Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Look folks, I won’t lie to you: tonight was much more in line with how I expected this series to go than what we saw on Saturday. I had a lot of fun watching the Hawks completely manhandle Connor McDavid on Saturday, and it’s not really a secret that if you can do that you have a better chance of beating this Edmonton outfit. But that was never going to be sustainable, because, well, he’s Connor fucking McDavid. Let’s dig in:

THE BULLETS

– So yeah, Connor fucking McDavid, huh? I mean, there is not much more to be said when the best player in the world scores a goal on you 19 seconds into the game, and another for good measure just four minutes later while making Olli Maatta look like nothing more than a gnat. The Oilers aren’t exactly a one-man show, but fuck if McDavid couldn’t be one himself. I tweeted during the game that I think he is the most dominant athlete in any team sport right now, and I think tonight was a great example of why. He was always going to be the X-factor in this series; you either stop him and win or don’t and lose. Saturday was the former, but like I said above, that isn’t easily replicated. Don’t be surprised if we see more of this from him on Wednesday.

– Adam Boqvist had a really rough night tonight, especially on the defensive end. He will never be a shutdown guy on that side of the ice, so those mistakes are liveable, but we’re gonna need to see more on the offensive side to make up for it. Part of the issue in that regard is the system the coach deploys and the situations in which the coach deploys him, but at the same time he is gonna have to overcome some of that. Granted, he’s still just 19 years old and already playing in the NHL earlier than he anticipated, and probably earlier than the team did as well. There is plenty of room for growth there, but tonight was ugly.

– Sort of building off that last point, I don’t know why Boqvist isn’t running the point on PP1. The lone righty shot on that unit right now is Kirby Dach, and he’s the goalie screen. Otherwise we see Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Domink Kubalik, and Duncan Keith. None of those guys are unqualified for the unit, but when you have four lefties on the ice and you post Kane up on the right boards, it’s not exactly a secret what the plan is for that PP. I think swapping Boqvist onto the point for Keith may sound like small blasphemy, but I think it would open that PP up to many more possibilities. But the coach’s brain is smoother than a lake at midnight, so I am not holding my breath in hopes of seeing this change.

– Not Crawford’s finest night either, lowlighted by his best Mike Smith impression on the Oilers fifth goal that was really the dagger in the game. I still have faith in Crow, but he is going to really need to step his shit up if the Hawks are going to win this series, because he really is their only hope.

– We’re two more losses from my master plan of tanking to get the 12.5% chance at the #1 pick coming to fruition. But we are also just two wins away from getting to watch *real* playoff hockey, which I also welcome. This is officially a win-win situation folks. Until Wednesday.

– Sorry I am not as long-winded with these wraps as Pulega. I just didn’t enjoy this game as much as he did Saturday, for obvious reasons. And also, he is a monster that Fels created in a lab. Fuck that guy. But also, he is cool. Ya know?

Hockey

So far, we’ve generally argued that given the weirdness of these play-ins, the relative depth of the forward corps, and Corey Crawford returning from COVID-19, the Hawks could squeak out a win in this series-that-shouldn’t-be against an extremely top-heavy Oilers squad. But if you’re looking for an abandon all hope kick in the crotch, you’ll find it in the special teams matchup.

Oilers Power Play and Penalty Kill

PP%: 29.5 (1st)

PK%: 84.4 (2nd)

Edmonton has the best power play percentage among all NHL teams by far. They’ll typically ice McDavid and Draisaitl on the first unit, along with RNH, Alex Chiasson, and Oscar Klefbom. Athanasiou and Yamamoto feature on the second unit, with Nurse, Bear, and James Neal.

We’re sort of at a loss for words about what a hot bucket of enema-induced diarrhea this matchup is going to be. The thought of McDavid and Draisaitl finding ice time against Slater Koekkoek or Olli “Buyout” Maatta is dreadful. There likely isn’t a faster or more offensively talented two PP units in the game. I guess we can rest assured we likely won’t see much of the second unit?

The Oilers penalty kill was also close to the top of the league. The PK units themselves aren’t anything to write home about, with Klefbom, Riley Sheahan, Nurse, Bear, the enormous Jujhar Khaira, and Josh Archibald taking primary PK responsibilities.

It’s their goaltending that’s done the heavy lifting on the PK. Sike Mmith has managed to put up a better save percentage on the PK (91.8%) than at 5v5 (90%). What an asshole. Mikko Koskinen is no slouch on the PK either, boasting a strong 90.1%. So, even if the Hawks can find a way to enter the zone (and they won’t), they’ll come up against the best PK goalie tandem in the game. Joy.

Hawks Power Play and Penalty Kill

PP%: 15.2 (28th)

PK%: 82.1 (T-8th)

The Hawks power play is and always will be a drooling dog’s sore dick. There’s little point in getting wound up about it anymore, but you can bet your ass we’ll be red and nude when we see it. They’re going to look foolish and will likely give up at least one shorthanded goal, and it’ll probably be to James Neal, who will score it by barreling into Crawford, whose head will then fall clear off and float down the Rogers Place River.

If there’s anything the Hawks can hope for, it’s that some combination of Toews, Kampf, Carpenter, Saad, Murphy, and Keith can minimize any damage McDavid and Draisaitl will set up. The true nightmare will be Murphy tweaking his groin, de Haan not being able to shake off the rust, and the top PK minutes going to Maatta.

As with 5v5 play, David Kampf will need to play an outsized role in shutting down McDavid if the Hawks will have any hope at keeping Edmonton’s PP at bay. Any extended time on the PK will also eliminate the slight depth advantage the Hawks have at forward, with Toews and Saad typically taking second unit duties.

Advantage: Oilers by a mile

It’s simple: If the Hawks find themselves on the PK any more than three times in a game this series, they will lose that game. On average, the Hawks found themselves shorthanded slightly under three times a game during the regular season. With a sizeable speed disadvantage, along with four months of rust, don’t be surprised to see the Hawks marching to and from the box more often than they did in the regular season. If that happens, they’re fucked.

Forwards Preview

Defense Preview

Goalies Preview

Coaching Preview

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Oilers 36-23-8   Hawks 30-28-8

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

SO VERY COLD: Oilers Nation

I suppose this is something of the pivot game for the Hawks. You would assume, though that could be a very silly thing to do, that they’ll get the win in Detroit tomorrow night that’s on offer for everyone. Another embarrassing effort against the Blues waits on Sunday (there’s been three already). But the Hawks can turn that into something of a free hit with a win over the Oilers tonight. That would also be four wins in row, with a chance of five in Michigan, which would allow the Hawks to say they’re “charging.” That’s if you buy into all this.

Also, the Oilers aren’t a flu-ridden Ducks team missing its top three d-men (who then went on to beat the Avs in Denver last night, because hockey is here to prove your rules are for shit).

That doesn’t mean we can tell you what the Oilers are. We have no idea. We were sure they would have collapsed by now. We thought Mike Smith would sink them. Or McDavid’s injury. Or a complete lack of forwards. Or just being the Oilers. And yet here they are, not only entrenched in the playoff race but only two points behind the Knights for the Pacific lead with a game in hand. Perhaps it’s just the Pacific Division that makes you question the rules you followed.

So what are they doing here. Special teams, special teams, and special teams again. The Oilers power play is clicking at 30%. They have the second-best penalty kill in the league. They have 56 power play goals, and 30 power play goals against. When you win the special teams battle pretty much every night, you don’t have to be that good at even-strength. And don’t you worry, the Oilers aren’t really.

Then again, it also helps to have two MVP-worthy players centering your top two lines.

The Oilers finally separated Draisaitl and McDavid this year, and have watched Draisaitl carry the team in McDavid’s absence and become the front-runner for the Hart himself. He leads the league in scoring by 13 points…over McDavid. He’s on pace to blow by Kucherov’s 128 last year, which we thought was a number that came from the moon then. And McDavid is McDavid. Seeing as how they’re going to the playoffs, you’d be hard-pressed to find an opposing blue line that would be looking forward to this challenge.

The Oilers sought to shore up their pretty sad forward situation at the deadline by bringing in Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis, who apparently that guy who plays for all teams at pickup games in any sport. Raise your hand if you knew Ennis was still in the league. He wasn’t, he was in Ottawa. Anyway, he’s currently getting the sweetheart spot of playing alongside McDavid.

Which puts McDavid in the strange spot of being the line you don’t worry about as much. Since RNH-Draisaitl-Yamamoto have been put together they’ve kicked a hole it he world. Athanasiou is currently being used to give the bottom six anything resembling a pulse, so it’s a stronger outfit than the Hawks couldn’t overcome last time they met. And that one didn’t have McDavid, which kicked off that horror show Western Canada swing.

No changes for the Hawks tonight, and nor should there be. CCYP is making noise about starting Crawford in both halves of this back-to-back, but you’d think there couldn’t possibly be a softer landing for Malcolm Subban to make his Hawks debut than against former-Scum.

The Hawks couldn’t deal with the Oilers power play last time, so it will be imperative to stay out of the box as much as possible tonight. No one can deal with this power play. But hey, the Preds stayed out of the box pretty much against this team on Monday, and they gave up seven even-strength goals. So yeah.

But if the Hawks want to claim they have one last charge in them, and they’re on it now, they have to get this one.

Hockey

I like to do this at the watermarks of the season. If you’re new, and some of you shockingly are, I take an analytic look where I can on where the major hardware should go, but sometimes won’t, at this point in the season. For the most part, it sticks to where you think it would go anyway, but sometimes it diverges. Anyway, to it…

Hart Trophy – Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl Split It

This would certainly drive the hockey world mad, and you’ll have more than enough saying that Draisaitl’s stats and success are merely based on playing with McDavid. And I could probably accept that, and if they just wanted to hand it to McDavid I wouldn’t complain. McDavid is almost certainly going to wind up like Mike Trout, where he wins three or four of these and then when he retires we realize he probably should have won eight or nine and there was no good reason he didn’t.

Either way, the Oilers suck to high heaven and yet are comfortably in first in the Pacific because of these two. They are both leading the NHL in scoring at 44 and 43 points. No one else on their team has more than 17. Along with their linemate James Neal, they have 43 goals. The rest of the team has 33. If you were to go totally rudimentary on this, the rest of the team is getting slightly beyond one goal per game. These two are accounting for over two.

Norris Trophy – John Carlson

Believe me, this seemed way too obvious for me but it’s hard to make a case for anyone else. And he’s already going to win it, given the buzz his point total at this point has generated. When you’re a defenseman and you’re on pace for 124 points, people tend to take notice.

So I looked for a metric way to get beyond Carlson, but he’s ahead of the team-rate in Coris and expected goals. The argument that will be brought out by someone is that he doesn’t play great defense. But the Caps are scoring 50% more goals when he’s on the ice than they give up, and the whole point of the fucking sport is to score more goals than the other team. Carlson is helping the Caps do that more than anyone.

You could make a small case for Dougie Hamilton, as his possession numbers are better. But beyond that, his argument would be the same one for Carlson. Kris Letang has actually been magnificent for the strangely dominant-at-evens Penguins, but as always he’s been ouchy and isn’t scoring enough.

If there were a Rod Langway Award–for best defensive defenseman–and he had been healthy, I could make a serious case for Connor Murphy here. No, seriously, I can. Murph has the second best relative Corsi-against rate in the league, and the second-best expected goals-against rate. While the Hawks remain The War Rig at the end of Fury Road defensively overall, they’re actually somewhat stout when Murphy is on the ice. No d-man has improved his team’s defense more than Murphy. It won’t get him any hardware, and it’ll probably only get him traded in the offseason as the Hawks continue to cower in fear of Seabrook and need to find room for Boqvist, Mitchell, et al, but everyone should know just how good Murphy has been.

Vezina – Robin Lehner

Fuck you, let’s go with the hometown vote. While Kuemper and Greiss have better SV%, they’re playing behind better defensive teams. So is every other goalie on the planet, essentially. Those two also have bigger differences when it comes to expected save percentages and expected goals and such, but Lehner has had to have great games while still giving up three or four to keep it from being 10. We know what Trotz systems do for goalies. We probably know what Colliton systems do for then too, and it ain’t the same. Lehner has had to perform miracles to keep the Hawks on the periphery of they playoff chase. And I’ll be goddamned if I’m handing anything to Darcy Goddamn Kuemper.

Calder – Cale Makar

This one isn’t even close. Makar is blowing away the rookie scoring race from the blue line, and he has a +7 relative xG%. While the Avs have gone without Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel ThreeYaksAndADog for a good portion of the season, they’re still hanging around the top of the conference with games in hand on everyone because of Makar and MacKinnon. He’s been everything as advertised, and is probably the best hope for a non-truly evil team to come out of the West this year.

Selke – J.T. Miller

Most voters would light themselves on fire before they give this award to a winger, which is why Marian Hossa doesn’t have the three he should, but if you dig deep on the metrics it’s pretty clear. Miller sits atop the rankings when it comes to attempts and expected goals against relative to his team, and in both cases it’s by some margin. Oh, and because morons care about this, he’s been taking Elias Pettersson‘s draws for the most part and is clipping in at a 59% win rate. So there.

Hockey

It finally happened, folks! The Hawks played a solid game nearly the full 60 minutes, they had even-strength goals, Corey Crawford was back to his old self. And all is right with the world (well, not really, but for like this very minute it kinda is).

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Corsica

–The big news (aside from the win, obviously) is that the Hawks didn’t get domed in the second period. And not only did they avoid playing like shit, they were actually dominant in that period. They outshot the Oilers 17-6, led 32-8 in attempts, had a 75 CF% at evens, and of course got the only goal of the period thanks to a quick shot from Kane off a faceoff win by Dylan Strome. And it was an even strength goal—who knew they could still do that? Beyond the numbers, they passed the eye test too. Brandon Saad had two excellent chances in the period, both off lovely feeds from Dominik Kubalik just above the circles. Darnell Nurse made a great play on the first one to break up Saad’s momentum and the second one he hit the post, but despite the lack of finish they were exactly the plays and chances we want to see. And Connor Murphy made the same feed to Caggiula in the second so if any of these guys could learn to finish, we may have that air raid offense we keep talking about.

–There was, however, an element of luck to all this. Yes, the Oilers did not play all that well tonight but Connor McDavid‘s speed is still other-worldly even on an off night, and he nearly tied it after calmly stealing the puck from Ryan Carpenter (who otherwise wasn’t bad) and driving right to the net. He lost control a bit and the contact with Crawford negated the goal, but if he had stopped about six inches sooner the second would have ended tied.

–And that exemplified how even in this dominant period, it felt like the Hawks’ lead was tenuous—that they were one bad break away from losing their grip on things. The Oilers seemed confused as to why things weren’t going their way, why all the bad bounces and classic Crawford saves were thwarting them, and it wasn’t until the second goal in the third that it began to feel like the Hawks were in control.

Alexander Nylander got that go-ahead goal—did you think you were gonna hear that? We like to give Nylander a lot of shit around here, but it actually was a nice takeaway from McDavid of all people (again, he had an off night). It was a badly needed insurance goal. So they’re going to still try and make Fetch happen, get ready. I’m of the opinion that one good play does not a useful player make, but the Hawks NEED this trade to work so despite being marooned on the fourth line, he’ll worm his way into the lineup again and they’ll keep Fetch around for a little while.

–Crawford was fucking great. He had a .964 SV% and made the point-blank saves we know and love him for. He absolutely deserved to be the first star of the game, and everyone who was freaking out that he’s lost his touch should sit down.

–Speaking of things working, can we keep Kubalik-Kampf-Saad together? They had a 79 CF% on the night, and to put it another way, they were largely responsible for keeping McDavid-Draisaitl-Kassian to a 41 CF%. It’s telling in and of itself that Beto O’Colliton put 8-64-20 out against one of the best lines in the entire NHL and not the ostensible top line. And it made sense, seeing as McDavid’s line had some of their most productive shifts against Strome’s line in the third. Like everyone else, I’m confused if Toews is hurt or if he’s just in a slump or if it’s a sign of a course correction after his renaissance last year. It’s probably too soon to tell, but signs aren’t good thus far.

–The penalty kill was marginally better. There was a shot off the post in the first, so again, a bit of luck, and obviously the Oilers converted late in the third which really created some unnecessary drama. But, even aside from those issues it was still better, going 2-for-3. The power play…meh, I guess it was slightly better at times but that’s not saying much. They avoided the frustrating stand-around-and-wait-for-Kane bullshit, but they got held to the outside, which they still struggled to do on their own penalty kill. So special teams are a work in progress, is what I’m trying to say.

–Brandon Saad worked so damn hard to get a goal and even that empty netter was like there was a force field on the goal line but he PERSEVERED people. Four shots, one goal, 72 CF%…he had himself a night.

Obviously we hope this is the start of the Hawks turning things around—getting some reliability with the lines, less awful special teams, people shutting the hell up about Crawford. But it remains to be seen, for now, onward and upward…

Line of the Night: “They’re sellouts but there are still tickets available.” —Foley doing the mandated wheel pose about the sellout streak and GREAT SEATS STILL AVAILABLE at the same time

Beer de jour: Lagunitas Daytime (yes, it’s nighttime, I know, leave me alone)

Hockey

Due to the decade-plus-long streak of Red Wings exceptionalism, it was just a given that Ken Holland was a genius who prolonged the mid-90s dominance constructed by Jimmy Devellano by unearthing gems like Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. And yeah, that’s quite a foursome to back up the free-spending ways of the Bowman Years.

As time went along, it appeared more and more that Holland simply kept Forrest Gump’ing his way into great players, and as the cap took more and more hold of the league, he simply couldn’t adjust. There were some hideous contracts handed out (Frans Nielsen and Trevor Daley, hello!), while the pipeline went dry for years (remember when Tomas Jurco was going to change the sport forever?). That core that ran the league in the mid-to-late 2000s got old and had not support. And then it all collapsed, and the Wings are still trying to get out from under it. Some began to wonder what Holland’s actual legacy was. Was he just born on third in Detroit?

We’ll find out now, because for some reason Holland decided to take on one of the few bigger messes than Detroit in the NHL, and that’s the Edmonton Oilers.

Perhaps like a couple coaches have, the allure and glow of Connor McDavid is just too strong to ignore. Perhaps the name-recognition of Holland in the sport delays any inklings McDavid might have of demanding out (they have to be there, right?). Or maybe it’s just the truckload of cash dropped at his door. Whatever the reason, Holland is certainly up to the knee in it now.

One thing Holland might be hoping is that simply not being Peter Chiarelli buys him a season or two to assemble a couple more draft picks. The Oilers only hope is to get production out of players on minimal deals to offset the shovelful of horseshit they’re getting from some of their higher-paid players.

Salvation might not be as far away as everyone likes to joke. The Oilers only have McDavid, RNH, Draisaitl, Neal, Chiasson, Klefbom, Russell, Koskinen signed for next year, though they only have $23M in space to fill some 13-14 spaces. The only player they are likely to want to keep is Darnell Nurse, but his play has hardly warranted paying him like the angry Seth Jones we thought he might become a year or two ago. Perhaps Phillip Broberg and Evan Bouchard can join the blue line for cheap help in the next couple seasons. Then again, Broberg was Holland’s first pick and was widely panned. Tigers can’t change their stripes, after all.

Which continued the tradition of what Holland had done in Detroit. Over his last nine drafts in Motor City, after they had stopped picking in the high-20s due to on-ice success, Holland provided only Anathasiou. Mantha, Larkin, and (if we squint) Tyler Bertuzzi. There’s some hope for Svechnikov and Hronek, but needless to say no jury is anywhere close to being back from lunch on them. Without reinforcements from within, all the while swearing that they were just overcooking in Grand Rapids, the Red Wings main roster aged and expensed its way out of competence.

One way to goose the process would be to find a trade, but the Oilers don’t have much to make a splash with. Draisaitl and McDavid are immovable and you’d never get fair value for them anyway. The window to move Ryan Nugent-Hopkins along might very well have passed. He has one more year on his deal after this one before hitting unrestricted free agency, and he’ll only be 27, so the time would be at this deadline. Waiting until the offseason will only lower his value. But then the Oilers would have to find another center or winger to make up for Draisaitl moving back to his natural pivot spot. It’s going to have to be more than Kailer Yamomoto, that’s for sure.

While it would be un-hockey-like, there must be a ticking clock hanging over McDavid as well. If any player could pull an NBA-style “Get Me The Fuck Outta Here” power move, it’s Run CMD. He’s seen the playoffs once in five seasons and patience must be thin. If Holland hasn’t presented something of a plan to his captain, he’s going to have to soon.

Holland needs at least one more year of high picks though, and maybe collecting a few more by selling off whatever’s not tied down. Except there isn’t anything. What would be worth anything at the deadline? Kassian? Maybe Benning? Those are worth low-round picks at best. RNH to someone desperate might be his only hope.

Does Holland have the patience for a slow burn that he didn’t show in Detroit until it was too late? Does he have the luxury considering what McDavid’s mood might be? We’ll see what he’s made of now.

Hockey

And now this disaster. I was thinking earlier this morning that there really isn’t a parallel to the Oilers wasting one of the best players of all-time for years, but of course there is. It’s the Anaheim Angels. Mike Trout appeared in the playoffs once, and his team has been weighed down by incredibly bad contracts and journeymen and kids who were never up to it. And the same goes for Connor McDavid. Other than Leon Draisaitl, they’ve been surrounded be either old trash or kids that just haven’t popped the way it was thought (looking at you directly, Darnell Nurse). And this season doesn’t look to be any different. We can only hope this is the one where McDavid snaps and demands a trade midseason or in the summer, to give us some proper drama.

Let’s get through it together:

2018-2019

35-38-9  79 points (6th in Pacific)

2.79 GF/G (20th)  3.30 GA/G (25th)  -42 GD

47.9 CF% (25th)  46.6 xGF% (26th)

21.2 PP% (9th)  74.8 PK% (30th)

Goalies: Sweet Jesus God. As we said with the Flames preview yesterday, the two Alberta teams pulled an indirect goalie switch, with Mike Smith, his .900 SV%, and his cantankerous nature landing behind an even worse defense than the one he had in Calgary that had him throwing whatever he could fit under the bus. Won’t his go well? Smith had a promising playoff performance while under constant carpet-bombing from the Avalanche, but that won’t be a worry here. Though the carpet-bombing might be. Smith is also 37, and I guess the hope here is that being reunited with coach Dave Tippett will help them rekindle the sporadic and greatly overblown success they had in Arizona. Good luck.

Backing him up is Mikko Koskinen, who earned a three-year extension from Peter Chiarelli, which must have been the last straw as Chiarelli was fired the very next day. Which might lead one to ask how you’re letting a GM you want to shitcan sign anyone to an extension, but keep in mind EdMo is where logic freezes and then is pissed on for sport. Koskinen’s .906 last year really inspired the masses, and as he’s 31 now there’s little reason to think it’s going to get much better. Sure, Tippett can batten down the hatches and try and create trench after trench in front of him. But with this outfit, what would that matter. Fun fun fun!

Defense: The “definition of insanity” quote isn’t actually real. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results just makes you the Oilers. So once again, these clowns are going to roll out Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning, and even Brandon Manning, and then be truly perplexed why McDavid is bringing a machete to the dressing room that he keeps sharpening and whispering something about the time of purification being at hand.

Nurse just has never blossomed into the atom-smashing, puck-moving loudmouth he promised as a junior, and is basically just kinda there. Klefbom, while allowing for a bunch of Tom Jones jokes, is just an ok possession-driver. Larsson is great at putting all his equipment on. The rest you know. They must hope Evan Bouchard can stick this time, though he seems to be a bit of a plodder and will need to quicken up to be effective at this level. Ethan Bear is going to keep Bouchard in the AHL for now, along with something called Joel Persson, because you always want to trust 25-year-olds making their NHL debut to really impact your roster. The hope must be for Bouchard to bludgeon the AHL for half of a season and then be up.

Forwards: Zack Kassian is going to be on McDavid’s line. I don’t know what more I have to say.

Once again, the Oilers will keep having the debate of whether Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins should play center or be moved to McJesus’s wing to give him any talent to play with, and once again there really won’t be a right answer. They’ve reassembled the bad parts of the 2015 Wings with Riley Sheehan and Tomas Jurco here, and remember that Wings team sucked. James Neal escaped his hell in Calgary to stand still and fire here with whatever passes McDavid or Draisaitl can get him. Which should actually work for 20-25 goals or so.

Sam Gagner has come home again, even though you were pretty sure he was dead. Tippett will find a way to keep Kailer Yamamoto off this roster, even though it could use all the dash it can find.

Prediction: This is where I’m supposed to say that Tippett will tighten things up and at least lower their goals against to keep them competitive for a while. But Ken Hitchcock couldn’t do it, and that’s all he does. And Todd McLellan is no idiot and he couldn’t either. Even if you trusted the goalies, which you shouldn’t, the defense has no top pairing player anywhere. Maybe if Tippet is finally the one to unlock Nurse, things could improve. But how many coaches is it going to take?

Tippett surely isn’t known for getting max scoring out of a team, and this team was short on scoring even with McClavicle, RNH, and Leon The Ladies Man. They still think Kassian can do anything. Neal might pop for a few goals, but not enough. They’re simply miles behind Calgary, Vegas, and San Jose, and you can’t see them running with any wildcard contender either. It’s another lost season up in EdMo, barring some miracle.

Save yourself, Connor. No one else here will.

Hockey

Patrick Kane is good at hockey. I am not really sure what more we should say about this guy. He’s been the best forward on this team for more than a decade and the best player for a few years, since Duncan Keith‘s mileage caught up to him. But you know all this. I’m not gonna say much in here that will surprise you. Let’s just do it.

2018-19 Stats

81 GP – 44 G – 66 A – 110 P

48.86 CF% (-0.72 CF% Rel) – 64.01 oZS%

44.94 xGF% (-1.32 xGF% Rel)

Avg. TOI: 22:28

A Brief History: In some ways it just about flew under the radar, largely because the Blackhawks had a terrible blue line and a CPR dummy in the crease when Crawford was hurt, but Patrick Kane had the best season of his career in 2018-19. His 110 points were four more than his previous high of 106 in his Hart winning 2015-16 season. Four points doesn’t feel like a lot, but the difference between 106 and 110 is probably a bit more significant than, say, 40 and 44. There is a level of dominance that Kane attained last year that we had previously seen, but it had been three years and we weren’t sure we’d see it again. Then he did it again, in his age-30 season. The guy might be a huge piece of shit, but he’s pretty much undoubtedly the best hockey player you or I will ever see suit up for this team in our lifetimes.

It Was the Best of Times: Realistically, it’s hard to expect Kane to be better than he was last year. Give that he turns 31 this November, I’d say the best case scenario for Kane and the Hawks is that he just plays at that same level again. This team has addressed the blue line (at least on paper) and the crease issues that resulted in his historic 2018-19 being wasted, and it’s reasonable to expect that players like Top Cat and Strome will improve this year and as such take some pressure off Kane. He can give the Hawks 100-ish points, give or take a few, that’s the ideal outcome here.

It Was the BLURST of Times: Being 31 catches up to Kane doesn’t  quickly, and his hands and feet are not even close to as quick as they once were. The vision and feel for the game are still there, because those things will never just go away, but Kane’s body just doesn’t cooperate at the level he’d like and as such the production falls off a bit. This all sounds dramatic, but I don’t think it would happen to the tune of him suddenly becoming a *bad* player, but just that he would be more in the 60-70 point range at season’s end. He did have just 76 points in 82 games in ’17-18, so it’s not like this would be appear as much of a fall-off overall, but that was his second lowest shooting percentage of his career, and the Hawks didn’t have much forward group to help in then. They do now. Anything less than 75 points from Kane this year would be a bad outcome.

Prediction: Kane continues his dominance, and with Cat and Strome taking the step forward that we wanted from Mitchell Trubisky but aren’t getting (I am sensitive about it, okay), his level of production does not fall off very much and finishes the year with 45 goals and 108 points. The Hawks make the playoffs and Kane finishes second in scoring, behind only Connor McDavid of the Oilers who miss the playoffs obviously, so Kane wins another Hart. He wills the Hawks to the playoffs, where they get railroaded in the first round.

Stats from NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick

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As a pretty damn good fantasy sports player (mostly self-proclaime, admittedly) I love a good “Buy Low, Sell High” move. If you’re a beliver in regression, and you should be, nothing can make you look quite as smart as offloading a player who is performing above what you expected and cashing in, especially if you can take advantage of someone looking to offload a player that is underwhelming compare to expectations. It appears Stan Bowman thinks the same way, because there is no better example of a successful Buy Low trade that ended up being a major home run than when Stan acquired Dylan Strome as the headliner return for Nick Schmaltz. Let’s get right to it:

Stats with Hawks

58 GP – 17 G – 34 A

46.18 CF% – 29.2 xGF % [5v5]

It Comes With A Free Frogurt

Despite being hailed as some kind of analytics hero, John Chayka gave up on Strome after a relatively small sample size of NHL experience. A huge part of it may have been that the Coyotes had lofty expectations for Strome after taking him third overall in the same draft as Connor McDavid, but Strome had appeared in just 48 NHL games over portions of three seasons (including this one) in the desert. The production was limited, but it’s not like he was playing with much impressive talent out there either. The Hawks ultimately decided that Schmaltz’ contract demands were just too damn high and that his ceiling of being a 2C might not even be long term, so they gambled on Strome and what is hopefully still a 1C ceiling, though an increasingly unlikely one he will hit.

Strome stepped into a much better situation in Chicago, being able to to slot with Alex DeBrincat, his longtime linemate from their time at OHL Erie, and Patrick Kane. And when the pressure was off his shoulders, Strome thrived. As you can see above, he had 51 points in 58 games, which is damn close to a point per game pace and projects out to a 72 point season if he played all 82. He also contributed well on the PP, with 3 goals and 9 assists coming on the extra man unit. I don’t think anyone ever doubted the vision and skill of Strome, and it’s not like it would be exactly a shock if he busted big time when you look at what his brother did, but the technical ability he had really came to the forefront when he arrived here.

The Frogurt is Also Cursed

That all being said, there are still a few things to be a little concerned about with Strome that could lead to a potential production. falloff. Let’s start with those boldened CF% and xGF% numbers above, which are certainly somewhat alarming. The Hawks weren’t a great team in either category, but Strome still had a -3.2 CF%Rel and and a -3.26 xGF%Rel. I am sure that a huge part of that could be attributed to the defense, because we know the blue line was awful, but the center still bears some responsibility for that. To be that far below team rate is troubling.

I think something that could be playing a big role in that is the well documented skating issues that have followed him (and his entire family, really) throughout much of his career. He’s strong in his lower half, and had good enough size to stand his ground, but he isn’t fast by any stretch of the imagination, and that certainly plays against him in today’s NHL. It also makes him something of a misfit in Coach Cool Youth Pastor’s speed-obsessed man-t0-man system. I tend to believe that his skill will play way above this concern, but if there is one thing that is likely to drag him down and keep him from reaching his potential, it’s that.

Moving forward, Strome gives the Hawks a good amount of comfort in terms of the center depth. Even if he falls off slightly next year, he still could be a 60 point guy, which is perfect for a 2C, and if he steps up the production you could be seeing a full point per game pace and some 1C numbers. Either way, it looks like the Hawks won big with Strome.

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