Everything Else

In one sense, this is the easiest time to be Stan Bowman. Your draft position is set, the exit interviews are done, and thanks to the playoffs (both NHL and NBA) and baseball, no one’s really paying attention to you. Throw in the fatigue most Hawks fans had from watching and thinking about their team, and that’s even more indifference and apathy that keeps them in the dark. Nothing can really be done until after the Final is over. While the Hawks would prefer to win, I’m sure that if you asked them honestly they would tell you one silver lining of being bad now is the shroud of anonymity it’s provided them. These are people who would prefer to not be looked at too closely.

So it was again when Bowman granted the Sun-Times’s Jason Lieser a lengthy interview, and boy is there some Grade A horseshit in here. Even better it came out on a Saturday, to lower the odds that anyone would see it to just above nil. But it didn’t escape my eye. Nothing does. I am Sauron. Let’s dive in, shall we? And I want to start with the end of the article first.

“Having the opportunity to start the season with a training camp and to have the time to establish a standard, that allows you to be a little more direct and aggressive about enforcing how we need to play to win,” he said.”

This is a narrative I was sick of by March 1st, and it’s one that both Bowman and Jeremy Colliton are going to pedal until the next training camp to try and save their ass. Plain and simple, Jeremy Colliton was in the job for five months. He had 67 games. While he may not have been able to do everything he liked, the idea that he was trying to install Matt Nagy’s offense on the fly is just laughable. Yes there were changes made and it’s not totally simple but it does remain hockey and it’s not that hard.

If making changes is that hard midseason, why was Colliton allowed to switch the defensive system at all then? Because he did, and you saw the results. If he can perform this massive switch the moment he shows up, and provide us with Connor Murphy roaming around the blue line by design, then why couldn’t he tweak it in February and March when it was painfully obvious that the team couldn’t run what he wanted? Or if changes are so hard…why fire Quenneville at all?

You have to hope Stan knows, and this isn’t encouraging either, that he put together a blue line that was simply unacceptable and there was no saving it. But he can’t say that, otherwise he’d be signing his own pink slip if McDonough weren’t so busy either patting himself on the back or yelling at low-level employees or both. But you wonder if that’s what Stan really thinks when you get to this mess…

“That’s something people have a hard time grasping,” he said. “What was is not always a perfect indicator of what will be.”

He’s acutely aware of every team’s trajectory at all times, and just in case everybody hasn’t been studying the New York Islanders’ defense the last two years, he’s happy to offer a quick sketch: same defensemen, new goaltender, new coach — substantial improvement.

The Islanders were way out of the playoffs a year ago, but leapt to 48-27-7 and swept the Penguins in the first round last week. They went from dead last in goals allowed, shots against, penalty kill and five-on-five high-danger chances against to average or better in every category. They allowed the fewest goals in the NHL this season.

Their situation wasn’t that different than the Hawks’ other than they were slightly younger.

Their top seven defensemen this season were already in the organization, and the only newcomer was a rookie. The Hawks have Adam Boqvist, the No. 8 overall pick last year, in the pipeline.

Robin Lehner was second in the NHL in save percentage this season and was a major upgrade at goalie, but the improvement in shots against and high-danger chances didn’t have anything to do with him. The Hawks might get a similar boost if Corey Crawford stays healthy next season.

Bowman believes coach Barry Trotz was instrumental after taking over for Doug Weight, and the Hawks are heading into Colliton’s first full season running the team.

It’s not a step-by-step guide for the Hawks, but it’s plausible to Bowman that his team could pull off that type of transformation.

“People would say that sounds good but that doesn’t ever happen,” he said. “And my point would be that it can happen — it just did happen.”

I nearly passed out when I read this. Let’s see if we go through it together if we can survive or this becomes digital Jamestown.

To compare the Hawks to the Islanders is so incomprehensible I have to put my head through the drywall just to feel anything again. One, while the Islanders might not have any stars, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield, now Devon Toews were all highly regarded prospects and already in the NHL or right on the doorstep (Toews). Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuck have been plus-NHL d-men for years. Thomas Hickey has at least been serviceable most of his career.

Who on the Hawks fits any of these categories that’s going to be on the roster next year for sure? Connor Murphy and Erik Gustafsson are solid NHL-ers, and maybe nothing more. Henri Jokiharju might be the prized prospect, except really all he did was look better than the trash heap Bowman foisted upon the world in some Joker-esque prank. Forsling and Koekkoek are simply not NHL players. Dahlstrom can maybe has a crimp-hold on being a #6-7. Brent Seabrook may not be an NHL player either. Duncan Keith gave up. What’s left?

Second, Barry Trotz has been coaching in the NHL for two decades and has made three different teams into solid defensive outfits. Jeremy Colliton has one season at the AHL-level and four-fifths of one at the NHL-level. You really want to bet your future on his transformational abilities?

Third, Trotz teams get their defensive prowess from basically stripping any offensive impulse and creativity from their system. You’re not going to do that here with the forwards you have. Remember, the Islanders had one player over 60 points. The Hawks had four and another in Strome who was just off a point-per-game pace since arriving. Those two simply don’t line up.

At the season wrap-up, Bowman swerved from a question on Seabrook’s play by pointing to Toews’ resurgence. The message between the lines was that the Hawks need Seabrook to have that type of offseason and come back somewhere near peak form.”

This is rich, considering the Hawks were pushing the “best shape of his life” stories on Seabrook last training camp and he still looked beached orca-like during the season.

I don’t want to rule out Seabrook changing his body and game for next season. Maybe professional pride kicks in, though it hasn’t in about four years. And Toews wasn’t out of shape, he was in the wrong shape. Toews kept bulking up for a game that was getting faster. The change he had to make wasn’t working harder or finding motivation. He just had to change how he went about it.

I have no idea what Seabrook’s offsesaon regimen looks like, if it even exists. But we’ve been talking about his sluggishness since 2013 and it’s been consistent since 2015-2016. I understand he can’t really go anywhere, at least in an organization that doesn’t seem to have any balls, but this is truly the most wishful of thinking.

This is from earlier in the article:

Playing the results, the Hawks could’ve used Panarin and Teravainen this season. But based on the circumstances at the time, Bowman doesn’t second-guess himself.

“The makeup of our team and the makeup of our competitors — you wouldn’t redo those deals,” he said. “I think we were one of the first teams — I guess you could say Los Angeles as well — where this became a big issue for managing your assets. There are some other teams that are bumping right up against it now.

“It’s hard to navigate that without something giving. The whole hope is that you can manage it well enough that you don’t flounder for a long time.”

I understand no GM is going to admit a mistake on a player currently on the roster, and I say this as Brandon Saad’s last remaining fan, but if you wouldn’t redo that Panarin deal then you’ve got the wrong combo of medication. And the Hawks can’t squawk about how much cap space they have now and then turn around and claim they never would be able to re-sign Panarin, combined with the half-hearted noise they’ve made about trying to do it this summer anyway. Same goes for Teuvo, though not wanting to badmouth Bryan Bickell is understandable.

Isn’t it fun to work in the dark?