Hockey

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

What a perfect microcosm of the 2019–20 Blackhawks. An early lead generated by (what better be) the New Core followed by 40 minutes of pants shitting, entirely avoidable penalties, and a flat refusal to shoot the puck while trailing. We’d love to know if this is an example of what Bowman called Colliton’s “great approach to things,” because losing to teams directly ahead of his in the wild card standings seems to be his approach. There’s a cheesy gordida crunch waiting for me, so let’s.

– This was the most dominant game Adam Boqvist has played thus far. His first period was astoundingly strong: a primary assist, a 66+ CF%, an 82+ xGF%, two shot attempts, a ton of ice time, and—the cherry on top—two excellent defensive plays. Let’s start there.

About mid-way through the first, the Flames’s fourth line had just finished a strong shift. After a shift change, Jonathan Hockey ended up with the puck behind the net. Boqvist shadowed him from behind the net up around the far boards and never let Gaudreau shake him. In fact, Boqvist nearly caused Jonathan Hockey to cough the puck up. Boqvist is precisely the kind of defenseman the Hawks would need to run Colliton’s man system. He showed quickness and strong positioning on this play.

Not too long after this sequence, Boqvist got to show off his defense again. Following a terrible cross-ice pass attempt by Keith that was easily intercepted, Boqvist picked up Monahan one-on-one and prevented a shot. These are the kinds of things everyone has worried about with Boqvist, and he showed that he can hold his own.

You can safely assume that the good defensive plays were a result of his obvious confidence with the puck tonight. He had two shot attempts early in the first and finished with at least five by my count in addition to one official shot on goal. We got to see that wicked wrister on Kubalik’s tip, which was as powerful as advertised.

Boqvist finished the game with the most TOI, the best CF%, and the best xGF% of Hawks players with more than 10 minutes of ice time at 5v5. A statement game for him if there ever was one.

Corey Crawford would be your second star after Boqvist tonight. He played a big part in the Hawks killing off their second 5-on-3 of the night, with two huge saves to keep it close. You can probably argue that he should have had Lindholm’s second goal, but other than that, it was another good start for the least respected athlete in Chicago sports history. Killing off two 5-on-3s and posting a .929 should get you a win every day. Alas.

– It’s painfully ironic how the Hawks’s PK manages to be pretty good despite the fact that their defense is forbidden by the Geneva Convention. But you can thank Jonathan Toews for the Hawks’s first 5-on-3 kill. After losing a faceoff in his own zone to start it, it was Toews alone who managed to clear the puck from his own zone twice in a row. He may only be able to do one or the other, and tonight he chose defense (though he had a few offensive flashes late), which was a treat.

Dylan Strome has a right ankle injury. No word yet on the severity, but it looked kind of like Saad’s. If he misses any extended time, the Hawks intermittently woeful offensive will be much more consistently awful.

– It’s really confidence inspiring when John Quenneville appears on the power play over Alex Nylander. Not that anyone wants Nylander on the ice at all, but it’s a true testament to the Hawks’s “No Plan, All Process” approach to . . . whatever it is they’re approaching here (a third straight year of no playoffs, most likely).

– Down a goal in the third, the Hawks managed to fart out a measly six shots on goal. Through 11+ minutes, they had exactly two shots. Either this is the Hawks actively trying to get Jeremy Colliton fired or Jeremy Colliton just doing what he does, which is beg to get fired. You can take the tram or you can take the donkey. It’s the same price.

– I’ll stop bitching and moaning about it when the mouthpieces for the Hawks stop doing it: Pat Foley’s unmitigated slobbering over Marc Crawford prior to the third period was gross. I truly like how Marc Crawford has handled himself after being revealed as a gigantic shithead in his past. He apologized, reached out to many of the players he wronged, got therapy long before his shitheadedness became public, and has been contrite about his situation. Having Pat Foley Cheshire grin his way through calling Crawford “a great guy” is so perfectly in tune for this tone-deaf organization, and yet, I can’t help but be surprised by the awfulness. Crawford went out of his way to call his second chance a privilege, and kudos to him for that, but Foley should fucking know better. Righting a ton of huge wrongs doesn’t make you a “great guy.” It just makes you less of a shithead.

But it didn’t stop there. Foley then proceeded to cite Dennis Gilbert (just can’t get away from this fucker, can we?) and Kirby Dach as guys who stated that they love Crawford while completely disregarding the proven and constantly unearthed power gap between players and coaches. They can love Crawford all they want. That doesn’t serve as adequate evidence to support Foley’s “neener neener, he’s actually a great guy” horseshit. It’s getting awfully old. I want Marc Crawford to keep getting better and succeed. I don’t want to hear Pat Foley use his pulpit to try and speed that along just because he doesn’t get it. It’s Foley’s literal job to represent the Blackhawks well, and he did a terrible job of it tonight, much like his bosses that one summer at Notre Dame. I digress.

The Hawks are a mediocre team whose stars can occasionally put them over the top against better teams taking the night off and Detroit. When the chips are down, like they were tonight, they hermit crab. But hey, Bowman thinks Colliton’s approach is great, what with yet another too many men penalty and six fucking shots on goal during crunch time.

Go back to bed, Blackhawks fans. Your Brain Trust has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed, Blackhawks fans. Your Brain Trust is in control again.

Onward.

Beer du Jour: Zombie Dust

Line of the Night: Pat Foley calling Marc Crawford a “great guy,” which embarrassed even Marc Crawford

Hockey

Ok, so as if the Hawks week can’t get any better as they get routinely thwacked by real-ass teams in their own division (oh, and they see a potential 60-goal scorer Thursday), evidence that they actually have no idea what they’re doing in the front office continues to mount. And I don’t mean getting capped out last night to the extreme of 17 skaters.

At the top, we should say that the Hawks are just in the same net with the rest of hockey, and their actions or behavior is more just a symptom of the whole damn culture than they being unique. What it does do is tear down this idea, that they are the biggest promoters of, that they are somehow the gold standard organization.

It started last week or so, when Akim Aliu said that he had been racially abused by Bill Peters while both were in Rockford. Now we know pretty much the whole story, and it involves team captain at the time Jake Dowell having a sit-down with Peters over what he had said to Aliu.

This is hockey, and if there is any sport where this kind of thing can somehow not make its way up the food chain, it’s here. Players are afraid to cause waves, organizations are terrified of media distractions, everyone else is in the middle. However, your AHL captain meeting with your AHL coach over this, it’s nearly impossible to think that this doesn’t set off alarm bells for everyone both in Rockford and Chicago.

And as friend of the program Chris Block has pointed out, there are other people in and out of AHL dressing rooms all the time. Agents, families, team personnel, some media, so the idea that this was completely contained in the dressing room and the coach’s office, there’s just no way to buy that. Peters was gone a year later to join Mike Babcock’s staff, so maybe the Hawks just thought everything was taken care of with that. Maybe they thought the gloss of a newly contending team washed away all. Maybe they were afraid of dulling that in any way. Whatever the answer, it isn’t enough.

And now they have to investigate their own assistant coach, one they brought in to babysit their struggling young coach/take over when that young coach finally drowned. Again, I wasn’t really aware of Marc Crawford’s past, but it wasn’t really my job to be. When doing due diligence on a new hire, you’d have to believe if you scraped anywhere beneath the surface you’d find his record of abuse. Y’know, because it was in a former player’s book and all? I didn’t read O’Sullivan’s book, but someone somewhere did and might have mentioned this kind of thing. Call me crazy.

It’s kind of amazing how recently this shit has gone on. We are 40 year beyond Woody Hayes punching an opposing player, which ended his famous career, and that’s in football which is the only sport that has a bigger attitude amongst its coaches of how tough they are due to how saggy their balls are and whatnot. We’re over 20 years since Bobby Knight was kicking and choking his own players (and son) at Indiana. All this in hockey is in the last five to ten years. Amazing what happens in this dark corner.

Again, on the other side, some would tell you that hockey’s culture of “just take it and shut up” handicaps them from acting. But we know that the Hurricanes went up the chain to Ron Francis. We know the Red Wings did the same to Ken Holland about Babcock. We know Dowell confronted Peters at the very least. So while there’s certainly an element of players afraid to speak up, it’s not like they’ve been totally silent either. The problem is that when they have spoken up, they’ve faced an indifferent or callous organization looking in the opposite direction.

If you’ve paid any attention, you know the way the Hawks paint themselves isn’t anywhere near reality. Any crisis they’ve faced they’ve royally fucked up, and combined with their current fucking up the on-ice product (what only anyone really cares about at the end of the day) they’ve been revealed to be one of the more balloon-handed organizations around.

But to restrict this as a Hawks problem would be unfair and silly. I’ve thought a lot about this lately and why hockey is so far behind everything else. And it’s mostly that it operated in the dark for so long, anything could go on because no one knew except for those in it. There was no one around to point out all the things wrong, because the only ones who knew were the ones in the culture and they could behave however they saw fit. Hell, the reason some of us became fans was because no one else was. So it’s not that hockey is upset that it’s being scrutinized now, it’s upset that anyone is looking at all. It doesn’t want to jibe with the wider world because the wider world was never aware of its existence for so long. But that’s not a justification, and far from it.

I don’t know why these GMs like Holland or Treveling or Francis or whoever knew here or whoever was Crawford’s boss just tried to shoo it away. The easy answer is callousness, and that might be it. I think it’s at least part laziness too. Because if they had taken action, that would only lead to more questions they would have to answer. Questions they aren’t equipped to handle. And we know how much they hate the media and questions. It’s just easier to say “man up” even though we’ve eliminated that term as a qualified answer years ago. It’s easier to hope that things just go away, which they did.

Well, they won’t now, and it’s a bigger mess. Who’s around who is actually equipped to deal with it?

Hockey

The Dizzying Highs

Brandon Saad – It would be easy to put Patrick Kane here, thanks to his point-streak, but I don’t do easy. But Saad is the only forward I notice every night, and I know I’m not alone. He scored against Dallas in their only win the past week, and got the opener shorthanded against the Avs on Saturday. Whereas Kane can go missing when games have been close and occasionally has been cherry-picking to benefit the point-streak he’s probably all too aware of, Saad just gets on with it. And he’s been the Hawks best forward the whole season whether you like it or not. He’s piled up 18 shots in the four games here, and he’s on his best expected goal per game of his career, and he’s top-25 in relative Corsi and xG percentage among forwards in the league. He’s played so well, it probably makes sense to explore trades for him in the way they didn’t for Erik Gustafsson last year. He’ll have one more year after this left on his deal, and he’s a difference-maker on a good team’s second line. That is if he’s not part of the long-term vision here, which no one knows. He’s been good enough where you probably can’t go wrong either trading him or keeping him, but if anyone can it’ll be the Hawks.

The Terrifying Lows

The Front Office – Boy there were a lot of candidates for this. But let’s just review, and there will be more on this later, but the Hawks organization has been part of two of the current abuse/racists scandals this week in hockey (Peters and Crawford) and have turned their palms up at both with the, “Me no speaka da English” defense. Either the front office is that willfully ignorant that their AHL captain having to confront their AHL coach about his racist remarks doesn’t send alarm lights to the main office, and their assistant hire’s past abuse of players being documented in a book or two, which means they’re just about the clueless bunch of dopes around (could be!). Or they knew all this stuff…and they just didn’t care.

Much less important, but worth mentioning, is that they’ve built a team that again, is one point off the bottom of the West more than a quarter through the season, and is capped out to the point they couldn’t ice a full team last night. This collection of ne’er-do-wells and the truly bewildered costs as much as any team in the league. Your four offseason acquisitions that make significant money total  which cost $15.6M (Smith, Shaw, de Haan, and Maatta) have got you one fourth-liner who’s slow, a bottom-six winger they keep trying to play into the top six even though all he’s done this year is take o-zone penalties and wave to the crowd, a middle-pairing d-man who also can’t move, and a barely-third pairing d-man. This is how you get capped out, because all these positions are supposed to cost a fuckton less than this.

But hey…ONE GOAL.

The Creamy Middles

Patrick Kane – It’s really not surprising when he keeps scoring. He might fire in some garbage time (symmetry) goals to keep his streak alive, and he may be trying to do that too many times, but he’s also the only other threat besides Saad these days. Without either, the Hawks get clubbed 4-1 every night.

Everything Else

We knew the Hawks wanted to get a veteran behind the bench along with Jeremy Colliton, to provide something of a sounding-board or sort of Obi Wan character for their young padawan of a head coach. That’s why whatever life form Barry Smith was around for a while, fielding questions from Eddie and Pat as all three plotted to kill each other. For comedy’s sake, it was utter gold. Anyway, since Smith left and whichever Granato they had that didn’t play in the NHL moved on to wherever Granatos go, the Hawks have had a vacancy for an assistant.

They filled it with Marc Crawford…which…is…a move. Crawford was an assistant for Guy Boucher the past couple seasons, Boucher himself another fancied young genius who couldn’t actually manage a piss-up in a brewery unless his goalie in tossing a .935 at the world. Crawford took over for Boucher when the latter got shitcanned, and did about as well as one could with that Senators team at the end of a lost season with a 7-10-1 record.

Crawford certainly has been around a long time. But like a lot of ghouls and spirits that hang around NHL benches and front offices, one has to ask why. Yes, he won that Cup in 1996 with the Avalanche. Look at that fucking roster. As McClure if often fond of saying, “A cold glass of orange juice probably gets it to a conference final at worst.”

Since then, no Crawford team won a playoff series and his last four years as a coach saw his teams miss the playoffs altogether. In fact, his crowning achievement of the past 20 years really was that final-day puke-a-thon from the Stars that let the Hawks slip into the playoffs when he couldn’t hump that team past a dead-in-the-water Wild team. Can’t wait to hear the advice he has to impart on Colliton!

I guess, if I squint, right after he left the Canucks they had their best run, so may he helped lay down the tracks. And then the Kings became a perennial playoff team after he left, so maybe same thing. So hey great, the Hawks will be good after he leaves. Whenever that is.

The fear is that if Colliton becomes (or continues, depending on your point of view) a complete balls-up this season, then it’s going to be obvious who is replacement is. And you wonder how long before veteran players start looking that way. And if Crawford takes over, well then you’re proper fucked anyway.

But hey, he’s coached in the NHL before. That’s apparently all it took to get this job. Very excited. Really.