Everything Else

When the NHL schedule comes out, it won’t only be Hawks fans and media circling the date that Joel Quenneville brings the Panthers to the United Center (and if you’re NBC, you’re pushing for that game to be something you can throw on during the Sunday broadcasts later in the season. That is if you cared. Which you don’t). Apparently Joel himself will be too. And that’s fair.

Q says all the right things here about it being a special place and the fans being great to him. And that’s all true. We certainly had our issues with Quenneville’s lineup choices at times, but never his tactics (other than the power play, which it looks more and more he just didn’t value, correctly figuring if his team was good at evens and had a strong kill it really wouldn’t matter. And for the most part, he was right). Or the man himself, really. And he deserves all that’s coming to him when he returns–the video package, the ovations, the adulation. There are three coaches in Chicago history that have multiple championships in anything resembling the modern era. George Halas, Phil Jackson, and Joel Quenneville. Clearly he stands in very unique company.

Still, it’s going to be awfully awkward for the Hawks and especially their front office, especially if they don’t get off to a great start and one that’s better than the Panthers do. And the latter part is probably going to be tricky, because the Panthers already have a lot on the roster that’s been underserved or underperformed and as the rumor goes, they’re about to add The Russian Spies from Columbus. Clearly they’re all in.

Which is going to make for an awkward juxtaposition to a front office that didn’t think it needed the coach on the other bench, the highly decorated one, if the Hawks are sputtering and the Panthers are humming. And if their Coach Cool Youth Pastor continues to be a bit mealy-mouthed both in coaching and speaking. I’m kind of looking forward to it in some ways.

In others, I wish it were tomorrow to get it over with. We’ve seen how this town responds to returning legends, and that was when they were past their sell-by date. There’s going to be a lot of, “DEY NEVER SHOULDA FIRED Q DEY SHOULDA CANNED DAT BOWMAN” especially if the Panthers win that game. And maybe that’s right, though considering where things go there had to be a parting of the ways. You can argue with the Hawks’ hire, I certainly wouldn’t stop you, but the letting go of Quenneville came too late, if anything.

Another fascinating watch is watching Tallon and Quenneville work together for an extended period of time. Remember, they only really had one off-season together here, and not even all of it. That was the summer Marian Hossa came to town, Tomas Kopecky carried all of his belongings here, and there was also John Madden. The midseason acquisition that year was Sami Pahlsson, who seemed a Q player but got hurt somewhere along the line and was fine. If the Panthers go whole hog here and sign Bobrovsky and Panarin there won’t be much room for anything else, so we won’t get a true glimpse of a Tallon-Q ethos.

While Ditka got a win in Soldier Field with the Saints, marking the darkest day in Chicago sports history, his time with the Saints proved not too much more than a farce. For those of us who have known for a while that Ditka was pretty much an idiot along for the ride in ’85 and one of the main reasons that championship has no companions, his that New Orleans stay was affirmation.

Q’s duration in Florida, however long it goes, won’t be that. He’ll most likely turn the Panthers into a playoff team, though in that division you’re basically hoping for a wild card spot. If I had to guess, they won’t win a Cup. Maybe a round or two here and there. They’ll have a good run, and it’ll look like Q is a pretty good coach who can get you all the way given a world class base to build off of. I don’t think the Panthers have one. Barkov is. Ekblad seems to be a cut below Norris level, though maybe Q is the one to punt him up there just as he did Keith. I’d be surprised. Bobrovsky has it in him, but he’ll also be over 30 and recently paid. Rarely a good combination.

Still, it won’t keep everyone from reacting with heavy breathing. Might as well start preparing.

Everything Else

Here’s something you’re not told a lot these days. Mike Babcock teams have won three playoff series in nine years. Everyone knows that Mike Babcock is one of the best coaches in the league. But what this post presupposes is…maybe he isn’t?

You may think the medals cabinet in the Babcock house prove that he is. Except he’s got one Cup with one of the better rosters assembled in the past 15 years. And another Final with that same roster. There was the J.S. Giguere-engineered appearance with the Ducks, but that Ducks team didn’t even win a division. And sure, there are two gold medals. Then again, try and not win a gold medal with the talent at disposal in those Olympics. You could probably win one with the players left off those rosters if you really knew what you were doing. Let’s say the record isn’t as clean as you might think.

Sure, it’s not Babcock’s fault the Wings got old, Johan Franzen got hurt, and it turned out Ken Holland might have been just as born on third. Still, you’d have to ask what Wings team truly overachieved in his time there. The one that nearly toppled the Hawks in 2013? That would be the only argument. Every other team finished near the bottom of the playoff picture and were similarly dismissed.

So to the Leafs. His first playoff team there was a shiny new toy, and no one really minded a defiant exit to the regular season-best Capitals. But should the Leafs really have been losing to the Bruins last year? You could argue it was just goalies, as Frederik Andersen did his usual Game 7 scream at his shoes and Tuukka Rask merely had to remain upright. But look at the rosters. The Bruins were, and are, basically one line. The Leafs have been able to sport two or three for three seasons now, especially this time.

Which means Babcock will have an awful lot riding on this first-round matchup. Sure, there was no catching the Lightning this year. Maybe home ice will matter and maybe it won’t. But another first-round capitulation? There would be serious questions to be asked about the Leafs coach.

On the surface, there seems little more Babcock can do. This is the second straight season the Leafs are #3 in goals for, and with his kind of firepower that’s where they should be. They’re just off the top-10 defensively. Metrically, they’re one of the best offensive teams in the league. Babcock had clashed with his team last year about too-defensive gameplans, but seemed to let the leash out the second half of last year. Certainly their offensive marks suggest same.

The only quibble you can lodge is that defensively, they’ve needed Andersen to be pretty spectacular most nights. When it comes to expected goals against, the Leafs are 21st. But thanks to Andersen, they have the 4th-best save-percentage at evens. Babcock made his name on defensive solidarity, and won a Cup with Chris Osgood to prove it. On the other side, the way the game is now you do have to sometimes just let it out and hope your goalie bails you out. And Babcock has this blue line to deal with. It’s just not that good. Throwing everything forward and trying to keep it away from that defense as often as possible is the only way, even if it leaves gaps.

But this is Toronto, and no one’s going to want to hear about metrics and attempts-share if the Leafs don’t get to four on the playoff wins counter for a third straight season. And the Leafs may think they have all the time in the world, but contracts say they don’t. When Mitch Marner’s contract is signed this summer, the Leafs will start to lose a piece here and there instead of adding them. This team might be as loaded as they get, and certainly next year is probably it.

This is a twitchy fanbase and an even twitchier media. There’s also a coach with three rings to Babs’s one, who is from not too far away, just sitting at home right now. He’s about the only name that anyone would consider replacing Mike Babcock with. Unfortunately for Babcock though, he is unemployed. If the Leafs can’t find their way past the Bruins again, you can be damn sure the wind is going to whisper, “Q.”

Everything Else

This would be a good time for a confession. I don’t know what I want, people. Would I be happy if I never heard from Stan Bowman and John McDonough? I mean, maybe? Probably not. They have to talk at some point. And yet when they do the best reaction I can hope for is laughter. I also don’t know what it is exactly I want them to say. While Theo Epstein-like transparency would be nice, that hasn’t exactly worked out that well for Theo of late either.

But I also find it curious you can find in-depth interviews with both of them when the Hawks are in their only streak of looking like…well, barely competent. Should they lose the next five I wonder if we’ll hear from McDonough. I’m guessing no, at least until the announcement of some other useless event the Hawks have procured from the league. Anyway, Stan Bowman gave Tracey Myers of NHL.com some decent time, and we’re going to go through it piece by piece (much like Man On Fire).

On reports the Blackhawks will ask defenseman Duncan Keith before the trade deadline if he wants to stay in Chicago or waive his no-move clause and accept a trade to a contending team:

“I’ve been asked that since the report came out. What I say is the same thing: whenever we’ve had those types of discussions, I wouldn’t comment. It puts the player in a tough spot. I’m not going to get into whether we have or haven’t, will or won’t. The fair thing to say is, both of those guys (Keith and defenseman Brent Seabrook), we’ve played our best hockey in the last stretch when they’ve been playing together. I think [Keith and Seabrook] have been a pair for this last stretch when we’ve played well, and they’re playing well. That’s what we need from them right now.”

Well, huh? Here’s Keith’s CF% during these past eight games: 41.6%  scoring-chance share: 41.7%  high-danger chance share: 40.9. I’ll spare you what Seabrook’s numbers are, but I assure you they’re also burning piss. Oh, and the save-percentage these last eight games when Keith and Seabrook are out there? .989. But I’m sure they are totes responsible for that.

Again, I don’t expect Stan to shit on the first winning streak of the year or try and talk anyone out of getting excited (good seats still available!). But the fear is that they actually believe this shit. And it wouldn’t be a crime to say something to the effect of, “The results are nice, and the players have worked hard and stuck together to earn them, but there are still aspects of our game that need improvement. We’ve been lucky, but we can build on that.”

If you’ve watched this team most games, you see that Keith and Seabrook can’t get out of their own way (Seabrook couldn’t get out of a sloth’s way right now). Say, this strange, yellow, warm liquid on my ear must mean it’s raining!

On the report that the Blackhawks asked Seabrook to waive his no-move clause, something Seabrook said isn’t true:

“Same answer. The hard part is if I say, well that’s true, the next time you have to keep doing it. You shoot a few [reports] down, then if you decide not to comment on the other one, people think that’s the true one. That’s not always the case. I get it, I realize why the fans want to know. I just think it’s more fair to the players to not be put in that position. It’s unfortunate it went that way, but I realize that the world we live in now is that way. Reports become facts until proven otherwise. Sometimes it should be the other way. I don’t want to specifically comment, other than to say he’s played his best hockey lately and I hope he keeps it up.”

Not exactly a hard-denial, is it? Stan’s right here, that it does put the player in an awful position. Which…would be the exact reason a team would leak that sort of thing? Get the onus off of the organization? Just spitballin’ here. And again, if “this” is Seabrook’s best hockey–as he was an absolute hemorrhoid last night–then Stan knows exactly why these reports are surfacing/being leaked.

On the job done thus far by coach Jeremy Colliton, who took over after Joel Quenneville was fired Nov. 6:

“The biggest thing I can applaud him for is his disposition and positive approach, even in light of a tough start. He never got frustrated, never got down, didn’t allow our group to feel sorry for itself or get upset about things. We still aren’t near where we want to be, but we’ve made a lot of strides. When you start to see those things together, and I think the players are starting to now see and starting to get excited. It’s one thing to believe what someone’s telling you and you want it to work, but it’s not working. Now it’s starting to work, and they start to feel like, ‘wow, now I get it. Now I understand what he’s been saying.’ When you’re around our team, you can pick up there’s a good vibe around the guys. They’re excited and can’t wait to play the game.”

Again, there’s no reason to think Stan is going to hang out his chosen to guy to dry, and nor should he. And some of this is right. Colliton did stay positive, hasn’t singled out anyone, and basically kept his head down. The power play is better, as we keep saying.

But overall, the structure is still rotten. This team is still woeful defensively, and while the personnel will never allow it to be a good defensive team, we repeatedly point out changes that could be made to help it that aren’t being made. It’s fine if the guys are more excited because results happen to bounce their way for a couple weeks, but there is still very little to suggest that this is being built on a foundation made of anything other than sand. While the Hawks blue line is truly terrible, there are some equally terrible blue lines around that are keeping things a little tighter than the Hawks are. That’s because every team is better defensively than the Hawks. It doesn’t really HAVE to be like this.

Ok, Strome’s development can be credited to Colliton, I guess. But we need more than a few weeks of that, too. The idea that this is “starting to work” flies in the face of everything that’s happening on the ice aside from the goalies playing really well and more pucks going in than have been. And you saw last night what happens when one of the goalies doesn’t go Siegfried and Roy.

On assigning 19-year-old defenseman Henri Jokiharju to Rockford of the American Hockey League:

“Sometimes guys get sent down because they aren’t playing well, and sometimes they get sent down because of circumstances. In Henri’s case, it was more circumstantial. He’s played over 20 minutes every game in Rockford and that’s what we’re looking for. Our defense has evolved over the course of a year. We didn’t have [Gustav] Forsling and [Connor] Murphy at the start of the year. If they had been here, Henri may have been in Rockford the whole time. It’s not because he’s not deserving of the NHL; it’s a hard League to play as a teenage defenseman. I think there are only two teenage defensemen in the league (Rasmus Dahlin, 18, of the Buffalo Sabres and Miro Heiskanen, 19, of the Dallas Stars). When you get to be 20, 21, you see those guys filter their way in. They’ve gained experience at the AHL level, they’ve finished college, whatever they do. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid, and he’s not far away. We can bring him back at any point. It’s not disappointment; far from it. He’s exceeded my expectations with how well he’s played.”

This isn’t wholly incorrect either, but if you’re trying to sell me that Gustav Forsling would have kept Jokharju in the AHL at the start of the year had Forsling been healthy, I would use that as grounds for canning your sorry ass right then and there and calling it a love story. Gustav Forsling is Brendan Smith levels of bad, and those of you who have been around here for a while know that I don’t say that lightly. I think Smith is the worst player in the NHL and have since he came up, and I’m telling you Forsling is right there.

Stan is right on circumstances, though. Jokiharju is right-handed and the only Hawk capable of playing on the left and letting Jokiharju be aggressive and get up the ice and support him a bit is Connor Murphy, who was hurt and then didn’t play with him. While the numbers were promising with Keith, we saw far too often a teenager having to clean up #2’s messes all the time. The pairings with others were nothing short of a disaster. So on some level, I get it.

If Jokiharju does come back, it had better be to play with either Murphy on his off-side or Dahlstrom as a third-pairing. But the Hawks have some culpability here in not putting a very young player in the best possible place to succeed. I think that’s what Q was doing when he was here, and I think Q thought that Keith might adjust his game a bit to compensate. He didn’t, we saw what happened.

The interview goes on to talk about the Hawks prospects, and the Holy Troika of Boqvist, Mitchell, and Beaudin get mentioned. And Stan should talk up these guys, because he’s going to have to trade one or two of them. All three will not fit on the roster in the next three years, unless Seabrook is bought out, Murphy traded, Gustafsson gets sold while the price is up (which should be happening now but whatever) and the Hawks add people for these kids to play with. But we’ll have all summer for that talk.


Everything Else

I’m sure you’re surprised that in the middle of the team’s first winning streak in a season and a quarter (they last won five in a row or more in December of 2017), John McDonough pops up for an in-depth interview with The Athletic. That’s a little harsh on McD, who doesn’t hide totally when things are going poorly. But it also does seem a tad convenient.

The other caveat is that I’ve always thought it was folly to read too much into what McDonough has to say about on-ice issues. He has been, or may still be, involved in some decisions. And he is the boss. Whatever “plan” the Hawks have (and we’ll get to that), basically starts with him at least giving it the ok. That said, I doubt he could tell you what the difference is in defensive systems from Q to Jeremy Colliton is, or why this winning-streak is empty when you look at process. Still, his voice matters.

And there’s some real gobbledygook in here. Let’s go through it:

Well, you’ve got to feel better about where things stand now than you did four or five weeks ago, right?

Yeah, I feel better about it. We got off to a rough start. I recognize that this is a roller-coaster, that we’re going to have those ups and downs. But being tested like you were for seven or eight games where you’re down two or three goals, I learned a lot about our team. I learned a lot about our coaching staff. I learned a lot about our management. There was no finger-pointing. There were no alarmists. We rode it out. There was a sense that this could get worse before it gets better, and it did. But I don’t think we’re in a much different place. I’m really pleased with the five-game winning streak, that’s good to see. But this going forward, I think, is going to be all about the process as opposed to the plan. People want to know, what is the plan going forward, like there’s some master plan. I think it’s a really healthy process. I’m very proud of Jeremy (Colliton). He was put in a very tough situation, replacing a legend, an icon, an institution, a Hall of Famer, a classy guy that was a primary reason that we won three Stanley Cups. I’m very proud of the job he’s done and I’m excited about our future. Very optimistic about our future with Jeremy behind the bench.

Um, ok, but did you miss all that finger-pointing your GM did at your former coach? Does that count? Because he was pretty clear on it. It’s rare that finger-pointing comes in the signings and then discarding of actual players, but hey, the Hawks are cutting edge, remember?

Hey, it’s great your coach, who has been coaching on this continent for barely 14 months when you hired him, didn’t hang his players out to dry. Because that’s something he totally could have done without losing them forever. And you got lucky that your players didn’t do that to him, which they easily could have. Then again, let’s watch Duncan Keith’s play from that time and decide what that was about.

I have no idea what the “process as opposed to the plan” line is all about. The Hawks have never outlined any kind of plan. They can’t even decide what word they want to use to describe where a plan would go. Can you have a process without a plan? Isn’t a “process” executing a set “plan?” Then McDonough basically says that there isn’t a master plan–which, great–but that it’s a really healthy process. What in the ever-living fuck could that possibly mean? This is right up there with Stan Bowman’s assertion years ago about Marian Hossa returning from injury, “There’s no timetable, but he’s on schedule.”

I believed that this was a playoff team. I believed in our roster. But we’ve had circumstances to deal with. Corey’s been in net for, I think, a third of our games in the last year. There’s been a lot of roster turnover. 

Ok, but if you thought this was a playoff team, and you fired Quenneville because you didn’t think he was going to lead them there, why was there so much roster turnover? Did you think the old roster was playoff-worthy? Or this one? And you’re wrong on both counts anyway. But hey, sellout-streak!

No, because we weren’t there then. We weren’t there then. I was disappointed in last year, but I didn’t think and Stan didn’t think that, in fairness to Joel, that was necessarily the right time, either. And we get back to what we talked about before — what is the right time? Is it based on a losing streak? I think it’s more based on feel. There was a sameness that had crept in. So we made the change and I think we’re going in a good direction right now. But we don’t get caught up in the bounce that we have right now with the winning streak, and we ride out the tough times and we try to improve the team every day.

I just can’t buy this. The Hawks wanted to fire Q in the summer, and you know that because 15 games is never enough of a sample to decide it’s not working. You’re looking for an excuse to get where you wanted to anyway, but it allows you to do that after single-game tickets have gone on sale.

Also, and I don’t expect this to come from McD but I can only hope and pray that Bowman and Colliton know better, is that the “good direction” the Hawks are on now is really nothing more than a few good bounces. The process on the ice still sucks, and giving up over 90 shots tot the Canucks and Red Wings, whose players have to wear helmets off the ice too, is proof of that (which to be fair, came after this was published, but the trends were still there).

We want to be a playoff team and then once you get in, anything can happen. 

This is a garbage sentiment and a team that’s been plastering “One Goal” on our psyches for a decade should know better. The two 8-seeds in recent memory to make big runs were the Predators in ’17 and the Kings in ’12, and both were preseason favorites that underperformed for most of the regular season. They became what they should have in the spring. They didn’t “come from nowhere.” The idea that anyone can just get in and run the table is an old myth. Generally, you’ve got to be amongst the big boys consistently, even if that means finishing second or third in a division. Because that usually comes down to OT bounces anyway.

This is an organization that prided itself, and couldn’t wait to tell everyone, about the consistent greatness they were striving for. Not “We’re gonna roll the dice because hey, maybe it’s our day?” Think harder, Homer.

I think he’s smart enough to get the opinions of his group, and then he ultimately makes the final decision. And then we kind of talk about it and we go with his feel and his recommendations. 

So Stan is the final decision maker…until he runs it by you? That’s…not encouraging.

On Seabrook and Keith: I think both of them are very valuable members of the organization. I’m thrilled that they’re part of this. They’re decorated, potentially future Hall of Famers. They’ve been through a lot. And I’d like to see them be a part of the group that helps us surge again…(Seabrook) has had a brilliant career and he’s great in the locker room. He’s a terrific human being. I think he’s the ultimate leader. So yeah, it does bother me, because he really, really cares. But I am confident he’s going to be a part of this going forward.

Then why did reports of the team asking him to waive his NMC get out? That doesn’t happen on accident, especially with the Hawks. Obviously, McD isn’t going to come out and say, “Despite his accomplishments we have to get this bloated nacho graveyard off the roster immediately!” But look at this with any sort of critical eye and you see right through it.

On Quenneville: These are very tough decisions that are professional decisions, they’re not personal decisions. He and I spent a lot of time together. A lot of time. Didn’t agree on everything.”

I am dying to know what it was McDonough and Quenneville didn’t agree on. Please tell me the hockey arguments that went on here. I need this.

And how he handled it, how graceful he was in how he handled winning — he never pointed fingers or felt that the roster was inferior when we went through tough times.

Ask Connor Murphy about this one.

It’s McD’s job to try and say things without really saying anything. And there’s not much to be gained from the president decreeing much from the mountain top, because we can only hope he’s not that involved with what we really care about, the on-ice product. So much hinges on the summer. But this was some Grade-A funny shit at times.

Everything Else

Maybe I’m getting old, but I feel like I have to put a disclaimer at the front of every post that will probably turn out negative. I used to be much more confident in my cynicism. Maybe I’m just trying to be happier as I hurl toward death. Either way.

Let me state that it’s much more fun to watch the Hawks win. Much like any wrestling fan will tell you, things are better when there are stakes and you’re not merely completing the schedule. The fact that the next few Hawks games, and hell, maybe even the rest of them, have something riding on them is enjoyable. I’d really rather this than a full-out tank, simply because the Hawks could never full-out tank and yet they still could finish near bottom of the conference. That might sound hypocritical from someone who was all aboard the Cubs tank and rebuild and also is kind of fascinated to watch the White Sox one. But that’s baseball, where both teams were easily able to flog whatever player they wanted for whatever they could get. Can’t do that in hockey. So whatever. Last night was probably the most fun game of the season, though the Oilers have something to do with that as well.

But what’s most important is that the front office, and maybe the coach, see what exactly is going on here. And though I know better than to think I’ll glean whether or not that’s true from what Stan Bowman says to the press–because he’s highly guarded and not all that eloquent–let’s just say I’m not encouraged.

Take this from Monday’s article at The Athletic from Mark Lazerus (closer than you know, love each other so, Mark Lazerus…) about whether or not the Hawks should have fired Joel Quenneville sooner and what Jeremy Colliton could have done with the extra time. This quote isn’t strictly about that, but when talking about the team now this is what Bowman had to say…

“He said they’re not as bad as their record suggests, that if they had been playing all season the way they’ve been playing the last eight weeks, they’d be ‘right there.'”

In one sense, I guess he’s right. The Hawks in the last seven weeks are 12-6-4. That’s a 104-point pace. Hey, that’s nice! Good even! But as you all know, I’m a process guy. This is hockey. Any team can spasm a run of results anywhere and for just about any reason. I want to know what I’m seeing is sustainable. So…is it? Well, no. Not even close. It’s the same story it’s always been.

Since December 17th, when the Hawks second eight-game losing streak ended and this 12-6-4 one started:

Corsi Percentage: 46.1 (28th)

Scoring-Chance Percentage: 44.3 (29th)

High-Danger Scoring-Chance Percentage: 38.7 (dead-ass last)

That’s not just bad. That’s legitimately terrible. At even-strength, over the past seven weeks, the Hawks have been one of the worst even-strength teams in the league. So how did they get this record? Well that’s easy. Over those seven weeks they’ve got decent goaltending (.926, good for 12th), have shot pretty damn well (9.7%, good for seventh in the league), and of course, the power play.

No, I don’t mean to just dismiss the power play. You can power play your way to a lot of things. The Jackets did it to the playoffs a couple seasons ago. The Sharks used a power play to get to a Final in ’16. The goals still count. But even the power play, process-wise, has only been ok, and nowhere near what its results are. Yes, I get it. It’s a results business, and with Kane, DeBrincat and a suddenly nuclear and Fels-powered Gustafsson, the power play should always out-result its process. But I want to know that these results can last. So over the past seven weeks, the power play…

Shots/60 – 55.9 (7th)

Scoring Chances/60: 50.5 (13th)

High-Danger Chances/60: 17.0 (23rd)

So the power play isn’t creating chances and good ones anymore regularly than middling. What it is doing is burying the chances it gets, at a ridiculous clip of 28%. Over the past seven weeks, the second-best shooting percentage for a team on the PP is Ottawa at 21.6! That’s seven points! That’s the same difference between second and 11th!. To give you some idea of how ludicrous the marksmanship on the power play has been, last year Pittsburgh led the league in PP SH% at 17.0. The year before that it was Montreal at the same 17.0%. Sure, any team can put together a hot couple months. But this 28% just isn’t going to stick around, and there’s nothing to support it when it flattens out, which it simply has to.

Ok, let’s try and find something positive here. It’s stupid to to look at just five games, because any team can do anything over five games. But maybe it’ll be the base for something. Maybe we’ll look back in April with this as a starting point and say that’s when the Hawks started to turn it around structurally. That’s when their even-strength play started to match their play on the man-advantage. So fine, over the past five games:

Corsi Percentage: 48.1 (23rd)

Scoring-Chance Percentage: 46.6 (23rd)

High-Danger Scoring-Chance Percentage: 44.3 (24th)

Nope, still blows! The Hawks, even during this streak, have been a subpar defensive team, and even their goaltending ranks 15th over this limited stretch. What they do lead in is shooting-percentage for these couple of weeks at 13.5. Again, that won’t last.

Look, I want to believe just like you. And teams have stretched out goofy percentages and habits for longer than this. Way longer than this. And maybe Delia gets hot again to even some of this out, or Corey Crawford returns the conquering hero on March 1st and does even better. Stranger things have happened.

And that’s being a bit cold. There are some things in this streak that do portend to a brighter future. Like Dylan Strome, or Top Cat proving not just he’s a top-six scorer but a genuine top-line scorer. Saad and Kampf (before he got hurt). Connor Murphy has been able to take top pairing/dungeon assignments. It’s not a barren wasteland.

But overall, this is pixie dust. And while you would never, ever hear Bowman or Colliton say this (great seats still available!), my fear and expectation is that they genuinely believe something ingrained has changed here. And it hasn’t.

Everything Else

I’m sure it was only a coincidence that the Hawks completed and announced a trade of perhaps their most bewildering signing in a decade during the last Bears regular season game. Wouldn’t want anyone to notice an admission of a stupefying and yet comedic mistake of this proportion.

The headline is the Hawks traded Brandon Manning and failed prospect Robin Norell to Edmonton for Jason Garrison and Drake “The A.K.” Caggiula.

The Brandon Manning signing sucked when they made it, but we tried to reassure ourselves he was only a bottom-pairing player and really couldn’t do that much damage. And then he played, and somehow the signing looked significantly worse than we thought it would. Then he blamed it on the system Joel Quenneville employed. When the coach and system changed, he still sucked. Then his GM blamed his signing on the coach he just canned. And when Manning finally played himself out of the lineup, he bitched and moaned until he got traded. Perhaps the most infuriating part of this whole thing was that nothing was ever Manning’s or Bowman’s fault for his acquisition or play.

Take a moment to consider all that.

Manning was a continuation in a war between Bowman and Quenneville that went on for far too long, and it looks like both will eventually lose. Michal Kempny was the big battlefront in it, which has caused Bowman to re-sign Jan Rutta and Manning while basically saying to Q, “Fine, you can have your type of player. Good fucking luck.” I wonder if it doesn’t go back to Trevor Daley, who is utterly terrible and always has been but the similarities are there. Bowman desperately wanted anything to show for having to give up Patrick Sharp and also Stephen Johns just to get rid of Sharp’s contract. Daley was also unhappy under Q and his system, and his play showed that. And he wasn’t shy about telling people, even though he was always a cowboy laced on meth when it came to his defensive play. And the Hawks had to give up on him barely halfway into his first season here because it was just that bad.

We’ve seen this before.

In the end, the Hawks were always going to be bad and Manning only cost them some money, and some bleeding eyeballs at his play. Maybe they could have believed in Carl Dahlstrom more and let him just start the year here, but these things aren’t always linear. At least it’s over.

They get back Drake Caggiula, a player they wanted to sign out of college and made a push for. He’s at least not a complete suckbag, though close. He did manage 13 goals last year. You’d probably rather see him take fourth-line shifts than Andreas Martinsen or John Hayden, who gets an abnormal amount of ink spilled about him for someone who can barely do anything. That’s about the ceiling for Caligula. Jason Garrison is on a minimum deal for this season and we’ll never see the light of day and will probably be waived tout suite.

While the Hawks will tell you it clears up their defensive logjam, it really doesn’t. When Henri Jokiharju comes back, they’ll have seven d-men and various arguments about why they all need to play. Certainly Dahlstrom’s play doesn’t warrant him sitting regularly. Jokiharju has to play. Murphy’s been their best d-man by miles. You’re not going to sit Keith, who seems to have found some reasonable understanding with Gustafsson, no matter how little sense it makes. Which leaves Forsling and Seabrook. Forsling is terrible and awful and bad and stupid and sucky, and if never plays again I’lll consider it a brief ray of light in an otherwise ceaselessly dark existence, but the Hawks are still under the impression he needs to develop and at least see what they have. He can’t do that from the pressbox. Which means they’re headed for their Seabrook Nexus Of Death faster than they would like, I’m sure.

All in all it sounds like a really healthy organization we’ve got here.

Everything Else

Hey, even Bill Belichick has a shit coaching tree. So maybe it’s just a thing that happens.

While the Hawks spiral more and more toward the seventh level of hell, the idea that Joel Quenneville is a hockey genius continues to grow. And maybe he is, though he wasn’t getting much more out of this team than Jeremy Colliton is. But an argument against that is that seemingly anyone who has worked for or with him, by his choice, ends up being an idiot.

Mike Kitchen hasn’t even been whispered for a head coaching job, even though he was Q’s right hand guy for years, because his tenure in St. Louis went so badly and pretty much everyone knows he’s a moron. Jamie Kompon got a coaching job in the WHL, fucked that up hard, and now is nowhere. We’ll see where Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson end up. Wouldn’t hold out much hope. Even Mike Haviland, who wasn’t Q’s guy but worked under him for the first Cup win, only managed a college head coaching job.

Marc Bergevin was actually with the Hawks before Q was, but had a major hand in bringing him to Chicago and might have been part of the plan all along. He has worked with him in the past. Bergevin was hired as an assistant for Denis Savard, who was fired mere weeks later. Hmmm…

And he’s been accidentally face-fucking the Canadiens as GM for years now.

We don’t have to go much deeper than Shea Weber for PK Subban. Trading Pacioretty for peanuts might get there as well. The Karl Alzner signing. Sergachev-for-Drouin. Two draft picks for Andrew Shaw, one of which just happened to be Alex Debrincat. There’s more, but we don’t want to be rude because French-Canadians are so considerate.

Bergevin might be saving himself by turning over the team to a bunch of fast, young forwards, but the blue line is still a mess (recurring theme, it seems). And he was the first Q guy to get his own job from the Hawks. But in six season at the helm in La Belle Province, he’s seen the Habs win all of three playoff series. They have won the division three times, though one of those was with essentially someone else’s roster.

Maybe that makes Q a genius, in a strange way, because he’s had to overcome the idiocy that he surrounds himself with. Not one of Belichick’s assistants has ever risen above the level of “chucklehead” when given their own head coaching job. Or maybe Bergevin is more off the Stan Bowman tree, as he served as assistant GM longer than he did as assistant coach. Either way, it’s been great television.


Game #31 Preview Suite




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

I know that’s going to make a few laugh. I won’t stop you.

Jeremey Colliton has now gotten as many games as Joel Quenneville did this season. They each were behind the bench for 15. Obviously, at the top the records are pretty clear reading. Q went 6-6-3, whereas Colliton is at 3-10-2. Q had three regulation wins, Colliton two. It doesn’t make for a pretty sight.

Before we dig deeper, it was thought before that Colliton faced the far tougher schedule. And that will be true when this month is over and the Hawks wade through the Jets twice more, the Avs twice, the Preds, the Sharks,  and Stars (and you thought it couldn’t get worse!). The numbers don’t particularly bare that out.

The points-percentage of the teams the Hawks faced with Q behind the bench was .546. With Colliton it’s .561. For reference’s sake, the former mark would see a team collect 89 points over a full season, the latter 92 points. So just about equal, with a shade harder for Colliton.

But that isn’t the whole story. Q got to see the Ducks when they were awful, and Colliton when they were playing much better, but Q also got the Blues three times which would drag the points-total average down as well. Make of all of it what you will. Those marks will probably look different at the end of the season when teams like the Rangers  and Coyotes settle in more where they should be. Right now, it seems like things are neutral in that sense.

Anyway, let’s go into the metrics.

The Hawks had a 51.5 CF% under Quenneville. That’s dipped to 50.0 even with Colliton. Their scoring-chance share has gone from 49.1 to start the year to 48.2 now. If you can believe it, their high-danger scoring chance percentage has actually improved, from 43.6% under Q to 46.3% now (neither being an acceptable number).

What Colliton really hasn’t gotten is a save, anywhere. The even-strength save-percentage under him is .908, where it was .914 for Quenneville. Now you may say that the save-percentage would of course go down because the Hawks are giving up so many more chances under their new, ever-so-handsome coach. Is that so?

They’re actually giving up slightly less attempts per game at evens now, 57.1 vs. 58.8 before. They’re giving up one more shot per 60 at evens, from 32.4 to 33.3 now. Surprisingly, they’re giving up noticeably less scoring chances per 60, from 31.1 to 27.4 under C. And they’re giving up less high-danger chances per 60, from 13.8 per 60 to 11.7.

Now, a drop from .914 to .908 at even-strength may not sound like much, and it isn’t really, it’s about three more goals. It’s just where those goals go. If they got the Hawks to overtime in one-goal games, Colliton’s record might read 3-7-5, or if overtimes went their way a couple times, being as random as it is, it could be something like 5-6-4. Or maybe they all come when the Hawks are getting blown out anyway and it doesn’t matter. We can say, either way, that Colliton’s ride while bumpy has been also unlucky (last night being a perfect example).

On the other end of the ice, the Hawks have seen a noticeable reduction in their attempts for per 60 and their shots for per 60, while their scoring chances for and high-danger chances for have remained about steady. So while the team’s shooting-percentage has remained around 7.5% for both coaches, there’s less shots for them under Colliton to cash in on. Again, the difference in shots means the Hawks have missed out on a goal and a touch more, but not enough to wet oneself over.

As silly as it sounds, because they are bad defensively either way, the Hawks have actually slightly improved in their own end under Colliton, but still have a long way to go. They haven’t gotten a save, and their offense is going the wrong way. That could be to the league just closing up a little as a whole. It could be DeBrincat going cold, though some of that is usage. It could be the constant line-shuffling. It could be all of it.

None of it is pretty.


Everything Else

Whatever the Hawks were selling you about trading Ryan Hartman, it’s proven to be just this side of horseshit. That’s not to say Ryan Hartman would greatly change the fortunes of this Hawks team. But ask yourself who you’d rather watch thrash around on the bottom-six right now, him or Chris Kunitz?

Ryan Hartman sits in the nexus of a lot of Hawks arguments, kind of undoing them all. We’ll see if we can untangle them in no particular order.

The Hawks love to make it known that they are all in favor of compensating their players. It’s part of the reason Bryan Bickell and Brent Seabrook got the contracts they did (from whoever ordered it in the front office). It’s why they made sure to tell everyone who would listen they wanted Artemi Panarin to hit his bonuses when he was going after those in his entry-level deal, no matter the headaches it caused. The Hawks want their players, and others, to know that they will be treated well. You earn what you get with the Hawks, at least that’s the story.

They’re also terrified of paying anyone, with only some of that due to salary cap problems. The rest is poor decisions. Hartman was traded partially because he was coming out of his entry-level deal. Though that didn’t seem to scare the Predators, who just handed him a one-year deal because Hartman hasn’t really proven to be anything yet. Yet another thing the Hawks don’t like to do is play hardball with players, but the Preds didn’t mind taking advantage of Hartman’s zero leverage.

But it’s the same reason, or one of, that Teuvo Teravainen was moved along when he was. Same with Nick Leddy. Same with Panarin, from the contract the Hawks gave him. Brandon Saad before. This list goes on. When you’ve been burned by bad contracts before, you get itchy, even though you want everyone to know how much you love giving contracts to your players. It’s even worse when you’re not prepared to stare anyone down in negotiations, which as callous as it is is pretty necessary in a hard cap league.

Another theme around the Hartman trade was that the Hawks got a first-rounder back for him, along with Victor Ejdsell. Well, Ejdsell is yet to be here, and Hartman himself was a first-rounder taken around the same spot that the pick he netted was. The Hawks got Nicolas Beaudin out of it, and no one can safely say what he’ll be. What the Hawks did was simply kick that down the road a couple years. And yet they were telling you they wanted to compete this season for a playoff spot. Except they didn’t fill the spot Hartman occupied with anything productive or useful. It’s an empty spot right now. Hartman would be more productive in it than nothing. What about that says, “win now?” Because the prize appears to be Beaudin, that puts the return two years in the future, which sure seems like a rebuilding plan.

The third thing was about Joel Quenneville. The whispers after the trade was that Hartman was the most vocal about the problems Q had with the younger players on the roster. Hartman shuffled from wing to center and back, up and down the lineup and sometimes into the pressbox. And he was one of the first to claim he didn’t know why any of it was happening and the coach wasn’t telling him what he needed to do. So instead of letting that fester and spread, the Hawks moved him along.

And then a mere handful of games later, the Hawks fired Quenneville anyway. Partially because they felt he wasn’t getting anything near the most out of their young players, who were getting agitated about their ever-changing roles and little description of them. So…Hartman was right? Was it worth trading him for futures then?

If the front office had cooled on Q by then, why did he get to win on this player? Especially a player who was then moved along for what appears to be nothing more than a lottery ticket to be cashed in a couple years from now. Now the Hawks don’t have either.

Again, Hartman is not the player who swings the fortunes of this team one way or the other. He’s just an exhibit of the confusion and vacancies in the current Hawks ethos.


Game #27 Preview Suite




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Note: Yes, I realize I’m mixing my Screaming Trees references but just go with me on this, friend. 

Babies, I like to pretend I know everything. Or at least enough where I can convince you I know what’s up with the Hawks. But I have to say the last few days have left me as bewildered as when they started. My thoughts, and others, were summed up in the podcast (which hey, you can get right here!), but I want to expound on them a touch more.

As I said on that ‘cast (I can abbreviate it cuz I’m cool, yo), I like the trade even though I either don’t approve of the process that got them there, and that’s if I can even discern what that process was. So, much like Patron Saint Inigo Montoya, let’s go back to the beginning.

Let’s start with Stan Bowman’s quote to The Athletic’s Scott Powers during an interview in Florida from last week about the signings of Brandon Manning and Chris Kunitz:

“Part of your job as a manager is to try to work with your coach to try to give them players that can implement the way they want to play,” Bowman said. “So I think we did a good job of that over the years with Joel. When it was obvious players didn’t fit the way even though they were quote-unquote good players, if they weren’t going to work for us, we didn’t just sit on them. We would move them and try to find somebody.

“It’s sort of the same thing. We didn’t have a lot of money to spend, but they were players that had attributes that Joel thought was important for our team and was lacking. So we have a new coach now, trying to fit in their strengths, but also changing to play in a little bit different way. So it’s hard to make a full assessment on that. I’ll have to see how it all plays out in the next several months. Hopefully they can find a way to contribute with Jeremy as well.”

Let’s start before this. Now, this has only been a working theory of ours for a couple seasons now, but I feel it’s a strong one. And one we can probably back up if we need to, and we went over on the ‘cast (so cool). After the sweep by the Predators in ’17, it was pretty clear that Stan Bowman went to his superiors and told them if they wanted to extend the window of this team, or at least keep it relevant, he needed to have complete control of personnel decisions. It had to be his show. It wasn’t totally his before, and the push-and-pull between him and Q and Q’s soldiers in the front office is well documented.

We know, or have a strong suspicion at least, that Bowman got all of the reins because he booted two of Q’s favorites immediately in Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin. Make no mistake, it was Q’s not-total belief in Bradon Saad, and his allies in the front office, that got Saad traded the first time. The fact that Stan didn’t tell Q about these trades beforehand, and Q made a show of telling the media that, gives you some idea of what the new dynamic was. You could argue it was at this point that Q just checked out of the job mentally, which is definitely the story some of the Hawks players were pushing after the firing.

So let’s add to that it was pretty clear that Stan wanted to fire Q before this season even started. And that Jeremy Colliton was his guy. I think we know this because if you’re pulling that trigger after 15 games, and I’ve said this before, all you’re allowing the incumbent is the chance for EVERYTHING to go perfectly. It didn’t.

So let’s circle back to this quote. And it’s essentially, maybe only partially, Stan throwing the coach he didn’t want to work with anymore under whatever bus was closest. “Well, I signed these guys because they were the types I hated but Joel liked and look what that got us! See why I had to do what I did!”

But if you believe all this, and maybe you don’t, what essentially happened is Stan took some cap space to assuage a coach he didn’t want with players who didn’t really have any hope, but now the coach he did want is stuck with them. And the coach he did want doesn’t have the time to really implement the changes both of them would like to make, nor with a roster either is suited for.

And if you carry this out farther, rightly or wrongly, you get to some uncomfortable questions about Schmatlz’s untouchable status over the summer. Because Elliotte Friedman reported the Canes asked about him in talks over Justin Faulk. Did Stan say no because he really thought Schmaltz was a cornerstone? An opinion he lost just 25 games in? Or did he not make a move for Faulk unless it was complete theft because he thought, gasp, a player like that might improve the Hawks just enough that he couldn’t fire Quenneville? There’s no way to make that connection firmly, but can you totally dismiss it?

Looking forward, I don’t know what Jeremy Colliton is or will be. I will say I like the outside-the-box hire, because a major problem in hockey is the constant retreading at both coach and GM positions everywhere. Everything you hear from people in the know say that Colliton has a chance to be a really good coach.

But he doesn’t have much to work with, certainly on the blue line. He has entrenched veterans who can’t, or won’t, change their game to adjust for what they are. Or he has overmatched players. And one promising rookie who has to cover for above.

We know Colliton is Stan’s guy, because he got a multi-year deal. And I’m at least curious to see what Colliton could do with a real roster. Just curious. And maybe Stan thinks he’s going to be around for all of it.

But here’s the thing. Rocky and McD can bluster all they want about “remodels” and “believing in our guys” all they want. But let’s say December goes completely balls-up, and it so easily could. And the Hawks are done by The Winter Classic, 5-7 games under .500 and on a national stage where all their faults will be laid out for everyone to see.

And then in the spring, those season ticket renewals start not showing up. Or being declined, I guess. And they have to dig in deeper and deeper to that waiting list they used to love to tell you about. And more and more on that waiting list say either, “No thanks,” or “Who are you again?”

There isn’t anything else that would get Rocky and McD’s attention. They would notice that in a heartbeat. And that’s when trigger fingers get itchy (when McD is done bullying his lower level employees of course, because GENIUS). And then the Hawks bring in some crusty hockey man because it’s a name some fans might recognize and that’s the length of the research the Twin Towers Of Born On Third Organizational Method do. And he wants another crusty hockey man behind the bench.

And then it’s totally fucked, and Collition never gets a chance with the blue line that’s kind of been hand-picked for what we think his style will be.

I know I’ve mapped this out like the detective in V For Vendetta, so let’s eschew everything in the future for now.

What I can’t get past is a GM seemingly sandbagging his coach with players who suck to illustrate what the problems with that coach were. And another thing I can’t get past is that if Stan can’t help talking up Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, and Nicolas Beaudin, then maybe it would have helped everyone to say what this year was instead of blathering about winning and playoffs. Because it’s more and more obvious next year is what they were targeting anyway (and quick, show me the last playoff team with at least two rookie d-men logging heavy minutes).

Would the fanbase have been more accepting of being honestly told what was going on? Maybe or maybe not. But it would be better than this.