What Does This Team Really Need?
Rumours and crazy ideas are being tossed around like beers in a rec hockey dressing room these days. So that must mean it's either NHL Trade Deadline or Draft/Free Agency time.
This time of year is very exciting for most fans (unless you're cheering for the Ottawa Senators) and I'm hearing/reading some wild conversations this past couple of weeks.
Now, although I'm hearing a few whispers here and there, but nothing substantial enough to report on. So, I won't claim to know exactly what's going to happen with this Chicago Blackhawks team because every once and a while their addiction to the spotlight results with the unexpected trades Panarin and Hjalmarsson last summer for example that no one expects.
I did want to pop in with a quick blog about what I think the areas of need are for Stan and the Hawks are this summer.
I'm focusing on the larger picture and strategy vs. specific players, but I will offer a little bit of the latter as well in the below. Here we go:
Defensive Commitment and Style
We can talk about adding Justin Faulk or Calvin de Haan all day, and I do think external aid is needed, but for me, I would like Stan and the Coaches to sit down and A) get on the same page of the players needed to B) execute a "better" defensive scheme than last year.
I know there was a lot of inexperience there last year with the likes of Rutta, Forsling, Gustafsson and Oesterle, however, I thought the consistency of the defence as a team was extremely poor.
Too many times was this team burned by odd man rushes and that's not all on the defencemen. In year's past, the Hawks would have support all over the ice – in the offensive and defensive zones. Guys would pick each other up when they would pinch or get aggressive in any of the 3-zones on the ice. That didn't happen last year, and a strong defensive commitment needs to happen, or this team will sit at the bottom of the league again in even-strength goals (CHI's 198 GA at EV was 7th worst in the NHL).
If they can tighten this up, then the goaltending "issue" might not be as much of a topic as it is right now. I don't think Anton Forsberg is a bad goalie, I think he's actually solid with a lot of potential, but what I do think is he could use a little more help. I'm ok with him back if the rest of the mess in front of him is cleaned up, and, of course, Corey Crawford is healthy.
… and yes, I think they should add 2x defensemen via trade or free agency to help with this area. From what I'm hearing they will definitely add 1 and if it makes sense 2-3. I've been saying it for a while that some of Forsling, Rutta, Gustafsson, Oesterle, Murphy will be on another team next year. Don't be surprised if other defensive prospects that are currently signed are included in deals as well as they have a plethora of them on paper.
Put me in the category that I think Justin Faulk would be a nice addition (could really help QB that 28th ranked PP from last year as well) but I wouldn't overpay. I think a combination of de Haan/Hickey/Moore/Cole/Holden types plus a Sbisa/Sustr/Pateryn for additional support could be added for a fair price and it would really bolster their defensive mindset and skillset as a unit.
Overall, last year's Blackhawks team was 22nd with 229 goals for. At even-strength, they were even worse at 25th with 148.
This was not a new phenomenon. The Hawks have been trending in the wrong direction with their 5-on-5 play for the last few years. They need to fix this.
We just addressed the defensive portion above, so that will help win more games right there if Stan and Quenneville can address that need. However, if they get their even-strength production up as well, LOOK OUT!
Easier said than done. How do you improve this area?
Well they could go out and sign JVR (25 EVG in 17-18) or Michael Grabner (25) or James Neal (20). And to put that into perspective, the Hawks leaders last year were Debrincat and Kane at 22 even-strength tallies.
I think the defence is the primary focus to spend off-season dollars, so unless something else gives, JVR and Neal might be more than Stan want to spend. Maybe they take a shot at Grabner, although after his 5 points in 21 games with the Devils once he was acquired would scare me off that he needs the right system.
Personally, I think if you improve the defence and create a better overall system that these guys are comfortable with from day #1, then you will see more production. That might not be enough, and I'm also factoring in that the Hawks will add at least 1-2 forwards to the mix, as well as a bounce-back year for someone like Saad and/or Toews in that category and even more mature Schmaltz, Debrincat, Hayden, Sikura.
Are there too many factors right there to honestly see a vast improvement with their 5-on-5 play? Maybe. But I'm hopeful with what's been laid out above, as well as this next area of need.
New Mindset and Chemistry
No one thought the Vegas Golden Knights were going to have such success this year. I love the mantra that they all battled behind as a team; they banded together as the "forgotten players" and they went out to prove everyone wrong in a big way.
So if the Golden Knights can have that hungry of an attitude to that was a huge driver of their successful season, that means every other team can too. After that, it comes down to personnel, coaching/strategy and chemistry.
I want to see the Hawks players (and coaches) coming into camp this year with a p*ssed-off-that-everyone-is-saying-the-Blackhawks-are-done type attitude.
They have guys like Toews, Seabrook, Keith, Saad, Forsberg, Murphy that should be out to show the world that their own game is better than they showed last year. They have to come prepared and hungry to win.
Then, that rubs off on the Schmaltz's, Debrincat's and Sikura's to understand what the real Blackhawks' standard of hockey is and Rocky really isn't messing around with his warning shots.
A little anger and a lot of focus on being better, ya know? That's all I'm asking for.
This has to come from the coaches as well. The skill and leadership will be there regardless of what moves happen this off-season so no excuses from their end.
Then there is chemistry area, which, it sounded like was finally starting to come around at the end of the year with the younger players meshing well with the veterans. I anticipate that will be more present from day #1 and this team will look a lot more in sync on the ice.
That's all I have today. I was going to put this out sooner, but the conversations on the message boards have been so good, I wanted to let it ride.
Let me know your thoughts on the above (I know you will!).
See ya out there!