Hockey

One year after the Hawks spent an entire summer backhandely blaming him for them missing the playoffs in the 2017-18 season, Corey Crawford enters 2019 in something of a goalie competition for the long term. With new signee Robin Lehner coming off a career year an potentially primed to take this job out from under him, and his contract expiring after this year and no extension in place yet (which we will get to), Crawford might have some proving to do this year. Let’s dig in.

2018-19 Stats

39 GP – 14 W, 18 L, 5 OTL

.908 SV%, 2.93 GAA

.916 SV% – .920 PP SV% – .853 PK SV%

A Brief History: The Hawks placed a lot of hope in Corey Crawford A) not having jelly for a brain after his concussion-riddled 2017-18 season and B) not playing badly after a concussion-riddled season at 33. He started the year pretty well and actually made it up to halfway through December before he got bumrushed in the crease and had his head smash into the goalpost, giving him his second bad concussion in as many seasons and only raising further concerns about potential jelly brain. He missed two and half months after that before returning at the end of February.

Crawford played pretty fine for most of the season, but ended the year with his worst save percentage since 2011-12 and the worst GAA of his career. Which, really, that just says a lot about how fucking good has been throughout his career, but his overall numbers indicated more of a high-caliber backup goalie rather than the goaltender you want behind a Cup contender. Not that the Hawks are any sort of Cup contender, but you know they want to at least think they are.

It Was The Best of Times: Is it too cliche to say that the best case scenario for Crawford is just to make it through 2019-20 without suffering another brain issue? I feel like I’ve been something of a broken record saying this for a year and a half now, but at a certain point there needs to be more consideration for Corey Crawford’s long term health and not what his value is to a hockey team. This isn’t fucking football where players are essentially willingly mortgaging their long term brain health in the pursuit of sports glory. Sure hockey is physical, and as a goalie you do place yourself at a greater risk of head injury, but this guy’s ability to live a long and happy life should be paramount, at least to himself.

Soapbox aside, given the amount and severity of his head injuries recently, I have to admit I am not expecting a huge amount from Crawford this year. I don’t think that in his age-35 season after having missed more than 90 total games in the past two years (via both sitting out and injury), it is reasonable to think he will ever be a .920 guy again. But with the Hawks seemingly set to run the 1A/1B system with Crawford and Robin Lehner, I think if he can be just a little better than he was last year, maybe post a .910-.915 overall SV% while staying healthy, that will be an excellent year for Crawford and might even let the Hawks sneak in the playoffs.

It Was The BLURST of Times: The worst case scenario for Crawford is that he continues down the unfortunate side of being an over-30 NHL player with a tough recent rash (skypoint Marian Hossa) of injuries and misses a big chunk of the season to more ailments. I obviously pray that wouldn’t be another head injury, but being 35 in sports opens the possibility for more physical ailments as well. What would compound this as worse for Crawford (though maybe not for the Hawks) would be if Robin Lehner proves that his 2018-19 campaign was not a fluke and really grabs the Hawks’ crease by the balls, while Collin Delia proves to be a more than adequate backup with an extremely affordable contract, and the Hawks decide they’d rather move on to younger and less broken players. It would be understandable, but still difficult to process.

I truly pray this worst case scenario does not play out because it would result in Crawford getting the big time Jay Cutler teatment here in Chicago – despite being among the best at his position that the city has even seen, he will never have been appreciated as much as he should have been. But like, way better than Cutler ever was, and yet somehow appreciated even less. He was a top-5 goalie in the NHL for years and got none of the recognition either here or nationally, and the organization seems to have more disdain for him than he does for remaining sober at concerts. And the fans never got over the GLOVE SIDE bullshit that became a fucking stupid narrative in 2013 despite him really being their best player in those playoffs. And while Scott Darling did need to save them slightly in 2015, Crawford was dominant after getting the crease back and probably deserved that Conn Smythe as well.

Prediction: Crawford remains mostly healthy and plays at a similar level to last year, finishing with a .907 SV%. Overall he gets outshined by Robin Lehner, and the two combine for a .910 that keeps the Hawks competitive and they slip into the playoffs, where Lehner is the starter and Crawford only gets in if Lehner struggles. The Hawks re-sign Lehner to a longer-term deal and make it clear to Crawford that his roll going forward is as a year-to-year backup, because if we’ve learned anything throughout Stan Bowman’s tenure as GM it’s that he takes care of extensions for guys he thinks will be part of the future early, regardless of the risk (lookin at you, Nacho) and given that Crow hasn’t had that happen yet, the writing is already on the wall.

Stats from NHL.com and NaturalStatTrick.com

Previous Player Previews

Robin Lehner

Everything Else

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RECORDS: Maple Leafs 1-1-0    Hawks 2-0-0

PUCK DROP: 6:00 PM CT

TV: CSN Chicago

HOW DOES THIS AFFECT THEM?: Pension Plan Puppets

If you were going through a tournament of the most insufferable franchises in sports, it probably wouldn’t take too long to end up with this matchup in the “Hockey Region.” If you spend more than five minutes scrolling through Hockey Twitter (and you shouldn’t, it’s bad for your health), you’re going to see these two teams come up most frequently – the Leafs because there are too fucking many of their shithead fans on the internet who do not shut up ever, and the Hawks because everyone hates them because they were really good for a really long time. Die the hero, become the villain, etc. etc.

The most exhausting and insufferable shit that has already been tossed around in the past, and you will probably hear at least once tonight, (and more if you for some reason watch the Canadian broadcast, which is a national one because of course it is) is that this could be some kind of torch passing from the Hawks to the Leafs because the Leafs have a young core with their key guys still having their labor exploited on their entry level contracts and that’s how the Hawks built their empire and the Leafs are using the same blueprint and blah blah blah I am going to fuckin’ puke.

The annoying part about that shitty narrative is that the parallels keep lining up, most recently with the Leafs making their big splashy free agent signing in John Tavares, which you could equate to the Hawks bringing in Marian Hossa prior to 2009-10, though it’s not even up for debate that JT91 is a better and more impactful signing. There was once an inkling of hope around these parts that StanBo and company would get in on the Tavares train, but we never get what we want because we’re all good people at this website.

The Leafs are even in the process of the RFA fuck up parallel as well. We all remember well the Kris Versteeg situation that ended up giving this site it’s new namesake, and while Toronto hasn’t stuck their dick in a fax machine quite yet (but don’t put it past Kyle Dubas) they still haven’t stopped measuring it in negotiations with William Nylander, who wants to be paid like the good-as-shit player that he is instead of signing some bullshit “bridge contract” and risk getting hurt and losing out on the money. Nylander kinda has the Leafs over a barrel because he is such a huge part of what they’re trying to do there, but the Leafs have him over an even bigger barrel and in a much more vulnerable position because of the NHL’s labor exploitation contract and free agency rules. If I was Stan Bowman I would be annoying the shit out of Dubas until he gave in and traded Nylander to Madison St., but it’s not like the Hawks really even have anything to send the other way that would be worth more than a hearty chuckle when proposed in negotiations.

The most annoying thing about the Maple Leafs at the present time, though, is that they are actually, it pains me to say, going to be really good. Yes they got their shit pumped by Ottawa last night and I’m sure their fans have tried drowning themselves in some maple syrup as a result, but on paper the Leafs forward group (when they get Nylander back) is probably the best in the NHL. They have two of the top-10 centers in the damn league, and even though Nazem Kadri is a giant fuckstick, when he’s your 3C you’re in a really good spot. They have some holes on defense, but we saw Pittsburgh go back-t0-back with leftover popsicle sticks on their second pairing a few years ago. And the good players that the Leafs have are fun to watch. Auston Matthews is almost appointment television, Mitch Marner is a nasty playmaker, and we already know what Tavares is capable of.

So, yeah, the torch passing bullshit is annoying as fuck, and I don’t wanna hear it or think about it or deal with it. But the Leafs  might really have something here, and while that’s bad news for anyone’s Twitter timeline, it could be entertaining as hell, even if they shitpump the Hawks tonight.

Game #3 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Build

Everything Else

Kruger is only one season removed from being the firefighter you remember here, and we know that Q knows exactly what he is. Let’s say he’s an improvement on David Kampf. And he only has one year on his deal, so if he’s another charred remains of a beloved warrior of victories past, well whatever. . . . At this point in his career if Kruger matters too much you’re fucking sunk.Sam Fels, July 12, 2018.

Well shit.

Everything Else

Finally, something. Thank you John Pullega for taking the Fels Motherfuck into new places and spurring something resembling action from the Chicago Blackhawks.

There’s a lot of flotsam in this trade, so here are the exact details: The Hawks send Marian Hossa’s corpse and contract, Vinnie Smalls, Jordan Oesterle, and a 2019 3rd rounder to Arizona for Marcus Kruger, the amazingly named MacKenzie Entwistle, Jordan Maletta, Andrew Campbell, and a 5th rounder in 2019. There’s a lot here. What’s sad is that there isn’t a lot here that matters.

Let’s start with what the Hawks are sending away. It was no secret that the Hawks wanted to get Hossa’s contract off their books to free up cap space that wasn’t LTIR. Hossa is never going to play again, we all know this, the Yotes need to get to the floor, and it hopes up Hossa’s entire hit. The problem is that this would have been a good idea to do before July 1st so the Hawks could have been more involved in the free agency market than picking up whatever everyone else left on the floor. But hey, we don’t shout at the rain here and what’s done is done.

Jordan Oesterle sucks. There’s no other way to say it, and though he spasmed a decent month with Duncan Keith and the Hawks could probably use more of his “KEEP FIRING ASSHOLES!” methods from the blue line in the offensive zone, the Hawks are currently stuffed with third-pairing d-men, and really anything that gets Jokiharju closer to the NHL roster should be applauded. He still is going to have to beat out Rutta and Forsling and Dahlstrom and whatever else, but hey, it’s a step.

Hinostroza is a loss. Everyone who’s been around here for any length of time knows I might be Vinnie Smalls’s biggest fan, as for a third line winger he generated top six levels of shots and chances. He’s ridiculously fast, which the Hawks need all they can get, and a positive forechecker and penalty killer. He makes shit happen. What might not ever happen is for him to have the finish to match what he creates and starts. He hasn’t at any level, though that could have come. This one might come back to haunt the Hawks, but if Dylan Sikura is everything the Hawks think he is (jury is very much still out on that one) then he’ll do everything Vinne would have done and more.

What the Hawks also get is a ton of cap space. They now have $9.3 million in space. If you can get Anisimov off the books, and Kruger’s acquisition might have that in mind, that’s $13M or so. Hey, Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson together this year are about $13 million in salary. Isn’t that interesting? I find that interesting.

Ok, let’s go to the other side. I’ll be honest with you, I had forgotten that the Hurricanes had dumped Marcus Kruger onto the Yotes. And the Canes had no use for Kruger at all. I can’t honestly tell you what happened there. Kruger, in only half of a season, still put up a positive Corsi-rel in Carolina while getting his usual dungeon starts. He didn’t produce offensively, because he doesn’t produce offensively. Kruger wasn’t quite as solid defensively as he was here, but a demotion to the AHL all year seems a tad harsh. Kruger is only one season removed from being the firefighter you remember here, and we know that Q knows exactly what he is. Let’s say he’s an improvement on David Kampf. And he only has one year on his deal, so if he’s another charred remains of a beloved warrior of victories past, well whatever.

The rest of this seems to be just Rockford filler. MacKenzie Entwistle, as badly as I want him to be a player so we can just keep saying, “MacKenzie Entwistle,” hasn’t really done much in the OHL and was a 3rd round pick. Let’s just say it’ll be a year or two before you see him near this team or something is wrong. Jordan Maletta is 23 and hasn’t sniffed the NHL for two organizations now. He be better get used to the comforts of Winnebago County. Andrew Campbell has played 42 games in the NHL over three seasons. Again, this is just a plug. None of this matters.

What this trade is about is the cap space. And maybe the security of Marcus Kruger on the 4th line, but at this point in his career if Kruger matters too much you’re fucking sunk. He’s not going to be The Black Knight of the playoff runs of ’13-’15 that you remember, or is highly unlikely to be.

So the cap space. As stated, it would fit Ryan and Karlsson with some rejiggering if Stan Bowman was suddenly feeling his oats and went all in. It would also easily accommodate Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner, if one were so inclined. It fits SOMETHING. So before we can pass judgement on this deal, we have to see what the next move it results in is first.

Everything Else

Anthony Duclair’s career thus far has a slight “Over Promise, Under Deliver” to it. He was considered a pretty good prospect before got to the NHL, one with high offensive upside because of his speed and shot. And while he does still flash that speed and shot occasionally, he’s only scored 37 goals in 213 NHL games thus far, and 2o of those goals game in 2015-16. Let’s take a look at his most recent campaign.

Anthony Duclair

Total – 56 games, 11 goals, 12 assists, 23 points, -5, 16 PIM

With Hawks – 23 games, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points, Even, 6 PIM

50.51 CF%, 1.99 CF% rel, 45.97 xGF%, 0.42 xGF% rel, 53.12 ZSR

Duclair wasn’t exactly over-the-top impressive this season, in general nor when he came to Chicago in exchange for drunk trespasser Richard Panik, but he was certainly not bad. His speed is evident the moment you lay eyes on him on the ice, and he puts it to work well at both ends of the ice. He’s got a decent frame for being for 5’11”, 191 lbs, so he’s able to cause some issues with that speed and his body in transition offensively, as well as defensively on the forecheck and backcheck. One of the podcast guys mentioned a while back that he has some Hossa-esque qualities to his defensive style, and at times that 91 on his jersey might make you think it’s Hossa’s 81.

While Duclair hasn’t exactly lit up score sheets so far in his NHL career, it doesn’t take too much investigating to fine out why – he doesn’t shoot enough. In his 56 appearances last year, Duclair only got 97 shots on goal total. He shot 11.3% for the season, not far off his career mark of 12.5%, which is a more than acceptable conversion rate. But it still doesn’t tell the whole story, as that number is buoyed a bit by his 19% rate in 2015-16, his only full season so far and also the one in which he accounted for more than half of his career goals. He followed that up with a tough 2016-17 in which he scored just 5 goals on 6.6% shooting. And even this past year, he shot 13.2% in his 33 games in the desert and just 6.9% (nice) in his 23 games with the Hawks. All of that suggests that we still don’t know what kind of shooter Duclair is, but the only way to really figure that out is going to be him getting more pucks to the net.

Given the positive qualities he possesses, and the fact that he is still just 22 years old, I still think it’s reasonable to believe there is some high-ceiling upside left for Duclair to tap into, but with each passing day the likelihood of him reaching that ceiling shrinks. If he can somehow have a breakout year next year, you might have a 55-point player on your hands. But that’s if you wanna be really optimistic about his climbing the ladder to that ceiling. More likely, you have a 35-45 point third liner on your hands who can contribute defensively, which is perfectly fine.

Dylan Sikura

College – 35 games, 22 goals, 32 assists, 54 points, +18, 22 PIM

NHL – 5 games, 0 goals, 3 assists, 3 points, +2, 0 PIM

NHL – 42.34 CF%, -4.81 CF% rel, 49.32 xGF%, 7.07 xGF% rel, 64.29 ZSR

Just about any NHL production you get from Dylan Sikura is a net positive, because it’s extremely rare that 6th round draft picks become NHL players. Sikura developed into one of the best college hockey players over the past few years, and he certainly got the Hawks brass excited about him, enough so that they signed his brother to an NHL deal to butter him up and make sure he signed at the conclusion of his college season. We call that the reverse Hayes.

Sikura looked fine when he got to the NHL, I guess. I am not sure how much you can read into five appearances in a lost season on a team made up of a lot of patchwork. His offensive ability was evident in college, and he flashed some of hit when got to Chicago, so we know it’s there. The question is whether or not that will come to mean anything, because we have seen plenty of good college performers become nothing NHL players in the past. I think Sikura can stick, but he probably projects similarly to Duclair – if it all clicks, you maybe have a second liner who will give you 50 points or more, but more than likely you’re looking at a third liner who can create some mismatches and get you 40ish points a year. Next year will be the true barometer for him.

Everything Else

Last night’s frustrating loss whipped up a little more vitriol and angst than previous losses have. Perhaps it was the manner, as the Hawks did play well, couldn’t finish, and were on the donkey end of a couple calls (one not egregious, one that really defies belief). Still, the Hawks only scored one goal that mattered, really none at even-strength, and you’re going to get what you get when you do that. Which is not much and basically a handful of yourself.

And while it hurts to say, given the results everywhere else it’s left the playoff hopes in tatters, and now the Hawks are going to need something bordering on miraculous to even get back into the discussion. Which means the knives are coming out, and that means people want guillotine fodder.

It’s understandable. While I don’t think anyone expected this team to repeat last year’s regular season, this has been a disappointment. The injury to Crawford has been more crucial than anyone wants to admit, because no one wants to admit their team hinges so heavily on a goalie. But the Hawks are hardly alone in this. If Pekka Rinne weren’t having a renaissance season at 35 the Preds would be way off where they are, because they really haven’t been a good defensive team yet this year. The Jets and Hellebuyck. Vegas and their rotating cast of clowns. When the Kings were riding high it was because Quick was throwing a .940 at the league. Even Tampa, the best team in the league, has Vasilevskiy as a Vezina leader. Rask has lifted Boston. This is just how the league works now.

But that’s not enough for a lot, and I don’t know that they’re wrong. People want the house cleaned, and that’s both GM and coach.

Our feelings on the coach are well-known at this point, so let’s save that for a bit later. When it comes to any possible firing of Stan Bowman, one has to ask what the expectations for him and the team really were, not what they said they were, and what mistakes you’re firing him for.

If Stan is truly, and being allowed, to try and engineer a rebuild on the fly and the results this year aren’t quite as important as next season’s or the one after that, you’d have to say his results at worst are just on the positive side. Nick Schmaltz has proven to be a bonafide #2 center in this league. Alex DeBrincat looks to be a future top line sniper, with a dash of vision thrown in. The Connor Murphy trade was a good one, whatever his coach or blinded local media seem to think. Vinnie Hinostroza and David Kampf look like they can be bottom-six contributors on a good team.

Yes, Brandon Saad has disappointed. Maybe that could have been scouted out in Columbus, because he did do this at times there, too. But the thought was that being back in Chicago and on the top line would reinvigorate him. Stan was hardly the only one who thought that. Other than Kane, the other veterans have not performed up to their usual standards. But what was the alternative there? They’re going to be here until they retire.

Ah, this is where the discussion begins. Brent Seabrook’s contract. Ok, let’s have it. Let’s go back in time. Even if I were to grant you that Seabrook’s extension was all Stan’s decision, and I won’t, remember when this contract was signed. Three months after a third parade. It would have taken quite the tires for any GM to let Seabrook go into the last year of his deal, after he was a major, major cog in a third triumph (and you forget how good he was that spring) and then simply let him walk. Or better yet, trade him right after the confetti had fallen to the Soldier Field ground or during the season. I can’t think of a precedent for it. Yes, you might point to the purge after the first Cup, but there was no alternative there. And all of Ladd, Byfuglien, Sopel, Versteeg, even Niemi, were more contributors than cornerstones. Seabrook was a cornerstone. Yes, the Penguins let Trevor Daley walk after two Cups. Trevor Daley also sucks and always has. You’ll notice they probably overpaid for Justin Schultz. They’ve hinted at trading Kris Letang, which would be a comp, except he’s been fragile his whole career and wasn’t even part of last year’s run. Seabrook was neither of those two things at the time.

Yes, perhaps Stan could have played more hardball (again, if this was up to him). Maybe he could have gotten less years on it, but that probably only raises the AAV. And quite simply, hardball negotiations are not something the Hawks do. They’re terrified of it. That’s why they traded Saad the first time instead of waiting him out and imagining an incoming offer sheet that simply was never going to happen. It’s why they’ve twice handed Toews and Kane extensions well before their deals were up that were probably higher than they had to be. It’s why Crow got his deal, though man does that look like a bargain now. They just don’t do it. Their first priority, it seems, is to be seen as THE player-friendly organization.

Stan’s biggest mistakes were losing Teuvo, Johns, and Danault for essentially nothing (though the latter was in a go-for-it trade that simply didn’t work). Even if we accept they had to go, you can’t lose young players like that for nothing in return. And that’s the ground that Stan is trying to make up. I would argue that he had to lose those players to pay other ones to please coach and president, but I won’t be able to prove that until someone writes the tell-all book in about 10 years.

Another thing Stan is working against this campaign is that due to the NHL’s incomprehensibly stupid cap-recapture penalties, he wasn’t really allowed to do anything with Hossa’s money. The Hawks chose not to use the LTIR money in the summer so they could have flexibility during the season, and that’s understandable. What’s not is that they had to make that decision at all. Hossa’s contract was not against the rules when signed, so why should any team be punished for that after the fact? The blame could go to the players’ union as well here, who simply lied down and accepted this ridiculous rule without any fight.

If Hossa could have simply retired and freed up the money, which he should have been able to do, it’s not like the last free agent class was staggering but there were players who could have helped, whatever the aims of this season. Bonino? Shattenkirk (was only going to the Rangers but you get it)? Radulov? Hainsey? Kulikov? Varying degrees here, but clearly some if not all would have helped. The Hawks couldn’t do any of it because of cap-recapture. That seems like a pretty big obstacle.

If you’re firing Stan, it’s for either not starting this rebuild-on-the-fly in the immediate aftermath of a Cup, which seems just about impossible. Or you’re firing him because you don’t like where this is going, and as stated above that’s not correct. Or you’re firing him because players got old.

I’m not saying this roster turnover is going to work next year or the one after, and then it won’t matter anyway, I don’t think. But if indeed that’s what’s going on here, Stan should get to see it to its completion. And if that falls short, then I give you permission to fire him.

Everything Else

With the Hawks having collected only two of the last eight points on offer, everyone is calling for Battle Stations. It’s understandable. Patience is hard to find when you’re watching the amount of teams wedge themselves between the Hawks and the last playoff spots. It’s doubly hard when you know how hard it is to climb up the standings, especially with so many teams centering themselves in the muck.

Most eyes are focused on what was the Hawks top line, though that may have changed with a simply bonkers rearranging at practice today (we’ll get to that tomorrow). Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, and Richard Panik all have their goal-droughts or dry streaks, whatever you want to call them. We’ve gone over Saad’s “struggles” recently, so it’s time to look at Captain Marvel a little deeper.

And here’s the thing… Jonathan Toews is having a pretty good season.

I know how that sounds. Seven goals and 18 points over 27 games isn’t what you pictured. It projects out to 21 goals and 54 points, which is a touch short of what Toews has usually put up. Toews’s usual numbers are in the high-20s for goals and mid-60s for points, aside from last year. We almost have to throw out the season-in-a-can of 2013, as it’s the only season where Toews was a point-per-game and was projecting to have a 35-40 goals season over 82. It’s kind of an aberration.

If we flip up the hood, things are more encouraging than you think. Toews’s overall possession share is the highest it’s been since the last Cup season. And in relative to the team it’s the best since 2014. His xGF% is the best it’s been in four seasons, and relative to his team it’s the best in five seasons. Toews is averaging more attempts at even-strength than he has since that 2013 season. His individual expected goals is higher than the past four seasons, and in line with everything that came before his binging of 2012 and 2013.

Essentially, we’re in the same spot we were with Marian Hossa before last season. If you’ll recall, Hossa had seen his shooting percentage decrease for four straight years before last year, and we all thought that’s what we had to expect. And then last year he spasmed a 15% season and 26 goals in 73 games. It can come from nowhere.

Toews has a career-low shooting percentage at evens of 7.8%. That’s down from 8.3 last year, 8.5 the year before that, and 14.2 the year before that which is where Toews lived for most of his career. Now, this is where we could speculate he doesn’t quite have the fastball he used to, or his release isn’t quite what it was. Or maybe he’s not as accurate as he once was, but we can’t really measure that. By all the things we can measure, he’s actually getting better chances than he has in a couple years. Basically, everything is where it should be.

Toews hasn’t benefitted from the power play being a clusterfuck. He’s got one on the man-advantage this year, and he usually racks up six or seven per season. Would everyone feel a little better if Toews had 10 goals overall now and projecting for closer to 30? That would happen if he were getting his normal PP goals. Meanwhile, Toews has been doing this against some of the toughest competition he’s seen in his career.

I know this won’t make anyone feel better. Toews, Saad, and Panik aren’t scoring enough. And the explanation, “They’re just getting shitty luck,” isn’t satisfactory because you can’t really do anything about that until it simply corrects itself. And sometimes it doesn’t. But Toews is in the right end of the ice. He’s in the right spots to score. He’s getting the right number of chances. They’re just not going in.

It’s not much solace, but it’s all we’ve got. And playing him with Ryan Hartman and John Hayeden isn’t going to do much.

Everything Else

I don’t really know how to start this player preview, so I would like to take a moment to commend Captain Woke on his rather thoughtful comments about the anthem protest controversies of late. As a white hockey player, it would’ve been pretty easy for him to him and haw his way through any questions about, spewing a bunch of cliche’s but not really saying anything. Instead he did a good job of putting the whole thing in perspective and putting the focus of his comments on emphasizing the need to bring the conversation back to where it should’ve been the whole damn time. So good job, Jonny. Let’s talk about your hockeying now.

2016-17 Stats

72 GP – 21 G – 37 A

52.4 CF% – 55.4 oZS% – 44.6 dZS%

20:09 Avg. TOI

A Look Back: Much of last year’s noise about our fearless leader revolved around his apparently controversial selections to a few teams/lists that some of Hockey Twitter’s favorite fun haters didn’t think he deserved. He was named to Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey, and some dude who doesn’t understand anatomy said he didn’t deserve it. Then he was named to the NHL Top 100 list, which was entirely meaningless but of course that means Hockey Twitter took it entirely too seriously. They were mad that he made it over the likes of Evegeni Malkin, which isn’t necessarily a bad argument, but that still didn’t make it any less meaningless. Everyone was mad about these selections because they wanted to act like Toews sucks, meanwhile the man himself was quietly putting up yet another strong season while playing with a man who’s skin was literally melting off of him and a few guys that had never played top-six minutes in his life. Ho-Hum.

Toews was with Richard Panik nearly the whole season, Marian Hossa for most of it, and Nick Schmaltz for a good bit of the last half of the year. He spent a decent amount of time with John Hayden when he got signed late in the season, as well. Overall, his quality of linemates was pretty low, which really only makes his 58 points and rather strong possession stats all the more impressive. Because he missed 10 games, he was really on a 66 point pace, which is hardly elite but is no doubt top-line caliber. His 58 points also tied for 46th overall in the NHL, which is nothing to scoff at either.

And if you’ll put up with a bit of soap-boxing, the Toews hate from last year hardly made much sense to me. Toews became considered one of the league’s best players because he was the captain of and top center for three Cup winning teams. He might have reached a bit of an overrated status, but he basically earned the status. He’s only had one year where he didn’t pace out to at least 60 points, and is a damn near point per game player for his career, with a .86 PPG career rate. He’s also one of the best two-way players in the game, with a very strong defensive game. He’s basically been the same player for most of his career, and really had hardly declined recently as much as many would like you to believe. In reality, the league has seen such an influx of good young players that Toews just became another one of the league’s great-but-not-elite centers. He is good and not bad. Thanks.

A Look Ahead: Toews is going to get reunited with his old running mate Brandon Saad, which is perfect because Saad was, is, and forever will be just about the perfect linemate for Captain Environmentalist. Getting these two back together is basically the ideal scenario for the Blackhawks, and would be even if Marian Hossa hadn’t been eaten alive by his own skin. Even though Toews hasn’t quite fallen off the beaten path yet, he’s approaching 30 and is probably going to start the actual declining process within the next 3-4 years. Luckily, 4 years is exactly how long Saad is signed for, and having him around will help mitigate whatever decline Toews experiences. These two are probably going to be close to inseparable this season.

The other wing could be filled by any number of players. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Richard Panik spend a good amount of time with the two of them, especially given Panik’s success with Toews last year. Patrick Sharp is another option, but that is definitely not ideal. DeBrincat would fit in well with them, though I’d still prefer he ends up with opposite Kane most of the time. Schmaltz could get another look there, but that should only happen if he can’t hang in the middle. It’s basically going to be yet another carousel, which is something we’ve become used to around these part. In terms of production, I think Toews could be a solid bet for another 60+point season if he ends up playing 75+ games.

Please don’t tell Hockey Twitter that I said nice things about Jonathan Toews. I would hate for them to have more things to be mad about.

Stats via Hockey Reference, HockeyViz, and NHL.com.

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2016–17 Stats

82 GP – 24 G, 29 A, 53 P

54.8 CF%, 57.8 oZS%, 42.2 dZS%

ATOI: 17:02

A Look Back: Like the first open-mouth kiss with a longtime crush, the return of Brandon Saad should be crackling every synapse in every brain of every Blackhawks fan. There simply aren’t many players like Saad in the NHL, let alone on the Blackhawks. Size in the NHL is often akin to truck nuts on a secondhand Subaru, but not with Saad, who backs up his 6’1”, 206, frame with speedy and graceful skating reminiscent of a hockey-hardened Baryshnikov.

Aside from the 2 games he played as a 19-year-old in 2011–12, Saad has never had a negative CF% Rel. Even John Tortorella, a man who undoubtedly and enthusiastically tugs at his scrotum when asked, “What’s the most important trait in a good hockey player,” couldn’t screw up Saad’s usage, try as he may. His career CF% is a throbbing 54.5, a number that hardly swooned while he played for the historically puck-allergic Blue Jackets. Last year with Columbus saw his CF% Rel at a robust 6.4, and at no point did his CF% dip below 50 in Columbus.

In his tryst with America’s astronaut factory, Saad put up consecutive 53-point seasons, peppering his stat line with his first 30-goal season in 15–16. Over the past 3 years, he’s put up seasons of 52, 53, and 53 points; and CF%s of 54, 50.4, and 54.8. He’s scored at least 20 goals each of his past 3 seasons and has missed only 10 regular-season games throughout his entire career.

On top of all the fancy numbers, Brandon Saad is the definition of the power game schmucks like me want to see in the NHL. Saad is power with a purpose, not a wild-eyed underbite. When there’s a puck buried in the corner, Saad can dig it out. When there’s a penalty to kill, Saad is no more out of place there than he is on the power play. He embodies all of the elements the PASS SKATE SHOOT HIT HIM crowds drool over without sacrificing production in advanced stat categories.

In short, Brandon Saad FUCKS.

Before we dive into the logistics of using Saad, a word on how we got him back. I won’t begrudge anyone upset over losing Panarin, who was one of the most exciting players to watch on the ice. But on the whole, Saad is so much more valuable than Panarin, it’s a bit puzzling why there was any vitriol over the trade, let alone the wailing and gnashing of teeth social media is so apt at providing. Coming into this year, the Hawks have a lot of soft spots surrounding the corps of their defensive apple, a captain who looked to be running on fumes at times last year, and a Panarin prototype in Alex DeBrincat. What they didn’t have is a back-checking, defensively responsible power forward who can be slotted anywhere on the ice and excel, after losing Hossa to a debilitating disease. Preventing goals is just as important as scoring them, and Saad can do both, whereas Panarin could do just one.

A Look Ahead: It’s no secret that Saad will slot with Toews and Wiener Anxiety. What that line is going to be expected to do is the interesting part.

If the whispers about a DeBrincat–Schmaltz–Kane line turn into shouts, you’d have to expect to see Saad–Toews–Panik taking on more defensive responsibilities than usual. This would affect where we end up going in terms of defensive pairings, since I can’t imagine putting anyone other than Keith–Murphy behind a DeBrincat–Schmaltz–Kane line.

Having a powerhouse like Saad could serve as a boon for Toews, who will benefit from Saad’s work below the goal line, and Panik, who figures to double as a Byfuglien-esque screener/space clearer and good-not-great defensive RW: Did you know that Panik spent exactly 50% of his time in his own zone last year, or that in his career, he has a 50.8 dZS% and a 49.1 CF%?

But perhaps more importantly, adding the defensively adept Saad to this line could give Q and Ulf Samuelsson’s hairpiece more cushion to experiment with Kempný- and Forsling-led pairings, letting them backstop a defensively responsible line with less pressure to cover for the kinds of mistakes that an eminently dynamic but defensively weak DSK line would be more likely to make.

Though my favorite part about bringing Saad back is that he brings a defensive prowess that we haven’t had since the last time he was here playing with Hossa, it’d be irresponsible to ignore his potential as a scorer. There’s two ways to look at Saad’s offense:

1. It’s consistent but topped out. Check out his point totals in each full year he played:

Year

Games Played

Goals

Assists

Points

Points Per Game*

12–13 (CHI)

46

10

17

27

0.58

13–14 (CHI)

78

19

28

47

0.60

14–15 (CHI)

82

23

29

52

0.63

15–16 (CBJ)

78

31

22

53

0.67

16–17 (CBJ)

82

24

29

53

0.64

* All numbers rounded down

Saad will be 25 in a month. That means if he’s not in his prime, he’s coming up on it. He has one 30-goal season to his credit thus far. While the PPG consistency is good, especially considering how well he does everything else, there is reason to believe that the 50–60 point range is what you’ll get with Saad.

2. Saad’s relative stagnation was a result of playing in Columbus. When asked whether he saw himself as a 30- or 40-goal scorer, Saad responded with a resounding “Yes.” Saad played most of his time in Columbus with Nick Foligno and Alex Wennberg. While the jury may be out on whether Panik is better than Foligno (he’s probably not), Toews is surely better than Wennberg. The idea is that playing with Toews again will continue to boost Saad’s point totals, which were on the uptick each year until he went to Columbus. It’s important to note that in 2015–16, Saad had a shooting percentage (S%) of 13.3, much higher than his career 11.8 S%, which helps explain the irony of him scoring his highest goal total after leaving Toews’s side. But if he and Panik can take some of the pressure off of Toews to retrieve and control the puck, it’s possible that Toews can come out of his slog and create more scoring chances for Saad.

I tend to think that Saad’s more in the consistent but topped out offensive camp. While I can see a 30-30-60 year from him, expecting 70–80 points might be asking a bit much, especially if we do get a DeBrincat–Schmaltz–Kane line, since Saad–Toews–Panik will have to eat up much more time against opponents’ top lines. Still, a defensively talented power forward with strong speed and vision who can also score 55 points is increasingly rare.

In short, Saad is God, Jr. He’s more useful than Panarin. Having him out with Toews could bring about a renaissance for The Captain. His presence should take some of the pressure off of the younger D-men like Kempný and Forsling if/when their pairings back Saad’s line up. His all-around game is a welcome aspect for a team that lost one of the greatest back-checkers of all time, and should help re-establish the Hawks as a strong possession team.

Welcome back, old friend.

Photo Credit Toronto Star

Stats retrieved from hockey-reference.com

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