With Wednesday night's dreadful loss to the woeful New Jersey Devils, the Blackhawks slipped to below .500 counting overtime losses. Yes, that's right, BELOW .500.
No one can deny any longer that this team has issues. There are key injuries, the schedule is weird, and new faces are still trying to make their presence felt. I'm starting to wonder if some of them ever will.
What's difficult to understand, however, is some of the recent moves made by the Hawks' coaching staff when it comes to the gameday lineup.
Why is John Scott in the lineup so often if he's barely going to get his number called? When did 7th defenseman Jordan Hendry become a better option at forward than Ben Smith, who skated his tail off in his limited opportunity with the Hawks?
There's no doubt that the coaching staff is playing with a crap hand. The players still haven't found chemistry and it will be tough to develop any until the full healthy lineup skates together consistently. With that said, the coaches aren't doing themselves any favors either.
The Hawks skated eight defensemen on Wednesday night. Eight. You could make the argument that four of them ideally belong on an AHL blueline. Two of them were playing forward.
I know the Hawks' hands are partially tied, but that lineup is unacceptable. The only reasonable explanation here is that the decisions are all salary cap related. Regardless, if the Hawks are that worried about saving a few dollars, I'm not sure it should take priority over icing a decent hockey team. The Hawks' 7-7-1 record puts them in the bottom third of the Western Conference heading into Thursday when going by point percentage. They don't want to dig themselves a hole while the team attempts to gel. The last thing they need is half the team gripping the sticks too tight while they fight to get out of 11th place.
"So, smart one, what would you do?"
I'd start by giving Nick Leddy a call. He was prone to mistakes in his limited time with the Hawks, but that was in his first NHL action while being asked to play a bigger role than what is realistic. If he came up now, he'd play 3rd pairing minutes with Boynton, Cullimore, or Hendry. I know Leddy isn't a huge difference maker, but he is at least fast and talented, which is more than you can say for any Hawks defenseman not wearing #2, 7, 4, or 51. I know the Hawks want Leddy playing top minutes in Rockford to develop, and I'd like that too, but not at the expense of the parent club. Leddy is one of the best six defensemen in the organization, and regardless of the money situation, it's in the Hawks' best interest to get their best talent to the United Center.
I'd also give Ben Smith a longer look. He didn't light up the scoresheet, but he was very noticeable on the forecheck and won board battles in his three games with the Hawks. I know this: he's listed as a forward on the roster. That's not the case for two guys who played forward on Wednesday night.
There are other players in Rockford, such as Igor Makarov, who could come up and make a difference. It'd be risky to start making call-ups, but at this point, why not? One of the things I liked about this team heading in was the organizational depth. I knew the NHL roster depth wasn't what last year's was, but I was excited about the numerous AHL guys who could come fight for an NHL spot. It may be time for the Hawks to exercise this option on someone like Makarov, Lalonde, or Beach.
The Hawks' 7-7-1 record is worrisome, but there's no reason to be searching for a bridge yet. We aren't even 1/4 into the NHL season, and the Hawks are playing without Hossa and Bolland. They played without those two for a good chunk of last year too, but that team had the depth that this team doesn't. That's no secret.
In the meantime, the Hawks need to put their best players on the ice. Enough messing around.
Blackhawks, Chicago Blackhawks, Dave Bolland, Joel Quenneville, Marian Hossa, Stan Bowman, United Center
Ben Smith, Chicago Blackhawks, Dave Bolland, Igor Makarov, Jassen Cullimore, Joel Quenneville, John Scott, Jordan Hendry, Marian Hossa, New Jersey Devils, Nick Leddy, Patrick Sharp, Rockford Icehogs