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Atop The Sugar Pile – All Star Break Edition

With the weekend-long bacchanalia of sponsors and meaningless events now upon the NHL season and no actual Hawks game until late Wednesday night at Staples, now is as good a time as any to take a look at where things stand.

The Dizzying Highs

  • Patrick Kane – For the last five years, the hew and cry from every corner of the globe has been to get Patrick Kane a real center to allow him to perform the dark arts away from Jonathan Toews. And Stan Bowman thought he had done so in signing Brad Richards to a reclamation project deal for one year at $2 million fresh off a buyout from the Rangers. Despite all of the fluff pieces of the instant chemistry Richards and Kane professed to have during training camp, it took Quenneville about a month into the season to finally do what was meant to be done, and since then Kane has done nothing but tear the competition apart. Kane currently leads the Hawks in both goals and assists, and currently sits third in the league with 51 points (22G, 29A). Kane is on pace to well surpass his career high goal total of 33 in 2010, as well as his point total of 88 also set that year. The Hawks themselves also achieved something of not that season as well.
  • Duncan Keith – While Keith’s scoring numbers are down coming off his second career Norris trophy, that’s mostly been a function of the lack of secondary assists this year as opposed to last which is mostly a function of luck. Keith’s underlying numbers however, are as good as they’ve ever been at 31, controlling 57.3% of all shot attempts when on the ice at even strength, his best number since 2010 as well at 57.4.  That mark is also tops among defensemen averaging 17 minutes a night at evens (there are 29). Among that same set of defensemen, Keith also leads by a mile in shot attempts per 60 minutes of ice time with 69.7, the next closest being Dougie Hamilton at 63.9. Yes, he is facing the softest competition of his career. But as has always been the case, as Keith goes, so go the Hawks. And to get that level of drive from their most trusted defenseman puts them in a highly advantageous position.
  • Kris Versteeg – Anyone who thought a) Kris Versteeg would be among the league leaders in points per 60 minutes at even strength, or b) his pending return from injury will be what finally stabilizes the Hawks’ forward lineup is completely full of shit, ourselves included.

 

The Terrifying Lows

  • Johnny Oduya – Yes, it’s piling on a bit at this point, but given that Nick Leddy’s ceiling was given up on for Johnny Oduya’s floor, as well as being charged until recently with the top assignments of the opposition, he’s a bit of a focal point. Oduya sports a team-worst 49.7% Corsi share among regular defensemen, which would certainly qualify as “one of them good problems” relative to the rest of the league. But a deeper dive into Oduya’s numbers shows a 33 year old defensemen with a ton of hard miles in the last couple years possibly starting to slip. His primary partner, Niklas Hjalmarsson has recently been moved up and paired with Duncan Keith late in games to try to stem tides of possession, and a look at Hammer and Oduya’s numbers together show why. When on the ice together, the Swedes have a 51.0% share, but Oduya away from Hjalmarsson dives all the way down to 46.2%, whereas Hammer improves to 55.0% away from Oduya. This has resulted in a 7.5 attempt per 60 minutes on the ice increase from last year for Oduya personally, and contributed heavily to the Hawks now surrendering nearly 6 more attempts this year as opposed to last. This isn’t to say Oduya’s washed up, far from it. But being able to find a suitable replacement in the trade market (Petry, Sekera) and moving him down to the third pairing would prove advantageous for both the Hawks as a team and Oduya himself.

 

The Creamy Middles

  • Brad Richards – As was mentioned above, Richards was brought here to help provide depth at center after the Hawks were outclassed in that department by L.A. in the Western Conference final. And there was some skepticism even by Quenneville at Richards’ ability to handle the responsibility after some recent post season fades. But frankly, a blindfolded glass of orange juice would have been an upgrade over what was left of Michal Handzus, and Richards has provided exactly what has been expected of him since he and Kane were paired up. Richards is above water in possession (if slightly below the team rate), and is scoring at a pace per 60 minutes far closer to his point-per-game mark in Dallas than his forgettable tour on Broadway. It remains to be seen if he’ll have enough left in the tank this spring, but to this point he’s delivered on his bargain contract.
  • Corey Crawford – While there will assuredly be jokes regarding Corey Crawford’s credentials in deserving to be an All Star aside from playing for a ballot-stuffing fandom, thruthfully his play prior to his injury totally warranted such an honor, and even had him the conversation as a Vezina finalist even if Pekka Rinne is going to win that in a walk. In the first two months of the season Crawford produced .926 and .929 save percentages, only to fall down some steps to .887 in December. But he’s rebounded nicely thus far in January to .920 under a barrage of shots he hasn’t been used to facing. Particularly exemplary has been his work on the penalty kill, sporting a .910 while shorthanded and keeping the Hawks’ PK the tops in the league. And if Crawford’s current .921 overall save percentage holds true from here on out, that should be more than enough to backstop this team the way it was designed.

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