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.

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Anton Forsberg

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Michal Kempný

Brent Seabrook

Gustav Forsling

The 6th D-Man

Artem Anisimov 

Lance Bouma

Laurent Dauphin

Alex DeBrincat

Ryan Hartman

John Hayden

Vinnie Hinostroza

Tanner Kero

Patrick Kane

Richard Panik

Brandon Saad

Nick Schmaltz

Patrick Sharp

Everything Else

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2JUD9Vj7u4

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

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Anton Forsberg

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Michal Kempný

Brent Seabrook

Gustav Forsling

The 6th D-Man

Artem Anisimov 

Lance Bouma

Laurent Dauphin

Alex DeBrincat

Ryan Hartman

John Hayden

Vinnie Hinostroza

Tanner Kero

Patrick Kane

Richard Panik

 

Everything Else

It’s often hilarious to remember that the Blackhawks got Richard Panik from the Maple Leafs for alleged professional hockey player Jeremy Morin. Poor Mr. Morin has found himself traded aproximately 200 times in his career and has never stuck at the NHL level. I don’t even know if he still plays for any organization in North America, and I truly don’t care to Google it and find out. Richard Panik is still here and could be important for the Blackhawks this season. He’s certainly important for those jokes about that one band.

2016-17 Stats

82 GP – 22 G – 22 A

49.6 CF% – 50.0 oZS% – 50.0 dZS%

14:44 Avg. TOI

A Look Back: Panik had a rather productive season last year, and in terms of what was expected from him he just about blew up. His 44 points were far and away a career high, and a cool 35 of those came at evens. He benefited greatly from playing with Toews and/or Hossa for most of the season, but in many ways also helped to redeem the season for those two as well. It’s not often that a forward of Panik’s ilk makes such a big leap forward in his age 25 season, especially after basically putrid production numbers in the past, but you’ll find no complaints around these parts about him being able to do so. His possession numbers weren’t exactly encouraging, but with a dead even split in zone starts, and the competition he faced alongside Toews, he wasn’t going to light up the Corsi Files anyway.

The most encouraging thing about Panik’s season is that it is extremely easy to find how and why he was able to jump up in production so easily. The cynic’s brain would likely seek to attribute it to an unsustainable spike in shooting percentage, as he registered a 14.2% conversion rate, but that was actually down last year from a 15.4% mark in 15-16, and was below his career mark of 14.4% as well. I was actually not that shocked upon seeing those numbers, because Panik does have a good wrist shot, with a quick release and damn near devastating speed on it.

Shooting was the reason for his uptick in production though, as Panik put 155 shots on goal last year. That’s 1.89 shots per game, well up from his 1.3 shots per game in 15-16 and career mark of 1.19 per game heading into last season. Shooting more often is pretty much going to increase just about anyone’s production, but when you’re a career 14% shooter, not shooting whenever you get the chance is damn near a crime.

A Look Ahead: My assumption is that Panik will stay with Toews on the top line this season but flip to the right side while Saad flanks the left. Given that Saad and Panik both play Hossa-type games, and Saad is better than Hossa was anyway (I am aware of the punishment for blasphemy, thank you), it wouldn’t be surprising to see those three gel together nicely atop the lineup. I don’t expect Hossa-like results from Panik, but he can at least embrace a bit more of a Hossa-esque role by getting into the corners and filling up the slot, allowing Saad and Toews to be themselves.

What I do want to see out Panik is even more shooting. Seriously, if you’re a 14% shooter, just find open ice and scream for the puck. I don’t want it to get to Sharp/Panarin levels of standing around and waiting for one timers, but Saad and Toews are both creative enough playmakers to get Panik in good situations to shoot frequently. If he can get two shots on goal per game, I wouldn’t be surprised if he put up 25 goals and 50 points this year. And assuming he spends more of the season on the top line and sees an increase in time on ice, he will probably have the chances to do just that.

Now, if he doesn’t end up producing very well, that wouldn’t make him invaluable to this team. He can still fit in nicely as a quasi-scorer on a two-way third line, possibly next to Anisimov. That wouldn’t be the worst outcome either. For $2.8mildo, if he can even put 15 goals on the board, it’ll be money well spent.

Statistics via Hockey Reference.

Previous Player Previews

Corey Crawford

Anton Forsberg

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Michal Kempny

Brent Seabrook

Gustav Forsling

The 6th D-Man

Artem Anisimov

Lance Bouma

Laurent Dauphin

Alex DeBrincat

Ryan Hartman

John Hayden

Vinnie Hinostroza

Tanner Kero

Patrick Kane

Everything Else

Leave it to Toronto. The Maple Leafs have been the hairy asshole of the NHL for the better part of a century now, yet they continue to claim themselves as some kind of important, historic NHL organization. The media that covers the team has ruined hockey coverage. Their fans ruined hockey Twitter. And now, after years of exploiting the ever-living shit of the LTIR cap exception, the team may have just managed to screw things up for the whole league in that regard.

The Leafs are hardly the only team to have circumvented the salary cap with the LTIR exception, but they’re without a doubt the worst offender. Because Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment essentially prints Loonies (which is probably a down market at this point in and of itself), they’ve been unafraid to write checks to players that they have no intent on playing. Hell, they traded for Nathan Horton for the sole purpose of getting LTIR relief, and more recently have been keeping an apparently entirely healthy Joffrey Lupul off the ice for the cap relief and to make room for the New Kids From The Block cover band that makes up their forward group.

Everything Else

-There seemed to have been a bit of furor–in that whenever anything happens in July you have to make something out of it to pretend anything is happening at all–that at the convention Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov expressed disappointment that Artemi Panarin had been traded for Brandon Saad.

It’s clearly obvious why Kane would be. His numbers are going to suffer. And that doesn’t make Kane out to be selfish or uncaring about the team. Most if not all hockey players are acutely aware of their stats, just as any athlete is any other sport is as well. Believe me, Jimmy Butler knows exactly what his points and assists are per game and Kris Bryant knows what he’s hitting. It’s part of the job.

Everything Else

Couple nuggets the past couple days that pretty much lead one to believe this is your Hawks team taking the ice in October, if you didn’t already believe that. We have this from friend of the program Scott Powers that the Hawks aren’t going to LTIR Hossa until the season begins. And then there was Mirtle’s piece yesterday in Toronto’s Athletic about how the Leafs are using summer LTIR. If you’re getting confused, you’re not alone.

Ever since the announcement that Hossa wouldn’t play this season, Stan Bowman has been strongly hinting he didn’t want to use LTIR until the season began, essentially being cap compliant with Hossa’s contract on the books when the puck drops, because he wanted “flexibility” during the season. And that’s reasonable enough. Except it doesn’t appear to be that simple.

Everything Else

Few things to clean up today:

-Stan and Q had their press conference today to discuss Marian Hossa and the draft. Q had the look of a man who just saw his one top six winger who can backcheck effectively ripped away from him, because he is. There’s not much Q can do at the moment, as we get the feeling he’s going to be less involved on free agency and trades and personnel decisions than he’s been.

So it came to Stan, who had to wax poetic about how complicated it’s going to be using Hossa’s cap space in LTIR. And he’s right, it isn’t as simple as most believe.

Everything Else

Ok, I know. I shouldn’t joke about this. It really isn’t funny, and I’m sure if I were going through it I would probably gut anyone making a joke about my skin literally peeling off.

So there’s a couple things this post is not going to be. One, I’m not going to try and convince any Hawks fan who thinks this is totally on the up and up that it isn’t. Nor am I going to try to convince anyone outside our bubble that is convinced this is fishy that it isn’t. I think if you want to Occam’s Razor this, it’s probably something of both. Hossa has been dealing with this for a few years, and now that the medication is A) less effective and B) possibly poisoning him to the point they have to blood test him regularly (think Iron Man 2, though we all know that Hossa is more a Steve Rodgers, organic lab experiment type thing instead of a machine but stick with me here). And now that his salary is dropping to $1M, and he’s won just about everything there is to win, and his Hall case is pretty secure, maybe he figures it’s not as worth it to torture himself and put his health at risk for it anymore.

It’s easy to sit here and say we’d do anything for a million dollars, but why is it Kevin Durant can eschew millions more to keep the Warriors together and everyone pretty much shrugs and agrees that a few million more won’t make any difference to him, but everyone outside of Chicago is crying foul on Hossa when his actual health is at risk here? Strange, no?

Everything Else

We’ve had some fun here the past couple months, leaving the Hawks in the background for the most part while they study and fidget about what to do to reclaim what they once felt was theirs. Obviously there’s not much you can do once your punted from the playoffs except have a press conference where you express just how angry you are and promise changes. Then you go back into the offices and realize you’re pretty much boned but thank your lucky stars you didn’t say that in public.

So we don’t have much to work with yet, and the answers probably don’t start really arriving until next week when the expansion draft, which for some inane reason is woven into the NHL Awards, takes place. But that won’t stop us from guessing!

Everything Else

It will be the longest summer for the Hawks since 2008. Even when they bit it in the first round in ’11, ’12, and last year, they at least made it to the last week of April. They barely cleared Tax Day this time.

So there’s going to be plenty of time for the Hawks to diagnose their issues and then prescribe what they want to do about it. Fifth Feather was correct last night, in that you can’t make rash decisions on a small set of games. Let’s go back to 2012. You actually forget how good that team was in the regular season, the second half without Toews. They finished with 101 points, and after that nine-game losing streak that nearly killed us all, they actually went 16-5-4 with Patrick Kane as the #1 center.

But they got goalie’d by Mike Smith, Toews wasn’t in any condition to be playing, and Crawford threw up all over himself. You’ll recall after that series there were plenty of calls for heads to roll, trade Kane for Ryan Miller, and how the 2010 Cup was a total fluke. You’ll also recall that this is when the rumors of Q and Stan Bowman not working well together and Q batting his eyes to Marc Bergevin in Montreal started to swirl. This supposedly caused McDonough to sort it all out, which led to Mike Haviland being turfed as an assistant and the hiring of Jamie Kompon, whatever that did for you.