…I believe it is in the best interests of the Blackhawks organization. We need to maximize each and every opportunity with our playoff goals in mind and create continued growth and development throughout our roster at the same time.–Stan Bowman
Those were the two quotes from Jeremy Colliton’s press conference the morning the Hawks announced they’d fire the best coach in the NHL and a man who deserves a statue outside the United Center. Let’s check in on how the Blackhawks are “maximizing each and every opportunity with playoff goals in mind”
And for good measure let’s check in on how our guy Joel Quenneville is doing early in his tenure down in Florida
The Blackhawks are too talented to be this bad. The roster is improved on paper. The goaltending has been sensational. At some point there are no more fingers left to point. No more levels to pull. If you’re looking for answers as to how we got here it falls squarely on the shoulders of Jeremy Colliton, Stan Bowman, and John McDonough. When the Blackhawks fired Joel and brought in the Soul Cycle coach we were sold that things would be better. “Jeremy is a great communicator”, they said. “He’s going to work with our young players better”, they promised. Well a year later where are we? Henri Jokiharju who was SHINING under Joel ended up in Colliton’s dog house, then Finland for the WJC, then Rockford, and finally Buffalo where he is SHINING again. So much for being better better at developing the young guys. The communication…we have a captain in Brent Seabrook openly saying that the communication between Colliton and himself suck. Colliton saying it doesn’t. Call me crazy, but I am siding with the guy who has gone to war for this organization for over a decade and over a thousand games.
We were told that Colliton was smart, a bright up-and-comer. A guy who could get the Hawks playing the right way and his fresh set of eyes would lead to more success. Now all we get is dump and chase hockey for a team that absolutely should NOT be playing that way. Last year, before Colliton had time to really put in his full system, the Blackhawks were running and gunning all over the place. Patrick Kane was one of the league leaders in offensive zone possession. The Blackhawks were at the top of the league in creating chances off the rush. They were, what analytics people call “a high event team”. They had the fewest percentage of dumps of any team in the NHL. Yes, that led to a ton of chances coming back the other way, but at least the Blackhawks were playing to the strengths of the team. At least they had an identity. Heading into the season the thinking that I and many people had was that the Hawks would continue to play that style, but with 82 games of top flight goaltending between Crawford and Lehner, adding guys like de Haan, Maatta, Carpenter, and having a full preseason/training camp the Blackhawks would be able to be incrimentally better on the PK, in their own zone, and be good enough to play high flying hockey all the way to a wild card spot.
This year Jeremy Colliton decided to take some of the most skilled guys in the NHL and have them play dump and chase. Dump and chase with Patrick Kane. As a result, the Blackhawks never have the puck. They don’t have the speed to retrieve it. They don’t play that style well. Colliton tried to turn the Blackhawks into the New York Islanders, but that’s not who they are and Colliton isn’t Barry Trotz either.
Let’s take a look at some data from last night’s game provided by a friend who works for an NHL team.
Even Strength O-Zone Possession:
This is significant, obviously, but even more so because last year Patrick Kane averaged over a minute of even strength o-zone possession BY HIMSELF
Even Strength Dump In Attempts
Even Strength Dump-In Rate
Even Strength Dump-In Recovery Rate
Even Strength Dump-In Rate WITH PRESSURE
I want you to focus on that last one. The stat with pressure. That means that this is a VOLUNTARY CHOICE. That means that the Blackhawks aren’t being forced to dump it in. It isn’t something that they’re doing because the other team is doing some specific tactic. The Blackhawks are willingly playing dump and chase even when they don’t have to. That is astounding. You want to know why Kane looks like he wants to kill himself after every game, that’s it.
Let’s get back to a few more numbers
Even Strength Controlled Entry Attempts
Even Strength Controlled Entry Success Rate
So just to clarify, the Blackhawks are dumping it in almost 70% of the time and and only get it back 33% of the time. BUT BUT BUT…when they have a controlled entry with you know…guys like Kane, Toews, Saad, Strome, Debrincat, Nylander etc who are EXCEPTIONALLY skilled…they retain possession 57% of the time in the zone. This isn’t rocket science. It’s not hard. It’s hockey. It’s knowing your own team. It’s being able to make an adjustment and read the game. It’s not blaming everyone else and saying combos don’t matter and throwing players under the bus in the media. And sure there is something to be said for how the guys on the ice are excuting the dumps. They’re not putting it in good areas consistently. That matters, but it doesn’t make up for the STARK difference in the success rate of the system they’re playing overall.
You don’t have to be some sort of hockey savant to look at those numbers and know that the Hawks aren’t playing a system that allows them to succeed. The Blackhawks are still struggling defensively too. Don’t let that fact slip away. They’re sacrificing all of their offense from last year for VERY minimal defensive gains. They still give up quality chances at a high rate. They still turn the puck over at a high rate. And they’re doing this by choice. By direction from the coaching staff. It’s either arrogance, naivety, or both from Colliton. The Blackhawks are lost. They’re not having success because they don’t have a team identity.
I’d imagine that Colliton is safe though. He has to be. Stan knows he can’t fire the best coach of all-time and then a year later walk into Rocky’s office and ask for a mulligan. I was watching Money Ball yesterday on tv. The scene where Billy Beane wants to trade Pena, who is having a great year, and his assistant GM says that is the type of decision that gets you fired if it doesn’t work out. Well that’s what should happen TODAY in Chicago. Stan rolled the dice, chopped Joel’s head off, and hired a coach that he could push around. He can’t be allowed to make another coaching hire. It’s time to clean house before we lose a FIFTH season with no playoff series wins as Toews and Kane’s prime window closes more and more each day.