Hockey

A completely fucking banner 96 hours for Stan Born on Third. Bowman dug deep into his throbbing Krang’s-body brain to:

1. Cut his franchise goaltender with nary a negotiation.

2. Trade a solid top-6 LW for a defenseman whose greatest contribution to the sporting world tops out at “piques Vince McMahon’s interest.”

3. Piss off the guys who sell the tickets.

The easy argument would be “This is what a rebuild looks like.” Bull fucking shit.

Why Zadorov and why the FUCK now?

There are many, many things to be pissed about regarding the Saad for Zadorov trade. Let’s start with the easiest thing to be pissed about. Zadorov is a Vince McMahon wet dream. He’s big, he’s muscly, and he sucks big ass at defense. Don’t believe me?

“The 25-year-old is a member of the Chicago Blackhawks now because the Avs became tired of his inconsistent play and they probably didn’t want to deal with another contract negotiation for the restricted free agent.” ­–Mike Chambers, Denver Post, 10/11/2020

“Zadorov is adored by fans and has become a favorite over his five years in Colorado. His teammates also rave about his humor and ability to keep things loose in the locker room. His character might be the only thing he has going for him these days…because defensive ability certainly isn’t.” –Scott MacDonald, Colorado Hockey Now, 9/11/2020

“This looks like a very obvious improvement on behalf of the Avalanche. Zadorov was getting pushed out of the defense group and his defensive mistakes were becoming too much. He now goes to Chicago where their level of defense is much lower while the Avalanche get back a really really good offensive player.” –Hardev Lad, Mile High Hockey, 10/10/2020

Inconsistent play? Bad at defense? He’ll fit right fucking in!

As we’ve vomited out ad nauseum, the Blackhawks learned all the wrong lessons from the Blues winning the Stanley Cup. Saad for Zadorov itself shouldn’t be surprising, given that Stan Bowman has absolutely no idea what a good defenseman looks like. But Zadorov doesn’t have “future contributor” written anywhere on him on a team with any serious intention of being a contender, now or in the future.

Here it is in neurotic nerd form:

From hockeyviz.com (@IneffectiveMath)

McCurdy’s graphs above give a snapshot of a defenseman who’s simply “a guy” at best. He provides little to no offense, which, whatever. His best defensive year was in 2016–17, and his last three years in Colorado were a hobo’s listless shrug.

But Zadorov often finds himself out of position. And one of his supposed strengths is he’s A BRUISER. Which means he takes penalties. Which means he’s off the ice. Which seems like a really bad place for a supposed defensive defenseman—which is how they’ll sell him if they aren’t already—to be. Seems especially bad given how bad the goaltending projects to be relative to what it was when Crow was here. He makes it more likely that we’ll see Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia, or Kevin Lankinen up against a power play behind THIS defense and THIS system (last year’s good PK performance be damned).

This isn’t a brick in the rebuild. It’s a brick you throw through the window because the owners have abandoned the fucking house.

Though Brandon Saad isn’t Hossa Jr. like we wanted him to be, he’s without a doubt a good, possession-conscious, two-way responsible top-6 forward. All Bowman got for him was a guy who likely won’t be here next year. No picks, no prospects, no nothin’, AND they’re retaining $1 million of Saad’s contract. And if you think Zadorov has potential or whatever, congratulations on being Pierre McGuire, I guess.

Trading Maatta and not re-signing Koekkoek was a step in the right direction. They’re depth guys at best, and doing so sprang hope that Mitchell and Boqvist would get real, big boy minutes from the word go. But after seeing how Colliton turned Boqvist into a kicked and scared puppy, you wonder what that opportunity would be worth to him.

Then, after unclogging the defensive toilet, StanBo immediately stuffed a full box of jagged-plastic-applicator tampons down and said, “This is good.” And he lost a solid top-6 winger to do it. And I’m just now realizing that this is how Alex Nylander gets back onto the top 6. Shit on me.

In short, Stan Bowman traded for a defenseman who will likely take time away from Mitchell or Boqvist, and whose most attractive skill is BIG TOUGH. They’re going to throw him into Colliton’s Pollack-on-Krokodil chase-the-shitty-dragon system, despite the fact that the Avs didn’t want him because he sucks at positioning. Oh, and they signed him to a one-year, $3.2 million contract.

That’s not part of a rebuild. It’s fucking hubris.

But wait, there’s more! No Crawford negotiations but money for Zadorov?

Losing Crawford was bad enough. But as Scott Powers reported over the weekend, Bowman didn’t even bother to negotiate with him.

“There just wasn’t much negotiation,” Crawford said. “We thought there would be more talk. I think it was at $3 (million). We just didn’t go back and forth at all, so it just kind of ended there. There’s not much more I can say about that.

“I don’t think it was necessarily (the term). We just didn’t negotiate that much. That’s all it really was. I can’t really say much more about that. Let’s leave it there.” –Corey Crawford, 10/10/2020

What’s done is done, but in light of this Saad for Zadorov trade, it’s even more upsetting. Crow ended up signing in New Jersey for two years and $7.8 million. That’s a $3.9 million cap hit a year for one of the best and most consistent goaltenders in the league. The Hawks have committed $4.2 million in cap space between the Zadorov signing and keeping $1 million of Saad’s contract. That on its own should be grounds for firing. Fuck off with “It’s just this year though.” I do not care.

If it’s about rebuilding, you maybe get them jettisoning Crow. But which moves has Stan made that you trust to help reach that goal?

And that’s not all! The Core is pissed, too

The fucking cherry on top is that Toews, Kane, and Keith are pissed about these moves. They’re especially pissed about the lack of negotiations with Crawford. Most of all, they’re mad that no one seems to have relayed that they’re rebuilding. You may recall earlier in the year that Patrick Kane made mention of The Core wanting a say in the team’s future. In response, Bowman said something along the lines of “Players play and managers manage.”

These players have won three Cups. They play. When the fuck is Bowman going to start managing this team? If your reaction to The Core’s upset is “It’s not their decision to make,” it should horrify you that Bowman is indeed the decision maker here.

Bowman has ridden this Core, which was almost entirely handed to him when he arrived, to three Cups. Now, after beginning to install his vision—which includes Jeremy Colliton as coach, trading for Alex Nylander on purpose, and failing to build a blue line to give his young goaltenders any hope at success, just to name a few moves—his answer to their concerns is “screw.” Yeah, he’s within the realm of his responsibilities to do so, but outside of drafting Dach and re-signing Kubalik for a song of a bridge contract, what’s Bowman done recently to give you the confidence that he’s at all authoritative about what makes a good hockey team?

In the end, this is less of a rebuild and more of a pursuit of stubbornness. Bowman is going all-in not with The Core that’s won him three Cups; not with a core of young talent combined with a coaching staff that can foster their strengths and patch their weaknesses; but with this Pretty Little Coach and his Shitty Little System that makes anyone in it for long enough worse. No one listens to, respects, or wants to play for Colliton, because he’s a bad coach with a bad system. Instead of admitting fault, Bowman will shift blame and build around his good-looking hunk of walking hubris, because that’s what being born on third is all about.

Toews, Kane, and Keith each have no-movement clauses. Toews has made it abundantly clear that he’s not going anywhere. Keith doesn’t sound interested in moving either, presumptively with how tough it’ll be for him to find a mover who can safely transport whatever crystals he’s healing with these days. And if Kane decides to waive his NMC, it’ll likely put the team’s budget actually in the red. All the while, the actual young talent is under the tutelage of a coach whose biggest possible contribution would be not teaching them anything he knows at all.

The goddamn plane has crashed into the mountain.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

They got farther than they should have. Some of the kids showed flashes of brilliance. Others looked everything from odious to unusable. We got a couple more classic games from one of our favorite guys. And all the while a coach. My oh my, a coach.

Jeremy Colliton is so revolutionary and paradigm shifting that even the things he does right he does wrong. Waiting until Game 5 of a Quarterfinal you didn’t belong in to scratch Alex Nylander had all urgency and foresight of cleaning out a toilet full of shit only after you’ve begun suffering from ambient sepsis. But given how exceedingly low he has set the bar for himself, that he scratched him at all is praiseworthy.

But then, he didn’t stop at dressing John Quenneville, oh no. He started him on the first line with Toews and Kubalik in an elimination game. Yeah, alright, make your point, whatever it is. But then he kept putting Quenneville out there. On purpose. In an elimination game. That line ended up with a 30 CF%. And a goal against. And Jeremy Colliton kept running it out there. On purpose. In an elimination game.

Fucking check THIS shit out. At the end of the second period, Brandon Saad shared the ice with Jonathan Toews for 16 seconds. In that time, they had a 3 CF, 0 CA, and a goal. In seven seconds—7 fucking seconds, dear reader—with Dominik Kubalik, they had a 2 CF, 0 CA, and a goal.

In what incomprehensible galaxy is it acceptable to skate John Quenneville over Brandon Saad on the first line? In an elimination game. If the very point of this experience was to get younger guys playoff experience, how does skating John Quenneville over Sikura, Hagel, Kurashev, or even Mackenzie THE OX Entwistle accomplish this? Please note that I cannot possibly care fucking less that John Quenneville is 24. He is a nice fourth liner if you are being generous. Fuck, Sikura can at least possess the puck at a better than 30+% rate. What has Sikura done to deserve such a ratfucking?

They aren’t going to fire Jeremy Colliton, but they should. He’s not the coach this team needs, and given their overall performance this year, he’s not the coach this team wants, either.

– The Saad–Strome–DeBrincat line was strong tonight. They dominated possession to the tune of a 61+ CF%. They also played the least of any of the four lines. Goddamn it, can’t you just feel the MINDBRAINS pulsing through your fucking skull? In an elimination game. This fuckin guy.

– We will miss Corey Crawford most of all. We will have tons to say, and it’ll all be a roundabout way of getting at thank you. If this was it, it was a wonderful ride.

– Watching Connor Murphy pull off a spin-o-rama and have an all-around good game was nice. Probably worth more to me than Alexis Lafreniere.

Kirby Dach said hello several times these playoffs. We like what we saw all year. Could stand to shoot more. But we’ll have thoughts on that later.

Adam Boqvist was bad these playoffs. Yeah, he’s barely 20, coached by some guy, and had no reliable backstop to build his puck moving around. And yeah, he went up against an overpowering Vegas team right after two of hockey’s best forwards. But even so, he was totally helpless on defense. Overpowered, outskated, and constantly out of position. You bet your ass we’re putting a lot of that on the clown’s funeral that is this coaching staff. But you get a sense that Boqvist was fundamentally lost out there these playoffs. We didn’t even get a flash of offensive prowess worth writing about. This is our concern dude.

The Hawks would be foolish to give up on him. Still too young, still needs to grow, and any number of excuses. They traded Henri Jokiharju in part because of how much they believed in him. To give up now would be absurd, albeit in Boqvist’s best interest. And yet, you worry.

I think that’s enough of that for now.

Thank you for reading and sticking with us in these unprecedented times. It was fun to have a taste of meaningful hockey, if only for a few weeks and entirely undeserved. We’ll keep doing this shit as long as you all keep reading it, because you’re all alright as a lot.

We’ll probably have some podcasts coming up. Hockey might take a little time off, but we’ll get you your player and coaching reviews. We may have a stray thought or two about the goings on in the bubble. Follow our Sox stuff and our football stuff. And we’ll always be at the forefront of arriving late, drinking all the wine, and throwing up in the misused bidet that is Blackhawks breaking news.

Until then, stay safe and do what you can.

Coranon silaria ozoo mahoke.

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

It’s not quite a surprise, and it’s not quite a disappointment. But there’s a melancholy about this loss. It’s partly the fact that Vegas comfortably coasted like a vegetable-oil-powered hatchback downhill and still stifled the Hawks. It’s partly the fact no matter how you slice it, this defensive system sucks shit. They didn’t get van Hagar’d, which is something I guess. Let’s pan for gold in this indoor outhouse.

– At least Kirby Dach was noticeable for the first half of the game. His greenness came through on his first instance of noticeableness, as he held the puck way too long on a 2-on-1 with DeBrincat while waiting for a passing lane to open up. Everything prior to his shitting the stage was good though, as he showed off hands by taking a pass in stride through the neutral zone before passing off to Kane, speed and power weaving the puck into the zone, and vision by looking for DeBrincat in the first place. But as we’ve found ourselves saying more than once during this run, just shoot that, baby.

But Dach learned quickly, taking a one-timer off a nice DeBrincat pass following a forced turnover. And later in that same period, Dach just missed Kane stalking in front of the net with a backhand pass from behind the goal line. He became less noticeable as the game went on, but there were things to like about what he did tonight. The Hawks have something in him. Whether they use him correctly going forward will be the big question.

Adam Boqvist isn’t a defensive defenseman. That would be fine if he also weren’t petrified of making a mistake with the puck. The whole point of drafting him was to develop him as a puck-moving play maker. At no point did he show any ability to do that tonight, while also getting totally pantsed by luminaries like Ryan Reaves.

Pairing him with Duncan Keith doesn’t help him at all. Keith simply does not give enough of a shit to pare his game back and play centerfield for Boqvist, which is what Boqvist needs if he’s ever going to develop the way the Hawks need him to. By no means should we or the Hawks give up on him. But they have to set him up for success, which they have utterly failed to do all season.

– On that note, I would like to double or even triple down on the notion that Jeremy Colliton’s defensive system sucks unwiped ass. On the Knights’s first goal, we had Duncan Keith chasing Reilly Smith from below the goal line up past the near-circle dot, leaving Adam Boqvist and Dylan Strome to defend down low. I’ll grant that this is a shot that Crawford should have had. But the system itself forces Duncan Keith to rove between the goal line and beyond the dot by himself, as Strome and Boqvist stick to their men down low. This gives Shea Theodore way too much time and space to create a play, whether a quick wrister or a potential rebound in an area where the alleged defenders aren’t defenders at all, but rather Adam fucking Boqvist and Dylan fucking Strome.

Part of coaching is simply knowing your players’ strengths and weaknesses, but here’s Coach Nathan For You expecting a light-in-the-ass Boqvist and Dylan Strome to guard the net, and Duncan Keith to do everything else. Brilliant.

The second goal was a perfect example of how this Colliton system can do everything right and still trip over its own dick.

On this goal, it looks like everyone has their man covered. But that doesn’t fucking matter if your team is both too slow and too inexperienced to anticipate. Boqvist follows Roy past the dot by design, opening up space for Ryan Reaves down low. Reaves manages to pump fake Keith and curl back, leaving Keith flat footed. With Boqvist past the circle covering Roy, the system now relies on Matthew Highmore to stick with Carrier. He falls down trying to do so.

The biggest problem is that Ryan Reaves has both time and space to create a play because Keith has no real support on his back end. Boqvist is on the same side as him, and Highmore is overwhelmed by Carrier, who managed to shake Highmore off and get back to his feet to sweep the puck in. THIS IS WHAT THE SYSTEM IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE. It relies too heavily on guys who simply can’t match up one-on-one, and when one of those guys is even slightly out of position, the entire system falls apart. Where’s the upside to this?

– Though we can bitch and moan about the system (and we will at every chance we get, dear reader), we’d me remiss if we didn’t admit that this was not a good Corey Crawford game. Though there’s a lot to hate about how the first goal developed systematically, that’s a shot Crow should have. Neither Boqvist nor Stasny really screened Crow on this one. You can argue that system fucked Crow, but it’s a shot he should have had, regardless.

Reilly Smith’s goal (#3 for Vegas) was another inexcusable goal. Yes, Toews’s pass through the neutral zone was bad and directly led to the chance. But it was a straightforward wrister that Crow just failed to absorb. The Hawks need Crawford to be everything and more to have a shot in this series, and those two goals were backbreakers.

Brandon Saad was very good for some of the game. His pressure and power on Theodore led to Kampf’s goal on the penalty kill, and he was one of just three Hawks to be above water in possession tonight with a team-leading 54+% share. (The other two were Dominik Kubalik and Alex Nylander, which fucking rules).

– We can give the Hawks some credit for limiting the high-danger chances in the first and second, and even for controlling possession for the second. But watching this game, you get the feeling that Vegas was doing an after-morning-sex stretch with them through the first 40. Despite being down a goal going into the third, the Hawks only managed five shots in the third and only had the puck for 37% of the time. It’s one thing to play a faux trap early. It’s another to play to your weakness despite the situation, which is exactly what PARADIGM-CHANGING COACH Jeremy Colliton chose to do.

Robin Lehner lost two skate blades while the Hawks had possession, once on the goddamn power play, and the Hawks fired one shot on goal that technically wasn’t a shot on goal because it hit the post. But please, tell me more about how Jeremy Colliton is a coaching wunderkind whose players definitely listen to him and who has them all dialed in with the focus required to take advantage of a fucking goaltender without a fucking skate blade. Twice.

– Kane’s been awfully quiet for Kane these playoffs, which might throw a wrench in the one cool move Colliton has in the magic bag of tricks he stole from Felix the Cat’s loser fucking dropout cousin, Horace the Fucking Moron.

Vegas is just that much better than the Hawks. Unless Crow throws up a .950 for the rest of the series, there’s not much they can do except try to go air raid, which simply won’t work against a team that can gobble up the puck as much as the Knights can. The best we can look for is development and improvement from guys like Dach, Boqvist, Kubalik, and DeBrincat. We’ll take that.

Onward.

Booze du Jour: Maker’s and Evan Williams

Line of the Night: “Edmonton could not check their hat in the qualifying round.” -Eddie O.

Hockey

As Feather points out regularly on our podcast, “reading the tea leaves” has gotten frustrating and fatiguing. It’s just about all we can do these days, given how little the Hawks let out and what does get out never puts them in a good light these days.

To say Duncan Keith is tired of Jeremy Colliton’s act is pretty much in the same fashion as telling you tomorrow’s Tuesday. Last night’s dejection doesn’t really change that. You can watch Keith play his own game that has nothing to do with Colliton’s supposed “system” and know he’s got no use for him. It’s been pretty obvious since Colliton took over that Keith at best eyed him with suspicion and at this point openly despises him.

Toews has always been the tougher read, but seeing as how he wasn’t afraid to bus-toss his coach in the media all the way back in November, it wouldn’t be a huge leap to suggest he’s pretty much had it as well. Toews is the captain and will always do his best to hold things together, but he can also hear the clock ticking on his career, or at least his peak years, and a third-straight year of going home in mid-April is not something that’s going to sit all that well.

Patrick Kane has hinted at wanting to talk with the front office after the season. It’s the closest Kane has come to suggesting he wants changes and won’t be afraid to say so to the people in charge.

Brent Seabrook is a different kind of case, given he just has to get healthy and what the plan is for him here long-term. Corey Crawford’s is as well as he’s a free agent and can simply turn around and head somewhere else if he doesn’t like what’s on offer, either for him or the team as a whole.

We’ve briefly talked about it on the podcast, and maybe we’ll get to it again this week, but what will the Hawks do if the main three, or all five, demand changes in coach or GM or both? Would they even? Would they go over Stan’s head? We’ve seen them go around the coaches before, when everyone wanted Mike Kitchen punted off Joel Qunneville’s staff in that summer that nearly ended with Q in Montreal and the Hawks with a new coach.

As we’ve always said, the main three don’t have a ton of leverage. They could demand Colliton be fired or they’ll ask out, but the Hawks don’t have to move them in that scenario. It’s hard to fathom that any of them would go public with a demand to get out, and short of that it’s hard to see how they could force it. The markets on Keith and Toews would be limited, and though Kane’s would be larger any interested team would still have to perform a variety of arm-balances to get his cap number in.

The question is why would the Hawks even want to go down that road? You don’t want to have the inmates running the asylum and all that, but rare is the collection of teammates who all have three rings (two in Crow’s case), two Norrises, three Conn Smythes, a Selke, a Hart, a couple Jennings. If there’s any grouping of players that can justify demanding changes to an organization, it’s this one.

Beyond that, what would the Hawks be holding on to? Why would Jeremy Colliton be the coach you’d go to the mat with these players with? He hasn’t developed any player, as no player is any better than they were a year ago. Dylan Strome has been on a wing. Adam Boqvist has been scratched at times and still doesn’t run the top power play unit nor has he shown his puck-carrying abilities. Alex Nylander sucks. Kirby Dach was a fourth-liner for too long. The power play is right up there with touching your face right now. What is the sign that things could improve with this coach down the road?

The answer is of course you wouldn’t. And it’s not like these players have a track record of downing tools or mutinies. Get a coach in here whom they believe in and respect and runs a system that they can see the benefits of, and they will suddenly form the kind of leadership any coach would dream of.

These guys are such loyal servants that I don’t know that stating Colliton and Bowman are going nowhere would cause them to agitate to move elsewhere. It feels out of character for all of them. But it’s clear they’re fed up. And Keith is definitely running out of time, and Toews and Kane can at least see the finish line for the first time. Crawford will have other offers. So if it would ever to happen, it’s going to happen this spring.

What would the Hawks do?

Hockey

The Dizzying Highs

Dominik Kubalik – First career hat trick in Tampa, which he had taken a run at before but didn’t quite complete, and five points in three games. Kubalik has had a rookie season beyond anyone’s dreams, and has been a genuinely fun thing to watch night in and night out. The power play has been revitalized with him on the right side and Kane switching to the left, though one might worry that teams will eventually cut off the one pass that has led to all this. But that’s for another time. Kubalik’s policy on the power play of just firing all the time is working for now.

Of course, the discussion will turn soon to whether if this is what Kubalik actually is going forward. It most certainly isn’t, because he’s not going to shoot damn near 20% for his whole career. No one does. Draisaitl and Oshie are right above and below him now, and their career marks are much lower. This is a spike, and we know that from how much he’s outperforming his expected marks. Still, his 0.86 individual xG/60 ranks in the top-30 in the league, which means that Kubalik could be viewed as a 20-25 goal from here on out with the occasional spike that will land him at 30 and above (he’s only 24 so you’d like to think he’ll have some years to play with). He also might always outperform his metrics given that he’s a good finisher.

Given Kubalik’s nose for space and finishing ability, you sort of wonder what he could do with a gifted passer. It’s not that Jonathan Toews is a bad passer or playmaker, but it’s not his specialty. Perhaps in the future, when the Hawks add another forward or two, Kubalik could find space for Kane or Dach on a full-time basis (even Strome is probably better passer than Toews) and keep his goal-totals inflated.

Again, discussion for another time. Sometimes you just have to enjoy what’s right in front of you.

The Terrifying Lows

Jeremy Colliton – It seems unfair to kick the guy after the Hawks got wins over two good teams competing for things right after they had one of the bigger stomach-punch losses in St. Louis, given all that went on before that one as well. The Hawks showed fight and pride, which isn’t always easy with a team going nowhere for a third year in a row.

But it’s hard to track Colliton’s comments that he’s proud of the way the Hawks have played hard all season and never given in, and then think about his comments after the losses to the Rangers and such where he claims that they didn’t care enough to start well or play the right way. What message do you want to send there, chief?

I would imagine that when this team plays hard it’s doing so for Toews and Co., and seeing as how Toews and Keith have made it pretty damn clear what they think of the steward of this ship, he’s probably trying to scramble to keep his job. Something tells me he’s going to keep it through the summer, but the leash in the fall is going to be awfully short.

This was also the week that down a goal to the Blues, Colliton sent his top power play plus Saad out for the final 2:51 of the game without a timeout. There isn’t any player on Earth that can keep his starch for 2:50, no matter how many stoppages. Needless to say, the Hawks didn’t really come close to finding a tying goal.

When the Hawks drew that power play with nearly three to go, the move was to send out the second unit, even for just 30 seconds if that’s what it was, and then send out the first unit with the goalie pulled for the rest of the game. Sure, you’re never guaranteed a stoppage when you need one to change, but you’re also not going anywhere with players out there for three minutes.

When anyone can point to what Colliton does well or who is a better player today than when he took over, I’ll think about removing the label “Worst Coach In The League” from around his neck. I’ll be waiting.

The Creamy Middles

Corey Crawford – Crow had a rough one in St. Louis, as everyone did. And maybe Crow’s pattern at this point in his career is just going to have a semi-regular clunker that keeps him more in the .915 range now instead of above .920 (though give him an improved defense and we’ll see). With nothing on the table, there would be no questions if that struggle had continued against two high-powered offenses in Florida (though the Bolts were hampered by injury). Instead, Crow turned away 74 of the 78 shots he saw in two games from teams loaded with finishers, and got the Hawks four points.

Never leave us.

Hockey

I understand the feeling that the Hawks season ended last night. If there was ever going to be one last charge to stand up and be counted, it was returning home for two games before going back on the road. It was seeing a non playoff team. It was having one last chance to prove to the front office before the deadline that you weren’t in need of major surgery. But we all knew the truth. And I think the Hawks did too.

Nothing last night was new. There have been plenty of 20-shots-against 3rd periods for the Hawks, because they suck defensively. That’s a structural problem, not a spiritual one. Maybe we didn’t notice as much because the goalies have been so good, and have been able to come up with 18- and 19-save periods to save the Hawks’ ass. I don’t even know that Lehner was bad last night, his level just wasn’t what it had been before. Any kind of drop from either him or Crawford results in five goals against. It’s that simple.

But you combine the structural problems–slow defense, uneven buy-in to the system (at best), and a wonky roster–with the Hawks knowing in the back of their heads they’re toast and are days away from having the roster stripped to the point the last six weeks are going to be fucking ugly, and you get this overwhelming feeling that something “broke” or “collapsed” last night. I don’t think that’s really the case.

I’m betting the Hawks themselves knew it was over when they were soundly beaten by an Oilers team without McDavid. It was over when fortune damned them to a loss they didn’t deserve in Vancouver. They were able to accept the gift that David Rittich was happy to give them, but they knew the truth when they couldn’t get close to the Jets twice when they had to. A very flawed Jets team, by the way. That road trip is when it was over, and you could tell the Hawks kind of knew it.

That said, it’s not going to get better when your coach, AGAIN, comes out and says most of the team wasn’t ready to play. That’s Jeremy Colliton’s job, and almost every time the Hawks are in a game they have to have, that will help bring meaning to the season, Colliton is there after the game saying they weren’t ready or didn’t give enough. Who’s that on? Colliton hasn’t earned that place. He may be the coach, but he doesn’t draw that water. Yeah, the roster is not good enough. And it’s not good enough in a way that can make it look really bad, given how slow it is. But you can’t keep telling us you’re not doing your job. Because after a while, what’s clear is that they don’t get ready for you.

I don’t have much patience for Lehner calling out his teammates either. Yeah, Lehner Atlas’d this team in October and November. He’s been merely ok for two months now. Sure, he included himself in it, but he’s won exactly nothing in his career, unless four playoff games counts as something. I bet it counts as fuck and all to Kane, Crawford, Toews, and Keith. Everyone starting to see why no one wants to give this guy more than one year?

Behind all of this, I think what people are really upset about is knowing just how bad the rest of the season will be to watch. Even though it will actually be healthy. If the Hawks get what they can for Lehner, Gustafsson, and maybe Crawford or Saad or Strome or something creative, it’s much better for the long-term health of the team than barely missing out on the chance to get clobbered by the Blues or Avs in the first round. That doesn’t make it an easy process to get through, but surgeries rarely are.

But yeah, the Hawks will sink like a stone through March. Even the vets, who have done their best and said all the right things, are going to find it hard to find the give-a-shit meter, much less fill it. But they’ve earned that right.

But don’t assume this is about want-to or belief. This is the team that used to exude that. Last night is just another example in dozens that the Hawks just aren’t built right. The Rangers aren’t good, yet, but what they do have is a healthy amount of speed. That’s all it takes. The Hawks don’t have any. We know about the defense, but as I’ve worried the last little bit, the forwards aren’t fast enough either. Where’s the game-breaking speed? What forward can back a defense up simply because they’re out there?

Saad maybe? Kubalik? Both of those are a stretch. It’s not Top Cat. It’s not Strome. Dach’s is mobile but his gifts are his hands not feet. It’s just not there. Are they any in the system? Dylan Sikura doesn’t change this team’s fortunes, but he’s the type of player the Hawks need to be packing their bottom six with merely because they’re fast and have a modicum of skill and awareness. They keep giving you Matthew Highmore and John Quenneville. The Hawks don’t scout themselves or the league correctly. They haven’t diagnosed what the game is now. They’re still trying to win the 2014 Cup they missed out on, which is funny because they missed out on it due to the Kings trying to emulate them and get faster.

The sad part is it’s put the Hawks in an awful position. The front office that has failed to adjust the team to modern times is now in charge of this mini tear-down or rebuild. Should they be? It’s too late now (always has been, always will be…) to have anyone else do it. But what if the decision from on high is to clean house after the season? What if your new guy doesn’t like the prospects or young players you’ve brought in at the deadline? You’re spinning wheels again. You can’t do that.

But if you let Stan do this the whole way? He got you in this mess. Is he only going to drive you deeper into the muck? He says the right thing about not managing next season for his job which would lead into a bunch of panic moves. But will that happen in practice? It’s not going to be terribly fun finding out.

Maybe we’re all angry because they keep telling us this is the price for three parades and eight or nine seasons in the penthouse. But we all know it doesn’t really have to be this bad. It’s not for the Penguins. It’s not for the Caps. It has been for the Kings, but we all know that’s just as much mismanagement too. It’s a fig leaf to hide behind for an overmatched and over-rewarded front office. We know better.

It’s a dark ride from here. But there could be light at the end of it. The mystery is what gets you.

Hockey

I guess I’ll give Stan some dap for appearing in public right before the deadline. Though at the intermission of the game in Calgary is an interesting choice, given the time restraints. But whatever, Stan took the time to talk, which he’s not good at, which means we have to dissect what he said, which we are. Let’s to it.

And I want to start with a question from Mark Lazerus:

Well, you were in pretty much the same situation last year, almost identical, where you’re on the outside but within striking distance. You wound up not really doing much of anything. Is that a strong possibility again this year, that you might just let these guys play it out?

And this is the crux of the whole thing, isn’t it? The Hawks didn’t do anything at the deadline last year, in one direction or the other. Now that’s not all of it, as they did pick up Drake Caggiula, who is at least useful, and Slater Koekkoek, who probably isn’t, well before the deadline. They also swapped Nick Schmaltz for Dylan Strome, which looked last year like a great move and this year looks no worse than break-even. But the Hawks didn’t pick a lane last year, they held on to Erik Gustafsson at the peak of his value. They didn’t add anything and mortgage any of their future in the process, which is good. But they didn’t fully commit to the following years either, which left them not doing anything all that effective in the summer, other than signing de Haan, and now he might have one arm forever.

Again, this year they have a choice, and while Gustafsson doesn’t have the value he did they have more pieces to play with in the form of Lehner and if they want to get really goofy, Strome. Maybe even Maatta. But it’s likely they’ll do nothing, and have less cap space next summer, which is pretty much going to leave them running in place again.

Of course. In the moment, that’s fun. But you pay the price down the road, and we’re kind of down that road now. It’s always that balance of the push and pull of the present and the future. Because you’d love to be able to go for it and not have it impact your team three or four years down the road. But that’s usually what happens, is the players or draft picks that you give away, you don’t feel it that next year or two years. It’s usually four years later when those players are in their early 20s and they should be helping you, but you don’t have them because they’re somewhere else.

It’s important to be fair to Stan here as well. Because this is right. The Hawks are paying the piper now for the picks they didn’t have and the prospects they had to give up. Phillip Danault would help. Teuvo Teravainen would help. Maybe one of the picks they surrendered in ’15 or ’16 would have been a contributor by now. This was the line Stan tried to walk back then, and it’s nearly impossible. He’s trying to get out of that now, which is also near impossible.

Probably not a couple games, no. I guess you look at from the trade deadline backwards to the All-Star break. That’s a pretty good chunk of games there. I think when we get to a week from now, next weekend, we’ll have a pretty good idea of how we’ve played. We haven’t been good the last few games, that’s true. But we’ve got a few more games before next weekend, four games. So I think we’ll add it up to the last five or six and we’ll see where we’re at. We certainly have to get some good fortune here over the next stretch. Otherwise, it’s going to be tough.

Now this is the big thing. We’ve dismissed the Hawks thought-train as they’ll use the efforts instead of the results this past week as a justification to do nothing. They’ll say they dominated Vancouver, which they did, and they got a couple bad calls in Edmonton, which they also did. They’ll point to the seemingly small-ish gap to the wildcard, even though it’s actually quite large. But every team that falls short has got a story. You still fell short. Admit what you are.

But I don’t know that they’ll do that. For an adventurous front office, or at least one with an actual vision, this past week would be the justification they would need. They’re not as good as the Jets. They’re not as good as the Predators. That right there is more than enough to prove they won’t make the playoffs. They might not be as good as the Flames. I think they’re as good as the Oilers or the Canucks, maybe even better, but the standings are the standings. They’re not making the playoffs, which means the aim has to be doing everything they can to make the playoffs next year. That process has to start now.

Maybe Stan feels the same way, but we’ve seen nothing to indicate that.

There’s no perfect answer for that, how do you make everybody happy. I don’t know if you can.

I’ve got to look at a broader spectrum, try to get ourselves to be in a position so that we are on top of the league. That’s where we want to get to because, like you said earlier, that’s when it’s most fun, when you’re on top and trying to add pieces to make you the best team in the league. We want to get back to that. We know what that’s like. We’ve got to get back to that.

This is where it starts to feel like Stan does get it, at least a bit. He knows he can’t keep the vets happy and build this team for the future at the same time. But he knows the latter is probably more important than the former, and both will meet up in the middle if he can accomplish it.

The part that’s hard to figure out is that last year, the Hawks made it clear they would keep the vets apprised and informed of what they were trying to do. Which they should. Kane, Toews, Seabrook, Keith, and Crawford have earned that. And they have earned the right to say if they’re on board or not.

The problem is the Hawks have also told us, “there’s no plan, there’s a process.” So what did they tell them, exactly? Was it they would go all out this season? Well, that didn’t work, so how do the vets feel now? It would mean there would have to be a new map, as it were. Why would they believe in a second map after the first didn’t work at all? Or did they tell them it was going to take multiple years after already missing the playoffs for multiple years? But it’s never sounded like that from anyone. So where do they go?

I think Jeremy’s done a fantastic job. I really do. I know the results aren’t where we want them to be, and he would say the same thing. We get frustrated when we don’t win games. But I look at the way our team’s playing, in particular the last couple months. I think the beginning of the year, the hardest part was trying to instill some new habits in our players. We spent a lot of time trying to ingrain habits and they don’t form overnight. So I think early on in the season, you saw guys that were trying to do the right thing, but there was a little bit too much thinking going on.

And then we get some Stan horeshit, and a primo version of it. First off, you can’t say your coach is doing a remarkable job and then in the next sentence say the results aren’t there. They don’t square up.They’re almost in direct opposition to each other, in fact. That only works for a truly rebuilding team rife with youngsters and you’re just trying to develop them. The Hawks have aggressively told us they are not that.

And we’re still going with “instilling new habits.” It’s fucking February of the second year. First it was hard to do in the regular season last year. Then it was all-we-need-in-magic-training camp. Now it’s still going on. How much longer do you think we’re going to believe this? Maybe the players suck, or the players know the coach’s system sucks and they won’t play it. Maybe it’s both. But Colliton has been in charge more than long enough to “instill” whatever it is they’re looking for. Fuck, it was enough last February. You can’t keep moving the goalposts to justify what looks increasingly like a bad hire.

And the Hawks still play like shit, in that they give up far too many shots and chances and lose guys in their zone all the damn time. If this is what makes Stan happy, then everyone has to go. Perhaps the most sobering paragraph actually comes from Scott Powers today, in an article looking at the Hawks’ cap problems to come:

The next question is obviously whether the Blackhawks would be better with this roster than they are this season. That’s hard to say. They’re probably banking on the young players taking that next step, Seabrook coming back improved, de Haan finding that same level again, Shaw contributing and the veterans at least maintaining their performance.

We already did that once. And it led to this. I don’t mean to over-binge on Anton Chigurh memes but they seem to fit…

 

Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

A 1–4–0 road trip in the throes of a playoff hunt does not inspire confidence. And whatever confidence you had in this team should be revealed as false based on one roster decision. A win may have kept whatever telltale heart we still have for this team beating. But looking up at six points and down the barrel of a hell trip at the end of the month makes the idea of a playoff berth even less sustainable than the style of play Colliton has this team adhere to night in and night out. Let’s mop this mess up.

– The most telling move the Blackhawks made tonight was starting Nick Seeler over Adam Boqvist. Boqvist had a bad game last night. On a team whose fate and direction aren’t as nebulous as the Hawks’s, you understand that move at least a little bit. But starting Seeler over Boqvist in a must-win game (as pretty much all of these games will be going forward) is the most concrete evidence that the front office truly, unironically believes that this is a playoff-caliber roster.

This is the kind of move you make when you earnestly believe that you are just a roster tweak away from making the playoffs. Had this team fully committed to grooming the next core, they would have chalked Boqvist’s night last night up to “being fucking 19.” Instead, in a game they had to win, they slotted Seeler—who was about as good as you could have hoped—over what is supposed to be the defenseman of the future for this team.

If you had any doubt about what this team thinks it is—and you should, since they’ve claimed there is no plan, only a process—tonight should have made it clear. The front office thinks this team can eke into the playoffs. We should judge everything it does from here on out on that basis. If this were a team that realized the chance to make a real run passed them by before last night’s game, you’d have seen Boqvist out there trying to learn from his mistakes. We didn’t, so we can only assume that they believe this is a playoff roster.

It’s not, and when they don’t make the playoffs, everyone should be fired for that failure.

– But hey, the Blackhawks still have the high-end talent that lays the foundation of a playoff team. And it all starts and ends with Patrick Kane, who kept the Hawks in it with two outstanding plays.

On Carpenter’s goal, you got a look at why Patrick Kane will go down in history as the best player to ever lace them up for the Blackhawks. He charged up the near boards, shook Pionk out of his skates around the dot, then fired a bad-angle pass from the goal line that crawled up Carpenter’s stick and in. You’re not going to see plays like that for years from the Hawks after Kane retires.

– On the Hawks’s second goal, you saw Kane do Kane things and Toews do Toews things, dropping a perfect pass through two defenders in the slot. But the thing that ought to impress most was Dominik Kubalik’s patience on the play.

Kubalik draws Kulikov to him with his patience, giving Toews the half step he needed to streak past. Then, Kubalik feathered a pass that gave Toews the chance to drop his perfect pass back. The Hawks have found something special in Kubalik, and when he’s given the chance, he usually delivers.

– There’s not anything Corey Crawford can do about giving up three redirected goals. The only one you can probably even be mad about would be the first goal, and you wouldn’t be mad at Crawford. You’d be mad at the Hawks’s inability to clear the puck and allowing sustained pressure. But you’ve heard that song too many times before now.

Tonight was a perfect representation of what the Hawks are. They’re a high-end talent team that needs every puck bounce to go right to win games. They had three bad bounces and lost. But the fact that they’re benching their D-man of the future for performance shows that they really think this is a playoff team with a tweak here and a healthy scratch there.

It’s a different story if the Hawks go into this game with six points instead of two. But they didn’t, and so now we’re stuck watching a team that both thinks it’s truly in a playoff run and that putting Nick Seeler in over Adam Boqvist is a solution to a problem.

This is our concern, dude.

Beer du Jour: Yeti Imperial Stout

Line of the Night: “Rides up Carpenter’s SHAFT.” –Burish on Carp’s goal

Live From The Five Hole

This week, The Oracle Of Humboldt Park Fifth Feather, The Colorado Heartthrob John Pullega, Queen Of The NW Suburbs Rose Rankin, and myself discuss the Hawks immediate future, their chances for the playoffs, a hockey trade of Robin Lehner, what is Jeremy Colliton, and will Feather ever give in to his White Sox excitement. Join in!