Its been a while since I’ve posted anything so I’ll just jump right in.
Thoughts on the season
Like everyone, I was quite disappointed with the season. Admittedly I wasn’t a huge fan of Stan’s acquistions last summer, but I felt that the rested core group, combined with some additional depth and solid goaltending should be sufficient to succeed. I had the Blackhawks winning the Western Conference and at least making the Conference Finals in the playoffs.
Throughout the season the Hawks relied far too much on outscoring opponents, opposed to relying on playing defensively responsible hockey and generating offense from defense, like all the teams that remain in the playoffs are able to do very well.
Terrible special teams and sub-par goaltending plagued the Hawks all season and proved to be obstacles too great to overcome in the end when it really mattered. Many people will point to the 101 point season as the silver lining, but for a team with this much talent and such high aspirations, 101 points should be a passing grade and not something to be especially proud of.
The season and post-season reaffirmed the gaping holes that existed at this time last summer: a physical top-four defenseman and an effective second-line center, while exposing new holes, such as general lack of size on the roster and questionable goaltending. There are a lot of questions that will require answering this summer and the Hawks will be under more pressure than ever to answer them after the second straight first round elimination.
Thoughts on the players
I’m not going to individually grade players. Greg and Keith have done a fabulous job of that already here on Blackhawk Up. Instead I’m just going to briefly discuss who I think stood out, who disappointed and who was somewhere in between this season.
I’m giving my Team MVP award to Marian Hossa. After his two first seasons in Chicago led to questions about his overall durability and ability to put up points, Hossa responded with an outstanding season, playing 81 games and scoring 29 goals and 48 assists. He was arguably one of the Hawks most consistent and reliable forwards all season.
Jonathan Toews would have been my MVP had it not been for the concussion. Still the Captain had a dominant, Hart-worthy season, scoring 29 goals and 28 assists in 59 games.
Patrick Sharp, another MVP candidate, had a great season and was especially brilliant down the stretch with Toews out of the lineup. He breached the 30-goal mark for the third time in his career, scoring 33 goals and 36 assists in 74 games. Sharps defensive game also rebounded as he finished a career-high +28.
Other guys that I was impressed with were Viktor Stalberg who had an impressive 22-goal season, Brent Seabrook who was the Hawks best defender all season long, Andrew Shaw who was so good he became a Twitter sensation, Marcus Kruger who did a better job than a lot of people give him credit for I think, Jamal Mayers who was an effective 4th liner all year and Ray Emery who was a realiable back-up and helped stabilized the net when Crawford began his downward spiral.
Its tough to give Nick Leddy too much heat because he is what he is: a very young defenseman in the NHL who was thrown into the fire too soon and has been given too much responsibility by the coaching staff prematurely. There were many, many moments where he was exposed physically and positionally. He didnt effectively replace Brian Campbell as was hoped, but you can argue he was doomed to fail, considering his age and inexperience and the role he was expected to fill. Therefore I can’t say Leddy disappointed. He was almost exactly what I expected him to be.
Other guys that fell in between good and bad were Dave Bolland who had a solid season but not as good as I was hoping for, Duncan Keith who rebounded from last year nicely but is still miles away from the Norris Trophy winner he was two years ago, Steve Montador who was good at times and bad at others, Johnny Oduya who brought a lot of stability down the stretch, Daniel Carcillo who proved he can be the type of player the Hawks need, Niklas Hjalmarsson who was effective despite his occasional bumbling, Brandon Bollig who did what he was asked to do and nothing more, and Dylan Olsen and Jimmy Hayes, who were able to do about as much as you can ask of rookies in the NHL.
Probably the biggest disappointment of the season for me was Corey Crawford, who suffered a huge sophmore slump, as his numbers and his confidence plunged into an dark abyss. Not to mention the Hawks playoff defeat could possibily be pegged to the two softies he gave up in OT in Games 3 and 4.
Patrick Kane, who spoke before the season began about truly becoming one of the games elite players and talked about reaching the 100-point mark for the first time in his career. Not only did 88 fail to hit those numbers, he regressed from 73 points last year to 66 points this year in 9 more games played. That kind of trend is never a good sign.
Joining them as the big disappointments of the year are Michael Frolik who despite his playoff success was a colossial failure all year long, Bryan Bickell who was probably the most inconsistent Hawk, Brendan Morrison who just never worked out, Andrew Brunette and Sean ODonnell whose lack of mobility was exposed in a high tempo system like Chicagos and Sami Lepisto who wasnt given much opportunity and couldnt capitalize when he was.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this but I know I’m not exactly surprised. I knew one of the assistants was going and frankly deep, deep down I had a feeling it would be Haviland, considering hes not Q’s guy, and we all know how much Q loves “his guys” (see: Andrew Brunette)
Many have speculated that this was yet another battle Quenneville has won with management, possibly under the threat of leaving the organization or demanding that the coaching staff be entirely comprised of guys he approves of. Whatever the power dynamics are behind the firing, I can say 2 things with a great degree of confidence: 1. the Hawks really want to retain Quenneville and 2. Quenneville has more leverage with than we think. After all, if the coaching staff was “dysfunctional”, why does the head coach get to make the call who stays and who goes? It seems to me that Quenneville was demanding some change and that he wanted a coaching staff he picked.
I’m not there, so I don’t know what issues exist behind the scenes. Perhaps Haviland deserves more blame for the awful special teams than we think he did and perhaps he did headbutt with Q on more than one issue and that had negative repercussions. I dont know. What I do know is he was a popular guy and was well-liked by the players.
In the end it will be interesting to see who Q chooses to replace Haviland and how the syngery between the coaching staff between the management and the coaching staff is going into next season. Its clear that they were not on the same page for the last 2 seasons and there have been whispers that Q was extremely dissatisifed with the roster he was given this season.Whether this means Q will have more or less say in player decisions I dont know.
The draft and free agency
The draft is my favorite hockey day of the year hands down. The trade deadline is fun, as is July 1st. But it seems that the draft is where all the big action is nowadays when it comes to trades. Not to mention we get to see where the superstars of tomorrow are going.
So over the next several weeks I’ll be previewing some of the young prospects the Hawks should consider taking with their 1st selectio, should they choose to use it. Ill also be looking at some trade scearios they could consider on draft day, as well as some scenarios from other teams.
In addition to that, Ill be looking at some free agents, big and small names, that the Hawks could have interest in this summer.
Theres lots to come so keep checking in.
Thanks for reading.