For the first time, I’ve seen a real wave of sentiment that the Hawks need to make a major change behind the bench. Some have suggested in the front office. We joke about it here a lot, and we certainly criticize the decorated Hawks coach more than most. But it’s never so simple, and before the Hawks or anyone could conclude that this would be the right course of action one has to figure out what the intent of this season and what is really going on here first.
As we’ve talked about at length on the podcast, it’s hard to know what to think when we don’t know what exactly what Stan Bowman had in mind for this season. If the Hawks thought they could or were in any way inclined to be as transparent as other teams in town, what would they have told us before the season? I can’t take credit for the idea, it’s Fifth Feather’s, but there’s two ways this could have gone.
One is that this is truly a transitional season for the Hawks. One they probably should have embarked on a year ago or maybe even right after the last Cup, but that’s another discussion. That if they’d said while they wish to be competitive and make the playoffs, the main objective of this season was to bed in Schmaltz, DeBrincat, Forsling (whoops), now Duclair, Murphy, and let’s throw in Hinostroza and Sikura at the end for funsies (Kampf too if you want). That really what they wanted to get these players reps, ingrained, evaluated, and then have whoever makes the cut ready for one last assault on the summit next year, which is all you’re going to get with the aging “Core Five.”
And on that level, some of the decisions make some sense? I have to put a “?” there because I’m not really sure. If you wanted to see how Forsling and Rutta would do in the deep end, you’d give them the most d-zone starts of everyone. Which Q did. I guess if you squint you’d see if Murphy can play both sides, which he’s proven he can. But that seems a stretch. You’d try Top Cat as a playmaker on a lot of lines instead of a finisher…maybe? This is Schmaltz’s first real run at center, which you’d definitely do.
But on this level, the mistakes are greater than that. It was clear early on that Forsling wasn’t built to start so much in his own end, and a player who openly talked about losing confidence last year was having his ravaged again by such usage. He was booted off the power play even though that should be something he specializes in. Top Cat set all kinds of records playing the left side in the OHL, and has played there for about 12 minutes here. Isn’t it more prudent to build a player up in the softest spot to have success when he’s 19? And then see what his flexibility is? You could argue it took far too long to let Schmaltz just stay in the middle.
The handling of Murphy is the real red X here, and once again speaks to discord from front office to behind the bench which is the same shit we’ve talked about for years that the Hawks were talented enough to play over in the past but aren’t now. His scratches are simply petulant, given that he’s been the Hawks best d-man over the season. This is Q still bitching that his toy in Hammer–his declining, aging, slowing toy that was about to be more expensive–was taken away. While he’s certainly within his rights to be cranky, did Stan and Q never have a meeting after last season where it was laid out what the plan was? Should your coach be so gobsmacked at a trade as Q clearly was last summer? While we’ve seen the problems when Q gets a say in player decisions, or anyone above Stan does as well, I’m not sure that he should be in the dark either.
The more I watch this team the more I think this really was the plan, because everything Stan has done has been to get younger, faster, cheaper, and open up more space for his draft picks which hasn’t always been the case. And maybe if this team is ready to “go for it” next year (highly debatable what that would actually result in), you’d want Q there because that’s what he does. He’s just not the best for development, and that ignores whether or not some of the veterans have tired of his voice (which we’ll never prove).
If you take the other tack, that this year was about “ONE GOAL” as it always is, it’s gets murkier. There isn’t much Q can do to overcome the loss of Corey Crawford. Q can’t make Toews and Saad score. But even before that, if the goal was to amass as many points as possible. then why were Forsling and Rutta in the d-zone so much and on the kill? Why is Patrick Sharp anywhere near the top six? How can you have this power play? And how can it change personnel and tactics seemingly every opportunity? The scratching of Murphy makes even less sense in this context. Gustafsson and Oesterle going from either the minors or pressbox straight onto both special teams is confounding. If it was about development, it would make slightly more sense, but wouldn’t at least Oesterle have played from jump street?
These are all answers we won’t get because I don’t know what the long term or even short term goals were here. The simplest explanation is that Stan is remaking the entire roster under that “Core Five” (yes, Seabrook doesn’t really count anymore but he’s not going anywhere) either to give them one last chance either next year or preparing the ground for when they aren’t the front of this team anymore. But it doesn’t seem like his coach is playing the same game, once again.
And if that’s going to be the case going forward, one has to go. And Stan’s never gotten to hire a coach before.