Here is the Blackhawks edition of the HockeyBuzz sitewide blog series focusing on what each team’s biggest need is to be complete.
For the Hawks, it isn’t specific players although it would be nice to:
* Have Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook elevate their play to elite levels again -- with 7 having a longer chasm to bridge than 2 -- like the other core Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been doing.
* Add more blue chip prospects who project to be NHL game breakers at their respective positions.
* Regain another Cup-caliber goalie who would be the next Corey Crawford.
And it isn’t hiring a new general manager, head coach, or both although there are many perspectives on why some think Stan Bowman and/or Jeremy Colliton are impeding future success.
Instead, what the Hawks need is something that I’ve yammered about over and over again in blogs and on the message boards. Let’s call this need the 3 C’s:
* Compete hard every shift.
* Contest every puck.
* Commit to defense in every zone.
That formula seems simple in theory yet mastery in reality has been difficult for the Hawks for the past half decade.
A phrase that often gets used to describe the status of the roster and its inability to be a competitive team again is that the Hawks just don’t have the horses anymore.
To be honest, I don’t buy that argument. This is where I agree with and support what Colliton said in the past that got him so much heat. Quoting Colliton:
"The point that I was trying to make is work ethic and competitiveness and team-first decisions, that’s what helps you win. If you don’t have that as a base, nothing else matters.
"Are [lines] important? Are they something we still talk about all the time? Yes. If they didn’t matter, we wouldn’t change things around, trying to look for a spark. But there is no spark if there is no work ethic.
"We weren’t competitive enough. We didn’t have the commitment. We didn’t have the work ethic away from the puck. We didn’t have discipline with shift length and puck management and all those things. That’s what adds up to winning.
"The teams that have success, they’re able to control the pace and tempo of the game by playing in the offensive zone. In order to do that, you need guys that are competitive, hard-working, responsible, play on the right side of the puck.
"Those guys [referring to Mattias Janmark, Lucas Wallmark, and Nikita Zadorov] can add that to our group. The more of them that you have, it pushes everyone in the right direction. It’s some peer pressure."
This interview transcript is courtesy of Ben Pope’s recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times
where he interviewed Colliton about his desire to kindle an ethos of solid work ethic and competitiveness across the entire team.
The reason why I don’t buy the “don’t have the horses anymore” argument is because competing hard every shift, contesting every puck, and committing to defense in every zone don’t solely depend on whether the team has the right personnel.
Rather, it boils down to fundamental hockey added on to what Colliton is stressing: work ethic and competitiveness. Skill level, skating ability, and pro experience will vary player to player, of course, but working hard and applying the 3C’s shouldn’t.
Win or lose, it’s always a good thing to make the opponent earn every inch of ice, earn every pass, and earn every shot. Exert pressure persistently to close off time and space so the other team can’t make optimal plays.
However, it’s not about hitting anything that moves. As Joel Quenneville professes: if you’re hitting a lot it means you don’t have the puck a lot either.
Managing gaps, stick checking, blocking lanes, pinning against the boards, and bumping players to cause separation are effective defensive tools, too.
Even though it seems like I’m siding with Colliton, I’m also not letting him off the hook. He still needs to develop and teach systems that the players can competently and consistently execute.
Furthermore, it definitely helps if the systems become second nature where the players can rely on instinct rather than have to calculate their next moves.
The NHL is too darn fast. Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon will have you in their rearview mirror if you need a second to think.
To be fair, Colliton elaborates in the Sun-Times article on how he is evolving as a coach by learning from what doesn’t work.
And that evolution is what drives home the point: every player needs to evolve to impeccably implement the 3 C’s. Some players need more evolving than others.
Yet, if the players can evolve and do so in a cohesive manner, it will be that much easier to buy what Colliton is selling so they can build a contender again.
See you on the boards!