Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs clinched a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs this weekend, capping off a 2-2 week of action. The piglets knocked off the top two teams in the Central Division (Chicago and Manitoba), and also dropped decisions to the worst two teams (Grand Rapids and Iowa).

Rockford is in fourth place in the division standings, with an outside shot at overtaking Milwaukee for third place. The Hogs will need to win their last three games-at Iowa and Milwaukee on Wednesday and Friday, then the Wolves at the BMO Harris Bank Center Saturday night.

A fourth-place finish will result in a play-in series with the division’s fifth seed; that looks like the Texas Stars at this point. Winning the play-in sets up a best-of-five series with Chicago. Gaining third-place puts Rockford in an opening round series with the Moose.

The IceHogs have defeated the Wolves eight times in eleven meetings this season, including Tuesday’s 4-3 win in Rosemont. The season series with Manitoba is 5-3 in favor of Rockford, who beat the Moose 5-3 to punch its ticket to the postseason Saturday.

In this last week of regular-season action, the piglets will look to stay healthy and finish strong. It’s been a pretty successful campaign for Rockford. With some good fortune, this club could get some extended development time in May.

 

Roster News

The key development for Rockford is the loss of veteran forward Brett Connolly with a left knee injury. The team announced Saturday that Connolly will be out four to six weeks. It’s unlikely we see him in action with the Hogs again this season.

D.J. Busdeker is nursing a sore shoulder but could possibly return for the playoffs. However, it’s Connolly’s leadership and offensive punch (17 G, 18 A) that is going to be tough to replace.

With his last appearance being in Manitoba April 16, Rockford is 3-2 without Connolly. The IceHogs have managed to score without his presence, which will have to continue over the next couple of weeks.

 

Notes

  • Lukas Reichel added four assists to his team leading point total. He now owns the IceHogs rookie scoring mark with 53 points, besting Vinnie Hinostroza’s 51-point effort in the 2016-17 season.
  • Andrei Altybarmakian extended his goal streak to five games in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Iowa. He now has 10 goals and 30 points in 63 games this season.
  • Mike Hardman had four goals this week; one of his two goals against the Wolves was the game-winner in the final minute of regulation. Hardman 19 goals is second on the team behind Reichel’s 21. He will be counted on to provide offense in lieu of Connolly.
  • Arvid Soderblom continues to be the team’s workhorse in goal, having started ten of Rockford’s last twelve games. Cale Morris turned in a solid performance in the win over Chicago Wednesday, but it would appear that Soderblom will anchor the Hogs in the postseason.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for more thoughts on the IceHogs playoff prospects as the regular season winds down.

Everything Else

Box Score: Game 40 | Game 41
Game Log: Game 40 | Game 41
Natural Stat Trick: Game 40 | Game 41

The Hawks certainly showed them last night. It always astounds me how this team can always be counted on to do the exact bare minimum necessary to kind of stay in the playoff race. Now things are a bit more difficult for them as their loss last night put the Hawks at a .500 record, 4 points behind 4th-place Nashville, who can’t stop winning, and only 3 points ahead of Dallas, with Dallas having three games in hand.

I’ve had about enough and I honestly don’t have a lot of hope left for the playoffs. We keep seeing the same issues over and over not being addressed. Here they are, some of them for the umpteenth time, in bullet form, with some good things mixed in there too.

  • At least Kirby Dach looks back in business, with three points in five games. He looks great playing with Kane. His first goal on Tuesday was called off for offside, but he set up Kane for the first real goal of the game to give Kane a nice breakaway chance. He also had another goal of his own halfway through the first. If you had told me he was still having pain in his wrist I wouldn’t believe you.
  • Vinnie Hinostroza reminded Hawks fans that he exists with a great pass to assist Kubalik on the 2nd goal on Tuesday. He also passed it right to Kubalik for the Hawks’ lone goal last night. The two seem to play well with each other so let’s see more of this.
  • Nikita Zadorov is solely responsible for a solid 11% of the team’s total penalty minutes. He leads the entire team with 31 minutes and has nearly double what the second-most guy has. The Hawks have been getting better of staying out of the box except for this clown. He also sucks on the ice at defense when it really matters, being solely responsible for Dallas’s second goal last night by once again passing the puck right to a Dallas Star to set up the scoring chance instead of dumping it out. Why do people like this guy so much? If they re-sign this doofus I’m really going to lose my mind.
  • I did just mention the Hawks were getting better at staying out of the box, but last night’s game they gave the Stars three powerplay opportunities, the most they’ve given an opponent since March 25 against the Panthers. The Stars were able to capitalize twice on their powerplay opportunities also, which was obviously pivotal for the Stars’ win. The Hawks need to stay out of the box, especially when you’re 30th in the league with your penalty kill.
  • The Hawks’ powerplay has also gone cold, with 1 goal in the last 20 powerplay opportunities; 1 goal in 7 games. We are 21st in the league with even-strength goals, so our powerplay cannot be sputtering the way it is now.
  • I’m not sure why the Hawks get domed possession-wise when they win and are winning the possession metrics when they lose. It doesn’t make any sense at all. HOCKEY.
  • Congrats on the Cat for 20 goals. Here’s to 20 more, we’ll need them.

Since the last writing, the Hawks traded away two Lucases – Lucas Carlsson and Lucas Wallmark – to the Panthers for Brett Connolly, Riley Stillman, Henrik Borgstrom and a 7th-round pick, cementing the Blackhawks as the team to offload all your cap issues to because we have the space.

Connolly only has 4 points on the season but had 33 points last season and a career-high 46 points the season before. He also won the Stanley Cup with the Capitals. Riley Stillman is not a points-getting defenseman, but Bowman says he is AGGRESSIVE and COMPETITIVE, so take that with whatever grain of salt you’d please. This is the last year of his contract so he may become a free agent after this season. Borgstrom is still more of a prospect, but he did play 50 games with the Panthers in the 2018-19 season and had 18 points. This year he was playing in Finland and has 19 points so far.

The Blackhawks start a 5-game road trip this weekend against Columbus, who just hilariously split a series with the Lightning this week. The Blue Jackets are now tied points-wise with the Stars, so the Blackhawks (once again) need TWO – not ONE – TWO huge wins here to put distance between them and other playoff contenders in the Central, I guess.

Onward.

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Coyotes 34-29-5   Hawks 29-30-9

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THEY CALL THEM THE DESERT DOGS: Five For Howling

The Hawks are going to tell you they’re not done yet. They are, but we’ll excuse them if it makes doing their jobs easier if they believe it’s for something. So with the Yotes on the schedule twice, the Avs on the schedule twice, and the Canucks on their once in the next two weeks, the Hawks can at least make things passably interesting by winning all of those games, as well as finding a way to steal two points out of either Montreal or Toronto. Then we’ll just where they are, but that’s that kind of run it’s going to take. And no overtime bullshit, in the words of Cuervo Jones.

It starts tonight with the second visit of the Arizona Coyotes, who are sitting right on the shoulder of the Minnesota Wild in the last playoff spot, one point with one game in hand. If results go their way tonight they will wake up in the morning in the playoffs. It’s certainly not what you were expecting.

So how did they get here, with this beautiful house and beautiful wife? The headline is Darcy Kuemper, who is the latest goalie to find himself in the desert. Since the turn of the calendar he’s been unconscious, with a .925 SV% and having won nine of his last 10 starts. When you’re getting that goaltending, you don’t have to do too much else. Which is good, because the Coyotes don’t really.

They’re a middling possession team, and still have been since Kuemper went supernova. Even in the last month their in the bottom half of the league in Corsi and scoring chances and shooting-percentage. It’s Kuemper pulling an Atlas act for the most part. What they do have is just enough pieces to get just enough goals and just enough speed to make things uncomfortable for teams, especially ones as slow as the Hawks are. There’s Keller on the first line, Crouse and Archibald on the second, Galchenyuk on the third, and Vinnie Bag O’ Donuts on the 4th. All have 10 goals or more, along with Brad Richardson‘s 16, and though none are stars (there’s still hope for Keller) there’s competence everywhere. No black holes, as it were.

The only true star is on the back end in Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has combined wonderfully with Niklas Hjalmarsson. They take the hardest shifts in terms of place and opponent, and they still turn the ice over. It’s infuriating. Alex Goligoski has apparently gotten over just a rotten start to his Yotes career the past two years, with the help of possible-stalwart Jakob Chychrun and his missing vowels. Having Jason Demers on your third-pairing is a real treat, and this is the understated strength of the team. They’re not the Hurricanes or anything, but they’re a hell of a way ahead of the Hawks in that category.

For the Hawks, they’ll basically aim to keep things as they’ve been. Corey Crawford will get a chance to build on what was his easiest start of the year, as will the Hawks on that defensive effort. The only other change you might see is Slater Koekkoek in for either Dahlstrom or Forsling, but even that isn’t all that likely.

As strange as it may sound, the Yotes are a tougher match up for the Hawks than the Stars. Whereas Dallas has really nothing below the top two lines, the Coyotes at least have more speed than that. Galchenyuk, Richardson, Hinostroza, Fischer are all lurking in the bottom six, and the thought of Michael Grabner bearing down on Seabrook’s side at any point is one that will start to bend the dimensions in your mind. While they’re not lethal, they have potential, and with the way Kuemper is going they don’t need a lot. Then again, the Yotes are in St. Louis tomorrow night and may save Kuemper for that, and the Hawks could benefit from getting a look at a backup (Calvin Pickard) for the second straight game. The Blues one is clearly the harder one. We’ll see later on.

If they’re going to insist on doing something silly, then it started on Thursday. It’s going to be near impossible, but why should anything else make sense this season?

 

Game #69 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

You don’t need me to tell you what was important about tonight—but I will anyway, it was Corey Crawford coming back. And despite what the score was, he looked just fine. It was the usual suspects being the pieces of crap that they are that led to the loss, but you don’t need me to tell you that, either. To the bullets:

Box Score

Natural Stat Trick

Corsica

–After goal-a-thons in recent games tonight’s effort seemed rather anemic on offense. This could have easily been at least 2-0 Hawks at the end of the first, had it not been for Fortnite’s total lack of finish. Kane set him up beautifully multiple times, but to no avail. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him demoted back down to the third or fourth line after tonight’s performance (although it’s just as likely Q loves him and will keep him on the second line, so who knows). A poorly timed post by Schmaltz in the second period was another example of the Hawks being snake-bitten.

–Don’t take that to mean that there was no plain ‘ole incompetence tonight—that would be far too generous. Back to Nick Schmaltz, he had a pretty shitty game, to be perfectly honest. Yeah, his CF% ended up being 52.9, but that was a rebound from the mid-30s he had going in the first period, and he pulled his classic pass-when-he-should-shoot early in the third, which basically wasted a huge amount of time and space that could have been a good opportunity.

–But the real tale of woe here is Brandon Manning and Chris Kunitz and how horrible they truly are. We’ve already beaten this dead horse that they suck, but it’s hard to overstate just how much. Even with the aforementioned anemic offense, this game would have been tied at 1 (at worst), had it not been for Manning completely misplaying a 2-on-1 in the first and hanging Crawford out to dry, and had Kunitz not made a shitty, stupid pass attempt late in the third that Clayton Keller (GET A FIRST NAME, ASSHOLE) picked off and scored on to basically put the game out of reach. So after not being able to score a 5-on-5 goal yet this season, the fucking Coyotes found their even-strength mojo thanks to our useless clods who Quenneville refuses to sit, despite the availability of Brandon Davidson, Victor Ejdsell, and ANYONE ELSE FROM ROCKFORD AT THIS POINT.

–Alright, enough of what sucked. The silver lining was that really Crawford looked pretty good. Sure, there were a couple saves where he just barely got a toe on the puck, and in the second there was a terrifying moment where he half-somersaulted out of the crease and I held my head in my hands like I was trying to protect his brain by steadying my own, but all in all he was solid. That includes some great point-blank saves like the one he had on Grabner in the third, which at that point kept it a one-goal game (till Kunitz shat the bed). I’m guessing it’ll take a little while for him to be fully comfortable, and there’s always the chance he’ll regress after dealing with contact or other unforseen issues, but for a first outing after 10 months, this was a very good sign.

–You know who else had a good game? Erik Gustafsson. That’s not a huge shock as he’s been generally playing well, but tonight he had the lone goal after textbook passing from Toews and Top Cat during a 4-on-4 stint, and he made two huge shot blocks to bail out Crawford in the first and second periods.

–I can’t be mad about Raanta having a good game. And when Hjalmarsson was getting misty-eyed after his ovation I was basically at the point of yelling I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING at the tv. And I can’t be mad about Our Cousin Vinny scoring two goals either. I want to be mad because this loss is extremely aggravating, but of course it’s these guys who I can’t hate.

So the Hawks were dealt their first regulation loss of the season, and to the fucking Coyotes (did I already complain and call them that? I did, didn’t I?). It was bound to happen at some point, but the fact that it came at the hands of The Team of Hawks Rejects and on the night Crow finally came back makes it all the more painful. There are still positives to walk away with, though, and with a barrage of games coming up that’s what we’ll do. Onward and upward.

Beer: Lagunitas Sumpin’ Easy Ale

Line of the Night: “Good players get a stick on it.” Steve Konroyd, throwing shade at Alexandre Fortin after he missed yet another great pass from Kane 

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

Everything Else

Finally, something. Thank you John Pullega for taking the Fels Motherfuck into new places and spurring something resembling action from the Chicago Blackhawks.

There’s a lot of flotsam in this trade, so here are the exact details: The Hawks send Marian Hossa’s corpse and contract, Vinnie Smalls, Jordan Oesterle, and a 2019 3rd rounder to Arizona for Marcus Kruger, the amazingly named MacKenzie Entwistle, Jordan Maletta, Andrew Campbell, and a 5th rounder in 2019. There’s a lot here. What’s sad is that there isn’t a lot here that matters.

Let’s start with what the Hawks are sending away. It was no secret that the Hawks wanted to get Hossa’s contract off their books to free up cap space that wasn’t LTIR. Hossa is never going to play again, we all know this, the Yotes need to get to the floor, and it hopes up Hossa’s entire hit. The problem is that this would have been a good idea to do before July 1st so the Hawks could have been more involved in the free agency market than picking up whatever everyone else left on the floor. But hey, we don’t shout at the rain here and what’s done is done.

Jordan Oesterle sucks. There’s no other way to say it, and though he spasmed a decent month with Duncan Keith and the Hawks could probably use more of his “KEEP FIRING ASSHOLES!” methods from the blue line in the offensive zone, the Hawks are currently stuffed with third-pairing d-men, and really anything that gets Jokiharju closer to the NHL roster should be applauded. He still is going to have to beat out Rutta and Forsling and Dahlstrom and whatever else, but hey, it’s a step.

Hinostroza is a loss. Everyone who’s been around here for any length of time knows I might be Vinnie Smalls’s biggest fan, as for a third line winger he generated top six levels of shots and chances. He’s ridiculously fast, which the Hawks need all they can get, and a positive forechecker and penalty killer. He makes shit happen. What might not ever happen is for him to have the finish to match what he creates and starts. He hasn’t at any level, though that could have come. This one might come back to haunt the Hawks, but if Dylan Sikura is everything the Hawks think he is (jury is very much still out on that one) then he’ll do everything Vinne would have done and more.

What the Hawks also get is a ton of cap space. They now have $9.3 million in space. If you can get Anisimov off the books, and Kruger’s acquisition might have that in mind, that’s $13M or so. Hey, Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson together this year are about $13 million in salary. Isn’t that interesting? I find that interesting.

Ok, let’s go to the other side. I’ll be honest with you, I had forgotten that the Hurricanes had dumped Marcus Kruger onto the Yotes. And the Canes had no use for Kruger at all. I can’t honestly tell you what happened there. Kruger, in only half of a season, still put up a positive Corsi-rel in Carolina while getting his usual dungeon starts. He didn’t produce offensively, because he doesn’t produce offensively. Kruger wasn’t quite as solid defensively as he was here, but a demotion to the AHL all year seems a tad harsh. Kruger is only one season removed from being the firefighter you remember here, and we know that Q knows exactly what he is. Let’s say he’s an improvement on David Kampf. And he only has one year on his deal, so if he’s another charred remains of a beloved warrior of victories past, well whatever.

The rest of this seems to be just Rockford filler. MacKenzie Entwistle, as badly as I want him to be a player so we can just keep saying, “MacKenzie Entwistle,” hasn’t really done much in the OHL and was a 3rd round pick. Let’s just say it’ll be a year or two before you see him near this team or something is wrong. Jordan Maletta is 23 and hasn’t sniffed the NHL for two organizations now. He be better get used to the comforts of Winnebago County. Andrew Campbell has played 42 games in the NHL over three seasons. Again, this is just a plug. None of this matters.

What this trade is about is the cap space. And maybe the security of Marcus Kruger on the 4th line, but at this point in his career if Kruger matters too much you’re fucking sunk. He’s not going to be The Black Knight of the playoff runs of ’13-’15 that you remember, or is highly unlikely to be.

So the cap space. As stated, it would fit Ryan and Karlsson with some rejiggering if Stan Bowman was suddenly feeling his oats and went all in. It would also easily accommodate Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner, if one were so inclined. It fits SOMETHING. So before we can pass judgement on this deal, we have to see what the next move it results in is first.

Everything Else

Generally on Friday afternoon is when anyone that has bad news to announce will release it, figuring most will miss out as they’re on their way home for the weekend and media departments are depleted. The signings of John Hayden and Vinnie Hinostroza to contract extensions aren’t exactly that, as they’re not bad news, but still basically flying under the radar before the draft.

John Hayden signed a one-way deal for two years at $750K. I’m just going to go ahead and state that if John Hayden has any serious role to play on the Hawks in those two years, the Hawks will then suck. Hayden really is only a body, and not even a strong or powerful one. He was sent down to Rockford in the middle of the season so he could play with the puck more, which he wasn’t on a fourth line. He then proceeded to not play with the puck in the AHL. I’m fairly sure “John Hayden” is another way to say, “Jimmy Hayes” or “Kyle Baun,” but will reserve judgement. The one-way deal is somewhat intriguing, I guess, but the Hawks have kept one-way deals down in the minors before and I fully expect if things turn around for the Hawks, that’s where Hayden can expect to be until injuries hit.

As for Hinostroza, he signed for twice that for two years, $1.5 million a year. As most anyone knows, I’m bullish on Vinnie Smalls as his underlying numbers suggest something of a secret weapon. Ideally he’s driving play on a third line and creating multitudes of chances against bums, and we’ll see if the Hawks can get him there instead of needing him to moonlight on the top six. I feel there’s a poor man’s Sheary or Guentzel here though, if the Hawks could stop fixating on his size for five minutes and worry about getting him and his game-breaking speed in open ice more often. $1.5 million might seem like an utter steal soon.

Anyway, that’s about it for the day. We’ll be here next week doing full draft-preview and maybe even reaction to a trade or two, given how the past has gone.

Everything Else

I haven’t made much of a secret about what I think Vinnie Hinostroza is and what he could be. There’s more here than we’ve seen, and I fear there’s more than even the team thinks. Let’s tease it out here.

Vinnie Hinostroza

50 games, 7 goals, 18 assists, 25 points, 10 PIM, +5

53.7 CF%, -1.53 CF% rel, 53.7 xGF%, +5.39 xGF% rel

Yeah, so on the surface, 25 points in 50 games is certainly a decent contribution. Even you can do the math to see that works out to 41 points over 82 games, which you’d take from a bottom-sixer in a goddamn heartbeat. And maybe that’s all he is. And that’s ok. You need contributing third and fourth liners to be good, and Vinnie can give you that.

Except…

There was a point this season, when Hinostroza was getting to run with Schmaltz and Kane or on the top six in general, that he was top-20 in the league in terms of attempts he took and chances he got himself. Vinnie Hinostroza was one of the best individual chance creators in the league. His problem is that he didn’t bury enough of them, as his 8.1 SH% and only seven goals kind of make clear. And that might be it for him, because he wasn’t a big goal-scorer at Notre Dame and his best year in the AHL saw 18 goals in 66 games.

Still, looking at his WOWYs, when Hinostroza skated with Saad and Toews they ran up a 60+ CF%, and a 57% scoring-chance percentage. That’s the best mark any winger managed with those two. He and Schmaltz ran a 52% mark in both as well.

This doesn’t mean that Vinnie Hinostroza should be on Toews’s line all next year and never moved. What I think it does say is that he’s a winger you can play anywhere in the lineup and get something from him. He can certainly get you out of a game or five in the top six. And there might be more there. His speed alone causes problems. He can get in on a forecheck, not by hitting people or being all that strong on the wall, but by simply making d-men play faster than they want to. He causes turnovers. He opens space by just zipping around. This is how things work in the NHL now.

Again, like other players, how the Hawks view Hinostroza going forward will say a lot about how they’re going to build this team going forward.

Outlook: I’m not going to claim that Hinostroza can be Jake Guenztel. The Hawks don’t have a Crosby to make him one anyway. But he’s got tools to be on the top six and if you have the rest of it set, he can be a real weapon. It depends what the Hawks want to be.

I’m afraid they see how small he is and think he can only be a penalty-killing gnat on the fourth line who they just let loose for 10-12 minutes per game. And keeping him on the bottom six is fine, especially if you have four wingers that are clearly better which the Hawks probably should. It would be even more pleasing if he’s on a third line on a team that’s decided it’s just going to pack as much speed as possible into the lineup and play as if their balls are being lightly singed for 60 minutes. Not as a checking forward, but just as a third line that’s trying to skate by you until you puke. This is what the Hawks should be doing, it’s what more and more teams are going to do, and Hinostroza is a piece that can do that.

I’d be a touch surprised if Vinnie Smalls ever got to 20 goals. He’d need to improve his shooting markedly, but that’s been done before. What he doesn’t have to improve is getting into the right spots, because he already does. The fear is that he can get buried in his own zone, which we saw at times with him and Schmaltz when they played together. But as the league gets smaller and faster, and it will, that’s less and less of a problem. And with his speed the other way he certainly keeps d-men from pinching too low.

There’s more here. I hope the Hawks and Vinnie see it.

Everything Else

In running himself out of town by means of his performance and (allegedly) his mouth, Ryan Hartman turned into a late first-round pick and the towering Victor Ejdsell. Ejdsell impressed in his NHL debut, lining up between Saad and Kane to the tune of a 51+ CF% and three shots on goal. Then he sort of disappeared in his last five, primarily between DeBrincat and Sikura. Let’s see what we can pick out in a mere six games from our newest Éric Dazé–sized center.

Victor Ejdsell

6 GP, 0 Goals, 1 Assist, 1 Point, -1, 0 PIM

43.3 CF% (Evens), -2.7 CF% Rel (Evens), 37.88 SCF% (5v5), 35.96 xGF% (5v5), -8.66 xGF% Rel (5v5)

 60% oZ Start (Evens)

What We Said: Ejdsell comes with plus-hands . . . The big concern is whether or not he can skate enough to make any of it matter . . . The Hawks were after Ejdsell when he chose the Predators, and generally the European players they’ve been hot on tend to work out at least ok . . .

What We Got: Overall, we got a small feel for what Ejdsell might be able to provide in a sheltered role. His first two games were his best, as he managed four shots and his lone assist. After that, he disappeared completely for his next three, losing 66% of his faceoffs or more, and managing zero shots on goal. He took three shots in the very last game, then got sent down to Rockford for their playoff run.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Ejdsell’s cup of coffee was that he didn’t spend too much time playing the role of Annette Frontpresence. He’s got soft hands and good vision according to most scouting reports, and in his debut, he spent much more time in the high slot than in front of the goaltender. That’s a good thing, because by all accounts, Ejdsell’s play style is much smaller and more skilled than his frame suggests. There’s still plenty of time for Quenneville et al. to fuck that up and neuter him by cementing him in the crease because he happens to be large, but in his mini-audition, they seemed willing to let Ejdsell be Ejdsell and not Artem Anisimov.

There isn’t a ton more we can glean from his six games in terms of performance. While all of his advanced stats are downright awful, it’s over six mostly meaningless games, during which he played most of his time with DeBrincat and Sikura. More encouraging is how he’s playing in Rockford. He’s got two goals and two assists in three games, including a triple-overtime, series-sweep-clinching goal against the Wolves. Jon Fromi had some positive things to say about him:

Wasn’t bad in his own end and showed he can finish a scoring play in Game 3 [against the Wolves] . . . I haven’t seen any problems as far as him keeping up with the pace the Hogs like to play. He hasn’t looked out of place at all coming from the larger ice.

Fromi also said that the Ice Hogs are letting him play in transition, as he’s been at the front of some of the rushes. He’s also played a bit on the point during the power play with Dahlstrom, which might be encouraging.

Where We Go From Here: Given the Hawks’s makeup at center—with Toews and Schmaltz in the top two, Tommy Wingels all but guaranteed to come back, Artem Anisimov not yet traded, and our David Kampf in the background—it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of wiggle room for Ejdsell next year. But with his size and the supposed skill he’s got in his hands, there could be a spot for him somewhere in the bottom six—maybe next to Duclair and Sikura—assuming Saad, Kane, DeBrincat, and Vinnie round out the top six, as they should.

Realistically, he’ll find a home in the bottom six, making us wonder whether he’s actually two smaller hockey players underneath a trench coat sneaking into a movie they shouldn’t be at.

But you didn’t come to the Victor Ejdsell review for rational, stats-based analysis, and neither did I.

What you came for is a complete skullfuck of unbelievable and nearly impossible trades involving Ejdsell, and I’m here to give it to you.

Because the Blackhawks are running out of time with this core’s window, they’re going to make two moves to pry it back open, and they involve a ton of risk. But with the core aging and three consecutive disappointing years behind them, it’s time for Bowman to ride the snake.

The first move can come in one of three flavors, each one requiring more GENIOUS BRAIN neurons than the last to comprehend, to fill the big hole in the blue line. The second, of course, is a no-brainer. Everything that follows assumes the cap goes up to at least $80 million and that the Hawks either trade or LTIR Hossa before the draft.

1a. Package both first-round picks, Ejdsell, and Schmaltz for Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton. Throw in Rutta, and Anisimov and his 11 power play goals if you can get him to waive his NMC. According to Kent Wilson over at The Athletic, “The Flames will be looking to recoup some draft picks and find an impact right winger to solidify the attack up front. The team may be tempted to put Hamilton on the auction block to fill one or both of those needs, but that would likely turn out to be a mistake.”

Schmaltz’s 52 points and 21 goals last year might not be the high-level scoring Calgary would need to justify the trade, especially since Giordano–Hamilton is one of the best pairings in the league. Then again, Wilson pointed out that the Flames seemed to have trust issues with Dougie, using him both less than T.J. Brodie on average and rarely in higher-leverage defensive situations (penalty kill, overtime, as the sole defender on the power play). And this is a team that signed Jaromir Jagr as an offensive solution then acted surprised when he stopped giving a shit, and thought signing Michael Stone was a solution for defensive depth, so Flames GM Brad Treliving might be a moron.

2a. Sign John Tavares at $12 million. Our fearless leader, King of All Media, and overall maven already laid it out for you. If that went through, you’d have

DeBrincat–Tavares–Kane

Saad–Toews–Hinostroza

Duclair–Kampf–Sikura

Highmore/Jurco–Anisimov/Wingels–Hayden

Keith–Hamilton

Gustafsson–Murphy

Seabrook–Jokiharju

1b. Package both first-round picks, Ejdsell, Hinostroza, and Schmaltz for Erik Karlsson, and even that might not be enough for what Ottawa would need for the best D-man in the game (Bobby Ryan would probably be involved, making this impossible for the cap). But let’s assume Pierre Dorion is a special kind of moron, and Ryan isn’t involved.

2b. Sign John Tavares at $12 million. That leaves you

DeBrincat–Tavares–Kane

Saad–Toews–Duclair

Jurco–Kampf–Sikura

Highmore–Anisimov–Hayden

Keith–Karlsson

Gustafsson–Murphy

Seabrook–Jokiharju

1c. Package their #8 pick, Artem Anisimov, Victor Ejdsell, and Vinnie Hinostroza for Justin Faulk. The scuttlebutt is that Carolina is losing patience with with Faulk, and given Canes owner Tom Dundon’s questionable ability to properly value and compensate the people who work for him, he might be griftable. Dundon, a man with next to no professional experience in hockey, wants to play Mark Cuban, so maybe you sell him on Anisimov’s VETERAN PRESENCE and 20-goal season as a center, Vinnie’s offensive potential, and Ejdsell’s size and skillset. The problem here is Anisimov’s no-move clause doesn’t turn into a limited no-trade clause until after the draft. Maybe you get him to waive it by selling him on playing with Andrei Svechnikov, I don’t know.

2c. Sign John Tavares at $12 million. That gives you

DeBrincat–Tavares–Kane

Saad–Toews–Duclair

Jurco–Schmaltz–Sikura

Highmore–Kampf–Hayden

Keith–Faulk

Gustafsson–Murphy

Seabrook–Jokiharju

Ejdsell may not be a gun, but maybe he can be one of the bullets that get the Hawks the top-pairing D-man they need, based on his size alone and the coinflip that is NHL GM dipshittery. Though it’s 99.9% certain none of this will happen, especially since DeBrincat would probably need to go for most of these trades to even be plausible, a boy can dream.

Everything Else

As Hess put it, our nightmare is over. The Hawks season has come to an end, and now they get the maximum amount of time to pick up the pieces, dust for prints, perform the tests, and try and diagnose and then prescribe. They certainly can’t complain the schedule will be too crunched to figure out what “The Plan” (it keeps coming up again) is going to be.

What will they find?

-As everyone has said though are hesitant to pin everything on, Corey Crawford going out was reasons 1-6 that this team did a face plant in front of everyone at the party including the girl they liked (this is no way ever happened to me in high school I assure you. Nope. Never).

We’ve said it a few times and it’s worth repeating. Since Crow went down the Hawks have the third-worst even-strength save-percentage, at .910. Crow’s was .935 before he got hurt, Last year it was .930, and he’s averaged .932 at evens the past four seasons. The Hawks gave up 112 goals in that time, and with Crow’s SV% that number would have been 81. Now, clearly it doesn’t work like that because Crow wouldn’t have started every game, but you see the problem.  Let’s throw in the penalty kill problems, where the Hawks had a .857 SV% after Crow got hurt, and when he did he was stopping shots at a .902 rate. Now, that number is astronomically higher than his career mark of .868, but again, it’s clear. Crow was worth anywhere from 10-15 goals, probably more. Or 8-10 points, maybe more.

Now you might say that’s still not enough to get the Hawks near the playoffs, but what we can’t calculate is how many goals for, and games overall, Crow might have changed. Goals change games. If Crow wasn’t letting in the terrible goals that the cavalcade of nincompoops and halfwits the Hawks rolled out there did, opponents couldn’t sit back as often and early as they did this season. Things may have been more open. The Hawks wouldn’t have looked so beaten, so early, so many times with Crow behind them, giving them the confidence he could hold the other team still at least. He gives them a platform to get ahead in games more often, and the assuredness they could stay there. One-goal deficits instead of two. Those things make huge differences in an NHL where basically every team is the same save a few degrees. I think that’s good for a few more points.

While the Hawks and/or their press say there’s no reason to think that Crawford won’t be ready in September, quite frankly I need a reason to think that he will. He’s still been nowhere near the ice lately, and the Hawks never used the words, “shut down.” He just didn’t make the bell. Maybe you’ll get pics of summer workouts. Then again, maybe you won’t. Then what? Me, I’d let him try and give the World Championships a whirl if he’s able and willing, just so he and the team can find out if he can play a stretch of games at all without being sidelined by a passing breeze or aggressive fart.

-But that’s not all. Joining the Hawks in the bottom-10 of SV% at even since Crow went to the land of wind and ghosts are San Jose, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and Philly, all playoff teams. Only the Devils matched that with a bottom-10 shooting percentage as well (so what the hell are the Devils doing in the playoffs anyway?) So clearly, the Hawks didn’t score enough.

And their chance-creation wasn’t terrible. They were second in attempts per game, first in scoring chances. But middle of the pack in high-danger changes for per game. Some, and I’m terrified this will the front office who do, will conclude the Hawks didn’t create enough high-danger chances because they lack some drooling monolith in front. I remain unconvinced of that. The culprit to me is that the forwards had to do all the creating and converting, because this team got nothing from its defense.

33 goals, 115 points from the Hawks d-men. And that’s all 11 that played. Compare that to the 56 goals and 197 points the Predators got from their eight d-men who played significant time. In practice, the Hawks forwards had to get the puck from their zone to the attacking one, recover it, create all the chances while getting to the net, and finish them. Clearly it proved too much of a task.

This is the biggest thing the Hawks have to solve. They need to find at least one puck-mover, and they probably have to stop considering Duncan Keith one. Gustafsson has done enough to earn another look next year as a bottom-four puck-mover. But they need one more, and I don’t know where that one is. Jokiharju is going to need seasoning. Forsling will have to make quite the leap. They’re ain’t shit on shit in the free agent market. They’ll have to get creative here.

-Because with a mobile and at least threatening blue line, this forward corps has a lot of hope. If Dylan Sikura is all they think he is and Vinnie Hinostroza is what the numbers say he is and EggShell can actually play, there’s a top nine here a lot of teams would envy. Yeah I know. “THEY’RE TOO SMALL AND DEY DON’T HIT AND DEYRE NOT CHICAGO TOUGH.” Bite me. Give me all the speed and skill you can shove into a needle and inject. Play faster. Blitz teams like the Hawks were at times.

A lot of work to be done, but not as much as some might think.

Everything Else

Box Score

Hockey Stats

Natural Stat Trick

The outcome may not have gone the Hawks’s way, but that was the most exciting game I’ve watched since the first two. There’s more than enough to take away from this one, so let’s get to it.

– We’ll start with Victor Ejdsell. For a guy whose first game saw him on the top line between Saad and Kane against a team still fighting for home ice advantage, he looked utterly pristine. We were worried about his skating, but Ejdsell assuaged our fears with a long albeit syrupy stride. He had a quick one-on-one with Jones early in the first that he got nervous on, forgoing a wrister to try to get closer and finish with a weak backhand. But outside of that hiccup, his first period was close to flawless.

He finished the first with a stunning 61+ CF% (26.05 CF% Rel) and a couple of good passes and set ups. He ended the game with a strong 51+ CF (12.59 CF% Rel) and didn’t have any huge diaper shittings. It’s only one game, but Ejdsell impressed me, especially with his passing. The only time I saw him plop in front of the net was during the first period PP, but otherwise, he maneuvered around in the high slot most of the time, looking to make plays. He’s someone to watch over the next five games, as he has the look of something useful.

– Speaking of useful, wouldn’t it be useful if fourth liner Alex DeBrincat would forgo his gritty bodychecking ways and just commit to scoring? The fact that he’s on the fourth line is a continuous personal affront, but hey, he set up the game tying goal there. I sometimes worry that Q putting him on the third and fourth lines will sour DeBrincat down the line, but I’m probably just projecting. Top Cat was outstanding with his passing and positioning as usual, but perhaps most impressive was a sequence late in the third.

After losing his stick, DeBrincat was bothersome until he read the puck as just unplayable enough in his own zone. He streaked to the bench, got a new stick, started a rush up the ice, and nearly scored on the play. And he’s only 20. Once he eats a few more sandwiches with Dylan Sikura, he’s going to be a force.

– I’m always going to be a curmudgeon about people who say that the Hawks miss Hjalmarsson and that Connor Murphy just isn’t up to snuff. Tonight was strictly a peep show for me, as Murphy was outright ruthless in all aspects of play. His CF% was a robust 52+ (15.12 CF% Rel), he scored a goal with a UNITY slapper, and he was far and away the most positively noticeable Hawks D-man on the ice. Don’t let Pat “Let Me Sound Out My O-Face Over Hits Unless Connor Murphy Does It” Foley fool you: Hertl’s goal ought to be laid at the feet of Gustafsson—who both misread the pass out of his oZ then couldn’t read Murphy covering for him—and Forsberg, who was wedgied by Hertl all alone.

And Murphy found himself playing with Gustafsson most of the game, which makes sense to me. Gustafsson—despite all the shit we give him—DOES have offensive instincts, and with Murphy’s burgeoning confidence, I can see this pairing working in the long term, provided Gustafsson makes at least some effort at defensive responsibility. It’s not perfect, but it makes sense on paper. And hey, Gustafsson led the team with a 57+ CF% tonight against a team rate of 43+, so you’ll take it.

– Aside from the Hertl goal, Forsberg looked decent. As always, he looked behind himself more often than a professional goalie should, but I’m always going to have a hard time being mad at him. The first goal was the result of Rutta playing “don’t touch the lava” in the blue paint, trying to cheat toward the far side of the net to cut off Hansen, who was covered pretty well by Oesterle, leaving Sorensen a gaping goal mouth on the near side. The second was off a faceoff win by the Hawks in the oZ, which then saw Seabrook turn the win over to Boedker, who passed to Shitty Kane #2, who then made Seabrook look like John Daly stumbling down a bunker to look for either his ball or a cigarette butt with a pull left on it, whichever requires less effort.

– Ragging on Seabrook these days is like shouting at the wind, but holy shit did he look like a bag of chewed cuticles tonight. He finished with a 28+ CF% at 5v5, and that’s WITH Keith. Keith himself had a 27+ CF%. I get the temptation to put the band back together, but Seabrook sucks and Keith isn’t the “America Runs on Duncan” Keith that’s a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer anymore. If you’ve ever lamented the fact that you’ll be long dead before the sun burns out, just watch these two play together. It’s the same fucking thing. These two simply cannot play together next year if the Hawks want anything to do with a playoff run.

– Brandon Saad seems to be in the throes of a relative Renaissance. Paired with Ejdsell and Kane, he was aggressive and his passing was crisp. He fed Ejdsell a couple of prime chances, and finished with a Hawks-forward-leading 55+ CF%.

– Vinnie’s confidence continues to grow as well. He finished with a 53+ CF% and put on a one-man show in the third period, juking and jiving through defenders for a clean shot that Jones managed to stop. Fels said it earlier this month: We might have a Top 6 forward on our hands here.

Yes, the Hawks lost, but the younger guys looked good doing it. If Ejdsell can keep up what he did tonight, I would love to see him anchoring the third or fourth line next year, depending on what Kampf and/or Sikura end up being. Call me romantic, but I think there’s hope yet for this team.

Beer du Jour: Boulder Beer – Shake Chocolate Porter.  One of the best porters I’ve had in a while.

Line of the Night: “The Blackhawks won the first period, no question. That should have been a 3, 4–1 period for the Blackhawks.” –Burish during the second intermission, despite the Hawks posting a 43+ CF% and a 2/7 high-danger Corsi For percentage (i.e., the Hawks had two high-danger shots to the Sharks’s five)