The phrase "they're just rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic" gets used frequently when a team is mired in a downward spiral with no easy fixes to get the ship back on course. Sadly, this phrase has been a common one for the Blackhawks during Jeremy Colliton's tenure as head coach.
In pre- and post-game interviews with Colliton and players, the responses on what to do have been tired excuses with generic refrains that offer up little confidence of a substantially sustainable resolution. But should Hawks fans expect there to be a silver bullet to magically cure what's ailing the team?
That Titanic phrase is quite apropos at this early part of the 2021-22 season because it really doesn't seem to matter who is on the roster and how lines and pairs are penciled in on the lineup card. Having Alex DeBrincat play on the 1st or 3rd line doesn't matter. Neither does having Erik Gustafsson suit up for games.
What seems to be a root cause of the problem is a team culture that needs a massive shift in order to move the needle in the right direction. That culture is predicated on having structured systems that the players can implement while also having the latitude to trust their instincts and fundamentals as pro athletes.
This state of affairs has been debated ad nauseum in Blackhawks fandom, i.e. are the systems that Colliton and his coaching staff impart to the players realistic to learn, straightforward to implement, and sensible in how to play the game intelligently. Many fans would argue the answer is a resounding no.
What's hard to watch is seeing a defensively solid rearguard like Jake McCabe, an offensively gifted forward like Tyler Johnson, and a Vezina-caliber goalie like Marc-Andre Fleury immediately struggle in Chicago. Did they suddenly forget how to play hockey? Or are they not nailing the systems being taught on their new team?
For one thing, it's not just the new guys who may be thoroughly confused with the systems but the long-standing vets like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Connor Murphy are also not fine-tuned cogs in the machine. As far as Toews and Kane, these 3-time Stanley Cup champions didn't forget how to play the game either.
Of course, the players still need to execute no matter what the systems are but are they operating within a debilitating team culture? More specifically, is Colliton so unaware of how the drawn-up systems may be a detriment given how they dangerously generate endless liabilities with reprehensible defensive coverage?
It appears more and more that Colliton is adamant about his systems being a winning formula once his players engrain it into their hockey DNA and exhibit the work ethic and compete level that's expected of them as well. Nothing wrong with the latter but the former could be the point of disconnect between the two parties.
Are the systems really a winning formula? How much time does management wait for the players to finally get it? Can the coach be proven wrong that what he's teaching isn't going to raise the team up to where they should be given the talent on the roster? And if proven wrong, will he change the systems?
In order for the culture to change for the better, Colliton's smugness need to be tempered. The fanbase is already fed up with him as demonstrated by them booing him during Tuesday's opening ceremony. Are the players next? While they can't jeer their coach, their passion and motivation may take a hit if things don’t change.
To his credit, Colliton has made tweaks to his systems in prior seasons. Can he do that this season and do it sooner rather than later? Or does he truly believe that his coaching is a winning formula? In other words, everyone else is wrong -- the players and the fans -- but he's right so we all need to get with the program.
With Mike Hardman already confirmed to not be ready to play in tonight's game against Vancouver, is this Dylan Strome's chance to crack the lineup for the first time this season and put his money where his mouth is? Or will Ryan Carpenter or Adam Gaudette draw back in?
Also, while maintenance days for Toews, Kane, Murphy, and Calvin de Haan make sense as the elder players on the team who have their own unique health ailments, it was surprising to see Hagel also taking the day off. He does play with a nonstop motor so that can take a toll.
The IceHogs don't play until this Friday and Saturday when they visit the Iowa Wild for back-to-back games. Until then, here are a few featured clips from Hogs media day on Wednesday.
See you on the boards!