Hockey

The list is far too long, but it feels like Nick Schmaltz is the one first-rounder the Hawks chucked that no one kicks too much dust up about. His meaning is that he’s on the list, and how that list seems to be ever expanding.

Maybe it’s because Schmaltz’s big season as a Hawks was in a lost campaign. That was the year where Corey Crawford got hurt, the backups were simply awful, and the Hawks were severely up the track in the standings. So Schmaltz’s 50+ points were lost in the wash, and the most emotion anyone could kick up about it was, “Yeah, but who gives a shit?” Even having Patrick Kane take a shine to him wasn’t enough to save him.

If Schmaltz’s trade angered anyone, it was because of the billing the organization gave him before last season, which really wasn’t fair. Stan Bowman made no secret of wanting to keep cap space open for an extension, even though Schmaltz had only had one productive season for a team that went nowhere. Rumors of trades for Justin Faulk were supposedly turned down because Schmaltz was the asking price, but who knows for sure?

It was clearly the kind of pressure that Schmaltz couldn’t live under, which wasn’t a terribly good sign either. He quickly played himself out of the center and to a wing under Joel Quenneville, and he wasn’t much of a wing. Eddie Olczyk even was quick to point out battles or hits that Schmaltz bailed out of, which was the rare off-message moment for him. With Q’s job on the line, with a hope of a return to the playoffs, and his own contract to play for, Schmaltz simply shrank from the challenge.

Schmaltz’s season ended prematurely with a knee injury, but Arizona saw enough to put his mind at ease after 17 games with a seven-year extension. They seem to be getting a bang for their $5.9M bucks with 22 points in 33 games so far. We’ll see if any of them matter come springtime.

For the Hawks, Schmaltz just represents their utter failure in the draft since Stan Bowman took over. That’s putting it harshly, has he has taken a number of good players. It’s just that none of them have been able to make an impact for the Hawks themselves, except for Teuvo and perhaps Boqvist and Dach now. It’s truly horrifying to see that David Pastrnak was taken after Schmaltz.

You probably know the list now, but Stan’s first-rounders and what they’ve done for the Hawks:

Kevin Hayes never signed.

Mark McNeil never played in the NHL.

Teuvo was an important cog in the last Cup winner, and then had to be a make-weight to get rid of Bryan Bickell.

Phillip Danault looked really useful for half a season, and then was swapped for Quenneville’s fetish for Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann, both of whom he hated after five minutes.

Ryan Hartman never became Andrew Shaw.

Schmaltz became Dylan Strome.

So even in all the trades, really all the Hawks got out of their best picks was a season and a half of Teuvo and Dylan Strome. You want to know why they are where they are, and there you go. If you expand it to all of Stan’s picks who have made a serious impact, it’s just Saad and Shaw. It’s not enough.

None of that is Schmaltz’s fault. Both the Coyotes and Hawks are happy with the Schmaltz-Strome swap. Everything that you draw for Schmaltz and his time and ending with the Hawks doesn’t really have much to do with the player himself.

Everything Else

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

The more of these recaps I do, the less I want to do them. Each game just gets more and more incredible, in a bad way. I almost feel like I, and perhaps Blackhawks Twitter/Bloggers in general, are out of things to say about this team that aren’t just the same old dead horses that have already been beaten time and time again. Shall we?

BULLETS

– For the second straight game that I have recapped (the last being the Bruins game on Thursday) the Blackhawks found themselves with a multi-goal lead after the first period despite the fact that they were the inferior team. The Hawks got dominated in attemps with a measely 42.11 CF%, and they were even worse in terms of unblocked attempts with a 39.29 FF%. They escaped with a 3-1 lead in large part due to a slightly-lucky-but-very-good play by Jonathan Toews early on, a good shot by Alex DeBrincat who got a goal in a third straight game, and a nice play by Dominik Kubalik. To their credit, they did have a 5-4 advantage in High Danger chances despite getting their clocks cleaned in possession.

– I am continually baffled by the audacity of the Blackhawks to put their penalty kill unit out so often despite the fact that it is so damn bad. They took six penalties tonight, and in the end it cost them as two of the Coyotes three goals came with the man advantage. Personally, I am shocked that the Hawks penalty kill did not hold up on a night they iced a paper mache defensive corps.

– Pairing off that last one, just to give you an idea of how impactful the Hawks penalties were tonight: The second period was played exclusive at 5v5 or with the Hawks on the PK (save for four seconds of a Hawks power play, which barely counts). At 5v5, the Hawks recorded a CF% of 68! That is incredible! But they only got to spend 13 minutes and change at 5v5, and spent the other 6-plus minutes on the PK, where they gave up two goals and allowed Glendale to tie it.

– The third period was worse than the first, which is kinda nuts. The Coyotes forward group is not very good! Their best forward is probably Nick Schmaltz, who I like and was a fan of in Chicago, but he’s not an elite talent in anyway. But the Hawks only managed a 34.48 CF% at evens in the third, and in the end they were outshot 47-29 by that group. That is just pathetic to be quite frank with you.

Erik Gustafsson being on the powerplay in overtime is insulting to my intelligence and the intlligence of my grandchildren’s grandchildren. Fuck off.

– Hawks go next on Tuesday against Vegas. Until then.

Hockey

vs

Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
We Didn’t Come Here To Rock: Five For Howling

Having just pulled off a minor miracle of taking four of four points on a mini two-game road trip, including a win against arguably the best team in the league, the Hawks now return to West Madison to face the surprisingly competent Arizona Coyotes, who are completing a four game road trip in the Eastern and Central time zones.

Hockey

Just about two years ago, we wrote a spotlight on Arizona GM John Chayka and how we hoped that one day the NHL would finally have a front office that did things differently and broke through the old ways. We wanted our Moneyball, so that the sport might actually move into the 21st century. At the time, Kyle Dubas was being Phantom of The Opera’d in Toronto, though he’s finally ascended to the actual GM chair. There aren’t too many other candidate of GMs who come from the more executive or analyst side of the ledger. Chayka is one. And two years on, we don’t see anything that will make up hope he’s going to change anything.

Oh sure, the Coyotes are tussling with the Oilers for first place in an increasingly weird Pacific Division. Do any looking under the hood though, and you’ll see that’s merely the product of having Darcy Kuemper throw a .937 at the world. The Yotes lead the league in save-percentage, and that’s enough sometimes admittedly, but are pretty terrible anywhere else you look. They’re not even a good defensive team, they just have the goalies bail them out all the time.

And worse yet, this collection of whosits and whatsits are a cap team. Sure, some of that is taking on Marian Hossa’s salary as a favor to the Hawks really, but you shouldn’t be spilling into LTIR territory to ice a team with no genuine star. Look over this team and it’s hard to find a genuine top line/pairing player. Sure, Oliver Ekman-Larsson sure has all the appearance of that and maybe the smoothest skater in the league, but he hasn’t played a game that matters in eight seasons. Didn’t Erik Karlsson drag worse teams to the playoffs in Ottawa?

Clayton Keller maybe? We’ll give you that one, but after that it’s perfect that Nick Schmaltz was an acquisition last year. This is a team full of Nick Schmatlzes. Small, fast forwards who pass through your vision without ever doing much to make you remember them as soon as they fade out of view.

Strangely, this team is already capped out for next year as well. It only has $750K in cap space for next season with 17 players signed. What’s the plan here to get a genuine star? They probably won’t be bad enough to get into the top three draft-wise, and they have no room to lure a big free agent.

Chayka brought in Phil Kessel this summer, possibly to fill in that gap, but at 32 that’s hardly likely. And that only made up for the bad trade of Alex Galchenyuk in return for sending the little mutant Max Domi to Montreal. The Canadiens certainly aren’t complaining.

Chayka has yet to get anything out of the past two drafts other than 12 games out of Barrett Hayton, and his first round pick from ’17 was part of the Kessel trade. As it was when we last looked at this, Keller and Jakob Chychrun remain his only hits in the draft, and they look to be more second line/pairing products. Which you need, but you also need the stars they support.

Clearly money is not a problem in the desert, because of their cap status the next two years. Maybe Chayka can move along Demers and Goligoski in the last years of their deals to open up about $7M, but is that enough? Dvorak, Schmaltz, Fischer, and Keller have all been given reasonable extensions, but one might want to ask why? Where is this going?

Maybe it’s two years down the line that Chayka has circled, when Stepan, Grabner, Hjalmarsson, and the vets mentioned above come off the books and the kids should be entering their prime. Perhaps no final judgements can be made until then. Brayden Burke will join up by then, as will one or two other kids. But does Chayka have two more years without a playoff berth? If Kuemper drags them to one this year it’ll buy him the time. Maybe the Pacific’s remedial nature this year will also help. But building a fringe playoff team shouldn’t be the long-term goal. The playoffs are merely a step. Do you see a contender in the offing here?

Hockey

For the 378th straight year, this is the time when the Arizona Coyotes will be relevant. Their oh-so-smart and oh-so-young and oh-so-handsome GM has finally broken the code, and now all the young talent they’ve been amassing since I had hair is finally going to gel, take a huge leap forward, and save hockey in the desert. You heard it here first, motherfuckers! Actually, you’ve heard it every goddamn year from everywhere, and then by December you’re genuinely shocked when the Yotes pop up on the schedule because once again you’ve forgotten they exist.

So I’m just going to go ahead and say this year will be no different. It’s the safe bet.

2018-2019

39-35-8  86 points (4th in the Pacific

2.55 GF/G (28th)  2.68 GA/G (6th)  -11 GD

48.7 CF% (20th)  49.2 xGF% (17th)

16.3 PP% (26th)  86.0 PK% (3rd)

Goalies: Once again, the Yotes will roll it back with the hopes that Anttie Raanta can keep the loose grip on all the gremlins that form his body and muscles, and not see them go spilling off in every direction again and miss a large chuck of the season. It happened…never.  So when he once again finds himself in the infirmary, the starter’s role will be taken up by Darcy Kuemper again. Strange things happen to goalies in AZ, which is they turn good. They have a system for it. So you may remember Kuemper as the middling place-holder in Minnesota, which is what he was. But last year in Glendale he threw up a .925, which followed a season of .920 in both LA and Arizona. That doesn’t mean he’s definitively turned a corner or anything, because this is still Darcy Kuemper we’re talking about. But the Yotes seem to just get representative goaltending at worst the past few years, which they probably will again through the combo of DK and the times Raanta maintains oxygen intake.

Defense: Of course, the main problem has always been assembling skaters for Arizona. This defense still contains Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson, who were dominant last year (a single tear rolls down my cheek). Beyond that, I can’t help you. Jakob Chychrun has missed huge parts of the last two seasons through injury, so maybe this is the one where he really leaps into the main picture except I don’t know what it is he does that gets everyone with a breeze going between their legs. Even with that though, there is not much beyond this. Alex Goligoski is 34 now. Jordan Oesterle is…you know what? His name is enough. Jason Demers is solid but needs a dynamic partner, which may or may not be Chychrun. They basically need the latter to finally blossom for this to be a good unit, because they’ve had OEL for years now and all that’s gotten them is a handful of themselves and their face in the dirt.

Forwards: And here’s another issue. They hardly scored last year, and are hoping that an aging and cranky Phil Kessel will solve that problem on his lonesome. I guarantee he tries to murder Derek Stepan by Christmas when he’s not getting any passes on his tape. Nick Schmaltz is healthy after blowing out his knee, so Yotes fans can look for five great games followed by a month of him floating around the outside and avoiding contact and waiting for a breakaway pass. Clayton Keller is probably due for a step forward, and will certainly be tasked with feeding Kessel at least on the power play where the Yotes need all kinds of help. Nothing helps out a young player like having a moody sniper’s feelings weighing on him. Still, Keller’s second season was a step back, and he might not be a point-per-game player. Which the Coyotes have exactly none of.

Prediction: This team was able to goalie and defend its way to near a playoff spot last year. The hope is that Kessel and growth from Keller and one or two others will aid their scoring and power play problems, but I’m not convinced. Kessel will get you 25-30 goals until he can’t walk, but the Coyotes need more than that. He’s no longer a surefire top line winger, and there might not be another one on the roster. Keller has yet to prove that he is. Schmaltz most certainly isn’t. Everyone thought their pick of Barrett Haydon was a joke. And you’ll never convince any of us here that Rick Tocchet isn’t huffing paint and betting lines behind the bench. With the playoff bar certainly going to be higher this year than it was last year, it feels like the Yotes are still behind it. The top three spots in the Pacific are spoken for, which means scrapping for a wildcard spot. It could happen if either or both Kuemper and Raanta have great years, but that’s their most likely hope. Feels like they’re coming up short again. Which is their lot in life.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

Tampa Bay

Toronto

 

Everything Else

As a pretty damn good fantasy sports player (mostly self-proclaime, admittedly) I love a good “Buy Low, Sell High” move. If you’re a beliver in regression, and you should be, nothing can make you look quite as smart as offloading a player who is performing above what you expected and cashing in, especially if you can take advantage of someone looking to offload a player that is underwhelming compare to expectations. It appears Stan Bowman thinks the same way, because there is no better example of a successful Buy Low trade that ended up being a major home run than when Stan acquired Dylan Strome as the headliner return for Nick Schmaltz. Let’s get right to it:

Stats with Hawks

58 GP – 17 G – 34 A

46.18 CF% – 29.2 xGF % [5v5]

It Comes With A Free Frogurt

Despite being hailed as some kind of analytics hero, John Chayka gave up on Strome after a relatively small sample size of NHL experience. A huge part of it may have been that the Coyotes had lofty expectations for Strome after taking him third overall in the same draft as Connor McDavid, but Strome had appeared in just 48 NHL games over portions of three seasons (including this one) in the desert. The production was limited, but it’s not like he was playing with much impressive talent out there either. The Hawks ultimately decided that Schmaltz’ contract demands were just too damn high and that his ceiling of being a 2C might not even be long term, so they gambled on Strome and what is hopefully still a 1C ceiling, though an increasingly unlikely one he will hit.

Strome stepped into a much better situation in Chicago, being able to to slot with Alex DeBrincat, his longtime linemate from their time at OHL Erie, and Patrick Kane. And when the pressure was off his shoulders, Strome thrived. As you can see above, he had 51 points in 58 games, which is damn close to a point per game pace and projects out to a 72 point season if he played all 82. He also contributed well on the PP, with 3 goals and 9 assists coming on the extra man unit. I don’t think anyone ever doubted the vision and skill of Strome, and it’s not like it would be exactly a shock if he busted big time when you look at what his brother did, but the technical ability he had really came to the forefront when he arrived here.

The Frogurt is Also Cursed

That all being said, there are still a few things to be a little concerned about with Strome that could lead to a potential production. falloff. Let’s start with those boldened CF% and xGF% numbers above, which are certainly somewhat alarming. The Hawks weren’t a great team in either category, but Strome still had a -3.2 CF%Rel and and a -3.26 xGF%Rel. I am sure that a huge part of that could be attributed to the defense, because we know the blue line was awful, but the center still bears some responsibility for that. To be that far below team rate is troubling.

I think something that could be playing a big role in that is the well documented skating issues that have followed him (and his entire family, really) throughout much of his career. He’s strong in his lower half, and had good enough size to stand his ground, but he isn’t fast by any stretch of the imagination, and that certainly plays against him in today’s NHL. It also makes him something of a misfit in Coach Cool Youth Pastor’s speed-obsessed man-t0-man system. I tend to believe that his skill will play way above this concern, but if there is one thing that is likely to drag him down and keep him from reaching his potential, it’s that.

Moving forward, Strome gives the Hawks a good amount of comfort in terms of the center depth. Even if he falls off slightly next year, he still could be a 60 point guy, which is perfect for a 2C, and if he steps up the production you could be seeing a full point per game pace and some 1C numbers. Either way, it looks like the Hawks won big with Strome.

Previous Player Reviews

Corey Crawford

Cam Ward

Collin Delia

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Henri Jokiharju

Gustav Forsling

Erik Gustafsson

Carl Dahlstrom

Brendan Perlini

Alex DeBrincat

Chris Kunitz

Artem Anisimov

Marcus Kruger

Everything Else

Note: Yes, I realize I’m mixing my Screaming Trees references but just go with me on this, friend. 

Babies, I like to pretend I know everything. Or at least enough where I can convince you I know what’s up with the Hawks. But I have to say the last few days have left me as bewildered as when they started. My thoughts, and others, were summed up in the podcast (which hey, you can get right here!), but I want to expound on them a touch more.

As I said on that ‘cast (I can abbreviate it cuz I’m cool, yo), I like the trade even though I either don’t approve of the process that got them there, and that’s if I can even discern what that process was. So, much like Patron Saint Inigo Montoya, let’s go back to the beginning.

Let’s start with Stan Bowman’s quote to The Athletic’s Scott Powers during an interview in Florida from last week about the signings of Brandon Manning and Chris Kunitz:

“Part of your job as a manager is to try to work with your coach to try to give them players that can implement the way they want to play,” Bowman said. “So I think we did a good job of that over the years with Joel. When it was obvious players didn’t fit the way even though they were quote-unquote good players, if they weren’t going to work for us, we didn’t just sit on them. We would move them and try to find somebody.

“It’s sort of the same thing. We didn’t have a lot of money to spend, but they were players that had attributes that Joel thought was important for our team and was lacking. So we have a new coach now, trying to fit in their strengths, but also changing to play in a little bit different way. So it’s hard to make a full assessment on that. I’ll have to see how it all plays out in the next several months. Hopefully they can find a way to contribute with Jeremy as well.”

Let’s start before this. Now, this has only been a working theory of ours for a couple seasons now, but I feel it’s a strong one. And one we can probably back up if we need to, and we went over on the ‘cast (so cool). After the sweep by the Predators in ’17, it was pretty clear that Stan Bowman went to his superiors and told them if they wanted to extend the window of this team, or at least keep it relevant, he needed to have complete control of personnel decisions. It had to be his show. It wasn’t totally his before, and the push-and-pull between him and Q and Q’s soldiers in the front office is well documented.

We know, or have a strong suspicion at least, that Bowman got all of the reins because he booted two of Q’s favorites immediately in Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin. Make no mistake, it was Q’s not-total belief in Bradon Saad, and his allies in the front office, that got Saad traded the first time. The fact that Stan didn’t tell Q about these trades beforehand, and Q made a show of telling the media that, gives you some idea of what the new dynamic was. You could argue it was at this point that Q just checked out of the job mentally, which is definitely the story some of the Hawks players were pushing after the firing.

So let’s add to that it was pretty clear that Stan wanted to fire Q before this season even started. And that Jeremy Colliton was his guy. I think we know this because if you’re pulling that trigger after 15 games, and I’ve said this before, all you’re allowing the incumbent is the chance for EVERYTHING to go perfectly. It didn’t.

So let’s circle back to this quote. And it’s essentially, maybe only partially, Stan throwing the coach he didn’t want to work with anymore under whatever bus was closest. “Well, I signed these guys because they were the types I hated but Joel liked and look what that got us! See why I had to do what I did!”

But if you believe all this, and maybe you don’t, what essentially happened is Stan took some cap space to assuage a coach he didn’t want with players who didn’t really have any hope, but now the coach he did want is stuck with them. And the coach he did want doesn’t have the time to really implement the changes both of them would like to make, nor with a roster either is suited for.

And if you carry this out farther, rightly or wrongly, you get to some uncomfortable questions about Schmatlz’s untouchable status over the summer. Because Elliotte Friedman reported the Canes asked about him in talks over Justin Faulk. Did Stan say no because he really thought Schmaltz was a cornerstone? An opinion he lost just 25 games in? Or did he not make a move for Faulk unless it was complete theft because he thought, gasp, a player like that might improve the Hawks just enough that he couldn’t fire Quenneville? There’s no way to make that connection firmly, but can you totally dismiss it?

Looking forward, I don’t know what Jeremy Colliton is or will be. I will say I like the outside-the-box hire, because a major problem in hockey is the constant retreading at both coach and GM positions everywhere. Everything you hear from people in the know say that Colliton has a chance to be a really good coach.

But he doesn’t have much to work with, certainly on the blue line. He has entrenched veterans who can’t, or won’t, change their game to adjust for what they are. Or he has overmatched players. And one promising rookie who has to cover for above.

We know Colliton is Stan’s guy, because he got a multi-year deal. And I’m at least curious to see what Colliton could do with a real roster. Just curious. And maybe Stan thinks he’s going to be around for all of it.

But here’s the thing. Rocky and McD can bluster all they want about “remodels” and “believing in our guys” all they want. But let’s say December goes completely balls-up, and it so easily could. And the Hawks are done by The Winter Classic, 5-7 games under .500 and on a national stage where all their faults will be laid out for everyone to see.

And then in the spring, those season ticket renewals start not showing up. Or being declined, I guess. And they have to dig in deeper and deeper to that waiting list they used to love to tell you about. And more and more on that waiting list say either, “No thanks,” or “Who are you again?”

There isn’t anything else that would get Rocky and McD’s attention. They would notice that in a heartbeat. And that’s when trigger fingers get itchy (when McD is done bullying his lower level employees of course, because GENIUS). And then the Hawks bring in some crusty hockey man because it’s a name some fans might recognize and that’s the length of the research the Twin Towers Of Born On Third Organizational Method do. And he wants another crusty hockey man behind the bench.

And then it’s totally fucked, and Collition never gets a chance with the blue line that’s kind of been hand-picked for what we think his style will be.

I know I’ve mapped this out like the detective in V For Vendetta, so let’s eschew everything in the future for now.

What I can’t get past is a GM seemingly sandbagging his coach with players who suck to illustrate what the problems with that coach were. And another thing I can’t get past is that if Stan can’t help talking up Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, and Nicolas Beaudin, then maybe it would have helped everyone to say what this year was instead of blathering about winning and playoffs. Because it’s more and more obvious next year is what they were targeting anyway (and quick, show me the last playoff team with at least two rookie d-men logging heavy minutes).

Would the fanbase have been more accepting of being honestly told what was going on? Maybe or maybe not. But it would be better than this.

Everything Else

There are so many layers to this Nick Schmaltz trade. So let’s start on the surface. On the surface, or in a vacuum, or whatever arena you need to evaluate the trade simply on the players involved, it’s not a bad trade. If you go by the “Team That Gets Best Player Wins Trade” model, then the Coyotes probably win it. But they only win it because we don’t know what Dylan Strome is yet.

Strome has played 48 games in the NHL. In his first full season as a pro last year, he was a point per game in the AHL. Now, that doesn’t mean much, even at age 20 which Strome was. Recall Brandon Pirri leading that league in scoring once in his early 20s, and it didn’t get him anything other than the Mike Sillinger Train To Everywhere. Still, it means he’s probably not incompetent. Or has the potential to be not incompetent at the highest level.

The Coyotes clearly saw enough to declare the #3 pick overall just three years ago wasn’t for them. The knocks are clear. He’s not very quick. His skating doesn’t pop. And even at his size, 6-3 and 200 pounds, has been reluctant to assert himself physically. And maybe that’s being kind.

If I were you, I would also allow for the fact that Strome has played all his NHL games under Rick Tocchet, who has proven beyond a doubt that he’s a moron. It’s hard to think of any player in Arizona who has reached beyond what you thought he might be in the year and change under Tocchet. Clayton Keller? Whatever. We have no idea if Jeremy Colliton is any better, but right now I’ll take the hope he can clear a low bar than what I already know Tocchet to be. We basically have to cling to that.

It is not requisite to be fast to be good at center in this league, but it’s getting a harder and harder needle to thread. If Strome is going to get by on his vision and instincts and smarts, and everyone still agrees all of those are at a high-level, his learning curve is a lot longer. Which is fine for a team that has time and a fanbase that has patience. I’m not convinced either of those are true here.

Brandon Perlini has already proven to be a useful piece on a bottom six. He has 31 goals over the past two seasons, is big as well but more importantly skates really well. Right now you could plug him in over John Hayden, Chris Kunitz, Andreas Martinsen and that would be an improvement. Maybe even Dominik Kahun. The Hawks need more forwards who can do something, and Perlini can do something. Get Sikura up here and things are at least improved. And tell Chris Kunitz it’s time to retire.

The Hawks turned one useful forward into possibly two. And they need numbers.

We like Nick Schmaltz. Always have. But we thought it was curious that he was always being mentioned as something of a cornerstone. Nick Schmaltz maxes out as a #2 center. A right-handed Michael Nylander if everything goes right? Nylander spasmed a couple huge seasons as a Ranger, and maybe Schmaltz will have one or two as well. That’s a complimentary player, not a foundational one.

The knocks on Schmaltz are clear. This was the year he’s supposed to grab the brass ring. This is when he was supposed to play above a bridge contract. The Hawks wanted to give him that bridge-plus or more contract. They said so. And most players want to do big things in their free agent year. Most do those things. This is when the chips are actually down and you can rake them toward you.

Schmaltz went backward. He was moved to wing, rightly or wrongly. But there’s no getting around the amount of times he begged off any kind of physical battle. It was happening more and more. That’s how you want to go about seizing a big-time contract? That’s who you are when yo have the most to make?

Schmatlz’s pass-first mentality, to an extent, is acceptable because he has the ability to be a plus-playmaker. But this season, it had gotten to pathological. And he was passing out of spots that didn’t suggest pass-first, but a lack of instincts. I don’t know that ever gets fixed.

Schmaltz has the ability to be a good, not great, defensive center. But he isn’t. Every metric bares that out. Yes, he can steal pucks when he gets to sneak up on someone. But he was much more often overpowered down low, when he even bothered, and his positional sense was iffy. Again, I don’t know that gets fixed. Being a good defensive forward is at least half want-to. Schmaltz has proven to not have much of that.

It’s when you dig deeper on this trade that you get worried. Schmaltz was considered important enough to keep the Hawks’ cap space dry for his extension. And then it took 24 games to go from that to expendable? Either Stan Bowman knew this was a possibility and this quarter of a season just confirmed that, or he’s using an awfully small sample size. Neither is encouraging.

To be fair, the window to trade Schmaltz isn’t that big. You only have 40 more games or so before the deadline, and maybe he plays even worse and lowers his value even more. But if trading him was even a possibility, meaning the Hawks weren’t completely sold on him, what deals did they miss out on this summer when his value would have been higher? Either Stan Bowman was lying to you, or he can’t judge the talent on his team anymore. It’s like one of the final scenes in “The Rock.”  “So they know we’re bluffing? Oh great, so we’re incompetent.”

Schmaltz becomes the second “piece” mentioned this summer to make his way to the Valley Of The Sun. Vinnie Hinostroza was another who we were told after last season that Stan wanted to keep around and be the support system for one last push from the Core Five. Only Alex DeBrincat remains.

Which makes you skeptical about what the Hawks are really going to get from whom they’re pushing now. Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Nicholas Beaudin?. We’re already raising a people’s eyebrow about Sikura and Ejdsell, without giving up. But when was the last time the Hawks developed a real, genuine d-man. Nick Leddy? Jury’s is very much out on Henri Jokiharju.

On this roster now, other than the Core Five this regime had nothing to do with, the only player you build around that has come through the system is Top Cat. Anyone else who might have has been traded for various reasons, but without much in return. What makes you think any of this is going to change?

It appears more and more that here is no plan, and Stan is going to keep throwing things at the wall under his Core Five until something works. Which is usually the last act of a GM on his way out. You have to wonder how many more flings he’s got.

Everything Else

I don’t know what the hell the Hawks were doing at the beginning of the game, but a slow start pretty much screwed them. They followed that up with a lot of dumb penalties, making life harder for themselves, but had it not been for some abject stupidity right after puck drop we may have had a game. Oh, and Michal Kempny exacted his revenge, that did it too. To the bullets:

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

– Of course it was Tom fucking Wilson taking advantage of the Hawks looking drunk and clueless at the start of the first. Of course it was. And not only did this anthropomorphized turd score less than a minute in, he also made sure to barrel over Crawford and knee him in the head. Fuck Tom Wilson. The fact that he’s even playing right now is an affront to decency. This league is a toilet.

– Something ridiculous happened to me the other day: I walked into an elevator at my office building, the lone dude who had been in it walked off said elevator, and as I went in, pressed the button and breathed, the smell of fart was unmistakable. As the doors closed he looked fearfully over his shoulder and definitely saw my twisted, disgusted face looking back at him with an “I know what you did!” expression. The Hawks were that guy in the first period. They laid a huge fart, and then tried to coolly walk away pretending like nobody noticed. Once the first couple minutes were over and Andre Burakovsky made it 2-0 with a power play goal, the Hawks pulled it together and got a flurry of shots on goal (after having none for about half the period). They ended up only slightly underwater in possession (47.5 CF%, all day not just evens), which was quite the accomplishment given the way it started. And yet just when it seemed like they were bouncing back, Saad high-sticked Nicklas Backstrom, which inexplicably was called an elbow, and inexplicably was argued by both Saad and Toews. Whatever.

– I’m dismissive of that silliness because Brandon Saad continued his resurgence with his third goal in as many games. It was a beautiful move just de-pantsing Orlov about mid-way through the second period. At that point the Hawks were down 3-0 so not only was it great to see Saad doing what we’ve been waiting for him to do (and consistently), but it briefly gave us, and the Hawks, some hope. And that was the mistake.

– You know how it was 3-0 when Saad scored? That’s because Michal Kempny got his first goal of the year against the Hawks. And later, in the third, he made a great play in the neutral zone to prevent a breakaway (by Anisimov who would have tripped over his own dick anyway but that’s beside the point), and it led immediately to the fourth goal, effectively ending the Hawks chances at making it a game. Well, they had in fact made it a game with Gustafsson’s goal in the third, but Smith-Pelly’s just moments later, thanks to Kempny’s defensive prowess, crushed the Hawks. And I can’t even be mad at him for it.

– This isn’t a hot take, but jeebus the Hawks are top heavy when it comes to offense. The Saad-Toews-Kane line led all four lines with eight shots, and they had over a 60 CF% at evens. Loading up on the top line isn’t necessarily wrong—it just underlines how empty the rest of the offense is. On the bright side, the second line of Schmaltz-Anisimov-DeBrincat generated the pass that led to Gustafsson’s goal, so at least Wide Dick and Nick Schmaltz got assists.

– And that’s good for Schmaltz because, if the broadcast is a reflection of the company line, then the organ-I-zation hates him these days. I know it’s a little conspiracy-theorist of me, but Eddie has been unrelentingly bad-mouthing Schmaltz these last few games which just makes me think they’re priming the ground for getting rid of him. It’s no secret Schmaltz has been struggling lately, with only nine points on the season so far. Yet seven of those points came when he was on the ice with Patrick Kane, so the source of the drought seems to clearly be sticking him on the wing and on a line without a top scorer where he (Schmaltz) can be a playmaker. I get why Colliton is going with Toews and Kane on a line, and the change doesn’t absolve Schmaltz of all responsibility for generating SOMETHING on offense. But the ire over Schmaltz from the broadcast really needs to be put in perspective, and unless they can package him as part of a season-changing deal, launching a young guy out of frustration is probably not the ideal move here.

– The power play still sucks. In case you were wondering.

We shouldn’t be all that surprised that the current Stanley Cup champions beat this group of schlubs, even if those champions are still drunk from the summer. But still, the sloppy start is maddening, and for a team with talent issues like the Hawks, having to dig yourself out of a hole basically as soon as the game starts just isn’t acceptable. And now it’s on to an even better team in the Lightning. Just get drunk and the weekend will go by in a blur. Onward and upward.

Beer: Totally Naked by New Glarus, followed by Myrcenary from Odell when I really needed a higher alcohol content.

Line of the Night: “Here’s your so-called second line…” —Foley throwing shade at Schmaltz, and Wide Dick and Top Cat by association.

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune