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You Can Go With This, Or You Can Go With That

Engine Engine Number 9, On The New York Transit Line…

Sorry, the point here isn’t to quote Black Sheep, as much fun as that would be. All season, we’ve documented the problems with the Hawks’ defense. Myself, McClure, Jen have come here and trotted out various numbers to demonstrate Oduya’s decline, Rozsival’s inability to move, and the various problems with Rundblad.

Essentially, the Hawks have three top pairing d-men, which is good. All of Keith, Hjalmarsson, and Seabrook would comfortably be on the top pairing of most if not all NHL teams. They also have three bottom pairing d-men in Oduya, Rozsival, and Rundblad, and that’s probably being kind to Rozsival and Rundblad who almost certainly should be rotating in as #6 or #7 d-men. Tim Erixon is now the new Kim Johnsson, and is dead.

So the solution is, or the need is, the Hawks need a d-man in the middle. They don’t need a top pairing guy, but they need someone to bridge from the top to the bottom. It doesn’t look like it’s on the roster. After two seasons playing into June and an Olympics, it’s unlikely that Oduya is going to rebound to anything close to 2013 or even last year’s slightly less glittering form. Rozsival? Forget it.

Rundblad is a more interesting study. It’s obvious what his skills are. Big shot, good passer. Rundblad’s problem is that he’s insistent on making a pass. And when he’s under pressure, and his forwards aren’t giving him an option, he’s going to wait and wait for that option to present itself, all the way until he’s swallowed up by a forecheck. His other problem is he just doesn’t have the feet to open up additional passing lanes for himself. He’s got the one when he picks up the puck, and that’s about it. I’m not sure that’s ever going to change, and if it is it’s going to take more time than the Hawks have right now.

I suppose the Hawks are praying, and I mean seriously offering sacrifices and and saying Our Fathers constantly, that Trevor van Riemsdyk solves this. And I suppose you can foresee in the playoffs that TVR provides a more solid platform for Keith than Rundblad, Seabrook and Hammer continue to be solid enough, and Oduya is just used as the 5th guy as when we get to the playoffs Q usually only rolls with five D anyway. I suppose that’s not totally farfetched.

But you can’t count on it. The only other stretch I can think of within the organization is calling up Dahlbeck, have him play centerfield for Keith, and TVR-Oduya is your third pairing. But A) the Hawks would be carrying 9 d-men then and B) there probably isn’t enough time in the season for Q to find any comfort with Dahlbeck (but I still really want to see what he can do with a mobile partner instead of what he got earlier in the year).

Which means you have to go out and get one, and the options we’ve gone over and are not plentiful. Jeff Petry? Not sure he moves well enough to up the mobility on the blue line. Andrej Sekera might, but it’s not clear that the Canes are actually going to move him. The real hail mary and take a shot with Kimmo Timonen? I don’t know.

Whatever the solution, the only way the Hawks can do this is by losing something off the roster that’s more than a minimum guy. And the only two candidates are Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger. I guess technically it could be Oduya too, but they’re all-in with him.

You may think this is part of an anti-Shaw campaign I’ve been waging all season, and I guess I can’t totally avoid that. And part of this is still clinging to the utter fantasy that the Hawks will come to the conclusion that the rest of the world has, Andrew Shaw is not a center. Because he isn’t. He doesn’t have the defensive awareness and it robs him of his aggressiveness in the offensive zone. He’s just more active on the wing. But if you finally declare him a wing, you come to the conclusion that the only open wing spots are on the 4th line. And 4th line wingers are not supposed to be what comes between you and a parade.

Long-term, you’d only be losing a little more of Shaw than you might normally be, because he has to be a candidate to be purged for cap reasons in the summer. You simply can’t re-sign him after next year for the $3 million or so he’d get. So you have to cash him in for assets in the summer anyway.

Yes, that leaves a hole at center, and if you’re not convinced Teuvo can take that over now I’m not going to stop you. But even if he’s not, you could slot Kruger on the 3rd line with Ben Smith on the 4th and I’m not convinced you’re that much worse off. Yes, the fear of losing someone effective on the wall and around the net for the playoffs, which Shaw can be, is worrisome. But he’s none of those things as a center right now.

Kruger would be the bigger loss, but might have more value. His penalty killing is a more valuable skill than Shaw’s work on the power play, which could be replaced by Smith. Kruger hasn’t bee used exclusively as a checking center this year as he was last, but that’s still in the bag. If he were to go, Smith would have to take over that role and while he has the brain for it and the strength, he doesn’t have Kruger’s skates. Kruger is also the cheaper of the two, and if and when he’s re-signed this summer he shouldn’t cost much more than he does now at $1.4 million.

Shaw’s $2.0 million cap hit should clear up just enough space to bring in a more expensive d-man with a contract that runs out in the summer to provide any flexibility. The Hawks have to decide, and kind of right now, what’s more important: shoring up their defense or holding onto either Shaw and Kruger. Considering they’ve just given up 65 shots combined to the Yotes and Canucks (neither are going to be playoff teams), I think the answer is pretty clear. But we know they don’t.

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