We’re at the half-way point of the Circus Trip and the Blackhawks seem to have put a couple of chastening losses (in Nashville & Denver) behind them to see off the Jets, Canucks and Edmonton. A win tonight in Calgary will guarantee a better-than 0.500 result from the trip to the West. Injured players like Michal Handzus and and Michael Kostka are returning to the fold, Marian Hossa is available again. Duncan Keith is in imperious form and Patrick Kane is on a record-equalling points streak. Tonight we will see backup goalie Antti Raanta make his first NHL start.

Yet for the last couple of days  Hawks fans on the internet, the blogs in particular, have been angry, confused and argumentative. The reason? Head Coach Joel Quenneville and his perplexing personnel decisions (and yes, I know that the decision to send Jeremy Morin to Rockford rests ultimately with Stan Bowman: we’ll get to that)

In summary, we have seen Corey Crawford playing in 15 straight games (coming in as relief against Nashville and being pulled in Colorado, playing 60 minutes the rest of the time); we have seen Jeremy Morin’s ice-time being limited to a paltry few minutes. We’ve seen Sheldon Brookbank on the wing far too often. We’ve seen Michal Handzus, on his first return after a long layoff, playing out of position as a 2nd Line winger and now restored as the pivot on that line, despite being clearly unable to keep up with Patrick Kane and whoever he is paired with.  Kris Versteeg can’t get any PK time despite being an accomplished killer and the Kill being in the league’s basement. There has been ludicrous line juggling, double-shifting and TOI totals. And finally a young prospect who is starting to find his feet in the NHL in a big way, despite being badly misused, is being sent back to the A.

The fanbase is baffled and unhappy and they’re not getting any answers as to why these things are happening. Hockey fans are smart (well, most of the ones I know are, anyway.. I like to forget that Puck Daddy Comments and Hockeybuzz exist) and Hockey blogs tend to reflect that: the arguments are well reasoned, the stats are parsed. The questions that we all have, as fans, are reasonable. For example: most of us know why it was Morin that was sent down to Rockford rather than, say, Bollig: Morin is on a 2-way contract and thus avoids Waivers. He also makes more money, therefore frees up more cap room.  We get it. The question as to why the hell anyone cares if Brandon Bollig is grabbed off waivers is a whole can of worms that I’m going to sidestep for now.

The rest of these strange decisions by the Coach? Well, your guess is as good as mine because no-one in a position to ask that question directly is doing so. Yes, I’m talking about the Hawks Beat reporters. The agents of the Fourth Estate in Chicago get a lot of flak, some justified, some not. I fully understand the position of a Beat writer. They are granted access to the team and staff and are therefore expected to not rock the boat. They are there to transmit whichever pearls of wisdom the Blackhawks organisation wish them to and that’s pretty much it. This isn’t Canada, where Hockey is the main thing and papers and media companies dedicate entire teams of reporters to follow their clubs. For the few column inches that they’re going to be allowed, regurgitated press releases and innocuous questions are the order of the day. But, that said, it seems like no-one is stepping up at pressers to ask that simple, three-letter word “Why?”

So, if the Beats aren’t going to ask the questions that need to be asked, who is? Right now it appears to be the independent blogs. The blogs have no access, no relationship with the team and, above all, are fans rather than professionals.  (This last point is important: while fandom does lead to emotion and a certain lack of objectivity it also means that the writer is fully engaged, passionate and immersed in the topic that they are writing about. It means more to them than just doing their job, the goings-on of the Blackhawks is part of their lives). The lack of press credentials and access also means that the blogs are beholden to no-one except themselves and their readers.  While that can lead to ill-informed garbage being espoused (naming no names) it more often leads to sharp, incisive analysis and questioning, seen at its best in places like The Committed Indian and Hockey Brunch in Chicago (We sometimes manage to find the odd acorn too!)

The question is, does anyone care? I’ve seen plenty of people on Twitter saying things along the lines of “Why are you always bitching? Q has won two Cups, you’ve never coached in the NHL, the Hawks are winning etc etc etc”. This is fair enough, up to a point. It’s true about the Cups, true about the fact that none of us have played or coached in the NHL. True that the Hawks are still a dominant team. But that fact absolving Quenneville (or indeed Stan Bowman) from any criticism or questioning of their actions? No. That’s egregious nonsense.

Aside from the fact that there is ample evidence to support an argument that the 2010 and 2013 teams won despite the coaching and plenty more to argue that the seasons inbetween were actively hampered by it; there’s an equally important side-issue. That has to do with how Hockey is covered in the media, and specifically the internet. We’re in the middle of a sea-change in terms of information: the internet allows Hockey (and sport in general) reporting and discussion in far more detail than ever before. It’s gone well beyong chatting at the water-cooler about the Sun Times article buried among Bears & Bulls coverage. There is hockey talk going on 24-7, on the comment threads of blogs & boards, on Twitter & facebook. There are websites dedicated to statistical analysis that are updated continously. Players and Teams are engaging on Twitter more and more (with, admittedly, mixed results). Whether this sort of saturation is a good or bad thing is a discussion for another day. What it does mean, however, is that the teams and League should realise that the old stone-tablets-to-Moses method of information distribution is no longer going to work. There’s a passionate, committed and hungry fanbase out there, and they are clamouring for more.

Do the teams actually care about this? There’s mounting evidence to suggest that they do. The Blackhawks under Jon McDonough have been trailblazers as far as engaging with their community goes. From the accessibility of players, to BlackhawksTV to, recently, inviting a number of popular (and many of them frequently critical and outspoken) Blackhawks Tweeters to a screening of 17 Seconds: the Blackhawks are showing that they are paying attention to what is out there. They may not be particularly thrilled about it but they seem to realise that they’re going to have to deal with it.

So, to my mind, it’s imperative that the blogs continue to be crtitical, argumentative and, above all, questioning. That they are not satisfied to accept “Q-Speak” with a shrug and a smile. That they get on the cases of the MSM reporters who baulk at so simple a question as “Why, Joel?”And that, even though none of us are professionals, we remain Professional, even-handed and fair. It’s a two-way street and those of us who write about the Blackhawks on the internet have a duty to ensure that we contribute to change the insidious image (as recently espoused by people around the Maple Leafs) of sweaty virgins huddled in basements, screaming our paranoid conspiracy theories to an audience of similar malcontents (that’s what HFBoards is for).