Hockey

I’m as tired of writing about 4th-line glorified quadruple-A guys as you are of reading about them. Let’s just get through it:

2018-19 Stats (with Senators)

70 GP – 9 G – 19 A – 28 Pts.

44.6 CF% (-0.8 CF% Rel) – 41.3 oZS%

45.2 xGF% (-2.24xGF% Rel)

Avg. TOI: 16:21

A Brief History: You may remember a guy by the name of Artem Anisimov, who was really not good at anything over the last couple seasons. He was no longer Annette Frontpresence—overrated as she always was anyway—he was slow, which is really saying something on this team, his puck handling was laughable, it goes on. He was a 4C making over $4 million a year, which was downright stupid as well as unsustainable. So StanBo finally got rid of him and his contract, but because we were giving away trash, we could only get trash in return.

Enter Zack Smith, lifelong member of the Ottawa Senators, and not only that, a guy that this joke of a team put on waivers before last season and had to take back when there was no better offer. I imagine Smith kinda like George Costanza after he quits—quietly slipping back in and trying to pretend like nothing happened, like it was a joke. Although this is the Senators we’re talking about, so do not take this humiliation to be entirely Smith’s fault—they were also just being douchebags. His paltry production made him a scapegoat, but he was a scapegoat nonetheless for a team with so many, many other problems.

Anyway, at $3.25 million a year he’s still a grossly overpaid 4th, or at best 3rd, line-guy, but thanks to Anisimov’s signing bonus and other financial chicanery that goes into professional sports contracts, both teams end up saving money on this deal, which is really the only thing that matters to these obscenely wealthy shithead dinosaurs in the end.

It Was the Best of Times: The best-case scenario is that Smith isn’t a trainwreck. He fills up time and space so that better players can get a breather, while he and his fellow fourth-liners take dungeon shifts and maybe flip the ice. Or, perhaps Smith can be packaged up with a better layer as part of a trade later in the season, as the plethora of cheaper fourth-liners makes him truly unnecessary. Just do no harm and that would be sufficient.

It Was the BLURST of Times: I’d like to say the worst situation would be for Smith to see serious playing time, because that means the Hawks have no one better than a washed-up former Senator. And while it’s true that such an outcome would be bad, the real worst-case scenario would be if Smith is totally useless. They’re spending over $3 million, which means they probably won’t be able to unload his shitty contract. I know, there’s lots of morons out there, but we just pulled one on Ottawa to get the mild cap-situation improvement we’re now discussing, plus we dumped Manning on the Oilers, so the truly abject morons who would be willing to take this guy might be onto us at this point. At the very least, pawning him off is not something we can count on. And apparently he’s got a back injury right now, which is never a non-issue even if it’s technically something minor. That shit just gets worse. Maybe I’m overly frugal, but wasting that money entirely and not even getting 10 minutes a night from this oaf would be the most lamentable outcome.

Prediction: Zack Smith will manage to both suck and blow, yet the Hawks won’t be able to get rid of him nor will they be willing to eat the shit sandwich that their prior decisions left them with and play a younger prospect in his place. Neither success now nor helping the next generation is what we’ll get, unless he’s hurt for a significant portion of time, in which case we at least won’t have to watch him. We can just watch that cap space go up in flames instead.

Stats from Hockey Reference and Natural Stat Trick

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Robin Lehner

Corey Crawford

Adam Boqvist

Carl Dahlstrom

Calvin de Haan

Erik Gustafsson

Duncan Keith

Slater Koekkoek

Olli Maatta

Connor Murphy

Drake Caggiula

Ryan Carpenter

Alex DeBrincat

David Kampf

Patrick Kane

Alex Nylander

Brendan Perlini

Brandon Saad

 

 

 

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.