Everything Else

Oh right, the Arizona Coyotes.

That’s how I feel every time I hear their name. Like that cousin you’ve met once. You never think about them, and quite often you forget they exist. And then you’re reminded that yes, they are in some small way part of your life and there are distant memories of them. They are connected, somehow, to your life, if only by the thinnest of threads. You’re not sure why they are, you’re definitely sure you don’t give a rat’s ass, and yet that string-connection is still there.

We’ve been assured that their GM, John Chayka, is a computer boy genius, and in that way I want to root for him. For hockey to ever change out of its thinking that causes the Flintstones to tug their collars (if they had collars), it’s going to need some analytical front office to be a consistent winner. Maybe the obstacles in Arizona are just too large; given an internal budget, lack of fans, uncertain future, etc. But we’ve been promised there’s a plan for years now, and the Yotes have failed to come within warp drive capability of a playoff spot in six seasons.

And it’s going to be a seventh. Let’s hop to it.

2017-2018: 29-41-12 70 points  208 GF 256 GA  48 CF% 46.1 xGF%  7.2 SH% .921 SV%

Goalies: Here’s something weird: You know how we say that if you have a good goalie it’s really hard to suck? Well, the Yotes have figured it out! Antti Raanta was really good last year! Sure, he only played half of a season due to injury, but he went .930 and .936 at evens. And I guess the Coyotes were decent enough when Raanta was in net, as they went 21-17-6 when he started, which is about an 85-point pace. Which isn’t good enough for a playoff spot or anywhere close, but it’s at least like…not remedial class. So I guess that’s what we’re counting on here if you’re counting on the Yotes. Which says something about you.

Sadly for the Yotes, everyone who tries to fill-in for him turned into basically a hallucination and might not have actually been there to stop pucks. No other goalie managed a SV% over .900 for Arizona.

What’s strange is this might be what Raanta is. This is two straight years he’s been really good, and three he’s been above league-average. As he’s 29, and this run started when he’s 27, this is his peak and this is what he looks like. So the Yotes can count on him pretty much.

The Yotes are trying to be a little more stable behind Raanta with Darcy Kuemper. He was pretty bad with the Yotes last year though, after being pretty all right with the Kings. Maybe he couldn’t handle the defensive-weakling team in front of him. Whatever, he’s probably not a .899 goalie. If he can get back to his career .912 mark, the Yotes can give Raanta a night off or survive a minor injury without needing the anti-anxiety meds every time Kemps skates to the blue paint.

Defense: So we mentioned this when Oliver Ekman-Larsson re-signed there, but the buzz was that the Coyotes had locked down one of the league’s best and could be the base for their future assault out of anonymity. But OEL has been around now for eight seasons. And all the numbers look good, both on the surface and the underlying ones. But if he were that good, would the Yotes always blow? You have to have this guy when you’re always finishing last with him? It’s curious. He’s definitely not a tomato can, and he’s almost certainly good. But great? Transcendent? Wouldn’t we have evidence of that already if he were those things? He’s going to be getting $8 mildo from here on out, and you kind of have to ask yourself for what?

All the baying and crying and lashing of innocents over the departure of Niklas Hjalmarsson last year ignored the fact that he wasn’t much good in his last year in Chicago and he was straight-up bad last year in Arizona, depending on how you look at it. If you go by strictly Corsi, he wasn’t anywhere near what you were used to, below water and below the team rate. If you go by expected goals, he was pretty good, keeping those attempts to the outside and non-threatening for the most part. With the clueless set of forwards, surrendering more attempts than you get is hardly a surprise. Keeping that from the roof caving in is probably a decent job, though now at 31 and with that mileage one has to wonder how long he can keep it up.

Jakob Chychrun came up for air last year and didn’t do much. The Yotes will expect more. Alex Goligoski was underrated in Dallas. He’s been elephant cage leavings in Arizona and is now 33. Jason Demers deserves better than the third-pairing here, and Kevin Connauton has been scenery for as long as I can remember. Jordan Oesterle is here in case you care, and you don’t. It’s not the worst unit you’ll ever see, but a lot hinges on Chychrun living up to the promise.

Forwards: The new addition here is Alex Galchenyuk, which I think could be a great trade for the Yotes if they play him at center. Fuck, given Derek Stepan‘s age and “Yeah But Who Gives A Shit?” production for at least five years now, it may be time to move him to wing. Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak occupy the other center spots, so you could see why they might want to acclimate The American With The Russian Name Who Used To Be A Canadien on a wing. Still, just because the Habs say he can’t play center is no reason to believe it. In fact, it’s a big reason you should try it.

Other than that, it’s Clayton Keller and a big bag of bums. They’ve been selling Dvorak for a while now, and he might be past his sell-by date. Michael Grabner is here to score 25 goals that you’ll see in March and go, “Wait that happened again?” It will and it won’t matter. If Nick Cousins and Brad Richardson are on your team your team isn’t any good. There are some more kids who could break through, and Yotes fans had better hope so if they want anything to watch. Again, they’re woefully short of scoring here.

Outlook: No matter what’s on the ice, it will be undone by the established moron Rick Tocchet behind the bench. I don’t know why the Coyotes haven’t taken more care of a coach to develop the young talent they keep claiming they have, but Tocchet doesn’t have to keep looking down the barrel of a 9mm wondering how it fires for us to know he doesn’t know what he’s doing. (Write in Tocchet for the Jack Adams Award now).

Even in this god-awful division, you can’t see a path for the Yotes out of it. They’re miles behind the Sharks and Knights, even with the expected regression of the latter. The Ducks are better, and they have no McDavid or Gaudreau to catch the Alberta Twins. The Kings will be boring and boorish enough to keep things tight and dry hump their way to more points.

The best the Yotes can hope for is that Keller, Dvorak, Strome, Chychrun take huge steps forward and provide hope for the near future. Maybe Barrett Hayton makes the team? Oh, and they can hope they don’t end up in Quebec, which at this point…

 

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

 

Everything Else

When the Hawks brought Connor Murphy in, he was the presumptive favorite to replace the puck-pocked husk of what was once Niklas Hjalmarsson. And as the season went on, and the Hawks found their heads deeper and deeper in the toilet, the narrative began to range from “the Hawks will need a Top 4 defenseman next year” (true) to “the Hawks really miss Hjalmarsson this year” (categorically false in terms of on-ice performance).

After some early season struggles, a few confounding healthy scratches, and a mostly successful experiment on his off side, Murphy settled in to produce a couple of interesting career highs and team rankings. Let’s kick it.

Connor Murphy

76 GP, 2 Goals, 12 Assists, 14 Points, -3, 34 PIM

53.44 CF% (Evens), 1.2 CF% Rel (Evens), 53.47 SCF% (5v5), 51.57 xGF% (5v5), 2.99 xGF% Rel (5v5)

 50% oZ Start (Evens)

What We Said: Behind Keith and—if you look at him with enough glare from the sun—Seabrook, Murphy is probably the Hawks’s third best D-man. He’s fine if not underwhelming for the price ($3.85 million cap hit), but on the edge of 24, he will need to prove that his numbers really are the result of playing in America’s chafe rather than wasted potential. Given that the Hawks have won three Cups on the backs of their defensemen . . . Murphy will need to develop into a shutdown D-man fast.

What We Got: We’ll start with some numbers (feel free to skip the bullets if all you want is the explanation).

– Murphy posted an even-strength CF% of 53.44, finishing above water for the first time since his rookie year. Of Hawks D-men who played at least 20 games, he finished fourth, behind Franson (59.91), Gustafsson (55.39), and Kempný (53.95). If you bump the minimum threshold up to 40 games, Murphy is your leader in CF% for Hawks D-men.

– His 1.2 CF% Rel was only the second time he’s been in the positives on that ledger (1.0 last year). Of all Hawks defensemen who played at least 20 games, only Franson (9.2), Gustafsson (6.6), and Kempný (1.4) had higher CF% Rels. Again, bumping the threshold up to 40 games, Murphy’s your D-man leader for the Hawks.

– The caveat there is that Franson, Gustafsson, and Kempný started in the offensive zone at respective rates of 65.8%, 57.4%, and 55.4% to Murphy’s 50%.

– Murphy also finished with a High Danger Chances For Percentage (HDCF%) of 48.56. That’s fourth among Hawks D-men with at least 20 games—behind Kempný (52.86), Franson (52.34), and Gustafsson (50.59)—and above the team rate of 47.11. Once again, bumping the threshold to 40 games, Murphy leads all Hawks D-men.

– Murphy finished fourth in Expected Goals For Percentage (xGF%; 51.57) among Hawks D-men who played at least 20 games (behind Franson, Kempný, and Gustafsson). When bumped up to 40 games, Murphy was the leader.

– Finally, Murphy finished third in Expected Goals For Percentage Relative (xGF% Rel; 2.99) among Hawks D-men who played at least 20 games (behind Gustafsson and Franson). When bumped to 40 games, he’s the leader again.

All of this is to say that in terms of possession, Murphy was good if not great overall. He was better than the Hawks’s average in terms of giving up high-danger chances, but not great in a vacuum. And when he was on the ice, the Hawks could have expected more goals for than against.

That said, one of Murphy’s glaring weaknesses, especially at the beginning and end of the year, was his struggle to clear the puck in his own zone under pressure.

The above graph, which was tracked by Corey Sznajder, tells us that of these nine Blackhawks, only Brent Seabrook had more failed zone exits per 60 minutes of play. This means that the opposition was more likely to sustain pressure when Murphy had the puck in his own zone, which, of course, tends to lead to more opportunities to score goals. And while these data aren’t comprehensive (only tracked through 38 games), it does give us a good sample size for what’s pretty obvious through the eye test: When Murphy was pressured in his own zone, he sometimes panicked.

While Murphy absolutely must keep his spurs from jingling and jangling in his own zone if he’s going to develop into a true Top 4 shutdown D-man, it’s hard to ignore the carousel of D-men he was jerked around with this year and wonder whether that affected his play.

Murphy played primary time with five different defensemen this year.

All stats 5v5

Given how often he got jerked around, including playing his off side in his 25 games with Seabrook, one thing that stands out is the relative consistency in his possession numbers, aside from Keith. And despite the fact that the Hawks were the seventh worst team in giving up High Danger Chances, Murphy still managed well when away from Oesterle and Keith.

But therein lies the problem: Since the assumption is that Keith takes on the toughest competition (and he usually does), Murphy’s piss-poor numbers with him might suggest that he isn’t a Top 4 guy like Hjalmarsson was.

But this dovetails nicely with the overall point I want to make: The Murphy-for-Hjalmarsson trade wasn’t the loss for the Hawks some people want to say it is, and having Hjalmarsson over Murphy would have made things worse, not better.

Check out some of Hjalmarsson’s numbers when he played with Keith over his Hawks career:

All Stats 5v5

Like Murphy, Hjalmarsson had a rough go of it in the first 100 or so minutes with Keith, and that was when Keith was starting to go full Oppenheimer on the league. Coincidentally, it wasn’t until Hjalmarsson turned 25 that things really started to click any time he played with Keith, and next year Murphy will be 25.

Clearly, this is simply a coincidence, as raw age will have no effect on how (or whether) Murphy plays with Keith going forward. But this idea that Murphy doesn’t have Top 4 potential because he didn’t play well with a declining Keith over seven games this year is one of the more confusing implications I’ve heard this year.

The last point I’ll make regarding the implication that the Murphy-for-Hjalmarsson trade was a loss for the Hawks and that the Hawks miss Hjalmarsson is this:

Using more of Sznajder’s tracking data, it’s obvious that Murphy brought more to the table for the Hawks than Hjalmarsson did for the Coyotes this year. One of the two things that Hjalmarsson did that was marginally better was in terms of the breakups he caused at the blue line, preventing opponents from entering the zone with possession. (Note: They only tracked Hjalmarsson for 10 games this year against Murphy’s 38, so consider the sample size.)

Going even farther—because I have no sense of moderation whatsoever—even when comparing this year’s Murphy to last year’s Hjalmarsson, the differences aren’t as big as you’d think, mostly:

So even when we recognize and admit that Murphy had trouble with his exits from his own zone, the revisionist history that Hjalmarsson was an indispensable cog whose absence contributed to this year’s downfall doesn’t really hold water. Last year’s Hjalmarsson certainly had a better performance in terms of breakups and the percentage of entries he allowed, but he did it primarily with a not-yet-in-full-decline Duncan Keith covering him (or vice versa). Murphy spent most of his time with the glob of ambergris that is Brent Seabrook.

In short, Murphy had a good year with the Hawks despite his coach’s best efforts to jerk him around, was better than Hjalmarsson would have been, and stayed generally consistent despite spending almost a third of his year on his off side babysitting Seabrook. He’ll never be a game breaker, but he doesn’t have to be.

Where We Go From Here: Connor Murphy ought to open next year next to either Keith or Erik Gustafsson. If the Hawks are going to look at Keith as a Top Pairing Guy next year (they probably shouldn’t), they have to give him someone to cover his ass when his brain says he can make a play but his feet disagree, as we saw more often this year. I’d argue that Murphy, more than Oesterle, is that guy, despite how poorly they played together last year.

Whether you think Gustafsson is a second pairing guy is a conversation for another day (for the record, I can see it if I squint, and I’m willing to try it). But what’s undeniable is that in 135 minutes together at 5v5, Murphy and Gustafsson had a 57+ CF% while starting in the offensive zone at a 49.45% rate. With Murphy and Gustafsson entering their primes at 25 and 26, and each having paper that runs at least through 2020, pairing them might be worth an extended look, but it probably requires outside help to pair with Keith.

If the Hawks manage to sign a guy like John Carlson, or swing a trade for an OEL, Darnell Nurse, Justin Faulk, or maybe Oscar Klefbom, you’ll feel more comfortable about having the new guy and Keith as the top pairing, with Murphy covering Gustafsson. Or, you can pair the new guy with Murphy on the top pairing. This would let Keith slot in the second pairing with some iteration of Gustafsson on his off side, Forsling on his off side, Jokiharju (which is probably too much to ask), or Oesterle, because you know that’s going to happen again, despite our wailing.

Regardless, the Hawks have to saddle Murphy with more responsibility next year, whether they like it or not. The Hawks have a Top-4-potential guy in Murphy, and when he wasn’t getting the runaround, he showed flashes of it last year. Whether they use him that way is anyone’s guess.

All stats from hockey-reference.com, NaturalStatTrick.com, or corsica.hockey, unless otherwise noted.

Everything Else

If you’re one of those freaks like us that hopes one day hockey management might be moved out of the caves and stop being afraid of the sun, there’s a part of you that wants the John Chayka’s of the world to succeed. Someone is going to have to be first through the wall. It’s not Kyle Dubas in Toronto, who apparently is locked in a dark room 20 hours a day and is only let out to bathe and eat. There aren’t really any other stat-boys in GM chairs or even listened to by those in the GM chairs. The Florida experiment crashed and burned already and now Dale Tallon is trying to light the ashes on fire.

The early returns on Chayka aren’t wholly promising, though not a clear disaster either.

Chayka’s first draft saw the Coyotes with two first round picks, and both have been mainstays in the NHL this season. Clayton Keller and Jakob Chychrun have both flashed being top line/top pairing talent at times as well. So on that end, that’s a success. But it takes more than getting first round picks right. No other pick from the 2016 draft has come up for air yet, and neither has anyone from the last draft. Fine, whatever.

Chayka got a chance to set a new direction for the team when he got to hire his own coach this past summer. Dave Tippett finally had enough of losing in the desert and organizational chaos. And on the evidence we have so far, Chayka whiffed on this one to the point where he Javy Baez’ed and fell down. While Rick Tocchet might not have a ton of talent to work with, it’s got to be better than this. The Yotes are the worst team in the league, and basically their underlying numbers say they should be. They can’t even pin it on goaltending, as Antti Raanta has been fine when healthy, though his fill-ins haven’t been. Still, there have to be better trends for us to conclude that Tocchet has any idea what he’s doing after another “huh?” stint in Tampa. Then again, there might not have been too many coaches lining up to take over what has been a basketcase organization for a decade now. Though you could also argue that would be the perfect setting to give a younger, non-old boys club candidate a chance.

Worse yet for the Yotes, he’s not developing the young talent that’s there. Max Domi had a very promising rookie year two seasons ago. He had an injury-marred one last year. He has three goals this year, and now there are whispers that the Yotes are kicking the tires on finding him a new home. Anthony Duclair asked out as he didn’t want to be a part of this mess anymore. Dvorak and Rieder look to have stalled out a bit. It’s not enough.

Chayka’s trades and signings have been…strange. Yes, Duclair asked out and that handcuffs a GM a bit. But for an older player like Richard Panik who’s going to continue to be Richard Panik? At least take on someone else’s project so there’s hope. Alex Goligoski has been nothing short of a disaster. Derek Stepan has been ok, and if he’s here to just be an example to younger kids that’s fine. He at least grifted Tallon for Jason Demers, and if he really wants he can probably cash that chip in at the deadline too. Again, he decided to get older by swapping out Connor Murphy for Niklas Hjalmarsson, perhaps at the behest of Oliver Ekman-Larsson. But now he might have to ship out OEL, too. And just what the fuck is Zac Rinaldo doing here at all?

So far, OEL has made no noise about wanting to leave. If he were to, this deadline is when his value would be at its highest. A team acquiring him would get two playoff runs with him before he breaks the bank at 27. Otherwise you’re getting 75-cents on the dollar. Or you’re keeping him, but then you’d better draft really well and soon.

The Coyotes, if they’re on an upswing, don’t appear to be on nearly as quick of one as other rebuilding teams like the Avs or Devils. At some point this has to be kicked into high gear. Are you doing that if you lose all of Domi, Murphy, and Duclair? Is Keller enough?

And we wait for our hockey Billy Beane some more…

 

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Oh calm down. We’d never turn against our favorite Tre Kronor regular. Niklas Hjalmarsson was a great Hawk, a major part of three Cups, and certainly should be remembered well in these parts.

But it’s that last component that’s getting really annoying. Especially considering some of the other complains about this current Hawks team.

You can’t sit, bitch, and moan about Brent Seabrook’s play and contract and then bemoan the loss of Hammer. It’s non-sensical and hypocritical. If the theory is the Hawks should have cashed in Seabrook’s rep in the aftermath of a third triumph for part(s) younger and cheaper, then that’s exactly what the Hawks did with Hammer.

Because if you were paying attention in the second half of last season, Hjalmarsson was not good. He had just as many scorch marks on him after the Nashville series as anyone else did. And stay-at-home d-men, especially ones that eat as much rubber as Hjalmarsson did, do not age well. In fact, they’re starting to be phased out of the game altogether as teams look at teams like the Predators with six d-men who can move and think they might want some of that.

That doesn’t mean that Connor Murphy is a given. Especially if his coach won’t stop wetting himself over the deal. But it’s the kind of thing you need to try, and the kind of thing the Hawks probably should have done more of and earlier than they did.

It’s sad to think in some ways, given what Hjalmarsson gave to the Hawks, but in a league that’s getting smaller and faster and more skilled, his kind of d-man just might not be all that valuable soon. You have to be mobile to play defense in this league, and Hammer didn’t have much of a step to lose. He probably already lost it. The Hawks don’t need shot-blockers. They need guys who get the puck to the other end of the ice. That’s never been Hammer.

Thank him for what he did. Remember it fondly. And also keep in mind that nothing lasts forever, and you have to move on at times. Even if it feels earlier that you anticipated.

 

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Do you remember wanting to do a fatality in Mortal Kombat II on Sega Genesis, but the combo was 15 buttons long and you were fucking 10 so you couldn’t finish it on time? That’s what this game was. To the bullets.

– Brent Seabrook had an eventful game. Like a post-binge-drinking shit, it started off nice, then turned into a wet pile of unidentifiable slop. The PP goal was a thing of beauty, the half-assery on the missed icing call can be forgiven, but after that, I sat wondering where all that $7 million leadership we keep hearing is so integral to the Hawks’s success was. I wanted so badly to write about what a great game he had—because early on it was good and I want him to turn it around so bad—but in a microcosm of his year, he managed to back down from a strong start and settle into a disappointing finish.

I’m not here to blame the outcome on Seabrook, but it’s hard to argue against the idea that the air came out of the team after the Leafs’s first goal. If the organ-I-zation is going to justify suiting up Seabrook by pointing to his leadership, that botched call is a perfect spot for him to showcase it. Instead we get a whole lot of yelling at the linesman and a report from whoever’s filling in for Pierre that there’s no talking, no urgency on the bench for the Hawks at all. I don’t want to get too sucked in to things that we can’t quantify, so I’ll borrow a line from Q and say I want MORE from Seabs there.

– The first PP goal was a case study in why setting up behind the net is typically a good idea. Credit Wide Dick for swallowing the faceoff impasse, and Schmaltz and Vinnie for having the wherewithal to move the puck behind the net. Vinnie’s awareness on Seabrook’s positioning gave Seabrook all the time in the world to do one of the things he’s always been good at, and he buried the shot off a deflection.

– Speaking of Vinnie, we may have a new candidate for the Kris Versteeg position. You can credit him for the Hawks’s second PP goal, when after what seemed like a decade, he fulfilled every 300-level meatball’s dream (I include myself in this description) and simply shot the puck at the net. One bounce, one Anisimov sweep through the crease, and one inability for the NHL to make the rules regarding goaltender interference clear to even the referees let alone the fans later, Schmaltz had tied the game. The way this team has played, you would have felt safe betting that Vinnie would try to throw the puck to an empty spot on the ice, but he didn’t. On top of that, he exploded from that point onward, setting himself and Keith up for few nice opportunities that they just couldn’t finish. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

– DeBrincat–Toews–Duclair did everything but score, which at this point isn’t just a cute saying. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that when given linemates who aren’t medically required to masturbate with down-lined gloves, Alex DeBrincat is quite the playmaker. He and Duclair had several anus-clenching instances in the first and second periods where the pass was either just a fraction too slow, the angle was a bit too sharp, or Andersen simply had a play to make. If Toews can be bothered to set his internal clock to the same time as everyone else instead of assuming he has more time than he does, I can see this line destroying the Earth, which means Sharp and Bouma will be with Toews tomorrow.

– I want to say I’m getting itchy about Saad, but it might just be angst at this point. The underlying numbers are strong and he’s still a force in transition. But he’s on pace for a mere 40 points this year, which would be the lowest he’s had since his 27 during the Season In A Can. I like the idea of him with Schmaltz and Kane, but after the first period, that line seemed to fade into the background a bit. This is less a call for change and more a vain cry of desperation for the Man Child to pull a Hossa and carry the team.

– Through the first 14:44 of the game, the Sharp–Anisimov–HEART MAN line had a 0 CF%. They bumped it up to 30–20–30 by the end of the period and ended the game with a 50–40–50, but that doesn’t really answer what this line does. This isn’t a complaint so much as a resignation that the depth just might not be there for the classic 3-and-1 setup the Hawks like to run.

– The Jurco–Kampf–Vinnie line is the Hawks’s Autobahn, in that they go really fast just because and put punctures in your furniture from the grip you have to hold when they’re out there. Kampf also saw extended time on the PK and didn’t look horrible doing it. If I were a gambling man, I’d bet on Kampf being Quenneville’s Kruger going forward.

– Glass Jeff was fine for a guy who’s spent most of his career flying through nine time zones to play hockey. You get what you get with him, and there’s really no excuse for losing games against the Ning and the Leafs when he allows just two goals apiece. It’s hard to get mad at him for the shootout diaper crapping, because without a top-tier goaltender, shootouts are a crapshoot.

– I’d like to dedicate an entire bullet to what a gigantic, braying, shitting horse’s ass Mike Milbury is. I don’t know who finds his “back in my day” drunk-uncle schtick charming, but this dinosaur-riding assnose is the pinnacle of insufferable. Anyone who enjoys or even tolerates his continued employment as anything other than “guy who gets stuck in a porta potty while people who are somehow lesser-rank assholes tip it over” ought to be drawn and quartered. He couldn’t wait five minutes, and I mean that literally, before implying that the Hawks lost the Hjalmarsson–Murphy trade. The fact that this rockhead has the mental faculties to imply anything at all would be impressive if the thing he were implying weren’t categorically false. What an outrageous and unabashed dickhead.

It’s hard to get mad about games like this because this is kind of what the Hawks are this year. They managed a point when they needed two, but some of the younger guys—Schmaltz, Duclair, Top Cat, Kampf, and Vinnie Smalls—looked more or less good doing it. This season may not be what we wanted, but there are still bullets in the chamber. Whether they fire them this year or next is anyone’s guess.

Beer du Jour: High Life for this low life.

Line of the Night: Mike Milbury implying the Hawks would be better with Hjalmarsson than Murphy. I’m not dignifying his actual words by going back and listening to them again. Fuck him.

Everything Else

Took a few days off myself during the bye and let the proletariat handle it. So clearly there’s some stuff to get through since if you give the Hawks enough time without any games they probably will trip over their own dicks.

-I can’t add too much to what Pullega and Rose have put up over the past couple days about Corey Crawford. It’s once again proof that trying to shroud yourself in secrecy just isn’t going to work.

Some people want to claim that the Hawks and really most NHL teams’ sprint to the stronghold of information blackouts springs from the NFL’s. NFL coaches are a poisonous combination of paranoid to the point of tin foil chapeaus, while also convinced of their own genius that their systems and gameplans should be studied at Wharton if not The Louvre for generations (though a fun game might be getting NFL coaches to define The Louvre, if not spell it). This is what happens when you give guys a full week of nothing to do but convince themselves of threats as they work 19-hour days and can’t remember the names of their daughters.

I don’t think hockey’s comes from that. It’s part that, sure, but hockey coaches and execs have always been too dismissive/stupid/mealy-mouthed to actually share information. The fear has always been that if you announce a player has an ankle problem, every player on your next opponent is basically going to do everything up to and including chair-shots on said ankle. Hockey being hockey, this isn’t totally far-fetched.

But with the Hawks, they should have learned long ago that if you have a period of silence, anything and everything is eventually going to fill up that void with all sorts of noise and you’re going to end up speaking about it anyway. And that’s where the Hawks find themselves.

I don’t know what they hoped to gain by plugging their fingers in their ears and shouting the chorus to “Caravan” as a team policy. This was always going to happen. Maybe they feared exposure of once again not handling a head injury correctly. Here’s an idea, and I know this is totally out there but maybe next time just handle the head injury correctly?

-This Crawford stuff has buried another nugget from Hawks fans’ favorite radio host Dan Bernstein on 670 The Score. While discussing the Crow weirdness he also let it be known that behind closed doors Joel Quenneville is still seething about the trade of Niklas Hjalmarsson. I couldn’t help but joke in my head that when the discussion on the afternoon show turned to whether or not Hawks fans watched other teams that maybe they should ask if the coach does as well.

By any measure, Hjalmarsson has been bad on a really bad Coyotes team this year. And if you were paying attention you saw a precipitous decline in the second half of last year. While his shot-blocking certainly got the most slobber treatment from Eddie O and apparently Q himself (and this is something that really needs to stop because you shouldn’t aim to be blocking shots as a go-to), that was far from Hammer’s most important attribute. While he was a stay-at-home d-man, he had greater mobility than most who fit that role. Which meant much like Keith and Oduya and even Seabrook back in the day, he could step up at his line and squeeze the space for opponents while not having to fear being beat to the outside. In addition, there may not have been a better Hawk d-man at making that 5-10 foot pass under duress, often blind, from the corner or below the goal line to the front of the net to a waiting Hawks center to release all the pressure and get the Hawks out of the zone.

Well, Hammer lost the step that allowed him to step up at his line. He lost the half-step to make that and other breakout passes as often as he could. And that’s not going to get better.

But it certainly explains the Connor Murphy scratchings at the slightest misstep #5 makes. It would hardly be the first time that Q has tried to either make a point to his GM, or simply stick it to him. Brad Richards starting behind Andrew Shaw on the center depth chart to start a season comes to mind, as does Steve Montador starting a season on the wing or Antoine Vermette playing a wing after arrival. There are others. Murphy is being held to an at-times unfair scale simply because his coach cries on a framed picture of a certain Swede before going to bed at night. Even with that, he’s been the Hawks best d-man by some distance this season.

This is where you wish the Hawks though they could be as transparently operated as both baseball teams in town are at the moment. Because if Stan truly envisioned this as a “transitional” season, and his quotes suggest he very well might have, he’d finally have a cudgel over his coach. If this is about getting the Schmaltzes and DeBrincats and Forslings of the world grounded, as well as getting Murphy into the Hawks’ “Martz-ian” system, Stan would have evidence to take to his bosses/fans about how his coach is getting in the way. And it would keep Q in line or maybe Stan would finally get to hire his own coach that he actually has a relationship with.

Instead, we get more of the same push and pull between coach and GM, and at this point it’s tiresome for all.

-I don’t know there’s much more I can add to the hysterical-if-it-wasn’t-sad choice of Kid Rock to perform at the All-Star game. The best case scenario for the NHL is that they’re just wildly ignorant, which isn’t encouraging. The simplistic explanation is that someone simply saw a google photo of him in a Red Wings jersey at a game and thought that was enough. Does he still do that now that they suck? Or is he more in the CM Punk fashion where he’s only around if it helps his brand?

Once again hockey has quivered in fear of a portion of the fanbase it would actually probably rather do without, and that’s the old angry white guy. And yes, if you listen to Kid Rock you’re old now. Sorry. You also suck, and I would gladly trade my life to bring Warren Zevon back to his only long enough so he could impale Kid on a flaming spear for stealing his song.

It’s that fanbase that keeps hockey from banning fighting which it would really like to, or enforcing the rules even harder to open up the game, or heavily suspending players for hits to the head/dirty play. But no, the NHL is terrified that the angry white dude who measures his own dick by how “tough” he perceives the sport he watches to be we’ll up and leave if they ever did any of this. You and I both know he won’t, because he has nowhere else to go (unless they did all this and Vince McMahon was convinced he could start an XHL and oh god this is going to happen isn’t it?), but the NHL has always operated out of fear and ignorance. Which is why they won’t backtrack on this either, although they’ll continue to celebrate Will O’Ree and Hockey Is For Everyone and You Can Play right along with it. Good stuff there.

Which is why it will always be a joke to most everyone else.

 

Everything Else

As the latest team to be run by a analytic wunderkind, every hockey fan who’d like to see the game move forward in any way, there is some investment in the success of the Arizona Coyotes. With some smart summer moves (not necessarily Hjalmarsson), the Yotes are going to be some people’s pick to surprise. They’re not there yet, or at least don’t look it, but they’re finally trending up. Whether they can get anyone to care in the desert is a question that’s gone on far too long and will never die.

Arizona Coyotes

’16-’17 Record: 30-42-10  70 points (6th in Pacific)

Team Stats 5v5: 45.0 CF% (30th)  44.9 SF% (30th)  42.6 SCF% (30th)  7.2 SH% (20th)  .924 SV% (12th)

Special Teams: 16.1 PP% (26th)  77.3 PK% (27th)

Everything Else

The NHL offseason has basically become pretty much every fan laughing at the stupid decisions of GMs across the league, and fans of those teams those GMs preside over trying to sell themselves on others that they weren’t THAT stupid. Some of that has reached these pastures, and maybe some of it is deserved.

It seems to me that possibly every NHL GM just hasn’t figured out how ruthless you have to be in this hard cap. Or maybe they know it, and just can’t bring themselves to do it. Or maybe mechanizations within the organization haven’t allowed them to do so. I think that’s what we’re seeing here with the Hawks and Stan Bowman.

While the Penguins will be used as the model, it’s probably important to remember their three Cups and four finals span three coaches and two GMs. So Jim Rutherford could have looked at the roster he got from Ray Shero and not feel the same attachments. And the Penguins roster from their first champion to the second and third only retains three and a half important elements in Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and Fleury if you want to count him, though he wasn’t supposed to be involved at all for the last two.

Everything Else

Full disclosure, I’m writing this wearing my Brandon Saad Saginaw Spirit jersey, so that’s where I am emotionally.

Ok… let’s see if we can parse this altogether. It’s not going to be easy. So here’s the facts. The Hawks first traded Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin. Then, presumably getting buzzed on the fumes from that, Stan Bowman turned around and traded Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte and a pick to Columbus for Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg, and another pick.

Well…. well… let’s get to it, shall we?

I’m not going to bury the lede here on how we feel. The Hammer trade has the potential to be a very good one. Yeah I know, you’re throwing something at the screen right now, hoping it will somehow be absorbed by the internet and then spit out through my screen and hit me in the face.

But I know what I’m saying. Put the sentiment aside. For the second half of last year, Niklas Hjalmarsson was not good. Where before he could smother the best any opponent had to offer, he couldn’t do that last year. It wasn’t just Seabrook getting torched by the Predators last year. It was Hammer too. And as we’ve said repeatedly the past couple years, the aging curve on a less-than-mobile puck bag that Hammer was can get very ugly in an awful hurry. Think Rob Scuderi. Think Robyn Regehr. Think Niklas Kronwall. Think Brooks Orpik. Not pretty, no?

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Stars 29-33-10   Hawks 47-20-6

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: CSN

YU DARVISH FAN CLUB: Defending Big D

PROJECTED LINEUPS

TEAM ADJUSTED CORSI%: Stars – 49.3 (2oth)  Hawks – 50.8 (11th)

TEAM ADJUSTED xGF%: Stars – 48.3 (20th)  Hawks – 49.2 (18th)

POWER PLAY: Stars – 18.1 (19th)  Hawks – 19.1 (15th)

PENALTY KILL: Stars – 74.0 (Dead Ass Last)  Hawks – 77.7 (26th)

What a strange little stretch for the Hawks. They saw teams at the top of the standings, didn’t play well for the most part, won all of them. They returned home to face two things from the bog in the Avs and Canucks, and had to pull a rabbit out of their hat to get a win and a point against them respectively. So where their attention level is going to be tonight is best estimated by throwing a dart at any wall in your office/apartment (and if you’re wondering if I really mean “coworker” instead of “wall”… I leave that to you). They get another look at sludge tonight in the Dallas Stars.