Dear reader, I want you to remember those words as the Hawks go through the offseason and whatever they do. Repeat it to yourself after every move, every pick, every move that isn’t made. That’s what John McDonough told The Athletic right after the season, and I think it’s important to understand how the Hawks operate. Or don’t operate, as it were.
It’s hard to parse what the Hawks are thinking after the acquisition of Olli Maatta, itself we covered here. The fear is that the Hawks think their problem is they didn’t block enough shots. When the actual problem is preventing those shots at all, or gaining mobility or skill or…you know this could keep going and I’m going to get upset. And I don’t want to do that.
There’s also a fear that the Hawks think they’ve created this “strength” by having a logjam on the blue line. But they don’t. They have a clogged toilet. Remember, and I can’t stress this enough, Olli Maatta was nothing more than a third-pairing d-man on a team that’s been much better than the Hawks for two to three seasons now. Maybe even four. And last season ended with Maatta not even on their third-pairing. He’s not a difference maker. He’s a warm body, and that’s something he can barely claim because he’s a generally a pylon when he’s even upright.
And he’s just another third-pairing-or-below player. There are maybe two d-man amongst the NINE(!!) that are in contention for spots next year. And that’s not even counting Boqvist or Byram (a wish) pushing in training camp. Keith can still probably give you second pairing minutes and assignments with the right partner. Connor Murphy definitely can. That’s it. So seven players for what should be two spots. Good work there.
Do they think they can package some amount of this crap and get anything in return? Who thinks anything more of Slater Koekkoek than the Hawks do? The answer is no one, because if anyone did they could have gotten him from the Lightning for a song, too. They didn’t. Gustav Forsling? Everyone has seen what that is. And of course the main problem is they’re terrified of a demoted to a part time player Seabrook causing hell in the dressing room, so he’s going to be in the top six. His play has forfeited that right, but saying it out loud in the organization is somewhere around saying, “BEETLEJUICE!” three times with them.
More worryingly, although every GM says this after whatever team wins, is that Stan today was beating the, “ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS GET IN AND ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!” drum, which is horseshit. Yes, a team from nowhere does occasionally win. In fact, before the Blues won the last team to win a Cup that wasn’t consistently at the top of the standings was…hang on, I’ll get this…I’m sure it’s there…the Hurricanes? Except they had 112 points that year. Oh here we are, the Canadiens in 19 NINETY-FUCKING-THREE.
The myth of any NHL team being able to win once the playoff field is set is perhaps the most annoying in the sport. That doesn’t mean you have to win the Presidents’ Trophy or even a division. The league’s gimmick-heavy standings system makes it hard to distinguish between 100-point teams, really. But you do have to be near the top. The Cup-winner generally comes from a group of five or six. The Capitals had been around the top of the league for basically a decade. Same the Penguins. The Hawks, the Kings (and don’t start with the ’12 Kings because they were a preseason favorite that played with their head up their ass most of the season, and then were consistently near the top of the standings for the next three seasons). The Bruins were kind of a surprise, but then spent the next few years at the top of the standings too.
Simply “getting in” isn’t a sustainable plan. it’s not a plan at all. It’s the absence of one. Being a consistent, 100-point team or more is, and then maybe things break your way in the playoffs. And you need less of them when you’re actually really good. Look all it took for the Blues. A team quitting on its coach, a team not trying to score and a Game 7 OT, a team where everyone was hurt, and then that again in the Final. That doesn’t happen every year.
On the other side, it’s hard to tell what you need on the blue line anymore. There are many ways to skin a cat, so it’s very possible a team with a great blue line can and will win again. The Hurricanes look poised, the Predators have been contenders. But the last four Cup-winners have had suspect or underwhelming collections of d-men. Letang was hurt for one, remember, leaving Dumoulin as the only genuine, top-pairing guy on that Penguins team. Fuck, you could argue he’s the only one of the last four, though John Carlson and Alex Pietrangelo have strong arguments. Maybe you just need a collection of guys who won’t self-immolate at the first sign of trouble.
But the Hawks don’t even have that. They’re not even close to that! And the acquisition of Maatta doesn’t convince anyone they know how to get to that. Whatever our complaints about the Blues defense, and there are tons, Dunn, OrangeJello, and Parayko aren’t concrete-shoe slow. The Hawks are. Maatta only adds to that. What are they searching for?
And the worrying thing is they might not even know.