Hockey

Since about 30 seconds into Game 1 of the season where it became glaringly obvious that this year’s Hawks team would not be competing for jack shit, this week arguably became the most important stretch of games of the year in the leadup to the trade deadline. Particularly now with a new GM steering the ship, it might have ended up being an indicator of GM Kyle’s mid and long term vision for the club. But overall, with a few wrinkles here and there, things shook out about how they could have been predicted, with the Hawks recouping some assets and also looking like shit on the ice.

3/15 – Bruins 2, Hawks 1 (OT)

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Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

The Hawks were pretty well fucked from Jump St. in this one with the Bruins being the best team defensive team in the league by a lot of metrics while having almost no finish to speak of aside from two guys on the roster. Marc-Andre Fleury was at his acrobatic best throughout the game and was literally the only reason this game was not a complete dong-whipping. He made every kind of vintage save you could as of anyone, let alone a 36 year old with the mileage he has on him. In an ideal world he would have been traded at the second intermission when his value was at its absolute peak, but there were clearly other factors at play. The Hawks managed to get this one to OT, where the fun predictably ended quickly.

3/19 – Wild 3, Hawks 1

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Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

A matinee played in St. Paul in the immediate aftermath of the Brandon Hagel trade saw the Hawks put forth a half assed effort at best, even by day hockey standards which this outlet is on record many times over as being an affront to the lord. Kevin Lankinen got the start on the front end of a back to back and is still somehow struggling with rebound control somehow, but made enough saves to keep it close until the very end, where the erstwhile LOCAL GUY Ryan Hartman put the Wild ahead. Toews’ comments after the trade were frankly those of a crybaby, complaining about someone being traded. As a long time captain in this league having seen guys get moved over and over and over again for cap purposes, having Brandon goddamn Hagel of all people be the one where he opines openly about his GM’s choices is certainly curious, especially without having done a goddamn thing in the post season in going on 7 years now. Sorry Jon, but you don’t have a leg to stand on whatsoever with regard to who stays and who goes. And clearly the team let this pouty piss pants attitude cascade down through the roster from their captain.

3/20 – Jets 6, Hawks 4

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Event Summary
Natural Stat Trick

Regardless of who had the final say in it between Kyle Davidson or Derek King, the decision to start Marc Andre Fleury in a game less than 24 hours before the trade deadline was curious at best, and professionally negligent at worst. On top of it being a back and forth game where neither team was interested in playing much defense and Fleury and fellow Vezina winner Connor Hellebucyk were hung out to dry early and often, the situation became that much more harrowing during a sequence wherein Fluery lost is glove, and still instinctually tried to make a save with that hand during a scramble in front of the Hawk net. Mercifully the result was merely a goal against and not a hand shattered into dust rendering the netminder untradeable, or worse at the end of his career. The Hawks would claw their way back with the help of a solid game from newcomer Taylor Raddysh (with a Y), and at least there was a little bit more jump to their game after going down after apparently getting their tantrum game out of the way the previous afternoon. But after all of that, the result was still the same, and the Hawks are now left to play out the string in what will surely be outstanding performances from Kevin Lankinen, Colin Delia, and Arvid Soderblom.

TRADE REACTIONS

  • First on the docket is arguably the most valuable chip the Hawks had in Brandon Hagel, with his cost controlled $1.5 million against the cap for two years following the end of this season, and will likely flirt with 30 goals by this year’s end. While yes, Hagel has been a fun middle six forward who plays with physicality and has a bit of a goal scorer’s touch, given the distance between what the Hawks are against teams with actual aspirations like the Bruins (where Hagel played and scored the Hawks’ lone goal), even the most optimistic projections would have the Hawks ready to take a step right as Hagel would be due a substantial increase in pay. Not to mention, with no disrespect to Hagel or any players of his ilk, but there should be at least two guys with the potential to be this in every team’s system. Andrew Shaw was this until it was time to pay him significantly, when the Hawks correctly identified that Ryan Hartman could fill that role. So the Hawks got about as good a return as one could have been asked for Hagel in two middle-to-bottom six forwards who can play right now as well as two first rounders, albeit delated and will assuredly be late in the round because they’re Tampa’s. And the fact that the trade pissed off some aforementioned players on the roster only reaffirmed that it was the right thing to do.
  • While the Marc-Andre Fleury trade seemed inevitable from the moment he actually decided he wanted to play for this calamity of an organization, it took til basically the last minute to get there for a variety of reasons. With having a full no move on top of uprooting his family here mere months ago, it extremely hamstrung Davidson’s options, and having a shit defense in front of him deflating his Vezina numbers from last year certainly didn’t help things. The Hawks eating half the salary for the remainder of the year is immaterial, but one can’t help but wonder if they could have gotten a true first round pick instead of just a condititional one had they pulled the trigger sooner and not exposed Fleury to a potent forward group and potential injury one last time before getting shipped out.
  • Ryan Carpenter was moved along to Calgary for a 5th rounder, and if there was ever a match made in hockey shot suppression hell, it’s Ryan Carpenter and Darryl Sutter. With Brad Treveling taking one of Sutter’s toys away in waiving Brad Richardson, he promptly gave him a younger version in the form of Carpetner who is a reliable worker who won’t let anyone down on the PK or the dot, and should never, ever be asked to be on the first PP unit ever again. Having a a solid bottom 6 versatile forward is a complete luxury that bad teams don’t need, like a closer on a shit baseball team, or a huge LCD infotainment screen in a run down 1988 powder blue Ford Taurus. So getting a fifth round pick is just fine for moving Carpenter along.
  • Calvin de Haan stayed put, because that’s just generally what he does these days, and there more than likely wasn’t a market for him even if it would have been at half price. Erik Gustafsson also had no takers, which just makes the fact that he was ever brought in here to take minutes away from any of the kids on the blue line even more short sightedly stupid from the previous regime.
Hockey

The Hawks continue to suck out loud and for some reason we all continue to watch this team limp slowly toward the finish line that is the end of this season. Despite a faux reprieve from offensive terribleness on Friday with a double hat trick win against the disastrous Devils, it was bookended with two horrible losses against actually contending teams, the Panthers and Blues, successfully washing away any optimism that could possibly surround this team.

The real news around these parts is that they ripped off Kyle Davidson’s “interim” tag like a Band-Aid to name him the permanent GM over Mathieu Darche and some shmuck from the Cubs (hey, how about you fix my baseball team’s on-field product before you try to switch sports?). People are justifiably skeptical about the whole situation, which is understandable, but personally I’m still thanking God that Peter Chiarelli is not the Blackhawks GM—what a scare. Davidson has been able to take a deeper look internally at what this team is missing over the past four months, something the other two GM candidates haven’t been able to do, and theoretically this means he won’t fuck things up come the trade deadline.

In case you were trying to block it from your mind, the Hawks have needs in a lot of areas: drafting, prospects, goaltending, any amount of offense at all, way less infinitely replaceable clones that can only play bottom-six positions, a permanent head coach, and maybe a better player development department as Kirby Dach becomes a giant red flag to more and more people. It all begins at this year’s trade deadline at the end of the month, where any amount of wheeling and dealing could be done by Davidson that could make us see the departures of Kubalik, de Haan, Fleury, Strome—honestly fuck it, who isn’t available at this point besides Kane, Toews and the Cat?

Anyway, we have some games this weekend to preview, and it’ll probably end ugly.

3/2 vs. Edmonton

Game Time – 7:30PM CT

TV/Radio – NBCSCH / WGN 720

It Is Better to Live One Day as a Lion Than 1,000 Days as a Lamb – Copper N Blue

The Edmonton Oilers have briefly taken a stop off of the Hot Mess Express ever since Dave Tippett got canned for letting his team get beaten by…well, the Hawks. Since his firing, the Oilers have gone 7-3 in their last 10, clinging to dear life to the final Wild Card spot they currently hold for the West. Oilers fans shield their eyes and pretend not to notice they were able to harvest wins from crappy teams such as the Islanders, Sharks, Kings and struggling Ducks, whereas nearly all of their matchups against contending teams in this stretch have led to losses. It’s mostly because Oilers GM Ken Holland has quite possibly ruined everything by not signing a competent goaltender. Once again I must assume that this team might try to make something work out to bring Fleury to Alberta, though why Fleury would want to go there is beyond me.

In other news, two of the greatest Hawks defensemen of all time, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith, return to the United Center tonight in what will likely be an emotional affair. Had things worked out differently and if the front office hadn’t completely soiled the legacy of the 2010 team forever, the place would be packed and there would be positive vibes abound. Understandably, some fans may not want to see or hear tribute videos to anyone associated with that era, but I am personally pushing some of that aside for now as there hasn’t been a negative story about Niklas Hjalmarsson since I’ve been following the team. The man was a shot-blocking legend, a minutes-eater, and probably one of the best defensive defensemen of his era. His recognition is well-deserved and he seems like a good guy.

Keith will be honored in a smaller own way tomorrow, though he’ll be on the opposing team with the Oilers. Keith is my favorite Hawk of all time—he literally sacrificed seven teeth in the name of the sport, of winning the Stanley Cup, and whether or not you think that’s something worth sacrificing, you have to respect his dedication to the craft. That dedication has made it so he is still playing in the NHL at 38 years old, and he’s not doing so terrible, no matter what you may hear from Oilers fans. He’s having better numbers in Edmonton both offensively and defensively than he had with the Hawks last year; take a look at Natural Stat Trick.

Of course the great Boomer Gordon’s theory about ceremony games meaning automatic losses to the home team will probably come true, so expect a Blackhawks loss.

3/5 at Philadelphia

Game Time – 2:00 PM CT

TV/Radio – ESPN+, ABC / WGN 720

It’s Like When I’m Doing Good In The Game, I’m Doing Good In Life. – Broad Street Hockey

The Flyers are doing much, much worse than even the Hawks are at this point of the season, at find themselves in the basement of the Metro and continuing a similar aimless march toward the trade deadline. In this city, it is longtime captain and center dot staple Claude Giroux on the chopping block. Giroux, as old as Patrick Kane, is still a team leader in goals, points, even-strength goals, OPS and faceoff percentage. Trading him away would be…well, how much worse could it get? They’re also trying to deal Keith Yandle, who is at a team-worst -32 for the year and his other defensive metrics are just as terrifying, so good luck with that.

Flyers fans are probably excited that Carter Hart has had a bounce-back goaltending year from last season, although that just means he’s been putting up a middling .912 save percentage and a 2.87 GAA. For the Flyers, however, it’s better than the alternative, as Martin Jones has lost his last eight starts to teams like Buffalo, San Jose, LA and the Islanders. He also hasn’t started since February 22, but considering their schedule he might be in the crease against the Hawks just to give Hart some rest between games against more talented teams like Minnesota and Vegas.

3/6 vs. Tampa Bay

Game Time – 6:00 PM CT

TV/Radio – NHLN, NBCSCH / WGN 720

Are You Really Sure You Want To Watch This Slaughtering? – Raw Charge

Tampa Bay is once again really goddamn good, currently atop the Atlantic Division with 76 points, good for 3rd in the league. The Lightning are also currently on a 5-game win streak and considering they only have to play the Penguins and Red Wings before facing the Hawks, it’s very likely that streak will be extended to 7 when they arrive at the United Center on Sunday.

Despite the Lightning not being offensive analytic darlings like their cross-state rivals the Panthers or the even teams like the Avalanche out west, they allow the second-least shots in the league because of their solid defense and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have one of the league’s most reliable goaltenders in Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes every night.

The Lightning are also finally healthy, as it seems only Zach Bogosian is on injury report list, and he won’t be missed too much. Steven Stamkos at 32 is also top on the team in goals, points, powerplay goals, the whole nine yards—as usual. Nikita Kucherov is 9th on the team in points so far this season after he spent nearly all of last season on IR, but that’s fine with Lightning fans since he usually pops off in the playoffs when the games matter most. The Hawks are outmatched and outclassed up and down the lineup against this team, and I do not have high hopes for this game by any means.