Blackhawks News

A Piece of Sky Just Fell On My Head

By Cody Pugh

I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what can be said that already hasn’t been said. My comments after the Edmonton disaster are as true now as they were last week. In fact, even if you go all the way back to a post I made in November, you can see things haven’t changed at all. In fact, they’ve probably worsened.

It should be clear now that this isn’t just a “slump” for the Hawks. The problems that have hurting this team have been seasonal trends, and those trends have been obvious since probably early-November. In fact, aside from a dominant stretch in December, the Hawks have been a very mediocre and inconsistent team (just like last year.

This isn’t a “slump” the Hawks can just climb out of. This isn’t just a low point in what is a series of peaks and valleys over the course of a long season. No, this is something worse. The thing I can best compare it to is a virus: its dormant for periods of time, but when symptoms show, they’re nasty and fatal. It seems to be spreading rapidly throughout the roster and no one quite knows what do to. The confidence is gone, the frustration is mounting, players are giving up on each other and the coaches seem to be out of answers. Its become an epidemic that no one was prepared for.

This is not just a rough patch. What we are seeing now are the same problems that have been here all season in their most grotesque forms. Quite frankly, the Hawks were only able to get by earlier in the season because of combination of luck and circumstance. Some nights, they had just enough defense and goaltending to get by, but it didn’t happen often.  Most nights they’ve gotten by outscoring their opponents, and thats not how championship teams get it done. Now, with the goals harder to come by and the defense tumbling down the rabbit hole, this team’s success this season is becoming compromised.

As I’ve said before, the problems with this team are structural. What do I mean by “structural”? Well, an example of one would be the dropoff between the top two lines and the bottom two lines, which is substantial. The team is comprised of a number of highly elite players and a number of roster fillers who simply do not provide the necessary support. Another example would be a coach who can’t get his message through and whose system has become incompatible with the team the GM has assembled. Structural problems are those that can’t be fixed with a trade or two but require bigger, more significant changes.

Let’s start with the coach.

I’m no expert, but my guess is Quenneville has lost or is in the process of losing the team. The constant line juggling, the misuse of personnel, the favoritism of the wrong players, it all has a negative impact over time. When Brouwer left, he commented on how he felt like he wasn’t given a fair chance by Quenneville, which was probably true. You could now argue the same thing about 1/3 of the current roster.

So at some point you have to consider that Quenneville needs to be replaced. Yes he won them a Cup, but that was with a team with talent and depth the likes of which will probably never be seen again in the NHL. Compound with the fact that Quenneville has now had two seasons where he’s been unable to motivate what is still a pretty talented group. My guess is his fate rests on how the Hawks play over the next few months. If they fail, I would not be surprised if they clean house and give the keys to Mike Haviland. Coaches have a shelf-life, and from how the team is responding, it seems that Quenneville might be near the end of his.

But its not just Quenneville. As Troy Murray pointed out last night, its the players who are failing to respond. There’s no sense of urgency. The team has a whole lacks confidence and that has spread into the upper tier of the roster. While you could argue that the coach has lost the team, these are professional athletes, they shouldn’t need a coach to tell them how to play the game. At some point the players take it take it upon themselves and not constantly blame the coach, which happens way too much in the NHL.

And then there’s Stan. Now I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, I don’t know exactly to what extent his hands are tied, but I’m not buying the crap he’s selling about “players not being available.” There’s less than 3 weeks until the trade deadline, trust me, players are available. He’s probably trying to appear nonchalant, but the team on the ice is screaming “we need help”. So at this point it really doesn’t matter what Stan says, the needs of this team are so painfully clear that he could sa whatever he wants, teams won’t bite. And that’s largely his fault for waiting for this team to show its true colors.

I blame Stan for a number of things. First, I wasn’t crazy about the personnel they acquired in the offseason. I thought it made them a lot slower, which it has. I thought they got a few players that were, more or less, obsolete, or of the “hit-or-miss” vairety, and that has largely been the case. I thought he miscaluclated on a number of players, but I had faith that they would work out.

Second, his refusal to admit that those signings were busts and continuing to waste roster spots by insinuating that he “believies in this group” despite the empirical evidence stacked against him. Maybe he’s just saying that. I hope he is.

Third, and most obvious, is his inaction. The needs of this team have been obvious since November. Now I didn’t expect a trade that early, but if they had nipped this thing in the butt decisively, it may not have grown to the proportions that it has. It might have spared Leddy or Hjalmarsson suffering a huge slide in confidence, it might have improved the goaltending. You never know. Not to mention he might have been able to grab Francoise Beauchemin before the Ducks resigned him. Lots of “what ifs”.

I’m aware that its a costly sellers market, but that’s just how it is. This is Bowman’s first deadline where he actually has room to manoeuvre and he seems to be frozen like a deer in headlights. Ask other teams that have been contenders for a while what its like at trade deadline. Its costly, but that’s the decision you have to make: pay the price and improve your team, or get the golf clubs ready. If you don’t want to pay, then there are other teams that will, likely your competition.

As of right now, I no longer believe that one or two minor trades will help this team very much. They might make a small difference, but in the end the structural problems with this team are substantial and require significant changes to both personnel and mindset. This team requires a significant overhaul of the defense and supporting cast, opposed to “minor tweaking”. An effective bottom six, which was so instrumental in the Cup victory of 2010, is sorely lacking on this team. A reliable third defenseman, like the one they gave up in Campbell, is missing as well. This isn’t just a case of “bring in this player and everything will get fixed.” There are too many holes to fill with one or two trades.

I said in my post last week, everyone deserves blame: the players, the coaches, the management and even the ownership and until all those parties assume responsibility, the real problems with this team, the structural problems that can’t be fixed with duck tape, will not be remedied.And even when/if they are addressed, they will take time to fix.

Honestly, we were foolish to expect the Hawks to reassemble a championship team after a single offseason. It takes some teams years and years to assemble one, like it took the Hawks and the Bruins. The core is in place, the supporting cast is not, and it will take more than one free agency period to take care of that.

As far as this season is concerned, I don’t want to write it off completely, but its hard not to. The holes are too big and too many and as I said, its not likely they will be fixed with one or two minor trades. They’ll make the playoffs, but its doubtful they’ll go much further. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe another disappointing season will make management rethink this team as its currently configured and pave the way for some big improvements.

We can hope.

In the meantime, I’m going to watch out for pieces of falling sky.