, of course, raises a plethora of other questions to which we will never know the answers such as “How many of these acquisitions were made based on Stewart’s positive (incorrect) reports?” for one.

We’ve discussed on the podcast this season that the lack of young and polished defensemen has been one of the biggest reasons the Hawks find themselves in the position they are in. If we dig even deeper, I think you’ll find there’s another huge gap in the organization and that is in their ability to accurately project pro players. Meanwhile, the European and amateur departments are continuing to fill the roster with useful pieces as we see the aforementioned DeBrincat, Schmaltz, Hinostroza and Kampf growing into more responsibility.

Pro scouting should really be the easiest pieces to identify. After all, there is not nearly as much projection or player development required compared to the other two. It’s also the department that can make the most immediate (positive or negative) impact as teams are not waiting months or years for guys to grow into a role. In the case of the Hawks, it’s also arguably the most important as they’ve been in a Win-Now mode since 2008.

This divide of talent identification between the three departments has been growing for awhile and it’s helped put the Hawks in the position they find themselves today. Now, there are rumblings that their two main off-season acquisitions (Saad and Murphy) look like question marks as to whether they’re even in the team’s plan for the future. How in the hell is that even remotely healthy for the long-term picture, Senator?

If you’re tired of blaming the same three guys for the Hawks current woes, here’s another place where you can point a finger.

*Two friends of the program alerted me after the original post that Mark Kelley has been in charge of amateur scouting since 2008 and Ryan Stewart has been in charge of pro scouting since 2012. Their titles have changed over the years and I originally went by what was listed on the Hawks website. The changes were made above to reflect that.


Everything Else

Box Score

Event Summary

Extra Skater

Pretty much your run-of-the mill game that featured a goalie taking two minor penalties and an own goal. NBD. The Hawks completed the season sweep of a dreadful Oilers team which is certainly an improvement over the last couple years that saw the Hawks struggle with a dreadful Oilers team. So that is good. If it weren’t for the Hawks own goal, this game would have been a far bigger runaway than it actually was. Nevertheless, two points is two points and they haven’t been as abundant in January. So that is good anyway you slice it.

Everything Else

Box Score

Event Summary

Extra Skater

Coming out of the holiday break, the Hawks faced a 3 game stretch that had a few people slightly apprehensive of a slip up. These weren’t Eastern Conference pushovers that were overmatched from the get-go. Other than the last five minutes of the third period in St. Louis, I’m not sure the Hawks could have played much better.

Tonight, the Hawks showed how they have the unique ability to win playing any kind of style -this time it being the tight-checking, low scoring affair for which they rarely get credit for playing but can play it just as good as any team in the league. Anyways, on to random observations.

Everything Else

Box Score

Event Summary

Extra Skater

One night after a fairly lethargic outing against one of the league’s weaker outfits, the Hawks came home against the hottest team in the league and wrapped up the outcome within 15 minutes.

The Kings came in not allowing a first period goal in 18 games as well as not allowing more than two goals in that span. That streak is now ovah. Hossa, Versteeg and Sharp all potted goals and that was all the Hawks needed.

Everything Else

It’s funny that in previous years when the Blackhawks went out west during the Circus trip and we talked about the Hawks leaving a trail of scorched Earth in their path. Yet after the most successful Circus trip in franchise history, this just doesn’t hold the same gravitas or excitement as those previous trips. Maybe it’s because we all know what waits at the end of the rainbow is the real treasure. Or maybe its because the Hawks are such efficient killers now that the beatings aren’t nearly as sexy as they once were.

Either way, the trip ends with Hawks winning 6 of 7 and actually increasing their lead in the ever-competitive Central Division.

Everything Else

Guys, I have a problem.

They say the first step to overcoming addiction is admitting you have a problem. After I stayed up well past 11 on Wednesday night and fist pumped and high-fived a bunch of imaginary friends, I realized I indeed have a problem.