Really, what just happened? Reflections on the 2018-19 Hawk season

  

 

As I posted on Twitter yesterday morning, after the Blackhawks had been officially eliminated from the postseason the night before, being “negative” became being “realistic.”

Because this never was a playoff quality team—or certainly not one with any chance of actually winning in the playoffs.

Don’t get me wrong. There were some positives this season and a few things arose that can be built on going forward. But as is so often the case with a fairly large slice of the Hawk fanbase—lingering at the One Goal kegger long after the beer has run out—expectations became and still are a bit, well, unrealistic.

All is not lost. But there is some serious hard work to do this summer beyond the moronic “Bring Da Breadman Back” mantra.

Broadly speaking, this team is going to finish somewhere between 10th and 12th in their conference—the far lesser of the two NHL conferences by the way. While that is an “improvement” over the previous season’s 13th in the conference, it also was made possible by career years for both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. That’s not to say those players won’t have big years again next year.

But there’s just as good a chance they won’t.

But let’s get more to the point: if you really, honestly want to compete for a Stanley Cup, 11th in the West isn’t even close to where you need to be.

The Ja-BRO-nis on Twitter have taken every opportunity this year to point out Alex DeBrincat’s sophomore surge, that Dylan Strome really looks like a 2nd line center, how Erik Gustafsson is basically a fourth forward (and racked up the points to prove it), that Connor Murphy’s game improved, how Toews is rejuvenated and Brandon Saad is still Brandon Saad. Etc.

And all of it, for the most part, is true. Hallelujah. Yet the fact remains that, after a long hot streak in January that actually resurrected hope in a postseason appearance, the Hawks have gone 12-10-3—not a winning record by the way, that “3” at the end is losses.

If you’re going to be a winning team, you have to win when it matters.

The Hawks were healthy and rolling and then over 25 critical games, they regressed to what they really are—a flawed, sub .500 team. But with some bright spots.

So now that we’ve laid bare the obvious, let’s go further. What’s right, what’s wrong, what are the logical next steps?

PANARIN SOLVES NOTHING

We know this team can score goals with or without Artemi Panarin. The thing that makes this an also-ran team in a crap conference is a completely and utterly disastrous team defense.

The argument has already been stated on the Twitterz that all that’s needed is “an easy fix to the penalty kill”—even though the 5-on-5 defense is also garbage. But “fixing the penalty kill” might not be so easy by itself, and thus addressing the overall defense in all situations, which is clearly necessary, is even tougher.

Spending $9-10 million a season on Panarin, even if he were amenable to returning to Chicago (which is highly dubious—he knows the party ran out of beer, and they’re serving vodka in the Northeast and Florida, trust me) does not help the defense at all. In fact, it means $9-10 million less per year that the front office has to address glaring defensive problems.

And it takes situational opportunities away from fellow LW DeBrincat—the same opportunities that helped him top 40 goals this year.

The team does, however, need at least one new forward.

Wait, JJ. Huh? What? We’ll come back to that. Think: team defense within the flow of actual games.

NIKLAS HJALMARSSON 2.0 (OR BETTER)

I won’t dispute the positive and overdue impact that Gustafsson has had on the Hawk power play, and he is certainly also a weapon in 3-on-3 OT. However, the fact remains that both the Hawk penalty kill and even strength defense are not good.

So you’re likely stuck with $13 million a year’s worth of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, whatever’s left of their usefulness, and Murphy is OK, while Gustafsson is fine in a limited role. Henri Jokiharju has promise (but make no mistake, there are still some rough edges there). So there are 1-2 places on this blueline where upgrades are needed.

Are they possible?

Let’s put to bed right now the fantasy of 3-4 junior or NCAA players coming in next year and “stabilizing” or in any way improving this defense. Maybe, just maybe Adam Boqvist or Ian Mitchell could show up and sort of replicate what Gustafsson is. But that is quite literally the last thing the Hawks need more of.  They need players who are responsible and able to actually defend, two areas where both prospects are said to need quite a bit of work.

And everyone keeps assuming that the only way you can improve in the offseason is through free agency (where the free agent pickings get mighty slim this summer after Erik Karlsson). It’s not.

Trades can be made. A significant trade (or two) probably should be made.

And let’s be clear, if Stan Bowman can’t be trusted, either by fans or Blackhawks senior management, to go out and do a value for value deal to acquire a youngish, tough, responsible defenseman who can help next year, he needs to be replaced. Immediately.

There are guys like that out there. No, you won’t get them for a signed Patrick Sharp 8×10 and a guy from Rockford. But the Hawks have plenty of prospects, they have depth at both wings. That’s what GMs are paid (well) to figure out.

But you get that player and there is a positive ripple effect throughout the defense corps. This player perhaps “anchors” and stabilizes Gustafsson a bit. And allows everyone else’s minutes and situations to be more appropriately allocated. Maybe you even get 2 players of that ilk, and the defense as a whole gets a lot better.

Back to forward.

FACEOFFS MATTER

When the Hawks won the Cup in 2015, they had three full time centers well north of 50% on faceoffs. In spite of interwebz experts proclaiming that faceoffs don’t matter, they do.

If you need fancy possession data to believe in a team, your team needs to first possess the actual puck.

In real hockey, how many times do some people need to see a clean defensive zone faceoff loss end up in the back of the Hawks’ net before they will finally admit, “man, it would be great if we had someone other than Toews to take key draws.”

Two wrist surgeries later, Kruger is now essentially the equal of Artem Anisimov in the dot, which isn’t good, and Dylan Strome so far looks to be in that zone as well. That’s OK, because you ultimately don’t want Strome to be your top shutdown center anyway.

But you need that guy, and more than some people realize.

If said guy can defend over 200 feet of ice (like a Kruger) and pitch in 40 points a season (like Anisimov), BOOM. Penalty kill, significantly improved. Shutdown line in place. Perhaps even a scoring third line.

And that player you might be able to get in free agency for $4-5 million a year (essentially what you’re paying Anisimov while you try to figure out, as was the case in New York and Columbus, whether he should even be a center).

And for what it’s worth, I’ve heard specifically that the Hawks will be in the market for another center this summer.

There may be other ways Bowman could improve the Hawks this offseason. Who knows, no one would throw a bigger July 2 media bash to introduce a newly-minted Erik Karlsson to Chicago fans.

But the bottom line is this: for all the positives that emerged this season, actual data suggests there are significant and outweighing negatives that aren’t going to just disappear on their own.

So buckle up, Hawk fans. It may be an eventful ride.

Comment below.

Center Ice Forums Really, what just happened? Reflections on the 2018-19 Hawk season

Viewing 5 posts - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)
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  • #12603
    John Jaeckel
    Keymaster

      As I posted on Twitter yesterday morning, after the Blackhawks had been officially eliminated from the postseason the night before, being “nega
    [To continue reading full article, click here: Really, what just happened? Reflections on the 2018-19 Hawk season]

    Apparently, all goalies are Vikings

    #12613
    Under Qs moustache
    Participant

    excellent as always JJ.

    I think the injury to #91 derailed the run the Hawks were on. Drake is like a Shaw with some wheels and fit in well with #88 and #19. The second line of Strome, El Gato, and Perlini seems to work as size, speed, and scoring seem to be in balance. The third line with AA either at wing or center isn’t a real shutdown line, but Saad, AA, and Kahun held their own after the top 2 lines settled in. I expect Kahun to improve over this year as he had a rough start with Q, not to mention he was given the wing on the first line right from the start. Obviously playing out of position, then line blended when that didn’t work. (I’m dizzy just remembering the first 15 games) If Colleton has done anything well he’s established lines and seems to have given roles to the new Hawks, taking out the “Q mystery” of if they played good enough to stay in the game and out of the press box.

    The fourth line with Kamph and players to be named later is what ever it’s going to be, if AA is traded he should jump up to the 3rd line, but the scoring will take a hit, so there’s the center the Hawks need to acquire over the summer.

    The defense, you covered that well. Kids and guys at the end of their careers plus Murphy and Gus. Trades will fix this faster, if you can stomach watching one or more of the traded going on to a successful career for someone else. So decisions on who stays and who goes based on non NHL play makes this a crap shoot at best. Trading Gus in the hopes that one of the kids can replace his offense is a crap shoot too, but that what was drafted. Tory Krug wanna be’s. Can’t play them all plus Gus, somebody has to clear the front of the net too. Trading Buff hurt this team more than any other trade IMHO. Tyler Myers anyone?

    Crow? elephant in the room going forward. Delia is a backup to a good starter. Goaltending by committee doesn’t really work, so pretending that Delia is 1A only exposes the defense’s weaknesses. Every team will have a book on him next year. Think Darling 2.0. I do love his battle and compete level, but he has to keep his glove up and stay on his feet a little more. That can be worked on so he’s not done but realistic expectations need to be applied. He’s not Crow now or down the road. After next year the “Nay Crow” crowd will realize how good he was. I don’t expect Ward to be resigned, but he was alot better than I expected, and a good locker room influence.

    Now if the Hawks make progress next year, then the expansion draft will force the Hawks to expose a few players they really don’t want to lose . I predict Saad is the sacrificial lamb if he’s not part of a deal to get a top 4D, 3C, or 1LW.

    Overall it’s still hard to imagine how with Toews, Kane, Gus, Strome, and ElGato having career years that the Hawks are as far removed from being a real playoff team as their finish suggests. The numbers don’t lie this time. Golf during the day and watching the playoffs at night next week for the One Goal crowd.

     

    #12620
    matt_ahrens
    Participant

    Weird year.

    After Stan did next to nothing last summer, I figured the questions to be answered as the season started were mainly about the core: was 2017-18 the new normal for Toews, Crawford, Keith, Seabrook, & Saad or could they bounce back? Would DeBrincat suffer a sophomore slump or take his game to the next level? What about Schmaltz? Can they find enough defensemen who can play at the NHL level? I assumed – incorrectly. as it turns out – if enough of those players – and the team – started strong, then Stan would bring in reinforcements and make a playoff run. But if they didn’t, then Q would be gone and the rebuild on.

    The team started pretty well at 6-2-2 after 10 games. They fired Q at 6-6-3, so after a 0-4-1 stretch. Acquired Strome & Perlini at 9-10-5. Murphy made his season debut at 9-16-5. Everyone seems to recognize the positive impact Strome & Perlini had, but getting Murphy back solidified the blue line – along with recalling Dahlstrom and dumping Manning – and that really helped the team turn the corner. Caggiula was a good add. I agree that he’s Shaw-like with his grit an his ability to play on any of the four lines.

    In Stan’s assessment, the team wasn’t good enough to be TDL buyers but not bad enough to be sellers, and that’s exactly where they are finishing the season, not quite on the playoff bubble.

    It kinda feels like the front office’s main plan for the season was to fire Q and head in a new direction.

    But with Toews and Kane and DeBrincat all coming off career years, they need to add some pieces to make the playoffs next year and perhaps contend a year or two after that. I’d love to see 2, 7, 19, 50, and 88 win another Cup in Chicago.

    #12649
    Phil M
    Participant

    Strome probably saved Stan’s job and I’m pretty sure Stan is aware of that. He knows there needs to be improvement or he is getting the boot. Now we see if he is capable of making the right moves to set the team up for success next season.

    #12657
    John M
    Participant

    Well, our defense sucked at the end of last year and Stan did nothing to address it. Maybe this off season is different. Maybe Stan will pull his head out and get some help on the back end. If not, rinse and repeat.

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