In truth, the whole season, or at least the last 67 games of it, was referendum on Coach Cool Youth Pastor. The Hawks kind of telegraphed their intentions with their quotes and moves last summer and at the end of the season before that. You knew from the moment they brought him over from Sweden this was a guy they really liked, even if Chris Block made him cry. You knew the relationship between Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman had gone beyond the breaking point, and everything pointed to Colliton being their hand-chose replacement. The Hawks backed themselves into a corner of having to hire him, when it was clear that Quenneville was never going to finish the season unless by some miracle. Colliton almost certainly wasn’t ready for this, but the front office isn’t going to be around for another coaching hire. At least you wouldn’t think. So it was a shotgun wedding. Did we learn anything? I’m not sure. But we had a lot of fun along the way, and in the end, isn’t that the real truth? The answer is no.
It Comes With A Free Frogurt!
The first thing that Colliton supporters will use to highlight their case, if these things actually exist, is the power play. Honestly, the power play was never a high priority for Q, as the Hawks won three Cups with a malfunctioning one either in the regular season or the playoffs or both. The PK and even-strength were given far bigger priority. So the Hawks’ power play languished, last in the league and by some distance. It was painful to watch, if not truly soul-destroying.
Look, there was clearly a lot of talent that was going to waste on it. But Colliton is the guy who got Duncan Keith off of it, trusted Erik Gustafsson to run it by himself, got it moving everywhere, and by the end of the season it finished 15th. That sounds disappointing, as it was flirting with the top-10 there for a hot minute, but when you think of where it came from, running at below 12% for awhile, to finish at 20% and to run at near 40% or above for six weeks or so is really an accomplishment. It went stale toward the end of the season when the Hawks really could have used it, but hopefully a more stable second unit and Patrick Kane not dying of exhaustion next year will curtail some of that. It was the only reason the Hawks go anywhere near a playoff spot.
To give Colliton only that would be a touch unfair. Connor Murphy played his best hockey when not being used as a blame-pawn by Q, and ascended to the toughest responsibilities. It was Murphy and Dahlstrom who closed out a fair few number of games at the end, with Keith and Seabrook on the bench. Similarly, Dylan Strome was provided an atmosphere to flourish, which you can’t guarantee would have happened under Quenneville (who was much more fair to young players than his rep suggested, however). Drake Caggiula looked useful, if not dynamic, though that could just be being freed from Edmonton. For the most part, not always, Colliton put players where they could succeed. If that meant Saad on the third line because that was his best fit, then that’s where he went. When it didn’t work, it could be argued it was because that player is just utterly talentless.
The Frogurt Is Also Cursed
You can’t go any farther without talking about the defense. It was the worst in the league, the worst in the analytic-era, and didn’t improve really at all. Was this all Colliton’s fault? No, because he was given about a defenseman and a half to work with. Jokiharju barely played for him, and when he did is when it was becoming clear he was overmatched. Still, there didn’t seem to be any sign of an upturn, and the excuse of not having a training camp ran thin after a while. He wasn’t installing Matt Nagy’s offense here. It’s hockey. If the Hawks were grooming a batch of youngsters to play the way they are going to when they matter again, you could maybe see it. But there really wasn’t. And there was no tweaking of anything to compensate for what the Hawks didn’t have, namely mobility in defense.
And Colliton’s system may be stupid anyway. It was infuriating seeing Murphy or Keith or Dahlstrom or whoever end up at the blue line in their own zone chasing one guy. Any team with any advance scouting knew that simply having a forward come high and a d-man go low would bamboozle the Hawks, and at worst leave a forward trying to defend down low with a d-man out covering the points and getting nosebleeds. It didn’t make a ton of sense. Even if the Hawks had the talent, we don’t know that this would work.
Colliton also suffered from not really acting like the boss. Brent Seabrook was never scratched, even though he was no more effective than Koekkoek, Dahlstrom, or Forsling. From what I can gather, that was merely because he and Colliton played together on a WJC team and the Hawks wanted the coach to have another veteran ally in the room. Especially as Keith couldn’t have made it any clearer he thought Colliton was a moron from day one. Kane was used for 25 minutes a night, and yes this was just about the only weapon the Hawks had, but it left him paste by the middle of March. It also showed no other plan.
The penalty kill was historically bad, and again, that was a matter of lack of talent, but there didn’t appear to be many changes to try and help it out. Teams could get passes through the box whenever they wanted. The Hawks never altered to either sink deeper or try and play with more pressure. They just kind of floated in the middle, which wasn’t working.
Also his wife doesn’t like us (though this is generally the norm among my friends and acquaintances).
Can I Go Now?
It doesn’t really matter, because Colliton will be here as long as Stan is, you would think. On any logical level, that’s what will happen. The rosy picture is to say that we’ll get a much clearer read on Colliton with an improvement in talent levels on defense. But it’s not clear that the Hawks will, or even can, do that. He’ll get his vaunted training camp to install the ideas that apparently have to be decoded by the Rosetta Stone, so that won’t be a crutch he and the team can wield any more.
Colliton is also going to have to win over the vets. Kane didn’t care or rock the boat because he was getting 25 minutes per night, and Toews is Toews and the captain and will always try and hold things together. You wonder how much longer any of these last if the Hawks don’t get off to a good start. How he gets Keith to play without both of his middle fingers extended is another mystery. Whatever the actual relationship between Colliton and Seabrook is, it probably has to be put under the test of Seabrook ending up in the pressbox some nights. You can’t improve this defense with #7 playing every night. At least it’s impossible to see how. If Crawford is finally fully healthy he’ll have a say as well. Can Colliton avoid a full out rebellion if some or all of this comes to fruition?
If Colliton’s strength is bringing along young players, we’ll have to see it more this year. Kubalik is coming over. Outside chance Kurashev is here. Sikura needs to go from threatening to actual usefulness and actual goals more to the point. Whatever d-man who is actually good, or even just ambulatory, needs to be harnessed. The penalty kill has to be something other than a war crime. And there have to be tweaks to a defensive system when called for.
It’s a lot. It was always a lot to deposit this coach with barely any experience in the middle of an organization that is thrashing wildly looking for any shore or bank. It was unfair. But there are far less excuses now. Stan has his guy, and he has to give him whatever they both decide they need for both to succeed. If Keith or Seabrook aren’t on board, then they have to go or it has to be clear that Colliton is the boss and they’d better get in line.
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