Carrying on from where my thought pattern left off in the last post, I am trying, as many of you most likely are, to assimilate this year's squad and pinpoint certain actions that I would like to see in the future. When doing this, I am no longer interested in what the Cup winning team resembled, or even the year after anymore. I am focused on the holes that I saw this year and then filling them as efficiently as possible. As I left off in Part 1, a large focus of that intent can be directed at the defense and consequently, the goaltending.
There is just no way around it, the goaltending was below average. With just an average performance I think we see a different path played out. So, it is not always completely fair to bash on Patrick Kane, or the lack of size up front (however important) when trying to justify the shorter season than anticipated. Nor is it fair to only point the finger at Crawford. My personal opinion is that something has to happen within the defensive core to have lasting results, but nor does it relieve Crow from the firing range so to speak.
My take on the goaltending:
It runs hot and cold. This is a simple truth of the NHL throughout the 30 years of my personal experience watching. You can just about bet on having a different goaltender at the top of their game every season, and we often see drops in performance, followed by stellar years. There is a new trend in the NHL however. Goalies are getting larger and faster by the second, and it has the expectations shifting a tad. The plethora of 60 goal scorers is no longer, as we have new expectations of our forwards as opposed to just 10 years ago.
With that said, Crawford does not have a lengthy NHL career to look back on. In fact, my only experience watching his career tells me that he was not ready for this league time after time, and no matter how much the Hawks tried to fight it, he was beat out by other names for the job. But, he worked hard and eventually broke through that barrier, putting together one really strong season. His inconsistent performance this year has essentially wiped his strong season away, and Crawford is now standing on a clean slate. A new NHL goaltender with a lot of questions to address. I have no expectations of him, but also feel that the administration should be looking for alternatives.
Crawford is not the quickest or biggest goaltender in the league. He does not have excellent puck control, nor a strong glove. He is adequate in all of these areas. His strength has come from his anticipation of the shot, positioning against scoring chances, poise in net, and ability to hold rebounds within reason. These were all concerns during the regular season. Furthermore, his temper seemed to get the best of him on too many occasions. While I respect passion and energy towards the game, a goaltender must remain calm, especially when they lack overwhelming skill. He showed us exactly how good he can be during the Yotes series, but he also failed to make textbook saves at the time it was needed. This, more than any other factor has me questioning his place as the Hawks starter next season.
It was without question that I thought Emery had won the starting role this year. I can appreciate going to Crawford and it almost paid off, but if we were deciding on performance alone, Emery was the rightful winner, even if his performance was not at the level we would have hoped for as well. It was a nagging concern of mine that Crawford somehow found himself in the starting role late in the season. Just another reason for me to doubt this coaching staff, but I don't think it would have mattered in the end.
Stan Bowman is definitely keeping his options open in this department.
A strong attack begins with a stable defense:
I have said it a million times over, the Hawks strength is their neutral zone play, and this starts with the defensive system of movement. Many have pointed to the loss of Campbell for destroying their power here, but it wasn't exactly amazing the year before when he was still here, and lets start looking ahead rather than behind. IMO, the Hawks must assert their position on what role Leddy will play for the team. He was god awful in the Yotes series and not much better throughout the regular season. I was once a believer, but have serious doubts now. I felt that it was downright negligent to have him on the ice at times. Lepisto is a batter option moving forward, but I think the administration has larger ideas.
There will be a few names that the Hawks should be interested in, and some of them might be at a high cost. Maybe not this coming year, but by next one, the administration might be thinking heavily about breaking up the so called "core." Where Hjalmer and Oduya fit next year is a big question. Oduya showed promise, and I am personally not ready to give up on Hjalmer. Seabrook was the best player on the ice for the Hawks as the season came to a close, both offensively and defensively. Keith was inconsistent, but showing a progression back to old form makes him a key player for next year.
My guess, is that Olsen finds himself in the 6th spot. I personally believe that Lepisto is worth a more consistent look, and also see a few other prospects as hopefuls. I think Leddy needs some time away from the NHL. He was most likely plucked too early and needs to gain some weight. This is harder with the NHL schedule. Then, we will see. I saw too much promise in Oduya to say goodbye, but he did not earn a raise. We will see what kind of deal can be worked out. If the right name comes along and for the right price, Oduya is most likely gone. Between Oduya and Hjalmer, it would all come down to the specifics of the move and what we would be getting.
A change in forward momentum:
No matter what happens, coach Q needs to start relying less on his star pupils. A more balanced approach is necessary, and this stems from the line composition on down to the positioning on the ice. Roles must be defined before the season takes off, and it all needs to form around staying deeper in their own zone and building more unified breakouts. After dealing with the defensive concerns, this area will cause the most improvement.
The names of the players within the forward make-up does not warrant extreme change. I am up for the debate about whether or not Kane is a 2nd line center, but am more against it than for. We won a Cup with Sharp at center if it came down to it, but I think an actual center is the better path. Finding one, or moving Brandon Pirri up is the best scenario. Kane should be the second line winger. This is an area I disagree with SB on.
Who stays and who goes? More on that in the final chapter, Part 3.
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