Thursday, April 4, 2013

Coming Down - Trade Deadline and Other Developments

Well, that certainly was fun, wasn't it? Like a prostate exam while getting a root canal. The 2013 NHL trade deadline barely made a sprinkle in Chicago, and the Meatball Nation immediately called for Stan Bowman's head on a stake. I have certainly had my doubts about the ability of Stan Bowman to built the Hawks into another Stanley Cup champ, they weren't sitting atop the NHL standings when I was flipping my lid. At times they were fighting for their playoff lives (Hello 2011). What all the extremist Meatball-a-go-gos seem to overlook is that, while the Hawks have holes, so do all other 29 NHL team. Even those teams that went on mad cash grabs, the last week. Despite their holes, the Blackhawks had a nationally recognized point streak. As the Penguins can attest, adjusting to life without one of your top players is not easy, yet the Hawks have done pretty well without TWO of them, on and off, for the last month.

Bowman made a couple of system depth moves this week, but he seems set to go to war, in a few weeks, with the team he started with in January. If you told me this in January, I might have blown my stack too, but 35 games later, the Hawks are closing in on clinching the first playoff spot and have only 5 regulation losses. Yeah, yeah, "bla, bla the playoffs this" and "the playoffs that", but you don't go 35 games with a record like they have because you're a marginal team with only luck on your side. I'm a realist, which is the whole reason I started this crappy little rag, but they aren't as bad as some people make them out to be.

If Stan Bowman was to be fired TODAY, as some people are stupid enough to ask for, he would have a job by the time he hit the pillow tonight. This guy isn't Jay Feaster, or Scott Howson. Whether or not he built the 2010 team from the beginning, he has a Stanley Cup on his resume, and the team he HAS built is currently first overall in the entire league. This all while having to dismantle his Cup team to dig out of salary cap hell. The core of that Cup team still remain, THREE YEARS LATER. I certainly have my questions about some of his decisions, but the fact of the matter is that he has been able to reload this team without a complete tear down and rebuild.

Everyone is aware that the Hawks have a gapping hole at the #2 pivot. They have had this hole since before the Stanley Cup made it's way down Washington and Michigan from the United Center. Patrick Sharp filled that hole then, and could do it now. He could team with Marcus Kruger to play a hybrid center, where Sharpie takes the faceoffs, but Kruger still lines up there. They could also probably use another depth defender, with the latest slide of Johnny Oduya's success, but the recent defensive shakeup could have knocked them back on track.

Where I disagree with the masses is their begging for "more grit". It's yodeled from the UC rafters that they need more of that cliche "sandpaper". This is about as annoying as that idiot in the 300 sections screaming "SHOOOOOT" or "Hit Someone!" all game long. Those players don't work with this team. They have Carcillo and Mayers who just can't find a place to fit, and as insignificant as he is, Brandon Bollig was one of those beloved sandpaper guys, too. None of them fit. This team is built on speed and skill, not some shaved down neanderthal trying to put people through the glass or engage in "punch me in the face" contests. Any and all of those activities just drag the Hawks down. Why would you want to slow this team down? Saad, Toews, Bickell, and Seabrook have grit. They just don't engage in the dances of the cementheads. I don't want to watch Blackhawks kill 1/3rd more penalties because some dim bulb is running around making borderline hits just to appease the simple minded meatballs. Isn't it fun to watch these guys skate around the opponents like they are standing still? I think so.

The biggest problems this team has are that A) Unless you're wearing #19 (and his red cape with the big "S"), you can't win a faceoff and B) The Powerplay has gone flat. These are the two issues that the Hawks need to fix first and foremost, before the playoffs.

The Hawks are a puck possession team, and that starts with grabbing possession from the faceoff and keeping it. Losing late game faceoffs in their own zone has been a contributing factor to quite a few of their breakdowns. Michal Handzus can't really do much on the ice anymore, but he CAN win a faceoff. This is something similar to what John Madden did in 2010. He is NOT the solution to their woes, but he can help.

The powerplay should be able to fix itself, without bringing in firepower. The Hawks have plenty of firepower, so much so that the rest of the league would gladly take their residuals. They just need to move and cycle more. The easiest way to confuse a teams's penalty kill is to make them move. This opens up lanes and, sooner or later, the opposing penalty kill breaks down. I'm not speaking of "rocket surgery" or quantum physics. If you stand still and allow defenders to also stand still, it's much easier for them to close down the passing and shooting lanes. An aside to not getting the PK moving, is that they don't get as tired, and we all know people make mistakes when they are tired. They were moving much more as the season opened, but have fallen back into old habits, and the stats support that.

The moral of the story is that if they can improve the powerplay, and win some faceoffs, along with getting their injured players back, they should make a very strong run in the playoffs. As strong as they did in the spring of 2010. This could be a special spring, so let's cheer them on. We're all on the same side.

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