Hockey

With the calendar soon to turn to April, the NHL lumberingly rounds its corner into the true home stretch, with this Blackhawks season mercifully coming to an end in just 16 more games. As a general rule, the post-deadline undead period for those teams who have stripped the roster for parts such as the Hawks should in theory offer a look at some of the youth that has been toiling in the AHL for 6 months now. But as has been apparently for years now, the Hawks don’t necessarily follow conventional wisdom. The only forward worth giving a shit about, Lukas Reichel, is being artificially held back for contract purposes, as exceeding 9 games in the show will allow his first pro year to slide til next year, and if this team were going to be competitive, it could sort of be understood. But there is a very real chance that we are all also observing the final games of the franchise pillars in Hawks uniforms, and Alex DeBrincat certainly has no reason to stick around beyond next season if they don’t. Add to the fact that none of the defensemen that had ARRIVED last season under Coach Jeremy Bevington can seem to break the lineup here even beyond the trade deadline and with Connor Murphy hurt, and things are beyond desolate. There is literally no reason for Connor Murphy not to be shut down after being knocked out cold, or for pending UFAs Calvin de Haan and Erik Gustafsson to be on the ice anymore, yet the general public is subjected to them on a nightly basis because Derek King and his Sith Master Marc Crawford are laboring under the delusion that they could be brought back for next season. Which is to say that this is an entertaining product and can’t-miss television.

3/28 – vs Buffalo

Game Time: 7:30PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago+, WGN-AM 720
The Pegulas Are Vile – Die By The Blade

Given the slow-motion Armageddon that has been the past two calendar years and the commensurate scheduling considerations, this will be the Sabres first visit to the UC since 2019. And for them, not much has changed other than sending their malcontent captain Jack Eichel to Vegas for Alex Tuch and some magic beans. To be fair, the Hawks are probably about the same level of bad as they were at that time two, but it’s been a far more eventful and circuitous path getting there. To their credit, LOCAL GUY Don Granato at least has this team playing hard even if they don’t do anything particularly well, and will occasionally jump up and bit a contending team in the dick as they did outdoors against Toronto, or just this past week against both Calgary and Pittsburgh while needing extra time to do so. The Sabres are finally getting something out of the lumbering and unfortunately named Tage Thompson, who originally came over in the Ryan O’Reilly deal and is likely to hit 30 goals while currently sitting on 27. It of course remains to be seen if this is something he can sustain at the NHL level or this is merely a function of SOMEONE having to score on a bad team. Former #1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin is still here and doing well enough to apparently make the all star game, but again, it was mandatory the Sabres be represented. LOCAL GUY Craig Anderson will be 41 in May and somehow he has the most starts for the Sabres at 22 (along with Dustin Tokarksi), and has 12 of the Sabres 23 wins. He played yesterday afternoon against the Rangers so who knows if he’ll get one last hometown start or not, but it’s no guarantee he’ll be done after this year either.  These are two evenly matched bad teams, so it’s likely they pull off an improbably entertaining game this even as has been the case with the Hawks all year, but it means nothing to either team.

3/31 – at Panthers

Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Bienvenidos A Miami – Litter Box Cats

The Cats probably spent the most capital to fortify themselves for a long cup run in acquiring both Ben Chiarot from the Habs (for what reasons is anyone’s guess, he’s never been anything more than A GUY), and landing the prize of the deadline in prying Claude Giroux away from the Cold Ones about 10 seconds after his 1000th game with the club ended. Since the trades they’ve gone 2-1, most recently losing in Tronna to the Leafs 5-2, but beating the woeful Habs and Sens. While obtaining both of Chiarot and Giroux are nice additions to an already potent offense, they do nothing to address the two biggest issues that would preclude a deep Cats run – 1) how healthy is Aaron Ekblad going to be, and 2) will Sergei Bobrovsky shit himself again in the spring or not?

4/1 – at Tampa

Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Feel The Void: Raw Charge

Will Jonathan Toews give Brandon Hagel a tearful, emotional embrace at any point during the game, similar to any of the 45 times Frodo and Sam are reunited throughout the course of the Lord of The Rings? Tune in and find out! Do not tune in to find out if the Blackhawks will win or not, however, because they are not going to.

4/3 – vs Arizona

Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Evicted Dogs: Five For Howling

So the Arizona Coyotes are basically a Ponzi scheme organization who have been evicted from their current arena in Glendale come season’s end and will have to rent time out of Arizona State’s new arena, which seats approximately 4-5K. They have been a Troubled Asset Relief Program for years where teams send millstone contracts of elderly players who are effectively retired but only exist as basically a no show job on their roster, like so many retiree “residents” of the state. They have been willfully trying to lose for years on a minimal payroll in order to maximize the profitability of league revenue sharing and taking advantage of Gary Bettman’s seemingly pathological need to keep this franchise afloat and in Arizona despite every shred of evidence they need to be relocated. As of the time of this writing they have the exact same number of regulation wins (15) as the Chicago Blackhawks, whose previous GM made moves last off season thinking they were going to be in the playoff picture.

Hockey

At last the long national nightmare is over. Coach Kelvin Gemstone/Vinny Del Colliton/Jeremy Bevington/Jeremy Trestman/Alpo Colliton/Jeremy Prinze, Jr./Cool Youth Pastor and his throbbing brain filled with defensive schemes so elaborate he forgets to even bother thinking about in game deployment are gone. It was about 18 months overdue, but the important thing is that it’s over, and with all of the other shit that happened two weeks ago in a cleansing fire, there’s actually finally a new prism to view this team through rather than utter nihilism. Interim GM Kyle Davidson was as forthcoming as anyone with an interim label could possibly be in his remarks after Colliton’s dismissal, saying that the message simply wasn’t getting through and correctable things weren’t being corrected, both of which are tremendous understatements but accurate nonetheless. Basically it only took him a week and a half of watching this disorganized and disinterested horse shit to see enough to get Stan’s golden child the hell up out of here and bring in Pigs bench boss Derek King.

King’s coaching resume is limited but had a pretty lengthy NHL career in the mid 80s and 90s (plenty will remember him being not a bum on Sega), but he at least had enough common damn sense to understand to tell these guys to just go out and play and not worry about adhering to some galaxy brained man-on-man high pressure SYSTEM. It’s well worn territory here, but the dirty secret in hockey is that it’s not exactly like they need to run elaborate blitz packages and disguise coverages on defenses in hockey. Puck side defenseman pursues and goes into the corner, weak side stays in front of the net, wingers on points, help if it comes up the wall, and ass on the boards at the hash for a breakout pass. This is what everyone who’s played hockey for any length of time just instinctively knows in their bone marrow and is what is just a default even when at an 11:45 on a Tuesday night rat hockey. Which is why having the D chase and stay with their checks everywhere in the zone was so counter-intuitive and the results clearly bore that out. Furthermore, in his post game comments, King remarked that he wanted to prioritize matching up Carpenter against Sissons on Sunday, and also had Erik Gustafsson barely play at all. So while he might end up ultimately proving himself A Moron, he’s at least got a baseline of common hockey sense that seemed to so elude his handsome predecessor, and all of the sudden the Hawks find themselves with actual winnable games on the docket.

11/9 vs Pittsburgh

Game Time  – 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio – NBC Sports Chicago, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Ben Roethlisberger Retire Bitch – Pensburgh

So after missing the first 7 games of the season with a wrist injury, Sidney Crosby came back for one game against the POWERHOUSE New Jersey Devils, was a -3 with no points, and promptly returned to Sick Bay with a mildly symptomatic case of Covid. With him being out and Evgeni Malkin out for a few more months still, things have gone about as well as could be expected with this last-gasp Penguins group, which is to say it’s barely .500-ish with a 4-3-3 record in 10 games, which is good for 11 points and the ass-end of the Metro division. When Danton Heinen is leading the team in goals and points at any juncture of a season, it’s probably safe to say that things aren’t particularly optimal. Most recently the Pens to the first place Wild (huh?) to a shootout on the road and ultimately ended up losing the Hog Shit Snarfing Contest, but Mike Sullivan still has the team playing relatively hard even if they’re pretty outgunned most nights without their franchise pillars. Tristan Jarry has at least been pulling his weight in a starter’s workload even after every Yinzer wanted to toss him into a variety of rivers last spring, with a .945 save percentage 5v5 and .925 overall. This is a team that has to play with structure and discipline because it can’t get away with skill right now, and one game with Derek King isn’t magically going to have the Hawks be able to counter that, even if on paper the Hawks’ current lineup does have more spice than the Penguins right now.

11/12 vs Arizona

Game Time – 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio – ESPN+, Hulu, WGN-AM 720
Kyrsten Sinema Is A Goblin: Five For Howling

The Coyotes are the only team in the league worse than the Hawks right now, and really it could be argued that they shouldn’t even count because not only are they willfully trying to be bad on the ice, but the entire franchise is basically a money laundering front/shell corporation for the league right now, and they’re going to get evicted out of their building at the end of the season anyway. It’s tough to say whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that this game is an online exclusive- on one hand if this was a game ESPN/Hulu earmarked as being a selling point for the platform and ad dollars, they were catastrophically mistaken. On the other hand, it’s almost a public service that no one can accidentally find their way to this imminent disaster, one would have to be a true sicko to go out of their way to find and watch this game. But it will at least be the first time it’s been Hawks red vs white Kachina in like 15 years.

Hockey

Box Scores Game 50 Game 51
Event Summaries Game 50 Game 51
Natural Stat Trick Game 50 Game 51

As if the previous week and a half wasn’t enough to seal it from an intellectual and emotional standpoint, the Hawks losing both games to the Panthers this weekend has them on the brink of mathematical elimination as well, and are only spared by having scraped their way into OT on Thursday with the net empty. But if nothing else, these two games were ideal outcomes – some kids put more on tape (for both good and bad), and the glaring flaws both behind the bench and with the roster are also put on a display in a competitive game against an obviously better team that they lose. Obviously wins are more fun, but when the process matches the results. This team cannot afford to risk learning the wrong lessons with the complete dope behind the bench they’ve got currently.

Hockey

Box Score
Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

Look, the Tampa Bay Lightning are a far superior team to the Chicago Blackhawks. There is little debate about that. And looking at the box score, it would appear that the Hawks put up a valiant fight despite being hopelessly outgunned even if Kucherov and Stamkos didn’t play. But that would be the incorrect conclusion to draw, and once again a pants shitting was on display from top to bottom given how the game actually played out and the circumstances in the standings surrounding it. In the end, however, water finds its own level and this was yet another shining example of just how far away from being actually competitive the Hawks are, no matter how FUN they were for 10 minutes two months ago.

Hockey

Box Scores: Game 30 Game 31
Event Logs: Game 30 Game 31
Natural Stat Trick: Game 30 Game 31

 

It wasn’t so long ago where the Hawks were on the flip side of the story with what transpired in Tampa over the weekend; where they’d be able to keep a team at arm’s length and hold them by their own forehead as they impotently flailed and swung away, never landing a single punch. The Bolts did exactly that to the Hawks over the weekend, leaning on them when it was necessary and never having to exert even the slightest bit more effort than was necessary, and walking away with two regulation wins in the process. March was always going to be a reality check for the West Side Hockey Club, and with their season series against Tampa nearly complete with a 1-5-1 record (compared to Tampa’s 6-0-1, leaving only a single shootout point on the table), the results are now lining up with the process.

Hockey

vs

Game Times: 7:00 (3/4, 3/5), 1:30 (3/7)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago (3/4, 3/5), NBC (3/7), TVA-S (3/7), SportsNet (3/7), WGN-AM 720
Bottomless Seas: Raw Charge

After spending the majority of February floating above the detritus of the makeshift Central Division by virtue of MVP and Calder/Vezina caliber performances, the Hawks now begin March on the West Side finally facing again a Tampa Bay Lightning team that has not slowed down since dongwhipping the Hawks in the opening series, or even their playoff run in the bubble last year. “In Like A Lion”, indeed.

Hockey

Box Score 1 Box Score 2
Game Log 1 Game Log 2
Natural Stat Trick 1 Natural Stat Trick 2

 

Well this started out about as generously as could be expected given the how wide the gulf between these two teams currently is. There were extended stretches of both games where the Bolts were seemingly just playing with their food, rope-a-doping the Hawks into tiring themselves out and then immediately capitalizing on the slightest miscue and creating odd-man rushes going the other way with a single stride. This team is still favored to win this makeshift, slapdash division without Nikita Kucherov for a reason, as Andrei Vasilivskiy in particular barely broke a sweat in these two games, looking as locked in as he ever has. Of course, when Brandon Pirri and Ryan Carpenter are the ones just tossing prayers in your direction, it’s certainly easy to look that way.

  • It has long been established that part of the style guide here is to avoid questioning drive, jump, effort, body language, COMPETE, whatever horse shit term anyone wants to use when analyzing a game. But this team certainly already looks like it is acutely aware that this is a lost season to be played in empty buildings amid a plague, and knows it is woefully outgunned. This couldn’t possibly speak to the fact that the coach is a mealy mouthed boy band reject who’s idea of a firey pregame speech is whispering from a toilet stall while his hall of fame captain stares daggers into the abyss because it’s clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Which all COULD work, if there was any semblance of his tactics having on-ice results. Being a stomping redass with snot and spit flying everywhere as he screams isn’t a solution either.
  • Speaking of revolutionary defensive zone coverage, a fun game to play at home is to do a shot every time the Hawks are scored against while both defensemen are in the same corner. Don’t worry, during lockdown it’s “Airport Rules”  – no one is allowed to question why, when, how much, or what you’re drinking.
  • Especially guilty of the aforementioned crimes against hockey sensibilities is Nikita Zadorov, who appears to be the perfect storm of lunkheadedness, obliviousness, aggression, and having a lack of coherent structure from his coaching staff to be profoundly, tragically out of position at all times. It’s a good thing he’s paired with Adam Boqvist, who was already teetering on the brink of being broken by this organization.
  • Speaking of Boqvist (and Ian Mitchell), it’s clear that the tools are there for both of them, but it’s still very clear that these two are playing either scared to make a mistake, or in-between in their heads fighting their shotgunny instincts that made them prospects in the first place. And if every single mistake ends up in the back of the net and/or is subsequently punished, it could break these two young careers before they even start.
  • Boqvist in particular let his instincts show late last night when it was still 3-2, where he jumped down from the right point looking for a seam pass that obviously missed, and sprang a Bolts rush the other way that Ondrej Palat buried. But those are the type of chances the Hawks have not only got to live with, but encourage from Boqvist and Mitchell. His insticts were absolutely right, given that the passing lane was there and he was uncovered, and that within the context of the score and clock it was absolutely a judicious chance to take. Just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great idea, and that cannot be punished or coached out of him.
  • In another round of coaching brilliance, Coach Jeremy Trestman has got Andrew Shaw in the trigger man spot in the high slot/near the top of the rings on the first unit, with Dylan Strome in front. While the unit has scored twice (Game #1’s goal was…..yeah), it’s fairly safe to say that that spot is not where Andrew Shaw’s skill set is maximized. True Brain Genious/Cortex Warrior thinking here.
  • In net, while both Malcolm Subban and Colin Delia gave up five goals a piece, Delia looked sharper for the most part, making some more difficult saves even if him handling the puck is clearly an adventure. Don’t anticipate either distinguishing himself for a #1 workload any time soon, especially with what the defense in front of them is providing.
  • There is no reason at all that Philipp Kurashev shouldn’t be playing every single game, especially when the alternative is Brandon Pirri.
  • Pius Suter at least doesn’t look out of place here in the NHL, but it remains to be seen if he’s on trajectory to be just “a guy” or a contributor.

That’s about it for now, the Hawks visit old friend Joel and his Cats tomorrow night for their season opener as their first two games against Dallas got banged due to PESTILENCE. Maybe these games will be closer or the Hawks might win one, but don’t bet the stimulus check on it.

Hockey

at

Game Times: 7:00PM (1/13) & 6:00PM (1/15)
TV/Radio: NBCSN (1/15), NBC Sports Chicago (1/15), WGN-AM 720
Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%: Raw Charge

Despite every indication that this shouldn’t be happening from both the world at large given that pestilence still ravaging this country, and the fact that the league itself has said that they’d probably be better off simply NOT playing, the NHL regular season (such as it is) begins tonight. And the Tampa Bay Lightning will raise their championship banner in front of no one while an already decimated Hawks team looks on at a vague reminder of what once was and now seems so desperately far away.

Hockey

While this country has in no way earned the right to begin discussing the resumption of team professional sports in the way that South Korea has with baseball, or Germany has with Bundesliga soccer given the ghastly disparity in how the pandemic has been handled in the those places versus the United States, the NHL at least got out in front of any of the other team sports by formally announcing how the playoffs and draft are going to work. It’s quite dense, but it’s hockey so it can’t be THAT convoluted.

 

Now to the big takeaways from the announcement:

  • The 2019-2020 regular sseason is officially over, and as such, the top 12 teams via points percentage in each conference are now in this tournament, meaning…..your Chicago Blackhawks have once again qualified for the playoffs, if only by the hair on their ass as the 12 seed in the west.
  • The divisional playoff model has been abandoned, and top four seeds will play a round robin to determine their playoff seeding with regular season rules OT rules, concurrent with the remaining bottom 8 teams playing best of 5 series for the right to advance to one of the top four. Bettman notes in the announcement that it has not been determined yet if the first two rounds will re-seed or follow a static bracket, not to mention that the NHL managed to make overtime even more of a clown show by having two different flavors of it conceivably being played on the same day in the early goings. Even at its most competent, there is no circumstance under which the NHL can’t manage to look like dipshits.
  • That being said, the Hawks are now locked into a best of 5 series with the Edmonton Oilers when and if play takes place. So that means a matchup in a series against the league’s top two scorers in McDavid and now-Ross winner Leon The Ladies’ Man with a defense that had no structure to begin with, and in general when teams break camp raw skill tends to win against systems. But there’s always the chance that there could be revenge of known method actor Mike Smith. Stranger things have happened.
  • Also of local interest is that Chicago is mentioned as one of the potential hub cities, presumably for the Western conference, given the amount of hotels and rinks that are available in the area (the UC, RoseMizon, Sears). Given that there would be multiple games a day concurrently at least in the first two rounds, the time zone issue for starting games past 8:00PM locally here probably wouldn’t loom too large, but it should be considered. Of course, this is operating under the presumption that the city and suburbs have the COVID situation under control, which they absolutely do not right now. But this is the sort of thing the city and state usually trips all over their dicks to incentivize for big business at the expense of common citizens, and during the pandemic things have been no different.
  • Bettman made basically zero mention of the medical safety protocols that are going to be enacted during this, such as full cages/facemasks, celebrations, bench spacing, shared towels, water bottles, dressing room procedures, or any number of other things that need to be figured out and will almost certainly be disregarded by players immediately because they’re by and large minimally educated self-declared Sovereign Citizens. He did mention “extensive testing”, which seems like an absolute bare minimum, and limiting traveling parties to cities to a total of 50 people per team, so after 23 players and 3-4 coaches, teams are going to have to be judicious on their staff selections. And taxi squads (since the AHL season is DONE-done) will likely have to be kept remotely.
  • With regard to the draft, it’s even more convoluted. Basically, they’re going to hold an initial lottery at the end of June, and then if any team that is going to resume play jumps in order, or “wins” the first round lottery, there will be a second re-draw after the conclusion of the round-robin, best of 5 round.

It was made clear numerous times during the video that none of this is etched in stone and the situation is completely fluid from a lot of different angles. Bettman gave July 1 as the absolute earliest camps could open if everything broke right, but didn’t specify if those would be in hub cities or home cities. There’s still time for all of this to go completely balls up again as states start to re open and cases are likely to spike again after the incubation period. But it’s a start, and now the Hawks can say that Jeremy Colliton got this rag tag group into the playoffs and justify keeping him around until the NEXT pandemic.