Yes, this is something that should get a lot of attention in the offseason. The Hawks supposedly bolstered their defense with the acquisitions of Brian Campbell at the beginning of the season, and Johnny Oduya at the trade deadline. But neither player met expectations, and this left the Chicago Blackhawks in a world of hurt. Not to mention the fact that these two players are 37 and 35 years old, respectively. They looked old and slow against a younger and faster Predators team.
In the meantime, Duncan Keith was expected to wear the world on his shoulders in this series, as he’s always done in the past. Unfortunately, he’s not Atlas anymore. He’s still a great hockey player, but he’s 33 years old, and he’s seen major wear and tear over the last several years. Sam Fels from Faxes From Uncle Dale put it best. “The past two years they’ve asked him (Keith) to take on the best competition, lock them down defensively, and push the play up the ice as well. Now they can only get one from him. Neither is the wrong choice, but whatever they choose they’re going to have to find someone else to do the other.”
Moving on, Niklas Hjalmarsson is an excellent defensive defenseman. I believe he was forced to try to take on more of an offensive role in this series, and he was overwhelmed. Brent Seabrook is 32 years old, and father time is catching up with him. He hasn’t played well all year. Unfortunately, if he can be convinced to waive his no movement clause, Seabs and his hefty salary should part ways with the Chicago Blackhawks in the offseason.
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It’s time to put our trust in Trevor van Riemsdyk, who actually looked decent in this series, and Michal Kempny. Kempny, by the way, had the best possession numbers of all defensemen during the regular season. But he never really fit into the system that Coach Q had in mind. He was inserted into the final game against the Preds, but it was more of a desperation move that didn’t pan out than anything else.
Lack of four lines.
The Hawks thought they had at least three strong lines going into this series, but that fell apart pretty fast. Let’s look at the first line of Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews, and Richard Panik. Schmaltz struggled with confidence during his first regular season with the Hawks, and had to be sent down to the AHL for some extra seasoning. He came back strong, and helped Toews find his scoring touch in February. Unfortunately, this didn’t transfer over into the playoffs. Schmaltz was understandably thrown off his game, and not prepared for the higher intensity the playoffs bring. Toews is obviously hurt. Panik actually played rather consistently throughout this series. Unfortunately, he fell victim to the lineblender, and was demoted to the third line. He was never able to get anything going.
Let’s talk about the second line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, and Patrick Kane. First off, Panarin only has a few moves; albeit he’s really good at them. Unfortunately, once other teams figure out how to shut him down, he becomes a non-factor. Anisimov is obviously still hurting from his injury during the regular season. And the Preds did an excellent job of taking away Kane’s time and space, despite his numerous shot attempts throughout the series.
Moving on to the third line of Ryan Hartman, Marcus Kruger, and Marian Hossa. The rookie Hartman, like Schmaltz, was overwhelmed with the intensity of the playoffs, although in a different way. The Preds got under his skin and his temper flared. That didn’t translate into the game the Hawks wanted from Hartman. I still think Tanner Kero should have taken the third line center spot instead of Krugs. He also was one of the Hawks that played well in this series, and he could have given that line more of an offensive punch. Ah, and then there’s Hossa. He had such a great regular season, but for whatever reason it didn’t transfer into the playoffs.
Finally, we know there never was a feasible fourth line. John Hayden only played in one game. And it’s pretty unfair to expect this kid to make any kind of impact; he just got there (12 games in the regular season)! Dennis Rasmussen had one of the Hawks three goals. In my opinion, he should’ve had a much more regular spot in the lineup to prepare him for the playoffs. As such, he only played in three of the four games in the playoffs. Calling up the rookie Vinnie Hinostroza and throwing him in for just one game? Just unfair. And ex-Pred Jordin Tootoo was a bust.
Again, you knew there was no fourth line when Q went with seven defensemen and double-shifted Kane in Game 4. It was a desperation move that obviously didn’t pay off.