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Bury My Heart At Michal Kempny

It’s something of a spring tradition, at least it is when your team doesn’t go anywhere or misses the dance altogether. There’s always a player or two or six who make it to the Final and some of those even win it (funny how that works). And you sit there and curse the brainpower of your local/favorite organization, and are convinced if only they saw the world they way you saw it, there’d be a never-ending parade. Often, this involves a player you didn’t even like when they sported the colors you prefer, and what you often do is lament that your coaching staff doesn’t know how to get the best or even good out of said player.

The case of Michal Kempny is a little more tasty than that.

Most players don’t get a 180 from one Edward Olczyk. And yet that’s what we had last night, as Eddie lauded Kempny’s performance in Game 7 and throughout the playoffs, and remarked he was more comfortable in Washington because he knew “one mistake wouldn’t mean getting benched.” That certainly wasn’t the theme in the booth when Kempny was here, and Eddie wasn’t alone as pretty much everyone covering the Hawks leapt to point out his foibles when the coach was basically throwing him under the bus. And the mistakes weren’t always there.

There is more to unpack here than the untrained eye might guess. And we’ll get to all of it. But let’s not bury the lede.

Michal Kempny’s resurgence, or I guess simply “surgence,” with the Capitals would raise the curtain or lid on what was and might still be a dysfunctional system between the Hawks front office and behind their bench. While we try and guess or claim we know what goes on, it’s probably safe to conclude the Hawks always try and reach a consensus. They have many voices in there, Bowman and Quenneville are the two biggest, but MacIassac and Maciver get heard as well (Irish much?), as well as Kelley, the elder Bowman (even if he’s what they’re moving Sue over at the Field to display), Stewart, Hallin, et al.

Still, Kempny was a player that Bowman clearly wanted, given that he signed him twice, and their European scouting recommended. As as we’ve said in previous posts, the Hawks’ European scouting is probably the strongest of the three areas (pro and amateur the others). They had clear plans for Kempny.

And yet he could never win any affection, or barely attention, from Quenneville. We rarely saw him in anything more than a third-pairing role, even though this was a blue line that’s been screaming for mobility for two seasons. He even played with a snarl in his own end that Q supposedly loves. Kempny only played more than 18 minutes with the Hawks five times this season, and he exceeded that six times with the Caps in just a quarter of the season, basically. In these playoffs he’s exceeded 20 minutes five times, with only one of those being an overtime game. It is clear that Barry Trotz is not a moron, so what does he see that Q couldn’t.. or more to the point, wouldn’t?

We had written at many points last year how Kempny’s pairing with Seabrook, despite all logic, actually worked. The dude carried a 58% share with Michal Rozsvial for fuck’s sake! He clearly had use.

And yet he was another player that the front office, whoever were his fans and whoever weren’t, had to toss overboard because they knew simply the coach would never give him a chance. And because of that, they had to know he wouldn’t re-sign here and had to cash in whatever they could. Most players the Hawks have lost over the years were due to cap considerations, but their coach’s use and view of them always played a part. And for the most part, the Hawks have gotten it right. Kempny now, Teuvo this season are generally the exception of who’s gone on to be successful. And we’ve written this article before.

It’s the sideswipe from Olczyk that makes this more interesting, however. It’s not something we’ve ever heard, and there’s been no bigger water-carrier for the organization and how it sees its players than those in the booth. From protecting Marcus Kruger in his rookie year to the over-the-top criticisms of Teuvo to the shielding of Seabrook this year, to his one-man band that basically handed Duncan Keith his second Norris with the Leddy-bashing thrown in, this list could go on. Where Eddie was getting his info is up for endless debate, but clearly this one didn’t come from the coach. Does Eddie perceive a less secure Q, one that he doesn’t have to cozy up to quite as much now? Does he just disagree with his methods more than he did?

If I can put my tin foil hat on–the sun is out after all–I’m curious what Eddie is getting at. Sometimes I wonder if Eddie hasn’t looked at Q’s job with envy, and wouldn’t mind positioning himself in line should it finally become open. But that seems far-fetched, though he’s stated his desire to try coaching again. Perhaps he just became frustrated, like a lot of us, at the handling of the lineup on a nightly basis and couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe he’s just like a lot of fans who want to criticize after a season gone wrong, even if it involves players he himself criticized when they were hear and now the winds have shifted. I don’t really know.

What we can do is be wary of how things are going to go from here. Because the Hawks aren’t going to get older, and they’ve said as much, as far as how they want to develop the team under the aging core. Sure, they may make a splash or two in free agency this summer, but the fortunes of this team are still greatly dependent on Schmaltz, Top Cat, Sikura, Ejdsell, Duclair, Hinostroza, Saad, Murphy, or at least whoever among them sticks, to go along with other kids through the system and signed out of Europe (Ian Mitchell and Jokiharju would be the two names at the top of that list). And at the very least, Eddie is pointing at a disconnect in how the front office and scouting wants players developed, and how they’re actually getting used and developed.

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