Advertisement

The Blackhawks State Of The Union 10 Games Into The 2019-20 Season

What a difference one game can make. I was teetering on the edge of depression after the Bears game and staring a long, cold, losing winter, right in the face. Then, the Blackhawks showed up at home against the LA Kings and had one of their better performances of the season.

Advertisement

Had the Blackhawks lost to the Kings at home it would’ve made for 5 straight losses. This blog would’ve taken on a much bleaker tone. That changed. Where the Hawks are in the standings, realistically, hasn’t.

stanings 1028

Three wins out of the top wild card spot. Not the end of the world with 72 games to go, but it feels like a daunting task at the same time. 12% of the season is gone, it goes quickly, and the Blackhawks put themselves in a hole even though 8 of their first 10 games were played in the United Center. Let’s take a look at how we got this roster and how the Hawks ended up towards the bottom of the league through the first 10 games.

Henri Jokiharju for Alex Nylander Trade

Credit where it is due, Alex Nylander has been a different and more dedicated player since Colliton made him a healthy scratch in early in the season. The effort level has been significantly better. Not just in puck battles, but also tracking back defensively. He has been asked to play on just about every line and with players who can not sniff his skill level and he has been both effective and productive. He looks like a top 9 caliber NHL player.

Having said all of that…I still think the Blackhawks lost that trade. The blueline is still the weak link for the Blackhawks. It was at the time of the trade and it is now. Even though Stan added de Haan and Maatta, they’re still struggling on the back end because they don’t have enough pure talent and skating back there. You can say that the Hawks knew that Boqvist and Mitchell are close and that they recognized a self-created log jam in the prospect pool and looked to add balance and a former top 10 pick to the ranks up front. That is all well and good. They need help now though and only Jokiharju was available. How much better would the defense look with Keith, Jokiharju, Murphy, and de Haan making up the top four instead of having to rely on a rotation involving Gustafsson, Seabrook, and Maatta? I’d argue that it would be a lot better.

You can never have too many NHL defensemen, as the cliche goes. That would be especially true for the Blackhawks who have Connor Murphy in the top 4. I think it’s fair to say he’s injury prone since he has never played a full 82 games in his career and won’t again this year. Calvin de Haan has played 82 games exactly once. Same thing for Olli Maatta…one injury free season in 6 seasons.

The flip side is…as solid as Nylander has been recently…he’s been largely in a 4th line role. Mostly ineffective when given top 6 and power-play opportunities. Would the Blackhawks be better off swamping him out of the lineup for a guy like Dylan Sikura or Brendan Perlini if it meant keeping Jokiharju in the mix? I say yes.

Nylander might end up having a better career than Jokiharju, that doesn’t matter. Not when you’ve missed the playoffs two straight years, haven’t won a series since 2015, and Toews and Kane are in their age 31 seasons. It’s unfair to fully judge a trade after 10 games, but Stan Bowman doesn’t have 10 years to see if he got this one right.

The Goaltending

Robin Lehner has been sensational. That signing has worked out better than anticipated and for right now he deserves the lion’s share of the starts. Crawford has also been good. Looking more like his old-self. The team has played better in front of Lehner than they have in front of Crawford, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Lehner has been a terrific signing. Credit to Stan on this one. I didn’t love the signing when it happened because I don’t like the idea of committing $11M to goaltending and having either $5M or $6M on your bench every night. It’s worked out so far though and goaltending has been a strength for the team in the early part of the season.

The Coaching

Advertisement

This presser after the Philly game bothered me. He is definitely right about part of it. If you’re not working hard, managing the puck, and having good habits then it doesn’t really matter who is on what line. HOWEVAH…you gotta put your guys in the best position to succeeed. The combos do matter. Positions do matter. Chemistry does matter. Those things need to be taken into account. Too many times this year it hasn’t felt “right”.

Assuming guys are playing the right way, I think this would give the Hawks a better chance to win

Saad-Toews-Kubalik

Brandon Saad has arguably been the Blackhawks best forward this year. He’s skating, he’s checking, he’s producing, he’s getting to the net and winning pucks all over the ice. Toews on the other hand has been struggling. Starting the year slow isn’t something new for Toews, but he needs a jolt. Let him play with Saad and Kubalik. Three guys who want to grind below the goal line, create chances off of the cycle, create offense off forcing turnovers, and going to the net. That’s a line you could, in theory, throw out there against anyone and expect to win the shift.

Debrincat-Strome-Kane

Maybe Colliton doesn’t like Strome as a center, I don’t know. He finally put Debrincat and Strome back together against LA and it worked beautifully. They dominated and lit up that beautiful new scoreboard. As great as that was, it needs to be gassed up even more by putting Kane there. Listen to Kane from over the weekend

It’s depressing. Make hockey fun again. Let these three play east-west. Let Debrincat find soft spots in the defense and let Patrick Kane find joy playing hockey again. Give them all the o-zone starts their hearts desire and then figure out the rest later. The Blackhawks have pinned so much on Patrick Kane over the years. He’s so good and makes everyone around him better and more dangerous that he, in a way, has been neglected by the coaching staff. You probably don’t trade Panarin unless you think he is, in part, a product of playing with Kane. The time to let Kaner be Kaner again is now.

Shaw-Dach-Nylander

I trust Dach at this point. He doesn’t need to be babied anymore. These three should be able to produce enough offense to be a legitimate threat when given favorable matchups

Kampf-Carpenter-Perlini/Caggiula

Think of the Kruger lines of the good ole days. Almost zero offense would come from this group, but I’d trust Carpenter and Kampf to take some of the tough matchups away from the Toews line and come out even. Perlini has requested a game after only getting one game in the first 10. Caggiula and Smith haven’t done enough to definitively earn a spot over him in my opinion. If the Hawks want to trade Perlini, that is fine, but they might as well give him a chance to showcase his skills.

So yeah, I clearly think combos matter. Structure matters too and in that regard I think the Hawks have been better and tighter in their d-zone. The Philly games and the San Jose game looked really ugly, but overall the Blackhawks have been more effective defensively 5 on 5 than they were last year. Enough signs of life in that regard

Advertisement

Special teams have been an unmitigated disaster and it’s hard to know where it went wrong for the power play. In the second half of the 2018-19 season the Hawks powerplay was one of the best in the NHL. It carried the Hawks at times. It was absolutely fucking lethal and feared. This year it’s a dumpster fire. If it was Colliton and Gustafsson’s doing last year, then the same has to be true for the struggles this year. It looks stagnant. Players aren’t moving, neither is the puck. It’s all perimeter oriented and it ends up being nothing but turnovers and momentum for the other team.

The Penalty Kill last year was a league worst 72.7%. Part of the reason why I thought the Hawks would be a playoff team this year was an improved PK. I mean now they have Crawford and Lehner instead of Delia and Ward. They added de Haan, Carpenter, and Maatta who would in theory help the PK too. It had to be better. And…it is, by a WHOPPING .6%. The Hawks PK through 10 games isn’t a league worse, but 73.3% isn’t going to get it done. If the Hawks have real playoff aspirations they need to get the combined special teams percentage to around 100. Right now when you add 9.7% PP to a 73.7% PK that = missing the fucking playoffs again.

The jury is still out on Colliton. I am not sure what he did to deserve the wunderkind label that’s been attached to him, but so far he is 33-33-11 though his first 77 games. Significantly under .500 if you count the OT losses against his record(I do). He’s called out guys publicly a few times already. He had a training camp, he had a preseason, he had a month-long homestand, and the team spent money to improve the roster this summer. Things still aren’t better and at some point he needs to take some blame as well.

Going Forward

Tough stretch coming up here for the Blackhawks.

01 road trip

Nashville and then a west coast trip before coming home against a pretty good Vancouver team. When that stretch is done the Blackhawks will be through 15 games. If I was an optimist I would say they’d finish up that stretch with a 5-7-3 record. Last year the Blackhawks fired Joel Quenneville after 15 games with a 6-6-3 record. I don’t think Colliton is in danger unless Bowman is in danger. Bowman absolutely SHOULD be in danger at this point, but I don’t think he is. Something to monitor as the season goes along. Rocky Wirtz seems like a loyal guy and a good man, but at some point he has to start asking McDonough and Stan why they haven’t seen any post-season revenue since 2015.

As always, I hope I am the most wrong person on the internet about Stan and now, I guess, Jeremy Colliton because if I am wrong that means the team is turning it around. The bones of this team are good enough to be in the wild card mix. I am legitimately worried that they could put themselves in a hole so deep after 15 games that they won’t be able to claw out of it. Hold on to your butts late at night on this West Coast trip because things are going to get intense.