I posed the question last blog: Have Colliton and Bowman Turned Things Around in Chicago?
Since then, I've had some good conversations on Twitter and here on the messages boards regarding where this team is at. Since then, the Hawks fell 4-3 to the Calgary Flames. A game where the Hawks had some nice spurts but ultimately give up 43 shots (18 of those in the 3rd period) and 17 high-danger scoring chances (source: NaturalStatTrick.com).
I'm a realist and have said all along that this team does have some holes. I do however see some improvement in areas that needed it and are getting strong play from supporting players.
I've been watching really closely since Colliton has taken over and it appears that for the most part, the man-to-man defence has clicked with most (with the exception of Erik Gustafsson, he was absolutely horrendous last game defensively).
BUT this blog is about areas of improvement more than the positive trends. There are still times off the rush and when the Hawks scramble in their own zone that leaves me wondering how the hell certain players are professional hockey players.
At one point last game after one of Dylan Strome's 3 penalties, the Hawks ended up with 3 natural centres on the ice (Strome, AA, Kampf) and along with the defence, they chased the puck with less efficiency than my nephew's minor league hockey team. I know it happens, but everyone just looked lost and their defensive mindset – and by mindset essentially, I mean work ethic and attention to details – are still missing. That can be fixed though with the right personnel and commitment.
I saw a great tweet by Chris Block (a must follow) giving his take on the Hawks:
It's true. The area of goaltending has surprisingly been very strong as of late. I think that also goes hand-in-hand with improvement to the backend with the Murphy-Dahlstrom pairing. I also think Duncan Keith has played exceptionally well the last couple games. He looks like he's got a little "gitty-up" in his game.
Scott Powers recently interviewed Stan last week to speak to him about the current state of the Hawks, as well as what the future plan is. While Stan wouldn't come out and say that they will be sellers, I would assume it's all but guaranteed that there will be bodies shipped out if it improves this team long-term and the players involved don't fit into said plan moving forward.
This is an extremely vital time for this organization. It's the first bit of turbulence they've faced in over a decade to this level. Missing the playoffs for 2 years in a row? From a business perspective – not good!
So, just get better and make the playoffs for the next decade. Regain that championship calibre, Stan. Sounds easy, huh?
Well not so fast. Let's look at where the Hawks need to improve from a macro level and take an educated guess on the best route to turning this thing back into "One Goal":
Overall Depth (Skaters)
– Stan did a nice job with the Nick Schmaltz for Strome and Perlini trade in my opinion. It's always a risk trading quality for quantity. However, early returns show that Strome has a nice skill set to his game and I think will be Patrick Kane's centreman for the foreseeable future. He actually reminds me of a younger Brad Richards in some ways. He's a bit bigger, but the way he slows the game down and plays a simple style with Kaner I think will really benefit this team long-term. I think Perlini will come along and be a solid 3rd liner for this team as well. I don't think we've seen him at his best yet.
Further playoff calibre depth is needed though. Can it be found in Rockford? There might be a piece or two there now, but I'm not convinced. I think Stan will have to go out and look for the right players that fit the "new" Blackhawks hockey style via trade and/or on July 1st. Think outside of the NHL as well as Stan has had good success with free agents overseas. I don't think you're going to see another Kunitz/Manning/Ward type summer this year.
I'm in the agreement that teams shouldn't look to rebuild through free agency, but don't overlook the fact that with the way the new NHL is going with so many young players being locked up long-term, July 1st might be the only chance to get the impact player your team is missing. I mean, Marian Hossa wasn't a bad signing on July 2nd, 2009 – was it?
Whether it's a Duchene or Stone type up front or an Erik Karlsson on the backend, the Hawks should look to pounce on 1-2 impact players utilizing the cap space they will have this summer. That is if they want to get back to contention because there are no Patrick Kane's or Duncan Keith's ready in the Hawks system at this time.
Overall Depth (Goalies)
– Speaking of depth, this is an area that is a little murkier. If Corey Crawford is healthy, then I think the ideal scenario is shaping up to be a Crawford/Delia duo. I would still like to have Forsberg or a veteran in Rockford in case anything was to happen to Crawford in 2019-20.
If Crawford cannot play (which would be a massive shame), then this is an area that will be a hot topic. Could Cam Ward be brought back to coach Delia up to #1 level? Sure, but I feel you're taking a big risk there.
The goaltending market is a weak one outside of Varlamov and Bobrovsky – both, who will be commanding a boatload of money. So, don't sleep on this position from a trade perspective if Stan gets word that Corey is no longer capable of playing and/or taking longer than anticipated. We have seen how important goaltending is to a team like these recent Hawks teams.
– The Hawks have some fast players but as a whole, they don't play a fast-paced style. This comes with a high skill level (which will be there if overall depth is improved) and then comes the style of "playing fast". The Hawks need to be better at moving the puck out of their own zone and get back to attacking in waves. That second wave offense seems to be almost non-existent in the past few years. Luckily with guys like Jokiharju, Boqvist, Beaudin and Mitchell hitting the scene over the next few years, that will improve.
You're never going to lose by adding more speed throughout the lineup and I know Stan has been focused on that. Even the addition of Drake Caggiula shows that. Look for Bowman to add more of this with depth deadline deals and/or free agency.
– It's hard to have it all; fast and big BUT that's how the new NHL is going and the Hawks need to add more in the physicality. Martinsen is in Rockford and the last couple of games John Hayden has been in the press box so the hits have been few and far between.
I'm not looking for Hawks players to put their opponents through the glass, but when things aren't going in their favour a solid hit on the forecheck or in the neutral zone can be the spark you need. I miss guys like Andrew Shaw for that reason. He wasn't the biggest, but he was an energy guy with skill – give me a couple of those guys. This kind of play is infectious.
Chicago currently sits 29th overall with 772 hits. "They've never been a hitting team, JL, they always have the puck". Well, that's how it used to be. Now they are doing more chasing.
They are also in the lower end of the league (25th) in Blocks with 578. What does this have to do with physicality? Well, it's not directly related, but it shows your teammates you're willing to jump on a grenade for them and elevates how your team toughness and the difficulty level as an opponent.
Team toughness and a couple spark plugs – is that too much to ask for, Stan? He should be able to find this along the way of trades and/or free agency OR maybe there is a little of this hiding on the current team that Colliton can draw out. The Hawks dman already look more engaged in front of the net when blocking out forwards.
What areas do you think the Hawks need the most? What do you see in this team right now? Are you optimistic or do you think they have a long way to go?
See ya out there,