Everything Else

So the Hawks have lost a game in regulation. They’ll probably lose many more. And in truth, last night wasn’t anywhere close to the worst game they’ve played. Couple posts, Antti Raanta being what Antti Raanta is now which is weird, and the bottom of the roster letting you down. It happens.

So let’s barge through a couple notes before adjourning for the weekend.

-I’ve mentioned on the podcast, but there’s a school of thought in baseball when it comes to free agency that you either go top shelf or well on your choices, and you don’t mess with the in-between. Because those players have the greatest variance, and if they don’t work out you’ve committed far too much of your budget to them. Whereas if your well whiskey players don’t work out, you’ve still go payroll flexibility to make up for that.

In hockey, the only sport with no exceptions and the hardest of hard salary caps, this might be even more important. While a policy like this employed by every team would freeze out even more middle-six and middle-pairing veterans than it already does, when building a team it might just have to be that callous. Even just a couple of mistakes and your cap is tied up with nowhere to go, and as we all know it’s the players at the top of your roster who make all the difference despite hockey’s undying need to glorify the artisans instead of the artists.

This is what bothers me so much about Brandon Manning. He’s not a bargain-basement signing. While $2.2 million is not a ton of money, it’s significant. Or at least it’s enough to notice. The Hawks nearly doubled this goober’s salary from last year, and I can’t even fathom whom they were bidding against. I can’t sit here and tell you what the Hawks might have done with that extra million or million and a half, but I know it could have been better than this. And it might be the difference to whatever they want to do midseason.

Especially when you’re talking about a third-pairing player. That’s not a middle-pairing player, no matter what you’ve deluded yourself into seeing as the Hawks clearly did, that you think you might get a bargain on. When opting for third-pairing players, you should go cheap and mobile as often as you can. If Jordan Oesterle has been restricted to this last year, not nearly as many would have minded. And I’m sure Brandon Davidson is just another word for Oesterle, but he can’t be worse and he’s far cheaper and more mobile. Go around the top teams in the league and you won’t find too many spending this much on a third-pairing guy, aside from the Penguins and Jack Johnson because there are a lot of fumes in Western PA.

Let’s say instead of avoiding the middle of the market, which we’ll give a wide range of $2-$6 million per year, when you commit those contracts you have to get them right. Look at the Oilers, who have at least gotten four of them wrong and see how badly it can go.

Somewhat luckily for the Hawks, they can probably rectify this if they want. While the thought has been that Gustav Forsling will head to Rockford when healthy, seems to me they can put him in the third pairing role he’s been cut out for. Fuck, pair him with Davidson and at least make it a mobile pairing. I don’t really care what it produces as long as it could move, and I don’t really care what happens to Rutta or Manning.

This would have to cause a shift in usage, as Joel Quenneville has been loathe to start Henri Jokiharju anywhere but the offensive zone, but there seems to be little choice. Burying Jan Rutta and Brandon Manning there has gotten you…well, this. Q hasn’t helped matters by putting Manning and Rutta behind Anisimov and Kunitz the most, which is just aching to get killed. There is probably a shift there needed, too.

-This is probably not pointless thanks to this morning’s practice silliness, but whether he liked it or not Q did stumble upon what could have been a nifty third line. Though he hasn’t played them enough, Brandon SaadMarcus KrugerDavid Kampf have killed the competition in two games. And they’ve done that while starting almost all of the time in the defensive zone.

Look, a checking winger who scores a touch more than most checking wingers (if he does score again) is not what you envisioned for Brandon Saad. But what you did want was a line that could keep your top six away from the hardest competition. For now, you have that. And it was quick and was creating chances.

Sure, it leaves a hole on the top six on Schmaltz’s and Kane’s wing (which once again Q appears to want to fill with Schmaltz himself and give us monolith Anisimov in the middle and I’m so tired of crying), but that’s ideally where the kids they’ve talked up, Victor Ejdsell or Dylan Sikura, are supposed to go. And if neither of them are good, then none of this matters anyway.

Our worry with the Hawks all preseason was that they had two lines. They’re staring a third right in the face, at least temporarily. Don’t worry, Q might get back to it by the 2nd period in Ohio tomorrow.

Everything Else

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Hockey’s back. And to quote our Fearless Leader, whether it was fun or just fun-bad, it was, without a doubt, a fun game. Let’s do it.

– Everyone ought to be relieved by how good Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat looked tonight. Throughout most game, the only time anything happened for the Hawks was when those two were on the ice. Each scored goals by themselves (Future Norris Winner Erik Gustafsson got an assist on Toews’s, but it was a Toews effort from start to finish), and while those probably aren’t goals anyone scores against a team that isn’t the personification of a bad mushroom trip, they were still impressive. DeBrincat’s had a flash of “Fuck you, I got this” that spawned memories of the dearly departed Marian Hossa. He made Thomas Chabot look like a horse’s ass, using him as a screen to pot his shot over DA LOCAL GUY’s glove.

Toews’s goal was the result of Mark Borowiecki deciding that the best way to defend a 2-on-1 is to drag your ass on the ice like a dog with worms. You could hear Toews thinking “Is this fucking guy serious?” the entire time he drove through the circle. But you take what they give you, and Toews did that. He looked like vintage Toews, complementing power and speed with excellent vision all night. He and DeBrincat were dominant in possession as well, each posting 55%+ on the night.

– For all the nervousness we had (and still have) about Cam Ward, he looked pretty good tonight. The only goal you can really put on him is the PK goal, which Colin White stuffed right through his legs. But he buckled down and made a couple of surprising saves in the third, keeping the Hawks in it in time for Patrick Kane to start giving a shit. The first came off a redirect, and the second was the result of all five of the Hawks’s skaters either falling asleep or doing something monumentally stupid. And that one all started with Brandon Goddamn Motherfucking Manning.

– Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, I adopted a cat. She was a good cat, but she had a heart defect. I tried giving her medicine to make her better, but the day came when I had to put her down. She was just 4 years old. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make, and I still think about it all the time.

I would rather put that cat down every day for the rest of the fucking year than watch Brandon Goddamn Motherfucking Manning play another minute in a Hawks sweater.

There aren’t enough adequate superlatives to describe what an unmitigated disaster Brandon Manning was tonight. He’s the Bret Hart of being a complete fucking ass wart: The worst there is, the worst there was, and the worst there ever will be.

Let’s start with the second goal the Hawks gave up, which occurred with Saad–Schmaltz–Kane and Manning–Seabrook. LOCAL GUY Ryan Dzingel had the puck on the near boards, and Manning went out to cover him. He gave him a body check, which, fine, whatever. But long after Dzingel had passed the puck to Matt Duchene behind the net, Manning continued to ride him into the boards for no other reason than Brandon Manning is a shit-sipping mongoloid who would drop his dick in a urinal if it weren’t attached to his dumb fucking body. Because he decided that dry-humping Dzingel into the boards was the best play to possibly make, it left a huge hole in front of the net. Seabrook tried to cover as best he could, but where the fuck do you think Maxime LaJoie was when he potted that goal? If you said, “Where Brandon Goddamn Motherfucking Manning should have been,” you win the prize of not being Brandon Manning.

Then, on the penalty kill goal, while Cam Ward shares some of the blame, the only reason Colin White had all the space in the world to stuff a between-the-legs shot was because Brandon Manning stood slackjawed at the top of the paint. At no point did he even feign an effort to break up anything Colin White was trying to do. He stood there like a 3-year-old who just realized he can’t hold his shit in anymore and mother is going to be so mad that she has to handwash the corduroys again.

Holy fuck this guy sucks. If the Hawks hadn’t won this game, I probably would have quit my job, moved back to Chicago, taken whatever construction job was happening outside the UC, and rubbed my red Italian ass on StanBo’s clean windows until he relented and cut Manning from the roster. He brings nothing to the table except an opportunity for us to completely lose our asses, which you can bank on happening every time Brandon Goddamn Motherfucking Manning laces up his rock-lined skates. Fuck this guy to the end of the Earth and back.

– Getting back to things that don’t cause a complete aneurysm, it was nice of Patrick Kane to show up 50 minutes into the game. For most of the outing, he was in mid-February “can’t buy me a fuck” mode, with a ton of lazy passing and stick handling. But when Patrick Kane decides to turn it on, there are few better. His seeing-eye pass from behind the net on Brent Seabrook’s goal was art, and the top-shelf backhander to end it is the reason most of us tune in at all. While 60 minutes of that effort would be nice, you’ll take what you get.

– I liked how Seabrook looked overall. That might just be because he was paired with Ass Wart all night, but there was a bit of pep in his skating. And he channeled early-dynasty Seabrook on his one-timer in the slot. He looks a bit thinner and quicker, so maybe all that “he’s working out” talk in the offseason was more than just another marketing ploy.

– We’re going to say this a lot, but Henri Jokiharju had a hot and cold night. He was overpowered in the first period, which led directly to Ottawa’s first goal, and he needed Cam Ward to bail him out after Dzingel broke away from him off an outlet pass in the third. But those two boners aside, HJ had himself a decent game. He finished at almost 60% on the Corsi share, took three shots on goal, and drew a tripping penalty in his own zone. You’ll take that just fine for an NHL debut.

Brandon Saad had a ho-hum game. He was putrid early, but picked it up a bit as the game went on. He probably should have been more aware on LaJoie’s goal, and didn’t really bust his ass much to fill the spot Ass Wart left open. He had one of the lower possession shares among Hawks forwards (51%+) and deferred on a couple of prime chances. This is going to be something to keep an eye on, since there are rumors that he only plays up to the level of the guys he plays with, and Patrick Kane couldn’t be bothered for most of the game.

A win’s a win, but this shit isn’t going to fly against the Blues and the Leafs this weekend. Still, if the Hawks can at least be chaotic fun, I think we’ll all have something to occupy us until the Bears roll into the playoffs.

Beer du Jour: Miller High Life/Eagle Rare

Line of the Night: “As good as it gets.” – Pat Foley describing Dollar Bill Wirtz’s death and Rocky’s subsequent takeover as Hawks chairman on Rocky’s birthday.

Everything Else

Motherfucker.

Diving into the 2018 free agency pool for defense was never going to go swimmingly for the Blackhawks. Sure, there were rumblings about John Carlson’s availability, but even if he hadn’t re-signed in Washington, paying him $8 million per over a two-term presidency was neither realistic nor wanted, given all the griping we’ve done about Seabrook. Calvin de Haan may have been nice, but he ended up in Carolina for $4.55 million per over four years. Thomas Hickey also could have maybe been a thing, but the 2007 #4 overall pick signed with the Islanders at $2.5 million per over four years. Once those three came off the board, you’d have thought the Hawks would scrape the bucket for a PTO guy like Franson to throw maybe $1 million at.

Instead, the Hawks went out and gave a two-year, $2.25 million per contract to Brandon Manning, a PTO talent at a Thomas Hickey price. ARE YOU HAVING FUN YET?

2017–18 Stats

65 GP – 7 G, 12 A

50 CF%, 45.6 oZS%

Avg. TOI 17:57

A Brief History: First off, fuck this guy. Brandon Manning spent most of his junior career sucking, and in an effort to get noticed, he—in his own fucking words—”fought nine or 10 times that year and stuck up for my teammates and made some big hits.” Jesus Christ bare-assed on the cross, Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville actually called Brandon Manning and told him, “We need a guy who doesn’t really score and can play physical.” Just keep giving Q the biddy, StanBo, it’s worked so fucking well in the past. Really good start here.

Manning went undrafted before latching on in Philadelphia—a place nothing less than perfect for a booger-eating buffoon whose calling card was protecting grown men on skates from other grown men on skates—in 2012. He spent most of his career with the Flyera doing nothing aside from tripping and breaking the collarbone of Connor McDavid in 2015, allegedly telling McDavid that he hurt him on purpose during a game in 2016, recanting when McDavid talked about it publicly, then getting his ass punched in by the aptly named Patrick Maroon as retribution in 2017. WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE ABOUT THIS SIGNING?

In his first two full years, Manning spent most of his time in the offensive zone not contributing offensively. Last year was a bit different. He spent just 45.6% of his time in the offensive zone but contributed a career high 19 points. He broke exactly even at 50% on the CF% front. That’s somewhat encouraging, especially since he played most of his time next to living ghoul Radko Gudas and his aircraft carrier forehead.

But as we are wont to do, once you dig into the fancier stats, things look less than good. His xGF% (expected goals for percentage) was 48.89, which means that Manning’s opponents were expected to score more often when Manning was on the ice than the Flyera were. The closest Blackhawks comp Manning had in this category was Jordan Oesterle (49.00), who, as we all know, is one of the suckiest sucks who ever sucked on defense.

Further, his Rel xGF% (relative expected goals for percentage) was -2.22, which means Manning brought the likelihood of the Flyera scoring a goal down about 2% while he was on the ice. The closest Blackhawks comp from last year is Jan Rutta (-2.24).

And fuck it, let’s go even deeper, because the Hawks brass obviously couldn’t be bothered, as evidenced by the fact that they signed Brandon Motherfucking Manning. Manning’s HDCF%, which measures the percentage of high-danger chances for vs. high-danger chances against, was 47.31, good for second worst on the Flyera. This means that when Manning was on the ice, opponents were more likely to take shots from high-danger zones. High-danger shots are more likely to become goals. Since Manning himself doesn’t generate offense and apparently isn’t great at suppressing high-danger shots, it would seem that having him on the ice against anything but bottom lines is a recipe for disaster, especially if anyone but Crawford is in net.

So, he’s a combo of Oesterle without the KEEP FIRING ASSHOLES mentality and Rutta. And all this for just $2.25 million a year for two god damn years. Whose loins aren’t frothing?

It Was the Best of Times: Best case, Manning becomes part of a trade package for Erik Karlsson. Or, with contract negotiations for Darnell Nurse reportedly breaking down, they do Hall for Larssen II with Manning for Nurse. Barring those miracles, Manning plays fewer than 10 games because Jokiharju pulls a DeBrincat and makes it impossible not to play him. In the time he does play, Manning puts three or four points up and wins a fight or two, and the Hawks can trade him for something not called Brandon Manning. If he can’t be traded (he can’t), Quenneville shocks us all by learning what a sunk cost is and makes him a consistent healthy scratch.

It Was the BLURST of Times: We cannot stress enough how asinine this signing is. The fact that he was signed at all is a worst-case scenario. But he’s here now, he’s going to play, it’s going to suck, and it’s up to us to imagine how badly it’s going to suck. Worst case, Manning slots with Seabrook on the second pairing, because Manning played Top-4 minutes in the playoffs for the Flyera last year, a series in which Manning tossed a 48.77 CF%, 35.83 xGF%, and a hilarious -14.88 Rel xGF% against the likes of Crosby and Malkin.

StanBo throws his entire dick into his pet theory that Manning has gotten better with age and is on the verge of a breakout. That doesn’t happen, of course, because Brandon Manning sucks and would be better served in the boxing ring having his dome caved in nightly like the palooka he is. He channels his inner John Scott and becomes an insufferable monolith, both on and off the ice. After serving as a $4.5 million paperweight in his two years here, Manning uses his money to buy and close Al’s so he can open a Wawa there.

Prediction: Brandon Manning is the most Tom Smykowski signing the Hawks have had since Jordan Oesterle. He spent most of his career doing much of nothing, couldn’t hack it on a team that started Radko Fucking Gudas with a straight face, then got a seven-figure settlement as Bowman (read: Quenneville) went drunk driving and smashed into him with a HOCKEY REASONS contract.

So, he’ll spend time on the Top 4 with Seabrook. He’ll be an unmitigated disaster at all times and still get looks over Jokiharju and Murphy because HE’S HARD TO PLAY AGAINST. He’ll stumble his way into 10 points and then be considered for an extension. We’ll get all sorts of think pieces about how much his teammates like him, yet none of his teammates will offer that thought without priming from whoever’s in charge of pushing that narrative that day.

Just burn the whole building down.

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Cam Ward

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Brent Seabrook

Everything Else

At the top, it’s important to remember that it makes no sense to judge fully the three signings the Hawks made today until they make their big splash via trade, which appears will be the only way they do so. Or until they don’t make that splash. Needless to say, a team that missed the playoffs by 19 points and currently can’t figure out if they’re starting goalie is just a gaseous form at this point choosing to just tinker would be…abstract.

The good news: The Hawks didn’t tie themselves into anything here. Cam Ward and Chris Kunitz got one-year deals, Kunitz for barely the minimum, and Brandon Manning got two. Essentially, all these roster spots will open up soon for either another promising kid or a bigger addition down the road. The Hawks have kept their salary cap powder dry, as it were. And just because you have cap space doesn’t mean you have to use it just for the sake of using it. So all fair enough.

Now let’s complain.

First off, Ward. We’ve been down this road. He sucks. The idea that he could flourish in a new city and with a new team is simply built on baseless hope. There has been nothing in seven years to suggest he can even be a representative goalie. If he’s just a backup, that still can kill you because you still need points in those 25-30 games unless you really think Crawford is healthy and going to go 55-0-0. Those points matter. And as we’ve already pointed out, the Canes were actually a better defensive team than the Hawks last year, and the Hawks, so far, have done nothing to address that. The fact that Ward signed for the same money as Steve Bernier, a proven NHL goalie still, is a complete farce. Were the Hawks scared off by the three years Bernier got? Why? Do they really think Collin Delia and his superfluous L are going to develop into a capable backup/replacement for Crawford? Okayyyyy…..

Let’s move to Kunitz. I really wouldn’t have anything to say about it if I were confident he would live in the bottom six all season and be a side contributor. He potted 13 goals last year basically playing on Tampa’s 4th line with Pacquette and Callahan, and if that’s all he was asked to do here with some combination of Hinostroza/Kampf/Sikura/Ejdsell/Some Bozo, fine. But this is Joel Quenneville we’re talking about, and you know that Opening Night in Ottawa Kunitz will be up there with Kane and Schmaltz, or worse yet Kane and Anisimov, due to “veteran presence.” It’ll be nearly impossible to crowbar him out of the top six unless DeBrincat scores 27 goals in preseason. Oh wait, he did that basically last year and still ended up on the third line on the right side.

Brandon Manning is slightly intriguing. He has positive metrics for a stay-at-home guy, and that’s truly surprising because he spent the past two years playing with mutant weasel Radko Gudas. What’s strange is that Manning is a left-sided, stay-at-home guy, and the Hawks don’t have any right-sided get-it-the-fuck-up-there guys. As of right now, all the puck-movers are on the left in Keith, Gustafsson, Jokiharju, Forsling. The Hawks still haven’t addressed who is playing with Keith or who is on the second pairing. Are they going to sign Manning and make him play the right side when he’s never done it? And if Jordan Oesterle is still somehow included in this equation, don’t worry about your playoff invoices. It seems an odd fit, though not necessarily a bad one.

If the Hawks can move Hossa’s contract, they’ll still have $8-$9 million to play with. Remember as we go forward here to take them at their word of the past two seasons. This was unacceptable. Changes are coming. We expect better. None of these signings do that. It’s tinkering on the edges, which is fine if you get the middle right.

We’re still waiting on the middle.