Hockey

VS

Gametimes: 7:00 Both Nights (2/2 and 2/4)

TV/Radio: NBCSN and WGN 720

Rod Brind’Amour’s Nose: Canes Country

 

Ahhh yes, the Carolina Hurricanes. The team that is essentially Stan Bowman’s own personal A Christmas Carol. You know, the classic story that tells the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge. A hockey GM of middling talent and the backing of a liquor distribution magnate who is forced to reckon with the ghosts of his failures past (Teuvo), present (whatever this team is), and what he wants his future teams to be like (the Canes).

The Canes arrive at West Madison after handling the Dallas Stars pretty easily in their last 2 games out and bring a 5-1-0 record to the madhouse. That 5-1 record was compiled with the loss of various players at various times due to COVID protocol restrictions, but they seem to be getting healthier as the season goes along. Warren Foegele, Jordan Martinook, Jaccob Slavin and Teuvo are all planning on returning to the lineup tonight, leaving only Jesper Fast by himself in the COVID restrictions list.

That group returning to the active roster does not bode well for the Hawks defense and goaltending. The Canes forward corps is one of the fastest and most creative groups the Blackhawks will see this season outside of Tampa Bay. The Canes currently sit atop the Possession Metric Mountain, with an average of a 56.76% CORSI per game according to Natural Stat Trick. They’re able to control the play, and keep the puck in the offensive zone for minutes at a time. Teuvo, Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov were a doomsday line last season, but coach Rod Brind’amour has split them up out of necessity thus far this season. Also one of the Staal brothers plays here. Jordan maybe?

On the back end, the Canes getting Jaccob Slavin back from the COVID list should further shore up what is a pretty solid defensive core. They’re a mobile group, created to flip the ice at a moments notice and send the play toward the opposing blue line. They also have one of the best PKs in the league, 2nd only to Colorado.

Really the only glaring weakness for this squad showed up suddenly the other day when goaltender Petr Mrazek got run by his own defenseman Max McCormick in the first game against the Stars. He came up from the collision clutching his blocker arm and it’s now said that whatever it is might require surgery. This leaves the bulk of the starting duties to James Reimer, who’s been a slightly above league average goaltender in his career, with stretches of above average play. He’s prone to hot and cold streaks, so if this Death Star of a hockey team has an exhaust port, he might be it if caught on the right night.

As for the Hawks, the Canes aren’t the only ones getting reinforcements tonight, as Alex DeBrincat and Nicolas Beaudin return to the lineup from their Rona Retreat. Getting Top Cat back in the lineup would most likely send Highmore back to the pressbox and move Janmark to the 3rd or 4th line, but we will see if Coach Smoothbrain wants to break up Janmark, Kurashev and Kane which as a whole looked pretty dangerous against the Jackets.

Kevin Lankinen gets the net tonight, and should probably be getting the bulk of the starts from here on out until he proves that he doesn’t deserve them. The top ranked Hawks PP will have their work cut out for them against the 2nd ranked PK unit of the Canes, but one sample size is considerably smaller than the other because of canceled games due to COVID.

This 2 game series is a stout test for a young group of Hawks forwards, and should be a nice benchmark to see the progress they’ve made. With the speed the Canes have, expect to see the Hawks D pinned in their end for considerable periods of time. Mistakes need to be limited, because Carolina thrives on taking those and making you pay for them. Any Hawks counterpunches need to be buried in the net behind Reimer, because the chances are going to be few and far between. If the Hawks play like they did against Columbus, they stand a chance at taking a few points from this series.  Strap in, grab a few beers, and let’s light that lamp.

 

Let’s Go Hawks.

Everything Else

One of the more ironic things about Chicago sports is how often the teams in this town get referred to as “storied franchises” despite most of them not really having great stories. Run down the list and not a single of the major sports teams in the city have won more than six championships in their given sport, and only the Blackhawks and Bulls have shown any level of world dominance style success in anyone’s recent memory (the Cubs may get there, but please don’t try to convince me they’re already there).

I am normally an overly optimistic sports fan when it comes to my teams, so it’s been kind of a weird juxtaposition for me to hold the belief that my favorite teams are “destination teams” for players while also realizing they don’t quite have the history to back up that belief. Add the fact that the various ownership and management groups of the Chicago franchises don’t have the best track records – especially among fans – and maybe Chicago sports franchises have a reputation they haven’t quite earned.

Which is why I was intrigued by this poll posted on Twitter by Cheer The Anthem last week:

It’s a very clouded question, because outside of Theo/Jed, Chicago’s  sports teams really have very questionable front offices. GarPax chased an elite player in Jimmy Butler out of town rather than ever making a real effort at building a championship team around him, so I’m not in the least bit surprised that they were low on the list. Even as a White Sox fan I was surprised Rick Hahn finished so high, because the question was referencing the last three years, and not just one. Hahn couldn’t build a winner around Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, and other young, controllable players, so one year of very good trades only makes up for so much of that.

Honestly, I voted for Ryan Pace, not because I think he’s done an incredible job with the Bears in the last three years, but because he’s the only GM on the list who has his team essentially where he expected to have them three years ago, and the Bears seem to be headed in the right direction. Again, I’m an optimist.

But honestly, I think the fact that Stan Bowman won the vote there is kind of laughable. Now, I know the list isn’t exactly stuffed full of incredible GMs, but Bowman has been damn near pitiful over the past three years. Second City Hockey has made posts tracking the major moves Bowman has made over the past three years, so I went back and reviewed those lists (see them here – 2015, 2016, 2017), and basically rated them as either Good, Whatever, or Bad using entirely my own opinion. This was actually pretty easy, and I think most people would probably agree with my evaluations.

For brevity I won’t post my rating for every single transaction, but here’s how it shook out – 2015 had seven good moves, seven whatever moves, and eight bad moves, so I’d chalk that up as a “whatever” year that leans a bit toward bad. The good moves included signing Artemi Panarin, the Brandon Saad trade, and re-signing Anisimov. The bad moves included the Brent Seabrook extension, Patrick Sharp trade, and the David Rundblad extension. Seriously, the Seabrook extension was so bad, even when it was signed. The nearly $1-million raise for an aging player, plus the max term, and the full NMC, all when StanBo wasn’t even negotiating against anybody. Just embarrassing, and it clearly hasn’t aged well.

The moves made in 2017 were mostly “whatever” moves, and I didn’t actually rate anything as bad. The two moves that I consider especially good were the Scott Darling trade and Panarin/Saad swap. The Darling trade was pretty much masterful work, because to get a third round pick for a guy that otherwise would’ve walked for free is a really good move. The other big move of the year, the Hjalmarsson/Murphy swap, I graded as Whatever, which is probably bad, but Murphy has been fine this year and there is time for that move to pan out. And Stan started 2018 off right with a pretty good deal on Wednesday night, swapping Richard Panik for Anthony Duclair, making his team younger and faster while also saving cap space.

In the middle of all of that was 2016, which rated out with four good moves, four bad moves, and eleven whatever moves. But don’t let those numbers fool you, 2016 was awful for Bowman, and really could end up proving as the year that ultimately un-did all that he had built up here in Chicago. The best move he made was trading Andrew Shaw for two draft picks, one of which became our Special Boy Top Cat. The next best move was trading Jeremy Morin for Richard Panik. Panik hasn’t been awful, but that move is hardly anything to write home about. I also rated re-signing Q as good, so if you wanna take that out since it isn’t directly roster related, there’s only three good moves. But the bad moves were very, very bad.

Starting with the Andrew Ladd trade, which basically undid most of the goodness of the original Brandon Saad trade. Marko Dano hasn’t quite delivered on some of the promised potential, but I think his game was well suited for the Hawks’ style, and there’s a chance that had he been afforded more playing time with the Hawks in Chicago, he’d be a serviceable-or-maybe-good forward for them now, and probably at least better than the likes of Tommy Wingels or Lance Bouma. Plus the Hawks also gave up a first round pick in the deal. From the moment it was completed, it was a trade that was going to need a Cup to justify it. But Ladd brought them basically nothing worth mentioning down the stretch of the season and the Hawks were bounced by St. Louis in the first round. Little did we know this might have been the first domino that started the downfall of the Hawks “dynasty.”

Then there was the Philip Danault trade, which basically made the eventual overpriced Marcus Kruger contract extension not just necessary, but really Stan’s only option if the team was gonna have any semblance of a checking line in 2016-17. Trading Danault – who was already a very promising defensive forward with the potential to be Kruger 2.0 but with a bit more offensive upside – and other assets for Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise proved to be another big mistake. Weise and “Flash” were supposed to provide enviable forward depth for the Hawks as they prepared to go on a run to repeat as Cup champs. Instead they, like Ladd, didn’t provide much worth mentioning and were gone in the summer. Danault has gone on to be good bottom six forward for the Habs, with 22 points in 42 games this year and a CF of 54.56%. Ho hum.

But the real killer came in the summer with the trade that might end up defining Stan Bowman’s time as Blackhawks GM even more than his rebuilding of the team for the two Cup wins, at least in the minds of most of the hooligans who write words on this website. We always knew trading Bryan Bickell was going to be hard, and definitely was going to require some sweetening. It shouldn’t have required sweetening in the form of Teuvo Teravainen. Teuvo isn’t exactly a generational talent, but he’s been very good for Carolina over the past year and a half. He posted an encouraging 42 points in 81 games last year, and has been on a tear this year with 33 points (11G, 22A) in 41 games. He’s also posted a 55.69 CF% this season. That kind of production and possession dominance would be huge for the Blackhawks this year, but instead we have to watch the NHL Twitter account continually tweet videos of the original Very Special Boy do good things for the fuckin Hurricanes. AND I JUST GOT A TEUVO JERSEY LIKE A 10 MONTHS BEFORE THAT. I will not forgive Stan for this.

Now, every GM is prone to bad moves, and probably even prone to a series of them from time to time. Peter Chiarelli has chased bona fide stars away from his teams more times than we can count, and Jim Benning has only made like one good deal so far during his tenure in Vancover. But what Stan Bowman did in 2016, in essentially two trades, was plant a fucking iceberg in the path of the Titanic ship he had built. Again, imagine what this team would look like with Teuvo and Danault in tow instead of Wingels and/or Bouma. That kind of legitimate forward depth would help make up for a lot of the shortcomings on the Hawks embattled blue line, and probably have them closer to being a contender than a last place team.

And look, I don’t mean to say that Stan is a bad GM in general, because he isn’t. He did manage to retool his 2010 Cup winner into a team that was basically the best in the NHL over a 3-year stretch from 2013-2015, so maybe he can still do that here. And at least some of his bad moves were only made necessary because the Loonie went to shit, and took the NHL’s salary cap with it. But there isn’t much exciting talent in the pipeline, and the best players on his NHL squad are declining much too quickly for anyone’s liking. And he put himself in this position.

So don’t go telling me that Stan Bowman is the best GM in Chicago over the last three years. He literally took a Stanley Cup Champion and stripped it down to what is currently barely better than a last place team, all while thinking, as far as we can tell, that he was making his team better. He just about slammed his team’s championship window shut while trying to keep it open. At least his last name still carries some weight in the NHL.

Everything Else

Fitting after doing Toronto yesterday (and boy are our hips and hamstrings sore!), we move to the Metro Division and start with a team that might be Toronto minus one or two years, and somewhat doing it in reverse. The Carolina Hurricanes certainly have the blue line of a true contender. Now they’ve added at worst a representative goalie. The question is do they have the hosses up front to make some noise in the East’s tougher division? And is Teuvo Teravainen the best Hurricane right now? Or the best one ever?

Carolina Hurricanes

’16-’17 Record: 36-31-15  87 points (7th in the Metro)

Team Stats: 51.1 CF% (6th)  50.4 SF% (16th)  50.7 SCF% (13th)  7.3 SH% (2oth) .912 SV% (29th)

Special Teams: 17.7 PP% (21st)  84.2 PK % (6th)

Everything Else

wildthings vs oldschool

Game Time: 8:30PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, SportsNet (Anglo), TVA3 (Franco), WGN-AM 720
Mall of America: Hockey Wilderness

And so it was fated to be, for the third year in a row, and the second in the West semifinals, that the Hawks and Wild would meet. And for the first time out of those three, there is a feeling across the hockey community that the Wild will be more than just a foil or a speedbump for the Hawks.

Everything Else

We continue our roll through what will matter and what won’t in the upcoming season. Today we go over to longtime guy I Am Not Chico Maki and his two queries.

Will the addition of Dineen (and subtraction of Kompon) be noticed in any tangible way on and/or off the ice?

On the ice maybe. If Kompon was in charge of the power play, then we can assume that Dineen will be as well. If Kitchen takes it over, then God help us all. Anyway, the thing is it’s fun to joke about how incompetent Kompon made the power play (it’s one of Kings’ fans faves), but the Hawks did finish 10th last year with a respectable 19.5% clip. Of course, the year before that they were awful, and each year in the playoffs they’ve been pretty much woeful for long stretches.

Everything Else

We continue our roll through what will matter and what won’t in the upcoming season. Today we go over to longtime guy I Am Not Chico Maki and his two queries.

Will the addition of Dineen (and subtraction of Kompon) be noticed in any tangible way on and/or off the ice?

On the ice maybe. If Kompon was in charge of the power play, then we can assume that Dineen will be as well. If Kitchen takes it over, then God help us all. Anyway, the thing is it’s fun to joke about how incompetent Kompon made the power play (it’s one of Kings’ fans faves), but the Hawks did finish 10th last year with a respectable 19.5% clip. Of course, the year before that they were awful, and each year in the playoffs they’ve been pretty much woeful for long stretches.