Everything Else

Strange Thoughts On This Nervous, Pre-Curtain Raiser Night

This is our last night before the great circus begins. And maybe we can only hope for it be as entertaining as a circus. More likely, it’ll be just like when you realize how unhappy all the animals are in a circus and you kind of wish they’d go away forever or all just be like, Cirque de Soleil. A few thoughts before we dive headfirst into our normal coverage of the Hawks and the NHL tomorrow.

-I’ve been meaning to get this for a while now. If you haven’t seen Scott Powers’s “scouts breakdown” of every player on the Hawks, I encourage you to do so.

I think you’ll find the Brandon Saad section awfully interesting reading.

I’m not going to attempt to defend Brandon Saad. We’ve looked at the numbers, and made our peace. And yet the more I think about his last season, and reading these comments…boy, you can see it, can’t you? The trade looks awful now of course, but when it was made I don’t think many of us thought it would. When we last saw Artemi Panarin around here, he was floating around, waiting for Patrick Kane to hit his tape from the other wing. It was very Patrick Sharp. And you can still rack up a ton of points that way if you’re skilled, as Panarin is and Sharp was. And Kane will always find your tape. No one anticipated Panarin scoring 80+ points without Kane after that. Whoops.

But this has always been the knock on Saad. It’s nothing physical. If you were to design what a power left wing would look like, it would probably look like Saad. Unbelievably strong, quick on his skates, with plus offensive-skill and defensive awareness. The tools are there.

And yet…you can’t close your eyes and see him dominating that many shifts, like the way Marian Hossa did. You know what that looked like. You can still see it now in your mind (hopefully without the tears, but that’s hard to do). Can you see it with Saad? Or do you see a guy just being equal on his shifts, who gets his points really though natural gifts?

The part about playing with lesser players got me, too. Because my initial reaction was, “Well of course he’s going to fucking balk when stuck with SuckBag Johnson and David Kampf.” But that’s not what a player does, is it? This is where I want to say his first three years were spent playing with prime Toews and Hossa, and of course that’ll skew how you see linemates and teammates, It can’t really get better than that.

But that’s horseshit, isn’t it? You play with who’s out there. Not that I’m a fan of when this happens, but when Kane downed tools at times last year because he was playing on a dogshit team and at times with balloon-handed teammates, you could see where it was coming from. That didn’t make it right or excusable, but explainable? Yeah, just a touch.

But Saad doesn’t have that pedigree. Saad has proven to be an above-average NHLer, but nothing more. He flashes being a star at times, but they’re only flashes. He’ll look good with good players, but did he ever really stand above them for more than a handful of games here and there? He’ll play to the level of those around, it seems like.

And the thing is, the Hawks knew this about him. That’s why, though they may have been reluctant, they were willing to trade him when his contract demands got above what they deemed economical. Throughout his first three years here, there were whispers that some in the front office just didn’t think he had “it.” “It” being the determination to fight through defenders every shift and every night to become, essentially, Max Pacioretty. And physically, Saad could be near Patches or Blake Wheeler. If he wanted. But some in the Hawks organization doubted he wanted.

So I’m not sure what changed in the two years before they brought him back. Did their scouts see something in Ohio? If they did, the Jackets’ sure didn’t. And this could lead into another discussion about the Hawks borderline-woeful pro scouting.

This is a huge year for Saad, whatever the Hawks do as a whole. Not in terms of his future, because he’s cashing $6 million for the next three years regardless. But is he going to finally stand up and take games by the collar? Because he can, and I don’t think anyone doubts that. The Hawks certainly need it. Or is he content with that check and his 55 points? Does he care what people think about the latter? Do his teammates think that? This will be worth watching all season.

-With the pieces about to move, my biggest fear about the Hawks is that even after being skated out of the building a lot of nights last year, they’re still slow. That’s how it looked in the preseason, though some of that could be the veterans simply not caring. But then again, the veterans are the ones who are slow.

My fear is that the front office and their scouts haven’t redefined what fast is to them. The Hawks used to be one of the fastest team in the league. But thanks to their success, that threshold changed. Teams got as fast and then faster than what the Hawks were to beat them. I wonder if the Hawks aren’t still working at the same standard.

Because they told us Dylan Sikura’s size wasn’t a problem because of his quickness. But he doesn’t look all that quick in this league. They told us that Victor Ejdsell’s skating would be just enough to find space in this league. They’re both in Rockford, and that could change but you wonder. When he was healthy, did Gustav Forsling really look like he had game-breaking speed to you? Or did he look like he would be fast on a 2012 team?

I think this is changing, because Boqvist and Beaudin and Jokiharju do skate at 2018 levels of speed. But that won’t help much now. The jury is very much out on Dominik Kahun and Luke Johnson (“SuckBag” to his friends), who are here because of the Hawks claims about their speed.

Anyway, whatever it’s going to be, let’s kick this pig.


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