Everything Else

If the Hawks basically sat out the free agent period, let’s spin around the league and see what’s what now that the important stuff has shaken out.

-Clearly the biggest story of the upcoming season is going to be the Toronto Maple Leafs, and not just in the heads of their fans and media (which is really the same thing anyway). Whatever you might think of “Computer Boy” Kyle Dubas or their enclosed world view, this kind of “Fuck It I’m Throwing Deep” move is really rare in the NHL. Steve Yzerman gets praised for doing it, and really all he’s done is trade for Ryan McDonagh (though he might get Karlsson which would really be a one-up on the Leafs and send a good portion of their fanbase into their toy-filled basement…oh wait they never left there).

The question is how much better does this make them. Because they’ve lost Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk to accommodate John Tavares, and that’s some 50 goals or more going out the door. Sure, Tavares improves whatever winger he’s with but almost certainly not to the level of the departed JVR.

And the Leafs still don’t really have anything on defense, though that unit was improved by stripping it of Roman Polak because Mike Babcock will play him. They’re still counting on a step forward from Morgan Rielly, but I think we know what he is at this point which is a pretty good rhythm guitarist but not a lead. Maybe a similar leap from Travis Dermott fills in these gaps, and as the Penguins and Knights have proven you don’t have to have a star-studded blue line to win, just one that gets it up to the forwards quickly and doesn’t wet itself in its own end.

Of course, those teams has top-end goaltending, and I don’t know how many Game 7 meltdowns people have to watch Freddie Andersen have before concluding he’s just good enough to break your heart. He’s only 28, and I suppose this is the time where he would  turn the corner if that’s going to happen. Still, you’re not getting past Tampa or Boston without goaltending, you’d think they’d know that already.

-Meanwhile, a little closer to home the Blues have also been aggressive, taking the ballast from the Leafs’ ship in the form of Tyler Bozak and trading for Ryan O’Reilly. This makes the Blues the most solid down the middle team in the division this side of Winnipeg. And yes, even more than Nashville because Ryan Johansen is facedown in a pile of ding-dongs right now and Kyle Turris just has that same bewildered look on his face. The Blues will still self-destruct trying to prove once again that Jay Gallon won’t shoot them all in the face accidentally, but they’ll probably rack up 100+ points before that happens. The Perron contract is stupid because he’s not spasming that season again and he’ll just fold under all the selfish penalties he takes, but they’re getting Fabbi Robbri back and if they can keep something from falling off Jaden Schwartz again they’ll be pretty dynamic. Sucks when they show more urgency than the Hawks do.

-Meanwhile, in the darkened and abandoned garage that has been the state of the Islanders for a good 30 years now, Lou Lamiorello continues to piss on his Hall of Fame pedigree by taking a team backwards. It’s one thing to lose out on re-signing Tavares, because hey that happens. But then to back it up by bringing in the stone-handed and stone-headed combo of Matt Martin and Leo Komarov, and then complain that every player is overpaid, sets this team back even more. As we’ve stated, Nofera-Lou hasn’t done anything in a decade to convince anyone the game hasn’t passed him by, and once he’s done turning into the Isles into something so foul they stop construction on the new arena halfway through maybe everyone else will realize.

Contrast that with Stan Bowman actively cheering Artemi Panarin to hit his bonuses in the press even though it would cause him a headache, or how the Hawks and other teams are so happy to pay their players, and maybe you start to see why most think working for Lou is a miserable experience. But it’s the Islanders, so is anyone really going to notice?

Everything Else

Friend of the program Jay Zawaski had some thoughts on Tuesday. This is a subject we discussed a lot last year, what was the Hawks real intent on the season versus what they told everyone it was and why there was a difference. Jay’s not wrong about anything he says here, and it is a nice thought he wishes for where the Hawks were completely transparent about what their plans are going forward.

But the more I think about it, what do they have to gain?

Quite simply, the Hawks are not going to sell more tickets if they tell everyone that they’re in the process of turning over the team to their younger players. I don’t know that they’d sell less, but their position in the Chicago sports landscape isn’t so secure that they would feel they can risk it. While telling us exactly what “The Plan” is would make us all feel better, our mental state isn’t of real importance to them. The Hawks quite simply can’t take the risk of telling their only casual fans that this season might not matter. And that’s assuming there is “a plan.”

Secondly, the Hawks can’t really send that message to Keith, to Seabrook, to Kane, to Toews, and maybe even especially to Crawford. While the organization might be looking at the days already where they’re no longer the main contributors, considering they’re the guys who pulled this organization out of the seventh level of hell they’re owed a certain amount of promises from the front office. You can’t really tell these guys that they’re going to spend the next season or two or three playing games that aren’t going to matter. Maybe they know it already, maybe they don’t, but you certainly can’t give them that message in public. And considering whatever Crawford is working his way back from (and right now “working” is just a claim), it would be truly unfair to have him bust his ass to come back to backstop a team his bosses just told everyone isn’t really relevant.

These guys are made, and I think the only way the Hawks could even consider it would be to meet with them privately and say this is where we want to go, and you have the option of being a part of it or not. These guys all have full NMCs and I doubt any of them are interested in moving, but they also might not want to have another playoff-less season or two.

At the same time, the Hawks simply can’t move them, because of the aforementioned fragility of their place in the market. Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, and Crawford are still the players most fans can identify only and buy the tickets to see. You and I might go to see Top Cat’s or Schmaltz’s (or hopefully Jokiharju’s) development (because we’re sick and our lives our empty), but the guy or girl you work with doesn’t. Even if we passed through some undiscovered wormhole into a world where the Hawks could and would do a full tear-down, McDonough and Rocky are not going to stomach a season or two of a half-empty building. Not after all the back-slapping they’ve done with each other by taking the Hawks out of that by simply standing there while the roster that was already in place took shape.

However, the Hawks “rebuild” plan is flawed. You “rebuild, ” whether fully or on the fly, if you have players to build the future around. The Hawks don’t. Nick Schmaltz maxes out as a great #2 center. Maybe DeBrincat is a genuine top line scorer, and maybe he’s something of a tweener from a #1 or #2 LW. He could be any iteration of Phil Kessel, really. There’s no top-pairing d-man anywhere near ready. If you’re building a team around #2 centers and maybe 1st-line wingers, congratulations you’re the St. Louis Blues or the Minnesota Wild. And you know where that road goes and it’s nowhere pretty.

Which brings me to Erik Karlsson. If you’re a team that’s called about Justin Faulk, then you’d obviously call about Erik Karlsson because Erik Karlsson is the absolute idealized version of Justin Faulk. Sure, the Hawks would have to clear out Hossa’s contract to fit him in for this season, and then need more salary cap rises to accommodate him for the next contract he’s going to sign. But based on what’s been rumored to be the return from the Stars or Lightning, the Hawks could probably match it.

So if they’re not rebuilding, and they say they aren’t, and they’re after Justin Faulk, why aren’t they calling? Why aren’t they at least saying they’re calling? Karlsson is the quickest route to maximizing whatever you have left in “the core.” If you’re stated aim of competing every season is your actual aim, and we don’t know that it is, you’d be in on this. You would have been in on Tavares too, but the Hawks didn’t even get in the room.

McClure has a theory that the Hawks would never take on any player that would have to be paid more than Toews and Kane (which is funny in itself, because Keith has been the most important player throughout this run but that’s another discussion). Karlsson doesn’t make that yet but obviously will. I wonder if that’s the case and whether that really matters to either if they’re staring at finishing out their careers playing on middling teams.

Given what’s already on the roster, the Hawks simply can’t be bad enough to draft high enough to get a true difference maker without a shit-ton of luck either in the lottery or by getting a player of that quality in the spots they don’t generally come from. So why are those picks so important? And if everyone’s job is on the line like they claim, wouldn’t you be after the one player that basically assures everyone keeps their job? Karlsson takes this dreck and at worst it’s a playoff team with a healthy Crawford (and maybe even not). That would at least see Quenneville finish the season and Stan get to see out whatever his plan is.

But again, there’s no impetus for them to tell us. The sweaty hand-clappers and their ugly fucking kids will still be at the Convention happily sopping up whatever tripe they’re fed. There won’t be much scrutiny from a press corps that has the Cubs and Bears training camp a mere two weeks away. Quite simply, the Hawks won’t tell us what they’re doing because they don’t have to.

Everything Else

Just like yesterday, one should hesitate in putting too much into anything right now before we see the entire scope of what the Hawks do this summer. So just know I reserve the right to toss this out in a week, a month, whenever. And the problem for the Hawks is what they seem to be attempting is nearly impossible.

While the Hawks make all the noise the past two summers about seismic changes and alarms going off in the front office, which appear to be nothing more than John McDonough bullying his employees, that doesn’t mean you can force things.

Obviously, the model is how the Red Wings were able to pivot from the Yzerman-Fedorov Era of the late 90’s to the Datsyuk-Zetterberg era of the late 2000s. But as we get farther away from it and our lens scopes out, we can see that it probably just was Ken Holland getting extremely lucky with some later round picks. Because how’s the pivot going from the Dats-Z Era to the Dylan Larkin one? It’s been eight years of irrelevance at least and counting. The Penguins haven’t had to deal with this yet, but you can certainly see it on the horizon for them, especially if Matt Murray never matches what his first two years brought. Once you start winning and taking yourself out of position to draft genuine class, it’s nearly impossible to go get. Victory defeats you, eventually.

So while Stan can boast about maintaining the present and the future, the options for the former were limited. There was one player that would have made the difference in free agency (Tavares) and he never considered the Hawks. Maybe in another town the Hawks would face questions about how they couldn’t even get to the table for the most prized free agent to hit the market in years, (and arguably they landed the last one this coveted in Hossa), but not in this one. It’s an anonymity they clearly relish. There were others who might have helped, but again they didn’t seem to be a consideration at all for Stastny or Bozak, which is curious. It’s only taken a season or two for the Hawks to completely fall off the map for free agents.

If you want to argue they could have put together the same package of flotsam that the Blues did for Ryan O’Reilly, I’ll listen. Because that’s really a big bag of nothing the Blues sent to Buffalo. Tage Thompson my ass.

So there wasn’t much Stan could do to demonstrate “urgency” yesterday. The more I think about it the more the Manning signing makes no sense, and we’ve been over and over Cam Ward. Kunitz is fine, it’s not like anyone was in love with what the Hawks could sport on the fourth line anyway.

I suppose Stan envisions a time, very soon, where this team belongs to DeBrincat, Schmaltz, Jokiharju (and boy that’s a leap right now) and maybe even Boqvist in three seasons. I’ll leave Jokijarju and Boqvist out of this, because we simply don’t know anything right now. But if Schmaltz or Sikura were going to be top line players in the NHL, we’d know by now. Yes, we would. You know one when you see one, and they very well may be top sixers (Schmaltz already is), but as my compadre McClure says every spring, it’s top line talent that gets the parade. Right now, the Hawks sport one genuine world class player still playing at that level (Kane). If everything goes right with Top Cat, you could see him being one. But that’s not enough.

Stan seems to be planning and reserving for a future that either isn’t coming or isn’t going to be what he thinks. And maybe he has little choice. There just isn’t a lot out there. But this team isn’t buttressed for when Keith, Toews, and Kane are simply old (the first two might already be there, Seabrook certainly is) and it hasn’t provided them the support to still make a go of it now while they might still be able to do it from memory. If the Hawks were a hitter, you’d say they’re in between–can’t catch up to the fastball but still ahead of the offspeed pitches.

At the end of the day, no one is going to answer for this, really. They’ll point to their three banners and ask you about how much you enjoyed that, even if it appears more and more those three banners landed on them. They’ll bleat on about changes and yes, maybe Q will lose his job this season. And if things don’t turn around quickly after that, Stan could follow him. But both could leave with their heads held high.

I still have to believe the Hawks have a trade in them to try and make something of this season. That waiting list won’t last forever. Those empty seats will only get more numerous. They can’t roll into that convention unveiling Chris Kunitz.

But then again, they might.

Everything Else

At the top, it’s important to remember that it makes no sense to judge fully the three signings the Hawks made today until they make their big splash via trade, which appears will be the only way they do so. Or until they don’t make that splash. Needless to say, a team that missed the playoffs by 19 points and currently can’t figure out if they’re starting goalie is just a gaseous form at this point choosing to just tinker would be…abstract.

The good news: The Hawks didn’t tie themselves into anything here. Cam Ward and Chris Kunitz got one-year deals, Kunitz for barely the minimum, and Brandon Manning got two. Essentially, all these roster spots will open up soon for either another promising kid or a bigger addition down the road. The Hawks have kept their salary cap powder dry, as it were. And just because you have cap space doesn’t mean you have to use it just for the sake of using it. So all fair enough.

Now let’s complain.

First off, Ward. We’ve been down this road. He sucks. The idea that he could flourish in a new city and with a new team is simply built on baseless hope. There has been nothing in seven years to suggest he can even be a representative goalie. If he’s just a backup, that still can kill you because you still need points in those 25-30 games unless you really think Crawford is healthy and going to go 55-0-0. Those points matter. And as we’ve already pointed out, the Canes were actually a better defensive team than the Hawks last year, and the Hawks, so far, have done nothing to address that. The fact that Ward signed for the same money as Steve Bernier, a proven NHL goalie still, is a complete farce. Were the Hawks scared off by the three years Bernier got? Why? Do they really think Collin Delia and his superfluous L are going to develop into a capable backup/replacement for Crawford? Okayyyyy…..

Let’s move to Kunitz. I really wouldn’t have anything to say about it if I were confident he would live in the bottom six all season and be a side contributor. He potted 13 goals last year basically playing on Tampa’s 4th line with Pacquette and Callahan, and if that’s all he was asked to do here with some combination of Hinostroza/Kampf/Sikura/Ejdsell/Some Bozo, fine. But this is Joel Quenneville we’re talking about, and you know that Opening Night in Ottawa Kunitz will be up there with Kane and Schmaltz, or worse yet Kane and Anisimov, due to “veteran presence.” It’ll be nearly impossible to crowbar him out of the top six unless DeBrincat scores 27 goals in preseason. Oh wait, he did that basically last year and still ended up on the third line on the right side.

Brandon Manning is slightly intriguing. He has positive metrics for a stay-at-home guy, and that’s truly surprising because he spent the past two years playing with mutant weasel Radko Gudas. What’s strange is that Manning is a left-sided, stay-at-home guy, and the Hawks don’t have any right-sided get-it-the-fuck-up-there guys. As of right now, all the puck-movers are on the left in Keith, Gustafsson, Jokiharju, Forsling. The Hawks still haven’t addressed who is playing with Keith or who is on the second pairing. Are they going to sign Manning and make him play the right side when he’s never done it? And if Jordan Oesterle is still somehow included in this equation, don’t worry about your playoff invoices. It seems an odd fit, though not necessarily a bad one.

If the Hawks can move Hossa’s contract, they’ll still have $8-$9 million to play with. Remember as we go forward here to take them at their word of the past two seasons. This was unacceptable. Changes are coming. We expect better. None of these signings do that. It’s tinkering on the edges, which is fine if you get the middle right.

We’re still waiting on the middle.

 

Everything Else

Now that Cam Ward is officially here, and we can all dry heave at the thought of him having to start when it turns out Corey Crawford was buried in the Meadowlands endzone all along. $2.5M is an overpay, possibly a massive one, for a goalie that just may be like the octopus who plays the drums. While we may put all of our hope in not playing behind Carolina can cure him of something to some measure, it’s hard to see how the Hawks are going to be a better defensive unit that Carolina was. The Hawks xGA/60 was 2.54 per 60 at evens last year. The Canes was 2.29. That’s 25th vs. 9th. So this whole “Carolina is terrible on goalies” might actually be a load of horseshit and Ward and Darling just might blow the very biggest chunks you’ve ever seen. Now, the fact that both Darling and Ward had some of the biggest differences in their actual SV% and xSV% might indicate something was rotten in Carolina, but still…I’m not going into this with any confidence.

Anyway, let’s run through some other names out there just in case that comes up:

Mike Green – Old and hurt, and he actually wasn’t even that good in Detroit when you look at the metrics. If he’s real cheap maybe… and also if you could put him in a time machine to four years ago.

Tomas Plekanec – He’s dead, just no one’s told him yet.

Toby Enstrom – See Green, Mike. Better metrics, but also old and hurt a lot. Again, if real cheap could be a bargain, but the Hawks need more on the puck-moving side than “good ol’ rock” side.

Valterri Filppula – Please no, especially because after 11 years doing this spelling his name is a like a prostate exam.

James Neal – Expensive, and solves basically none of the Hawks major problems.

Jason Garrison – If this happens I’m going to throw myself into the river and Matt’s going to have to find a new home of PJ.

David Perron – You’re not funny.

So basically the free agency class sucks deep pond scum, and at this point I’m not sure the Hawks are going to do much more than sign Ward. They’re clearly trying to wait out the Canes on Faulk, but nothing is going to move on that front until Erik Karlsson is moved, because a smart team (and there’s no guarantee the Canes are anywhere close to that), is going to go to any team that loses out on Karlsson and offer them the poor man’s version. Which might drive up the price higher than the Hawks want to go.

Look what I’m saying is it might not be the most active of Sundays for the local hockey club, that’s all.

 

Everything Else

Now that we’ve had our say on what the Hawks are going to do at goalie, and hence making this post somewhat moot, let’s explore the options we’ll be bitching about when Cam Ward is throwing up odd colors in the United Center crease as the Wild traipse off with yet another undeserved 3-1 win in December.

I’m always about taking on a goalie that Toronto threw out with the bathwater, because nothing entertains me like watching Leafs fans tie themselves into an origami crane over players who leave and they then claim they always liked. James Reimer has been perfectly serviceable in Florida splitting starts with Roberto Luongo, but hey, I’m here for more Freddie Andersen Game 7 meltdowns.

Which brings us to Bernier, who was drummed out of Toronto for Andersen and has spent the past two years backing up either John Gibson in Anaheim or Semyon Varlamov in Colorado. Thanks to both being ouchy, he’s had to make over 30 starts in each of the past two seasons.

And his even-strength SV% in those two years is .923 and .924. Now, doesn’t that look a whole lot better than Cam Ward? He’s even been decent enough on the PK, with SV%s of .892 and .886 the past two seasons. He’s just been comically bad when facing short-handed chances, which is basically noise and due to systems or whatever. It’s not make-or-break.

Bernier isn’t the biggest at 6-0, 184, and we know the Hawks prefer their goalies to be bigger. Hell, pretty much everyone does. But that hasn’t stopped him from being a decent NHL goalie, and the Hawks need “representative” behind, and possibly next to, Crawford.

Bernier may want a chance to start somewhere, but at 30 when the season starts and doing this role for the past two years, the die may have been cast. There aren’t that many starters jobs open either. Vancouver? Do you want to go there? If you want to eat shit in Ottawa for 80 games that’s probably available to you. The Islanders are one. St. Louis might be another. With Crawford’s status a complete mystery, the Hawks would probably be in that second-tier of teams for a goalie where there’s a good chance they might need you for 30-40 games instead of a backup’s normal 20-30.

The one problem is Bernier’s high-danger SV% is not good, basically .778 the past three seasons. And we know the Hawks are going to give up more than their fair share of high-danger chances. For comparison, Ward was at .804 last year, Hutton .787, and Lehner at .778. Basically, what separates starters from backups is how they do on these. The Hawks aren’t going to find another Crawford, and Bernier is about what you can do.

He’ll be more expensive than the $1M Ward is reportedly going to get. He made $2.7M last year, but coming off two years as a non-starter and not really looking like one in waiting, he can’t really expect to get much more. The extra $1.5M would buy the Hawks a lot more security than Ward would. But they’ve apparently made up their mind.

And now we can stop wasting our time.

Everything Else

When you’ve got Jay Zawaski, Elliote Friedman, and Bob McKenzie all saying that the Hawks are going to move for Cam Ward come Sunday, you have to take it as pretty much gospel. Congratulations, Sweet Jay. You’re among the big boys now. We always knew, don’t forget us when you’re chilling in the hotel bar at the GM Meetings one day with Ken Campbell, Jim Matheson, and whatever other blowhard you can’t escape. We knew you when.

So now it’s up to us to figure out…why?

No, seriously, I’m at a loss on this one. Anything the Hawks do at the goalie spot is a comment on what they actually think Corey Crawford’s status is. Seeing as how they’ve been rumored to be after a “tweener” for a while–that is, a goalie who can easily be shuffled to backup but can step in for a time as starter if Crawford is not ready–our suspicions that they have no idea if Crow will play at all or when.

The idea of Darling was weird, because as nothing more than a 1B, he is awfully expensive. If Crow returned, you’d have $10 million tied up in your crease. Ward at least will be very cheap, seemingly coming in at $1M. Which is basically nothing.

Which is good, because Cam Ward is nothing.

It has been four seasons since Ward managed a SV% over .910, and it was just .910. It has been seven seasons since Ward managed a SV% that was above league-average. It has been seven seasons since he managed an even-strength SV% over .920. There quite simply is no other way to phrase it…Cam Ward is terrible. He sucks. He’s bad. He’s pungent. He’s odorous. He is acrid. He is fetid. Shoddy. Inexpert. You want me to keep going? Because I can, I just worry about what it would do to you.

So let’s squint real hard and see if we can’t identify what the thinking would be. There is a theory that Carolina is just a bad place for goalies. That despite the ridiculously talented blue line, and it was, Bill Peters played a system that exposed his goalies. There is some validity to that. We saw Scott Darling be more than competent here. At times really good. He couldn’t stop a discarded hot dog wrapper last year. Eddie Lack sauntered into Carolina after a .921 season in Vancouver. He basically looked like the Terminator when frozen for the rest of his career. We’ve been over Cam Ward. Maybe there’s just something rotten in the water in Raleigh for goalies. It’s possible.

So the argument is that there’s something here that can turn him around. Jimmy Waite was Darling’s coach, and that went well. Corey Crawford became one of the league’s best under him. So while he’s only been around four years, you could argue–if you really, really wanted to–that he has a chance to be something of a whisperer and can rouse something out of a project. Look, I’m really having to wheel pose to make that case for you, but it’s there.

The Hawks might also think that behind their team and their system, it would be better for Ward. This, unlike the first theory, is patently false. The Hawks were one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year, and once Crawford wasn’t going Copperfield/Houdini/Penn & Teller every night you saw just how bad. However they’re deployed, the Canes defense is miles better than whatever the Hawks are going to throw out there. And the Hawks, to maximize what they have and might will have at forward, are not going to change to a conservative approach. In fact, they might have to go even more Hell or High Water. They will need their goalie to make saves, and big ones. The last time Ward did that there was a Daley in power. Or at least officially.

Maybe the Hawks really do know that Crawford is going to be healthy, and they’re not full of shit. And maybe Ward transitions well into a backup role, sending him out there against weaker opposition and only once a week. Maybe he can do that. He certainly wouldn’t be the first former starter to then do well in a backup role in the second half of his career. And really, if you can get your backup to .915, if your starter is healthy and starring, you can live with that.

Go back through this and count the maybes, though. There’s far too many to be comfortable. The only surefire positive is that he’s so cheap, it allows the Hawks to do other things in free agency or take more money in a trade, whatever that might be.

If Crow is healthy, Ward won’t torpedo the team. If Crow is not…

Everything Else

I can’t believe I’m about to write any of this.

Tyler Bozak used to be a joke in the NHL. That’s probably giving him the best of it. He was among the best pieces of satire and a huge piece of evidence of what was wrong with the Leafs, the league, and quite possibly the world itself. This is back when the Leafs were using Bozak as a #1 center and he held onto it by basically being Phil Kessel’s buddy, whom everyone hated anyway. So naturally, the knives, pitchforks, torches, and trained badgers were all out for Bozak for years in Toronto and he didn’t even sell the hot dogs. He was basically blamed for all he wasn’t, which was all the #1 centers Leafs fans just assumed would come traipsing into Toronto because no one would ever want to play anywhere else, of course. Leafs fans have never gotten around the truth that most every player would rather gnaw their own balls off instead of ply their trade in front of that baying horde of fuckwits who will curse out the player’s ancestors the minute they turn the puck over in a preseason game against Ottawa.

BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED.

Anyway, Mike Babcock arrived and after exclaiming, “Just what the fuck have they been doing with this guy?!” got Bozak some proper usage. And then Auston Matthews arrived, slotting Bozak perfectly behind him and checking center Kadri. And lo and behold, for about three seasons now, Bozak has been a really effective player.

On Toronto’s third line for the past two seasons, Bozak has paired with JVR to form a pretty in-your-face weapon. Bozak piled up 55 points two seasons ago, dropped to 43 this year which can almost be solely attributed to his SH% cratering from 12.1% in ’16-’17 to just 7.1% last year. Bozak is a career 13.8% shooter, so even the mark from two years ago is low. All that considered, you can basically bank on Bozak giving you around 18 goals and around 35 assists and that’s a 50-point player and yeah, you take that below your #1 center.

Metrically, Bozak has been kick-ass for three seasons as well. Since Babs showed up and quickly declared him not a #1 center, Bozak had a +4.5% Corsi-relative last year, +1.4% the year before that, and +3.8 the year before that. But this is where the caveats come running in from behind the stove, waving their arms in protest.

There’s no point in signing Bozak unless you’re going to try and mimic the usage he’s had lately at the ACC. Bozak and JVR have started a majority of their shifts the past two years in the offensive zone. When Bozak has been asked to start more shifts in his own end than the other, it has not gone well, save for the Season-In-A-Can of 2013 where basically nothing made sense and God took his leave of all of us (I mean, I was even happy then). Granted, those were worse Leafs teams than these current ones, but it’s best to view Bozak as an offensive weapon and not much else.

Which makes him a tough fit here, even if you could make the money work (we’ll get to that) and pair him with his running buddy JVR. Because those “hammock” shifts have to go to Nick Schmaltz, who weighs 89 pounds. You can’t ask Schmaltz to start more in his own end to accommodate Bozak, because that’s going to devolve into recess time at that hippie preschool down the street. And if you’re going to consign Toews and whoever’s with him to the dungeon all season, you’re probably not going to get first line production out of that unit. Again.

Still, if you could only slightly tilt Bozak’s zone-starts and assignments toward the harder and slightly farther from the other goal, you can probably get away with it. It would be a delicate balance.

The problem is what he’s going to cost, and this is the same problem a team would have with Paul Stastny. Whatever team doesn’t get Tavares is going to feel a need to sign any center to make themselves feel better as they hug their John Tavares-adorned pillows at night. He seems gone out of Toronto, but you could easily see San Jose or Dallas wanting to slot him behind Thornton or Seguin or another team behind whoever else. Which means he’s probably getting more than the $4.2M he just had in Toronto.

Trying to find comps are hard. Kadri’s $4.5M would almost certainly barely be a starting point. He could easily make a case for Derek Stepan’s $6.5M, which is right out. Kyle Turris just signed for $6.0M per year, and honestly his numbers aren’t that much better than Bozak’s (which makes it all the more funny). If there’s any kind of competition for his services, $5.5M seems like the low end and somewhere north of $6.0 seems possible.

If the Hawks could get him between $5-5.5, I’d be inclined to give in a whirl, along with shipping out Anisimov’s bloated ass to the first port that’ll have him. Also, Bozak wins a ton of faceoffs which makes Q’s mustache flutter even if it isn’t that important, and Bozak is more mobile than Arty. You get a shooting spike with him and you’ll get the same 20 goals that you would from Arty, with far better playmaking. Yeah, the Schmaltz-Bozak Usage Conundrum (St. Vincent’s next album) is a concern, but isn’t that why Quenneville is the richest coach in the league?

Everything Else

If you came here looking for names that are gonna set your soul on fire, I’m afraid I can’t help you all that much. It’s the story of my life. As we inch toward Canada Day and the opening of free agency, the longer the Hawks go without making any sort of move the more you’re convinced that they’re not going to do something considered “major.” That doesn’t mean they can’t get better, it just means your friends at work who don’t really know much about hockey are going to ask what’s going on. You won’t enjoy it. This is why I don’t have a job.

Thomas Hickey is a name that won’t go up in neon, nor cause anyone to shake their hands muppet-style at the Convention. But he just might be a help.

Hickey’s numbers over his career aren’t earth-shattering. His 25 points last year are a career-high, and he’s never really been a top-pairing guy. His metrics aren’t groin-grabbing either, until you look a little deeper.

Hickey carried a possession mark above the team rate, though only just barely at 0.4%. However, he and rookie Adam Pelech, when healthy, were taking the most defensive zone starts of anyone on the Isles. Doug Weight didn’t necessarily deploy his defense according to competition but more by zone, as all the six d-men mostly used by the Islanders have the same quality of competition. Perhaps this is why the Isles had their issues on the defensive end. Well, that and they got all the goaltending they might have out of a rodeo clown down and out in Brooklyn. Because how else would a rodeo clown end up there?

So considering he was starting in his own zone more than half the time, Hickey got the play to the other end more than his teammates a lot.

On the downside, Hickey has rarely gotten any power play time, if any at all. So he’s not going to take over either PP QB spot, which the Hawks desperately need. He is lefty and plays the left side, so you’d only be able to pair him with Connor Murphy, and not Duncan Keith unless one of them flips. And as Keith has never flipped sides in his 13 years here, you can guess which one.

Still, if he wasn’t the only move Hickey could certainly help, and he shouldn’t be that expensive. He’s coming off a deal that paid $3.1M a year, and with a 25-point season to his name he’s not going to get more than that. If you were to have him be one of two additions on the blue line, you’d live with that. Say the Hawks did acquire Faulk and went something like:

Keith-Faulk

Hickey-Murphy

Gustafsson/Jokiharju/Some Doofus-Seabrook

Well, you could live with that. On its own a Hickey signing isn’t enough. Along with others it might be a sneaky effective one.

Everything Else

If the rumors are true and not only has Artem Anisimov been asked to submit the list of 10 teams he will accept a trade to, but the Hawks are able and inclined to act on it, we know their coach, vociferous fans, media, and maybe some woodland creatures are going to stamp their feet, wave their arms, and declare loudly, “But who I say, what squire will we find to play the part of ‘Annette Frontpresence’? Wherever shall we locate such a burly fellow to blot out the sun, entrench himself in the depths of the slot, and rabble-rouse our worthy and formidable foes?! WHERE I SAY?! ANSWER ME HEATHENS!!!”

Yes, that’s exactly what they’ll say.

Well fear not, members of the court. There is a solution out there. And we know the Hawks love anyone named “van Riemdsyk.” The only fear is that Q will think it’s Trevor again and play him on defense, and way too much. Hell, this was the same team and fanbase that thought Trevor Daley was the same thing as Johnny Oduya because they were both black, remember.

You don’t have to do much to sell JVR to anyone. 65 goals the past two seasons, when the Leafs were finally worth a shit. He’s scored at a 25+ goal pace for six seasons now, though three seasons ago only played 40 games due to injury. If it’s metrics you want, and I know that you do, he was an absolutely dominant possession player last year in T.O, with a +7.4 relative Corsi on a Mike Babcock team, which is not easy to do. That was his second +7% or better relative-Corsi season in the past three.

The caveat here is that he did that while playing with Tyler Bozak and Connor Brown, which basically was the Leafs third line. Which meant cherry zone-starts, as Nazem Kadri and his non-stop yap were used as a checking line. JVR started 62% of his shifts start in the offensive zone, after 57% the year before. It also meant that JVR saw some of the easier competition among Leafs forwards, though not the easiest.

Another one is that JVR’s goal-total this season was “inflated” by 11 power play goals, though it’s not like those count for less. The Leafs’ power play worked a lot better than the Hawks, but you’d like to think with the right defensive signing/trade the Hawks’ PP could unfuck itself. But then again we’ve thought that a lot and we’re up to a decade of Duncan Keith shots into shinpads and Patrick Kane doing a James Harden impression for the truly deranged. JVR’s 14.5 SH% was a career-high, and you’re right to be somewhat leery of that, but it’s not wholly out of line with his career 11.5%. If he had managed only the latter number last year that still would have meant 28 goals, and the Hawks could use 28 goals (Yale could use an international airport…).

You can see sticking JVR on the left side of Kane and Schmaltz, having him clear some space for their speed and handling, and banging home loose change and rebounds until his heart’s content. You could see him as a Saad replacement if Saad has to be dealt for Justin Faulk or something similar. The appeal is quite obvious.

So the question becomes cost. Well, it just so happens another winger with a big man’s game went on the market last year after a SH%-spiked career season, and his name was Timothy Jimothy. He got $5.75 million for forever, and he was one year older than JVR is now at the time. Now, you and I may blech at giving JVR seven or eight years until he’s 36 or 37. But as we’ve discussed many, many times, that might not really matter to Stan Bowman because the likelihood of him still being GM then is nearly nil (not Jim Nill). If he were still here in eight years that would be a 17-year stretch as GM, which is basically unheard of. Either the Hawks suck again and he’s out on his ass, or they spasm one or two more good seasons out of this group before returning to the depths and he’s fired then. So if JVR has been identified as a “must have,” then the Hawks are going to toss whatever years at him and not even worry about it because hey, that’ll be someone else’s problem and dumping it off on someone else is the American dream.

So really, JVR shouldn’t come in at anything more than $6 million, though he’s probably asking for $7M and maybe some team is dumb enough to give it to him If he can be had for somewhere between $5-$6M, you probably pull the trigger. A top six of Top Cat-Toews-Saad and then JVR-Schmalt-Kane looks pretty tasty from where where I’m standing.