There’s plenty to discuss regarding Seabrook, this possibly being a revealing stretch for the Killer Instinct Hawks, and other miscellany in a largely hockey centric episode. Get it at the usual spots.
This has been a long time coming, and it’s something that has needed to happen for myriad reasons, but that doesn’t make it any less heavy.
Brent Seabrook is calling it a career.
We have talked boundless amounts of shit about Brent Seabrook for years now, but it came from a place of expectation and past performance that made it so disappointing to see such a pillar of three Cup winning teams that it became difficult to watch that toll finally be exacted on the back end of things. Make no mistake, Brent Seabrook is one of the greatest Hawks ever, and his #7 will assuredly hang in the UC rafters sooner rather than later even if he should have never been able to wear it in the first place, as a dual ceremony with Chris Chelios is all but guaranteed.
Seabrook was the first real draft selection of a rebuilding process that was now a generation ago, with Mike Smith selecting a powerhouse of a kid out of the WHL 14th overall. And he fulfilled basically every bit of that promise, becoming the “Diet Chris Pronger” he was billed to be – a shithouse of a body on the blue line who could still skate and produce offensively. He was never as nasty or dominant as Pronger, in fact no one in the NHL ever really has been before or since, but his outlet passing was right on par with him, and was a tremendously under appreciated aspect of the Hawks Cup era.
Seabrook was the emotional leader of that locker room, famously helping Jonathan Toews get his shit together in Game 5 of the 2013 series, one which Seabrook would cap off in OT of Game 7, scoring arguably the greatest goal, and certainly most cathartic, in franchise history. His flare for the dramatic wasn’t limited to just that one instance, though, with huge OT goals later that playoff year in the final against Boston in Game 4, and then in Game 5 in 3OT against the Predators in 2015.
He and Duncan Keith formed a defensive pairing that would span generations, not only of this team, but in the NHL. Seabrook’s retirement brings to a close the longest stretch of concurrent teammates both in Chicago sports history, and in NHL history, as they were the first defensemen to ever play 1000 games together, which they kept adding to. And while Keith ultimately emerged as the more dominant player, but there were stretches where Keith seemed lost or disinterested, and Seabrook provided the anchor on that unit, particularly in 2011 and 2012, which allowed Keith to regain his form and win another Norris trophy. Seabrook’s inclusion on the Canadian Olympic team may have been derided as being Keith’s cabana boy, but he absolutely deserved to be there among the sport’s best.
In the end, the injuries just became too much. Aside from what was known – the countless concussions, the recent hip and shoulder and back and whatever surgeries – was what he was likely playing through during those long playoff runs that were never made public. And despite an ultimately Quixotic and futile effort to keep playing even after time, his body, and the organ-I-zation told him it was probably time to be done, he clearly kept trying until it was extremely clear that it wasn’t going to happen anymore. And now with this finally out of the way, he can enjoy time with his family, and the rest of us can enjoy an outstanding career without having to worry about the cap ramifications of a ridiculous contract.
A completely fucking banner 96 hours for Stan Born on Third. Bowman dug deep into his throbbing Krang’s-body brain to:
2. Trade a solid top-6 LW for a defenseman whose greatest contribution to the sporting world tops out at “piques Vince McMahon’s interest.”
3. Piss off the guys who sell the tickets.
The easy argument would be “This is what a rebuild looks like.” Bull fucking shit.
Why Zadorov and why the FUCK now?
There are many, many things to be pissed about regarding the Saad for Zadorov trade. Let’s start with the easiest thing to be pissed about. Zadorov is a Vince McMahon wet dream. He’s big, he’s muscly, and he sucks big ass at defense. Don’t believe me?
“The 25-year-old is a member of the Chicago Blackhawks now because the Avs became tired of his inconsistent play and they probably didn’t want to deal with another contract negotiation for the restricted free agent.” –Mike Chambers, Denver Post, 10/11/2020
“Zadorov is adored by fans and has become a favorite over his five years in Colorado. His teammates also rave about his humor and ability to keep things loose in the locker room. His character might be the only thing he has going for him these days…because defensive ability certainly isn’t.” –Scott MacDonald, Colorado Hockey Now, 9/11/2020
“This looks like a very obvious improvement on behalf of the Avalanche. Zadorov was getting pushed out of the defense group and his defensive mistakes were becoming too much. He now goes to Chicago where their level of defense is much lower while the Avalanche get back a really really good offensive player.” –Hardev Lad, Mile High Hockey, 10/10/2020
Inconsistent play? Bad at defense? He’ll fit right fucking in!
As we’ve vomited out ad nauseum, the Blackhawks learned all the wrong lessons from the Blues winning the Stanley Cup. Saad for Zadorov itself shouldn’t be surprising, given that Stan Bowman has absolutely no idea what a good defenseman looks like. But Zadorov doesn’t have “future contributor” written anywhere on him on a team with any serious intention of being a contender, now or in the future.
Here it is in neurotic nerd form:
McCurdy’s graphs above give a snapshot of a defenseman who’s simply “a guy” at best. He provides little to no offense, which, whatever. His best defensive year was in 2016–17, and his last three years in Colorado were a hobo’s listless shrug.
But Zadorov often finds himself out of position. And one of his supposed strengths is he’s A BRUISER. Which means he takes penalties. Which means he’s off the ice. Which seems like a really bad place for a supposed defensive defenseman—which is how they’ll sell him if they aren’t already—to be. Seems especially bad given how bad the goaltending projects to be relative to what it was when Crow was here. He makes it more likely that we’ll see Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, or Kevin Lankinen up against a power play behind THIS defense and THIS system (last year’s good PK performance be damned).
This isn’t a brick in the rebuild. It’s a brick you throw through the window because the owners have abandoned the fucking house.
Though Brandon Saad isn’t Hossa Jr. like we wanted him to be, he’s without a doubt a good, possession-conscious, two-way responsible top-6 forward. All Bowman got for him was a guy who likely won’t be here next year. No picks, no prospects, no nothin’, AND they’re retaining $1 million of Saad’s contract. And if you think Zadorov has potential or whatever, congratulations on being Pierre McGuire, I guess.
Trading Maatta and not re-signing Koekkoek was a step in the right direction. They’re depth guys at best, and doing so sprang hope that Mitchell and Boqvist would get real, big boy minutes from the word go. But after seeing how Colliton turned Boqvist into a kicked and scared puppy, you wonder what that opportunity would be worth to him.
Then, after unclogging the defensive toilet, StanBo immediately stuffed a full box of jagged-plastic-applicator tampons down and said, “This is good.” And he lost a solid top-6 winger to do it. And I’m just now realizing that this is how Alex Nylander gets back onto the top 6. Shit on me.
In short, Stan Bowman traded for a defenseman who will likely take time away from Mitchell or Boqvist, and whose most attractive skill is BIG TOUGH. They’re going to throw him into Colliton’s Pollack-on-Krokodil chase-the-shitty-dragon system, despite the fact that the Avs didn’t want him because he sucks at positioning. Oh, and they signed him to a one-year, $3.2 million contract.
That’s not part of a rebuild. It’s fucking hubris.
But wait, there’s more! No Crawford negotiations but money for Zadorov?
Losing Crawford was bad enough. But as Scott Powers reported over the weekend, Bowman didn’t even bother to negotiate with him.
“There just wasn’t much negotiation,” Crawford said. “We thought there would be more talk. I think it was at $3 (million). We just didn’t go back and forth at all, so it just kind of ended there. There’s not much more I can say about that.
“I don’t think it was necessarily (the term). We just didn’t negotiate that much. That’s all it really was. I can’t really say much more about that. Let’s leave it there.” –Corey Crawford, 10/10/2020
What’s done is done, but in light of this Saad for Zadorov trade, it’s even more upsetting. Crow ended up signing in New Jersey for two years and $7.8 million. That’s a $3.9 million cap hit a year for one of the best and most consistent goaltenders in the league. The Hawks have committed $4.2 million in cap space between the Zadorov signing and keeping $1 million of Saad’s contract. That on its own should be grounds for firing. Fuck off with “It’s just this year though.” I do not care.
If it’s about rebuilding, you maybe get them jettisoning Crow. But which moves has Stan made that you trust to help reach that goal?
And that’s not all! The Core is pissed, too
The fucking cherry on top is that Toews, Kane, and Keith are pissed about these moves. They’re especially pissed about the lack of negotiations with Crawford. Most of all, they’re mad that no one seems to have relayed that they’re rebuilding. You may recall earlier in the year that Patrick Kane made mention of The Core wanting a say in the team’s future. In response, Bowman said something along the lines of “Players play and managers manage.”
These players have won three Cups. They play. When the fuck is Bowman going to start managing this team? If your reaction to The Core’s upset is “It’s not their decision to make,” it should horrify you that Bowman is indeed the decision maker here.
Bowman has ridden this Core, which was almost entirely handed to him when he arrived, to three Cups. Now, after beginning to install his vision—which includes Jeremy Colliton as coach, trading for Alex Nylander on purpose, and failing to build a blue line to give his young goaltenders any hope at success, just to name a few moves—his answer to their concerns is “screw.” Yeah, he’s within the realm of his responsibilities to do so, but outside of drafting Dach and re-signing Kubalik for a song of a bridge contract, what’s Bowman done recently to give you the confidence that he’s at all authoritative about what makes a good hockey team?
In the end, this is less of a rebuild and more of a pursuit of stubbornness. Bowman is going all-in not with The Core that’s won him three Cups; not with a core of young talent combined with a coaching staff that can foster their strengths and patch their weaknesses; but with this Pretty Little Coach and his Shitty Little System that makes anyone in it for long enough worse. No one listens to, respects, or wants to play for Colliton, because he’s a bad coach with a bad system. Instead of admitting fault, Bowman will shift blame and build around his good-looking hunk of walking hubris, because that’s what being born on third is all about.
Toews, Kane, and Keith each have no-movement clauses. Toews has made it abundantly clear that he’s not going anywhere. Keith doesn’t sound interested in moving either, presumptively with how tough it’ll be for him to find a mover who can safely transport whatever crystals he’s healing with these days. And if Kane decides to waive his NMC, it’ll likely put the team’s budget actually in the red. All the while, the actual young talent is under the tutelage of a coach whose biggest possible contribution would be not teaching them anything he knows at all.
The goddamn plane has crashed into the mountain.
Welp, they’re gonna go through with it. A close-contact sport during a spreads-via-close-contact pandemic played by a collection of rockheads who breathe way too hard through their mouths as a matter of course, pushed and propped up by a cavalcade of immorally wealthy assholes who wouldn’t care what a virus did if it weren’t simultaneously attacking their bottom lines. BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED.
With a restart about two-and-a-half weeks away, we figured we might as well take a shot at talking about the Hawks happenings over the past however fucking long it’s been. We just can’t help ourselves. Let’s kick it, 900-number style.
Corey Crawford unfit to play on Day 1 & 2
In recently-used-metal-grinder-pressed-against-your-bare-ass fashion, the one guy who might have let the Hawks sneak by the Oilers wasn’t on the ice for Day 1 or 2 of camp. Deemed “unfit to play” according to Jeremy “Unfit to Coach” Colliton, it’ll be impossible to determine what’s going on with Crow. As part of the restart, injury information will be binary and vague—either a player is fit to play or not. This is the NHL and NHLPA’s effort to maintain player privacy during COVID-19, keeping in line with the NHL’s “out of sight, out of mind” business model that’s helped build such a glut of trust among the highers up of the league.
Suffice to say, if Corey Crawford misses any time, the Hawks should forfeit and not waste our time. He was the one clear advantage the Hawks had against the Oilers. Not having him goes well past “Do Not Pass Go” and into “Box up the entire fucking game, now NO ONE gets to be the dog” territory.
Without Crow, the Hawks will rely on some combination of Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, and Matt Tomkins. Against Connor McDavid (the best hockey player in the universe), Leon Draisaitl (2019–20 Art Ross Winner), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2 goals, 2 assists in 3 games against the Hawks this year), and Kailer Yamamoto (26 points in 27 games, including 11 goals, which is one more goal than Alex Nylander had through 65 games, in case you thought I fucking forgot about him). And though everything is made up and the points don’t matter at this juncture, it’s hard to have confidence that Subban or Delia will make a miracle run a la 2015 first-round Scott Darling.
To make matters worse, if Crow can’t make the bell—whether due to concussion, COVID, or simply saying “Yeah, fuck you guys,” as he is in his entire right to do—we likely won’t see him in a Hawks sweater as a player again (unless he takes a pay cut, which he shouldn’t). That would be an ending right in line with his Dangerfieldian career in Chicago. But just because he’s unfit to play for Day 1 doesn’t mean he’s necessarily done. It’s just a bad start to this farce.
If Crawford can suit up, the Hawks will at least be watchable, maybe even have a shot to advance. If not, Edmonton in 2.
Brent Seabrook unfit for play, but playing anyway
At least we can actively reminisce about times before COVID-19, since that was the last time we saw Brent Seabrook on the ice for the Blackhawks. Until now. Yes, dear reader, Seabrook was on the camp roster, skating, and getting ready for a Blackhawks playoff effort. In 2020.
Jesus Christ bare-assed on the cross. This is our reality.
It’s sincerely nice to see that Brent Seabrook is on a road to recovery from two hip surgeries, as a person and revered player in this team’s history. But for fuck’s sake, let’s fucking not. With all the precautions the team and league are saying they’re going to take regarding player health, how is Brent Seabrook playing even within the realm of acceptable?
Putting this virus to the side, which is apparently the most American fucking thing you can do these days, Brent Seabrook wasn’t in playing shape when he was in playing shape. He was somehow worse than Slater Koekkoek and Olli Maatta, which is something you’d otherwise have to try to do. Now, you want to give him a shot to be on the ice against the fastest human being on skates? I seriously debated whether I’d rather have Seabrook or Nick Seeler suit up, since at least Seeler would only get eight minutes a game. That is not a debate anyone should ever have to have.
That Coach Nathan For You is even entertaining this idea is further proof that we’re all marks for whatever outdated version of Punk’d the Brain Trust is using up its three-Cups-in-six-years goodwill to produce. The Hawks have a chance to play with house money and give Boqvist, Beaudin, Carlsson, and, fuck it, Chad Krys a chance to play meaningful-ish minutes. And yet, here’s Brent Seabrook, the answer to a question no one asked.
Quoth The Maven:
We don't need to overcomplicate it. Corey Crawford saw Seabrook was back in camp and decided he doesn't need this shit.
— Sam Fels, But Who's Buyin? (@FelsGate) July 13, 2020
Blackhawks decline to change name, logo
No surprises here, but worth a mention. With the football Washington Whatevers dropping their slur name and logo, questions about the Hawks were bound to come up. Powers did a better job of doing the history reporting than we’d do. Our thoughts on the topic live in our name. If you want a prediction, I’d say give it another 5–10 years before they seriously consider a name and logo change.
Don’t be shocked when this all falls apart
We’d be lying if we said we weren’t excited about the prospect of hockey coming back. But obviously, the circumstances are suspect. Players are going to get sick with COVID-19. It’s already happened several times—to the Lightning, to the Blues, to the Canadiens, and perhaps the Penguins, as Fels reported recently.
Nothing is normal about playing hockey at this time, despite the normalization of doing the exact opposite thing that you need to do to stop the virus’ spread. In short, this is gonna get worse before it gets better. And for what?
There’s nothing special or unique about the precautions the NHL is taking, except perhaps in its arrogance. The league has specifically stated that it’ll take more than one positive case to shut things down again, but gives no inkling about what that would take. They say they’ll do constant testing—which has gone SO WELL in the real world and is why we don’t have hundreds of thousands of new confirmed cases in the last week with no end in sight oh shit wait—but won’t give any indication about where any potential hot spots started or spread to. This all has a “remain calm, all is well” feel to it.
And while the league says that anyone who tests positive will have to quarantine, do you really think that’ll happen? Especially if someone like Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews, or Connor McDavid gets it? Can’t wait to hear THOSE justifications.
Compounding this worry was Jonathan Toews’s completely normal and well-educated take on COVID-19 recently. It’s always fun to point to Toews as more of a thinker than his coworkers when he’s going Greenzo on everyone. But this is the kind of arrogance, misinformation, and willful ignorance that sets this season as the farce it is and will be.
Not to say that Toews is a shithead or anything—he’s not—but he ought to know better, especially as one of the less unsavory (savorier? This fucking language . . .) players in the game. It gives us no hope that “take one for the team” will take a backseat to doing the things we need to do to cull this pandemic, which has killed over 135,000 Americans to date, and infected 3 million plus nationwide and nearly 13 million worldwide.
But hey, that’s hockey baby, and only one thing matters, which is why we’re here at all.
Hola amigos. It’s been a long time since we rapped at ya, but shit’s been hectic here at HQ enduring wave after wave of pestilence.
Even with that being said, NHL teams league wide that will be participating in the expanded playoff tournament in three weeks broke camp today, including the Hawks. Before getting into some observations coming out of today’s practice, let it first be said that any plans for sports to return in this country are wantonly irresponsible and unearned, even with as uncharacteristically thorough a plan as the NHL has laid out. With the disease raging elsewhere in the country and climbing a little locally on the heels of a hasty re-opening, any sports even as a diversion are completely unearned and reckless. But the unrelenting machine of capital feels no compunction about throwing bodies at the problem in the name of recouping whatever lost TV revenue they can. This will be the overriding sentiment going forward, but as long as they’re going to do this, we’ll try to cover it as best we can here.
As Feather points out regularly on our podcast, “reading the tea leaves” has gotten frustrating and fatiguing. It’s just about all we can do these days, given how little the Hawks let out and what does get out never puts them in a good light these days.
To say Duncan Keith is tired of Jeremy Colliton’s act is pretty much in the same fashion as telling you tomorrow’s Tuesday. Last night’s dejection doesn’t really change that. You can watch Keith play his own game that has nothing to do with Colliton’s supposed “system” and know he’s got no use for him. It’s been pretty obvious since Colliton took over that Keith at best eyed him with suspicion and at this point openly despises him.
Toews has always been the tougher read, but seeing as how he wasn’t afraid to bus-toss his coach in the media all the way back in November, it wouldn’t be a huge leap to suggest he’s pretty much had it as well. Toews is the captain and will always do his best to hold things together, but he can also hear the clock ticking on his career, or at least his peak years, and a third-straight year of going home in mid-April is not something that’s going to sit all that well.
Patrick Kane has hinted at wanting to talk with the front office after the season. It’s the closest Kane has come to suggesting he wants changes and won’t be afraid to say so to the people in charge.
Brent Seabrook is a different kind of case, given he just has to get healthy and what the plan is for him here long-term. Corey Crawford’s is as well as he’s a free agent and can simply turn around and head somewhere else if he doesn’t like what’s on offer, either for him or the team as a whole.
We’ve briefly talked about it on the podcast, and maybe we’ll get to it again this week, but what will the Hawks do if the main three, or all five, demand changes in coach or GM or both? Would they even? Would they go over Stan’s head? We’ve seen them go around the coaches before, when everyone wanted Mike Kitchen punted off Joel Qunneville’s staff in that summer that nearly ended with Q in Montreal and the Hawks with a new coach.
As we’ve always said, the main three don’t have a ton of leverage. They could demand Colliton be fired or they’ll ask out, but the Hawks don’t have to move them in that scenario. It’s hard to fathom that any of them would go public with a demand to get out, and short of that it’s hard to see how they could force it. The markets on Keith and Toews would be limited, and though Kane’s would be larger any interested team would still have to perform a variety of arm-balances to get his cap number in.
The question is why would the Hawks even want to go down that road? You don’t want to have the inmates running the asylum and all that, but rare is the collection of teammates who all have three rings (two in Crow’s case), two Norrises, three Conn Smythes, a Selke, a Hart, a couple Jennings. If there’s any grouping of players that can justify demanding changes to an organization, it’s this one.
Beyond that, what would the Hawks be holding on to? Why would Jeremy Colliton be the coach you’d go to the mat with these players with? He hasn’t developed any player, as no player is any better than they were a year ago. Dylan Strome has been on a wing. Adam Boqvist has been scratched at times and still doesn’t run the top power play unit nor has he shown his puck-carrying abilities. Alex Nylander sucks. Kirby Dach was a fourth-liner for too long. The power play is right up there with touching your face right now. What is the sign that things could improve with this coach down the road?
The answer is of course you wouldn’t. And it’s not like these players have a track record of downing tools or mutinies. Get a coach in here whom they believe in and respect and runs a system that they can see the benefits of, and they will suddenly form the kind of leadership any coach would dream of.
These guys are such loyal servants that I don’t know that stating Colliton and Bowman are going nowhere would cause them to agitate to move elsewhere. It feels out of character for all of them. But it’s clear they’re fed up. And Keith is definitely running out of time, and Toews and Kane can at least see the finish line for the first time. Crawford will have other offers. So if it would ever to happen, it’s going to happen this spring.
What would the Hawks do?
It was a brief snippet on social media, but yesterday the Hawks announced that Brent Seabrook had undergone the third of his three major surgeries–both hips and one of his shoulders–and that he was expected to be fully recovered in five to six months. Which would put him on course to be ready for training camp, and even give him some runway to train on his own in August to ramp up for it. Which is not a runway he’s really used before, but here we are.
This doesn’t mean the Hawks are clear of the headache.
While the whole saga still remains fishy to me, i have little doubts that Seabrook had these surgeries. I mean, I just don’t think the Hawks are capable of pulling the kind of sideshow conspiracy of announcing he’s out for the year with these problems and then stashing him off in Bermuda or Belize or whatever. And he’s been around the team at times, so we know that. Still, it’s awfully weird that Seabrook was carrying injuries this bad for this long, if you believe him and the Hawks and that’s why his play sucked, and they kept sending him out there. But we’ve had that talk.
If I were a betting man–and my recent ass-pounding at Santa Anita would suggest I’m either very much not or I very much shouldn’t be–I’d still say that somewhere between the convention and camp next summer the Hawks announce that during his rehab, Seabrook either suffered a setback or realized he can’t be the player he was or something to that effect and he’s hanging them up. And I would bet they turn the home opener into some kind of “One Last Shift”/retirement ceremony for him. That would just be my guess.
They could also be trying to prep the ground for some kind of trade if he really wants to play. “Hey, we’ve cleaned all this up now and he’s basically part bionic but he can still help a third pairing for the cool price of $3.4M per year!” The Hawks obviously would have to eat half his salary to move him along, or more to the point of having any prayer of doing so.
That could set up an ugly exchange though, where Seabrook is saying he’s healthy enough to play but the Hawks say he’s either not or he doesn’t fit into their plans and we know the front office wants to avoid that like the goddamn plague.
Still, it’s really hard to see how Seabs fits in next year. Let’s be optimistic (or “optimisty” as Sammy Sosa would say) and say Ian Mitchell signs after his college season. We know the Hawks defense would at least look like this:
That’s…fine? But it could be better. It lacks either a third puck mover, depending on if Mitchell is even going to be that (though he should) and whether you can even consider Keith that at 37. It would need more mobility, and Seabrook does not provide that. And this is assuming the Hawks have the foresight to buy out Olli Maatta for the mere $800K it would cost, and no one should be sure they have that kind of vision.
And if Mitchell doesn’t sign? Well now you’re probably two d-men short, and sure Seabrook can be on the third pairing but you’d better find a plus-puck-mover with wheels to pair with him down there and Seabrook’s salary makes it awfully hard to find room for say a Tyson Barrie or Torey Krug or Sami Vatanen.
And there’s the rub. With Seabrook on the team, the Hawks only have $10M in space for next year, with Kubalik, Strome, and two goalies needing to be put back on the roster. As discussed, a buyout of Maatta opens up $3M+, but that’s still not enough. And don’t forget that Caggiula is probably playing himself into a raise, too. And once again we’re assuming the Hawks are smart enough to let Erik Gustafsson walk, which sounds like a great way to end up stabbing ourselves.
It’s at this point that I have to say this would be a shitty way for Seabrook to have to end his career, especially if it’s in some sort of spat with the only organization he’s ever known. There is a way to thread this needle of course. Everyone can be clear with each other right after this season ends, with Seabrook saying he wants to play and the Hawks saying that’s great but they have to move on on their blue line. And then trying to do right by him by doing their best to find him a new home. It’s something of the same playbook they didn’t use last summer that we put forth.
How the Hawks end this season will probably play into it. If they miss the playoffs, which is still the more likely outcome given everything, it would be easy for players and management to point at the missing leadership and “oeuvre” of Seabrook as a cause. At least they could use it to justify not having to make the hard decision, which we know they love to do. But if they do make the playoffs without him, even with a departing Gustafsson, that becomes trickier.
It’ll make for excellent television, though.
The Blackhawks were on their biggest tear of the year before the break. They won five of their last six and 12 of their last 18, with 10 of those 12 wins coming in regulation. During their five-game winning streak, four of the five wins were definitive, with just one win against the lowly Senators coming in overtime. That put the Hawks within three points of the last wild card spot (as of this writing). Hope abounds.
What, if anything, has Jeremy Colliton had to do with it?
We ask this question because we’ve been harsh on him all year. The organ-I-zation, beat writers, and even some of us (read: me) entered the year with a “Give him a training camp” attitude. When Colliton and his Crew came out of camp at 3-5-2—or seven losses in 10 games, because getting a point for losing is horseshit—it became clear that the “magic training camp” wasn’t really a thing, and we lost our asses.
Since then, the results have been hot and cold. A four-win streak followed by a 1-5-1 streak. Two extra-time wins followed by an 0-3-1. Each losing streak complemented with a “We need more effort” from their one-time wunderkind. Is he getting that effort now, or is he just getting out of his own way? I wanted to know, so now we’re going to do this together.
We’ll break this season into two parts: opening day through December 14 (33 games total), and December 15 through now (18 games). All of the Big Blackhawks Media have taken a liking to using December 15 as a touchpoint, and so we will do that, too. We’ll look primarily at high-level counting stats (goals for, goals allowed), team analytics (CF%, GF% vs. xGF%), and any big changes in personnel that Colliton had direct control over (line combos and TOI but NOT NECESSARILY individual player performance).
|Team Stats 5v5||Goals For||Goals Allowed||GF%||xGF%||CF%|
Stats from NaturalStatTrick.com
Wouldn’t you know it, over the recent nice stretch, the Hawks have outscored their opponents, rather than getting outscored like they were at the beginning of the year. We’ve solved it, thanks for reading.
What’s fascinating is the why behind the goals. The Hawks are scoring goals at a nearly 9% higher rate over the last 18 games. And look at the difference between the xGF%s.
Quick aside, xGF% stands for expected goals for percentage. The important thing to know about it is that it measures shot quality (e.g., a point shot is typically lower quality than a shot off a rebound) and uses that to try to predict the likelihood of an actual goal scored.
So, the inversion of GF% and xGF% between the two time frames sure is curious. The Hawks should have scored more than they did during the first time frame, and they’re now scoring more than they should during this second time frame. Why?
Part of it is strength of schedule. Through today, the Hawks have had a slightly more challenging schedule than most other teams, based on points percentages. Another part of it is PDO. For the first time frame, the Hawks’s PDO was an even 1.000. From December 15 onward, the Hawks’s PDO is 1.024, good for fourth overall in the league. The difference has been the Hawks’s shooting percentage, which has skyrocketed from around 7% all the way up to 10%.
But these aren’t things Colliton can really control. What he CAN control for the most part is which players get the most ice time.
|1||Keithⴕ (25)||456:24||18:16||Keithⴕ (17)||308:48||18:10|
|2||Murphyⴕ (21)||365:40||17:25||Murphy (18)||324:07||18:01|
|3||Kane (33)||555:49||16:50||Gus (18)||303:45||16:53|
|4||de Haanⴕ (29)||485:19||16:44||Kane (18)||290:55||16:10|
|5||Gus (32)||530:46||16:35||Maatta (17)||262:55||15:28|
|6||Maattaⴕ (29)||457:15||15:46||Boqvist (17)||244:25||14:23|
|7||Seabrook (31)||483:09||15:35||Toews (18)||245:40||13:39|
|8||Cat (33)||464:22||14:04||Dach (18)||236:15||13:08|
|9||Toews (33)||442:30||13:25||Kubalik (18)||230:13||12:47|
|10||Stromeⴕ (29)||386:31||13:20||Cat (18)||229:34||12:45|
|11||Saad (33)||423:34||12:50||Carp (18)||213:51||11:53|
|12||Kampf (33)||384:48||11:40||Kampf (18)||200:54||11:10|
ⴕ = suffered injury at some point during stretch. Stats calculated using NaturalStatTrick.com
The biggest difference between then and now is the emergence of Kubalik and Dach in terms of how much they’re playing. (Boqvist too, but he’s had only half the time of the other two, so let’s revisit him at the end of the year.) Since December 15, Kubalik and Dach have averaged almost two full minutes more of ice time apiece. They’ve also established themselves on what you could call the top six, if you look at the line up as follows over the last 18 games:
Though Kane has averaged slightly less ice time during the latest run, Colliton still likes to double shift him whenever he can, which you can see as a function of his 5v5 average time on ice. Because Kane has superhuman endurance and has consistently outperformed his xGF% throughout his career, it’s hard to blame him. But more encouraging is that Dach and Kubalik are getting chances that they weren’t at the beginning of the year. It may have taken him longer than we’d have liked, but Colliton has gotten that right recently.
This implies that with more time and the right teammates, Colliton has begun to give what portends to be The New Core the chance to try shit. You might recall Kubalik getting scratched a few times earlier in the season for simply unfathomable reasons. This trend ceased around the second week in December, or just prior to Kubalik’s scoring binge. Just check out the differences between the time frames:
5v5 from NaturalStatTrick.com
Though you likely don’t need a fucking chart to tell you that Dominik Kubalik is not a third liner, there it is. Kubalik is starting to do what most good shooters do: pot shots that shouldn’t be going in. Colliton coming to Jesus on that has been helpful to the Hawks’s recent success, even if it took him way too long to get there.
It’s a similar story for Kirby Dach, though much more subtle.
5v5 from NaturalStatTrick.com
The counting stats are down, but the fancy stats have gotten better as Dach has both settled in and settled into a more defensively responsible role. Granted, he’ll need to up the offense, but credit Colliton for giving Dach more time as the year has progressed.
The Penalty Kill
The Hawks have the sixth-best penalty kill in the league as of this writing. Given how horrible their blue has been and continues to be, this may not make a ton of sense. But the numbers on this make it pretty easy to figure out why.
First, here are the splits between the time frames:
|PK%||PK Rank||PK SV%||PK HDSV%||PK TIME|
A couple things to note. First, the Hawks are currently taking fewer penalty minutes during the recent run. At the current pace, if you extrapolate what they’ve been doing, the Hawks will end up taking about 141 penalty minutes over the same time frame (33 games) going forward. That’s about 34 fewer minutes on the kill, or 17 fewer minor penalties.
But this doesn’t explain the huge spikes in save percentages. Some of that has to do with Crawford’s horrid performance in the first half of the year. In the second half, Colliton has leaned more on Lehner, who has been nails on the PK all year. So, we can give Colliton credit for that.
But the answer is much easier than even that. Here are all of Hawks who have averaged at least one minute of PK time per game, along with their respective goals allowed per 60 (GA/60).
The NHL average for GA/60 usually falls between 5 and 6. Brent Seabrook’s 11.2 is simply horrifying, especially when you see that he averaged a minute and a half on the PK when he was still playing.
In fact, according to hockey-reference.com, of players who averaged at least one minute of PK time and who played at least 10 games, only the following were worse:
- Neal Pionk (D, WPG, 16.1)
- Luke Kunin (C, MIN, 14.6)
- Frederik Gauthier (C, TOR, 13.8)
- Morgan Rielly (D, TOR, 12.8)
- Kyle Connor (LW, WPG, 12.7)
- Jeff Carter (C, LAK, 12.4)
- Jacob de la Rose (LW, DET/STL, 12.3)
- Oskar Lindblom (LW, PHI, 12.1)
- Justin Abdelkader (LW, DET, 12.0)
- Kurtis MacDermid (D, LAK, 11.7)
- Marco Scandella (D, MIN, 11.6)
- Ryan Johansen (C, NSH, 11.3)
- Drew Doughty (D, LAK, 11.2)
To give you an idea for what that means, everyone on that list aside from de la Rose (STL from DET) and Lindblom (who played with fucking bone cancer) belongs to one of the seven worst PK units in the league.
So, simply getting Seabrook off the PK likely had the greatest effect on its success, and his last game was on December 15. The defense still blows, but without Seabrook, it blows less.
Essentially, Colliton has done two things to change the team during this hot stretch:
- Healthy-scratched Seabrook three times, causing him to need two hip surgeries and one shoulder surgery
- Played Dach, Kubalik, and Boqvist more and higher on the depth chart
Getting Seabrook off the ice is probably the thing Colliton has done that’s had the greatest effect. We can argue about how he never really communicated with Seabrook about the scratches and how that’s shitty given Seabrook’s legendary status overall. But it’s obviously better for the team that Seabrook is off the ice, and Colliton clearly had a hand in that decision making. That’s a big move that he could have handled better, but a big move nonetheless.
You can credit him for playing Dach and Boqvist and letting them get their feet wet. Dach has taken to it better than Boqvist so far.
It’s hard to give him too much credit for promoting Kubalik, since he’s always shown that he belongs in the Top 6. You can’t help but wonder whether this scoring purge would have happened sooner had Colliton not dicked around with him so he could slot Nylander with Toews earlier in the year.
In short, Colliton’s contributions to this recent run of success amount to finally putting and keeping Kubalik on the top line, scratching his biggest anchor, and getting elite performances from elite players.
Patrick Kane is on a tear. Jonathan Toews has been on fire with Kubalik, who’s doing exactly what everyone but Jeremy Colliton thought he would do at the beginning of the year. Robin Lehner continues to play Vezina-level hockey. This is sort of what they’ve always done, even before Colliton.
Scratching Seabrook and elevating Kubalik were past-due epiphanies that clearly helped the team. Those are steps in the right direction. But his system still sucks, as shown by the fact that the Hawks are in the top 10 for both goals allowed (10th) and save percentage (6th). Until he fixes that latter part, it’s hard to totally buy in.
Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Maybe The Dingo Ate Your Baby: Lighthouse Hockey
It’s been spoken of many times previously on our various stops along the information superhighway, but the long held Boxing Day (and now Day After Boxing Day thanks to the CBA) quasi-tradition of the Hawks playing at home generally tends to be one of the more energetic affairs on West Madison, even dating back to the dark ages of the late 90s (entirely different era). UC denizens are generally stir crazy from a week cooped up with relatives and/or early hungover wakeups to see what Santa brought, so the opportunity to get out of the house and just yell shit at hockey players offers a decent catharsis. However, with Barry Trotz’s visiting Islanders in town, the action on the ice may in fact feel more like a noose tightening around the necks of those present.