Hockey

It was a game they had to win, so of course they lost. I don’t want to hear anything from the organ-I-zation about how there’s a lot of hockey left, and there’s still half a season to go. Fuck that noise. If they actually wanted to do anything about the playoffs then literally every game from here on out matters, and their record needs to be absurdly good to have a chance. Instead we get absurdly bad shit like this one, where a first period in which the Hawks completely shat the bed was enough to sink the entire night. And then to really give us the finger, Pekka fucking Rinne scores a goal. You read that right. Let’s get through it:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

–So as mentioned, in the first the Hawks were disjointed, messy and seemingly confused about what they were supposed to do and where they were supposed to be. And I don’t mean that in the existential sense of, “oh they suck at hockey,” although a lot of tonight’s roster certainly does. I mean it quite literally, in that there were defensive breakdowns everywhere and guys just looking at each other not knowing what to do. What’s really bizarre is they were barely beaten in shots in that period (12-10), and they led in possession at 5-v-5 (55 CF%, lots of 5s right there). This may lead you to say that it was Corey Crawford‘s fault, and I can assure it wasn’t, although I would have liked to have seen his glove side a little tighter. On the second goal, Adam Boqvist just got out-muscled and that’s the one Crawford needed to stop, but it’s not exactly his fault that his diminutive defenseman got drop kicked by an oaf, and said oaf was then left completely alone just above the crease. John Quenneville also demonstrated why he’s completely useless on Matt Duchene‘s goal, where he basically just watched the puck go by him like a spun Phish fan watching a glowstick (trust me, I know). All the way around it was exactly the opposite of what the Hawks needed to do.

–To cap off that terrible period, the Hawks took yet another too many men penalty, which I could have sworn was their 15th of the year. Mark Lazarus on Twitter had the actual data and it’s in fact 7 total for the Hawks, which isn’t worst in the league as I snarkily opined, but it’s the 3rd such penalty in basically the last week. I can’t think of anything that sums up poor coaching and a tuned-out team better than that. I get it, math is hard, but even I can count to 5.

–There are plenty of issues with personnel on this team, which have only been exacerbated by injuries, meaning there isn’t a huge pool of talent to work with right now. However, that makes decent coaching and decision-making even more important, and again Colliton isn’t even close to getting a passing grade. For example, why is John Quenneville on the top line? One could ask why he’s playing at all, while Dylan Sikura sits in the press box (and I will ask that–why the fuck is Sikura in the press box? Did he run over Colliton’s dog or something? It’s ridiculous at this point). For god’s sake Quenneville was on the power play–what does that tell you about where this team is at?

Another example: if you’re missing key players and working with less, why put two of your best centers on the same line? Having David Kampf on a wing is just foolish, since he’s the best defensive center they have, and Kirby Dach can hold his own as the 2C no problem. And if you’re not going to put Toews and Kane on a line, even though all logic says they should play with Kubalik, then at least get Patrick Kane OFF THE FUCKING THIRD LINE where he’s centered by Ryan Carpenter who is OK but not actually good, and Alex Nylander who can’t pass, shoot or do anything that plays to Kane’s strengths (or anyone else’s, for that matter). For what it’s worth, Kubalik-Toews-Kane did finally get a look in the later stages of the game (and had an 83 CF%, by the way), but the fact it took nearly the whole game, and the fact that they still only got under 5 minutes of ice time together when it was woefully obvious his first concoctions weren’t working, shows how clueless Colliton really is.

–So what did work? Well, for one, Dominik Kubalik. His goal was off a beautiful wrister and he was showing off his speed, which we know is a rare thing around here. He finished the night with an 58 CF% at evens, yet remains Colliton’s most hated player aside from Dylan Sikura. Alex DeBrincat scored on the power play, so that was nice too.

–And to be honest, the Hawks played better in the third period. I would hesitate to say “well” because they fucked up about three odd-man rushes that should have resulted in at least one goal. However, they certainly made a game of it and piled up 14 shots in the third, but this is also what’s maddening about this team. Flip the first and third periods and the outcome may have been different. It’s definitely a give-a-shit meter thing, but also the general confusion and poor coaching mixed with the lack of enough good players. Quite a situation.

–And ‘Ole Shit Hip not only gets the win, he got a fucking goal. What a time to be alive. Yes it was an empty netter, but still…

The game was closer than the score, but in the end it doesn’t matter. They had to have two points here and couldn’t even keep it even. I can only hope that every one of these types of losses brings Jeremy Colliton‘s tenure closer to its end. Onward…

Line of the Night:Zack Smith needs help from Olli Maatta.” –What you hear from the broadcast when your team is composed of bad players.

Beer du jour: Moon Man by New Glarus Brewing

Hockey

Looking at the Hawks’ offseason moves thus far, which have ranged from the curious to the mildly dissatisfying to the outright stupid, the signing of Robin Lehner is probably the least offensive or, put another way, has the best chance of not blowing up in their face. To review, Lehner was third in Vezina voting last year, with a .930 SV% and 2.13 GAA, although he basically split starts with Thomas Greiss.

Now, before I go any further, let me just say that Lehner’s political stance sucks, and I highly doubt any of our readers would be surprised to hear me say that. But, I can’t change what he thinks, I assume there are many other players whose political opinions would also disgust me, and this is just a fact to be filed away in the “shitty things I can’t do anything about” category.

Setting all that aside, the question then becomes what does this goaltending situation actually look like next season? As I just mentioned, Lehner had a great year splitting starts, and the Islanders just seemingly fucked up by getting bored or distracted, and Lamoriello went all “is a moron” in the GM category as is his way, and Lehner pretty much fell into Stan Bowman’s lap and was willing to take a one-year deal. He’s still a bit of an unknown quantity because his Vezina- quality year could have been a fluke, or he could be hitting the best years of his career and last season was just a harbinger of what’s to come. He had some success in Buffalo with a .920 SV% in 59 games, before hitting a rough patch and then heading to the Islanders, and his career could flourish now that he’s overcome some serious shit. It could really go either way.

And as we know, Corey Crawford’s immediate future is just as uncertain. He’s worked hard to come back from the concussions, and we seen flashes of brilliance mixed with some, well, less-than-brilliant stretches. He picked things up in mid-March after coming back from concussion #857 and put up a very respectable .916 SV% through March (starting at 3/9, full disclosure), which was crucial to the farcical playoff run they pretended to make right at the end. And still, the injury history is there and we all know it. So essentially there are a lot of questions surrounding the goaltending situation and there are a few ways this could play out. So let’s explore, shall we?

Crawford is good, Lehner is bad

If this is how it pans out, then the signing will look like a relatively low-risk gamble that just didn’t work out in the Hawks’ favor. If Crawford is at his historical average around .915, and the PK gets less wretched because de Haan, Maata, and/or Carpenter somehow make a difference, then Lehner could be relegated to a true backup role, and he could choose to try his fortunes elsewhere at the end of the season, with 5 mildo out the door but no lasting harm done. Or, he could even be moved mid-season if Delia or Lankinen are making noise in the AHL and some desperate team is willing to take a chance. And this is a real possibility—the Islanders gave up 30.9 shots, putting them solidly in the middle of the league, whereas the Hawks were dismal second-worst, giving up 34.8. It’s entirely possible Lehner can’t withstand the shit defense that, as we’ve covered, hasn’t really gotten much better from last year.

Should Crawford be holding his own and Lehner struggling, the Hawks will still find themselves in a pickle when Crawford’s contract is up at the end of the season because no matter what he’ll be past his prime, even if this season is a renaissance or bounce-back or any other tired trope you want to use. They’ll have to come to a decision—the Hawks and Crawford—about whether re-signing him for a year or two is worth it, would they really expect him to be the starter, would he rather move on somewhere, what type of payday could really be in the offering (probably not a big one), etc., etc. Lehner not being a reliable alternative answers none of these questions, but if he can’t repeat last season’s performance, then signing him was a relative shrug and “meh we tried” for the organization.

Lehner is good, Crawford is bad

This would be a tough spot but would show that this dumb luck signing was the right thing to do. Let’s say Crawford has a slow start, i.e., barely cracking a .900 SV% by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. Even if it’s not totally his fault and he’s facing between 35-45 shots a night, we still need lights-out goaltending because the defense is still slow and bad. If Crow can’t manage a .910 continuously, and if the PK remains dead-ass last in the league, that’s a serious problem.

And, let’s say Lehner is throwing out a .925 in the handful of starts he gets in October through early November. The Hawks would have to seriously consider making Lehner the No. 1 but could you imagine Crawford as the backup? The organ-I-zation has disrespected him enough times that I wouldn’t rule it out, but it would be both weird and sad. It would also be interesting to see if Coach Cool Youth Pastor actually did it, but he doesn’t have a long history with either goalie so theoretically he shouldn’t be shackled to any sense of loyalty.

It would be uncomfortable, especially for those of us who love Crawford, but December is going to be intense and if he can’t withstand the shitty defense, something has to be done. The Hawks could survive as a bubble team if Lehner can hold it together, and the front office would have a clearer direction of what to do when Crawford’s contract ends. Lehner could get another deal for a few more years, and Delia and Lankinen can fight it out for the backup spot.

They’re both good

What a problem to have, right? In this scenario it’s a 1/1A setup and starts are split nearly evenly, similar to what Lehner and Greiss did last year, with both guys throwing about a .920 SV%. Such a situation could possibly even overcome the terrible defense or at least the team could win despite the shit at the blue line. However, while this may sound like the best-case scenario, I for one do not trust the goalie-by-platoon method. I know, it’s worked in a couple situations but it makes me nervous. What if one guy is on a hot streak but you sit him? Can both maintain momentum when not playing as often? Can Lehner replicate it a second year? Maybe he can, and maybe it’s a good thing for Crawford too as the wear and tear doesn’t get to him plus there’s fewer chances for him to smash his head into a metal post or the ice again.

Any of those are possible, but I’m just saying that I don’t trust the committee strategy long-term. Making  a run in the playoff—as this team CLAIMS is the goal—when you don’t know who should start in goal is nerve-wracking, to say the least. Now of course, it’s important to have two good goalies, one of whom is a solid backup. Let’s remember how crappy Cam Ward was at times last year, and please know that I’m not saying we should have some schlub just so that the depth chart is clear.

But, if this team really does scam their way into the playoffs, platooning isn’t the strategy that’s going to give me a lot of confidence as they’re facing truly good teams. Is there also a component for the goalies themselves—resentment or frustration when the time actually comes? Maybe not, but again, that’s a lot of questions just posed about the goaltending situation, which is generally not where you want to be if you’re aiming for a deep playoff run.

They’re both bad

Well then we’re fucked.

So, you’re saying there’s a chance?

The short answer to all this is: we have no fucking clue. Yet. There are so many variables right now it’s impossible to predict, but it will begin to make itself known. And then we’ll have to see what CCYP and StanBo are willing to do—they’re terrified of Seabrook as we know, will they also be too scared of Crow to take the necessary steps, should they become necessary? I think they won’t be. Personally I think they’d tell him to hit the road with no sense of irony or shame. If Lehner is going to suck that will also make itself known, and then we’ll be stuck with what we’ve got and will wonder how to move forward after the season.

In comparison to the shit at the blue line, this goaltending situation shouldn’t leave us hiding behind our couches as we watch, at least for now. But no matter how it turns out, someone’s going to get hurt. Even if only in the emotional or metaphorical sense.

 

Everything Else

Dear reader, I want you to remember those words as the Hawks go through the offseason and whatever they do. Repeat it to yourself after every move, every pick, every move that isn’t made. That’s what John McDonough told The Athletic right after the season, and I think it’s important to understand how the Hawks operate. Or don’t operate, as it were.

It’s hard to parse what the Hawks are thinking after the acquisition of Olli Maatta, itself we covered here. The fear is that the Hawks think their problem is they didn’t block enough shots. When the actual problem is preventing those shots at all, or gaining mobility or skill or…you know this could keep going and I’m going to get upset. And I don’t want to do that.

There’s also a fear that the Hawks think they’ve created this “strength” by having a logjam on the blue line. But they don’t. They have a clogged toilet. Remember, and I can’t stress this enough, Olli Maatta was nothing more than a third-pairing d-man on a team that’s been much better than the Hawks for two to three seasons now. Maybe even four. And last season ended with Maatta not even on their third-pairing. He’s not a difference maker. He’s a warm body, and that’s something he can barely claim because he’s a generally a pylon when he’s even upright.

And he’s just another third-pairing-or-below player. There are maybe two d-man amongst the NINE(!!) that are in contention for spots next year. And that’s not even counting Boqvist or Byram (a wish) pushing in training camp. Keith can still probably give you second pairing minutes and assignments with the right partner. Connor Murphy definitely can. That’s it. So seven players for what should be two spots. Good work there.

Do they think they can package some amount of this crap and get anything in return? Who thinks anything more of Slater Koekkoek than the Hawks do? The answer is no one, because if anyone did they could have gotten him from the Lightning for a song, too. They didn’t. Gustav Forsling? Everyone has seen what that is. And of course the main problem is they’re terrified of a demoted to a part time player Seabrook causing hell in the dressing room, so he’s going to be in the top six. His play has forfeited that right, but saying it out loud in the organization is somewhere around saying, “BEETLEJUICE!” three times with them.

More worryingly, although every GM says this after whatever team wins, is that Stan today was beating the, “ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS GET IN AND ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!” drum, which is horseshit. Yes, a team from nowhere does occasionally win. In fact, before the Blues won the last team to win a Cup that wasn’t consistently at the top of the standings was…hang on, I’ll get this…I’m sure it’s there…the Hurricanes? Except they had 112 points that year. Oh here we are, the Canadiens in 19 NINETY-FUCKING-THREE.

The myth of any NHL team being able to win once the playoff field is set is perhaps the most annoying in the sport. That doesn’t mean you have to win the Presidents’ Trophy or even a division. The league’s gimmick-heavy standings system makes it hard to distinguish between 100-point teams, really. But you do have to be near the top. The Cup-winner generally comes from a group of five or six. The Capitals had been around the top of the league for basically a decade. Same the Penguins. The Hawks, the Kings (and don’t start with the ’12 Kings because they were a preseason favorite that played with their head up their ass most of the season, and then were consistently near the top of the standings for the next three seasons). The Bruins were kind of a surprise, but then spent the next few years at the top of the standings too.

Simply “getting in” isn’t a sustainable plan. it’s not a plan at all. It’s the absence of one. Being a consistent, 100-point team or more is, and then maybe things break your way in the playoffs. And you need less of them when you’re actually really good. Look all it took for the Blues. A team quitting on its coach, a team not trying to score and a Game 7 OT, a team where everyone was hurt, and then that again in the Final. That doesn’t happen every year.

On the other side, it’s hard to tell what you need on the blue line anymore. There are many ways to skin a cat, so it’s very possible a team with a great blue line can and will win again. The Hurricanes look poised, the Predators have been contenders. But the last four Cup-winners have had suspect or underwhelming collections of d-men. Letang was hurt for one, remember, leaving Dumoulin as the only genuine, top-pairing guy on that Penguins team. Fuck, you could argue he’s the only one of the last four, though John Carlson and Alex Pietrangelo have strong arguments. Maybe you just need a collection of guys who won’t self-immolate at the first sign of trouble.

But the Hawks don’t even have that. They’re not even close to that! And the acquisition of Maatta doesn’t convince anyone they know how to get to that. Whatever our complaints about the Blues defense, and there are tons, Dunn, OrangeJello, and Parayko aren’t concrete-shoe slow. The Hawks are. Maatta only adds to that. What are they searching for?

And the worrying thing is they might not even know.