No, that’s not a plea to suddenly tank for Eichel or McDavid (I’m totally putting together a Seabrook & Sharp trade for that in June. HA!). But it’s probably time to try and dig a little deeper to see what is plaguing the Hawks of late.
Before we go any farther, it’s important to note this isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. You only have to go back one year. On Jan. 1, 2014 the Hawks were 28-7-7. They went 6-3-7 to the corresponding date of today one year ago, and actually didn’t get too much better from there. They went 12-11-1 the rest of the way. That wasn’t the first time the Hawks roared through December and then kind of just floated through the rest of the season. They’re just not going to put an 82-game sprint together, even though that’s what they’re coach seems hellbent on wanting.
But we’re here, and we’ve got nothing better to do.
-Last night, our friends at Cheer The Anthem pointed out that the Hawks’ bottom six has not been impressive. Is that completely correct? Let’s scope that out a bit.
Let’s start with Marcus Kruger. Kruger has 4 goals and 12 points, which isn’t wholly off his 8 goals and 28 points of last year. The interesting part here is that Kruger has almost as many shots now as he did in all of last year, 82 this term vs. 96 last. But he’s shooting 4.9% this season, where he was 8.3% last year. His career is 7.7%. If this were baseball, would we say the BABIP dragon is getting him?
Kruger’s possession stats are almost exactly the same this season, 51.2% this year and 51.6% last. His zone starts are obviously still horrific, getting only 26% of his starts in the offensive zone.
What’s a little worrying is that Kruger isn’t being used exclusively as a checking center this time around. His QofC last year was +0.036, and this year it’s -0.036. So he’s putting up slightly better possession numbers while facing easier foes, and not getting some bounces. Because of that easier competition, his goals against per 60 minutes has dropped a little, and obviously preventing goals is still top of his job description.
Let’s move on to Ben Smith. He’s a little more off last year’s pace. He had 14 goals last season, and only 5 so far this year. His shots-per-game is almost exactly the same though, about 1.2. And as with Kruger, his SH% is almost half this season of what it was last, 7.9 to 15.6. It’s harder to get a gauge on what Smith should be, because he’s only had one full year here. In parts of three seasons in Rockford, Smith never shot less than 17%. So while that should come down in the NHL because he’s not playing top line minutes as he was in the AHL and the harder competition, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that Smith will regularly be at 10-12% in his career.
Possession wise, Smith is a little more off than Kruger, 49.9% this season vs. 51.1. But that’s not horrific. Smith has also seen the same decline in his quality of competition, so you’d expect a little better and the Hawks aren’t getting it, but again you have to wonder if luck isn’t a major factor in that.
You might say that they’re not getting the same chances, and looking at their shot charts that’s only kind of true. Both are still taking a majority of their shots from between the circles, just slightly farther out than last year.
Let’s move up to the third line, and specifically Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell. It’s kind of a rotating cast of characters with them, because when Versteeg gets back it could be him, Sharp, or Saad skating on the 3rd line and few people are complaining about those three (just as Kruger and Smith have had Morin, Carcillo, and Nordstrom rotating in and out).
Shaw, though it might be hard to believe, isn’t really off his goal scoring totals of the past two years. In fact, he’s on his 2013 lockout season pace on the nose. That year he played 48 games, scored 9 goals and had 15 points. He has the exact same numbers this year. It’s a little behind his 20-goal, 39 points of last year, especially in points, but not so far you’d need Jack Sparrow’s compass. And again, his SH% has dropped significantly, from 13.4 last year and 14.1 the year before to 9.4 this year. Though 9.4 isn’t really that bad, and one Sharp and Hossa would probably kill for this season right about now. Shaw is getting more shots per game this year, exactly two, than he did last year or the year before. So more chances, less conversion.
And as with the other two before, Shaw’s possession stats have slipped a bit but hardly scandalous 54.7 from 56.5. You might suspect that Shaw’s goals-against has ballooned this year because his positional gaffes have been so obvious, but not so much. 2.61 per 60 this season vs. 2.20 last. Definitely worse and noticeable, but not totally gas can either.
Moving on to everyone’s favorite, Bryan Bickell. And once again, Bryan Bickell is having a Bryan Bickell season. It looks exactly like the two before it, when he played basically this amount of games (he missed 23 last year due to injury). He’s got 9 goals in 51 games this year. He had 11 in 59 last year. He had 11 in 48 the year before. His SH% hasn’t changed at all. He’s averaging just about over 1.5 shots per game, kind of like he always has. His Quality of Competition has barely changed. His possession stats are a little down from last year, from 57% to 55% this year. You know what Bryan Bickell has been this year? BRYAN FUCKING BICKELL. Just like he always is.
Look, I know it’s not comforting to show three guys simply running on empty when it comes to luck this season, especially Kruger and Smith, or to think it’s simply luck affecting so many guys when you throw Hossa and Sharp into the mix as well. But I don’t know that you can point to much else here. Let’s see if there isn’t something of a mini-binge from at least Kruger and Smith at some point, as our friend Fifth Feather called for last week.
-I also don’t want to dismiss this, as friend of the program Brian Hedger pointed out last night, despited how delicate it is. It’s also something I addressed in the last issue of the Indian in my editorial. The Hawks are 9-9 since Clint Reif’s suicide. And while no one is gong to point to that (nor should they) and no one is going to ask about it (nor should they), it has to have played a role.
It would take me a lot more than six weeks to feel everything was normal after someone I saw every day, and was possibly very close to, killed themselves. I have no idea, but I’m going to guess that few if any within the Hawks’ dressing room had any idea that Reif was in so much pain. I have to believe if there’s any organization that has a structure in place to help someone suffering so, it would be a sports team that should have every base covered. Again, I have no idea and am not aiming to criticize anyone here, but if there was any inkling that Reif was so depressed, the Hawks would have sought to help immediately. This is another discussion for another time about the dark corners and inescapable caves of depression and how hard it is to get someone help, but you get what I’m saying here. The shock can’t possibly have worn off, and the questions one asks themselves after such a thing never go away. Believe me.
If it had been a player, the story would follow the Hawks every game and no one would question it. Well, Reif was a teammate to these guys, and seeing as how they’re walking into a dressing room every game that he’s no longer in, I have to believe they still notice. And it may be some time before they feel like they can get back to normal, if ever. We shouldn’t forget that.