Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pushing the Hawks Panic Button

Where do we start? The Hawks are in a free fall, piling up loss after loss in a steady dive from the top of the standings to potentially fighting for a playoff spot. The way the losses have come, after such a sustained period of success, has been nothing short of devastating. But really, the problems leading to this "slump" have been here since the Hawks Stanley Cup season of 09-10. Bad defense, no offensive depth, and weak goaltending. The only difference is that the Hawks have finally reached the point where the great "core" cannot hold off the glaring weaknesses under the surface.

Everyone can see how bad the defense has been
The defense is, of course, bad. Undeniably, atrociously, incredibly bad. The Hawks allow nearly 3 goals per game. They kill less than 80% of their penalties. We could go on and on with statistics, but anyone watching the Hawks sees the same thing. There is not one defenseman playing well right now. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are going through a really rough stretch. What can Joel Quenneville do with them? Split them up again? And pair them with who? Nick Leddy has come back to earth, like you would expect from such a young player, and I've said numerous times how Niklas Hjarmalsson is average at best. Who else is there? Steve Montador? Sean O'Donnell? John Scott? Sami LePisto? Just awful. There's no options for the Hawks. Worse yet, Stan Bowman can't make many moves because (a) there's not many legit top blueliners on the market and (b) every team and their mother knows that the Hawks need a defenseman and can leverage the Bowman to sell the farm. Which is something the Hawks should only do if it means trading prospects on the offensive end of things. And even then, it might not be a good idea. This season makes you wonder how the Hawks didn't at least keep Chris Campoli in the offseason, and really makes you wish we could have kept Brian Campbell, even if that is just wishful thinking.

Crawford's confidence issues are a huge problem
On top of the defense, you had bad goaltending. Count me among those who think that both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery would have it much better if they dealt with a competent defense every night. I think that one of the main problems for Crawford is confidence. He was riding high last year in the playoffs, when his confidence was high. He showed what kind of skill he can have when he's playing confident. But that's the thing. Do we really want our franchise to put so much stock in a goalie that will be up and down based on how he's feeling? Doesn't Vancouver deal with that every year with Roberto Luongo? Personally, I would go into the offseason and attempt to sign Corey Schneider, Luongo's backup, to an offer sheet. He's a restricted free agent, and if you get him to sign the sheet, much like the Sharks did with Hjarmalsson a couple years ago, the Canucks will either match it, locking them long term into two goalies, or not, allowing the Hawks to procure themselves a great goalie.

Bowman needs to step it up
The Schneider idea reminds me of another issue. How much of this blame falls on Stan Bowman? He won the Stanley Cup in 2010 with players that had been acquired by previous GM Dale Tallon. Just think of how dominant that team was. In addition to the players we have now, there was Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Campbell, Antti Niemi, Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Adam Burish, Ben Eager, and Cristobal Huet (just kidding). All of those players contributed in some way. And I know that Tallon also screwed the Hawks by forcing Bowman to meet the salary cap, but I feel that he made some mistakes letting some of the players go, mostly Niemi, in return for keeping someone like Niklas Hjarmalsson. And what have the players who we got in return for the other players contributed? The only one I can think of that's contributed anything is Viktor Stalberg. And since then, not only did he blow the resigning of Campoli, but he brought in players like Michael Frolik, Rotislav Olesz, Andrew Burnette, Montador, O'Donnell, Scott, and Marty Turco. So, if we're keeping track. Bowman has gotten rid of plenty of players that helped the Hawks win a Cup, and in return, has brought in players that have contributed practically nothing. I love that he's trying to model the Hawks after the Red Wings, wherein you surround an elite core with good complimentary players every year. But he's whiffing on the complimentary players. He needs to get it turned around at the trade deadline this year (if that's even possible), and at the very least, make some huge moves in the offseason. And not only defense and goaltending. Offense needs work too.

Ah, the offense. We're back to the same old problem. The top two lines for the Hawks continue to try and carry the load, but since Patrick Sharp got hurt (and subsequently returned) and Jonathan Toews came back to earth from his meteoric pace (not to mention his own injuries), the Hawks offense has struggled. Patrick Kane has either been pressing too hard or not trying hard enough, depending on who you listen to. The point is, the Hawks have enough offense to get into the playoffs, but can they do that on a team that does not play defense? That's questionable at best. The Hawks desperate move for depth at center with Brendan Morrison won't work out. Marcus Kruger hasn't been the same since his concussion. Bryan Bickell doesn't contribute anything and could be a healthy scratch any given night. And don't get me started on Frolik.

Which brings me to this "effort" issue. Numerous Hawks players have mentioned how they weren't trying hard enough on defense, and how they weren't making it enough of priority. How is that even possible? How could an elite two way forward like Toews let that happen? How could Coach Q let that happen? Has he lost this team? I don't see how a team with this kind of leadership can let effort ever be an issue. The Hawks just aren't a physical team. They don't get in front of shots, they don't give hits, and they don't take hits well. So if you combine that with effort issues, you have a weak team that gives up easily. Some issue, huh? But when you get down to it, I hope that's all it is. If this team needed a swift kick to the posterior, its current slump should certainly do that. They're going to need a big run to avoid ending up in the same dead end playoff spot they were in last year.

Maybe this is just one more transition year from the Cup year to more consistent and sustained success. I know Bowman has had his hand forced, but its hard to look favorably upon his track record as GM thus far. Even if this is just a transition year, it sure is frustrating to see another year of the "core's" prime wasted on bad defense and bad goaltending. I have a feeling that the Hawks will get it together and make a run, at least to get into the playoffs. But after that, who knows. It was only a month ago that we felt this Hawks team was the best in the NHL, poised to make another Cup run. Now, we hope we don't fall completely out of the playoffs, even if we do get embarrassed in the playoffs, on the way to what we hope is a productive offseason. My how the times have changed.