Well, let’s state this at the top. If you take the non-NHL quality defensemen out of the equation–or at least the ones who aren’t worthy of a top-six most nights–and the Hawks were to open the season with some iteration of Keith, Maatta, Murphy, de Haan, Jokiharju, and Gustafsson on the blue line, it would be better than they ended with. I don’t know that it would be good, but it would be better. I also highly doubt that’s the plan.
So let’s start here:
“They are more simplistic players. They defend well, but that was an area we had a hard time with last year.” -Stan Bowman on the deHaan and Maatta trades
— Jay Zawaski (@JayZawaski670) June 25, 2019
This is true. Now everyone knows I don’t like Maatta at all, but I do like de Haan. And the Hawks do need to get better at actual defending without the puck. These two…well, at least de Haan, are improvements on that from Dahlstrom and Forsling and Koekkoek. And if this were Quenneville, you’d see the actual layout. These free safeties would be paired with the more free-wheeling Keith, Jokiharju (maybe?) and Gustafsson (if only he had wheels to be free).
But this isn’t Wayne’s basement. This is Colliton, whose “system” isn’t really dependent on positioning and angles, but on harassing and chasing all over the zone. At least that’s what we’re led to believe. Is that changing? Being tweaked? Sure, de Haan helps no matter what, but blocking more shots isn’t the problem. Well, it’s not THE problem. It’s stopping those shots from being taken at all.
“The more you play in the other team’s end the better. We were a great transition team. I think what we have to do a better job of is getting bodies to the net and scoring more of the greasy goals. That’s something we want to be better at.” -Stan Bowman
— Jay Zawaski (@JayZawaski670) June 25, 2019
Oh were you now?
Because what I saw was some shitty goddamn metrics whose specific task is to tell us what kind of transition team you were. And who’s getting this team up the ice now to avoid all those shots against again? In theory, de Haan is the perfect partner for Jokiharju to show off whatever transition and offensive flair he has (which I have to be convinced is there at all). So there’s one. It’s not really Keith’s wheelhouse anymore, and it probably never was. Maybe in a lesser role Keith can do some of that the way he used to, but then you’re implying someone can take the major minutes. That person is not here. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to be here anytime soon, unless you believe that absolute most in Adam Boqvist. And brother, I want to see the world the way you do if that’s the case.
The Hawks still have this “logjam” on defense which again, is just a clogged toilet. In any rational world. Koekkoek, Dahlstrom, and Seabrook don’t even enter this discussion. The first two are in Rockford, the last one is eating pressbox popcorn most nights (and almost certainly way too much of it, topped with carnitas). So how do you solve that?
One rumor or feeling is that Murphy will go. But slotting in de Haan for Murphy is at best the very definition of a lateral move, except you’ve gotten older, more expensive, a touch slower, and with the same injury and health concerns. As always, it depends on the return, but to me that just keeps your defense spinning its wheels.
Gustafsson, given his numbers and contract should have as much if not more value for this season to a team, and if you really believe in Jokiharju’s offensive upside he can do most of what Gus did on the power play. And he might be a better weapon there in some ways, given that he’s right-handed and could one-time Kane’s passes from the boards. But that’s another hole to be filled, and you don’t have the answers.
Again, nothing about this solves the long-term outlook of the top pairing. Now, you could sit here and say the last three Cup champs didn’t have a real top-pairing d-man other than John Carlson and the one year Kris Letang was healthy. But all those teams featured four 1b-2b d-men. How many do the Hawks have right now? Murphy maybe? The absolute best version of Jokiharju? Can Keith claim that anymore? de Haan now but in a year or two? Boqvist really?
The Hawks passed on solving a big portion of this by not drafting Byram, which is fine if Dach is really their top of the board guy. They passed on this in the short term by not making an offer for Subban or Trouba. But now how is this solved in the next three years? Do you see a path? Little hard, isn’t it? Seems like a lot is riding on the very slight shoulders of Boqvist.
It’s good that they recognize the problems. And it’s good that they’re trying to do something about it. It’s good they’ve been aggressive. My fear is that it all signifies nothing, though.