Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What's Wrong with the Hawks?

After a blistering start, the Hawks have started to cool off a little bit, sliding from the number one seed in the Western Conference to the fourth in a matter of days. Dropping game after game doesn't help, but is this more an indication of a slump that every elite team goes through, or is it indicative of deep flaws that could disrupt a great season? I think it's a little bit of both.

To be sure, the Hawks beat up on a miserable Columbus Blue Jackets last night to stay in the 4th spot in the conference. They did this even with immeasurable loss of Patrick Sharp for a month (and really, if there was ever a bad month to lose Sharp, isn't it right now??!?!). But the problems for the Hawks have been masked by great play by the stars all year. Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp - all elite players - have hidden the fact that the Hawks lack of depth nearly everywhere, combined with a terrible back end to the defense, need to be addressed or the playoff success of the Hawks could well be moot.

Hawks will need more than just Kaner & Co.
So many things need to be figured out. Coach Q needs to develop and stick to some lines for a change. There's zero continuity on any line because Quenneville switches them up on a daily basis. Is Patrick Kane a center or isn't he? I think the switch from center to wing has screwed with Kane's scoring ability this season. On a game by game basis, he isn't quite sure of what his role is supposed to be. That's not to say that he's having an outstanding season. He needs to increase his production regardless. Well, maybe that's too harsh. It's Kaner, he's always good. But really, I understand why Q is doing it. We have no depth at center, wing, and defense. Uh, that's all the positions besides goaltender. We can't go an entire season being carried by the Toews core. GM Stan Bowman needs to make some moves to ensure that the Hawks have the depth to go deep into the playoffs.

The Hawks have tried to make something happen, bringing up Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes. I really like Hayes. He's big, physical, and has goal scoring ability. Shaw is a gritty type with some scoring ability. With his size, mentality, and skill set, he reminds me of Kris Versteeg. And we all know how great Versteeg was for the Hawks during the Cup run a couple years ago. Yet, those are only two players that are trying to add some forward depth. Viktor Stalberg was great last night, netting a hat trick, and with his speed and playing on Toews' line, has been a much better player the past month or so. But the rest of the forwards? Ben Smith, Michael Frolik, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Burnette, and to a lesser extent, Marcus Kruger and Daniel Carcillo, have not been offering much of anything. That's a huge chunk of the roster!! And on defense? I've covered the horrible struggles constantly. After the first three D-Men of Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, and Nick Leddy, the defense is mediocre at best.

I don't presume to know what the Hawks are going to do. But one thing I know for sure is that they're not going to gut their minor league system for a quick fix, nor will they jeopardize any salary cap security to do the same. And regardless, any team the Hawks attempt to deal with now know the problems they need to address, just like we all do. They can leverage the Hawks to give up key young pieces to the future, like Nick Leddy. What's the point in that? No - the Hawks are going to have to get creative on this one, much like they have with everything else they've done in the past few years. I hope it doesn't mean they package players we like in any deals, but more likely it means that we're going to see more of the youth movement that started with the call ups of Shaw and Hayes.

There's plenty of prospects in the minors. At the forward slots, you have Jeremy Morin (who has seen time in Chicago), Mark McNeill, Brandon Saad, Brandon Pirri, etc. At defense you have future studs Dylan Olsen, Adam Clendending and Shawn Lalonde. But are any of those players ready? Probably not, and regardless, should a Cup contender be looking deep into the minors to find players that can contribute? No. This is a HUGE issue that over the course of the season could prove to be more than just the result of slumping players. These are glaring weaknesses on the Hawks. And short of making huge trades, calling up prospects, or getting the players on the team who are currently being paid to suck to actually perform, the Hawks might struggle to advance anywhere in the playoffs. I'm sure Bowman and the rest of the Hawks front office are aware of the problems, but let's hope that they continue their creative ways and find a solution. And quickly.