Hockey

Hey Everybody! An Old Man Full Of Himself Is Talking!

I suppose it will be a real sign of growth and maturity (or I’ve just gone on to do something real with my life instead of playing in this sandbox in adulthood) when I just let an interview with John McDonough slide by. But I’m not there yet, not by a damn sight. McDonough loves to talk, especially when the subject is himself, and these days he’s got a lot of figurative ass to cover. Especially if he’s going to survive a third-straight playoff-less season, or justify that season without the major changes the front office looks more and more like it needs. So he’s already starting, and as always we will stand as the gatekeeper. We can’t go through the whole thing, as his interview with The Athletic’s Scott Powers goes for two parts. But we’ll go through some of the “highlights.”

“We don’t compensate the players. The players come in. Because our players, like the Cubs’ players, they get it.”

Yes, well, I’m sure there’s no benefit to getting free suites in a five-star hotel for young men in their primes of their lives. Can’t imagine what it would be. Maybe it has to do with the reason Sox players used to call SoxFest “SexFest.”

Powers: Have you had a chance to reflect on that season, what that Cup team means to the city?

Well, I think that was kind of the lightning strike.

Yeah ok, there’s a lot to unpack here, or a lot to unpack to find all the ways McDonough is trying to give himself credit for when he was mostly along for the ride. I’ll do my best.

First off, the 2010 nostalgia tour that you’re going to see a ton of this season is understandable, but also extremely awkward. Because most of the core of that team is still here, and if you asked them they would tell you they’re not done trying to win Cups. If Marian Hossa didn’t have that skin condition, he would almost certainly be still playing as well. He probably isn’t comfy looking at his career in the past tense yet either. So it’s an odd celebration when in some ways, you’re still in that window.

I get it. 10 years is a nice round number. And it’s rare that the core of a championship team is so young (except the Penguins were too) so that they would still all be playing in the same place 10 years later. And hey, the Hawks very well might have to be selling something come February and March if this defense is as bad as it could very well be and the goaltending isn’t as good as we think it will be.

As for McDonough’s “lightning strike” comment, that’s a load of shit and he goes on to contradict himself like five sentences later. As McD points out literally in the next sentence, the Hawks did manage to go to the conference final the year before, were just about everyone’s pick to win, and even the year before that had barely missed out on the playoffs, which was the true lightning strike.

While it happened fast, the Hawks had sucked for six seasons or so and had accrued draft picks like Keith, Seabrook, Crawford, Bolland, Brouwer, Hjalmarsson, etc. Even before Toews and Kane capped it off, and they’re the most important picks no question, people were starting to notice the Hawks had a fair amount of prospects coming through.

And the regular season in our sport doesn’t even resemble the postseason.

This is a continuing theme throughout the interview, and it’s really frightening for what’s happening to the team now. Yes, the NHL playoffs are different, if only because of structure, but to say they have nothing to do with the regular season is false. Two of the three Cup wins for the Hawks were as division champs, one Presidents’ Trophy winners. The other they were a 100+ point team that watched Kane miss the last quarter of the season through injury in his first MVP-level performance. Generally, the best teams in the regular season kind of remain the best teams in June.

The Hawks seem to be banking on the notion that the Blues have somehow disproved all of this, because they keep saying it. Jonathan Toews gets it, because he’s the only one in the organization who has rightly pointed out that the Blues first half was nothing more than a massive underachievement. After their ’18 summer, the Blues were picked by many to be near or at the top of the Central, which they would have been had they gotten their head out of their ass before January. And thanks to the Jets and Predators, they were anyway.

The Hawks keep making it clear they’ve learned all the wrong lessons from what they think the Blues did or are, and this idea that they have to be heavy to get through the playoffs they very well might not make is going to take everyone down. Which it probably should.

I think one of the events that helped changed the course of the franchise was the outdoor game at Wrigley Field.

Oh do you now? You mean the event you strong-armed and pleaded with the commissioner to get?  You think getting that game had tangible, on-ice results later? Look, it was a fun day and a definite marker that the organization was finally taking itself seriously and the team was on the rise, but it’s a marker, not a direction-changer. How many ribs did you have removed for this one?

The importance of hiring Joel (Quenneville), how he was the perfect fit for all this. Bringing in Marian Hossa, that in my opinion, we don’t win three Stanley Cups without Marian Hossa. I don’t know if you win any. But you got Marian Hossa come in and Brian Campbell and other free agents that played a role, and other players that just emerged in the 2010 Cup team. It wasn’t just your primary players, you think back now and you had Andrew Ladd and you had Dustin Byfuglien and Colin Fraser and Adam Burish and all these guys who played a role, it was a significant role.

Funny how all the moves he was a part of are at the top here, where all the players that were drafted were here when he got here. And what did Fraser and Burish do again, exactly? I’ll hang up and listen for my answer.

That we’ve seen the game go in the last 10 years from being a heavier game, more physical game, fighting played a role in the game before, now it’s speed and skill, and it will probably at some point spin back again. 

No, it won’t, and you need to stop building a team that acts like it will.

So, you’ve got to make real good decisions, prudent decisions on the complimentary players, people that you know may not show up on the scoresheet every night, but they add a lot to your culture.

How’s that gone the past few years? The Russian judge just asphyxiated.

But we recognized, and we did recognize a few years ago, the conference is tougher.

You did? What have you done about it, then? You said a lot of things, we’re still waiting.

We talk about our process and our system every day, and I’m a real big believer that if you do have a good process and a good decision-making system, the wins are going to come, the results are going to come.

Here we go with this happy horseshit again…

It was difficult last year where obviously our penalty kill … we had a very poor season on the penalty kill. It was almost indescribable that we would be ahead in a game and relinquish that lead in many instances within 60-90 seconds or two minutes, and that kind of became a trend. And our penalty kill was just ineffective.

Y’know, all offseason the Hawks have addressed their problems on the kill as something that just happened to them, instead of rightly pinpointing that they had the worst defensive corps in the league and really haven’t improved it that much. Get better players, and you’d be amazed at how much better the kill would be. They think they can solve this systematically, and they can’t.

the St. Louis Blues had the worst record in the NHL on Jan. 1. That’s just the reality of our game. The L.A. Kings won the Stanley Cup a few years ago as the eighth seed in the conference. So, those things can happen.

Per my last email…

Over a period of time, he (Jeremy Collitoin  did a terrific job of earning the respect of our players.

Oh, I think I could find one that might disagree on that one…

I’m not even going to get into the soliloquy about the new scoreboard, but man is he taking credit for that like it’s a new signing.

The fact that we are able to tap into our season-ticket waiting list and they can fill that back up, I think that is remarkable and great credit to Jay Blunk and Chris Werner and their respective staffs to be able to come up with creative ways to do that.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, folks. They didn’t just tap into it. They burned through almost all of it, and another season missing the playoffs and you’re going to see some shit.

I don’t want to emulate other franchises. I want us to be inventors. I want us to be trailblazers.

This might be my favorite part. He’s talking about game presentation here, the arena experience. And anyone who is even close to the Hawks knows that when McDonough took over, in order to improve the in-game experience at the United Center all he did was follow the Hawks on the road and lift what he liked from other arenas. Even the new scoreboard is following a trend, as Tampa, Denver, and a few other places have brought it the Tyrana-scoreboard years before. McD doesn’t have an original idea anywhere in his body nor within arm’s reach.

When I mentioned to you earlier, what I’m seeing now more than ever before and it’s been an eye opener I think for everyone in our sport, the regular season and the postseason, they don’t resemble each other. The Tampa Bay Lightning were tied for the best record in the history of the NHL. They were swept. There’s a cautionary tale there. You almost need to have two different teams, two different styles, and that’s not easy. 

Again with this. It’s simply not the case. Playoffs are different but they’re hardly uncoordinated to the team you’ve built to get through the 82. What you need is a flexible team, especially when you’re really good, because in a series teams are going to try specific things to beat you that they’re not concerned with in February. The Hawks didn’t fundamentally change their ways when they won in the playoffs, they just turned it up. They could wade through trapping teams because of their skill and they could out-run-n-gun anyone who tried that (except for the Kings that one time) They never out-heavy’d teams. If you tried to be the Blues against them, and the Blues tried it once in that run, they just skated around you, got the puck up the ice quicker, and took advantage of all the odd-man rushes they had.

It feels like this organization’s brain broke when it comes to building a team, and McDonough is all too happy to showcase that.

Ok I’m tired now. Enough.

 

 

 

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