Hockey

As we embark on the final month of the Hawks season, there really is no need to do a “how did we get here” post mortem, because we all know exactly how it happened. There’s really nothing to rehash now that the excitement has faded from the trade deadline and the next batch of intrigue not arriving until the NHL draft this summer. All we’re left with are a few games to judge how some of the younger talent (especially Lukas Reichel, who was recalled from RockVegas recently) handles the adversity of the waning weeks of a lost season and the chance to play spoiler to teams who are actually going to be playing some meaningful hockey in May.

At least the MLB is firing back up today. Let’s do that Baseball!

 

4/7 vs. Seattle

 

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Krak Squad: Davy Jones Locker Room

 

If you think this game is meaningless just because both of these teams moved significant pieces of their rosters at the trade deadline to plan for the future, then boy howdy let me tell you that you’re absolutely right. While I’m only being slightly facetious here, the fact is that both the Krak and the Hawks will be using these final weeks of the season as an audition for roster spots in the fall. Both teams will be treating the free agent period this summer as a “pump and dump,” looking for aging talent and reclamation projects that can be signed to 1 year deals and then flipped at the trade deadline this time next season.

For their part, the Kraken have at least made their inaugural season entertaining for the Seattle fans, who have been waiting for something other than the Seahawks to root for since the Sonics packed up their shit and headed for one of the worst states in the union. Prior to shipping off Mark Giordano to a 1st round exit in Toronto and Marcus Johannson to the Caps, the Krak’s forward corps was managing to put up just over 3 goals per game, which for an expansion team with no deigns on competing is actually kind of impressive. Their issue is still on the back end and between the pipes, as the team as a whole has been giving up almost 4 goals per game over the last month and a half. Philip Grubauer and his 3.20 GAA with a .880 save percentage haven’t been helping at all, and essentially tanked his value for what was admittedly a very tepid market for goaltenders at the trade deadline.

 

3/10 vs. Dallas

Game Time: 6:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Deep In The Heart of JerryWorld: Defending Big D

The Stars have very quietly been one of the better teams in the Western Conference since the calendar flipped to 2023. They’re a pretty well rounded team, being in the top half of the league (but not TOO much in the top half) in pretty much every available stat category. Stacking all of this up with the very, very good season that Jake “the Otter” Oettinger has put together between the pipes and you get a team that’s not going to make one of the top 3 spots in the conference, but one that should fairly comfortably snag a wild card spot with the games in hand they have over Vegas.

The Stars are also very good at the American Airlines arena down in Dallas, compiling a 22-9-1 mark vs 13-18-5 on the road. That will make their quest to get out of the first round of the playoffs against Calgary or Colorado even more difficult as they’re almost guaranteed to be playing on the road more. What would help their cause would be for Alex Radulov to climb back up the cliff his production flew off of this season. With a mere 17 points in 62 games thus far this year, he hasn’t done much to justify his 6.25 million dollar cap hit, or made much of a case for him to get even the tiniest raise when he hits UFA status in the summer.

 

4/12 vs. Los Angeles

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Run Them Jewels Fast: Jewels From The Crown

 

The Hawks have a genuine opportunity to play spoiler in this game, as the Kings are clinging to a mere 4 point lead for the 3rd spot in the Pacific division over the Vegas Golden Knights at press time. The Kings have been treading water somewhat since the end of February, basically going slightly over .500 in the month of March. Not wanting to sell the farm to upgrade their roster at the deadline and hamstring their future (stares at Stan Bowman), the Kings were pretty quiet at the trade deadline. Honestly a pretty smart move, as the Pacific division is clearly the weakest out of any in the NHL so their odds of sneaking in and getting a few games in the playoffs are better than a 50/50 shot.

The Kings are one of the better possession teams in the NHL, and a lot of that credit is due to the system installed by former Sharks head coach Todd McClellan. They have one of the better breakouts in the league from their back end, as their D-men are able to push the play off their own blue line and back into the neutral zone pretty consistently. Alex Edler and professional dirtbag Drew Doughty are big reasons for this, as their passing skills are top notch. Old Friend Phillip Danault is here, very quietly being on pace for a 60 point season (stares at Stan Bowman) and has clearly learned quite a bit from Anze Kopitar in his time here with his +15 rating and consistent 57% CORSI share at even strength. He also gets considerable time on the PK, which makes  me want to saw my wrists with a spork even more. I would expect the Kings to come out flying at the Hawks defenders with a pretty strong forecheck (really, every team should do this as the Hawks breakout is a mess when Seth Jones isn’t on the ice) to try and pin them in their own zone and let their cycle go to work. The Kings forecheck and passing vs. Caleb Jones, Riley Still(here for some reason)man and Jake McCabe. I know who my money’s on.

Let’s Go Sox

 

 

 

Everything Else

Taylor is the editor-in-chief of DefendingBigD.com. Follow her @TaylorBaird.

Last time we saw the Stars, they were in the muddle of the last playoff spot along with the Hawks. They’ve since separated themselves into the first wild card spot and are hot on the heels of the Blues for the third spot in the Central. What’s been the change?

The Stars defense continues to improve. They’ve climbed from somewhere in the 20’s in the league in terms of goals against average to 5th in the league, allowing only 2.56 goals against on average per game. It’s been improvement in both even strength defense and penalty killing (where they rank 9th in the league today at 82.2% of penalties killed.) The goaltending has been fantastic of late, with Kari Lehtonen having a renaissance in terms of stats (.919SV% and 2.22 GAA) and Ben Bishop’s performance nothing to sneeze at, either (.919 SV%, 2.44 GAA). The offense has also come on of late, averaging slightly more than three goals per game on average now. It’s a big change from the first roughly 15 games of the season, when the team was struggling in all aspects other than the power play.
Jason Spezza only put up 50 points last year, and is on pace for way less this year. He’s been shuttled between center and wing. Is it just time that’s caught up? Is this a major problem?

The Stars have struggled to figure out Spezza’s role on the team. It’s driven by Radek Faksa emerging as a premier two-way center on the team as well as the offseason signing of Martin Hanzal. Spezza struggled offensively at the beginning of the season, and his ice time suffered because of it. He’s also been paired with wingers that haven’t been known for finishing, and think the game a pace behind Spezza. That’s contributed to his offensive decline. One thing I will say is that Spezza has looked better since being reunited with Mattias Janmark, so there’s still hope that it might turn around for him in the last 20ish games or so. As they say, it’s all about how you roll into the playoffs, right?
There are two players in Brett Ritchie and Julius Honka who don’t have the scoring stats you might want, but have glittering underlying numbers. Are the Stars happy enough with these two just pushing the play?

I think they are happy to a degree, yes. With Ritchie, the coach has come out and even said that he’s struggled mightily this year. That’s why he’s found himself pushed down the lineup or eating some healthy scratches at times, as other players look better and produce. But he’s still getting the chance to play through his struggles for the most part, even if it’s to the chagrin of some fans. As for Honka, it’s tough for fans to see a young player with that much potential get jerked around in terms of playing time, but at the end of the day, the Stars need a defense that works. Honka seems to have taken his healthy scratches in stride, and his games of late have shown he’s listened when the coaching staff has said he’s been too cautious in terms of offense. I feel like he will be tough to fit into the lineup when Marc Methot returns to the lineup healthy, if only because I’m not sure he’s done enough to beat out Stephen Johns for the 6th D spot, and Hitch seems to love him some Greg Pateryn (even if the underlying numbers are just blah with him…)
Is. a 2.44 GAA and .919 SV% what you expected out of Ben Bishop? Is that enough to go where the Stars want?
The last few years, all Dallas would have needed was LEAGUE AVERAGE goaltending to go far. Those numbers are far and away better than what Stars fans have seen in the past 5ish years, so we’ll happily take it.
What will the Stars be looking to do at the deadline?
To be honest, I’m not sure there’s much that the Stars will do at the deadline. I think they like their lineup, and it’s been working for them of late, so it’s possible that they won’t want to overpay for a deadline rental. If they target anyone, I’d bet on a top six right wing to add some depth to the second line in terms of scoring, or someone that adds to the second power play unit to make that player set more lethal. But with the draft coming to Dallas this summer, they likely won’t want to deal too many of their picks — and their pipeline of talent isn’t in a position to deal too many of those (though if they are going to do so, blueline seems to be a position of depth but not necessarily strength, and they have a few forwards that could be of interest to other teams.)

 

Game #54 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

For the second time in two weeks or so, we go and bother Taylor Baird from DefendingBigD.com. Follow her on Twitter @TaylorBaird.

The Stars are one of the lowest event teams in the league, which is something of a Hitchcock specialty. But given how this roster is built, is that really conducive to success? Is that why the record has been a touch wonky?
I think they’re still trying to figure out the balance between structure and suppressing chances against while being creative offensively. When they won five games straight right after Thanksgiving, they scored an average of 4.4 goals per game (excluding shootouts/empty netters) and they only allowed 2.2 goals per game on average. That’s a terrific recipe for success, and now they’ve shown they can do it. The trick is finding the consistency to put it into place each night while still adjusting to new linemates/system/coaching/etc. Sometimes that takes longer to put together than fans would like, but I think they’re capable.
The Stars traded Jamie Oleksiak, which seems to be a vote of confidence for Julius Honka. Why are Stars fans so excited about him? 
He’s mobile and very creative with the puck in flashes in games he played last season, something the Stars have lacked at times from their blueline. Stars fans are excited that Dallas could have two of the offensive defensemen style blueliners in the lineup and believe it will help improve the transition game immensely. And while these kinds of players come with inherent risks, Honka has shown that he has the speed to be able to recover from his mistakes, something that Oleksiak struggled with in Dallas. It’s not that people felt Oleksiak was a pylon, but for many fans his defensive shortcomings when he wasn’t providing much in the way of possession/scoring was tough to swallow.
Martin Hanzal, five points, some of the worst metrics on the team. This has not gone well so far, has it?
The better penalty kill from the terribad one last season might say otherwise. He doesn’t look good statistically, but he has had flashes in games this season when healthy of doing all the little things that help maintain possession or cycle in the offensive zone that has created the environment for goal scoring by the next line on the ice. I’d say it’s more likely an “incomplete” grade at this point in the season, especially given that he’s missed games due to injury.
Marc Methot is returning from injury soon. What kind of difference will that make?
I think it will really solidify a top six, and maybe the Stars can stop the bottom four merry-go-round that they’ve run searching for the right combinations. If they can get a group in consistently for a stretch, I’d expect the team as a whole will look much better in general.
What will the Stars need to pick up to lock down a playoff spot this year?
Most likely a top six forward, as the Stars haven’t found the right answer to have a consistent second line threat without breaking up the dynamite grouping of Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov. It doesn’t seem to be ready to be answered from inside the system today, so acquiring that will probably be a top target for Jim Nill at the trade deadline (or sooner) this season.
Everything Else

We know that the coverage and view of Russian players in the NHL can get a tad skewed due to some very outdated and quite simply jingoistic feelings. Due to some bad actors, much more than should have have had to deal with suspicion and being labeled lazy, greedy, uncaring, and weak, or all of the above. And really, there are no more players from Russia who exhibit these characteristics than those who come from Canadian backwaters. But none of them are named “Gordie,” nor do they know what “Timbo’s” is, so they get treated differently

Alex Radulov has had a strange odyssey of a career, and he has been labeled with all of the above during it. Some of it may be warranted, maybe some of it not. Let’s go back through it.

You don’t remember, because it was so long ago and it took place before the Hawks got good which as we know was before hockey existed, but ten years ago Radulov put up 58 points at the age of 21 with the Predators. He was one of the most exciting prospects in the game. With Radulov, Suter, Weber, Rinne, Hamhuis, and Legwand it was thought that the Preds would be challenging for the Central for years to come.

It never worked out that way, partly because Radulov immediately fucked off back to Russia after that season. He still had one year on his entry-level deal, but clearly didn’t feel that as an RFA he was going to make what he could back in the KHL And that wasn’t wrong, but that didn’t stop the Preds and the NHL from putting up a fight to keep him here. It didn’t work, Radulov was suspended by Nashville and he spent the next four seasons in Russia.

Radulov didn’t help his cause much after that fourth seasons in Russia, when he came back to the help the Preds in the ’12 playoffs, but also didn’t make it much of a secret that he was just running out the last year of his entry-level deal. That was the spring he and a couple teammates were caught in a Glendale bar at 5am the night before Game 2 against the Coyotes, which didn’t make it seem like he was all that invested. Of course, the hockey media was all to ready to pounce on what appeared to be a carpetbagger, and one from the Motherland. Give them an inch…

Radulov again returned to Russia after that spring, as no one was terribly too interested in signing him after that whole ruckus. Radulov spent another four years with CSKA.

But after those four years Radulov could return to the NHL as a free agent, which again, didn’t look all that good. Still, no one in Montreal was complaining about his 54-point-season last year, nor are the Stars complaining about his point-per-game pace so far this one after he cashed in for a five-year deal at a cool $6 million per.

Certainly Habs fans didn’t think Radulov wasn’t committed, showing great passion on and off the ice. There were some who would claim it was all a show, and there was no way to know after what came before.

Perhaps the way young players are viewed is simply impossible for them, especially those from Europe. Every player is expected to have come over and dreamt of winning the Stanley Cup and put that over all, but is that realistic? Some do, some probably don’t. After all, to a lot of players the World Championships every year are a really big deal, and here they’re barely a ripple on the hockey calendar.

Secondly, even though it was negotiated and collectively bargained, young players are still put to the screws financially in the NHL. Only a select few make a ton of money after their entry-level deals, and thanks to what is in no way “collusion” we’re sure that prevents offer sheets, they have no leverage. Those that can at least threaten to take the serious money on offer across the pond have different leverage than others who don’t even think about it.

It a system that made sense, players would make what they’re worth basically as soon as possible. Given the money attached to the game, it isn’t a wonder or wrong that it becomes a major motivation for a player.

So is, or was, Radulov just a mercenary who took the highest paycheck he could find? Or did he just play the system that was on offer to him and do the best he could? We know what the view was from those who pen the articles. Given Radulov’s renaissance, that might not be the truth. Maybe it’s just a player who didn’t love the game here at a young age, went back to where he was comfortable and more rightly rewarded, and with age and maturity came back to accomplish more over here.

Or he just came back because it was time to make serious money here. We’ll never know.

Game #26 Preview

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Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Moving onto the forwards, Artemi Panarin is the biggest wild card of the recent influx of Russians to the Hawks, who have not had a Russian forward in nearly 8 years after Sergei Samsonov (remember him?) was dealt to Carolina. Panarin will undoubtedly be labeled an highly skilled, an enigma, a malcontent, lazy, or all of the above because that’s just the way it works with Russians in the NHL. But with Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad now gone, there’s a real opportunity for Panarin to make some noise on the left side.