You don’t need more ammo to hang the Hawks front office out to dry these days. We even feel slightly guilty about doing so. Piling on and all that. But we can’t help ourselves. Anthony Duclair might go down as another one they missed on. It’s getting to be a very long list.
It’s hard to believe Duclair is still only 24, as this is his sixth season in the NHL. And he’s having what anyone would call a breakout season, with 21 goals already and 32 points in 44 games. The former mark is already a career-high and the second is only 12 points short of another one. It’s all resulted in his first All-Star appearance.
Now, whenever you see a spike like this from a player that hadn’t before approached these kinds of numbers, you are tempted to dismiss it as a shooting-percentage binge and just the way of the things sometimes, and that the player will soon return to the herd safety of anonymity. And yes, Duclair is shooting 16.7%, a career-mark. But it’s not that far above his career-mark of 13.9%. To put it another way, if Duclair were potting goals at his normal rate amongst his shots, he’d still have 17 goals. It would be enough to make you notice.
There’s an old corollary in hockey, which is used to lower the accomplishments of players on bad teams, that “someone has to score the goals.” And surely Duclair is benefitting from getting top six minutes that never came to him in Arizona or Chicago or even Columbus. He’s getting 12 minutes per night at even-strength, the most he’s seen. And he’s seeing nearly three minutes of power play time, which is nearly double what’s gone on in previous seasons. So the five goals and 12 points on the man-advantage are boosting the totals a bit.
Still, Duclair is doing more than just puttering along with more time. His shots, chances, and expected goals per 60 are all way up, and you couldn’t argue he’s benefitting from better teammates. Unless Jean-Gabriel Pageau really does something for you. And hey, we’re not here to kink-shame. He’s just getting to better areas more often and firing more, which is a good way to score, and then to open up space for others. “Making yourself dangerous,” Hawk.
While you might not have projected this when he played 23 games for the Hawks two years ago, it also is easy to look back and wonder why he couldn’t have been given another season. You’ll recall his season was ended early after an ankle injury caused by Brad Marchand literally slingblading him in Boston. Duclair’s numbers with the Hawks weren’t very impressive at that point, just two goals and six assists.
Look deeper, though, and you get a little frustrated. Duclair couldn’t buy a bucket here, shooting below 7% for his stay. And his individual metrics–his shots, his chances, were amongst the lowest in his career. But his team-metrics when on the ice were decent enough. +2.2 in Corsi and at the team-rate in expected goals.
Still, the following season, here is a sampling of forwards the Hawks gave time to instead of giving Duclair another season to see if his SH% could rebound: Chris Kunitz, Brendan Perlini, Drake Caggiula, a deceased Marcus Kruger, Alex Fortin, John Hayden, Andreas Martinsen. Out of all that muck, only Caggiula can claim to be helpful, and that’s really as nothing more than a fourth liner.
Perlini was certainly worth a look to see if you couldn’t get him to care given his skills, and Fortin was at least fast (nothing else though). But the rest, again, were grind-y fourth-line types who checked all the wrong boxes that the Hawks can’t seem to get past. Duclair flashed skill and speed, something they just don’t value nearly high enough beyond anyone in the top six. Duclair wouldn’t save them from the mess they’re in now, but he would have helped in both the past seasons. He was certainly worth a one-year deal more than Kunitz was, we know that for sure. But it still feels that the Hawks feel if you aren’t in the top six, you have to be a foaming shit-beast instead of just having more skill and scoring stocked in the lineup.
The Hawks aren’t alone, of course. The Coyotes aren’t getting anything out of him now, and even Richard Panik moved on (what they received for Duclair). The Jackets got their six weeks out of Ryan Dzingel and now have nothing either. But at some point it would be nice to write about the Hawks actually succeeding on a reclamation project and then keeping that player for long-term benefit. It’s been a while.