Everything Else

The Blackhawks were badly in need of a serviceable backup goaltender for the 2018-19 season. after Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass did their best swiss cheese impression in 2017-18. So Stan Bowman went out and signed Cam Ward. After which, the Blackhawks were still badly in need of a serviceable backup goaltender for the 2018-19 season. Let’s do this!

33 GP – .897 SV% – 3.67 GAA

.912 SV% at Evens – .793 SV% on the PK

It Comes With a Free Frogurt

If he had actually come with a free Frogurt, that would’ve been the number one most positive thing about Cam Ward’s stint with the Blackhawks in 2018-19. For someone whose now been through 14 NHL seasons and is 35 years old, expecting anything other than backup level production would’ve been foolhardy, but Ward did have his moments, I suppose. He carried a good load of the play for the Hawks when Crawford was out, although maybe he shouldn’t have. He stole a few games here and there. But really, trying to project Ward as much more than a disappointment this year would be pretty tough to do.

At the very least, Ward managed to have a .919 SV% at 5v5 play (the above Evens number is all even strength situations), which was better than even Corey Crawford‘s mark of .916. So when the game was being played as intended, he was fine, but you would still hope to see a little better for a team that had playoff hopes, or at least wanted you to think they did. And again, he kept this team in some games and even stole them a win or three, with three 40+ save efforts in wins during February. So it wasn’t all bad. But, it was more bad than good. Let’s get there already.

The Frogurt is Also Cursed

If I wasn’t following a theme, that would’ve said “Mostly Cursed,” but alas I am a team player. The first problem with Ward was not even one of his own fault or doing, and that was that he had an NMC in his deal, which meant the Hawks were stuck with him all season long regardless of how it worked out. Even if this season went to shit, which there plenty of times when it seemed like it would/could, they didn’t even have the chance to see if some contender in need of goalie help down the stretch would give up a pick for Ward. Not that mid- or late-round picks in the NHL are worth much, but certainly more than a bad goalie on your roster for no reason. Yet here we are, still having to talk about him because he was here all year for no reason.

On top of that, Ward’s play was just mostly underwhelming even knowing that expecting much more than replacement level was a fool’s errand. He couldn’t even break .900 on his total SV% on the year. That was big time tanked by his atrocious play on the penalty kill, which was certainly not helped by the Blackhawks atrocious penalty killing units, but to be below .800 there is just embarrassing as well. No one has a good save percentage on the PK, but to be that bad is inexcusable even with the bad PK.

Ward is also the king of soft goals, and I shit you not it felt like almost half of the goals I watched him give up this year were ones he should’ve had. He just didn’t play angles very well, and his movement is certainly not natural anymore given that he’s up there in age (for athletes) and has a lot of mileage on him already. But he clearly didn’t have it anymore, and it showed most of the year. Even as someone who was in favor of the Hawks finishing out of the playoffs to have a shot at the lottery (and I’ve been validated, bitches), it’s hard not to wonder if the Hawks could’ve been playing hockey these last two weeks if they’d had a better backup playing than Ward. But we will get to that tomorrow.

Alas, Cam Ward is gone. May we never deal with him again, and may we drink to forget we dealt with him at all.

Everything Else

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Money Puck

The 2019 campaign is over. It will likely go down as one of the most disappointing performances that the Hawks have had since the core congealed back in 2007. Two 40+ goal scorers. A 35-goal scorer. Eight 30+-point seasons. A defenseman with 60 fucking points. And no playoffs.

It’s a massive disappointment. Yet somehow, it exceeded expectations? Given how bad the Western Conference was this year, the Hawks were in shouting distance of the playoffs as recently as two weeks ago. I certainly didn’t expect that, especially with Crawford missing as many games as he did. While none of us really expected the playoffs to be a reality, that they were even in the running was at least surprising. What’s scary is that it came on the backs of career years from Kane, Toews, DeBrincat, and Gustafsson. Is it safe to rely on that?

Fuck, we’ve got a long, long time to crack this brewski open. I’ll try not too be too retrospective tonight. Let’s kick it.

– First, thank you for reading and sharing this year. Sincerely, it’s a pleasure to write for all of you.

Cam Ward was outstanding tonight. Four goals on 50 shots is entirely acceptable behind this sock-as-as-condom defense. He certainly deserved a win for the effort tonight. We gave him a ton of shit this year, but tonight is a good memory to keep of him. Even though the Hawks had nothing to play for, Ward gave it a good effort. It’s a nice send off.

Alex DeBrincat had a hot and cold game. Early on, he was everywhere, creating offense on Perlini’s goal especially. After playing staunch defense in his own zone, he skated to the neutral zone and executed a dump and chase on his own. All Perlini had to do was be there for Top Cat’s pass. As the game wore on, DeBrincat got a little looser. It was especially obvious on Fibbro’s goal. After turning the puck over on the near boards, he stood complaining about something, forcing Gus to cover his man high in the zone. Fabbro took advantage, dropping into the space left wide open by Gus covering his man. Had DeBrincat not complained, maybe he’s in that spot.

After the year he had though, you don’t hold something like that against him. Not tonight at least.

Brendan Perlini ended a nine-game pointless streak tonight, but his airheadedness also allowed Wayne “They Don’t Call Me ‘Plate Tectonics’ for Nothing” Simmonds to crash the slot for a prime chance in the first. We’ve seen this before from Perlini, where he will take time off on a play that gives an opponent a good chance. Something to watch going forward, especially in terms of how Colliton deals with it. He’s scratched him before for boneheadedness.

Drake Caggiula can stay. That it took Stan Bowman signing Brandon Manning as a “fuck you” to Quenneville to get him isn’t his fault. He’s looked in place with Toews and Kane, mostly because he will go get the puck, taking that pressure off Toews. I’m still not sure that a Stanley Cup contender should have Drake Caggiula on the first line, but it hasn’t looked particularly wrong. I liked him tonight, and I liked him all year as a Hawk.

Patrick Kane is a piece of shit as a person, but he’s a goddamn artist with the puck. His patience on the goal line before his pass to Caggiula was astounding.

– I’ll go on record as saying I really like Pat Foley. Generally, he’s good at what he does and is entertaining. But listening to him call Austin Watson “physically proficient” in the same breath as talking about his far-too-short 18-game suspension for domestic violence was a bit much. He probably didn’t relate the two, but as a broadcaster, that’s kind of his entire job: to say things thoughtfully and clearly. He probably didn’t conflate the two consciously, but that he didn’t think how that phrasing might play was jarring to me.

– The sooner we all come to terms with the fact that Erik Gustafsson will never be anything more than a below-average defender with the ability to score 60 points, the better. He’s going to be the most interesting player the Hawks have next year because of his offensive proficiency, his defensive offensiveness, and his sweetheart contract.

– Listening to Nashville fans mock Ward after an empty netter reminds me of Clint Eastwood talking to that empty chair that one time. Looking forward to their piss-sweater-wearing team getting bounced before they win a Cup again.

We’ll have playoff coverage and baseball shit for you in the off-season. We’ll give you the postmortem in a week or two. And as always, we’ll give you the skinny on the draft and free agency. But for now, and for the second straight year, we’ll sign off on games that matter.

Thanks again for reading. As a great man once said:

Onwards . . .

Booze du Jour: Victory’s Sour Monkey and accoutrements.

Line of the Night: “They really have no business being in this game with the opportunities they’ve given up.” Pat Foley on the Hawks, getting it 100% correct

Everything Else

at

Game Time: 8:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Elon Musk Is A Sociopath: Fear The Fin

To the remaining 8 people who still held onto any kind of reasonable playoff aspirations for the Hawks, yesterday’s display should have disabused anyone of that notion with a defensive performance against one of the worst offenses in the league that one would have go lunge into oncoming traffic to call “embarrassing”. They’ll get to follow that up tonight in Northern California against one of the prohibitive favorites to come out of the West in the Sharks. Terrific.

Everything Else

at

RECORDS: Hawks 27-28-9   Kings 23-33-8

PUCK DROP: 3:00PM CST
TV/RADIO: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, WGN-AM 720
PLEASE NO MORE CALIFORNIA SONGS: JFTC

How the mighty have fallen. It’s a cliche, but given the matchup between these two former titans, it’s applicable. And while the Hawks are threatening to make a useless playoff appearance this year as the Kings did the previous season, the opponent they find for themselves today has no such delusions of grandeur.

At the start of today’s games, the Kings find themselves with the second worst point total in the league, and dead last in the Western Conference, with only the fetid corpse of the Ottawa Senators providing the buffer between them and the dirt. The problems for this team has remained constant even coming from the salad days, where their team offense is 30th in the league, but only this time there hasn’t been any defense and goaltending to bail them out. Age and workload and everything else has caught up with Jonathan Quick, whose .891 overall save percentage (.905 at evens) wouldn’t even be good enough on a team that boasted some high octane offense on occasion, and he need look no further than the squad in white today as proof of that. Quick is now 33, and his contract will take him until he’s 37, so if this is the rate of decline that Rob Blake and the Kings are going to have to live with, it’s not going to get any better anytime soon. But rest assured, despite Rob Blake not being able to make a solid transaction to save his life, much like he couldn’t ably perform any of his other post playing career duties, he’ll somehow manage to get promoted to executive VP or some shit, because that’s just what happens to Rob Blake.

In front of Quick the Kings’ blue line is still anchored by accused rapist Drew Doughty,  whose play has also completely fallen off the table. While he’s still taking assignments in any and every situation as a true #1, he has not been able to flip the ice this season as in years past, and only has one goal all year for his troubles. The latter is a bit of bad luck, and now with longtime partner Jake Muzzin gone he’s dragging around Derek Forbort, but if this is the new standard with his new contract kicking in at $11 mildo per NEXT year for the maximum 8 year term, the Kings are going to have to hope he rebounds at 30, and again, ask the guy wearing the XXXXXXL #7 sweater on the other bench how well that works out. With this season lost, the Kings are not at least trying to get a look at whatever they’ve got in their barren prospect cupboard, particularly with Alec Martinez hurt, so people named Kurtis MacDermid, Sean Walker, and Matt Roy are rounding out the bottom two pairings along with the overrated corpse of Dion Phaneuf.

Up front, Anze Kopitar hasn’t been able to repeat his career year which saw him gain a Hart Trophy finalist nod primarily because no one else on the Kings was scoring last year. Well now Kopitar has backslid to what his usual numbers had been, but no one else on the Kings has picked up any of the slack. Yes, it’s completely shocking that a 36 year old Ilya Kovalchuk has been a giant floaty turd on a team going nowhere, and he also has four more years left on his deal. No one on the Kings has more than 20 goals, which is probably most shocking from Jeff Carter, but again, the miles have more than likely caught up with him. Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis are still here, and it’d be easy to point and laugh about being permanently attached to 4th liners, but Marcus Kruger is still getting paid fairly nicely on the other side.

As for the Men of Four Feathers, this is an absolute must-have game in regulation if they’re going to continue to delude themselves and everyone else that they’re still vying for a playoff spot. The Nuclear Option of Saad, Toews, and Garbage Dick returns with The Drake now concussed, making the Hawks’ forward group even more top heavy. But again, if they’re going to do this, it’s not going to be because John Hayden and Wide Dick Artie are going to start dominating from the third line. And given that there’s no fathomable combination of defensive pairings that are going to slow anyone down, even this Nerf gun Kings offense, there’s no reason not to lean on the proven weapons they’ve got. Any run is also going to require solid goaltending from the likely still dizzy Corey Crawford, who in all likelihood will go tomorrow night in Silicon Valley, leaving Cam Ward to hopefully not shit his pants this afternoon. It’s a big ask, but he provides veteran leadership and and big game experience so hopefully he’s up for it.

When these two played at the UC back in November the Hawks were just getting acclimated to Coach Rod Belding and the game was an unwatchable slog. According to Stan Bowman, the team is still learning his system, which apparently must be like learning Sanskrit given the on ice results in the defensive zone. While the Hawks have at least become some form of black comedic fun since then, the vultures have continued to pick at the Kings, but afternoon hockey is the great equalizer and almost always results in shitty play and shitty ice conditions, so expect the same this afternoon. Regardless of that, if this team wants to convince itself it should be playing past game 82, beating the worst team in the West is nothing short of mandatory. Let’s go Hawks.

 

Game #65 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

I was very resistant to any idea that the Blackhawks were “back” as they were embarking on the win streak a few weeks ago. But as they got within touching distance of a playoff spot (through no major accomplishment of their own, mind you), I started to come around on the idea of playoff hockey for the atmoshphere and excitement. Then this past week happened and this team is back to being who we thought they were, which is a not good team that might be better off in the final field for Jack Hughes than Lord Stanley. Here’s who did what this past week along the way:

The Dizzying Highs

Patrick Kane – Is picking the guy who was on an otherworldly scoring steak a bit lazy? Absolutely. Listen, when you write the Sugar Pile you can be as creative as you want. I also struggle a little bit to find someone who really dominated last week. For the most part the Hawks were not great, but Kane continued to be. He had 6 points in the first three games of the week and then saw his 20 game point streak come to an end on Sunday against Dallas. Up until Sunday he was basically to the point you could consider the Hawks up 1-0 at puck drop because you knew he was getting them a goal one way or another (alas, even with that hypothetical advantage I had low confidence in them).

More than just the scoring, Kane absolutely skull-fucked the opposition on the possession front, only posting a CF below 57% against Detroit. Otherwise? 58.54% against Ottawa, 63.64% (!!!!) against Colorado, and 57.14% against Dallas. Toews was along for the ride for a lot of that, but Kane clearly stole the show by my estimation.

The Terrifying Lows

Collin Delia – Not the most encouraging week for Delia, as he played in just two of the four games and was not great in either. He got just 8 minutes on Monday against Ottawa and managed to give up 3 goals on just 10 shots in that time before getting the yank. None of the goals were exactly horrible, but they also were of the “could have had it but didn’t get it” variety. So we had that, and then he played against Colorado, and the same thing happened. None of the goals were awful, but he got beat pretty easily on seemingly pedestrian breakaway shots, and there was one that was just a straight up bad one by me.

None of this means too much for Delia, who has been overall fine this year but has slowly seen that save percentage creep closer and closer to “oh shit that’s bad” level – he’s at .909 right now. That’s more than serviceable from a first year NHLer, which he is, and it’s more than fine from a backup, which he might be long term. The jury is still out, but we just need to get him back on an upward trajectory after a pretty shitty week.

The Creamy Middles

Cam Ward – While I am loathe to really say anything nice about Ward (mind you, in a week in which he didn’t even have a save percentage that started with a nine, having him as a “middle” is probably quite nice) I have to say he didn’t exactly hurt his case with me last week. In what was just a fucking awful overall hockey game on Monday against Ottawa, he managed to keep the game under a semblance of control and backstopped them to a win. He also wasn’t horrible on Sunday in what was a much more fun and entertaining game. He kept them in that one as well up until they managed to screw it up in the end. I do not give a single shit about Cam Ward, but he was fine last week and his performance is exactly what I think of as “creamy middle” – boring vanilla bullshit that managed to be not good and also not bad.

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Urban Meyer Is A Sociopath: The Cannon

With the NBA All-Star festivities taking place, the Hawks will get a rare premium Saturday night home game in the mid-winter. They’ll welcome the Columbus Blue Jackets to West Madison, who are threatening to be wildly entertaining over the next few days, though not for on ice-reasons.

Everything Else

It was Chris Kunitz‘s 1000th game, it was Valentine’s Day, there was so much to distract from the fact that it was two crappy teams both trying to bounce back from particularly crappy losses. But in the end, the fact that Cory Schneider is horrendous and Cam Ward was, well, really good, made the difference. To the bullets…

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

– This game looked like it was going to get real ugly early on. The first period ended with shots at 14-13 Devils-Hawks, but the Hawks only caught up late in the period so that figure really masks how badly they were outplayed. A more accurate reflection is the 44.7 CF% at evens that they managed that period. In what will come as the least surprising statement of the night, the defense looked like total shit, with Erik Gustafsson being particularly putrid. He lost his man along the boards (or more accurately, stood there watching as he skated away) leading directly to the first goal by Damon Severson, he made multiple awful passes, and was generally useless. But it wasn’t just Gus. Everyone looked terrible except Cam Ward, who was lucky to keep it 2-0 for a while, and Patrick Kane, who just said fuck it and scored to make it 2-1 with just a couple minutes left.

– OK, it actually wasn’t just all Patrick Kane on that first goal; Dylan Sikura set up the play by winning a board battle with LOCAL GUY Nick Lappin and getting the puck to Kane in the first place. Sikura ended the night with a 68.4 CF%, and his line with Saad and Wide Dick had a 75 CF%, and I really wish Coach Cool Youth Pastor would see the value in the actions and numbers just described and play him for more than 10 minutes (or let’s just start with keeping him here instead of Rockford).

– Why would that possession matter so much? Because the Hawks were positively schizophrenic in their control of the puck tonight. They got domed in the first as described, then bounced back with a strong second period and managed a 60.5 CF% at evens, only to suck pond scum again in the third with a 34.5. They managed a paltry 8 shots in the third against the 19 they gave up to the Devils (yes, that’s right, 19 in the third), and it was really just Ward standing on his head, occasionally without a mask because of some bizarre wardrobe malfunction, that kept them in the period.

– And to that point, Ward was really good tonight. You know I don’t want to admit that, but I have to. There were flurries of shots he faced in both the first and third periods where it could have absolutely gotten out of hand. His positioning was excellent and rebound control was solid. Ward finished with a .953  SV%, and like always faced an obscene number of shots (43). Conversely, Cory Schneider is so bad I actually FEEL bad for him. He basically hasn’t won a game since the first Obama administration, and his total lack of rebound control led to Anisimov’s insurance goal in the third, which basically put the game away. At the end of the day, I’m glad the Hawks won so whatever, fuck him, but it’s actually kinda depressing at this point.

Brandon Saad got his 300th and 301st points tonight, and on this Valentine’s Day this guy FUCKS. A shorthanded goal, a 76 CF%, be still my heart.

– Kane and Toews continued their Fuck You tour. Kane had three points, including the first goal which arguably changed the entire trajectory of the game because it came late in the first, and it seemed to energize them since they dominated the second period. Kane to Koekkoek to Toews in the second was probably the prettiest goal, but Caligula’s was no slouch either and set the tone for the second (namely, that the Hawks were going to kick their ass for 20 minutes). All around, a good night for the top line.

Slater Koekkoek actually didn’t play terribly tonight. Again, you know I don’t want to admit that, but it’s true. He had an assist and a 68 CF% (SO CLOSE to making the joke), and generally was not offensive to the eyes or causing your face to melt in horror.

– Look, he’s not an important part of the organization nor does he have much history (or much future) here, but it’s cool that Chris Kunitz has played 1000 games, and the Hawks did their best in marking the occasion and being generally nice about it. Thumbs up all around.

So it was a good bounce-back game after the ignominious end of the streak against Boston. There’s some more shitty teams coming up over the next week and a half, and the conference remains a weird clusterfuck so who knows! Onward and upward…

Photo credit: NHL.com

Everything Else

 vs 

RECORDS: Detroit 21-27-7   Hawks 22-24-9

PUCK DROP: 2:00PM CST
TV/RADIO: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
JUGGALO HOMIES: Winging It In Motown

 

If there has been one schadenfraude-drenched upside to the last two years of the Hawks tripping over their own dicks at every conceivable juncture, it’s that the Red Wings have been equally inept, if not more so. Yes, most of the old wounds have healed, as silver tends to do that, particularly when eliminating them on the way to one, but anyone looking for emotional maturity has clearly been reading the wrong publication for over a decade now.

Entering today’s matinee, the Wings sit 14 points back of a wild card spot with a month and a half to play, essentially left for dead in the Eastern conference they so desperately wanted to play in. Just yesterday they lost another afternoon tilt in Buffalo, their second straight. One of the lone bright spots for the Wings has been Jimmy Howard, who’s had a bit of a renaissance this season with a .914 overall and an excellent .930 at evens, his best since the aforementioned abbreviated 2013 season, but he went yesterday in Buffalo. That means that Jonathan Bernier is likely to get the start today, and suffice it to say that Bernier is a step down from Howard, boasting an .898 overall and a .900 at evens. Even with goaltending taking a downturn league-wide, that’s still not enough from a backup.

In front of Bernier is a blue line that is somehow even more barren and desolate a wasteland than the Hawks. With no morning skate today, based on yesterday in Buffalo, the Wings will be trotting out a top pairing of Niklas Kronwall and Mike Green with a straight face in 2019, not 2009. Kronwall was always overrated and dirty, and now he’s lost more than a step and a half at 38 years old. Mike Green could probably still make a decent living as a third pairing bum slayer and power play quarterback, but he’s always been an adventure in his own zone and he can’t outscore those problems anymore. Danny DeKeyser is never going to be anything more than “a guy” no matter what the drunk dick from Perth Amboy at the bar shouts, and Jonathan Ericsson makes Seabrook look downright nimble these days. Unfortunately, Trevor Daley is hurt so he won’t be able to be recognized on the UC jumbotron during the first TV timeout.

Up front for the Wings, there are some decent pieces, but it’s just simply not enough now, particularly in the wake of Henrik Zetterberg‘s retirement. Dylan Larkin is the de facto #1 center right now, flanked by two of the worst contracts in the game in Justin Abdelkader and Gustav Nyquist. Larkin hasn’t quite grown into a true #1 yet, but he’s producing nearly a point per game (51P in 53 games) and certainly has all the talent to put it together by the time the Wings think they’ll be competitive again, and he’s still not even 23. Frans Nielsen centers the second line which features a somehow still employed Thomas Vanek back for a second tour of duty in Detroit (because the first time went so well) and Anthony Mantha on the other side, appears to basically be a Quebecois Hayes brother, providing 20 useless goals a season from a giant frame that intimidates no one. One of the best nicknames in the league and one of the fastest sets of wheels, Greece Lighning, Andreas Athanasiou continues to languish on the third line with known bums Luke Glendening and Darren “Ambulance 43” Helm. The Red Wings also have a fourth line.

As for the Men of Four Feathers, Thursday night marked their sixth win in a row, which no one is sure if it means a goddamn thing yet. They did so giving up 40 shots to the equally putrid Canucks and had to get to the bullshit that is 3-on-3 to decide things. But points are points, considering that A) this draft isn’t that deep past Jack Hughes, and B) the league is going to rig that he plays for his home town team anyway, which just happens to be the Hawks’ opponent today. The one thing that continues to hum along for the Hawks is the power play, and fortunately the Wings’ PK is only marginally better than the Hawks’, though Jonathan Bernier has been relatively respectable on the kill with an .883 save percentage.

Lines from Saturday’s skate appeared the same as the last game, but it was notable that Corey Crawford briefly took the ice and partook in team drills if only for about 20 minutes sharing a net with Collin Delia, which would seem to indicate that Cam Ward would get the start. What a time to be alive.

The Hawks didn’t get any favors from the Blues on Thursday or the Wild yesterday, but it’s still too goddamn early to be scoreboard watching in that regard. A tank is basically out of the question at this point, and it’s better for the players already on this roster to develop by winning, particularly against eminently beatable teams such as this Scum bunch. Take care of business. Seven is better than six.

Game #56 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 18-24-9   Sabres 25-19-6

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

WEARING THE KELSO HELMET: Die By The Blade

The Hawks escape the Polar Vortex, and their bye-week, only to arrive in the constant vortex of misery and ice that is Buffalo, New York. As Harry T. Stone once said, “Why don’t you just sleep in your refrigerator?” They’ll find there a Sabres team still dog-paddling furiously to find the refuge of a playoff spot, but seemingly can’t get any closer after their one hot-streak of the season.

The Sabres seem to suffer from what’s been going around with a lot of teams on either side of the periphery of the playoff cutoff, and that’s they’re one line and then a bunch of understudies and scenery. You’ve seen this in Dallas, Colorado, Vancouver to an extent, Edmonton for like four minutes, Boston, and the like.

Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart (the one good Reinhart) form a deadly unit. Skinner is on his way to his first 40-goal season, Eichel is averaging a point-per-game for the first time. They’ve kept the Sabres in most games every night, and they had one streak where they found a way to win every game they were in. Which is the only reason they have any hope of a playoff spot now. Throw in competent goaltending in spots from either Carter Hutton or Linus Ullmark, and you get a team that’s slightly above an also-ran but not nearly ready for primetime either.

Because there’s isn’t anything behind that line. Casey Mittelstadt will be a fine player one day, but is learning the ropes. Kyle Okposo died of dysentery. Jason Pominville is three days older than water. Evan Rodrigues helps prove the theory that if you wore a letter for your college team, you suck. There’s just no secondary scoring here.

Perhaps one day Rasmus Dahlin will chip in big-time with that, but as promising as he is asking him to do it at 18 from the blue line is a bit much. Rasmus The Lesser (Ristolainen) has always been a fraud and maybe now they’re even realizing it in Buffalo. The rest of the defense is basically plugs like Zach Bogosian or Marco Scandella, or players who just never got there like Nathan Beaulieu and Jake McCabe. Again, there’s a top tier base here in Dahlin, the Sabres just need to fill in the rest behind. Or wait until their other prospects do so. It’s a project.

For the Hawks, they’ll start the post All-Star break “push” with a weird road-trip that goes east-to-west. with tomorrow night in Minnehaha to face the equally confounding Wild before decamping for Edmonton to face the always hilarious Oilers. Maybe the schedule makers just wanted the Hawks to see the three places consistently colder than Chicago for perspective.

Cam Ward will get the start, with Collin Delia getting the nod for what is the more “important”divisional game in the Hawks’ heads only. In theory, you might have to haul down the Wild to get into the playoffs, so if the Hawks do rip off 15 in a row the two points tomorrow will matter more. Or something. I just work here, ok?

As for other lineup changes, I would imagine that Carl Dahlstrom comes in for the bewilderingly-demoted Jokiharju, though Forsling was activated and could be chosen to waste all of our time again. Connor Murphy will probably stare quizzically at Slater Koekkoek all night, while the revival act of Marlboro 72 continues to not sell out theaters nationwide. Boy, this is fun. Whatever two of Perlini, Kunitz, and Hayden floats your boat will play. No, it does not matter.

The Hawks are back. And there was must rejoicing.

 

 

Game #52 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

A few weeks back I wrote about how Corey Crawford should retire in light of his latest concussion. I still believe what I said in that piece, and with the accomplishments he’s racked up and what we know about the effects of multiple head traumas, it seems unnecessarily risky for him to return to playing a contact sport.

But much to everyone’s surprise, including mine, Crawford has been skating and working out with Jimmy Waite so a return this season certainly seems possible. And regardless of what I think, at the end of the day I’m just a fan with an opinion, as far removed from the inner workings of the team and as giardiniera-soaked as everyone else (possible more so—I have literally made a scene when actual giardiniera was unavailable in a sandwich place. I’m a peach).

So if Crawford chooses to return to the lineup, the Hawks will obviously play him as their starter, which they would be foolish not to. What would that mean for the team and the season? Let’s examine what should happen (based solely on how I would like things to turn out), and what will happen (based on cruel realism). Shall we?

Goaltending & Defense

What should happen: Crawford returns to his Vezina-quality form and plays obnoxiously well, turning the end of the season into a punctuation mark on how he’s one of the best and most underrated goaltenders in the league and has been for a damn good stretch of time. The blue line as a whole dials up its give-a-shit meter as a way to offer him additional protection, and they reverse the depressing trend of defensive play that’s left them league-worst in both scoring chances given up and high-danger chances given up. The Hawks finish the season out of the playoffs, but out of the basement as well.

What will happen: Crawford comes back and his performance will be middling, similar to where he was when he got hurt in mid-December. Some periods and some nights, he’ll be the Crow of old and be lights out; other times he’ll be human and not be able to win the game on his own, and he won’t make saves that he once would have. His save percentage will hover somewhere in the low nine-hundreds, probably around .905, as the Hawks’ awful defense strands him with 40 SOG a night. Their inability to handle Colliton’s man defensive scheme will leave guys with all day in the slot and around the crease taking those high-percentage shots. The Hawks finish the season in the basement.

Roster Moves

What should happen: The front office convinces Cam Ward to waive his no-movement clause and they trade him for a bag of pucks. If Bowman found GMs dumb enough to take Manning and Rutta off our hands, you gotta believe he can unload an experienced back-up goaltender who has only been a partial dumpster fire. Then, Collin Delia stays up with the top club and handles a little more than typical back-up duties, maybe close to splitting the remaining 31 games with Crawford (think a 17-14 split, Crawford-Delia).

This way, Delia continues to play at the NHL level and we have a relatively reliable alternative for any time Crawford throws out a turd for the night, or whenever he just needs a couple days to rest. The season is fucked anyway, so it’s not like we need a hot hand to have momentum going into the playoffs. Let Delia learn and improve while Crawford has extra support.

What will happen: One of two things will happen, thanks to the organization’s brain geniuses—either Delia will get sent to Rockford or he and Ward will switch off being healthy scratches. The former wouldn’t be completely terrible because at least Delia would be playing nearly every night. Granted, the Ice Hogs suck too and probably won’t make the Calder Cup playoffs, plus the AHL is goonville and I honestly fear for the safety of anyone playing in that league. But it would be better than the latter option of the Hawks keeping Ward and Delia here, and wasting a roster spot that could go to a young forward currently in Rockford.

And it would all be because they gave Ward a stupid contract. I couldn’t even blame Ward if he chose not to waive his NMC…that’s just looking out for his own interests and you can’t fault a guy for that. But it would be another glaring example of contract incompetence, as Delia would only get to play maybe six or seven more games, and when he’s rusty and not progressing, gets sent back to the press box where no one ever became a better hockey player, and/or has shattered confidence. It would spell the beginning of the end for him here.

Overall

What should happen: Crawford should retire and protect his future health, which will also allow the Hawks to limp to the finish line with an overpriced back-up and a youngster who learns to be an NHL-caliber goalie or proves he isn’t one. The front office makes moves accordingly in the offseason to address whatever situation they have with Delia, and whatever implications that carries for the rest of the roster.

What will happen: Crawford comes back at a level far below what we’re used to, and the coaching staff is put between the proverbial rock and a hard place with the roster. This bizarre ménage a trois becomes yet another depressing storyline at the end of the season, as everyone ponders what to do to get out of it.