Hockey

Game 1 Box Score / Game 2 Box Score

Game 1 Natural Stat Trick / Game 2 Natural Stat Trick

 

Here we have the first series of the young hockey season where the Hawks dominated most stats in the column and ended up not winning both games. If it were not for the efforts of Joonas Korpisalo in the first game stopping 31 of the 32 shots, the Hawks would’ve walked away with at least 3 if not 4 points in the series. Korpisalo stoned multiple Hawks in the 2nd and 3rd frame, most notably on the mini breakaway by Carl Soderberg. Ultimately there was a lot more to like than dislike about the Hawks effort in the series, and any progress has to be viewed in a positive light this season. Could Coach Smoothbrain be getting his message through? Perhaps…

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

-For the first time this entire season, the Hawks not only were able to avoid getting crushed in possession metrics, they were the ones doing the crushing. Game one they owned the CORSI by a 55% to 45% share, and 52% to 48% in the 2nd. As noted above, if it were not for the Herculean efforts of Korpisalo the first game would’ve ended quite a bit differently. There are times when CORSI doesn’t accurately depict what the flow of the game looked like, but this was not one of those times. The Hawks clearly had the edge in play for both games, and were the better team for long stretches.

-The powerplay is still nails, and was responsible for the only time the Hawks were able to dent Korpisalo’s armor in game one with a nifty roofed backhand by Strome. He’s definitely found a home being a pest in front of the other team’s netminder recently, and if his ceiling is “Thomas Holmstrom Lite,” I can totally get down with that.

-Nikita Zadorov on the PK is just…not good. He’s constantly leaving his spot down low to go look for HITZ and leaving his partner and goalie out to dry. The need to put a meathead out there like that because you “have to have that guy who can clear the front of the net” becomes utterly useless when he wont STAY BY THE FUCKING CREASE.

-In ice time news, Colliton has rolled out a new plan. That plan apparently involves giving Patrick Kane the kind of minutes that Duncan Keith would get 10 years ago. 27 total minutes without the game going into OT was insane in game one. I realize you’re chasing a goal in the 3rd, but if this continues Kane is going to burn out before the snow melts. Hopefully this is just a function of not having DeBrincat right now, because it’s not sustainable.

-As good as Korpisalo was in game 1, his timesharing partner Elvis Merzlikins (amazing name) was as bad. There wasn’t anything he could do about Kurashev’s sick tip in the first, but Tortorella is going to have a coronary if he keeps playing the puck so poorly behind the net. Pius Suter will take gifts like that all year long, I’m sure.

-In the opposite crease, Kevin Lankinen continues to be a pleasant surprise in net. He doesn’t do anything spectacularly, but he’s very positionally sound and has adjusted to the North American sheet of ice much quicker than I expected. Winning the puck possession battle in games will do wonders for his shot volume because once teams set up in the Hawks zone it’s difficult for them to be removed from it.

-Kurashev being on the top line with Kane is a good thing, and the CORSI bears that out as they carried a 59% share when they were on the ice. More please.

-Next up for the Hawks is the return of Our Sweet Boy Teuvo and the mostly COVID free Carolina Hurricanes. This is going to be the first real test for Lankinen as the Canes are a possession monster and pounce on every mistake teams make. Should be fun.

Hockey

Box Score 1 Box Score 2
Game Log 1 Game Log 2
Natural Stat Trick 1 Natural Stat Trick 2

 

Well this started out about as generously as could be expected given the how wide the gulf between these two teams currently is. There were extended stretches of both games where the Bolts were seemingly just playing with their food, rope-a-doping the Hawks into tiring themselves out and then immediately capitalizing on the slightest miscue and creating odd-man rushes going the other way with a single stride. This team is still favored to win this makeshift, slapdash division without Nikita Kucherov for a reason, as Andrei Vasilivskiy in particular barely broke a sweat in these two games, looking as locked in as he ever has. Of course, when Brandon Pirri and Ryan Carpenter are the ones just tossing prayers in your direction, it’s certainly easy to look that way.

  • It has long been established that part of the style guide here is to avoid questioning drive, jump, effort, body language, COMPETE, whatever horse shit term anyone wants to use when analyzing a game. But this team certainly already looks like it is acutely aware that this is a lost season to be played in empty buildings amid a plague, and knows it is woefully outgunned. This couldn’t possibly speak to the fact that the coach is a mealy mouthed boy band reject who’s idea of a firey pregame speech is whispering from a toilet stall while his hall of fame captain stares daggers into the abyss because it’s clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Which all COULD work, if there was any semblance of his tactics having on-ice results. Being a stomping redass with snot and spit flying everywhere as he screams isn’t a solution either.
  • Speaking of revolutionary defensive zone coverage, a fun game to play at home is to do a shot every time the Hawks are scored against while both defensemen are in the same corner. Don’t worry, during lockdown it’s “Airport Rules”  – no one is allowed to question why, when, how much, or what you’re drinking.
  • Especially guilty of the aforementioned crimes against hockey sensibilities is Nikita Zadorov, who appears to be the perfect storm of lunkheadedness, obliviousness, aggression, and having a lack of coherent structure from his coaching staff to be profoundly, tragically out of position at all times. It’s a good thing he’s paired with Adam Boqvist, who was already teetering on the brink of being broken by this organization.
  • Speaking of Boqvist (and Ian Mitchell), it’s clear that the tools are there for both of them, but it’s still very clear that these two are playing either scared to make a mistake, or in-between in their heads fighting their shotgunny instincts that made them prospects in the first place. And if every single mistake ends up in the back of the net and/or is subsequently punished, it could break these two young careers before they even start.
  • Boqvist in particular let his instincts show late last night when it was still 3-2, where he jumped down from the right point looking for a seam pass that obviously missed, and sprang a Bolts rush the other way that Ondrej Palat buried. But those are the type of chances the Hawks have not only got to live with, but encourage from Boqvist and Mitchell. His insticts were absolutely right, given that the passing lane was there and he was uncovered, and that within the context of the score and clock it was absolutely a judicious chance to take. Just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great idea, and that cannot be punished or coached out of him.
  • In another round of coaching brilliance, Coach Jeremy Trestman has got Andrew Shaw in the trigger man spot in the high slot/near the top of the rings on the first unit, with Dylan Strome in front. While the unit has scored twice (Game #1’s goal was…..yeah), it’s fairly safe to say that that spot is not where Andrew Shaw’s skill set is maximized. True Brain Genious/Cortex Warrior thinking here.
  • In net, while both Malcolm Subban and Colin Delia gave up five goals a piece, Delia looked sharper for the most part, making some more difficult saves even if him handling the puck is clearly an adventure. Don’t anticipate either distinguishing himself for a #1 workload any time soon, especially with what the defense in front of them is providing.
  • There is no reason at all that Philipp Kurashev shouldn’t be playing every single game, especially when the alternative is Brandon Pirri.
  • Pius Suter at least doesn’t look out of place here in the NHL, but it remains to be seen if he’s on trajectory to be just “a guy” or a contributor.

That’s about it for now, the Hawks visit old friend Joel and his Cats tomorrow night for their season opener as their first two games against Dallas got banged due to PESTILENCE. Maybe these games will be closer or the Hawks might win one, but don’t bet the stimulus check on it.

Hockey

-We’ve commented in the past year that when the Hawks have played in games against teams that are fighting directly for the playoff spots the Hawks claim to be after, they’ve fallen flat on their face. This can be a big fudge-y to determine, as some teams are in for automatic spots, some teams should be but aren’t, and others definitely are in the wildcard chase.

But this harkens back to last year. And going over the actual records, it’s kind of funny that we thought the Hawks were so in it, and they were, as they were under .500 at the time when this started. That’s more on the Western Conference than the Hawks, but the standings said they had a chance. And here’s what they came up with:

2/22/19 – Colorado: lost 5-3

2/24/19 – Dallas: lost 4-3

3/9/19 – @Dallas: won 2-1

3/11/19 – @Arizona: won 7-1

3/23 – @Colorado: lost 4-2 (this pretty much ended things)

3/24/19 – Colorado: Won 2-1 in OT

3/26/19 – @Arizona: lost 1-0, definitely ended things

So my claims that they’ve never taken a point is an exaggeration, but 3-4-0 with one of those wins in OT isn’t exactly impressive either. And the win in Arizona was before the Coyotes had made their last charge toward the playoffs, and the OT win over Colorado was basically after the horse was out of the barn. Still, you get it.

It could be argued that the win over Calgary on Tuesday was over a fellow playoff competitor, as the Flames are in the wildcard mess at the moment. We can go back and forth on that. My wager would be on the Flames eventually joining Vegas and some other random third team in the automatic spots, and rather easily as well. Time will tell on that one.

It’s hard to know what games that came before have the same meaning, but now that we’re in the second half we’ll definitely get sharper context for some. They’ll have games with the Flames, Predators, and Jets in the next couple weeks (all at home) so that will be a good start. Next month is rife with them as well.

-One thing we know the Hawks simply aren’t equipped to do is protect a lead, and a big one. They might hang on desperately and let their goalies bail them out, but they can’t shut down a game. We saw it last night, we saw it in Calgary, we saw it in St. Louis earlier in the year.

Looking back over the schedule, a lot of wins were the Hawks coming from behind or catching a team cold. The Islanders were clearly out to lunch. Their one authoritative effort of late was against the Jets, and even then they had to survive an utter onslaught in the second period when leading. The win against the Wild saw them take the lead with six minutes left. The Bruins were able to storm back to get to OT. You have to go all the way back to their win at home against the Stars, which was Dallas’s third game in four nights for another “easy” win.

This isn’t much of a surprise, given the state of the Hawks defense. They can basically only toss out Keith and Murphy to keep things “calm,” and even then Keith was a culprit for the winner last night. Keep them separate, and you’re still asking Adam Boqvist and Erik Gustafsson to see things out in later minutes. There’s just no way.

It’s been a constant complaint around here, but the Hawks blue line is the prime example of how there’s just no plan. If they had any idea that Seabrook wouldn’t be part of the every day lineup, and they should have, then the minutes going to Dennis Gilbert right now would be going to Henri Jokiharju (who’s no genius but he’s a hell of a lot better than Gilbert and wouldn’t you look but the Sabres just moved along an overpaid vet to keep him in the lineup. What’s that like?). Instead they have a winger who is deservedly sitting behind Matthew Highmore. After being given literally every chance and boost to succeed.

At this point, there is no downside to letting Phillip Holm or even Nicolas Beaudin take those minutes. They can’t be anymore helpless than Gilbert, who is Brandon Manning bad, and perhaps they would respond better to the NHL game than the AHL one which has happened before. Gilbert is definitely meant for the AHL game. Fuck, you’ve scratched and clawed to keep Fetch on the NHL roster, perhaps it’s time to give him one last stretch of games to see if anything can be salvaged here. The Hawks were so convinced of it earlier.

Or maybe you can just keep throwing things at the wall. It’s going great so far.

-Also it’s time for MY GUY Philipp Kurashev to get a look over John Quenneville, who doesn’t really do anything. The Hawks are still far too infatuated with plugs who “work hard” instead of those with actual skill. Quenneville is never going to be more than a fourth-liner. Again, you have nothing to lose.

-I feel like two or three times a game I marvel that Zack Smith always seems to be in a good spot but then completely undoes that by having no feet or hands.

-John mentioned it last night, but there’s no excuse for coming out of a TV timeout and having Gus, Strome, and Top Cat out for a defensive draw, no matter how much you trust Carpenter to take it. This is base-level NHL coaching, and Colliton gets it wrong far too much.

I have spoken.

 

Hockey

I’m sure Traverse City is lovelier in the fall than I would guess or think, but it’s more fun to make fun of. Anyway, wouldn’t it be great if the NHL just combined all of these rookie tournaments somehow into one big one? Had their own Vegas Summer League thing? Probably makes too much sense.

Anyway, we’re only a week away, if you can believe it, from the 2019 Traverse City Tournament, which once again will feature the Hawks, as well as Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, the Rangers, and St. Louis. The Leafs are something of a new addition to this, thus making it THE MOST IMPORTANT PROSPECT TOURNAMENT EVER and definitely a harbinger of the four Cups in a row the Leafs are going to win in the next decade, minimum.

The Hawks announced their roster for it today, which is:

23 F Bignell, Luke***
54 F Coughlin, Liam*
77 F Dach, Kirby
55 F Element, Shawn***
58 F Entwistle, Mackenzie
38 F Hagel, Brandon
59 F Hakkarainen, Mikael
52 F Johnson, Reese
71 F Kurashev, Philipp
42 F McKay, Riley***
45 F McLaughlin, Dylan*
25 F Nurse, Isaac***
76 F Soderlund, Tim
53 F Teply, Michal
74 D Beaudin, Nicolas
27 D Boqvist, Adam
39 D Gilbert, Dennis
43 D Krys, Chad
62 D Moberg, Cole
85 D Ramsey, Jack*
75 D Ryczek, Jake
49 G Daws, Nico***
33 G Gravel, Alexis
80 G Marchand, Chase**

So, notes: Obviously, the names to watch here are Boqvist and Dach. The hope is that both completely dominate this thing (Boqvist should easily), and vault themselves into serious contention for roster spots in training camp. You get the feeling the last thing the Hawks want is for either or both of these players to make things tough on them and have to shelve a veteran (*cough* Seabrook *cough*) to put them on the ice. But it’s not like the Hawks haven’t been open to that in the past, as Alex DeBrincat just two years ago took a plus performance in Traverse City to training camp and essentially forced himself onto the Opening Night roster.

It feels like Dach has the much higher mountain to climb–imagine being so fixed on keeping Zack Smith on your team–but if he plays well enough, he’ll be harder to ignore. The floor for Boqvist seems to be he’ll end up in Rockford and just a phone call away, but either can start to change that next week.

-As you probably know, I’ll be keeping an eye on Philipp Kurashev. He’s not going to make the team out of camp but could be one of the first call-ups during the season with a couple steps. He’s got straight-ahead speed, which the Hawks still don’t have enough of even if they think they do.

-Feels like it could be a big tournament for Nicolas Beaudin. He doesn’t get mentioned like Boqvist or Ian Mitchell, but is still a first-round pick. He’s definitely headed for Rockford, and after playing in the Q his defensive game might need a total overhaul. And we’ve seen d-men start in Rockford and never get out alive. But still, if Boqvist blazes a path, Murphy and de Haan remain ouchy, Koekkoek continues to suck. and Gustafsson becomes deadline bait (which he should), there’s a way for him. Yeah, it’s a lot, and he’s got heads to turn, but it’s there.

-Entwhistle is another one who probably at least needs to make people notice a play or two. He’s not imminent of the big roster yet, but we know the Hawks love a big body (barf) and they don’t have too many who can actually play.

Everything Else

It’s a morsel, but it’s something. Today, the Hawks announced the signing of Anton Wedin, which we’d already talked about before a few weeks ago. Wedin is something of a scratcher lottery ticket, as players who pop off for the first time at 26 and not gaudy numbers are hardly a sure thing to ever escape the AHL. But he costs nothing, the Hawks get a one-year look-see, and then they can decide if they want to continue this relationship.

There’s also been buzz that the Hawks have officially signed Dominik Kubalik, who is currently lighting up the World Championships for the Czech team, along with old friend Michael Frolik. Kubalik is the far more enticing and surer bet than Wedin. He’s 23, and though he kicked a hole in a lesser European league, that hole was really big in Switzerland. He has some experience on this side of the ocean, playing in juniors with one Dominik Kahun, and having two Dominiks with last names beginning with K surely won’t kill Pat Foley or anything.

The Hawks still have some work to do, as Perlini and Kampf haven’t been re-signed yet, though you’d expect the latter is no problem and the former is not someone the Hawks are going to give up on quite yet. And you start doing then numbers, and you begin to wonder here.

Kubalik is going to be a Hawk. It would be an upset if he spends anytime in Rockford, just as Kahun made an immediate splash. And while we generally would snicker that this is the Hawks trying to prop up one of their prospects again (John Hayden come on down…now keep going…no don’t stop…), their European finds generally have been useful. So let’s map it out, and pencil in Wedin for a 4th line role to start. He can be this year’s Suckbag Johnson in October.

Caggiula-Toews-Kane

Top Cat-Strome-Saad

Kahun-Kampf-Kubalik

Wedin-Anisimov-Perlini

No, this isn’t what Opening Night will look like, and if it does I highly suggest you find something else to do for the winter than bother with this. We have to, you don’t. This is just what it looks like right now, and that’s not even mentioning Sikura, Kurashev who is a possibility to come aboard, MacKenzie Entwistle being an outside shot, and I guess I still have mention Hayden here as he’s still signed for one more year (if he plays more than 10 games with the Hawks though I’m going to shove my whole fist down my throat).

What you see is a fair number of young, fast, nippy wingers (other than Entwistle), all of who are unknowns, all something of a lottery ticket, but the more you have and try the more chance that one or two will work. Sikura really should be in the NHL full-time next year, despite never scoring showed flashes of being a useful player. Kurashev flashed at the WJC, though I doubt the Hawks would be ready to try him at center just yet. So there’s something of a little jam.

Now you know what are stated aims are here. Flog Anisimov for whatever you can just as long as he’s gone, move Caggiula to your fourth-line center, sign an actual top six forward, and let’s dance. And maybe that is the plan, because you don’t feel like the Hawks are going to carry all of this into training camp. Though stranger things have happened.

While the Hawks talk about their cap space, it’s not that simple. No one who is currently a free agent is going to break them, as you wouldn’t think Perlini, Sikura, and Kampf are going to lop off more than what, $3M off? That’s $17M to play with.

But it’s the following summer that’s an issue. Let’s assume the cap takes another $4M jump as it did this one, and that’s a cap of $87M. The Hawks currently have $49M committed for 2020-2021, which is $28M in space. With whatever deals that above-mentioned trio sign, let’s call it $25M.

And more than a third of that, without any signings this summer, is going to be eaten up by Alex DeBrincat‘s next contract. Ain’t gonna be no bridge for him, and if he puts up another 35-40 goals, he’s going to point at Mitch Marner‘s deal and say, “THAT!” Certainly William Nylander‘s $6.9M number would merely be a jumping off point. And if Top Cat brings Strome right along with him during the season, that’s another $6-7M for Strome, and suddenly that $25M in space is now somewhere around $10M if you’re lucky. And then you have to wonder what Kahun and Caggiula get if they have good years. It won’t come close to eating up that $10M, but suddenly the space this summer to sign free agents looks a little tight when thinking about the next.

So yeah, punting Anisimov saves you $4.5M for two more years, and maybe that’s enough. The fear around this lab is that the Hawks might have a bigger number in savings in mind. You know where this is going.

You know how we feel about Brandon Saad. You can read Pullega’s review for a refresher. But you can make the argument. It’s $6M in savings. And you have to admit that Saad is something of an odd fit right now, though one who made it work for most of the season, including a dominating stretch from the middle to the spring. The Hawks are loathe to load him up with Toews and Kane, which you can understand. But Saad’s never taken to, or really been tried all that much, on the right side to play with Top Cat and Strome. Pairing him with Toews leaves the right side open, but you don’t really want to play DeBrincat there as he’s a bigger scoring threat on the left. The idea of Saad and Kane flanking Strome was tried, but then DeBrincat is playing with Toews and they need something on the right side that the Hawks don’t really have unless one of these kids pops. Saad made serious mileage out of a third line role, but the question the Hawks might be asking themselves is, “Could Kahun or Kubalik or Kurashev or all three do just as much there at a fraction of the cost?” Alternatively, could they try a combo of those kids in the top six and hope one or two of them can at least ride shotgun.

Saad’s value is clearly higher than Anisimov’s. While he has his faults, he’s still a nimble forward with size who gets you 20-25 goals and solid possession play. It’s not like those grow on trees. And considering how the defenseman market is Erik Karlsson and whatever state his bursting red crotch dots are in and then a whole bunch of trash, you could understand the hesitance (if you don’t necessarily agree with it, which we don’t).  So a trade might be necessary.

I don’t know what the names would be. Carolina was interested last year, but their different status might change that. We were asked about The Island yesterday on the podcast, with Leddy returning, which would be hilarious and also wrong. Saad’s always seemed like a perfect Predator, but he won’t be dealt in the division. There would be a market though.

I don’t want it, but you can see it.