After blabbering for a few posts now, I am ready to put my opinions on the line and make my final suggestions. Of course, I realize that things are forever in flux, and the proper course will change as the team makes decisions. And, given that the Coyotes are a win away from the Conference Finals, and the Kings already there, we have to acknowledge a certain amount of luck, and or surprises in the NHL. Things just don't always work out the way they seem they should.
I am still of the mind that coaching is the best, easiest, and most efficient way to bring about positive change for the Blackhawks. The reasons for such thoughts being portrayed are in the past few years of this blog.
Coaching and goaltending have proven its worth this year in a great many ways, and the Hawks were lacking in both departments. Coach Q has even outed himself on a few ocassions, whether or not he meant to, by pointing to the inconsistency of his team, and the issues of players knowing their roles.
I believe that the Hawks have the pieces, minus a few subtle holes, but the pieces nonetheless to win a great deal of hockey games. Those pieces have not been moved effectively however, much like a novice chess player. But, Q is going nowhere, not yet at least, and so I propose the following shifts:
- Defense is my main priority as a coach right now, just before finding a big bodied 2nd line center. But, I am looking more at the cohesion between the forwards and defense rahter than the actual players themselves. Even so, I think a change or two is necessary. While I recognize the strength in the way teams like the Yotes, Preds, and Blues have found success, I do not think the same course of action is needed for every team. I do however agree that all teams should be built from the defense out. The Hawks used to resemble this, in that the breakout and transition game was a place of strength. This lead to puck-possession and allowed the forwards to do their thing.
- First off, the Hawks put a lot of faith and pressure on a young defensemen named Leddy. That gamble blew up in their faces and something has to change going forward. I personally saw Campoli as the better replacement for Campbell, but the Hawks did not, and maybe they screwed themselves here too. Leddy might come around with the extended off-season to bulk up, but I wouldn't bet on that. Leddy most likely needs a season in the minors.
- Filling this hole. I could see Oduya finding his groove here. He seemed fairly comfortable with the puck and even smart with it until facing the Coyotes forecheck. With more cohesion between the forwards and defense, this might not have been as effective against the Hawks, and so, I suggest keeping some faith in Oduya's ability to bring about a more effective game to the team. Hjalmer looked comfortable with Oduya, and I am not ready to give up on him yet. One more year for the Hammer to prove his worth. It really is a shame that Barker never worked out.
- But, because Q is going nowhere, I have little faith in leaving things the way they are. In this scenario, Oduya has to go and the Hawks need a physical D-man in his spot. Someone to protect our goaltender and clear the slot when needed. There are a few names which look promising out there, and my hope is that he would come from a team with a proven defensive system. Seabrook and Keith need to learn to play apart from eachother, and if split up, I see this: Hjalmer on the top pairing with Seabrook. Keith plays on the second with the new and proven physical D-man. Lepisto and Olsen make a promising 3rd pairing. If given more ice-time, I think Lepisto could be worth some 2nd pairing minutes as the puck mover along side a defensive minded D-man. This might be necessary if Q does not break Keith and Seabrook up. The most important factor is balance though. There needs to be less of a difference between the ice-times of the 2nd and 3rd pairings.
- And then there is Montador. The verdict is still out on this prospect of a defensemen, and I think he just adds a few options in the end. Q completely screwed up with him over his healthy time with the Hawks so there is little to feel comfortable about, even though he showed promise. He is aggressive, has a nice shot from the point, is seemingly useful on special teams, is known to be a puck-mover, and Q started him on a forward line (so there you go). He made some mistakes when guys were out and Q threw him out there, but I think these were isolated and comfort concerns. He is going nowhere given his health, and if he is healthy by next season, provides some options and maybe even a fall-back plan to above mentioned moves.
- All eyes are on Hossa's health which seems to be progressing badly. Let us assume he is ready by game 1 of the 2012-2013 season. If not, well, SB will be busy. Okay, what his present situation does merit, is some time with slightly lowered ice-time and a place on the 3rd line with Bolland as a shut-down unit. Let's face it, Hossa's days are numbered, especially with this hit. Even before it happened, we all saw him slowing down and losing sight of scoring goals. It is time for his ice-time to see a shift in the downward trend and I think his abilities on the 3rd line could prove successful in many ways for the team.
- The key to next season is balance. I loved what I saw from the Hawks in the final game against the Yotes, and it was the result of balance within the lines. IMO, not much has to change among the names up front, just a shift in pairings, and ideology. That's not say nothing should change.
- If the Hawks make any name changes it should involve grabbing a top 4 defensemen as mentioned above and a #2 center, because it is not Kane. A moment on Kane: He is skating on thin ice, and while I am not for trading him just yet, you can not overlook his meager performances of the past 2 years. He does however, have a skill set that is impossible to match and this gives him another year to make his mark. But, that does not necessarily give him an excuse when there are a plethora of players who could have posted his numbers while bringing a much larger physical and defensive element to the Hawks and for less money. For now, he stays.
- There are a lot of names being thrown around for the 2nd center position, and some might even come from within the house. Brandon Pirri is one of them. I am giving up on Kruger though, he just isn't a #2 center. But, neither is Pirri in most scenarios, as he is a playmaker and scoring center. Not totally the big and physical guy we have in mind. I still see him as showing lots of promise and would not put it past the Hawks to give him the spot. He is a better option than Kane. I have heard names thrown around, such as: Jokinen, Legwand, and even Jordan Staal (who would be an amazing grab, but probably not likely). Mayers stays put on the forth line.
- So, with the just mentioned names inserted into the #2 center spot, we roll on. The Hawks have a decent number of prospects that they most likely want to see a lot of in the NHL this coming year. Saad, Hayes, and Pirri are some, and a few others will follow closely behind. Hayes is a good name to switch with Bickell's spot. Bickell is on my chopping block even with his strong playoff performance and might even serve as a good trade. Shaw has obviously found a home until he just can't keep his level of play up anymore. Might be soon, maybe never?
- Focusing on the wings. I am expecting Hayes, and Saad as main stays, and we can't forget about Carcillo as much as I might want to. But, at the first sign of trouble, I say you get rid of him, no matter how much of a physical game he brings. Please stop suggesting Stalberg as trade-bait people, as there is no way you get anything remotely worth it in return. This is going to be his big year anyway. Ah, and then there is Frolik. I say he stays. His playoff performance just earned him another shot at figuring out his slump of slumps. Even when he is not scoring, he adds depth to the game anyway. And so, we have Sharp (also not trade bait), Hossa, Kane, Stalberg, Frolik, Shaw, Hayes, Saad, and Carcillo as the main names here. Kruger could be used as a 4th line winger, and of course there is Bollig the Barbarian as the muscle.
I will get to the real important stuff in a second, but first the line combos. Here is what I would do if i were the coach:Remember that balance is my goal.1st line: Toews centering with Stalberg on his wing. This showed promise in the brief exposures we saw of it and I think it builds towards that balance I mentioned. Other winger, most likely Shaw. you cannot overlook his ability to cause a commotion, get to the net, and put pucks behind goal lines.2nd line: Insert unnamed center here (preferably a power forward). Kane and Sharp are your wingers. Yep, I am not putting Kane and Toews together like everyone else seems to love. Remember, balance. Kane and Toews will be the quarterbacks of their lines and I still see more chemistry between Kane and Sharp. The power forward will win face-offs, and get in front of the net. (Switch Kane and Stalberg if need be)3rd line: Bolland and Hossa will create a dynamic duo like no other 3rd line has seen before. They will have Frolik as their buddy, even though Hossa and he play the same wing usually. This might cause reason for some small changing, but I see it working out pretty well. If Hossa is not healthy, Hayes and Saad might see more top six minutes than anticipated. We do not want to see Saad playing beyond his young capabilities though. Let's not pull another Leddy.4th line: Mayers centering either of these names; Kruger, Carcillo, Bollig, Hayes, Saad. I would make it Carcillo and Saad/Hayes most of the time.
Building Balance:More importantly than any of this, the Hawks need to show consistent and balanced efforts. They need a guy on every line crashing the net. We also need to see more balance among the ice-time. IMO, not one of these lines is too much stronger than the other, and that allows for more mobility, options and healthier, well rested players who can play a more physical game as a result.
There needs to be established roles, and players need to be comfortable in those positions. This will evolve out of consistency. Furthermore, the Hawks need to finally realize their long awaited system of play.
The System:There is no way the administration is ready to break up the so called "core," and I am not sure they should just yet. If they do, the first to go is Kane.With that said, the Hawks have a system that these names can work with and it is called puck-possession. But, just saying puck-possession does not mean a thing, so let me explain further.
With the balance in the lines above, other teams could struggle matching the Hawks forward power alone. This obviously depends on the performance of the players as individuals. The power, however, is in the relationship between the D-men and the forwards. With roles defined within the lines, and a defined center on every line, the Hawks will become a team that works a much more efficient breakout, and this is where it starts. They need to have a system for dealing with the trap, and for strong forechecks. There needs to be a player on every D-pairing that can move the puck when in trouble, but the Hawks should not rely on this. The center will be working the puck out of the zone preferably, and then a winger if that option is gone. None of this one scenario crap where a well placed forechecker throws everything off. Next year's team will provide support and support is key.
Build from the defense out, and use the neutral zone as the most important area of the ice. This will only be successful with constant movement and quick passes. Work it out during the extended off-season. Each line has a quick winger who can be the outlet pass out of the defensive zone, or the chaser when a dump-and-chase is necessary. Obviously, things happen and hockey is a quick game. The key is to have a system to fall back on, and the Hawks are way overdue for one. Be a team that wins games in the neutral zone with strong breakouts. They already are a "puck-possession" team anyway.
By staying in this line of thought, their does not need to be a huge shift in team mentality, game-plan, or names. Q needs to learn how to adapt their movements to each team, but if executed well, teams might be shifting to them. There is also less need for being overtly physical if you have the puck the majority of the game. In the end, I think a strong offense is fully capable of overwhelming these defensive teams we see winning in the playoffs, as long as there is support and a defense capable of dealing with the 3 strong scoring chances the Coyotes create within a game.
Save the power-play and save the world. Obviously, just fixing the power-play will mean a better place in the standings next year, and a 2nd round appearance most likely.
This already too long, but on Goaltending:In this scenario, I see Crawford fully capable of earning his keep, but that does not mean SB should stop looking. Strong goaltending is obviously winning games right now, and Crow is just not there at the moment, even though I think he is capable. If the Hawks can grab someone who proves to be huge in net, I think the Hawks have a great season. If not, then it becomes a toss up. This could even be worth a big trade.
That is one man's opinion anyway.
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