It was always going to end like this. It shouldn’t have ended like this.
You knew from the summer on it was going to be some kind of American Gladiator obstacle (or do I say Titan Games now?) for Joel Quenneville to finish this season. The Hawks hadn’t won a playoff game in two years, which in some ways is eons in this hockey world and also how the Hawks see themselves. There had to be a turnaround and quickly.
For that turnaround, Corey Crawford had to return and not be rusty at all from jump street (hasn’t happened). Every young kid on the roster would have to take at least a step forward, if not a leap (incomplete there). Every veteran would have to rediscover some kind of form from three to four to five years ago (Toews yes, Saad sorta, Keith no, Seabrook whatever). And they would have to do that for 82 games. Well, we’re at Game #15 and you know how it’s gone.
Better yet, let my compadre Matt McClure sum it up best:
It is possible to believe the two opposing ideas that it was probably long past time to move on from Quenneville and also that Quenneville got sandbagged by his GM and deserved a better ending.
— Matt McClure (@Matt_McClure_) November 6, 2018
It is kind of clear that Q never quite adjusted to what the NHL and how his roster fit into that had become. And we can debate whether or not the Hawks tried to change how the defend in their own zone this season, though with how bewildered Keith has looked at times there obviously have been changes. But the game’s speed no longer allows for the intricate exits the Hawks perfected when they were the league’s leading light. Even if it did, the Hawks don’t have the players with the precision to pull it off. And yet for most of the past two seasons, that’s what they’ve been trying to do. You see the results.
These days, it’s not really about that. It’s get it out and get it up, and have your d-men follow in behind. Unless they can do it all themselves like the pack in Nashville or San Jose can. The Hawks don’t have that. But they’re trying neither. The last three years have seen teams with blue lines led by Nate Schmidt or Brian Dumoulin or Matt Niskanen play for Cups. You can take your lack of depth back there out of the equation if you play it right.
That doesn’t mean if the Hawks emulated what the Penguins or Knights did in style they’d be good now. What was clear is that what the Hawks are doing doesn’t work and they have to try anything else. Q isn’t about trying anything else. And really, why would he? His ways have gotten him just a fair amount of silverware. He might tweak things here or there, but massive changes aren’t his bag. They never needed to be.
It’s deeper than that. The Hawks are way too easy to get through the neutral zone on, and with the speed and exuberance they have at forward, that shouldn’t be. The power play we could go over, and yes the Hawks won in the past without one, but this team needs one and the coaches have never had an answer for it. It’s why there’s a new personnel grouping every opportunity. They’ve been throwing shit at a wall for years.
There’s more. Don’t think the treatment of players like Michal Kempny doesn’t factor into this. There’s no way it didn’t absolutely enrage Stan to see what Kempny became in DC and there being utterly no excuse for him to not be used here. Connor Murphy’s early treatment might also fall into this category. Scratching Nick Schmaltz after being stuck on a line with two bozos for a run of games could fall here as well. Do we want to go through the TVR Experience again?
They won’t say it, but you could see where the veterans might need a new voice as well. The constant line shuffling the past couple years seemed to only generate eye-rolls from Toews and Kane and the like, at least on the ice. Seabrook’s determination to be in the best shape over the past few years wouldn’t suggest locked-in focus, would it?
That doesn’t mean Q is all to blame, or even close. I’ve become a house-clearing guy (not the Ed McMahon thing, you ninny) for a while now. To me, the extension of Jan Rutta and signing of Brandon Manning at all are fireable offenses on their own. But reasonably, there’s only so much you can do with this roster. There are maybe four NHL d-men on this team. One is 19. One is a fading legend. One is Seabrook, and the other is Erik Gustafsson, who in reality is a #6 on any team worth a shit. That changes when Murphy is healthy, but no one seems to know when that will be or what that will even look like with a back injury in tow. Ask Dave Bolland how that tends to go, and he wasn’t 6-5.
There are what, seven NHL forwards? Toews, Kane, Saad, Top Cat, Schmaltz, Anisimov (barely)…Kampf? We can say Kahun based on what we’ve seen, but there’s a long way to go before that’s official. Again, there wasn’t much to work with.
What I won’t do is what the Kings and their fans claimed after John Stevens got axed, and that the problem was the team was lifeless or the like. The Hawks never did look like they didn’t care, at least most of the time. They just looked like they were running a playbook from another era of the NHL, which basically they were.
Jeremy Colliton has a near-impossible job as well, and I can’t even begin to think what the bar for success the Hawks have in mind for him. He’s going to have to sell what he wants and quickly to Keith (who is older than Colliton), Seabrook, Crawford, Kane, and Toews, and you can’t find a more accomplished group of veterans anywhere in the league (outside of Pittsburgh, and there’s only three of them). If they’re not on board, you’re pretty much fucked. He has to get a raft of young players to play above themselves to make anything of this season, having never done so in the NHL. He’s only been in the AHL a year-plus.
Still, this is a team that could do with just something different. You could see the boredom and familiarity with their play at times the past few years. I imagine Dylan Sikura is up soon, and when he is, it’s not like the forwards are slow. Get Schmaltz back to center, get up the ice and let’s just go.
It was obvious where this season was heading. This was the one trigger to pull to try and head it off somewhere else. After what Joel Quenneville accomplished here, he clearly deserved a better ending. But coaches, in any sport, almost never get those. Down the road, in a few years, he’ll get his banner night here. And the ending will be forgotten.
It was always going to end like this, because it almost always does.