Crunch Time: Tough Topics At The March Round Table
It’s been a busy few weeks for the Men of Four Feathers: a losing streak, a winning streak, injuries, rookie call-ups, goaltenders and deadline trades have all kept Blackhawks fans on the edge of their seats.
While taking a break from the mayhem, the boys from Cheer The Anthem sat down early this week to toss around their opinions on these subjects, as well as traffic on the Edens, acetylene torches and the Bermuda Triangle in the March edition of the Round Table…
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Newly-acquired defenseman Johnny Oduya is holding his own so far. Will he bolster the Blackhawks’ defense enough for them to make the playoffs? And should the team sign him for next year?
Jeff Bartl, Founder and Lead Writer: Oduya was damned before he even put on a ‘Hawks sweater, so anything the Blackhawks get out of him is a plus. He got beat badly on a goal against the Blues the other night, but I haven’t caught myself — or others — cursing Oduya’s name since he’s been acquired. A substantial pay cut could have him back next season, but that probably depends on the health of the current D-men under contract and how ready the youngsters are to handle a full season.
Tim Currell, Contributing Writer: Oduya’s acquisition was met with a lot of derision from the blogosphere, but I think this is a dramatic improvement to the defensive corps, something we needed badly with the playoffs looming. Face it: Steve Montador is doing more to help the team on Injured Reserve than he was playing; and having John Scott and Sean O’Donnell play 8 – 10 minutes a night was never going to do the trick. Oduya has the skills, and he’s doing the job we asked him to. Is he the Savior? I don’t think anybody is saying that he is. Will he do a better job than his predecessors? No question.
Jim Nakis, Contributing Writer: I fully expected Oduya to be a disaster, so I have been pleasantly surprised so far. As for next year, who knows? Let’s see what he does in the playoffs. One thing is for certain – if he comes back he isn’t getting anything remotely close to what he is making right now.
Chris Deme, Contributing Writer: Let’s go with the 2nd half of this question first: if Oduya is willing to take a pay cut, then yes. $3.5M is his current cap hit. He’s not worth that. There’s a fair amount of defence available in UFA/RFA this summer. Now as for the playoff thing? I don’t think Johnny Oduya is the key to this team making the playoffs. As we’ve seen over the last month, the special teams success is what makes this team better/worse than its competition. Johnny Oduya may be part of that, but he’s not wholly responsible. That said, he’s playing well since he came here. Hope he continues to do so. (This team is making the playoffs.)
JesusMarianHossa, Contributing Writer: The Hawks will make the playoffs. With or without Toews. It will take another complete meltdown (see: 9 game losing streak) for them to not make it. Oduya is a very pleasant surprise defensively. He generally moves the puck well and adds depth, something the Hawks have needed with Niklas Hjalmarsson’s injury. It’ll be interesting to see what Head Coach Joel Quenneville does when Hjammer comes back, as far as shifts and time distribution goes. Should the team sign him next year? Maybe if he takes a 50% pay cut, which isn’t likely.
Coach QStache appears to have chosen Ray Emery as his go-to netminder for the home stretch. Good move, or bad? And does this give Emery a chance to get signed to an extension?
JMH: Emery in the net is the correct move. Right now, the Blackhawks need consistency. Emery has been far more consistent than Corey Crawford so far this year. Coming down to the home stretch, the last thing a team needs is inconsistency in the net. Does Emery have a chance to get signed to an extension? Sure, but it all depends on what the ‘Hawks do this summer and how they address the Crawford situation.
Jim: I don’t even think I agree that Emery has been chosen as the ‘go to guy’ the rest of the way. Since it became apparent that Crawford had problems this season, Q has gone with whatever goaltender has sucked the least and let them play until they started to suck too horribly to throw out there again. Each goaltender has taken turns at blowing their chances. If Emery takes another 5-goal pounding on Friday it could very well become Corey Crawford’s crease again – until he blows it. There is ZERO chance of Emery getting an in-season extension. ZERO.
Tim: I think it’s a good move, as everything we’ve seen from Crawford so far indicates that his mental game — so important for his overall performance — is shot to hell. He needs to take the summer to get back in the groove if he expects to be Chicago’s number 1 goalie again. As for keeping Emery, that’s a tough one. I’m going to chicken out and say that it depends on who else is potentially available, and how Emery does down the stretch.
Jeff: I agree with Nakis on this. I don’t believe Emery has a clear lock on being the starter the rest of the way. There’s a wide-spread thought that teams need to commit to one goaltender heading into the postseason, but why commit to one or the other if neither is showing they can carry the load? Confidence? Overrated in my book for these guys. Both Emery and Crawford have had their stretches to take hold of the job, and neither have done it. You can’t blame Q for switching off when neither is consistent enough to keep it going for long stretches. With that said and Alexander Salak likely to be ready for next season, we may be seeing the final games of Emery wearing the Indian Head.
Chris: For better or for worse, it’s Ray Emery’s crease. I still think this team, long term, will need Crawford to get back to his form from the last half of the 2010-11 season if they want to make consistent runs. However, right now, this is Emery’s job to lose. Crawford had a nice 3-4 game stretch when we ended the skid but he reverted back shortly thereafter. We’re likely to see Q go from winning goalie to winning goalie. Hopefully he doesn’t yank either of them after just one loss though. For this team to have any chance of making it past the 1st round, one of the goaltenders will need to get on a roll. As for an extension, I doubt the recent play has swayed Stan Bowman one way or the other. Emery is a back-up goaltender. A good back-up goaltender, but a back-up nonetheless. If he wants to accept back-up money for 2012-13, then I’d welcome him back. Nothing more than 2 years at a time though.
The Blackhawks have 6 rookies on the roster heading into the last month of the season. How do you feel the kids are doing, and can the Blackhawks make a serious playoff push with one-third of the lineup so inexperienced?
Tim: I think the rookies run the gamut from the roster guys like Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger down to what I feel are placeholders like Dylan Olsen and Andrew Shaw. I don’t feel that Kruger is living up to the expectations the organ-eye-zation had for him at the outset, but he’s young. Leddy is a hit-and-miss player, as we’ve seen. More hit than miss lately: he’s less noticeable on the ice, and that’s a good thing. He was getting recognized for all the wrong reasons. Olsen and Shaw (and for that matter, Brandon Bollig and Jimmy Hayes) aren’t committing egregious errors, but are also not standing out. Bottom line: if all 6 are still on the active roster on April 8th, we’re in trouble.
JMH: The rookies have had a huge impact this year. They are skilled and can bring a lot to this team going forward. Their inexperience is bothersome going into the playoffs, where discipline and experience rule all. They will certainly be faced with a big test.
Jeff: Coming into this season, the Blackhawks were being lauded for their depth after Bowman’s signings and the growing amount of solid prospects in the system. The two have come together a bit too soon for one reason or another, and the rookies who aren’t necessarily ready to be in a full-time, big-club situation are the ones providing the depth – or lack thereof. There’s no question the kids have played admirably given they were thrust into this position — though maybe not used wisely enough by Q — but expecting a long playoff run with this much inexperience likely will have you let down.
Chris: I’m not terribly keen on the idea of how many greenhorns are currently playing regularly for the Blackhawks. I’ll continue to rain on the Andrew Shaw parade because he’s a fourth line player and should be treated as such. Hayes can be valuable, perhaps on the checking line with Bolland and Stalberg once the Captain gets back. Bollig, he’s a warm body, not a difference maker. With the addition of Oduya and the play of Sami Lepisto, I’d have to think that Olsen will be playing in the Calder Cup Playoffs with Rockford should Hjalmarsson recover from the brown brain adequately. If I’m counting Leddy here, he’s the only rookie that’s actually going to have an impact on the playoffs. It’ll depend on who he’s paired with just how big that impact is.
Jim: I’d rather not be in this situation. Can the Blackhawks really win a Stanley Cup with 2 rookie defenseman? I don’t believe so. Shaw is a 4th liner who Q seems to tremendously overvalue. Hayes is a nice player who isn’t getting more than 5 minutes a night. Where was he last night when it became apparent that St. Louis was going to hit everything in sight? Not only are they rookies – they are rookies who aren’t being used properly. It doesn’t look like a very good situation from the outside.
The biggest loss to the Blackhawks right now is the absence of Captain Jonathan Toews. If his injury keeps him out for the rest of the regular season, can the Blackhawks make the playoffs with the team they have now?
JMH: They’ll make the playoffs, sure. Their tenure there will be about as short as this answer.
Jeff: I can’t envision the ‘Hawks missing the playoffs no matter what, but that just may be my optimism blinding me. And because of that, I also can’t envision Toews being out for the season. If that happened, he’d miss roughly 22 straight games, meaning he probably isn’t ready for the postseason either. He’ll get back, but how far the Blackhawks can go with or without him won’t solely depend on him anyway.
Jim: The Blackhawks are going to make the playoffs with or without Jonathan Toews. Period. If he isn’t back by the opening round, they will probably last about 4 or 5 games.
Chris: Yes, the Blackhawks will make the playoffs. If Toews doesn’t come back, they won’t make it far though. Toews is the glue that holds this team together. That’s why he’s the captain. The Hawks will need him to make a serious run. I don’t see them getting past the first round without him.
Tim: Looks like I’m the odd-man out here, but I don’t feel the Blackhawks get into the playoffs without Toews, and they’ll have a hard time getting there even with him back in the lineup! The threshold for the 8th slot in the West last year was 96 points — high compared to the previous 3 seasons, but not a stretch to think it’s going to be similar this year. The Blackhawks have 16 games left, and they’re 17 points shy of that number. Can they win fully half of their games down the stretch? They’re 7-10-1 since the All-Star break. Sorry, you guys are a lot more optimistic than I am: at this moment, my prediction is that the 5 of us will spend April wondering how things could have gone so horribly wrong.
The Blackhawks power play continues to be atrocious, with the team converting a mere 15.9% of their chances on the year, and getting worse quickly. In the last 10 games the ‘Hawks are 3-for-32 (9.4%!) and they allowed 2 short-handed goals against on top of that. What needs to be done to fix this calamity?
Jim: The Blackhawks treat the slot area like it’s the Bermuda Triangle on the PP. Personally, I’m growing a bit tired of having 2 forwards down low on the line. Teams know the back door pass to Sharp is coming. Just do something — anything — different!
JMH: The biggest problem the Blackhawks have on the power play is their inability to get the puck into the zone effectively. A troubling trend that I’ve noticed is the puck carrier will bring the puck to the zone, while his teammates are standing still on the blueline. This can’t happen. They need to move into the zone in unison. This is why they make sloppy, rushed passes and cough up the puck all the time. The Hawks need better movement to get guys in when the puck goes in, otherwise they will continue to have no success on the power play.
Chris: The way they’re executing it has been better over the last handful of games. There’s more movement, guys aren’t just standing around playing catch on the perimeter. I’d still like to see more work being done behind the office since the Hawks have so many skilled passers on this team. Behind the net and (successful) criss-cross passes in front work well for this club. When we have two skaters in front, the puck is worked behind the net and then out to either a centered forward at the goal-mouth or back to the point for a quick shot is where we’ve been seeing most of our success lately. The key to all of this? It’s not that hard. It’s what you likely encounter on the Edens every day around 5pm.
Tim: Why try to re-invent the wheel? 2 years ago the Blackhawks power play was as dangerous as a 3-year-old with an acetylene torch, and there are teams out there now who are making it look easy. Am I missing something, or is this not as simple as taking a winning formula and practicing it over and over until attaining proficiency? Alternatively, can we just have four of our guys TACKLE four of their guys, and let somebody go one-on-one with the goaltender for 2 minutes? At this point that may be the only thing they haven’t tried.
Jeff: The ‘Hawks seem to be pulling the Statue of Liberty play each time they have the man advantage. Lots of standing, lots of nothing overall. The main problem, though, is the zone entry. How many times have you seen a Blackhawk attempt to skate the puck across the blue line through four other ‘Hawks standing still and the oppositions killer massed along the line? That’s just not going to work, fellas. The key is movement even before entering the zone. Get it deep before players come to a complete stop at the line, or trail the puck handler entering the zone and charge the net. The zone entry is the biggest problem, seeing as setting up any sort of play on the PP has become a rare thing.
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About the author
Tim spent Saturday mornings playing street hockey in suburban Toronto before moving to Chicago at age 11. He played amateur hockey in Chicagoland through high school, got his B.A. in Communications, then wasted 7 years as a news/talk radio host. Today he tinkers with computers and web sites and yells at the TV a lot.
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Tim - great idea on the four players tackling the four penalty killers and letting someone go one on one with the goalie. Now we're talking. I'd like to say poor marsmanship is also a problem, but it seems like the biggest problem is zone entry. Have you ever seen a March schedule as brutal as this one. We tend to play an inordinate amount of Division games in March. Unfortunately our division is insanely competitive right now. hell the damn Blue Jackets have beaten Colorado and Phoenix and lost 3-2 to Phoe in the last three games. we will survive though, we will survive