Musings

Empty Calorie Fun

Maybe I’m getting old, but I feel like I have to put a disclaimer at the front of every post that will probably turn out negative. I used to be much more confident in my cynicism. Maybe I’m just trying to be happier as I hurl toward death. Either way.

Let me state that it’s much more fun to watch the Hawks win. Much like any wrestling fan will tell you, things are better when there are stakes and you’re not merely completing the schedule. The fact that the next few Hawks games, and hell, maybe even the rest of them, have something riding on them is enjoyable. I’d really rather this than a full-out tank, simply because the Hawks could never full-out tank and yet they still could finish near bottom of the conference. That might sound hypocritical from someone who was all aboard the Cubs tank and rebuild and also is kind of fascinated to watch the White Sox one. But that’s baseball, where both teams were easily able to flog whatever player they wanted for whatever they could get. Can’t do that in hockey. So whatever. Last night was probably the most fun game of the season, though the Oilers have something to do with that as well.

But what’s most important is that the front office, and maybe the coach, see what exactly is going on here. And though I know better than to think I’ll glean whether or not that’s true from what Stan Bowman says to the press–because he’s highly guarded and not all that eloquent–let’s just say I’m not encouraged.

Take this from Monday’s article at The Athletic from Mark Lazerus (closer than you know, love each other so, Mark Lazerus…) about whether or not the Hawks should have fired Joel Quenneville sooner and what Jeremy Colliton could have done with the extra time. This quote isn’t strictly about that, but when talking about the team now this is what Bowman had to say…

“He said they’re not as bad as their record suggests, that if they had been playing all season the way they’ve been playing the last eight weeks, they’d be ‘right there.'”

In one sense, I guess he’s right. The Hawks in the last seven weeks are 12-6-4. That’s a 104-point pace. Hey, that’s nice! Good even! But as you all know, I’m a process guy. This is hockey. Any team can spasm a run of results anywhere and for just about any reason. I want to know what I’m seeing is sustainable. So…is it? Well, no. Not even close. It’s the same story it’s always been.

Since December 17th, when the Hawks second eight-game losing streak ended and this 12-6-4 one started:

Corsi Percentage: 46.1 (28th)

Scoring-Chance Percentage: 44.3 (29th)

High-Danger Scoring-Chance Percentage: 38.7 (dead-ass last)

That’s not just bad. That’s legitimately terrible. At even-strength, over the past seven weeks, the Hawks have been one of the worst even-strength teams in the league. So how did they get this record? Well that’s easy. Over those seven weeks they’ve got decent goaltending (.926, good for 12th), have shot pretty damn well (9.7%, good for seventh in the league), and of course, the power play.

No, I don’t mean to just dismiss the power play. You can power play your way to a lot of things. The Jackets did it to the playoffs a couple seasons ago. The Sharks used a power play to get to a Final in ’16. The goals still count. But even the power play, process-wise, has only been ok, and nowhere near what its results are. Yes, I get it. It’s a results business, and with Kane, DeBrincat and a suddenly nuclear and Fels-powered Gustafsson, the power play should always out-result its process. But I want to know that these results can last. So over the past seven weeks, the power play…

Shots/60 – 55.9 (7th)

Scoring Chances/60: 50.5 (13th)

High-Danger Chances/60: 17.0 (23rd)

So the power play isn’t creating chances and good ones anymore regularly than middling. What it is doing is burying the chances it gets, at a ridiculous clip of 28%. Over the past seven weeks, the second-best shooting percentage for a team on the PP is Ottawa at 21.6! That’s seven points! That’s the same difference between second and 11th!. To give you some idea of how ludicrous the marksmanship on the power play has been, last year Pittsburgh led the league in PP SH% at 17.0. The year before that it was Montreal at the same 17.0%. Sure, any team can put together a hot couple months. But this 28% just isn’t going to stick around, and there’s nothing to support it when it flattens out, which it simply has to.

Ok, let’s try and find something positive here. It’s stupid to to look at just five games, because any team can do anything over five games. But maybe it’ll be the base for something. Maybe we’ll look back in April with this as a starting point and say that’s when the Hawks started to turn it around structurally. That’s when their even-strength play started to match their play on the man-advantage. So fine, over the past five games:

Corsi Percentage: 48.1 (23rd)

Scoring-Chance Percentage: 46.6 (23rd)

High-Danger Scoring-Chance Percentage: 44.3 (24th)

Nope, still blows! The Hawks, even during this streak, have been a subpar defensive team, and even their goaltending ranks 15th over this limited stretch. What they do lead in is shooting-percentage for these couple of weeks at 13.5. Again, that won’t last.

Look, I want to believe just like you. And teams have stretched out goofy percentages and habits for longer than this. Way longer than this. And maybe Delia gets hot again to even some of this out, or Corey Crawford returns the conquering hero on March 1st and does even better. Stranger things have happened.

And that’s being a bit cold. There are some things in this streak that do portend to a brighter future. Like Dylan Strome, or Top Cat proving not just he’s a top-six scorer but a genuine top-line scorer. Saad and Kampf (before he got hurt). Connor Murphy has been able to take top pairing/dungeon assignments. It’s not a barren wasteland.

But overall, this is pixie dust. And while you would never, ever hear Bowman or Colliton say this (great seats still available!), my fear and expectation is that they genuinely believe something ingrained has changed here. And it hasn’t.

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