Climbing Out of Hell Together


Oh boy, where to start?

Well first, congratulations to Sam Gagner for making history, tying the Oilers franchise record for most points in a single game. Remember this is a record held by guys like Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey, so give him a ton of credit. He was sensational. By the end of the game I was rooting for him to get one more and break the record. Didn’t make a difference at that point.

As far as the rest of the game goes, I would rather not discuss it. Instead, I would like to talk about where to go from here.

As fellow blogger John Jaeckal from HockeyBuzz pointed out on Twitter last night, you can’t go about fixing a problem unless you first admit a problem exists. For most of the season the Hawks players, coaching staff and management have focused our attention on their success in the standings, while understating the severity of their problems and brushing them off  as minor concerns. Many of the statistics were telling a different story the whole time and now as the Hawks continue their plumme, those so-called “minor concerns” have revealed themselves to be enormous holes and deficiencies.

The evidence is stacked heavily against those who argue there aren’t any serious issues (I can’t imagine that camp is very big anymore). The management and coaching staff have run out of excuses, despite their insistence that they “still believe in this group”. There is a problem, more than one in fact, and those who deny it are either delusional or just plain stupid.

Which problems am I referring to? Well let’s go down the list.

The defense in general has been horrendous, but the second pairing specifically has become an “Achille’s heel”, something other teams can exploit on a nightly basis. It consists of a sophmore who’s struggles in his zone outweigh his offensive upside and a partner who cannot provide the necessary support due to issues of his own.

Their goaltending is among the worst in the NHL and is definitely the worst among the top contenders. Crawford’s nightly inconsistency screams a lack of confidence and Emery isn’t exactly the solution. Its games like last night’s that truly exemplify how poor goaltending can suck the momentum out of a team and cause an entire game to spiral out of control. When the Hawks have needed big saves in tights games this season, they have not gotten them.

Aside from one or two guys, their entire bottom six is unreliable and inconsistent. Players like Bryan Bickell, Michael Frolik and Andrew Brunette, who were being counted on to provide secondary offense this season, have been calamities. While players like Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw, as good as they’ve been, aren’t contributing enough to compensate for the lack of depth scoring.

But its not just the players who deserve blame. Both the coaching staff and management deserve to have fingers pointed at them.

The coaching staff continues to make poor personnel decisions, which include dressing John Scott, a move for which there is no justification, regardless of how prestigious and successful a coach you are. They also include mismanaging Nick Leddy by giving him too many minutes, matching him up against competition he’s unable to handle and playing him on the PK. They include poor personnel decisions on both special teams units. I could go on.

As far as management is concerned, their biggest faults have been understating the severity of this team’s problems, an unwillingness to admit their mistakes, indecisiveness and inaction and, from the type of players they’re pursuing, a miscalculation about the exact needs of this team.

So as you can see, there’s plenty of blame to go around and until everyone, and I mean everyone (players, coaches, management etc.) take responsibilty, this team will fail miserably at its goal to win anything this season.

But where do we start? Of course, there’s only so much that can be done, but there’s no question that something must be done and very fast.

First, admit that mistakes were made. Admit you’re not good enough. Admit there are big problems. Then go about fixing them.

Start with some housecleaning. Send all the wasted roster spots packing, either via trade or waivers. That means Bickell, Lepisto, Scott and possibly Frolik are gone, with Brunette becoming the 13th forward. Acquire one or two hard-working, bottom six-type players who can check, chip in some offense and make this team harder to play against. Add some size, some grit, some character, most importantly, some reliability.

Get a legitimate top four defenseman who can stabilize the second pairing and penalty kill and demote Leddy from the second pairing. Despite what management thinks, this team does not need another 5th or 6th defenseman. They need a legitimate 3rd defenseman. Bryan Allen would be a fit. Yes he would cost a lot but the roster firesale of 2010 left the Hawks with one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL, with 22 picks in the last two drafts. They can afford it.

Ride Ray Emery. Crawford’s confidence is hanging by thread and they have little else in terms of options.  Hopefully once the defense improves, the goaltending will follow.

Start holding the coaching staff more accountable. They’re the ones who making poor decisions with their personnel, the ones not making the adjustments, the ones placing too much confidence in the wrong players. While I don’t want to suggest anyone’s job is on the line right now, but it certainly could be come summer if this team doesn’t live up to expecations. Yes that includes Quenneville.

Lastly, the existing players need to take responsbility. Hjalmarsson and Leddy need to own up to their shortcomings. The goaltenders need to be better. Patrick Kane needs to put forth the effort every night or the suggestions he be traded will go from heretic lunacy to rational conversation, because as of right now his 11 goals and complete lack of interest in playing defense makes him look very unappealing. Every player needs to be better and they need to hold each other accountable.

To sum it all up, everyone is at fault and they need to climb out together as a team and as an organization. Personally, nothing short of a spectacular 8-game winning streak, with lights out defense and goaltending along the way, will make me regain confidence in this team as its currently configured. The distance between them and another Stanley Cup is deceptively far, despite what anyone tells you. Way more than a “few minor tweaks” are needed to fix this team.

Its understanable that the Hawks are concerned with long-term issues, such as the impending CBA and maintaining a healthy pipeline of young talent. But each passing year is an opportunity in what is a perpetually shrinking window for another Stanley Cup. As JFK once said: “there are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.”

The Hawks have a great core in place and they have the potential to have a very special season. But they need help. The management needs to give them the personnel, the coaching staff needs to use them effectively and the players need to step up. They can be better. They need to be better

So I’ll end with this. Cliche I know, but I thought it was appropriate.

“Either we heal as a team or we are going to crumble. Inch by inch, play by play, till we’re finished. We are in hell right now, gentlemen believe me and we can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb out of hell. One inch at a time… either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals.” – Al Pacinno’s “Inch by inch” speech from Any Given Sunday