round table aliens

With our podcast schedule in flux due to life and whatnot, the fellas here at CtA decided to put together a three-part round table that starts with the regular season, taps into the playoffs and looks ahead to the offseason. We did this figuring we’d spare you from one 500,000-word post.

I’d also like to introduce our newest contributor, Tom Pauly, who is extremely knowledgeable about hockey and is just as demented as us. Basically, he fits right in. Give him a follow on Twitter @ThomPauly, and also be sure to check out his hilarious other venture, The Full Amonte.

All right, on we go.

1. What do you think you’ll remember most about the 2013-2014 regular season?

Adam (@SouvenirCity) – I promise not to be a downer during the rest of these questions but since this is about the regular season I’m going with the first thing that popped into my head. Unfortunately it is negative. I was at the loss to Winnipeg, the only time Chicago dropped a game to the Jets in the regular season. It was 40 minutes of total domination where the Blackhawks only put one past Pavelec. Then, they somehow gave up three goals to a woeful Winnipeg offense in the final frame. It was the most frustrating game I’ve attended in the last 5 years save for Game 6 vs PHX in the 2012 playoffs. It was really a microcosm of all that we bitched and moaned about in the regular season. Blackhawks dominate opponent, somehow come up short at the end of the game. Games against Colorado and Nashville really hammer this theme home. If you want a positive memory it’s the home game vs. Boston. I went to that one with Nakis and it was one of the better games of the season while also being tremendously entertaining for all involved.

PM Sellers (@lexpatriate) – Since I don’t live in Chicago, I don’t get many chances to see the Hawks in person, so attending the final home game against the Blues was special. It was also my little boy’s first hockey game, which he still talks about. I got choked up during the anthem that afternoon. My father-in-law is aces for setting that up.

Helps that we won that game handily, without Toews and Kane. We love to pick the Hawks apart but they are special. Its good to have that afternoon to look back on right now.

Pauly – What I remember most regarding 2013-2014 is being, at times, both incredibly confident and frustrated. During the West Coast swing in November it seemed like the Hawks were unstoppable. I was confident in them beating anyone. Fast forward to December when they went 8-12 on the month but lost 8 of those 12 games in either overtime or a shootout. It was frustrating to see them drop 8 points in extra time in a matter of weeks. Those 5 of those 8 points puts them in first place in the Central Division at season’s end.

This in-between feeling ended up injecting itself into my thoughts on the playoffs, as well. I never felt like this Blackhawks team was playing consistently at their highest level. Some games they looked like the Red Army team playing against Finland in the 70’s. Other games they looked like District 5 playing against the Hawks.

I think if you looked at the standings at the end of the year and then the roster, you’d be hard pressed to find an excuse for why the Blackhawks didn’t run through the regular season like they did last year. It’s mind-boggling and it just adds to the “missed opportunity” narrative that should undoubtedly describe this season.

Bartl (@BartlSTATS4) – I wanted to go off of my gut for this one, and the first thing that came to mind was Patrick Kane being an absolute monster to start the season. He scored in the first three games and had 16 goals and 26 assists from Nov. 3 through Dec. 28 while registering at least one point in 26 of 27 contests in that stretch. If not for a dry spell in January and had he not gotten hurt at the end of the season, he easily would have surpassed his career high of 30 goals (he finished with 29). Of course, we all know what he did in the playoffs.

MightyMikeD (@brightblack76) – The main memory will be one of disappointment: to have come so close, with the Rags ripe for the sweeping.. but specifically I remember when Kane was right behind Crosby in the points chase and Duncan Keith was second in the league in assists and the Hawks kept scoring six goals a night,  just before  Crow got hurt.. It felt like last year all over again.

Nakis (@jimnakis) – I’ll most likely remember this as the one that got away. A season where high expectations simply weren’t met. Were there positives this season? Hell yes. Beating St. Louis (especially the way they did) in the first round is something I’ll remember for a long, long time. But let’s cut the bullshit here, mostly I’ll just remember Kent Simpson.

2. Do you think the Olympics affected the Blackhawks negatively? Do you want to see the NHL continue to send players to the Olympics?

Adam: hard pass

Sellers – I’m an unapologetic booster for NHL players in the Olympics. Olympic hockey turned me into a hockey fan back when it was only “amateurs.” It’s even better now. Did it affect the Hawks in a bad way? I don’t see it, since what I consider their glaring flaws (2C, wasted roster spots) aren’t due to the Olympic participation of ten guys.

 

Olympic Beats

Only downside of Olympic hockey is that we’re now saddled with American Hero(TM) T.J. Oshie.

Oshie

Pauly – I don’t think it affected them any more or less than most of the other elite teams in the NHL. The good teams that were in the playoffs sent a bunch of guys and I’m sure they were all feeling it too.

I’m torn on Olympic hockey. I love it. I think it’s awesome to watch the best players in the world compete against each other for a few weeks. Ideally, though, I’d like to see a World Cup. In my dream scenario there would be two, one-week breaks for international play during the NHL regular season. There would be some kind of divisional or regional tournament every two years in the offseason. Nations would have to qualify for the World Cup, much like in soccer. It would take a great effort from the NHL and the IIHF to make the World Cup something that is important, not just some dumb tournament in the summer that features Justin Abdelkader captaining Team USA.

Bartl – The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in an Olympic year in 2010. That’s all I’m going to say.

Mike – No. I really don’t think those few games, played at half the pace of an NHL game, really hurt anyone. There was always far more danger of Hossa getting hurt in a game in a mid-season game in Buffalo than there was in Slovakia vs Slovenia. I don’t like the olympics in general, so screw them. I’d be happy for players to go to a IIHF World Cup, even mid-season.

Nakis – On the one hand, I didn’t think guys like Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa slowed down. You certainly don’t pin the Kane injury on the Olympics.  On the other, Patrick Sharp, Michal Roszival and Michal Handzus seemed to return completely different players. Who the hell knows? My instinct is to think that having 11 guys there was probably not helpful.

3. We all liked the Kris Versteeg trade when it happened due to Florida absorbing half of his cap hit, then he turned out to be a major disappointment. Looking back, how would you summarize this trade?

Adam – I gamble on sports. The Kris Versteeg trade is that parlay you put down, probably moneyline without the spread, that just seemed like a no-brainer when you handed over the cash for the betting slip. Then, you’re watching that first game where the line is actually -300 in your favor. Suddenly, the team’s best player gets hurt. Then, they morph into a turnover machine and screw up some special teams plays. That’s the Kris Versteeg trade. At the time, you thought it was a stone cold lock. In hindsight, you clearly wouldn’t have done it. It doesn’t mean you didn’t make the correct play based on the odds from the outset.

Sellers –

Versteeg

Pauly – Meh. I don’t see Jimmy Hayes being much more than a ceiling 40 point guy. He didn’t fit here and he wasn’t that great in Florida. Olsen on the other hand might end up being a pretty good defenseman. He was rather good in slightly sheltered minutes in Sunrise and I’m excited to see what happens with the 23 year-old. It would not be a reach to see him end up with a better career than Nick Leddy. But again, he didn’t really fit here either.

Obviously, Kris Versteeg sucked with the Hawks. He subjected us to horrific warmup music and even worse performances on the ice. He was a trainwreck. Bad. A terrible addition.

I don’t buy the “he wasn’t fully healthy” bullshit either. Your knees don’t make bad decisions. Kris Versteeg stinks and if he wasn’t well-liked by teammates and management I’d feel a lot more confident that he’d have never been back. We’re gonna get stuck with this turd, I feel.

Bartl – I drove Nakis home from the UC the night the deal was made. He got out of the car to go in, and before I could leave the driveway he ran back out shouting his delight for how the Blackhawks re-acquired Versteeg. I shared in that joy. It seemed win-win, given the money that still was going to come out of Stan’s pocket. In hindsight? Listen, I understand he was coming off knee surgery. But had this trade not been made, a player like Jeremy Morin could’ve seen more ice time and we wouldn’t have had to deal with Versteeg largely fucking up the entire time he was here. I don’t care about Hayes or Olsen, but the heartburn Versteeg caused me makes me bitter.

Mike – Hey, I was in Chicago when that trade happened! It’s all my fault! I can’t fault Bowman on this, because it looked like a steal at the time. He wasn’t to know that Versteeg would be utterly shit. I also don’t buy that his carrying an injury (although he may well be) is the reason for his poor play: his decison-making, anticipation and general awareness have been the problem, not his knee.

Nakis – I like the fact that Stan and Co. identified a need and aimed to do something about it early in the season. Kris Versteeg was a familiar face who appeared to fill that need. Who in their right mind could object to trading a kid whose dad appeared to be steering him the wrong way and another who simply couldn’t skate for a 2010 STANLEY CUP CHAMPION?

Maybe it’ll turn out that he really was injured and provides depth scoring next year. I’d rather see him in Winnipeg.

4. We saw the roller coaster that was the Blackhawks’ special teams this season. Rate the PP and PK.

Adam – The powerplay still disappoints me. A team with the resources that the Blackhawks have at forward shouldn’t struggle as much as this one did and has over the last several seasons. I’m not qualified to determine if this is a coaching error, deployment of personnel problems, schemes… whatever. There’s too much firepower on this roster for the Hawks to go 15 powerplays without a goal, or worse, 2 minutes with an extra skater and fail to record a shot on goal. For me, zone entries on the powerplay need to be remedied because once the Blackhawks get into the zone they typically find some form of success.

The PK? It’s the one place where Michal Handzus demonstrated his worth all season. It allowed guys like Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger to continue to develop as quality bottom six players. It’s the place where once again Marian Hossa recorded a goal for his 5th consecutive season in Chicago*. Quenneville is a defence first coach. This unit prospers because he knows how to direct it. He should be given credit for its successes later in the season despite early struggles. Same goes for the playoffs, just reverse the order.

* – 3 SHG and 4 PPG for #81. Feel like the gap should be wider here, no? Speaks to powerplay deficiency.

Sellers – The Hawks PP was middle of the pack, even with a PDO of 104.5. At 19.5% their offensive fire-power neighbors were Philly, NJ, Columbus, and Nashville. Not cool, man. I give them a D if, for no other reason, that this has now become a perennial issue for a team that shouldn’t have this problem.

I think last year’s PK dominance was unsustainable but led us all to readjust our expectations, even if we knew better. Still, this year was disappointing. Did you know that Buffalo (Buffalo!) had the same PK% as the Hawks? And that’s despite Chicago post a shorthanded Sh% 5.7 pts higher than the Sabres. And look, I know the PK was going strong at the end of the season, but still. C. And yes, I’m grade-deflating this subject.

Pauly – The aggressive-ish wedge PK that the Blackhawks eventually went back to in January-ish is a system that works well with higher skill players. It’s what made that system perfect for Chicago and by the end of the year it was nearly impossible to score against. Proper adjustments were made, and it ended up being quite good, despite being the 19th best in the NHL at season’s end.

The PP was, at times, unstoppable. At other times, a complete disaster. It was perfectly average, which is not anywhere close to good enough when you have Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith at your disposal. This needs to be top-3 next year or it’s a failure.

Bartl – I still find it pretty crazy how the ‘Hawks went from third in the NHL on the kill last season to 19th in 2013-14 with largely the same personnel. It was a sheer debacle at times this season. I understand the loss of Frolik could have something to do with it, but that big of a dip seems plain odd to me.

The PP has been confusing me for years given the unbelievable amount of offensive talent this team possesses, yet they can’t seem to score at a regular pace when the other team has one less dude out there. They were shut out on multiple power plays this season by the likes of the Islanders, Hurricanes and Jets. Again, heartburn.

Mike – I think both were consistent all year (PP consistently poor, PK consistently decent) Special teams stats get messed around with by outliers (like the first game against DC where they scored on 4 out of 6)  so are untrustworthy. The kill only really got exposed by LA who have the weaponry to do so: mainly their D-men loading up and firing through screens. Other than that, it worked well, forcing shooters to the periphery and pressuring the puck carrier. As for the PP.. it was mediocre at best. Zone entry remains the issue. If the Hawks win the face off and keep it in, good stuff tends to happen. If not, it becomes a clown college when they have to carry it in. And when you see the Hawks dumping it in on the PP, you know they’re shit out of ideas.

Nakis – The PK was fine even when Brandon Bollig was on it. That means you have a good PK.

The PP? I still don’t understand how a team with probably four of the top thirty or forty players in the world can suck so horribly. Whatever, Teuvo will fix it….

5. Joel Quenneville’s roster management. Discuss.

Adam:

Q hot dog

Sellers -

Roster

Pauly – This is going to take an entire article. To keep it short, though, I’ll say that I believe the Blackhawks got as far as they did in spite of some of their head coach’s decisions. I think Q’s ego got in the way of icing the best lineup every night. For the most part, from a shift to shift basis, there are few guys that can hang with the Mustache. With that said, there were obvious lineups that were detrimental to the success of the club. Specifically, I’m thinking of moments where Sheldon Brookbank and Michael Kostka dressed at forward. Some of that is on Bowman, but I’ll have something much more longwinded to say on that topic in the near future.

Bartl – desk flip

Mike – Awful. Putrid. I’m sure everyone else will go into the details of the bigger missteps, but even small stuff that, while they were Bowman’s moves, were clearly at Q’s behest, like exposing Ryan Stanton to waivers when some value could clearly have been had for hom. Ditto the 8-D-men/Mike Kostka scenario. Q’s little quirks have already denuded the Hawk’s depth. He either has to get with the program as regards bringing on young talent or he’s going to have to have his toys taken away from him.

Nakis – Brandon Bollig closing out games? Bryan Bickell getting seven minutes a night for no good reason? Mike Kostka playing forward? Peter Regin not playing at all……

There’s a long list of grievances this blog has that the readers of this blog undoubtably know. The real question for me revolves around the guys who didn’t appear with the club as expected this year.

Were the Blackhawks really playing hardball politics with Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin and attempting to depress their value before free agency? Or was it that Joel Quenneville couldn’t find a spot for these guys in a lineup that featured Kris Versteeg, Brandon Bollig and Michael Kostka on some nights? We don’t ( and can’t) know the answers to these questions, but if the truth leaned heavier toward the latter, I’d have to say that Q did the team a disservice.

The “good coach” debate is usually awful because the term is simply too broad. Joel Quenneville is without a doubt one of the best teachers of the game in the sport today. His teams typically remain composed and competitive even when things look incredibly bleak to everyone else. We’ve only really seen him out-coached one or twice in the now sixteen playoff rounds that he coached. Those are attributes that can’t be ignored or dismissed. However, the flip side remains. He will sometimes make lineup decisions that baffle the mind. What is the balance here moving forward?