The Hawks continue to suck out loud and for some reason we all continue to watch this team limp slowly toward the finish line that is the end of this season. Despite a faux reprieve from offensive terribleness on Friday with a double hat trick win against the disastrous Devils, it was bookended with two horrible losses against actually contending teams, the Panthers and Blues, successfully washing away any optimism that could possibly surround this team.

The real news around these parts is that they ripped off Kyle Davidson’s “interim” tag like a Band-Aid to name him the permanent GM over Mathieu Darche and some shmuck from the Cubs (hey, how about you fix my baseball team’s on-field product before you try to switch sports?). People are justifiably skeptical about the whole situation, which is understandable, but personally I’m still thanking God that Peter Chiarelli is not the Blackhawks GM—what a scare. Davidson has been able to take a deeper look internally at what this team is missing over the past four months, something the other two GM candidates haven’t been able to do, and theoretically this means he won’t fuck things up come the trade deadline.

In case you were trying to block it from your mind, the Hawks have needs in a lot of areas: drafting, prospects, goaltending, any amount of offense at all, way less infinitely replaceable clones that can only play bottom-six positions, a permanent head coach, and maybe a better player development department as Kirby Dach becomes a giant red flag to more and more people. It all begins at this year’s trade deadline at the end of the month, where any amount of wheeling and dealing could be done by Davidson that could make us see the departures of Kubalik, de Haan, Fleury, Strome—honestly fuck it, who isn’t available at this point besides Kane, Toews and the Cat?

Anyway, we have some games this weekend to preview, and it’ll probably end ugly.

3/2 vs. Edmonton

Game Time – 7:30PM CT

TV/Radio – NBCSCH / WGN 720

It Is Better to Live One Day as a Lion Than 1,000 Days as a Lamb – Copper N Blue

The Edmonton Oilers have briefly taken a stop off of the Hot Mess Express ever since Dave Tippett got canned for letting his team get beaten by…well, the Hawks. Since his firing, the Oilers have gone 7-3 in their last 10, clinging to dear life to the final Wild Card spot they currently hold for the West. Oilers fans shield their eyes and pretend not to notice they were able to harvest wins from crappy teams such as the Islanders, Sharks, Kings and struggling Ducks, whereas nearly all of their matchups against contending teams in this stretch have led to losses. It’s mostly because Oilers GM Ken Holland has quite possibly ruined everything by not signing a competent goaltender. Once again I must assume that this team might try to make something work out to bring Fleury to Alberta, though why Fleury would want to go there is beyond me.

In other news, two of the greatest Hawks defensemen of all time, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith, return to the United Center tonight in what will likely be an emotional affair. Had things worked out differently and if the front office hadn’t completely soiled the legacy of the 2010 team forever, the place would be packed and there would be positive vibes abound. Understandably, some fans may not want to see or hear tribute videos to anyone associated with that era, but I am personally pushing some of that aside for now as there hasn’t been a negative story about Niklas Hjalmarsson since I’ve been following the team. The man was a shot-blocking legend, a minutes-eater, and probably one of the best defensive defensemen of his era. His recognition is well-deserved and he seems like a good guy.

Keith will be honored in a smaller own way tomorrow, though he’ll be on the opposing team with the Oilers. Keith is my favorite Hawk of all time—he literally sacrificed seven teeth in the name of the sport, of winning the Stanley Cup, and whether or not you think that’s something worth sacrificing, you have to respect his dedication to the craft. That dedication has made it so he is still playing in the NHL at 38 years old, and he’s not doing so terrible, no matter what you may hear from Oilers fans. He’s having better numbers in Edmonton both offensively and defensively than he had with the Hawks last year; take a look at Natural Stat Trick.

Of course the great Boomer Gordon’s theory about ceremony games meaning automatic losses to the home team will probably come true, so expect a Blackhawks loss.

3/5 at Philadelphia

Game Time – 2:00 PM CT

TV/Radio – ESPN+, ABC / WGN 720

It’s Like When I’m Doing Good In The Game, I’m Doing Good In Life. – Broad Street Hockey

The Flyers are doing much, much worse than even the Hawks are at this point of the season, at find themselves in the basement of the Metro and continuing a similar aimless march toward the trade deadline. In this city, it is longtime captain and center dot staple Claude Giroux on the chopping block. Giroux, as old as Patrick Kane, is still a team leader in goals, points, even-strength goals, OPS and faceoff percentage. Trading him away would be…well, how much worse could it get? They’re also trying to deal Keith Yandle, who is at a team-worst -32 for the year and his other defensive metrics are just as terrifying, so good luck with that.

Flyers fans are probably excited that Carter Hart has had a bounce-back goaltending year from last season, although that just means he’s been putting up a middling .912 save percentage and a 2.87 GAA. For the Flyers, however, it’s better than the alternative, as Martin Jones has lost his last eight starts to teams like Buffalo, San Jose, LA and the Islanders. He also hasn’t started since February 22, but considering their schedule he might be in the crease against the Hawks just to give Hart some rest between games against more talented teams like Minnesota and Vegas.

3/6 vs. Tampa Bay

Game Time – 6:00 PM CT

TV/Radio – NHLN, NBCSCH / WGN 720

Are You Really Sure You Want To Watch This Slaughtering? – Raw Charge

Tampa Bay is once again really goddamn good, currently atop the Atlantic Division with 76 points, good for 3rd in the league. The Lightning are also currently on a 5-game win streak and considering they only have to play the Penguins and Red Wings before facing the Hawks, it’s very likely that streak will be extended to 7 when they arrive at the United Center on Sunday.

Despite the Lightning not being offensive analytic darlings like their cross-state rivals the Panthers or the even teams like the Avalanche out west, they allow the second-least shots in the league because of their solid defense and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have one of the league’s most reliable goaltenders in Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes every night.

The Lightning are also finally healthy, as it seems only Zach Bogosian is on injury report list, and he won’t be missed too much. Steven Stamkos at 32 is also top on the team in goals, points, powerplay goals, the whole nine yards—as usual. Nikita Kucherov is 9th on the team in points so far this season after he spent nearly all of last season on IR, but that’s fine with Lightning fans since he usually pops off in the playoffs when the games matter most. The Hawks are outmatched and outclassed up and down the lineup against this team, and I do not have high hopes for this game by any means.


The fact that the score isn’t two goals worse for the Hawks should be cold comfort. They got the benefit of the hockey version of VAR thanks to Captain Stairwell being offsides not once but twice and having goals called back for it, but make no mistake, the Hawks played like shit. And they got the result they deserved.

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick


–I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Hawks’ defense has been GOOD thus far, but over these last few games they were much less awful than what we’d become accustomed to. Tonight that all fell apart, with our Large Irish Son out with a broken crotch, Calvin de Haan taking his place with Duncan Keith, and Fetch Koekkoek back in because REASONS. With Adam Boqvist still putting his face back together we can’t be surprised that Koekkoek and Gilbert were the best the Hawks could come up with, but that doesn’t make tonight’s performance any easier to take. On the first goal (that counted), Keith got completely pantsed by Travis Konecny, and then de Haan just watched as Oskar Lindblom skated past him and scored. Seabrook did Seabrook things, including getting completely burned by Captain Stairwell on the third goal after Saad turned it over. Gustafsson had an atrocious turnover that led to van Riemsdyk’s goal—it was a hot mess.

And let’s be clear, just defensively in general the team was piss poor. Obviously the actual defensemen were shit but the forwards weren’t doing anything better, and the abject failure to handle their own blue line was remarkable. In a bad way.

–I wanted to say that the bright spot was Brandon Saad, and in a way it was because his goal was really good. Kirby Dach created the chance and Saad found the perfect opening, and he finally finished. He’d had another point-blank chance in the second but missed the net badly, so it was good to see him score and overall he played well. His line with Kampf and Kubalik even came out strong. But then his turnover that led to Hayes’ goal was pretty much the backbreaker. So even that silver lining has a cloud.

–Beto O’Colliton hit the blender pretty hard but it didn’t matter and it didn’t even make much sense. I think at some point Shaw was with Dach and Kane? 20-64-8 got split up, which, OK maybe we’ll need to do that but let’s think it through, not just plop Kubalik on the left side suddenly. Also can we never see Drake Caggiula and Patrick Kane together again? It wasn’t meant to be that way but it was still frustrating and sad. Tonight was all process and no plan.

Robin Lehner deserved better. His .826 SV% looks terrible but it’s hard to pin any of the goals on him (I’m trying to decide on one and failing to do so). It’s too bad that after an excellent performance against Vegas on Tuesday and making some highlight reel stops again tonight on oh so many breakaways, he’s 0-2. At times he was visibly pissed and honestly I would have been too.

Erik Gustafsson sucks. Get this, he had a 71 CF% at evens tonight and I feel like I’m taking crazy pills because I saw how badly he played, so why are numbers lying to me? Once Boqvist gets his teeth glued back in his head he needs to replace Gus and this bullshit needs to stop. Maybe we can still find a moron to give us something more than a bag of pucks for him since it’s still early?

Overall it was a flat, shitty performance and we have to hope that maybe getting the hell out of town for Saturday’s game will help. I’m not too convinced, but we’ve all got to tell ourselves something, right? Onward and upward…



Around these parts, we’re familiar with the concept of a unicorn center–i.e. one that takes the dungeon shifts and yet continually turns the ice over to the good end of things. Not like you’re thinking, Beverly Brewmaster, you weirdo. Marcus Kruger was the backstop to two Cup teams doing it, and David Kampf has taken the torch from him and is currently filling the role in exemplary fashion.

But neither of them, nor really anyone, does it as well as Sean Couturier.

Couturier stuck with the Flyers right out of his draft year, becoming one of the league’s best checking centers as a teenager. He routinely drove centers nuts from the dawn of his NHL career with his high-speed, instinctive game that always had him in the right spots. He was the anchor to that team that beat the Penguins in the playoffs where neither team had a goalie, nearly causing Sidney Crosby to start painting with his own bodily fluids. Jonathan Toews has found Couturier to be a complete pain in the ass in their limited meetings per year. They’re not the only ones.

But Couturier has been more than that of late. When the Flyers lacked a #1 center, or Claude Giroux was better utilized on the wing, Couturier slotted up there the past couple seasons. That led to back-to-back 76-points seasons, while still providing his possession-dominant ways.

Couturier has slotted back down this season, but nothing’s changed. Over the past five seasons, only five centers have had worse zone starts than Couturier. Two of them are now out of hockey in Dominic Moore and Ryan Kesler, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mikael Backlund, and Luke Glendening are the others. None of them have matched Couturier’s Corsi-rating or expected-goals percentage, and no one’s even really close on the latter. You have to get down all the way to find Patrice Bergeron to have a significantly better number than Couturier, and he gets 10% more shift-starts in the offensive zone.

Of course, Couturier didn’t get any Selke consideration until he started putting up those 76-point seasons, because that’s just how these things work as voters really have no idea what they’re looking for when it comes to that award.

Couturier’s $4.3M cap hit per year might be the biggest bargain in the league, considering all the things he can do. If Nolan Patrick is ever able to fill in higher up the lineup (or even healthy), Coots can be the second or third center simply erasing other top centers out of the game. He can be the #1 and score just enough to justify being there. He is the league’s best Swiss-army knife, basically.

So far this year, his line with Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny has been the Flyers biggest threat, and that might be the case going forward. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek have crossed into their 30s, and James van Riemsdyk isn’t too far behind. These three kids are right in their prime or just about to be, and the Flyers path forward is that trio making it easier on the older guys as they start to lose their fastball. That appears to be the plan, and the one the Hawks have to watch out for tonight.



We joke a lot around here. Mostly it’s to keep from crying. It’s certainly better than thinking about anything you’ve seen seriously with this team the past couple seasons. Anyway, if you’re somewhat new or just missed it, we refer to “Magic Training Camp” because every excuse for the Hawks last year seemed to get back to the fact that Jeremy Colliton didn’t have a training camp. It’s why the penalty kill sucked. It’s why they were defensively awful. It’s why Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook essentially un-velcro’d from the season. And we could keep going. It asked us to ignore that the fact that Colliton had five months in charge to install…whatever it was he was trying to install. The problem is we don’t really know.

So tell me, is this good?

Now it’s only two games. But it’s two games against one team that isn’t any good (Flyers) and another that wasn’t particularly interested in anything other than maybe getting their coach fired but couldn’t turn down the gifts the Hawks felt it mandatory to hand them (Sharks). So yeah, this is a problem. There’s all the time in the world to fix it, but it is a problem.

If it makes you feel better, the Hawks don’t have the worst PK in the league. Yet. The Devils have killed less than half their penalties. So we have that going for us. But still, batting 50% over two games, wherever they fall on the calendar, is less than ideal.

We probably all have a theory on why the PK sucks, and the thing is they’re probably all correct. Talent-level is an issue, Crawford probably could have made a save or two more, structure, entries, whatever. It’s all a problem. Ok, the goal on the PK against the Flyers was a fluke that bounced off Koekkoek, so let’s not hold that against them.

To me, the entries for the Sharks last night were way too easy. Again and again, the QB–generally Karlsson–would skate up to around the red line, hit a man along the boards on the blue line, and that player would immediately pop it to a charging teammates at the line through whatever Hawks forward thought it was a good idea to go charging out to the boards on the PK. Not only were they in the zone, they had possession and speed. From there you’re always chasing.

The first goal was off a scramble, but look at how it starts:

Somehow, Kampf ends up with three guys to cover. Karlsson at the point he’s fronting, then LeBanc on the wing, and Kane in the middle. Murphy and Toews both go out to Couture at the point. Now I’m no expert, but two guys covering one when you’re down a man already is a Custer-esque strategy. Maybe that’s just an individual goof…but when you’re fresh out of training camp–that got something of a bonus week thanks to the schedule–shouldn’t individual goofs not be a thing that happens? Also Keith never moves here, though never really takes anyone either.

So to the second PP goal against:

Again, another ridiculously easy entry, that has the Hawks chasing. Zack Smith (who is awfully close to the Bobs question of “What is it, you would say, you do here?”) chases Gambrell (who?!) far too low in the zone, and because he’s slow he can’t get back to the point to cover for Karlsson’s shot. Seabrook and Maatta can’t recover from the rush from Gambrell, then trying to get set up for the point shot, leaving all sorts of free sticks everywhere.

There were times last night when it also looked like the Hawks were moving out of the way of shots on the PK, which is…a choice. The idea of any kill is to front the point-men, force the puck to the wide areas and block off the cross-seam pass. You want the shots coming from beyond the circles from that angle. It’s easier to block off whoever’s in front of the net there. There is far less net to shoot at. The angles are easier to cover up. And yet it feels like the Hawks never force the puck there.

The other excuse I’m supposed to give you is that Calvin de Haan hasn’t played. That’s cool, but Calvin de Haan is Calvin de Haan. He’s not Larry Robinson circa ’77. He’s also not all that quick, so if everyone else is getting pulled out of position–or not in one to begin with–there is little he can do.

Not exactly the start they were hoping for.


Box Score

Shift Chart

Natural Stat Trick

Ok, so we’re off. Sort of. It’s a little silly to jump to any conclusions off of one game played in a weird place due to odd scheduling. It’s a little difficult to not feel a tad deflated when the Hawks looked exactly like we kind of feared they would. Sloppy, slow, and disjointed, unable to deal with any kind of forecheck or pressure. It’s hard to get too mad when you’ve had to do without your two best defensive d-men (and maybe best overall), as no team really wants to scrape into #8 and #9 on their depth chart. Even if the Hawks are just opting to not use one of their best in Adam Boqvist instead of being forced deeper into the well.

The Hawks will remain in most games simply because their top end talent will scrape out a goal or two because it can. That said, this wasn’t exactly a world-beater on the other side, and the Hawks were second-best all over. The metrics and numbers are bordering on heinous.

But hey, it’s my job to clean it up, so let’s hop to it:

The Two Obs

-So you’ve had three weeks of MAGIC TRAINING CAMP, which is three weeks to see who can play with who and what works best. And two periods into your first game, you’re already rearranging things from the start. That feels…less than ideal.

-Alex Nylander went from the penthouse to the outhouse pretty quickly. There is little doubt that if you can get him in open ice, he can do things. That’s what the first goal was as he was able to corral a loose puck at center and had the freedom of the blue line as the Flyers backed off him. The problem is the Sabres and other scouts didn’t think he had much interest or ability to find openings in tight spaces when everyone is where they should be. Clearly Colliton didn’t think much of those efforts today, as halfway through he was skating with Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith. Drake Caggiula was called to try and open up some space.

Which, if you’re skating Toews and Kane together, is what they need. Toews isn’t the dual space-opener/finisher he once was. He is probably better as the finisher on a line now, evidenced by the 30+ he put up last season. Which means they need a forechecker, grunt-type, which Caggiula is. Nylander is most certainly not.

-I’m still getting used to the xG markers for individual games in both hockey and soccer, but when you’re basically getting doubled up in that at both evens and overall, you’re not creating much, you’re giving up too much, and you’re basically getting domed.

-The Hawks experts on TV and some in the media will try and chalk this up to just one-off sloppiness or looseness. But that’s what this team will look like a lot of nights. They can’t gain the opposing line with control and speed because their defense is so slow that when they do corral a puck in their own zone all they can do is just gasp for air, i.e. fire it out to the neutral zone or in the vague direction of a teammate at their own line, praying to Yahweh that they can somehow corral that pass. They still try and make too many passes to get out, and they don’t have time for it most of the time anyway. Yes, teams mostly now just want to lay pucks out into the neutral zone for forwards to skate onto. Or just make one pass and go. But that is done with a modicum of control or plan. The Hawks are just thrashing about, trying to find the sides of the pool to keep from going under.

-It might look a little better if Duncan Keith can locate a fuck to give between now and whenever. My guess is he isn’t looking all that hard. His gap on Konecny’s second was simply woeful. And I counted two or three times when he half-heartedly tried to make a play at his line, his former calling-card, missed and fell on his face.

-Which means you’re restricted to individual brilliance, which Kane provided for goals two and three today. Doesn’t hurt that #2 went to one of the best finishers on the planet.

-Colliton was double-shifting Kane in the second period. Does he know another song to sing?

-Your best possession line was the second one, and I would hope we see more of that and due to the improved skating of Strome’s which is clear.

-Saad-Kampf-Kubalik was given the dungeon shifts and came out basically even, which is nice. One wonders just how this line would be deployed when Dach is the center, which the Hawks are going to at least try. Of course, the one thing you might want to try is slotting Toews between these two wingers, putting Dach with Kane and Caggiula or Shaw or someone and keeping them exclusively in the offensive zone. Think we’ll see that? No, me either.

-One problem for Boqvist is that the Hawks already don’t use Gustafsson on the kill. So if 27 were in the lineup as well, that means the Hawks would be trying to kill penalties with just four d-men. This could be solved by dressing seven d-men, but the amount of piss that gets spilled onto the floor every time the Hawks try this probably keeps that from happening.

-Some debate on Twitter about Shaw’s penalty that eventually resulted in a four-on-four goal against. Yes, no one wants DeBrincat getting crosschecked gleefully and freely while he’s prone on the ice. But if Shaw just goes and grabs and hugs Sanheim, it’s almost never a penalty. When you wind up trying to do a Bo Jackson across the other guy’s chest, you’re inviting the ref to make a call, no matter how weak. Just grab him and do your yappy thing. It’s what you do best.

Let’s see how it looks with Murphy and de Haan back. Until then…





TV: NBCSN in the 606, NHLN outside

WOOTER ICE: Broad St. Hockey

What seemed like a three-year offseason finally comes to an end this afternoon, or at least it sort of feels like it does. This still has an extended preseason feel to it, even though the points will be real. The Hawks don’t play for another week after this, giving it sort of an odd oasis-in-the-desert-of-West-Texas feel. Still, these points might matter come April, so you might as well get them.

We’ll start with the reason we’re here, and that’s the Hawks. The opener feels like new toy day in a way, though the Hawks will have to wait to unveil a couple. Calvin de Haan won’t make the bell, which allows Dennis Gilbert and Slater Koekkoek to be your third pairing and for you to wonder if maybe there isn’t a better way to spend your lunch break. Robin Lehner will cede the first net of the season to Corey Crawford, as he should.

So whatever’s “new” about the Hawks today is what you were kind of worried about before. Olli Maatta will debut next to Brent Seabrook, because of those preseason performances that apparently only the coaches could see. Alex Nylander will get to run with Daydream Nation, as the Hawks make every effort to prove he does in fact give a shit, or slightly more of a shit to actually get inside the circles. No one was actually “worried” about Zack Smith or Ryan Carpenter, because we know what they’re here for. So yeah…ok, maybe it doesn’t have the juice of a real “New Toy Day.”

As far as weird openers in a foreign country that don’t really feel like openers, there are harder landings than the Flyers. Except they do come with a fair amount of speed up front, which is something that will give the Hawks problems all season. And if you’re wondering, “Doesn’t every team have a fair amount of speed up front?” Well, now you see the problem.

The Flyers are in a strange place, where it feels like they’re rebuilding but most of their players have been around a while now, whatever their age. And to help take it a step forward, they have three failed coaches behind the bench. Alain Vigneault seems to get a bounce in his first year or two, but eventually drives everyone nuts and by the time he’s fired it’s usually just about the time his players are constructing a flammable effigy of him or two in the dressing room. He’s also an odd choice for such a young team. Beyond that, what Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo have to offer other than grunts and suggesting “MOAR HITZ,” I can’t tell you.

Still, the Flyers should boast a decent enough top-six, with Giroux and Travis Konecny flanking Sean Couturier up top, and new signing (and way overpaid) Kevin Hayes between Jakub Voracek and either James van Riemsdyk or Oskar Lindblom. It’s not the best top six, but it’s hardly the worst, even if Giroux is something of just a spot-up shooter right now. Joel Farabee turned some heads in camp at 19, and will start in the bottom six today, with the hopes of sticking around longer term.

The real hope for the Flyers is on the back end and especially in the crease, where Carter Hart is hopefully going to end the decades-long reign of all the goblins and evil spirits that have inhabited the Flyers crease. Hart was the only one of eight (!) goalies last year to look good, has been billed as the answer since arriving in the organization, and looks the part. The Flyers can only hope that he is finally the one strong enough to overcome the curse of anyone in orange pads.

The Flyers have promise on the blue line, though Ivan Provorov will have to overcome something of a plateaued year last year. Robert Hagg, Travis Sanheim, and Samuel Morin are all young, which is why Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen were brought in to be steadying hands (Niskanen was also brought in to make sure Radko Gudas didn’t turn them all into felons). Shayne Gostisbehere needs to prove he wasn’t just a one- or two-year power play phenomenon, because the Flyers have more than enough talent there to shuffle him along to save money.

Whatever it’s going to be, it starts now. The Flyers don’t have near the speed to destroy the Hawks defense, but they have enough that we can see what the plan actually is here. If they get snowed under by this, especially without de Haan or Connor Murphy in the lineup, we know how big the problems just might be. And whether or not Crow can keep Atlas-ing this team so that it’s scoring can make up the difference.



Note: Normally we’ll do all Hawks pregame posts on gameday. But with the afternoon start tomorrow, let’s get started a touch early. 

You don’t hear too many laments about the Hawks being unable to sign Kevin Hayes way back in the day. At the time it seemed a mistake, though not a huge one, especially at a time when the Hawks were struggling to come up with impact forwards through the system, especially centers to support Jonathan Toews. You’ll hear almost no laments now that he’s getting paid like a #1 center he’s never come close to proving to be. But you can always count on the Flyers to Flyer.

The only time Hayes has cracked 50 points in a season came last year, which conveniently came right before he hit unrestricted free agency. Funny how that always seems to work out, no? Other than that, Hayes has consistently been around 45 points, which is just barely #2 center production and these days it’s really having to crimp to be called that. Maybe the Flyers hope that Scott Laughton can one day move Hayes down the depth chart. But that would make handing him over $7M a year even more baffling. Flyers.

And until last season, Hayes wasn’t loved by the metrics either. He hadn’t been above the team-rate in Corsi or expected-goals percentage in three seasons, and was sometimes viciously underwater. All of it feeds into the idea that you can watch a game with Hayes’s team and never notice him, and then when you look up at his 45 points you rack your brain to see if you can remember any of them. Trust us, you can’t.

Still, Hayes looked pretty good in an admittedly small sample size of 13 games with the Jets last season, the first time in at least a while, or maybe ever, that he’d gotten to play with supreme talent. And maybe that’s the hope for the Flyers here, except their supreme talent would seem to be spoken for. That’s because Sean Couturier centers Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, and it’s been a long time since James van Riemsdyk counted as supreme talent. Hayes is going to have to make JVR and Travis Konecny look like that. For most of his career, it’s been the other way around.

Which makes the long-term planning of the Flyers pretty damn curious. But it was ever thus. At the moment they’re slotted to play Giroux $8M for another two years, Voracek close to that for another four, Hayes, and JVR $7M for another three seasons. Konecny is on a reasonable deal of $5M for a good long while, but Couturier might be in line for a huge raise in two more seasons.

Essentially, the Flyers have to get going now while their young players like Joel Farabee, Carter Hart, Travis Sanheim, and one or two others are still very cheap. And yet they don’t look any closer to the playoffs than they were last year, which was still a $40 cab ride. This is probably why you’ve heard Shane Gostisbehere trade rumors, because they have to cut costs somewhere.

But hey, you can’t blame Hayes for taking the money. Now he can comfortably rack up his 47 points and not worry about the future. Good gig if you can get it.



Gritty means clicks. Everyone knows this.

For the past seven years, the Flyers have been bouncing back and forth between a rebuild that never seems to get past the blueprint stage or a love affair with the #7 seed that always ends in a quick first-round exit that you have to be reminded happened in the first place. The Flyers don’t even generate nearly the amount of empty noise they used to, where they would get coverage and media love simply because it was a natural reflex from the past. Suddenly, the Flyers have become a team that’s just kind of there. And it looks like they’re going to be that again this year. Philadelphia never sinks into irrelevance in anything, simply due to the look-at-me obnoxious and yelling of any of their fanbases. But if any team can manage it, it just might be the Flyers. Let’s take a walk…


37-37-8  82 points (6th in Metro)

2.94 GF/G (18th)  3.41 GA/G (29th)

48.2 CF% (21st)  48.7 xGF% (18th)

17.1 PP% (23rd)  78.5 PK% (26th)

Goalies: If nothing else, the Flyers actually might have stability in net for the first time in a generation or six. Last year, the Flyers used eight goalies. Eight. Ocho. Acht. Huit. Their crease was almost literally a clown car, and definitely clown shoes. Things smoothed out when top prospect Carter Hart got the call, simply because he was a life-preserver in a rollicking sea of incompetence and silliness, and now he gets the con full time. And hopefully for the foreseeable future.

Hart put up a .917 while seeing almost 32 shots per game behind an porous defense, and he might have to do the same again. Still, at evens he was behind his expected SV% (.917 to .923), a difference that was only a touch better than Mike Smith‘s. If you’re in Mike Smith’s neighborhood on anything, baby you gotta move. But Hart did manage a .906 on the kill, even with the Flyers defensive problems, so that’s where they’ll hope roots grow out from. Clearly all the promise in the world, but life with young goalies can be treacherous. Remember they nearly chased Carey Price out of Montreal once upon a time, though in Montreal they chase just about everyone out of town in between drags of filterless cigarettes and a disdain for life.

Backing him up will be Brian Elliot, who’s been a backup for at least five years now but kept I Dream Of Genie’ing coaches and GMs into thinking he was a starter. Elliot has been pretty mediocre for three seasons now, but with a reduced workload and expectation, he probably can get the Flyers out of 20-25 starts. They’ll take it, considering what they’ve been through.

Defense: Clearly an issue last year as it feels like Shayne Gostisbehere has stalled out and to a lesser extent Ivan Provorov has too. Though Provorov is still only 22, and still needs re-signing as an RFA. The Flyers added Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun (who would have looked pretty all right here, but I digest) to smooth out things and provide an easier runway for their kids like Ghost Bear (if he’s a kid anymore), Provorov, Hagg, Sanheim, Morin, and Myers. Not all of them can play obviously, but all will probably get a look.

Ghost Bear had something of a strange year, struggling defensively and not totaling anywhere near the power play assists he had in the 60+ point season he had the year previous. His metrics were ok, though he gives up better chances than he creates, which might be a reason his name came up in trade rumors over the summer. That is if the Flyers were an organization that paid attention this kind of thing, not one that makes prospects fight to the death in a dark room to decide whom to draft.

Sanheim might be the real treasure here, as he put up the same points as Ghost Bear with glittering metrics and worse zone starts. Niskanen and Braun are clearly around to shield him, and with that sort of assistance this could be a real breakout season for him.

Forwards: The Flyers, in the most Flyers thing ever, traded for the negotiating rights to Captain Stairwell, then handed him $7M a year from here until Global Heat Death to watch him pile up 47-point seasons. The fascination with the younger and quite possibly dumber Hayes has always eluded this blog, though as a #2 or #3 center he probably doesn’t completely murder you.

The headliners are still Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, who will always pile up the points and the latter can still mark any opposing center out of the game (Toews only sees him twice a year and probably wants to murder him). Jakub Voracek will continue to bounce between the first and second lines and continue to pile up secondary assists, leaving it a mystery to what he actually does. As is their way, the Flyers are paying premium for James van Riemsdyk‘s decline.

What they need is a leap forward from any of Scott Laughton, Travis Konecny, or Nolan Patrick (or Patrick Nolan, I’m not sure it matters), to lessen their dependence on the Garbage Bag Warrior. Konecny has taken a run at 50 points the past two seasons, and with just a nudge and better teammates he could probably get over 60. Though one or two of them might have to move to wing to accommodate Hayes. Konecny, like Provorov, still needs re-signing (we keep writing that. What a strange league).

There’s also Morgan Frost, Joel Farabee, and Isaac Ratcliffe, all candidates to make the team out of camp though more than likely to start in Allentown (what a fate) and perhaps be midseason reinforcements. All of huge promise, and perhaps as soon as next season make the Flyers really dangerous.

Prediction: Niskanen and Braun aren’t dead yet, but are getting up there so depending on them for shutdown or top-pairing roles is a stretch. However, if they can provide shelter for Sanheim and Provorov, and Ghost Bear can find the scoring touch again he has flashed, suddenly this blue line looks pretty tasty. The forward corps looks short, though a leap from one of the kids and a contribution from one of the trio mentioned above and suddenly it might not, even with Claude Giroux definitely on the back nine of his career. They need a full season from Carter Hart, and the Philly crease has swallowed many a kid before and spit back out a smoldering husk of an indistinguishable form.

It’s a lot of ifs, but none are complete fantasy. As stated before, this is a funny division with no truly dominant teams and a few teams that could be just about anything. They would need a 10+ point improvement to make the playoffs, but that’s not asking for the moon given the conditions stated. They’re highly unlikely to grab one of the automatic spots, but fighting for a wildcard down to the season’s last is hardly beyond them.

But again, this is the Flyers. Logic and reason died here long ago, and all we’re left with is a surreal and vulgar landscape. Your guess is as good as mine.

Everything Else

We continue our look around what the Hawks might be able to pry loose via trade this summer, and our lonely eyes turn to The Iladelph. This one isn’t as clear as some others, where the Flyers aren’t actively shopping Shayne Gostisbehere. But they’re also listening, desperate for some forward help. That’s why they’ve traded for the rights to pay Kevin Hayes, who sucks, but it would be truly Flyers to get the jump on negotiations and fuck them up anyway.

So first off, would the Flyers actually part with Ghost Bear? Possibly. He’s been passed on the depth chart by Ivan Provorov, and it might soon be that Travis Sanheim does as well. They’ve been waiting for Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin forever, and there’s a couple other kids down in the system as well. It’s something of a strength to trade from for them.

And Ghost Bear has earned himself the title of a power play specialist. Your first reaction is to say that he’s just younger, more mobile Erik Gustafsson. Except that younger and more mobile is something we’ve wanted Gus to be for his entire stay here, so I’m not sure that’s anything worth complaining about.

But yes, Gostisbehere has racked up the power play points in the past, with 33 two years ago, and 23 the year before that. That doesn’t mean he’s a total nincompoop at even-strength, with 23 points this year and 32 the year before that. Ghost Bear might always be haunted by his rookie year where he put up 17 goals in just 64 games. But he shot 11% that season, which is astronomical for a defenseman and really shouldn’t be expected again.

That said, Gostisbehere’s metrics at evens are pretty good, well above the team-rate in Corsi the past three seasons and above in expected goals the past two. The caveat here is that Ghost Bear is punted in the offensive zone to start his shifts most of the time, so he should probably carry a higher rate than the team.

The drawback to Ghost Bear is that he doesn’t help out the defensive game much. And while he’s brilliantly skilled and mobile, it’s unclear if he can consistently skate or pass his team out of trouble when in his own zone. He wasn’t asked to do it a whole lot in Philly. Again, perhaps paired with a really good defensive partner you’d have a nice dynamic, but right now the only player the Hawks have that qualifies as that is Connor Murphy. It’s a nice thought, but a Ghost Bear-Murphy pairing sounds like a really nice second pairing and doesn’t solve your top of the rotation problem.

Is he gettable? Probably. Rumors have the Canadiens hot on his ass and dangling Andrew Shaw and/or Paul Byron to get him. Certainly Brandon Saad would be more than that, though if that deal straight up makes you queasy I get it. The Flyers are desperate for any kind of second line help, and Saad would definitely qualify as that. Fuck, maybe you catch the Flyers being the Flyers and convince them that Anisimov is that, especially if they can’t sign Hayes. It’s a longshot, but dumber things have happened.

Does he help? That’s a harder case to make. Again, the Hawks are fiending for mobility on the back end like no one else. This would make Renton’s withdrawal look like a cold. But Ghost Bear might be more of what they have, somewhat wayward in his own zone. If he had proved to be a carry-the-mail type, you’d be in on this 100%. But he might just be like Gustafsson, where you’ve got to get him to the offensive zone another way before his real effectiveness is apparent.

Like we’ve said about just about everyone we’ve previewed, he’s better than almost everything else the Hawks have on the roster now. But is he such an improvement? He would make Gustafsson expendable and you probably can fetch more for Gus than you give up for Ghost Bear simply due to the contract. Ghost Bear is also 26, so he may have some improving to do but he’s also not so far away from his peak that you can picture him being significantly more than he is. Again, this feels like another half-measure.

Everything Else


RECORDS: Flyers 35-30-8   Hawks 32-30-10

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm



Whatever this late-season charge is, and wherever it’s going, continues on Madison St. tonight as the Hawks host the Flyers. They have a chance to put a bad result behind them, and set themselves up once again for what would be a big weekend set against the Avalanche in an old school home-and-home. Essentially, after these three games (certainly four with the Coyotes after that), we’ll be as close to official word as we’ve had on what the last two weeks will be.

There was a moment there when the Flyers were also threatening to crash the playoff party in the East. They won 12 of 14 from January into February, but have been trading wins and losses since and have watched the Penguins, Canes, and Canadiens basically get away from them. They’re six points behind the Jackets with only nine to go, so that’s not happening. And really, this Flyers team doesn’t deserve a playoff spot. And neither do the Hawks, really. It’s one very much still in a rebuild/rebrand/transition/whatever term we use now.

The Flyers have suffered from the up-and-down nature of such a young roster. Not everyone takes a step forward at the same time, and Claude Giroux isn’t crashing in shots at to the tune of 18% anymore to even it out. 10 of the 19 skaters and goalie on display tonight are 25 or under, so the thought is the future is quite bright. And it may be, though it’s hard to see which of the neophyte set is going to be a true star. Nolan Patrick looks functional, but hasn’t yet popped or flashed that he’ll be inspirational soon. Then again he’s 20. Ivan Provorov has struggled under the weight of top-pairing assignments. Shayne Gostisbehere has looked like more than just a power play weapon, but also hasn’t really shown to be more than a second-pairing d-man. Maybe Travis Sanheim?

One who definitely has flashed being something that Philly fans will toast their lagers to before chucking the full glasses/cans at each other (it’s a sign of love there) is goalie Carter Hart. He’s also 20, but is carrying a top-10 SV% in the league and one of the better marks for a rookie in recent history. Flyers fans have been waiting for Hart ever since he started holding the entire WHL by the forehead and letting them uselessly swing their arms. He wasn’t supposed to be here, but thanks to injuries and incompetence from others he is and now he’s going to stay. If you’re any kind of hockey fan you know that the Flyers crease has been a succubus to anyone stepping into it decked in orange since Ron Hextall. Hart just might be the one to break the curse, but as it always is with the Flyers, one has to wait and see before fully committing. Odd things happen to men in masks there.

As for the Hawks, they seem intent on carrying on with this odd and frankly wrong set of forward lines, with Daydream Nation reunited and Dylan Sikura along for the ride. It’s too top heavy for no reason, as Sikura doesn’t really compliment these two in the way they need to maximize. They need a puck-winner like Saad or Caggiula. And that third line doesn’t really do anything. It’s not a checking line because Anisimov is too slow and too soft. It has no creator to score. Hopefully Beto O’Colliton realizes the error of his ways and goes back to what we had after no more than a period. Corey Crawford is your starter.

This one should be much more open than Monday’s what-have-ya. The Flyers don’t have the defense to trap, and it’s not what their young forwards want to do anyway. That should benefit the Hawks, but there’s some sneaky firepower down the lineup for Agents Orange, which means trouble for the trash on the third pairing for the Hawks. And Hart is capable of stealing a game here and there. So the Hawks can’t half-ass this. They can’t half-ass anything. They lost that right long ago.

If the Hawks are serious about this whole playoff push thing, and I’m not convinced they are, they basically have to take the next three, and probably in regulation when it comes to the weekend. Do that and they’ll be ahead of the Avs and at worst sitting on the shoulders of Minnesota and Arizona with the latter on the schedule the very next night. The Hawks have basically fallen in their own vomit every time they had a chance to turn their season serious, and this is probably the last one. Let’s see what they’ve got.


Game #73 Preview Suite




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