Since it's summer, and nothing is really happening in Blackhawk land, I figured it was time for this summer's first mail bag (not to be confused with male bag. That's a different blog).
Readers of this blog, Twitter followers, and Facebook people chimed in with their queries. Here's what they had to ask.
Sarcastic Mike - My wife is somewhat new to hockey fandom, which has led me to think about some of the basic tenets of the game as I try to explain their reason for being to her. This has led me to wonder: why Pests & Agitators are so effective in hockey compared to other sports?
In basketball I can think of numerous guys who get the label of “love to have him/hate to play against him” because they are essentially pest-like, even if they aren't called that. But I generally perceive that to be a secondary or tertiary attribute and not the primary attribute or even skill that it occasionally is treated as in hockey. Is this due to the fact that a penalty that they can goad someone into is more valuable in hockey (Powerplay) than in basketball (Freethrows)? Is my perception of this issue just wrong?
JZ - I wouldn't say your perception is wrong, necessarily. Since the game of hockey changed after the last lockout, the traditional "goon" has been phased out of the league. To play in the modern NHL, "pests" must be able to skate as well as throw down in fisticuffs.
Let's take a look at Andrew Shaw. A pest to the fullest extent. When it comes time to play hockey, Shaw is more than capable. Remember, every NHL player, at some point in their hockey life, has been the best player on the team, the leading scorer, etc. It's the guys with lesser skill sets that learn to adapt to the physical play to stick around.
As far as comparing them to other sports, it's tough. Goals are much more valuable than the one or two points a basketball team could get on a free throw. Of course, if you don't score on said powerplay, it's meaningless. It's a good question. Long story short...I don't know because I don't watch basketball.
Mike - With Stephane Waite moving on to be the Canadiens goalie coach, should I be concerned, or am I over-thinking his influence due to the successes of Crawford and Niemi?
JZ - Waite had been the Blackhawks' goaltending coach for a long time, so it's nearly impossible to measure what his impact was and what his departure will mean. Obviously, coaching continuity is a good thing...especially when it's working. Like you said, the Hawks have had success in goal with Niemi and now with Crawford. Is it the goalie coach or is it the Hawks' incredible defensive depth? I tend to think it's the defensive corps, but I guess we'll find out when the season gets here.
Chris - Could you please shed some light on the lack of (and I hate to use this word but) innovation when it comes to changing their "in game" style when the Hawks cannot use their speed to gain the zone? Seems that they get so flustered and understandably so, however, I think that there would be a game plan or option B as their go-to. Does that happen to the majority of NHL teams with speed? Could you also try and help me to understand why looking for lanes and one good shot trumps putting the puck on net as often as you can during a PP?
JZ - Like you, I found myself getting frustrated at times watching the Hawks zone entries, especially on the power play. I wouldn't call it a lack of innovation. I'd call it pig-headedness. In reality, it's probably just patience. The Hawks, as they showed this year, are the best team in hockey. Teams can defend them for only so long. Look at the Detroit series. They played the Hawks tougher than any other opponent on the Cup run. They almost won the series, but the Hawks stuck to their style, and it wore the Wings down. Detroit couldn't play perfect for an entire series. That's what the Hawks force their opponents to do.
The power play is a different story. The Hawks seem to have trouble simplifying the game. Constant attempts to skate the puck in to the zone, as opposed to dumping the puck, retrieving the puck, and setting up the power play were maddening. I'm certain they aren't coached this way. It's just skilled players doing what they do best, but it can be easy to defend. Just line up at the blue line, and poke the puck away.
The power play would look much better if the Hawks did a better job at winning faceoffs, especially in the offensive zone. Winning that draw to the point means your power play is already set up. When the faceoff is lost, it kills at least fifteen seconds off the clock, and forces them to get set up, which has been their biggest problem.
Connor - With around $2 million left in cap space, do you see Stan Bowman making anymore moves this offseason?
JZ - Trying to read Stan Bowman is incredibly difficult. He's pretty much gone on record and said "this is my team." I have no reason to doubt he's telling the truth. Cap space is valuable. When the trade deadline approaches, it will allow the Hawks to add a key player if they feel it's necessary. As of right now, I don't see them making any moves of note.
Matt and Adam - Which prospect do you think plays the biggest role in the upcoming season for the Hawks and why?
JZ - Brandon Pirri. He will get the first crack at the 2nd line center job, and I'd be shocked if he doesn't win the job. Pirri lead the American Hockey League in scoring last season, and is as ready as he'll ever be. He has more skill and speed than Marcus Kruger and Michal Handzus. That 2C slot is the right fit for him.
Aside from Pirri, I'd expect Ben Smith to get a look as a full time 4th liner and penalty killer. For all intents and purposes, he's the new Michael Frolik. Sure, he's not the most offensively skilled guy, but that's not what the Hawks need on the 4th line. I think he slides in to that role seamlessly.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to write a question. If yours didn't get in this one, keep your eyes open for Volume 2, coming soon. If you'd like to submit a question for next time, send an email to email@example.com.
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