Well, after two embarrassing games, we've seen plenty of commentary. On a pie chart of bitterness, optimism, pessimism and objectivity, I think bitterness is far and away the biggest slice. Clearly, a lot of people are pissed off about the way the team has played and a lot of things being said are what I consider mouthbreather speak; a magical sort of thinking that goes with simply firing coaches and constantly trading players until you get it right. The other end of the spectrum is that this is just two games and basically a blip on the radar. I agree it's not panic time, but with 21 games complete now, I think we've seen a decent view of what to expect. Then again, I felt the same way at ten games http://www.chicagonow.com/puck-powwow/2011/10/random-sample/ and not much of my outlook from that has changed.
The bitterness I've seen around I think, comes from having way overestimated how much the team improved. Most of the moves SB made were ones we approved of. Not every player has delivered all the goods, but for a short period of time, this was a tougher team to play against. Why that has changed is a good question to ask. On individual players, I also think most views are either too glowing or too harsh. Stalberg, as one example, is a guy who has improved. He's not a savior but he's not a curse. When the team is having a good night, he's likely having a good night. When the team is sucking ass, he's getting his pocket picked the same as anyone else. I bring up Stalberg as an example because I don't see him as a difference maker either way. If the core is not performing, he's not going to save the day on a regular basis. Likewise, when the core is performing well, he's not going to hurt the team with a bad turnover and is likely going to score a goal if he's in the right spot. He's a guy who has some really good assets, that, if deployed properly will help the team. But the bottom line will still be, what are the core players he's paired with doing?
Defensively, the league has figured out how to beat the Hawks. What we want to see is a tough D core who stands up opposing teams and shows some jam. It's not going to happen. Hammer, Keith and Leddy are 6'3, 6'1 and 6'0 respectively and the average weight for that group is 200 lbs. Seabrook is a bit bigger, but neither he nor Hammer CONSISTENTLY play "big". Collectively, these are good players, but I believe people want them to be something they are never going to be, namely gritty in your face guys. Since the year before the cup run, they have never been crease clearers, overly aggressive hitters and IMO, they have NEVER handled an aggressive forecheck well, especially Keith. Where they burned teams was on their transition game. Leddy has been great and still has great upside. But, whether people state it this clearly or not, the same complaints I hear about him are the same complaints I heard about Campbell, minus the money. Where I will agree with people on John Scott is this, no one will fight him, he's not good enough to both play the game and intimidate other players, and as such, is not helping the team. However, as both Monty and OD have shown, one or two beefy guys is not enough to change the complexion of what this team's D is about. If they can't transition quick, they really can't bring the best of what they have to offer.
On the forward side, we still seem to be asking the same questions and making the same suggestions of what will make them dominant. Toews will make players around him look better, but so, it seems, will Marion Hossa. I heard a lot of talk about the chemistry between Sharp and Kane, but honestly, I believe Hossa has been the straw stirring the drink of both lines. Now that Hossa is back up top, I've seen more then a few comments around saying (again) what we need to do is go out and get a solid second line center and drop Carcillo down to the third or fourth line "where he belongs". In essence, we are right back to where we started the season wherein there just doesn't seem to be any compilation of this group that seems to work on a nightly basis. To Stals and Carbomb's credit, I think each has done what's been asked of them. Both have started to play a little more body and both have gone to the net. I don't know what some other "big body" would do that these two are not. I have enormous respect for the skill of Kane, Toews, Hossa and Sharp. But at this point, I feel like I've heard a few too many times, "They need solid finishers around them". Bruno's too slow, Stals hands are stone, Carcillo's really not that good and is holding Kane back, while last year it was Brouwer needs to make more hits, Bickell needs to hit more (that's true, but you still get the drift) and on and on. These top four are very skilled players, at some point, I think it's on them to find a way to mesh with lesser skilled players.
So if they aren't as good and aren't as bad as we say, then what? Well, between Tallon and SB (and Sr. B) the team has been built to live and die on its transition. In the cup year, they did it with deadly accurate stretch passes or at least they did when they weren't getting hemmed in with a forecheck. Last year, the rest of the league took that away from them and then SB went out and tried to address alleged areas of concern. Did he completely swing and miss? Did his best players refuse to adapt what they want to do to the skill level of the players coming in? I say it's in between, dissonance if you will. Montador is not a failure to me, but of the bunch, I think he has struggled the most trying to fit and is the best example of what the problem is. Carbomb, OD and Mayers IMO looked like they knew what their role was from day one and went from looking complimentary to looking like the only guys willing to engage. Montador, I believe was looked at as being the perfect hybrid of snarl and scoring and that his leadership would inspire the same in others. That it hasn't happened I think is less reflection on him then on the prevailing attitudes that were already entrenched. A trade down the road may still work, but I think it's pointless until the dissonance is addressed. With the skill of the top four forwards, there is just too much talent to say they can't succeed without better players around them and I think there is too much talent to say they can't improve their breakouts and play with a little "edge".
So what does Q do? Well, after watching the last game, I really feel like it's time to put the core on notice and sit some players. Q has been called an X's and O's coach by a lot of former players and everyone looked out of place last night. Line juggling may be one excuse, but I also think more then a few players now are starting to turtle up when they can't execute the game they want to play or they start to try and force something they know won't be there and even Toews was guilty of this by the end of the night with utterly predictable wraps around the net that were blocked by prone players. I believe Q has the ability to figure this out, but his players have also got to buy in. I'll give him some benefit of doubt that his players are not stepping up, but the longer I see him not sit players makes me start to lean toward him not having the will or the plan to sort this out. At ten games, I said something along these line, "At any given point, this year's team is going to be better then last year's team and bit by bit improve though not stunningly so". At twenty games and at most points last season, the Hawks proved my chemistry teacher right in that they were a 500 team from start to finish. Their place in the standings right now is perhaps better then they really deserve and that likely will be the case at several points along the way this year. What will be most important is where they land at seasons end and how well they have come together by then. If they start to play as a true team and stand up for each other, one or two trades coupled with the release of John Scott may make a difference. Until they begin to work better as a team though, I don't see any outside catalyst appearing that will suddenly change everything.