Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Devils 11-19-5   Hawks 15-16-6

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

PARTS UNKNOWN ALWAYS MEANS DOWNTOWN NEWARK: In Lou We Trust

The Hawks will head into the Christmas break, with one more home game, and a chance to build something that looks like momentum with a three-game winning streak, against one of the league’s dumpster-dive-discoveries in the New Jersey Devils. You can’t really ask for much more, which is why it probably feels like the Hawks will fuck this one up with the bus already running. Still, even 75% of usual attention should be enough to get past this outfit at home. You’d think, but silly things have happened against New Jersey the past couple seasons.

Since the last time the Hawks saw them, the Devils have lost five of seven and traded Taylor Hall, so they’re even less interesting than they were before. None of the pieces they got for Hall are on display, and none of them are anywhere close to surefire pieces that will contribute down the line. This is why you don’t hold onto to valuable players when you suck and you know that there’s little chance of them re-signing for your sad sack organization. Hall would have gotten them at least one viable piece at the draft, or at least deadline, but here we are. Know what you are, know your role, people.

So the Devils will focus squarely on what it looking like another top five pick in June to add to Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, neither of which have really popped yet. The Devils will wait around to see if they can get more lottery tickets for Wayne Simmonds or Sami Vatanen at the deadline, and maybe see what’s out there for Kyle Palmieri too who has another year left on his deal. This team needs a lot of things, especially on the blue line and in the crease, and they’re going to need a lot of spins to get them through the draft and prospects.

For now, the Devils do their best to keep things tight to keep it in range of their very limited defense. You may remember these two teams playing a Geneva Convention violation a few weeks ago in Newark, because the Devils were determined to gum things up and the Hawks didn’t even have Boqvist or Keith to force their way through any trap. You can bet on the road it’ll be the same again, probably even more conservative. That’s if the Devils can locate a fuck to give in the last game on the road before three days off. One would think that’s hardly a gimme of a bet.

For the Hawks, it’ll be the same again as Saturday, with Corey Crawford replacing Robin Lehner in net. The win over the Avs was probably their best game of the season, and at least something to try and build off of. The spreading out of the scoring with DeBrincat pairing with Dach started to show some life, as it took a few games for those two to figure out things with each other. Hopefully it grows from here.

There will be a new addition, as John Quenneville is the latest to get a look ahead of Dylan Sikura and not Matthew Highmore for some reason. We can’t also discount that the Hawks might think this is somehow a “revenge” game for Quenneville, as this is his former team for which he barely played. We know that’s how they operate at times. Sikura went from getting a look with Toews and Kublaik–and not looking out of place–to this. Life is cruel. Look for Quenneville to operate with Strome and Nylander for a period and a half before Kelvin starts double-shifting Kane anyway.

No matter how boring the Devils try and keep it, the Hawks should get this one. The schedule the next month isn’t particularly daunting, so if the Hawks have a run in them it’ll be here. But that isn’t going to happen without a win over a team simply aching to give you one right now. So do that, and let’s head off into the holiday not bemoaning our lot in life.

Hockey

The New Oilers – When you have Taylor Hall and two #1 overall picks, you’re supposed to be interesting. And yet the Devils aren’t, and now they don’t have Hall anymore and they didn’t get much other than lottery tickets for him. Jack Hughes was one of the more anticipated #1 overall picks in recent memory, and he’s spent most of his season on a fourth line and looking at Wayne Simmonds wondering what this is supposed to be. Their game against the Hawks was perhaps the most unwatchable of the past three Hawks seasons, which is quite the claim indeed. Nico Hischier has yet to do anything in the NHL that anyone remembers. The Devils are headed for another top five pick, and yet we can be sure their soul will die as everything else does in New Jersey. Are we sure we need these guys?

John Hayden – To quote Fifth Feather, it will be 2035 and both Eddie Olczyk and Pat Foley will be saying of John Hayden had just been given a chance, he could have been the power forward the Hawks haven’t really had since Marian Hossa went to the land of wind and ghosts. And he’ll still be a slow nincompoop.

Will Butcher – Just because he’s yet another four-year college free agent who everyone lost their shit over and he’s, at best, fine. You can see Ian Mitchell’s path from here.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 11-12-5    Devils 9-14-4

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

WHAT AM I DOING IN NEW JERSEY: In Lou We Trust

The NHL schedule is a cruel beast. So even after putting forth a pretty good effort against the Bruins who have yet to lose at home in regulation this year, the Hawks do not get to bask or linger as they’re immediately on display in Newark to take on the Devils. And two days later they’ll be back at home to see the Coyotes and play every other day after that. No time for love, Dr. Jones. And in the Devils, they may be getting a glimpse of the future.

The Devils, after being completely embarrassed in Buffalo on Monday and surrendering a touchdown with the PAT, fired their coach John Hynes, even though they had a game the every next day agains Vegas at home. Alain Nasreddine took over the helm, but now he’ll have had a couple practices to make whatever changes he’d like. As he’s always been Hynes’s assistant, no one’s entirely sure what those are.

There is some desire among the red and black faithful to see the Devils play a little faster and a little more aggressive, as they had a tendency to simply sink into their own slot to defend, which didn’t leave them in a position to spring forward with the abundance of speed they do have. Or at least they’ve looked to had when they were scorching the Hawks the past couple seasons. Remember this is the team that put up eight on the Hawks in this fixture last year.

Another complaint is that players haven’t been put in the best spots to succeed. Like the amount of time Travis Zajac has been spending centering Taylor Hall. Or Jack Hughes on the fourth line (funny what’s going on with the top three picks so far). Or that Nico Hischier isn’t higher in the lineup. So these might be changes you see Nasreddine make.

Then again, it’s a mystery what any coach can do when the goaltending has been this bad. The Devils have the third-worst SV% at evens and the second-worst overall. Last year, Cory Schneider looked like he might not be quite dead and might actually have every piece of him attached. Those were quickly proven to be mirages this season, and now he’s off to the land of wind and ghosts and quite possibly never to return. McKenzie Blackwood, while in need of a first name, has flashed in the past being at least a serviceable goaltender. The only thing flashing this year so far is the light behind him. Louis Domingue was brought in to replace Schneider after some decent seasons backing up Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s currently doing a fine impression of Murray Bannerman. When no goalie can even eyeball a .900 SV%, your team is going to blow (unless you’re last year’s Sharks).

In front of that, the Devils had retreated to the more defensive team you remember from decades of nearly killing the sport. They don’t give up a ton in their own end, but their goalies have still found a way to let more than enough of those chances in to kill their season. They sure as hell don’t create much, and Hughes’s and Hischier’s deployment isn’t going to make up for that alone. They just need more.

With their season already being borked, they may get it via firesale. The winds are already blowing on Hall, who is going to be the deadline gem for a host of teams chasing parades. Other candidates to hit the bricks: Travis Zajac, who could be a pretty good checking center for someone. Sami Vatanen could boost just about any power play. Maybe Andy Greene would go to steady a second or third pair, but he’s been the longtime captain and that’s harder to see. If they really get ambitious, Meat Train Simmonds could probably fool someone again into thinking he brings playoff grit, even though he’s  seen the second round exactly once in his career. Kyle Palmieri can provide secondary scoring for a host of teams, but he’s got another year left on his deal as well. How brave does Ray Shero want to get to try and surround Hughes and Hischier with players?

For the Hawks, minimal changes for tonight you would think. Olli Maatta was sick yesterday but might be better enough to go tonight, which would relieve us of the burden of watching Dennis Gilbert doing whatever it is he does. Drake Caggiula was making noise about playing tonight as well, which would probably sit Anton Wedin. Andrew Shaw and Duncan Keith are most certainly not going to play. Corey Crawford will get the start.

As stated above, the Devils have been a handful for the Hawks the past couple seasons. That’s back when they played a little more adventurously, so if they get back to that or not will determine how hard this one gets. The Devils have the capability to turn any turnover up the ice quickly, especially when you’re as plodding as the Hawks’ blue line is without Keith.

Still, the goalies have been so weak and this has to be a fragile team at the moment, even if they’re new-coach inspired. Get some shots on net and see if you can’t get a weak one or two. The Devils head off on a long road trip after this one, so maybe you catch them dreading that. Last night was a good start, but it’s only that if you build on it.

 

Hockey

Perhaps the biggest movers of the offseason, the Devils put themselves in a position to be paid attention to for basically the first time in their history. Even when they were winning Cups, we all pretended it didn’t happen or went about our day doing something else. Is it enough to make them a playoff team? Probably not. But it’s a world where the Devils are fast and interesting, which is the surest sign we’re all imminently doomed. Let’s hop to it.

2018-2019

31-41-10 72 points (8th in the Metro)

2.67 GF/G (25th)  3.30 GA/G (26th)

46.8 CF% (28th)  48.4 xGF% (19th)

17.7 PP% (21st)  84.3 PK% (4th)

Goalies: It would seem just at the precipice of watching his career dispatched off to the Phantom Zone, Cory Schneider might have played his way back into the starter’s role. He was brilliant after returning from yet another injury in February, where he went for a .921 SV% in 17 games. 17 games doesn’t make for a season, but it sure is a hell of a lot better than the utter disaster he had been for the previous two seasons.

If it’s not him the Devils have been hoping to turn things over to fiendishly named MacKenzie Blackwood, who put up a .918 in his rookie campaign. Not bad for a kid who was 21 when the season started. He’s clearly the goalie of the future, but for now the Devils are probably going to have the two split starts. At least in the season’s first half, until one of them takes it.

Defense: It used to be you couldn’t name any Devils d-man unless you wanted to make it clear to anyone around you had outlived your usefulness to society, if you’d ever had any to begin with. That’s not the case anymore, thanks to the guy attached to Lindsey Vonn. The Devils brought in PK Subban for essentially nothing, and he’ll juice a unit that tried to approach solid but was in desperate need of any dynamism. PK and Sam Vatanen will make for a hell of a power play if nothing else. Andy Greene is somehow still here, because nothing ever dies in New Jersey, it just gets left in a swamp. I’m supposed to say Damon Severson is dependable, except I’m fairly sure he’s just a conspiracy and doesn’t actually exist. Also a joke about Mirco Mueller‘s neck goes somewhere around here, though he was surprisingly effective from a third pairing (+3.22 relative xGF%).

Past Subban there isn’t much here, but he should improve it from the top. That is if he isn’t on the decline, which a lot of experts seem to think he is, because he’s not white. And now he’s motivated, and having a PK that’s determined to fuck the world is a weapon you want to have. The joker card here is if Ty Smith, the Devils best prospect before they took Jack Hughes makes the team or not. He dominated the WHL last year, and most think he can skip the AHL and head straight to the Devils. With Subban, Smith, and Vatanen, that’s a lot of get-up-and-go for a team that wants to play that way.

Forwards: Clearly, all eyes will be on Jack Hughes, who will step right into the #1 center role and hopefully can bat his eyelashes at Taylor Hall enough, and pass him the puck enough, to keep Hall in town past this season. With Nico Hischier being bumped down to the #2 center role, the Devils hope they are set down the middle for the next decade. They were also able to pick up the scraps from Vegas and their unnoticed cap idiocy for Nikita Gusev, whom the Knights had been pumping for a couple years but apparently sucks now that they traded him. If he slots in behind Hall the Devils might have a find here. The two Jespers–Bratt and Boqvist–will bring even more speed to a lineup that was already kind of dripping with it. The Devils have filled their lineup with nippy forwards you don’t necessarily know but are getting past people constantly. You know it because you’ve seen them torch the Hawks the past two seasons.

Prediction: Most seem to think the playoffs are going to be just out of reach for the Devils. It might be, but they’re going to get pretty damn close. Hughes is going to step right in and won’t need much of an adjustment period. They’re likely to get no worse than representative goaltending. And they’re in a division where more teams are heading the wrong way or are just confusing as all hell. Adding 23 points seems like a big ask, but it’s been done before. Of course, the drama over Hall could be a distraction, and if they’re not in the thick of it come February the Devils might decide to cash in on what they can with Hall instead of watching him head for the exit in July. Still, the top line is going to be must-see TV, Smith and PK on the blue line could be a blast. There’s a lot to like here, even if it might need another year to really come together.

 

Everything Else

Jesse Cohen runs the “All The Kings Men” podcast, and you can follow him @KingsMenPodcast.

Much like the Hawks, how do the Kings rebuild with this much bad money around? They can’t buy out everyone, and they can’t trade most of it either. 

I’m not sure there’s much the Kings can do but hope the contracts aren’t as bad as they seem. I don’t think there’s going to be a ton of interest in most of the players deemed to have “bad” contracts. Dustin Brown was considered one of the worst contracts for a few seasons but rebounded nicely.
Let’s say they have….   9 “bad” contracts? (oh god it hurt to write that): Kopitar, Brown, Kovalchuk, Carter, Toffoli, Doughty, Martinez, Phaneuf, Quick
I could see a scenario where they buy out one (Phaneuf), trade 1 or 2 (Quick/Kovalchuk), get moderate on ice value for three (Kopitar/Doughty/Brown…   don’t fight me on this one), get reasonable on ice value for 2 (Toffoli/Martinez).
BUT it’s a lot of “ifs”

Is there anyone under 30 on this roster worth caring about?

Under 30? Like presently in a Kings uniform? I think Carl Grundstrom has some interesting potential as a second liner? There are some decent role players but anybody like an Elias Petterson? No.

Are we far away from Jonathan Quick ceding the starter’s role to Jack Campbell or someone else?

The Quick issue comes down to other teams interest. If someone out there is willing to pay what the Kings want my guess is they’ll have no problem turning the net over to Cal Petersen if there aren’t any takers then I think we’re all Ride or Die for Jonathan Quick

Would Jack Hughes solve all the problems here?

Jack Hughes MIGHT solve ONE problem. Whoever they draft in the first round is for the future not the present.  Whether or not that would go any distance towards solving other problems… well… I kinda doubt it but I’m a pessimist.
*Smash cut to Jack Hughes lifting the Stanley Cup in LA next year as I am proven an idiot once more.*

 

 

Game #78 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Here in the middle of the NHL All-Star Break, I find myself in a familiar place as last year – we’re 51 games into the Blackhawks’ season, and I’m about to talk about how they should probably tank. No, really, click this link and I literally wrote about the tank last year at the same 51 game mark. Funny how these things have a way of, erm, working out. At least I get another chance to use that ridiculous photoshop I made last year.

When I did this last year, I was basically contemplating an impossible. The Blackhawks were probably a bit too far out of the running for last place to make a true run at it, and even then they ended the season with the 7th-best lottery odds and actually ended up getting jumped and ended up picking 8th. They did address the main need area of the blue line with their pick of Adam Boqvist, and his ceiling appears to be rather high.

This year, the potential for “tanking” is much higher, because the Hawks are a measly two points ahead of the last place tie between the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils. The problem is there are five other teams who can make that claim as well, and three others that are only six points ahead of the Sens/Devils. That being said, our local idiots have played at least one more game than every other team below them in the standings, and three more than the Devils (who boatraced them last week, lest we forget), so the case for them being the worst team in the league and the front runner for the last place sweepstakes is not a hard one to make, though Detroit has a case as well considering they’re tied with the Hawks through 51 games played themselves.

The situation is eerily similar to last year as well. If I wrote the following today, it would still apply , but I assure you that this cut and paste from the article referenced above:

The Crawford situation has become a lose-lose for the Blackhawks. Crow’s health is obviously the most important thing, and you don’t want to rush him back and risk anything going wrong in the future because he is going to be the key to this team contending in the years to come. And we’re seeing how well things are going without him – you have two dudes who never spent significant time in the NHL trying each game to not play as bad as they did last game. So you don’t want to rush Crow back, but without him you’re up shit’s creek without a paddle.

Then you also have the question of whether Crawford coming back this year at all is really even worth it, even if you don’t rush it. We’ve already seen reports that he might miss the whole season, so it may not be a stretch to say that the Hawks bringing him back at all could be a form of rushing him back. And even if he does come back and squeeze you into a playoff spot, is it really going to be worth playing those extra games just to more than likely get bounced by Nashville or God forbid WINNIPEG? Even if your draft lottery odds are the longest shot, that’s better chance at the apparently generational talent of Rasmus Dahlin than zero.

Clearly Rasmus Dahlin is not available this year, but insert Jack Hughes – or Kaapo Kakko if that’s your fancy – in for him (and maybe remove generational, cuz Hughes is good but certainly no McDavid/Eichel/Matthews) and it’s current. The Hawks are in a really nasty spot with Crawford and it’s arguably worse this year than it was last year, because now we’re in round two of a serious concussion problem. He’s been skating already so there’s a decent chance he returns, but as the podcast crew talked about this week he probably isn’t giving you anything more than half of the remaining games if he does come back, and even then he hasn’t had the kind of season that would see him carry them back into the playoff hunt.

Who has that kind of season is Collin Delia, who’s posted a .923 save percentage in his 10 games this year, doing so behind a defense so bad that even with that impressive save rate he still has a 3.oo GAA. If Delia proves to ultimately be a franchise goalie, then him de-railing any kind of last place finish race would definitely be okay by me. That being said, we probably won’t really know quite yet if he is a franchise goalie, even if he does help them go on some kind of run and keeps them well out of last place this year. So that’s a bit of a Sophie’s Choice for us in the pro-tank crowd – do we prefer the potential franchise goalie plays bad to help secure a franchise 1C, or do we prefer Delia ruin our chances at a franchise 1C even if he won’t ultimately be a franchise goalie? If you have a firm answer to that, I envy you.

Further complicating things is the simple fact that you can’t coach a team to tank – though Coach Cool Youth Pastor running this man-to-man system with a roster not nearly fast enough to do it properly is about as close to doing so you’ll find. Despite the system, Colliton can’t convince Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews or Alex DeBrincat to stop being extremely good at hockey, and he certainly can’t tell anyone else not to try. Even if most of these players are not long for the roster if this franchise is going to return to competing, they’re still auditioning for NHL jobs either here or elsewhere and they owe it to themselves to play well. On top of that, a lot of this team is young and we still need to see what we have in them – Dylan Strome, Henri Jokiharju, and Delia are all examples of this. So we need them at their best.

So it comes down to if Stan Bowman is going to ultimately admit that everything he and McD have tried to force feed us this year about this team competing was just a bunch of bullshit. It’s kind of started already, but they’ll never come out and explicitly say “actually this roster sucks ass and we wanted it this way,” and they certainly won’t cop to signing shitty players in an effort to give Joel Quenneville enough rope to hang himself – which, based on what we’ve seem from this team since Q was fired in favor of CCYP, he didn’t even truly manage to do.

And if Bowman does decide to that he’s going to sell off what he can in order to maximize lottery odds, what does he really have to sell? Do you really think shipping Erik Gustafsson out of here is going to be the final straw that bottoms out this team? Has Chris Kunitz really brought enough to the table for this team to such when he leaves (the answer is no, they’ll actually get better with that)? If you can even convince Cam Ward to leave, and convince some team to take him, does that make the Hawks chances of winning the games he would’ve played that much higher?

So yeah – personally I think that tanking, in whatever form the Hawks might be able to do so, is the best way forward for this year’s Hawks. They have a decent crop of forwards locked up for the future, but there’s no 1C of the future here, so Jack Hughes is more than welcome. Even if you end up with Kakko, that’s an improvement for the future and he might even wind up as this year’s Patrick Laine.

The thing is, like last year, there is no clear and obvious way to go about “tanking” that really results in a tank, because outside of the unrealistic Kane trade that Rose talked about on Wednesday, you’re not shipping out much talent worth anything. So, like last year, we’re almost stuck hoping that the team ends up bad enough – and the teams below them string enough wins together – to have the Hawks end up with the highest possible lottery chances, and then we again hope and pray for the ping pong balls to favor us. It’s – still – the good ol’ hockey game.