Chicago Blackhawks Roundtable: Bye Weeks And Stretch Running

By Colin Likas
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Colin Likas

Question 1: While the bye week is a function of the World Cup of Hockey being played prior to this season, I think the bye week is a good idea for the NHL in general and needs to stick after this season.

It’s kind of incredible that hockey players don’t keel over mid-game with how often they have to play. Eighty-two games from early October to early April may not seem like a ton to a non-viewer, but there are back-to-backs and stretches like the Blackhawks have in March (seven games in 11 days) that make it extremely difficult to be focused all 82 games.

Combine the hard-hitting, fast-paced nature of today’s NHL, and you have a sport from which guys need some sort of break. Not everyone gets the All-Star Game as a break, and the longest in-season break that isn’t a bye week is typically no more than four games.

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The bye week will probably fit in even more nicely in seasons in which there isn’t some sort of tournament (World Cup, Olympics) to worry about. I’m all for it, even if it takes one’s favorite team off the screen for close to a week.

Question 2: My first answer to this was Corey Crawford, but I think I have to go with a 1A/1B deal here. Crow, as the starting goaltender who carried Chicago through the first couple months of this season, needs to be on top of his game essentially every night.

This Blackhawks group does not possess the puck terribly well, and it’s also not abundantly quick. Both of those issues lead to Crow facing more chances in a typical game. And with the Blackhawks offense heating up some days, then going missing on others, you never know how much support he’ll get.

Having a strong, confident Crow is good to get the Blackhawks points in the regular season and even better come playoff time, as we know he can carry his team through stretches against the league’s best under the brightest lights.

So I’m going with Crow at 1A. Now, in the past, the team’s offense and defense have both gone as Duncan Keith has gone. But Keith has had a so-so season, still producing decently on offense but seemingly being a step behind on defense.

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To make up for that, Niklas Hjalmarsson has had to be incredibly adept in the defensive zone. And I think that makes him 1B for importance to the Blackhawks down the stretch.

Hjammer isn’t just a shot blocker, although he does that really, really well. He’s become the figurehead of this offseason by cutting off passing lanes, winning board battles and making impressive passes to clear the zone or even start offensive rushes.

We’ve seen Hjammer evolve quite a bit in his time with the Blackhawks, and it could be argued he’s pushing for No. 1 D-man honors this season. As such, continued strong play from him is about as critical for the Blackhawks down the stretch as continued strong play from Crow.

Juliana Nikac

Question 1: I do think the bye week is a good idea for the NHL. It gives the players, coaches and personnel a chance to rest for five or six days. There’s no thinking about hockey. It’s a rough 82-game season from October to April, and if your team makes the playoffs, there’s basically no time to rest.

However, I think the bye week can also not be good, in some ways. Once a team gets out of the zone, it may take a while for them to find their mojo again. When you’re used to being on a certain schedule, your body may take a few days to get used to the constant work again.

Question 2: For the Blackhawks to succeed, the entire core (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Corey Crawford) needs to perform their best.

There can be times when a player has a difficult time getting into the swing of things (i.e. Toews prior to the Christmas break), and the rest of the core can put the team on their backs and carry them through the tough times.

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Every player needs to contribute as best as they possibly can. For example, Kane needs to tally as many points as possible. Toews needs to be himself: a solid two-way center. Hjalmarsson needs to close the gaps and make those timely blocks. Hossa has to be … well, Marian Hossa.

The whole team has to work together, yes, but the individual players just need to do what they do best.