Hockey

As the wheels continue to fall off for the Hawks and the trade deadline looms ever closer, we’re left to consider what, exactly, any of us are doing here. It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt this level of hopelessness in conjunction with this team. The front office is a tire fire, and the shine has worn off the Nü Coach with the team struggling to score night in and night out. The deadline deals might bring some of the interest back, until you realize that any pieces that the Hawks get in return are more likely than not going to be years away from being anything.

This is truly the doldrums of Hawks Fandom, and it’s very reminiscent of the period of time after the White Sox had ripped the band aid off and sent Chris Sale and everyone else worth anything (also Adam Eaton) to the East Coast. The initial excitement of all the shiny new prospects wore off and you were left with the realization that the next few years were just gonna suck ass. In this instance, however, the Hawks don’t have a Chris Sale on their team to flip so the excitement level about the return will be tempered considerably.

Anyways, here’s whos on tap for the weekend:

 

2/25 vs. New Jersey

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Kevin Smith Says Hi: All About The Jersey 

 

Oh, shit! A team that’s lower on the ladder than the Hawks.

Much like the residents at 1901 West Madison, the New Jersey Devils are looking towards the horizon and the future that it brings. More specifically, what type of return the Devils could conceivably get at the trade deadline for some of their available players. Unlike the Hawks, however, the Devils have a solid young core of players that are a year away (perhaps two) from making some serious noise in the East. Jack Hughes is obviously the prize horse of that group, but the rest aren’t anything to sneeze at either. 2017 #1 overall pick Nico Hischier has made serious strides this season in his game defensively to go along with his offensive talent (on pace to top his previous point total by 20+). The Devils might also have something in Jesper Bratt. The Swede has turned up his offensive game this year, already surpassing his previous career high in points by 11. Some of this is due to his increased presence on the power play, but his even strength game has matched his progress with his average CORSI up to 55% from 42% last season.

On the defensive end, PK Subban and freshly minted #1 d-man Dougie Hamilton hold down the fort. Offensively Subban is having somewhat of a down year (which isn’t helping his trade value), but he’s still able to push the play from his own end. Hamilton has been as advertised, chipping in 20 points on offense and still being able to play strong from the blue line. Behind them things get pretty dicey, as the goaltending for the Devils is some of the worst in the league. Jonathan Bernier signed a 2 year deal to be the bridge goalie for NJ until the netminder of the future arrived, but he went on IR back in December with what can only be termed “Shit Hip.” A month later, his season was over as he went under the knife. His replacements have garnered a sub .900 save percentage and a 3+ GAA in his absence, and there’s not much PK Subban or Dougie Hamilton can do about that. If the Hawks can up their shot total from 7 per period to double digits, they stand a decent chance of potting at least 3 in this one.

 

2/27 vs. Blues (AGAIN)

Gametime: 2:00 PM CST

TV / Radio –  HULU, NBCSN, WGN-AM 720

Wretched Hive Of Scum And VillainySTL Gametime

Look, other than the start time and the fact that the game is in Chicago this time absolutely nothing has changed since the last time these two teams met. Well, I guess the gap inbetween the two teams point totals has expanded, but other than that it’s the same ole shit. Two weeks ago the Blues completely waxed a Hawks team that was right on the precipice of the cliff that they now find themselves at the bottom of. The Blues are still a much better team offensively, defensively and behind the bench. The only wild card is Marc-Andre Fleury, who is still singlehandedly capable of stealing games. Which is essentially what the Hawks need here to escape Sunday with any points, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.

 

Hockey

Once again, this publication was right in our analysis.

The Blackhawks played like dogshit to start this season off, and if it were up to any of us the coach would’ve been fired two days ago. Perhaps you were at least trying to hope that the Hawks would be somewhat watchable coming out of the gate this year, and with the players they added that’s not a lot to ask for. And yet here we are with some really ugly losses to start this season off. For those who channeled their inner Tony Montana and said to hell with this team before the season even started…good move on your part.

October 13, 2021
Hawks 2, Avalanche 4
Box | Natural Stat Trick

Once the puck finally dropped fifteen minutes after the game’s scheduled start time, things went just about as expected for the men of four feathers. By all logic this team should be much better than last year’s since we acquired two players in blockbuster trades and theoretically strengthened the defense. But no, instead we watched the Hawks defense be non-existent, with giveaways and a failing System everywhere you looked. Jake McCabe tripped over Tyler Johnson to lead to an Avalanche giveaway that scored the first goal. Minutes later, Seth Jones gave the puck away to Bowen Byram which led directly to a softie goal by Marc-Andre Fleury that can also be partially blamed on Calvin de Haan for screening his own goaltender. Fleury very noticeably got angrier and angrier with every dipshit goal scored against him, and Jones posted a -2 and had some horrifically defensive plays all throughout this game, in case you were wondering—one of which happened just a few minutes after the second goal when Gabriel Landeskog stole the puck from DeBrincat and set up Byram for his first NHL tally.

The Hawks were able to score two goals in this one despite getting completely clocked in possession for the entirety of the first period. And the only reason why the Hawks had 50+ CF% in the second and third periods was thanks to the Avalanche very obviously taking their foot off the gas once they secured their Most Dangerous Lead. Kirby Dach had a few really good chances he couldn’t finish, which he should definitely straighten out, and then he got plastered by Landeskog in the 3rd period in an illegal hit that probably should’ve seen a longer suspension. Don’t be fooled by the score, however, because this team looked horrendous and could barely get out of their zone—a trend that will continue, as you see below. Oh, and did we mention Nathan MacKinnon wasn’t even playing?

October 15, 2021
Hawks 3, Devils 4 (OT)
Box | Natural Stat Trick

Kevin Lankinen started this one, and unlike Fleury he’s seen this shit before and isn’t in for a culture shock regarding how terrible The System is around here. And as usual, the defense ended up hanging him out to dry on a myriad of goals. The Hawks were almost immediately trailing in this one thanks to Jake McCabe getting outmuscled by multiple Devils, which was…special to watch. But a sweet pass from Kane to the Cat was able to tie things up on a powerplay opportunity (the only way this God-forsaken team can score goals under this coaching staff).

Jack Hughes spin-o-rama’d a goal and then Kevin Lankinen let in a tough one midway through the third to make things an even more uphill battle for the Hawks. Somehow we were able to score two with four minutes left in the game, thanks of course to a Blackhawk powerplay and a Hawks empty net that put an extra man on the ice. (See the scoring pattern?) The good news is that Seth Jones wasn’t as atrocious for this game, helping to keep the puck in on the tying goal and keep the play alive. However, it was Jack Hughes with a highlight-reel overtime goal reminiscent of the younger, not-injured Kane of yore that ended this game with another Blackhawk loss.

October 16, 2021
Hawks 2, Penguins 5
Box | Natural Stat Trick

This is genuinely the most embarrassing game of Blackhawks hockey I’ve had the mispleasure to watch in a very long time. (Ever?) Poor Fleury, in his return to Pittsburgh that should’ve been a good experience for him, ended his start so quickly, horrifically and embarrassingly that I just had to turn this game off for a while. The Hawks, who ONCE AGAIN should’ve lucked out with their opponent’s best players in Crosby and Malkin out this game, still let this Penguins team skate circles around them. For the second game in a row the Hawks allowed a goal just seconds in, on the opponent’s first shot of the game, a goal Fleury likely should’ve had. The second goal was a second Fleury fuck-up, as he traveled to get a loose puck behind his net and wasn’t able to get a handle on it quickly enough, letting Drew O’Connor stick it right in an open net. A third goal from the same fucking bottom-six line continued to crush Fleury’s confidence, and less than a minute later the defensive System left him out to dry with one more goal against to send Fleury packing.

Fleury was yanked to a chorus of boos, both because Fleury is a Penguin GOAT and also because it must be so much fun to pillage a team like this and get four goals in the first twelve minutes of a game. Without Crosby and Malkin. A (powerplay) Kane one-timer and a pretty nifty Dach goal in the 3rd accounted for the two Hawks goals, in case it matters to you at all. Lankinen allowed one more Penguin goal because he couldn’t control a rebound that ended up going off Murphy’s skate and in the net, a perfect summation of how well The System is working so far.

Finally, Kane’s secret injury seems more than just a “nagging” one to me. Why didn’t they figure that out in the offseason? Even a surgery that puts him out the first part of the season would be preferable to what I’m seeing now. And yet he’s still the points leader on this team by a mile! I need a Tylenol.

The clown show never ends, as the Hawks look to face off against the Islanders, Canucks, and Scum this week. Meanwhile, the front office has announced God-like figure Marian Hossa will return to be honored on November 9th in order to sell as many tickets as they can to this clown show, which the team will probably lose to the Penguins again. (They would honor him more by letting him just stay home in Slovakia, poor guy.) Coach Bargain Bin Rivers Cuomo will be booed to my heart’s content in tomorrow’s opener, and hopefully by the next wrap we have a new coach, even if it’s just Marc Crawford. God save us all.

Hockey

So the Hawks managed to come back and win against a good team the other night, only to turn around and get their asses handed to them by a bad team. Such is life these days with this team. Let’s get through it:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–The first period was the Devils personifying why their state has a reputation for trashiness. They took a grand total of seven penalties in the first, including a nasty boarding on Kirby Dach, Wayne Simmonds slashing Crawford, and that’s just what got called. There was another dangerous hit on Connor Murphy that went apparently unnoticed by the officials. The Hawks should have come out of the first with a commanding lead, but instead they were tied at 1. Why? Mostly because our power play was clown shoes, and the Hawks were just as messy as the Devils were malicious. Dennis Gilbert made a STATEMENT with a useless fight against John Hayden (who would have the last laugh with a goal that made it clear the game was getting out of reach). And of course, the broadcast was ejaculating all over the fight but it did absolutely nothing to help the Hawks win a period they should have owned.

–And Adam Boqvist got hurt, so there’s that. I’m honestly not even sure which play it was but given the Devils’ shittiness physicality it could have been a few different ones. That doesn’t matter at this point; what matters is that our co-top prospect now has a bum shoulder, which is the same issue as Calvin de Haan is dealing with so the timing really couldn’t be worse. Hopefully it’s not that bad, and given Boqvist’s tender age he has a chance at healing quickly, but it’s literally the last thing the Hawks needed to deal with tonight.

–Just when you thought the first period was bad…then the second period happened. The Hawks were just completely outplayed, and yes, by the New Jersey fucking Devils. They gave up 23 shots in the second (not a typo). After leading in possession with a 62 CF% in all situations in the first, the Hawks plummeted to a 37 CF% in the second (using all situations because of the rampant power plays and 4-on-4’s). Oh and they gave up four goals, leading to Crawford getting pulled (when it was 4-1, and Lehner gave up one more for good measure). The numbers will tell you the story, but for those of us watching it in real time it was painfully clear the Devils were in control the whole time. Dumb shit like Alex Nylander making a blind backwards pass that was nearly a goal, Gustafsson nearly giving up an own goal, the defense screening Crawford leaving him helpless—it was a completely lopsided performance.

–And about all those power plays, can we just agree that Erik Gustafsson is terrible as the QB? He really shouldn’t be on the top unit, but now with Boqvist (the natural replacement) injured, the Hawks are truly fucked. Anyway, Gus was either too slow with a shot or making a bad pass or turning it over, as is his way. Never forget—they could have traded him last year.

–Hearing the crowd cheering as Robin Lehner came out to replace Corey Crawford just broke my heart. I don’t even know what else to say. Yes Lehner has been great lately but Crawford kept them in this game as long as was humanly possible. The Severson goal he should have had, I’ll give you that. It was a fairly soft five-hole goal. But that came after a crazy sequence where he made about four highlight-reel saves while the rest of the team stood around holding their dicks looking confused. His own defense screened him on the goal prior to that (I believe it was the one prior, if not, it was the prior prior one). I know Crawford is the least appreciated player by the press and the general hockey world, but it kills me when our own fans don’t know better.

–And besides, Lehner gave up a goal on the first play of the third period, so everyone cheering for him can fuck off. The shorthanded goal he gave up late in the second wasn’t really his fault…this team is really, really bad at defense.

Alright, this one was ugly. It was the counterpoint to what was probably their best game, and definitely their best third period, against Colorado the game before. But inconsistency is par for the course right now, so let’s all take a moment, enjoy Christmas if you celebrate it, and find out which Hawks team is showing up on Friday against the Islanders. Onward and upward…

Line of the night: “Give me a soft serve swirl and you’ve got a happy Irishman.” —Pat Foley, with the best possible phrasing to make birthday treats sound incredibly X-rated.

Beer de jour: Pinball Pale Ale by Two Brothers

 

 

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Devils 11-19-5   Hawks 15-16-6

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

PARTS UNKNOWN ALWAYS MEANS DOWNTOWN NEWARK: In Lou We Trust

The Hawks will head into the Christmas break, with one more home game, and a chance to build something that looks like momentum with a three-game winning streak, against one of the league’s dumpster-dive-discoveries in the New Jersey Devils. You can’t really ask for much more, which is why it probably feels like the Hawks will fuck this one up with the bus already running. Still, even 75% of usual attention should be enough to get past this outfit at home. You’d think, but silly things have happened against New Jersey the past couple seasons.

Since the last time the Hawks saw them, the Devils have lost five of seven and traded Taylor Hall, so they’re even less interesting than they were before. None of the pieces they got for Hall are on display, and none of them are anywhere close to surefire pieces that will contribute down the line. This is why you don’t hold onto to valuable players when you suck and you know that there’s little chance of them re-signing for your sad sack organization. Hall would have gotten them at least one viable piece at the draft, or at least deadline, but here we are. Know what you are, know your role, people.

So the Devils will focus squarely on what it looking like another top five pick in June to add to Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, neither of which have really popped yet. The Devils will wait around to see if they can get more lottery tickets for Wayne Simmonds or Sami Vatanen at the deadline, and maybe see what’s out there for Kyle Palmieri too who has another year left on his deal. This team needs a lot of things, especially on the blue line and in the crease, and they’re going to need a lot of spins to get them through the draft and prospects.

For now, the Devils do their best to keep things tight to keep it in range of their very limited defense. You may remember these two teams playing a Geneva Convention violation a few weeks ago in Newark, because the Devils were determined to gum things up and the Hawks didn’t even have Boqvist or Keith to force their way through any trap. You can bet on the road it’ll be the same again, probably even more conservative. That’s if the Devils can locate a fuck to give in the last game on the road before three days off. One would think that’s hardly a gimme of a bet.

For the Hawks, it’ll be the same again as Saturday, with Corey Crawford replacing Robin Lehner in net. The win over the Avs was probably their best game of the season, and at least something to try and build off of. The spreading out of the scoring with DeBrincat pairing with Dach started to show some life, as it took a few games for those two to figure out things with each other. Hopefully it grows from here.

There will be a new addition, as John Quenneville is the latest to get a look ahead of Dylan Sikura and not Matthew Highmore for some reason. We can’t also discount that the Hawks might think this is somehow a “revenge” game for Quenneville, as this is his former team for which he barely played. We know that’s how they operate at times. Sikura went from getting a look with Toews and Kublaik–and not looking out of place–to this. Life is cruel. Look for Quenneville to operate with Strome and Nylander for a period and a half before Kelvin starts double-shifting Kane anyway.

No matter how boring the Devils try and keep it, the Hawks should get this one. The schedule the next month isn’t particularly daunting, so if the Hawks have a run in them it’ll be here. But that isn’t going to happen without a win over a team simply aching to give you one right now. So do that, and let’s head off into the holiday not bemoaning our lot in life.

Hockey

It seemed just a little too convenient.

Just as it happened in Montreal, things did not go the Predators’ way last year. They were out in the first round, and while they addressed their lack of true, frontline scoring by signing Matt Duchene, they didn’t address the fact that their goalie is 107-years-old. And they put the blame on the most noticeable, marketable, and loudest player in PK Subban. Sure, part of it was earmarking Subban’s cap hit for Duchene, but it was easy enough to claim he was declining to move him out again. Both in hockey and in the South, which just so happens to be the nexus Nashville sits on, the first call is to blame the black guy when things go wrong.

Hasn’t really helped the Predators much. But with Subban piling up only six points so far Nashville’s contention that he was slowing down is accepted by the majority of hockey viewers.

But is he? The answer isn’t quite as clear as most would think. Subban’s metrics are certainly down from his Predator days, but he’s on a much worse team. Subban’s relative Corsi and relative xG% are still ahead of the Devils’ rates. They’re not as high as his first season in Nashville or his last one, when he was supposedly dragging everyone down, but they’re still noticeably higher.

Moreover, Subban of last has been paired with Andy Greene, which is just about as exciting as someone named “Andy Greene” would be in your mind. When playing with Damon Severson earlier in the year, they were dominant possession-wise. This was one of the many things that John Hynes got wrong before getting canned and Alain Nasreddine hasn’t really fixed.

So why the point total plummet? Might have something to do with the Devils shooting 5% when he’s on the ice, the lowest any team Subban has been on has managed. That speaks to the complete lack of scoring talent that the Devils have, even less now with Taylor Hall off in the sun. Subban is still on the ice for just about the same amount of chances as he’s been, according to expected-goals-for per 60, but the Devils just don’t have the snipers to bury any of them.

The Devils power play has really hurt Subban as well, and that’s where his individual numbers have really taken a hit. He’s getting 75% of the shots he used to, as well as expected goals, and way less attempts. But is that him or what the Devils do on the power play? The Preds power play was terrible last year too but Subban still got his looks. Again, the Devils are shooting 3.8% when PK is on the ice ON THE POWER PLAY. That’s criminally, if not war crime bad. How much of that can you really put on Subban?

Meanwhile, in Music City Subban’s replacement Dante Fabbro is comfortably behind the team rates in those measures and has two more points. But he’s doing it a hell of a lot cheaper, and that was the idea the whole time. The Preds remain a decent-to-better metric team, so Subban’s absence hasn’t really cost them much on the ice. Still, it’s clear whatever the problems were also didn’t have much to do with him, given their standing just ahead of the Hawks.

Subban probably can’t completely change a team like he did before, and needs talent around him to really make him flourish. One has to ask if that will ever be in Newark. They’re going to need a lot more than just Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier to be something. Subban has two years left on his deal after this one at $9M per, but it’s going to be more than two years before the Devils are contenders again. If the Devils eat some salary will someone take a chance at the draft?

They probably should, because Subban has more to give yet despite what people say. He just needs a touch more help than he used to. But then, who doesn’t?

Hockey

The New Oilers – When you have Taylor Hall and two #1 overall picks, you’re supposed to be interesting. And yet the Devils aren’t, and now they don’t have Hall anymore and they didn’t get much other than lottery tickets for him. Jack Hughes was one of the more anticipated #1 overall picks in recent memory, and he’s spent most of his season on a fourth line and looking at Wayne Simmonds wondering what this is supposed to be. Their game against the Hawks was perhaps the most unwatchable of the past three Hawks seasons, which is quite the claim indeed. Nico Hischier has yet to do anything in the NHL that anyone remembers. The Devils are headed for another top five pick, and yet we can be sure their soul will die as everything else does in New Jersey. Are we sure we need these guys?

John Hayden – To quote Fifth Feather, it will be 2035 and both Eddie Olczyk and Pat Foley will be saying of John Hayden had just been given a chance, he could have been the power forward the Hawks haven’t really had since Marian Hossa went to the land of wind and ghosts. And he’ll still be a slow nincompoop.

Will Butcher – Just because he’s yet another four-year college free agent who everyone lost their shit over and he’s, at best, fine. You can see Ian Mitchell’s path from here.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 11-12-5    Devils 9-14-4

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

WHAT AM I DOING IN NEW JERSEY: In Lou We Trust

The NHL schedule is a cruel beast. So even after putting forth a pretty good effort against the Bruins who have yet to lose at home in regulation this year, the Hawks do not get to bask or linger as they’re immediately on display in Newark to take on the Devils. And two days later they’ll be back at home to see the Coyotes and play every other day after that. No time for love, Dr. Jones. And in the Devils, they may be getting a glimpse of the future.

The Devils, after being completely embarrassed in Buffalo on Monday and surrendering a touchdown with the PAT, fired their coach John Hynes, even though they had a game the every next day agains Vegas at home. Alain Nasreddine took over the helm, but now he’ll have had a couple practices to make whatever changes he’d like. As he’s always been Hynes’s assistant, no one’s entirely sure what those are.

There is some desire among the red and black faithful to see the Devils play a little faster and a little more aggressive, as they had a tendency to simply sink into their own slot to defend, which didn’t leave them in a position to spring forward with the abundance of speed they do have. Or at least they’ve looked to had when they were scorching the Hawks the past couple seasons. Remember this is the team that put up eight on the Hawks in this fixture last year.

Another complaint is that players haven’t been put in the best spots to succeed. Like the amount of time Travis Zajac has been spending centering Taylor Hall. Or Jack Hughes on the fourth line (funny what’s going on with the top three picks so far). Or that Nico Hischier isn’t higher in the lineup. So these might be changes you see Nasreddine make.

Then again, it’s a mystery what any coach can do when the goaltending has been this bad. The Devils have the third-worst SV% at evens and the second-worst overall. Last year, Cory Schneider looked like he might not be quite dead and might actually have every piece of him attached. Those were quickly proven to be mirages this season, and now he’s off to the land of wind and ghosts and quite possibly never to return. McKenzie Blackwood, while in need of a first name, has flashed in the past being at least a serviceable goaltender. The only thing flashing this year so far is the light behind him. Louis Domingue was brought in to replace Schneider after some decent seasons backing up Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s currently doing a fine impression of Murray Bannerman. When no goalie can even eyeball a .900 SV%, your team is going to blow (unless you’re last year’s Sharks).

In front of that, the Devils had retreated to the more defensive team you remember from decades of nearly killing the sport. They don’t give up a ton in their own end, but their goalies have still found a way to let more than enough of those chances in to kill their season. They sure as hell don’t create much, and Hughes’s and Hischier’s deployment isn’t going to make up for that alone. They just need more.

With their season already being borked, they may get it via firesale. The winds are already blowing on Hall, who is going to be the deadline gem for a host of teams chasing parades. Other candidates to hit the bricks: Travis Zajac, who could be a pretty good checking center for someone. Sami Vatanen could boost just about any power play. Maybe Andy Greene would go to steady a second or third pair, but he’s been the longtime captain and that’s harder to see. If they really get ambitious, Meat Train Simmonds could probably fool someone again into thinking he brings playoff grit, even though he’s  seen the second round exactly once in his career. Kyle Palmieri can provide secondary scoring for a host of teams, but he’s got another year left on his deal as well. How brave does Ray Shero want to get to try and surround Hughes and Hischier with players?

For the Hawks, minimal changes for tonight you would think. Olli Maatta was sick yesterday but might be better enough to go tonight, which would relieve us of the burden of watching Dennis Gilbert doing whatever it is he does. Drake Caggiula was making noise about playing tonight as well, which would probably sit Anton Wedin. Andrew Shaw and Duncan Keith are most certainly not going to play. Corey Crawford will get the start.

As stated above, the Devils have been a handful for the Hawks the past couple seasons. That’s back when they played a little more adventurously, so if they get back to that or not will determine how hard this one gets. The Devils have the capability to turn any turnover up the ice quickly, especially when you’re as plodding as the Hawks’ blue line is without Keith.

Still, the goalies have been so weak and this has to be a fragile team at the moment, even if they’re new-coach inspired. Get some shots on net and see if you can’t get a weak one or two. The Devils head off on a long road trip after this one, so maybe you catch them dreading that. Last night was a good start, but it’s only that if you build on it.

 

Hockey

Well, maybe not century. Then again, it’s hard to think of too many bigger stars that have been or will be traded like Taylor Hall. And he’s already done it once. His teammate PK Subban might be a candidate, at least it was the first time. Though some of that has to do with his personality as well. When Marian Hossa was traded twice that was up there. Joe Thornton maybe? Anyway, Hall is already on the shortlist, and he’s about to be again.

It was awfully ambitious of the Devils to think that Hall was going to want to stay long-term. Sometimes you have to recognize what you are, which is an also-ran team for a good long while now playing in a goddamn swamp. Maybe players like the opportunity to live in New York City or Hoboken or whatever, but the Prudential Center is generally not atop most people’s list. If you’re going to be an also-ran, you might as well be warm.

So while the Devils were able to spasm a playoff berth behind Hall’s Fuck You World Tour of 2018, it should have been sign when he didn’t sign up longer term last year that he was at least going to wait and see on where this team was going. He would have had more value at the draft, and now the Devils are going to have to look to cash in on only about a half-season of Hall to the buyer. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge no matter what it means, especially in a summer when you’re already gotten Jack Hughes and PK Subban to compensate. Maybe the Devils thought they could really run for a playoff spot with that, and perhaps if all their goalies hadn’t turned into mist or gotten hurt or both they might have. But it’s over now.

So what could Hall fetch before the deadline? That’s hard to know, because there aren’t a ton of recent comps. Matt Duchene is close when he was sent from Colorado to Ottawa, which netted the Avs two prospects, Kyle Turris (whom they then flipped for two more prospects and a second rounder), and a first round pick. But Duchene had two years left on his deal, which makes his value far higher. Turris himself was in the last year of his contract, and that might be the better comp. That got the Avs Samuel Girard and Vladislav Kamenev along with a pick.

And Hall is better than Turris. Clearly the Devils are going to have their heights set a little higher than Adam Larsson, which they hilariously sent to Edmonton for Hall in the first place. But Turris, when he was moved to Nashville, immediately signed on and wanted to be there.

Does Hall want to immediately sign an extension where he goes? This is his one chance at free agency in his prime, and he’d have to be considered the biggest fish in the pond. There are going to be some big market teams desperate to turn things around, like say the Montreal Canadiens. Players are more and more reluctant to pass up that chance, because you’d have to imagine it’s a fun process to be that needed.

The Devils need to clean up though, because the picture isn’t quite as rosy as it once was. Hughes, Hischier, and Zacha is a nice start down the middle, but they need a lot of help on the wings going forward. The defense only has Will Butcher as a young up-and-comer, and he’s not even that young after going the route at college. A future first-pairing d-man would have to be the starting point in trade talks, and at least another contributing winger to join the Jesper Party.

Who needs Hall that desperately to fit in his salary and not just wait for the summer shopping? The Sharks seem to be all out as it is. St. Louis could always use additional punch (god help us). The Oilers need anyone who can remain upright behind Draisaitl and McDavid. Might the Panthers be curious now that they’re suddenly in an automatic spot? There shouldn’t be a lack of suitors.

Bob McKenzie’s phone is going to get a workout.

Hockey

Perhaps the biggest movers of the offseason, the Devils put themselves in a position to be paid attention to for basically the first time in their history. Even when they were winning Cups, we all pretended it didn’t happen or went about our day doing something else. Is it enough to make them a playoff team? Probably not. But it’s a world where the Devils are fast and interesting, which is the surest sign we’re all imminently doomed. Let’s hop to it.

2018-2019

31-41-10 72 points (8th in the Metro)

2.67 GF/G (25th)  3.30 GA/G (26th)

46.8 CF% (28th)  48.4 xGF% (19th)

17.7 PP% (21st)  84.3 PK% (4th)

Goalies: It would seem just at the precipice of watching his career dispatched off to the Phantom Zone, Cory Schneider might have played his way back into the starter’s role. He was brilliant after returning from yet another injury in February, where he went for a .921 SV% in 17 games. 17 games doesn’t make for a season, but it sure is a hell of a lot better than the utter disaster he had been for the previous two seasons.

If it’s not him the Devils have been hoping to turn things over to fiendishly named MacKenzie Blackwood, who put up a .918 in his rookie campaign. Not bad for a kid who was 21 when the season started. He’s clearly the goalie of the future, but for now the Devils are probably going to have the two split starts. At least in the season’s first half, until one of them takes it.

Defense: It used to be you couldn’t name any Devils d-man unless you wanted to make it clear to anyone around you had outlived your usefulness to society, if you’d ever had any to begin with. That’s not the case anymore, thanks to the guy attached to Lindsey Vonn. The Devils brought in PK Subban for essentially nothing, and he’ll juice a unit that tried to approach solid but was in desperate need of any dynamism. PK and Sam Vatanen will make for a hell of a power play if nothing else. Andy Greene is somehow still here, because nothing ever dies in New Jersey, it just gets left in a swamp. I’m supposed to say Damon Severson is dependable, except I’m fairly sure he’s just a conspiracy and doesn’t actually exist. Also a joke about Mirco Mueller‘s neck goes somewhere around here, though he was surprisingly effective from a third pairing (+3.22 relative xGF%).

Past Subban there isn’t much here, but he should improve it from the top. That is if he isn’t on the decline, which a lot of experts seem to think he is, because he’s not white. And now he’s motivated, and having a PK that’s determined to fuck the world is a weapon you want to have. The joker card here is if Ty Smith, the Devils best prospect before they took Jack Hughes makes the team or not. He dominated the WHL last year, and most think he can skip the AHL and head straight to the Devils. With Subban, Smith, and Vatanen, that’s a lot of get-up-and-go for a team that wants to play that way.

Forwards: Clearly, all eyes will be on Jack Hughes, who will step right into the #1 center role and hopefully can bat his eyelashes at Taylor Hall enough, and pass him the puck enough, to keep Hall in town past this season. With Nico Hischier being bumped down to the #2 center role, the Devils hope they are set down the middle for the next decade. They were also able to pick up the scraps from Vegas and their unnoticed cap idiocy for Nikita Gusev, whom the Knights had been pumping for a couple years but apparently sucks now that they traded him. If he slots in behind Hall the Devils might have a find here. The two Jespers–Bratt and Boqvist–will bring even more speed to a lineup that was already kind of dripping with it. The Devils have filled their lineup with nippy forwards you don’t necessarily know but are getting past people constantly. You know it because you’ve seen them torch the Hawks the past two seasons.

Prediction: Most seem to think the playoffs are going to be just out of reach for the Devils. It might be, but they’re going to get pretty damn close. Hughes is going to step right in and won’t need much of an adjustment period. They’re likely to get no worse than representative goaltending. And they’re in a division where more teams are heading the wrong way or are just confusing as all hell. Adding 23 points seems like a big ask, but it’s been done before. Of course, the drama over Hall could be a distraction, and if they’re not in the thick of it come February the Devils might decide to cash in on what they can with Hall instead of watching him head for the exit in July. Still, the top line is going to be must-see TV, Smith and PK on the blue line could be a blast. There’s a lot to like here, even if it might need another year to really come together.

 

Everything Else

It was Chris Kunitz‘s 1000th game, it was Valentine’s Day, there was so much to distract from the fact that it was two crappy teams both trying to bounce back from particularly crappy losses. But in the end, the fact that Cory Schneider is horrendous and Cam Ward was, well, really good, made the difference. To the bullets…

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

– This game looked like it was going to get real ugly early on. The first period ended with shots at 14-13 Devils-Hawks, but the Hawks only caught up late in the period so that figure really masks how badly they were outplayed. A more accurate reflection is the 44.7 CF% at evens that they managed that period. In what will come as the least surprising statement of the night, the defense looked like total shit, with Erik Gustafsson being particularly putrid. He lost his man along the boards (or more accurately, stood there watching as he skated away) leading directly to the first goal by Damon Severson, he made multiple awful passes, and was generally useless. But it wasn’t just Gus. Everyone looked terrible except Cam Ward, who was lucky to keep it 2-0 for a while, and Patrick Kane, who just said fuck it and scored to make it 2-1 with just a couple minutes left.

– OK, it actually wasn’t just all Patrick Kane on that first goal; Dylan Sikura set up the play by winning a board battle with LOCAL GUY Nick Lappin and getting the puck to Kane in the first place. Sikura ended the night with a 68.4 CF%, and his line with Saad and Wide Dick had a 75 CF%, and I really wish Coach Cool Youth Pastor would see the value in the actions and numbers just described and play him for more than 10 minutes (or let’s just start with keeping him here instead of Rockford).

– Why would that possession matter so much? Because the Hawks were positively schizophrenic in their control of the puck tonight. They got domed in the first as described, then bounced back with a strong second period and managed a 60.5 CF% at evens, only to suck pond scum again in the third with a 34.5. They managed a paltry 8 shots in the third against the 19 they gave up to the Devils (yes, that’s right, 19 in the third), and it was really just Ward standing on his head, occasionally without a mask because of some bizarre wardrobe malfunction, that kept them in the period.

– And to that point, Ward was really good tonight. You know I don’t want to admit that, but I have to. There were flurries of shots he faced in both the first and third periods where it could have absolutely gotten out of hand. His positioning was excellent and rebound control was solid. Ward finished with a .953  SV%, and like always faced an obscene number of shots (43). Conversely, Cory Schneider is so bad I actually FEEL bad for him. He basically hasn’t won a game since the first Obama administration, and his total lack of rebound control led to Anisimov’s insurance goal in the third, which basically put the game away. At the end of the day, I’m glad the Hawks won so whatever, fuck him, but it’s actually kinda depressing at this point.

Brandon Saad got his 300th and 301st points tonight, and on this Valentine’s Day this guy FUCKS. A shorthanded goal, a 76 CF%, be still my heart.

– Kane and Toews continued their Fuck You tour. Kane had three points, including the first goal which arguably changed the entire trajectory of the game because it came late in the first, and it seemed to energize them since they dominated the second period. Kane to Koekkoek to Toews in the second was probably the prettiest goal, but Caligula’s was no slouch either and set the tone for the second (namely, that the Hawks were going to kick their ass for 20 minutes). All around, a good night for the top line.

Slater Koekkoek actually didn’t play terribly tonight. Again, you know I don’t want to admit that, but it’s true. He had an assist and a 68 CF% (SO CLOSE to making the joke), and generally was not offensive to the eyes or causing your face to melt in horror.

– Look, he’s not an important part of the organization nor does he have much history (or much future) here, but it’s cool that Chris Kunitz has played 1000 games, and the Hawks did their best in marking the occasion and being generally nice about it. Thumbs up all around.

So it was a good bounce-back game after the ignominious end of the streak against Boston. There’s some more shitty teams coming up over the next week and a half, and the conference remains a weird clusterfuck so who knows! Onward and upward…

Photo credit: NHL.com