Hockey

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

So tell me, is this good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So to the second PP goal against:

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

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

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

Not exactly the start they were hoping for.

Baseball

A few caveats before you wade into the following muck. One, losses to the Cardinals make me irrationally angry. Losses to the corpse of Adam Wainwright make me more irrationally angry. This piece’s purpose is to show how two things can be true at once. It very well might not make any sense. It could also be completely wiped out contextually by the Cubs winning the next five games. Yeah, well, life is strange, said Slim.

Ok, to it.

I’ve been thinking about the ’85 Bears a lot lately, which you know if you follow me on Twitter. The parallels are getting too hard to miss with the Cubs. A life-defining, long-overdue championship. A manager/coach that is seemingly on every ad, and seemingly more interested in celebrating his style than actually managing the team. At odds with the front office. An ownership that seems content with the one. Follow-up seasons that are short of expectations. Competitors passing by and seemingly for good. Trying to balance the elation of that one night and how much it meant, that season meant, with the disappointment of what’s come after. Do I have a right to be disappointed? Am I disappointed enough? Am I erasing 2016? Did it mean too much?

It is hard to not be infuriated with this team right now. This was/is the biggest road trip of the season. They’ve fallen on their face so far, pretty much. They haven’t played like a team that even wants to win the division, much less can. The offense has simply gone away at the worst time, and there haven’t been any Scherzers or Strasburgs or deGroms doing the disappearing. It would be next to impossible to not be frustrated. How did this happen?

I keep looking at this lineup. Is this really the best we can do not even three seasons after having the best offense in baseball? Should it fall this far this fast? You’re pinning your hopes on Robel Garcia, a tinder-swipe of a hope if there ever was one? Ian Happ?

It’s much more fun and much easier to yell at the Ricketts, and they would deserve it. But let’s cut through to the heart of it. The cash the Ricketts aren’t opening up for Theo and Jed is for them to buy their way out of the holes in the team the system they made hasn’t filled. Since 2015 and basically Javier Baez’s recall (who wasn’t their draft pick, remember, though that doesn’t mean they didn’t develop him), who has come up through the Cubs system and proven a piece? You can search all you like, you won’t find one.

But is that fair? Because after a stretch of developing or acquiring Rizzo, Arrieta, Bryant, Baez, Contreras, Hendricks, Rondon–all at least unproven before arrival–is it really the expectation you can keep at that pace? Well, yeah, because others are doing it, but that is two Cy Young finalists/winners and two MVP finalists/winners.

Still, it feels like from standing on top of the baseball world not yet three seasons ago, the Cubs have been passed by the Dodgers, Astros, possibly Braves now, Yankees, Red Sox, and you might even convince yourself or me to throw one or two other teams on there. They deservedly beat the Dodgers in six games but from that October night, the Dodgers have added Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Walker Buehler, Alex Verdugo, rehabilitated Joc Pederson, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and still were able to trade for Yu Darvish and Manny Machado in that time, and still have one of the best systems in baseball, with Gavin Lux just twiddling this thumbs waiting for a spot.

It feels like the Dodgers have sprinted miles ahead, with their better records in ’17 and this year…except the Cubs won more games last year in a tougher division. But they didn’t beat the Rockies at home, the Dodgers did. Am I really going to hang that conclusion on a coin-flip and the small sample size of the playoffs?

This team won 95 games last year with half a Bryant, basically no Darvish, and bullpen crumbling as the season went along like it was sent from the Acme Co. We bitch and moan about Maddon now, but sure that was actually excellent managing, no?

The Astros created their super team, swung trades for Verlander and Cole, and still have Yordan Alvarez punching holes in the sky, and Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley waiting. Now maybe the latter two will turn out to be nothing…but with their track record, is that what you’re betting on?

Meanwhile, back here at the ranch, it’s Ian Happ being rightly demoted. It’s the stock in Kyle Schwarber they kept telling us they had to buy that has yet to produce 1 WAR this year in his nearly fourth full campaign. It’s whatever iteration of sadness Albert Almora is today. It’s Carl Edwards being wheelbarrowed to the zoo. It’s Addison Russell hopefully being locked in a dungeon to never see the light of day. It’s ANY pitcher that doesn’t actually exist.

And what’s on the way? Nico Hoerner? The 12 minutes Alzolay will be healthy? Miguel Amaya three years down the line when everyone may have left by free agency already?

Am I going to be that guy in 25 years (no, I’ll be long dead but go with this) barking at some poor kid about how he missed out on 2016, just like I’ve heard about 1985 a zillion and a half times? Yes, I absolutely will be, because 2016 was that worth it and also very well might be all we have. And that kid will long for the season he remembers just as fondly, only so he or she can stop hearing about 2016 again. And if that season also should end for them with Rex Grossman fumbling away the World Series, boy wouldn’t the symmetry be complete?

Should there be more money? Of course there should be. They’re worth $2 billion, after all. But that doesn’t absolve the front office either. The trade for Aroldis Chapman was “necessary,” (only convinced of this after Strop and Rondon both got hurt that year, but had they stayed healthy also think they would have been enough). The Quintana trade was worth it. But as stated above, your rivals were trading for All-Stars and top of the rotation pieces. And their systems survived those culls. Yours hasn’t. Why?

And yet…we’re talking about two seasons? 2017 and 2019? Because 2018 saw them win the most games in the NL. Can we really be that upset about that? And 2017, it was kind of understood it was going to be a slog from the get-go. Then again, that’s when they told us their “second wave” would start. Well, I’m still sitting on my board in the sun, and it’s getting hot and I’m getting burned.

It’s not good enough. It was more than good enough. And here we are, stuck in the middle with this.

 

Everything Else

The past season and a half for Hawks fans have been, if not a nightmare, then certainly close enough to study a nightmare’s habits and form. I’m sure every one has their own moment where things have felt like bottom. For me it was last night, because the Hawks actually hit bottom. They are 31st in the league. They just got pumped by one team that’s rebuilding in Newark, and then pretty easily held at arm’s length by another on Broadway. They have the worst goal-difference in the league. It certainly has been a long time since the Hawks were propping up the entire league and deservedly so. And yes, those of you thinking that in the long run this may be a good thing, you may be right. If they could carry this out, land in the top two in the draft, and pry Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko that would be a step forward. If you find relief or salvation in that, I won’t stop you.

You wouldn’t think I could still find any anger after all this, but I can find it anytime, anywhere. So here’s what’s floating around my head.

-Again, to end up bottom, is most every sport these days, you’re supposed to actually plan for that. And if you haven’t planned for that, everyone is fired. The Flyers are down here, and they’ve shitcanned everyone. The Senators are stupid and should fire everyone. The Kings have fired everyone. The Panthers are probably going to fire everyone. The Wings are going to fire everyone to get Steve Yzerman in.

The Hawks did fire a coach, but if I’m taking the Hawks at their word, then how can anyone above Coach Cool Youth Pastor keep their job? They told you this team was supposed to be competitive, and they’re last in the league. There’s no way that any front office that thought this roster could make a run at a playoff spot can be deemed to be competent enough to have any influence on a future NHL team. I kind of have to believe they said different things behind closed doors than they did in front of the press, because it’s the only way to sleep through the night. If this was the belief both privately and publicly, then everyone goes.

I know what they’ll do. You know what they’ll do. They’ll hide behind the fig leaf of Corey Crawford being hurt again, and wonky when he was healthy. But don’t buy it. Let’s play it out. Let’s say that Crawford was going .925 (which would be Vezina-worthy in this year’s environment) in his starts and the starts that had to go to Delia (because Delia wouldn’t be here if Crow were healthy). That would be 15 less goals the Hawks gave up. It’s elementary and coarse, but with no other goals scored that’s still a -23 GD. Sure, score effects probably change things but how much better would that GD really be? How much higher in the standings would they be? Five points? I guess that’s touching distance to a playoff spot. Would that be just because the sludge that the Central turned into behind Nashville and Winnipeg? And five points is an awfully ambitious estimate. It’s probably closer to three and you’re still nowhere.

-We’ve been over this and over this, but this was a GM who basically has said and wants you to think he sabotaged the blue line simply to stick it to a coach he wanted to fire over the summer anyway. He put Brandon Manning and Jan Rutta on this team because “they were Q-type players”, or so he thought, and the fact that they sucked was Q’s fault, according to Stan. This team probably isn’t much better if Dahlstrom starts the year here, though maybe a little if Murphy was healthy all season. Where else would anyone get away with this? In a league getting faster and faster all the time, Stan Bowman inserted two road cones on defense simply to put a middle finger up to his coach. That’s not just fireable, that’s catapult-able. That’s a broken organization that’s too arrogant to realize it. And that arrogance is built off success they were almost entirely, indirectly involved in. Again, they draw their esteem from being born on third.

-I want to believe in Jeremy Colliton, and I do honestly think he should be given a run with a real roster next season. I would like the Hawks, or any team really, getting rewarded for going outside the box. That’s assuming the veterans haven’t already given up on him, because they’re all going to be here next year and you’d need a buy-in from them otherwise the young players aren’t going to either. But there’s no evidence that anything has improved. The only thing different is that he’s not lashing Connor Murphy with birchwood between periods for who he isn’t like Q was last year.

Yes, this team isn’t built to play the system he apparently wants. To pull off this man-system in the defensive zone, you have to be oozing speed to pressure any puck carrier all the time. There can’t be any time to breathe. The Hawks aren’t that, and are far from that. So…why wouldn’t you tailor a system to the team you have, not the one you wish to have?

Every metric has gotten worse under Colliton. Their only salvation has been a power play that has clicked (which he does credit for) and Collin Delia (which he doesn’t). The penalty kill still sucks out loud. They still take three or four passes to get out of the zone when it should be one or two or even none. Duncan Keith rarely cares. He can yell at Erik Gustafsson all he wants but that’s not getting any better defensively. Henri Jokiharju has yet to flash. Do we want this guy at the controls when Adam Boqvist is here?

-Speaking of Jokiharju, let me be clear: I don’t think he’s a bust or anything close. But the more I watch him, the more he seems a high floor guy than a high ceiling one. He’s not that fast. He’s been buried with partners and assignments that don’t let him show off what he can do on the offensive side of the ice, but we haven’t seen any of it anywhere. And he can’t be what the Hawks need him to be if he’s not that quick. He’s smooth, but that’s not the same thing. Boqvist and Mitchell are both right-handed as well, so how’s that going to shake out?

If Colliton is taking orders from above, then “above” has to find a way to give Jokiharju a steady partner so we can see what we have here. There’s only one, and that’s Murphy. Flip him to the left side, which he did plenty last year, and let’s see what HarJu can do with some shackles off. Otherwise, what are we doing?

Ok, I got it all out. We’ll come back to this next week.

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Canucks 22-19-6   Hawks 29-14-5

PUCK DROP: 6:30pm

TV: WGN down here, SportsNet up there for Hilljack Hockey

CRYING INTO THEIR VAPORIZER: Nucks Misconduct, Hockey Dipshit

PROJECTED LINEUPS

ADJUSTED TEAM CORSI %: Canucks – 47.5 (24th)  Hawks – 50.0 (16th)

ADJUSTED TEAM xGF%: Canucks – 46.4 (28th)  Hawks – 47.5 (26th)

POWER PLAY %: Canucks – 13.2 (29th)  Hawks – 18.1 (16th)

PENALTY KILL %: Canucks – 79.7 (23rd)  Hawks – 75.6 (28th)

The Hawks will entertain the Canucks tonight, a half-hour later than normal for a Sunday because it features on SportsNet’s hilariously weird “Hometown Hockey.” For the uninitiated, every Sunday Rogers sends Tara Slone–who must’ve run over someone’s cat/child to be punished in such a way–out to some Canadian outpost/backwater/truck stop/hobo circle jerk where she gets stared at by a bunch of glassy-eyed, slack-jawed locals who are only slightly intimidated by all the blinking lights of the camera. There they talk about how much they love hockey, shocking for a Canadian city I know, while the children have to wear their gear for four hours and wave to the camera when told, which turns out to be a real task for them, because y’know, CANADIAN. Ron MacLean joins the fun to interview some doddering old codger who barely knows where he is because he spent 10 years toiling for the fucking Golden Seals or something and getting beaten about the head. But he’s from whatever ice-fishing hut they’re broadcasting from, so he has talk about how much they love hockey in this particular section of frozen hell. It’s really something.

Meanwhile, George Stroumboulopoulos kicks it at home with his awesome socks and thanks his lucky stars he doesn’t have to put up with any of this shit anymore.

Anyway…

Everything Else

It’s been just about a week since the Hawks signed Brad Richards, and thanks to other commitments and the holiday I haven’t really had time to get in up to the elbow on what the Hawks have taken a flier on here. We’ve got time today. So roll up the sleeves, Hondo.

What they’ve gotten is clearly a player on the decline. Richards had 91 points with Dallas the year the Hawks won the Cup the firs time. He then went to 77, 66, a 60-point pace in the lockout year, and 51 points last year. So none of that is going to be encouraging, especially when he switched to the easier Eastern Conference and continued to put up less points.

Are there some mitigating factors? A few but hardly nothing major. He was bounced around the lineup a lot by John Tortorella, and Torts was allergic to offense. But the introduction of Alain Vigneault didn’t help much either.

Everything Else

We’re gonna take the holiday off too, so let’s discuss all the things you can watch during that stretch and then I’ll leave you to discuss whatever you want. Someone should include a live play-by-play of their uncle passing out amongst the cats or something.

Friday

Bulls v. Knicks – Basketball in the Garden is pretty cool, I enjoyed the one time I went.  At least in the old Garden. I don’t know what it’s like with the remodeled one. I’m told the Knicks are good this year, even though I feel like Jason Kidd is halfway to the state of choosing poorly which chalice Jesus drank from. You can’t ride the Raymond Felton train forever. Unless he’s playing against Dee Brown. Am I right Illini fans?! UP TOP!