Since going 10-2-0 in the last 12, there’s been more swagger and flexing about the Hawks’s playoff prospects. If the Hawks win tonight against the Avs and Sunday against the Stars—two of four teams directly above them in the wild card race—they can more firmly entrench themselves in a wild card spot. If nothing else, this run has been fun.
But as we’ve talked about ad nauseum, none of the numbers flesh out a team that you would think should even be sniffing the playoffs. Their current-22 goal differential would be the worst among playoff teams by far, and it’s an improvement over what it was earlier. Since December 18, which is when the power play first started taking off, the Hawks have had a +13 goal differential, which is pretty good. Prior to that, it was -35. In four of their last five, they’ve allowed at least four goals, including four to Detroit and seven (fucking seven) to Ottawa.
Even if you only look at the stats beginning around the time when everything started getting hot (December 18; 16-7-3 since then), shit isn’t pretty.
- They’re second worst in 5v5 CF% since that time, ahead of only New Jersey.
- Their high-danger CF% of 39.70 is deadass last in the league, behind even the woeful Kings (42.36) and Ducks (43.97).
- Their scoring chances for percentage (SCF%) is worst in the league at 43.33.
- Their shots on goal for percentage (SF%) is second worst in the league at 46.31, ahead of only the Edmonton Oilers, who are less a hockey team and more a Big Brothers of America for adults that Connor McDavid is not allowed to opt out of.
- In that time, Delia and Ward have posted a .920 SV% between the two of them at 5v5, which is excellent albeit unsustainable (given the horrid shot totals), and .908 overall, which is fine.
These are just a few of the stats that indicate that the Hawks should be a lottery team rather than in the thick of a playoff run.
So why the fuck is there a whisper from none other than Elliotte Friedman that the Hawks could go after Artemi Panarin as a rental?
At the top, let’s be clear: Friedman himself admits that that would make absolutely no sense whatsoever and it’s just what he heard. Anyone who’s watched this team since the middle of December can tell you that the Hawks aren’t hurting for offense. Since December 18, the Hawks have the best PP% by far and the second-most total goals (105 vs. the Sharks’s 111). They’ll have three 30-goal scorers (maybe four if Saad keeps his pace up) and likely two 40-goal scorers in Top Cat and Garbage Dick. If anything has worked, it’s been the offense.
This infatuation with Artemi Panarin, especially as the deadline approaches, is the most asinine thing I’ve seen since Stan Bowman signed Brandon Manning to a 2-year, $2.25 million per deal last summer.
Generally speaking, I get the desire. Panarin was awesome while he was with the Hawks. He was fun on the ice and in 2015–16 helped launch the Hawks to the best PP% they’ve ever had since The Core conglomerated. He’s currently on pace for 80–85 points, which would make an already dangerous Top 6 for the Hawks even more deadly. As Sam has said (and I’m starting to admit myself), the Hawks lost that Panarin–Saad trade, even if Saad is still good. But what can Panarin do for them on offense right now that Alex DeBrincat isn’t already doing? I get that you can never have enough scorers, but at what cost?
Assume Columbus is willing to send Panarin to Chicago for the right package. What does that look like? You have to figure DeBrincat is absolutely in there. They’ll likely want top-end prospects, like Strome, Boqvist, Beaudin, Harju, and (not or) Barratt. Maybe you can convince them to swap Boqvist or Harju for Gustafsson; the specifics aren’t terribly important. What is relevant is that if you want Panarin at the deadline, there’s no way you’re getting him and keeping DeBrincat and at least two of your top prospects.
That would be moving backward or, at best, standing still, because DeBrincat has been close to if not better than Panarin at scoring this year. DeBrincat has more goals than Panarin, both total (33 vs. 24) and on the power play (10 vs. 6), with just five more games played. He has more power play points total than Panarin (21 vs. 14). Panarin bests him in assists (43 vs. 28) and total points (67 vs. 61). Although Panarin’s possession numbers are pristine, if you think those would carry over in Chicago, then I’m the wallet inspector.
Panarin would be a fantastic piece on a team that isn’t allowing 35+ shots per game. As fun as this run is, it’s exceedingly unlikely that the Hawks can outscore their defensive woes against teams with real goaltenders and defensive schemes, as we’ve seen in the losses against Columbus and Boston. And that’s all Panarin would really provide: a hope that he can outscore the mistakes the blue line constantly makes. Are you willing to bet DeBrincat plus prospects, picks, and probably more on a run that, in any other year, would have the Hawks out of a playoff spot by 10 points or more? I’m not. This playoff run is fun, but you don’t go chasing Panarin for it, especially not for the price he’d likely command in top-line talent and prospects.
Once this Russian Roulette playoff farce ends, we’ll have all the time in the world to talk about signing Panarin as a free agent. I’ll preface those discussions with a hardline “No, thank you,” at least until the Hawks have exhausted all options at a top-4 D-man, whether that’s through a signing (EK65), a trade (Dougie, Hampus), or miracle development from Boqvist and Beaudin.
This team is still closer to bad than good, and Panarin doesn’t move the needle enough, especially not now. They need a top-4 D-man or two. They either need Delia to step back up, Crawford to step back in, or continue to get a .920+ from Ward. None of those things involve Panarin. So, ride this out with what you’ve got, try to trade guys like Artie and Hayden, and if the NHL’s blob of mediocrity pushes the Hawks above it all and into the playoffs like the overripe zit they are, that’s gravy.
The confidence is fun. The swagger is fun. This whole run is fun. But it’s all in the context of how awful October, November, and most of December were. When you look at the difference between then and now, it’s easy to mistake a cock ring for a 36-inch chain.