For what feels like the first time this season, things have died down a bit with the Hawks news-wise. No injuries, no roster decisions, no turmoil-inducing losses, and just heading off on a roadtrip. Probably also helps calm things down now that the Bears are at least somewhat interesting, shifting attention (even if they’re not actually good). With two weeks on the road, a couple things to look for and watch.
-First, while no one on the main beat ever wants to say it, we haven’t shied from pointing out that some of the Hawks even-strength woes are a result of Jonathan Toews’s “struggles.” The Hawks are still a negative team overall at 5-on-5, which is a weird thing to say about them even at this point in the season. And then you realize the Hawks’ power play has been bailing them out at time and you nearly pass out.
It’s not that Toews’s numbers are bad by any stretch. They’re just not up to his previous, admittedly ridiculous standards. A 52.5 share adjusted for score would make him basically a God in Colorado or Toronto. Still, this is a player who has been above 56% since his second year in the league (otherwise known as when he got a real coach), and that 56 number was only last year as every other one was over 58%.
Toews is getting slightly more starts in the offensive zone than he was last year, though 59% against 57% doesn’t mean much.
The blinking, neon sign of course is that Toews is shooting 6% at evens, which isn’t even half of his career 13.8%. But the thing is that most players tell you they don’t worry when the puck isn’t going in, they worry when the chances aren’t coming. Toews is averaging 2.2 shot attempts per game, which is right in line with the 2.1 he averaged last season. Still, that was ballooned by a five-attempt game against the Flames, and beating up on Calgary these days isn’t a platform for much. Toews before last season consistently averaged over three attempts per game, and in the lockout season he averaged four (if that had been a full season Toews’s numbers would have been utterly bonkers).
On the good news front, he is trending the right way. After once again being underwater against the Oilers last week, Toews buried the Devils, Blues, and Flames. There aren’t any monsters waiting on this trip either, at least for the first half.
To not go all WATCH THE GAMES, NERD, watching Toews you do notice a difference. His shifts, or most of them, don’t pop the way we’re accustomed. Usually you know every time Toews is on the ice, as he’s involved at one end or the other. These days they just don’t as much, though that could change in a hurry. While his penalty minutes are bloated by two fighting majors, he’s still already halfway to his minors total that he’s averaged in his career. Is that a result of being just a quarter step slower than normal?
I’ve speculated about injury, but it could just be fatigue. Toews plays a heavy game, which he doesn’t really get credit for. He’s battling a guy, generally a big one, behind either net almost every shift. He’s not a winger who can duck traffic when he needs to. He’s not a swift-skating d-man who can hang back or get himself out of contact (not that he’s slow, just difference in position). Of everyone’s miles over the past three seasons, you can argue that Toews’s are the heaviest. It might just take him a while to get everything moving to its normal pace than it used to. That’s probably the simplest explanation.
-With Keith back, it’s become apparent that Q is going to use Keith and Hammer as a true top pairing, and going to see if TVR can be a puck-mover against lesser competition with Seabrook. Obviously, two games isn’t a sample size. TVR scored one goal and set up another, which is good. He didn’t have a good possession game against St. Louis. This trip will make interesting viewing to this experiment. I think it would be the absolute maxed out result for TVR, who looks more like a third pairing bum-slayer. But it’s the best solution on the roster.
What this also means is the Hawks have a $3.3 million third pairing d-man in Trevor Daley. We know that once Q casts someone as something, it can be hard for that player to be removed from that role, either good or bad. Basically, Daley is going to have to play the best hockey of his life to ascend from this role. And he’s almost certainly not going to. That’s why you’re hearing some whispers about Daley being trade-available. Long term, you can’t have a third pairing guy make that much money when you’re the Hawks. Daley probably still has a little value, but more as an addition to any trade rather than the centerpiece. And I would think he would only be moved as the make-room maneuver if a 2nd pairing d-man is acquired to slot TVR down.