Here we are again. It's been a weird year of ups and downs. Covid and injuries and mystery illnesses, but the Blackhawks ultimately ended up right where we thought they'd be. Out of the playoffs and without any real concrete hope for the future. The Dynasty Core's best years slipping through our fingers like sand. This blog is going to come off as negative. It is negative. I hate it too. I am so tired of being the negative guy. I desperately want the team to be good. I understand that this is a rebuild of sorts. I understand that rebuilds take time. I just don't see a future with the current roster, prospect pool, coaching, and management team. I am going to do a bit of a review here on the season with a look to the future.
We entered the season with three guys that Stan Bowman said deserved an opportunity the same way that Corey Crawford needed an opportunity in 2011. While I do think that line was kind of bullshit when he said it last October, I suppose that it was a worthwhile experiment to see what the Hawks have. After 50 games or so I think we have our answer and it's...not much.
I like Kevin Lankinen. My position on him hasn't really changed too much. He is certainly better than I thought he was heading into the season. I like the way he competes. He is a good athlete. I think he is a quality backup. If Lank is playing 30 games a year while making roughly a million bucks I think you can live with that. Good Lankinen is very good. What we have seen in April is him turning back into a pumpkin. He's been brutal. Maybe he hit a wall. Maybe he's just not that good. My guess is that it's somewhere in between which would make him a back up. He is A goalie of the future. Not THE goalie of the future. A question from last year that remains unanswered. There could be an interesting goalie market this summer. Might take a trade or an offer sheet, but as of right now the Blackhawks still don't have a true #1 goalie.
I am having a hard time evaluating Jeremy Colliton. On one hand, I would say that team got better results this year than I anticipated. There was a time earlier in the year that you could make a case for him winning the Jack Adams for coach of the year. That obviously isn't the case now.
The results also might have been fools gold. The team isn't good 5 on 5. They don't generate any offense 5v5. Like virtually none. If you're analytics person you probably already know that the Hawks are DEAD last in expected goals for at 5v5. Some of that is on Colliton, but realistically that is on the GM. The roster simply isn't good enough to create chances consistently. I don't necessarily think he puts his guys in the best position to succeed(Strome being the best example of that), but he is severely limited by the personnel.
The defense is where I have the biggest issue. I don't like the dzone system. The Hawks play a man-to-man or a man+ system in their own end and through three seasons of Colliton it has been and still is a disaster. They give up a SHIT TON of high danger chances. That has been the most consistent problem of the Colliton era. Natural Stat Trick says the Hawks have given up the 2nd most in the NHL this year. 2nd only to Anaheim who has 3 more chances allowed with one more game played than the Hawks. As a percentage they're dead last. Again, some of that is personnel. Some of that is Colliton's insistence on playing a particular system. It is...not working. When you play man concepts in hockey you guys have to be smart, they have to communicate, they have to be able to skate exceptionally well. You need all three of those things to be successful. The Hawks don't. So they struggle. The coaching staff seems to insist on putting a square peg in a round hole. It's harder to cover defensively. It can be harder to break out because your outlet passes aren't as predictable. Guys are running around. They've always been a mess in their own end under Colliton. He's been sold as a great communicator, but he hasn't been able to effectively communicate his system in three years. They've been bad the entire time, but HEY give that man an extension.
We were told Colliton was hired because he can develop young players. Again, it is year three. Has any young player gotten significantly better because of Colliton? Haven't seen much growth from Boqvist. He ran Jokiharju out. Nylander sucked last year. Strome seems like an after thought for Colliton. Dach got better when he was away from Colliton. He has been fine since returning from injury this year. Debrincat has had a monster year. Does Colliton deserve credit for that? Maybe some but I think that Kane and Debrincat are the ones that made that happen. We've seen a rotation of young defensemen from Mitchell, Beaudin, Kalynuk, and now Stillman. They have all had moments, but at this point it is hard to envision a scenario where they're bonafide top 4 guys. Maybe the development is there and it's too difficult for someone like me to see from the outside, but the results aren't there. At some point that has to be on the coach.
I don't hate Colliton. I've heard from some guys on the team that swear he's great. Other guys on the team think he's a nincompoop. People around the league don't seem to think too much of him, but I've only heard that from three organizations and only two of them were in the division this year. I was ready to eat crow about Colliton in February, but I should've just trusted my gut. I don't know if he's a bad coach. I do know that he's done nothing to deserve a contract extension.
Same old story here. I am very tired of writing it. No playoff series wins since 2015. If you don't win anything for 6 years while having Toews and Kane on the roster that is a problem. It's a problem that he had guys like Teravainen, Danault, Panarin, and he gave them away for nothing. Mismanaged the summer of 2015 badly. Hasn't been able to draft and develop a starting goalie since the organization took Crawford in 2003. Has traded basically every 1st round pick he's ever had before they reached their 2nd contract. Every single scouting publication says that the Blackhawks have prospect/u-23 pool in the bottom 3rd of the league. You'd think that if a team was this bad for this long they'd have enough time to replenish the system. Stan hasn't been able to do that. Also still hasn't been able to get out of cap jail.
They don't have a top pair defenseman. They probably have only three wings worthy of being in the top 9 of a good team. This team is probably 10-12 new players away from being a Stanley Cup team. Probably 3-4 away from being a playoff team that gets bounced in the first round. All of this happening as Kane and Toews turn 33 this year and Keith turns 38. Even with some LTIR cap flexibility it's hard to imagine the Blackhawks getting better in the short term because they simply don't have enough assets to make a big trade splash. People throw the name Eichel around...the Blackhawks don't have a single guy they could throw into that trade of value besides Dach who I don't think anyone wants to trade at this point. So no short term fix and the long term requires a scenario where the team needs to have replacements for 19 and 88...which simply do not exist. Stan deserves to be fired. He won't, but he deserves to be. I am sure he will have his excuses, including Toews for this year, in his year end press conference, but Toews wouldn't have made this team a lock for the playoffs. Maybe they're closer to the 4th spot in the division with Toews. I don't think they'd be anywhere near good enough to win a round even if they got in(which for the record I still think they'd come up short).
The endless cycle of excuses and ineptitude continues. No plan. No path. No playoffs.