Hockey

So we have our last full week of Hawks hockey before we see what shiny new GM Kyle Davidson has in store for the roster with the 3/21 NHL trade deadline looming. In between now and then, the Hawks have a much stiffer (heh) challenge with 2 of their next 3 games coming against legitimate playoff teams in the Bruins and Minnesota Wild. It’s also a Stupid Schedule Week™ with the Hawks at home tonight, then nothing until a 1:00 start in Minnehaha on Saturday, then they fly back here to take on the Peg. I get the NHL schedulers have had their work cut out for them with COVID blowing everything up and the players not going to the Olympics, but damn that’s a shitty set of game times.

 

3/15 vs. Boston

Game Time: 7:30 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Those Apples Fucking Suck: Stanley Cup of Chowder

 

Less than a week after losing a heartbreaker to the Bruins out in Beantown, the Hawks get their chance at revenge tonight at the UC. Not a whole lot has changed since Summer hit up the preview from last week other than the B’s finishing off their homestand with a 3-2 win against the moribund Coyotes of South Glendale over the weekend. The offense continues to run through that Dunkin Donuts guy, as Pastrnak keeps piling up the points (including the game winning dagger against the Hawks last week). Taylor Hall and Patrice Bergeron are also here, along with the diseased penis Brad Marchand, who I’m sure will do something completely infuriating at some point during the game. Odds are Jake Swayman gets the nod again with him taking the bulk of the starts recently with Bruce Cassidy riding the current hot hand.

With our Large Irish Son Connor Murphy likely confined to the dark room for the foreseeable future while in concussion protocol, the Hawks D will be even more hard pressed than usual to keep Boston setting things up behind the net as they are wont to do. Keeping out of the box will be key, as with Murph out there isn’t really anyone on the PK who can clear the crease like he does. Could be ugly.

 

3/19 At Minnesota

Game Time: 1:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHL Network, WGN-AM 720

First Round Failures: Hockey Wilderness

 

It pains me greatly to concede the fact that the Minnesota Wild are better than the Blackhawks right now, and most likely will continue to be for the next few years at least. They have a very solid mix of interesting veterans and exciting young players. This was made possible after shedding the dead weight that was the contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The biggest name among the exciting young players would be Kirill Kaprisov, who may very well be the heir apparent to Alex Ovechkin (assuming he ever actually, ya know, retires), as one of the best pure scorers to hit the scene in a very long time. The Wild recently signed him to a 5 year, $45 million extension after what seemed like an impasse that could’ve sent him back to Russia. They’ve also added Old Friend Ryan Hartman, who has now harnessed all the potential we saw during his time with the Hawks.

The back end is populated by a lot of familiar names as the Wild attempted to shore up what was a solid group of Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon by adding Alex Goligoski and Dimirti Kulikov. The results have been middling thus far, as the Wild have a tendency (much like Vegas, who they’ve now modeled themselves after) to give up a boatload of shots. With only Cam Talbot behind them to stop the onslaught, the Wild basically need to just play balls to the wall offense to keep opponents out of their zone. That’s not usually a very solid playoff strategy, which is ok because it’s a team from Minnesota, and they never get out of the first round anyways.

 

3/20 vs Winnipeg

Game Time: 7:00 PM CST

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720

Everybody Freeze (Arnold voice): Arctic Ice Hockey

 

Last and most certainly least of these 3 is the Winnipeg Jets. While they’ve been on a mini heater over the last week or so, beating the Blues and Lightning by a decent margin, they’re still just 5-4-2 since they last lost to the Hawks in the middle of February. As we all know, playing .500 hockey down the stretch in Gary Bettman’s NHL does not a playoff team make. They’re only 4 points back of Vegas with a game in hand of the final wild card spot, which might actually be worst case scenario for them. With the team needing quite a bit to take the next step, their best course of action would probably be to sell at the deadline like the Hawks. Being only 4 out might make them hesitate to do that, and even worse for them would be to push their chips in like their GM was Stan Bowman. Even if they DO sneak into the playoffs, they face a total ass-waxing at the hands of Calgary or Colorado, both of whom are light years ahead of the Jets. Personally I hope they DO go all in, which would put them on the same trajectory as the Hawks now sit. Misery loves company.

 

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 24-21-6   Coyotes 26-21-6

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

NO REGRETS: Five For Howling

The Hawks won’t get to ease their way back into the swing of things after their midseason bye, as they’ll immediately be plunged into something of a wildcard four-pointer in Arizona. And this has not been a location that has been too kind to the Hawks of late, nor the opponent.

The Hawks only have one win in their last five games against the Yotes, and they were popped there earlier in the season and lost what was essentially their last stab at relevance late last season. You wouldn’t think this would be such an issue for the Hawks, given the lack of star power Arizona has and the usual majority of Hawks fans in the stands making it a de facto home game. But their collective speed on every line provides the same problem that teams like Vegas or Colorado do, just on a smaller scale. They can harass the Hawks deep in their own end into mistakes and streak out of their zone away from the Hawks to get into open space.

The Hawks won’t be allowed any excuses tonight, however. They’re four points behind the Yotes, who hold the last wildcard spot, but have two games in hand. Thanks to the Jets incompetence and the Preds not being a whole lot better (as well as having their own bye), the Hawks are still in this with only Nashville to leap to get to Arizona. And the Predators have a date with Vegas tonight, so the Hawks can jump over them tonight if results go their way.

They should be seeing an ornery team, as the Yotes returned from their bye earlier in the week and promptly only took one point out of four against hanging curveballs Anaheim and LA. They would have looked at this three in four as a spot to really cement their status as playoff contenders, but could be looking at truly biffing it if they lose to the Hawks. And this isn’t a team that should be overflowing with confidence, given their history of fading into the background consistently.

Injuries have been an issue, most notably with Darcy Kuemper missing weeks as he was the anchor to this team. He won’t return tonight but is due back very soon, probably their next game. Without him, the Yotes’ weaknesses are much more easily exposed, as Antti Raanta and Adin “Silent” Hill have been hardly worth writing songs about. Those weaknesses are pretty much they can’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo. They don’t score much, they don’t possess the puck much, and they’re barely a middling defensive team. If you dismiss Oliver Ekman-Larsson as a “Yeah, but who gives a shit?” guy, there really isn’t a star anywhere on this team. Phil Kessel was brought in to be that, but much like the story he’s getting old now.

Taylor Hall was then brought in to be what Kessel might not be able to be anymore, and he’s put up 16 points in 18 games as a Yote. He gives them what should be something like two scoring lines, as Keller and Kessel are on the other one. But Keller has one point in nine, and Kessel is a few months away from doing ads for The General car insurance. They’re depending a lot on Hall, Dvorak, and Garland, though the top line of Keller-Stepan-Kessel has been possession-mutants.

Defensively, without OEL there isn’t really an advanced puck-mover here. Chychrun chips in goals with a booming shot but it’s not really what he does. Alex Goligoski is getting up there in age. Maybe Ilya Lubishkin, but he’s no guarantee for the lineup. OEL is a miss, whatever you consider him.

To the Hawks. Just about everyone other than the long-term casualties is reporting for duty, as it looks like Dylan Strome is going to make the post. That leaves the Hawks just one winger short of a pretty keen “3+1” model, with Dach at least getting limited looks between Kane and Saad and Top Cat reuniting with Strome. Kampf will continue to try and square-shape into that round hole as the other winger on that line for now. No word yet on which goalie will start but considering the way Crawford was playing and the way Lehner kind of had a hiccup that almost made him barf against Florida, the money is on Crow.

You can count on the Coyotes to try hard, because they have to, and because they’re coming off two disappointing results. You can probably expect a pretty scratchy first period from the Hawks, as they try and figure out how their legs and arms work again and get timing down. So really, just wading through the first 20-30 minutes is the order of the day, and then if things are still tied or in one goal the Hawks can begin to find their game. They’ll have to be tight with the puck in the offensive end, because this Arizona team will be looking to spring on them and away from them at the first sign of a turnover.

This is a big month, as February doesn’t tend to be. The schedule is very road-heavy, but that’s suited the Hawks better all season. Most games are against teams around them or below them. If you’re a part of this, then be a part of this. Otherwise, stop wasting our time.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 11-12-5    Devils 9-14-4

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

WHAT AM I DOING IN NEW JERSEY: In Lou We Trust

The NHL schedule is a cruel beast. So even after putting forth a pretty good effort against the Bruins who have yet to lose at home in regulation this year, the Hawks do not get to bask or linger as they’re immediately on display in Newark to take on the Devils. And two days later they’ll be back at home to see the Coyotes and play every other day after that. No time for love, Dr. Jones. And in the Devils, they may be getting a glimpse of the future.

The Devils, after being completely embarrassed in Buffalo on Monday and surrendering a touchdown with the PAT, fired their coach John Hynes, even though they had a game the every next day agains Vegas at home. Alain Nasreddine took over the helm, but now he’ll have had a couple practices to make whatever changes he’d like. As he’s always been Hynes’s assistant, no one’s entirely sure what those are.

There is some desire among the red and black faithful to see the Devils play a little faster and a little more aggressive, as they had a tendency to simply sink into their own slot to defend, which didn’t leave them in a position to spring forward with the abundance of speed they do have. Or at least they’ve looked to had when they were scorching the Hawks the past couple seasons. Remember this is the team that put up eight on the Hawks in this fixture last year.

Another complaint is that players haven’t been put in the best spots to succeed. Like the amount of time Travis Zajac has been spending centering Taylor Hall. Or Jack Hughes on the fourth line (funny what’s going on with the top three picks so far). Or that Nico Hischier isn’t higher in the lineup. So these might be changes you see Nasreddine make.

Then again, it’s a mystery what any coach can do when the goaltending has been this bad. The Devils have the third-worst SV% at evens and the second-worst overall. Last year, Cory Schneider looked like he might not be quite dead and might actually have every piece of him attached. Those were quickly proven to be mirages this season, and now he’s off to the land of wind and ghosts and quite possibly never to return. McKenzie Blackwood, while in need of a first name, has flashed in the past being at least a serviceable goaltender. The only thing flashing this year so far is the light behind him. Louis Domingue was brought in to replace Schneider after some decent seasons backing up Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s currently doing a fine impression of Murray Bannerman. When no goalie can even eyeball a .900 SV%, your team is going to blow (unless you’re last year’s Sharks).

In front of that, the Devils had retreated to the more defensive team you remember from decades of nearly killing the sport. They don’t give up a ton in their own end, but their goalies have still found a way to let more than enough of those chances in to kill their season. They sure as hell don’t create much, and Hughes’s and Hischier’s deployment isn’t going to make up for that alone. They just need more.

With their season already being borked, they may get it via firesale. The winds are already blowing on Hall, who is going to be the deadline gem for a host of teams chasing parades. Other candidates to hit the bricks: Travis Zajac, who could be a pretty good checking center for someone. Sami Vatanen could boost just about any power play. Maybe Andy Greene would go to steady a second or third pair, but he’s been the longtime captain and that’s harder to see. If they really get ambitious, Meat Train Simmonds could probably fool someone again into thinking he brings playoff grit, even though he’s  seen the second round exactly once in his career. Kyle Palmieri can provide secondary scoring for a host of teams, but he’s got another year left on his deal as well. How brave does Ray Shero want to get to try and surround Hughes and Hischier with players?

For the Hawks, minimal changes for tonight you would think. Olli Maatta was sick yesterday but might be better enough to go tonight, which would relieve us of the burden of watching Dennis Gilbert doing whatever it is he does. Drake Caggiula was making noise about playing tonight as well, which would probably sit Anton Wedin. Andrew Shaw and Duncan Keith are most certainly not going to play. Corey Crawford will get the start.

As stated above, the Devils have been a handful for the Hawks the past couple seasons. That’s back when they played a little more adventurously, so if they get back to that or not will determine how hard this one gets. The Devils have the capability to turn any turnover up the ice quickly, especially when you’re as plodding as the Hawks’ blue line is without Keith.

Still, the goalies have been so weak and this has to be a fragile team at the moment, even if they’re new-coach inspired. Get some shots on net and see if you can’t get a weak one or two. The Devils head off on a long road trip after this one, so maybe you catch them dreading that. Last night was a good start, but it’s only that if you build on it.

 

Hockey

Well, maybe not century. Then again, it’s hard to think of too many bigger stars that have been or will be traded like Taylor Hall. And he’s already done it once. His teammate PK Subban might be a candidate, at least it was the first time. Though some of that has to do with his personality as well. When Marian Hossa was traded twice that was up there. Joe Thornton maybe? Anyway, Hall is already on the shortlist, and he’s about to be again.

It was awfully ambitious of the Devils to think that Hall was going to want to stay long-term. Sometimes you have to recognize what you are, which is an also-ran team for a good long while now playing in a goddamn swamp. Maybe players like the opportunity to live in New York City or Hoboken or whatever, but the Prudential Center is generally not atop most people’s list. If you’re going to be an also-ran, you might as well be warm.

So while the Devils were able to spasm a playoff berth behind Hall’s Fuck You World Tour of 2018, it should have been sign when he didn’t sign up longer term last year that he was at least going to wait and see on where this team was going. He would have had more value at the draft, and now the Devils are going to have to look to cash in on only about a half-season of Hall to the buyer. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge no matter what it means, especially in a summer when you’re already gotten Jack Hughes and PK Subban to compensate. Maybe the Devils thought they could really run for a playoff spot with that, and perhaps if all their goalies hadn’t turned into mist or gotten hurt or both they might have. But it’s over now.

So what could Hall fetch before the deadline? That’s hard to know, because there aren’t a ton of recent comps. Matt Duchene is close when he was sent from Colorado to Ottawa, which netted the Avs two prospects, Kyle Turris (whom they then flipped for two more prospects and a second rounder), and a first round pick. But Duchene had two years left on his deal, which makes his value far higher. Turris himself was in the last year of his contract, and that might be the better comp. That got the Avs Samuel Girard and Vladislav Kamenev along with a pick.

And Hall is better than Turris. Clearly the Devils are going to have their heights set a little higher than Adam Larsson, which they hilariously sent to Edmonton for Hall in the first place. But Turris, when he was moved to Nashville, immediately signed on and wanted to be there.

Does Hall want to immediately sign an extension where he goes? This is his one chance at free agency in his prime, and he’d have to be considered the biggest fish in the pond. There are going to be some big market teams desperate to turn things around, like say the Montreal Canadiens. Players are more and more reluctant to pass up that chance, because you’d have to imagine it’s a fun process to be that needed.

The Devils need to clean up though, because the picture isn’t quite as rosy as it once was. Hughes, Hischier, and Zacha is a nice start down the middle, but they need a lot of help on the wings going forward. The defense only has Will Butcher as a young up-and-comer, and he’s not even that young after going the route at college. A future first-pairing d-man would have to be the starting point in trade talks, and at least another contributing winger to join the Jesper Party.

Who needs Hall that desperately to fit in his salary and not just wait for the summer shopping? The Sharks seem to be all out as it is. St. Louis could always use additional punch (god help us). The Oilers need anyone who can remain upright behind Draisaitl and McDavid. Might the Panthers be curious now that they’re suddenly in an automatic spot? There shouldn’t be a lack of suitors.

Bob McKenzie’s phone is going to get a workout.

Hockey

Perhaps the biggest movers of the offseason, the Devils put themselves in a position to be paid attention to for basically the first time in their history. Even when they were winning Cups, we all pretended it didn’t happen or went about our day doing something else. Is it enough to make them a playoff team? Probably not. But it’s a world where the Devils are fast and interesting, which is the surest sign we’re all imminently doomed. Let’s hop to it.

2018-2019

31-41-10 72 points (8th in the Metro)

2.67 GF/G (25th)  3.30 GA/G (26th)

46.8 CF% (28th)  48.4 xGF% (19th)

17.7 PP% (21st)  84.3 PK% (4th)

Goalies: It would seem just at the precipice of watching his career dispatched off to the Phantom Zone, Cory Schneider might have played his way back into the starter’s role. He was brilliant after returning from yet another injury in February, where he went for a .921 SV% in 17 games. 17 games doesn’t make for a season, but it sure is a hell of a lot better than the utter disaster he had been for the previous two seasons.

If it’s not him the Devils have been hoping to turn things over to fiendishly named MacKenzie Blackwood, who put up a .918 in his rookie campaign. Not bad for a kid who was 21 when the season started. He’s clearly the goalie of the future, but for now the Devils are probably going to have the two split starts. At least in the season’s first half, until one of them takes it.

Defense: It used to be you couldn’t name any Devils d-man unless you wanted to make it clear to anyone around you had outlived your usefulness to society, if you’d ever had any to begin with. That’s not the case anymore, thanks to the guy attached to Lindsey Vonn. The Devils brought in PK Subban for essentially nothing, and he’ll juice a unit that tried to approach solid but was in desperate need of any dynamism. PK and Sam Vatanen will make for a hell of a power play if nothing else. Andy Greene is somehow still here, because nothing ever dies in New Jersey, it just gets left in a swamp. I’m supposed to say Damon Severson is dependable, except I’m fairly sure he’s just a conspiracy and doesn’t actually exist. Also a joke about Mirco Mueller‘s neck goes somewhere around here, though he was surprisingly effective from a third pairing (+3.22 relative xGF%).

Past Subban there isn’t much here, but he should improve it from the top. That is if he isn’t on the decline, which a lot of experts seem to think he is, because he’s not white. And now he’s motivated, and having a PK that’s determined to fuck the world is a weapon you want to have. The joker card here is if Ty Smith, the Devils best prospect before they took Jack Hughes makes the team or not. He dominated the WHL last year, and most think he can skip the AHL and head straight to the Devils. With Subban, Smith, and Vatanen, that’s a lot of get-up-and-go for a team that wants to play that way.

Forwards: Clearly, all eyes will be on Jack Hughes, who will step right into the #1 center role and hopefully can bat his eyelashes at Taylor Hall enough, and pass him the puck enough, to keep Hall in town past this season. With Nico Hischier being bumped down to the #2 center role, the Devils hope they are set down the middle for the next decade. They were also able to pick up the scraps from Vegas and their unnoticed cap idiocy for Nikita Gusev, whom the Knights had been pumping for a couple years but apparently sucks now that they traded him. If he slots in behind Hall the Devils might have a find here. The two Jespers–Bratt and Boqvist–will bring even more speed to a lineup that was already kind of dripping with it. The Devils have filled their lineup with nippy forwards you don’t necessarily know but are getting past people constantly. You know it because you’ve seen them torch the Hawks the past two seasons.

Prediction: Most seem to think the playoffs are going to be just out of reach for the Devils. It might be, but they’re going to get pretty damn close. Hughes is going to step right in and won’t need much of an adjustment period. They’re likely to get no worse than representative goaltending. And they’re in a division where more teams are heading the wrong way or are just confusing as all hell. Adding 23 points seems like a big ask, but it’s been done before. Of course, the drama over Hall could be a distraction, and if they’re not in the thick of it come February the Devils might decide to cash in on what they can with Hall instead of watching him head for the exit in July. Still, the top line is going to be must-see TV, Smith and PK on the blue line could be a blast. There’s a lot to like here, even if it might need another year to really come together.

 

Everything Else

First thing to wake up to today:

Now, as most know, Taylor Hall has been a fascination of mine for a while, though that hardly makes me unique. And it would make sense that Hall might not want to sign an extension in New Jersey. If for no other reason, some players are just very curious to do the free agent tour, to see what all their options are, or hell, just to be courted by at least 2/3rds of the league and feel like the big dick. Fuck, why wouldn’t you? Oh right, injury or down performance or something. Still, if Hall were to go on the open market next summer, you could make the argument it would be an even bigger deal than when John Tavares did, because JT didn’t have a Hart on his resume.

Second, even with Jack Hughes coming to town, the Devils are at least two years from serious contention and possibly longer, and might not even be a playoff team next season. They were 26 points off the pace last season, have no defense to speak of really, and MacKenzie Blackwood may or may not be a goalie. You can see where Hall might not want to bet whatever’s left of his prime on that hunch.

Further ratcheting up the frenzy is that Hall’s cap number is just $6M this year, which is pretty manageable for anyone remotely desperate. Off the top of my head, teams around contention that would want and need Hall are the Penguins, Bruins, Panthers, Jackets, Canes, Flyers, Islanders, Stars, Blues, Predators, Flames, and I’m probably missing a few. Look, everyone needs Taylor Hall. Everyone could find a spot for him.

Oh, and New Jersey is just a shitty place to play. Let’s end the case there. It’s fucking New Jersey. I just want to pretend that Hall hates Springsteen as much as I do and has had enough. Let me have it.

Which brings us to the Hawks. There’s no question that they have a hole in the top six. Hall would actually be something of an odd fit in some ways. He’s not the prototypical left winger to maximize playing with Kane, because he also likes to have the puck and create his own space and shot. Not that the two of them couldn’t make it work, but he’s not the spot-up shooter than Top Cat is on the power play or Sharp was in his heyday or Panarin could turn into when need be. Which means you’d probably be better off playing Hall with Toews, except there’s no one really on the right side of that. Again, you could put Kane there and have an absolute doomsday of a top line with Toews doing more of the finding space thing, leaving Hall to create it, and then hammock Strome and Top Cat on the second line.

Both of these scenarios mean either flipping Saad to the right side, which he’s never really taken to, or moving him permanently to the third line, or involving him in this trade or another. Funny how Saad and Hall make the same amount of money, no?

You may think it doesn’t behoove the Hawks to go after what is essentially a rental, but I think it’s perfect. One, it keeps his trade value down. And this is the kind of player that you start the process of drafting Bowen Byram, and then packaging some combination of Boqvist, Mitchell, Beaudein, Jokiharju (maybe with Saad or Anisimov) to improve your team now. Second, it gives you flexibility next year and evaluation time this year. Perhaps Kubalik, Kahun, or Kurashev really pop this season, along with another 40 goals from Top Cat, and you thank Hall for his services while you commit his money to other players you think you can step up. Maybe the cap takes a bigger leap up. I don’t know, who cares, fuck you.

Yes, I realize that Hall isn’t a defenseman. But his cap hit isn’t so destructive for one season that you can’t find an additional upgrade there as well, whether or not the Hawks draft Byram and whether or not he then skips right to the NHL. Remember, Crawford’s number comes off the books next year too, and you might jettison Saad’s and/or Anisimov’s in the next year as well. There is flexibility for Hall and oh I don’t know…a certain #65 together for a season.

You can actually do this without forfeiting your future. The #3 pick allows you that. Your director of amateur scouting just came out and said that they’ll never get all these defensive prospects on the roster, so you know you have to make a move or two anyway. Play your cards right, and you should still have at least two of your four kids already in the system on the blue line, Byram/Turcotte and whatever else you pick up this draft.

You want to get back in the headlines? You want to vault yourself back into contention in a division that appears like it’s only going to get worse? Then grow a pair and make this move before everyone realizes Pagnotta is actually just a glorified bullhorn.

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Devils 21-27-8   Hawks 23-25-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

MR. MEPHASTOPHELES PLEASE: In Lou We Trust

We used to have a joke in my family, it was as old as I was. I think it sprang from my father and brother doing college visits on the East Coast and having to spend some time in New Jersey (a fate worse than death). Anyway, they came up with this thing where no matter what you’re talking about, if someone from New Jersey overheard you they would proclaim that whatever you were talking about was the best in New Jersey. “Hockey in Jersey? It’s da best!” “Pizza? The pizza in Jersey? It’s da best!” “Lighting your ass-hair on fire in Jersey? It’s da best!”

As I’ve gotten older and actually had my own experiences of meeting New Jersey natives, I can tell you this is absolutely true. Anyway, I tell you this story because there’s absolutely nothing about this game tonight that makes it stand out in any way. These are two bad teams hurling at each other for no reason other than they are scheduled to do so, though they will both claim otherwise. And in the Devils’ case, they’re missing a good portion of what wasn’t an impressive bunch to begin with. Anyway. let’s rummage through the rubble.

We’ll start with the Hawks. Chris Kunitz will play his 1,000th game, which I guess is the headline. The Hawks will give him a pregame ceremony, which is nice and necessary because 1,000 games is a landmark and all. But it feels like this duty just fell on them instead of being a shared experience. They signed Kunitz and then a day or two later someone in the front office said, “Oh shit, he’s going to play his 1,000th game here. Guess we’ll have to do something for that, huh?” And then everyone just kind of nodded and went about their day. He’ll replace Brendan Perlini, who is running out of time to blow our skirt up. Soon our skirt will just be fight-strapped to our legs when it comes to Perlini. That’s some metaphor work, huh?

Elsewhere, Slater Koekkoek comes back in to save us from the chore of having to watch Gustav Forsling for a night. This is the hockey abyss. Cam Ward starts.

To the Devils, who are sitting just above the Senators in the East and seem intent on pile-driving themselves lower. They are beat up, as Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, Miles Wood (not a pornstar), Blay Coleman (or Blake Olman, or Blake Coleman, it doesn’t really matter which) are all missing tonight. Without Hall, this is a lineup of whosits and whatsits aside from Nico Hischier and King Of Who Gives A Shit Style Kyle Palmieri, who has tossed another 24 goals into a pit of anonymity. There’s just not much going on here.

Both Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider have returned from injury, sending Lord Blackwood to the AHL again, but neither have them have returned to being good. Kinkaid just gave up eight to the Blues on Tuesday, and Schneider has been swatting and imaginary butterflies for at least two seasons. Now you know the big reason the Devils are where they are.

All that said, none of this has kept the Devils from slapping the Hawks around in their last three meetings, including last month in the swamp. The Hawks simply have not been able to live with the Devils speed, which even without Hall, Wood, and Coleman they still have a lot of. And the Devils use it, simply getting up the ice with banks off the glass or chips out of the zone to streaking forwards, ignoring all the tiki-taka shit the Hawks are still insistent on using to exit their zone. And because the Hawks defense is also balloon-handed as well as slow, the Devils have also forechecked them into psychosis. That will be the plan tonight. So maybe the Hawks adjust and try some of their shit, just get it out and get it up. But we keep saying that.

“Bad hockey teams from Jersey? It’s da best!”

 

Game #58 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Here’s a question for you: Is Taylor Hall the best Devil of all-time? It sounds stupid, right? Except he’s the only Devil to ever win the Hart Trophy. The obvious answer to this is Scott Stevens, and we wouldn’t argue that. The next is Scott Niedermayer, which is another fine answer. A lot would say Martin Brodeur, but he’s a trap-aided fraud, so that’s out. Let’s scale it down to forward. The leading all-time Devils scorer is Patrik Elias. He has 408 goals and and 1025 points. At 27, Hall is already halfway to both of those marks. Elias was a very useful player, but he’s not Hall. Neither is Zach Parise.

Just a fun fact. And one to remind you just how bland and faceless then Devils have been for pretty much their entire existence. So what do you do with the best forward your organization has ever had?

Hall is not having the year he did last year, mostly due to not shooting 14% like he did last season. He’s been hurt, missing over 20 games. He’s still doming his teammates when it comes to metrics, he’s just not getting quite as many bounces as he got.

Hall still remains one of the most devastating left-wingers in the game. Gaudreau, Panarin, Ovechkin, and Marchand are the only names you’d consider putting with him, and only Ovie has a Hart among them. There are 30 other teams that would find a spot for Hall, clearly. Which is part of the Devils’ problem.

Hall has one more year on his contract at a $6M hit after this one. He’s clearly getting a big raise from that whenever he signs a new contract, whether that’s in the summer or next, and whether that’s in New Jersey or not. It also makes his trade value probably highest in the summer, possibly at this deadline if he wasn’t hurt. In reality, his value was highest last summer, with two years remaining on his deal, but when do you see reigning Hart winners moved? Especially from a team that appeared to be moving forward?

The Devils definitely aren’t moving forward this year, as rebuilds aren’t always linear. After goofing into a playoff spot last year, they’re well out of one this year. Which might make it a question of Hall’s patience.

The case for the Devils is a fine group of young players, though probably not a spectacular one. Nico Hischier is the pivot-point, obviously, with Brett Seney, Jesper Bratt, Joseph Anderson, and Miles Wood providing some hope if not sure things. Throw in another top-five pick, which the Devils are on course for, and you’ve got something of a nucleus building. In addition, the Devils have somewhere around $35 million cap space for next year, with no one needing urgent re-signing except for maybe Pavel Zacha. If they want to make a play on Matt Duchene or Mark Stone or others, they can.

The case against the Devils for Hall is that he may be tired of waiting. He’s known five playoff games in his career. The Devils may be on the upswing, but there are questions in net and on the back end. If everything goes right they still could be two or three years away. Hall may feel like he’s pissed away enough time.

As of right now, you can fairly bank on the Predators needing another winger in the summer. The Jackets most certainly will when Panarin fucks off for whatever coast he feels will sun him correctly. The Bruins will. Flames maybe, as the final piece (and wouldn’t that be delicious?) This list could keep going, and all would be teams ready to run deep in the spring far more than the Devils will be next season.

Which means the Devils will have to show some intent this summer, or they’re going to have to start seeing what they can get for Hall. The worst thing you can do in a cap world is lose something for nothing. Trading Hall would certainly be worth no more than 80 cents on the dollar, and set the Devils rebuild back. Given the cap space, they probably can just offer Hall whatever he would ask.

But he hasn’t asked yet, which is the worrying thing. And what if free agents decide Newark isn’t for them? Then Hall is left counting on the development of kids. It’s a rough decision for both team and player. But that’s how you end up being the Jackets, with nothing to show for it but a hand full of yourself. The Devils would be wise to not make the same mistake.

 

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@HellBlazerViace is yet another creature we pulled out of the bin marked, “Unmentionables.” We took him home and fed him and now we can’t get rid of him. We did this a month ago when the Hawks were in Newark, and really nothing has changed much with the black and red outfit since. 

It’s been quite a comedown for the Devils from last year. Is it just the goaltending that’s landed them here?
I’d say it’s mostly the goaltending- they’re virtually the same team as they were last year with regards to their possession and expected goal numbers, but they’re losing a lot because no one can make a stop. Their horrid goaltending combined with John Hynes trying to get the Devils to play a faster style like the Leafs has generally put them in a tough spot because most of the time they’re down 3-0 early and they stop playing aggressively because they’re too worried about putting themselves in a deeper hole. They’ve also had a really tough schedule to start the season- they’ve played a third of their games against legitimate cup contenders or elite teams in Toronto, Tampa, Nashville, Winnipeg, San Jose, Washington and Vegas so that’s not helping either. They’re doing surprisingly better without Hall this year mainly because in at least half of the games where Hall’s been hurt, they’ve gotten strong goaltending from their top goaltending prospect MacKenzie Blackwood, which has given them the confidence to play a bit more aggressive. Outside of Zacha, Butcher, and Wood most of the skaters have met or are exceeding expectations so it’s probably safe to say that the goaltending is the issue.
Is Cory Schneider permanently broken?
 
Shero is just as tight lipped as Lou so it’s hard to tell what Schneider’s status is, but I remember seeing a quote in 31 Thoughts which said that there was some concern about Schneider’s injury being career ending- and I think that might be the case. He just can’t move the way he used to and over the past few years he’s been dealing with a lot of core muscle injuries to go with the hip problems he’s had so that’s going to affect him. He turns 33 in March so the chances of him returning to form are minimal. They can’t give him game time to work out his issues because they’ve got to try and win games in order to have a better chance at keeping Taylor Hall around. His days as a Devil are numbered and he’s probably going to get an amnesty buyout after the inevitable lockout in 2020.
What are the Devils going to do with Taylor Hall? He has one year left on his contract…
The good news is that unlike the Sens or Isles with Karlsson and Tavares, the Devils don’t exactly have the same issues those teams have. Unlike Mean Gene Melnyk, Josh Harris isn’t a cheapskate and the Devils lack of spending has more to do with Shero showing a ton of restraint and not overpaying for mid-tier free agents. Not only do they have the cap space, but they’re probably more than willing to give Hall the money to stay in New Jersey. Unlike the Isles, the Devils have a good GM and aren’t going to replace him with a ghoul like Lou and so far there isn’t a can’t-miss free agent destination like the Leafs- Nashville would fit that bill but playing with Nico and Kyle Palmieri is probably more enticing than playing with Kyle Turris and Colton Sissons on a contender. Re-signing John Hynes should help their chances as he seems to like playing for Hynes. They’re also in a good spot to retool the current roster given that Shero’s trade record is excellent, they might be able to get one of the really good free agents in this year’s class (or alternatively, his good buddy Jordan Eberle) with the $30+ million in cap space they have going into next season and they’ve obviously got a lottery pick with a lottery ball specialist so maybe they end up with one of Hughes, Kakko or Cozens. My guess is that they’ll offer him a blank cheque on July 1st and either he takes the money or waits to see if a contender emerges while having the Devils massive offer in his back pocket as a contingency plan.
At least there appears to be a step forward from Nico Hischier?
The thing about Nico is that you have to watch him closely to appreciate what he brings like someone like Patrice Bergeron or Patrik Elias. He’s not going to be lighting the scoresheet up with four-point games or hat tricks but the Devils have been winning the possession battle when he’s been on the ice. Considering he doesn’t get power play time and Rick Kowalsky has no idea how to run a power play his numbers there aren’t great, but he’s scoring at a better rate than he did this year and that’s probably going to go up once Hall returns from injury and Kowalsky gets his head out of his ass.
The Devils were a rebuilding team last year that spasmed a playoff spot. Is it possible for them to be much worse in the standings but actually moving forward as a team?
If you ask me, moving forward means moving away from the chickenshit conservative style they had towards the end of Lou’s tenure and moving towards the kind of style that teams like Toronto and Tampa play. While they’re trying to do that and it’s not necessarily working, it’s better they do this than go back to playing the chickenshit style they played under DeBoer where the games would be much closer but they couldn’t win because they lacked the skill to win. The thing is with the way they’re playing, it’s going to be much easier to insert difference makers than it would be while playing a conservative style that relies on bad, risk averse players. This is important because they’ve done a better job drafting and most of the guys they’ve drafted are smaller, high skill guys. Someone like 2018 1st rounder Ty Smith- a 5’10”, 175-lb defenseman with great puck skills, is now much easier to play in a system where his puck skills matter rather than one where his puck skills have to be toned down to fit into the safer style. As long as they’re not going back to the ineffective conservative tactics that have failed them in recent years I’m fine with them losing while trying to play a more effective style.

 

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  vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 16-22-9   Devils 17-20-7

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

BADA BING ENTHUSIASTS: In Lou We Trust

Sky point, Bobby Heenan.

After taking two of the West’s best to overtime, and then losing in that gimmick when their slow defense wasn’t really prepared for 3-on-3, the Hawks venture for a week in New York to face some of the East’s sludge. There’s always sludge involved when you’re in New Jersey, but this time around it also applies to the team that resides there.

The Devils aren’t vying for a playoff spot this time around, like they somehow miracle’d their way to last year. One, Taylor Hall is hurt now, though he was over a point-per-game when he was fit. This time though, they aren’t getting goalie performance from out of a top hat, as Keith Kinkaid has returned to being Keith Kinkaid, Cory Schneider is now made out of boogers and adhesive, and they’re pinning their hopes on neophyte MacKenzie Blackwood. Somehow, the Devils only have the 12th-worst SV% at even-strength, even though both Kinkaid and Schneider can’t see .900 with a telescope.

It also doesn’t help that this isn’t a very good defensive team, with the fifth-worst xGA/60 in the league, and not much better in attempts against. It might have something to do with not having a d-man worth a damn on the roster. Andy Greene is a million years old and you’ve never heard of him anyway, so he’s the perfect Devils captain. Sami Vatanen has always been a power play weapon only, Will Butcher continues a long tradition of prized college free agents who end up being a fart in the wind, and Mirco Mueller has a really long neck. Damon Severson is probably worth holding onto, but that’s probably it. Look at this blue line and you’ll react like the business manager to Kramer. “I don’t know what this is supposed to be.”

Up front there’s some hope, even without the injured Hall. Nico Hischier is putting up some pretty impressive underlying numbers in a junior Bergeron act. Kyle Palmieri continues to score goals and also continues to make you wonder why you should give a shit. Miles Wood is a porn name. While this is a more dynamic and entertaining Devils team than the ones of yore, it still needs more talent than its got to be relevant…well, relevant maybe for the first time. I’m not sure they were relevant even when they were winning Cups. Certainly no one other than the highway-side strip club patrons bothered to notice.

For the Hawks, not too many changes one would think. Cam Ward will get the start to give Delia nearly a full week to reset after two tough losses his last two starts. Slater Koekkoek could make his debut tonight, and the Hawks might actually dress seven d-men to do so, but we won’t find out until gametime. The clear option is to scratch Seabrook and let Koekkoek run around on the third-pairing with either Carl Dahlstrom or Henri Jokiharju, but we all know Coach Cool Youth Pastor isn’t going to scratch Seabrook unless you dangled him off a cliff. Dahlstrom could face the axe as well.

The Devils murdered the Hawks twice last year, and basically killed Corey Crawford while they were at it. While not the most skilled, this is an extremely fast team and the Hawks couldn’t cope. The same rules as Saturday apply here, which the Hawks followed pretty well for the first 40. None of the complicated breakouts, just get the puck up to the forwards or ahead of them aw quickly as possible. Any missteps will be pounced on by the Devils’ quick forwards, so the simpler the better. Blackwood has looked very good in his brief foray, but put him under pressure and see what happens. The Hawks are slightly better equipped for these track meets than they were, though still not their strength.

There’s four games before the Hawks hit the bye. They probably need them all to not be buried by the time the bye is over and all those games in hand are made up. They can’t say their season is over, or act like it, even if we can. So if they’re intent on still a death rattle, it probably has to be now.

 

 

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