For the entire length of our existence, a valuable trait has been schadenfreude. We haven’t always needed it, but when we have the Canucks, or Blues, or Detroit, or Canucks again, then the Blues again, have always provided a hearty laugh. We’ve had other targets, but no matter how bad things get for the Hawks or how laughable they are for others, we can redirect that to someone else and have a good chuckle and go on about our day with a bounce in our step.
So let’s spend some time chortling at the existence of the Dallas Stars.
They’ve been in our crosshairs for a few years now. Mostly because for about three or four offseasons, there’s a legion of hockey writers who can’t wait to declare them and GM Jim Nill “winners of the offseason.” It’s like clockwork. One trade, or one signing, and suddenly there’s a puddle around hockey media members as they race to to be the first to decree, “THIS TIME THE STARS GOT IT RIGHT! CAN’T WAIT FOR SOME TEXAS BBQ IN JUNE!” Mostly, I’m guessing, because deep down all Canadian hockey writers are shit-kickers who just want an excuse to break out the cowboy hat and boots they keep in the closet and are desperate to wear outside of one week in Calgary.
Five seasons later, and just one playoff series win, and here they are, likely to not even get a chance to win a playoff series. But how could that happen when they hired noted genius Ken Hitchcock? Certainly the planets must be totally out of line for such a thing to happen! He was the final piece! Everyone said so! Because the Stars did an exhaustive coaching search, y’see, and they oh so creatively came up with, “Hey what about that guy who won here that one time like 15 years ago?”
So how did it end up here, five points out with five games to play even after last night’s OT win over the Flyera? Well, you probably have to start with the goaltending, which has put up a combined .902 SV% in March. That’s not going to win you a lot, as you probably know around here.
And really, who could have seen Ben Bishop’s .911 last year, his .905 in March of last season, and that Tampa was so fond of him they couldn’t wait to shove the job to Andrei Vasilevskiy at the first opening to do so, and conclude that maybe Bishop didn’t have it anymore? Certainly not Jim Nill! And look, the guy who spent three years fucking over the Stars by ignoring the goaltending situation has fucked it over by actually paying attention to it! It just gets better!
Like all Hitchcock teams, the Stars definitely keep it tight in their own end but are hardly expansive in the other. While they’re second best in terms of expected goals per 60 against, they’re 16th in expected goals for. That’s a team with one of the best top lines in the league and hardly bereft of talent farther down the lineup with Spezza (though old), Faksa, Janmark, Shore, and a couple others. At least that’s what they’ve told us season upon season now. And yet past the top line there isn’t a forward with more than 40 points. Hmmmm…who’s the GM who drafted and/or keeps this young talent they keep bleating about that keeps getting them beat, I wonder?
So as always with Hitch’s teams, keeping it so close means your goalie had better match your defensive leanings, and probably be better. Just like Jay Gallon in St. Louis, when the bottom drops out on that there is no answer. Because they’re certainly not filling it enough to counteract some wonky goaltending. At least Lindy Ruff managed that once.
Boy, I can’t wait to see how Nill wins this offseason.
-As we nearer the end, and the broadcast keeps shitting on Brandon Saad because he seems like the easy target (or Adam Burish threatens to fight him, which I’m sure would end with Saad turning Burish’s face into silly putty), I have this really uneasy feeling the Hawks will trade him and get to use “cap relief” as the reason to keep anyone from looking at it with any measure of scrutiny.
Let me just share this with you. When it comes to individual even-strength scoring chances per 60 minutes, Brandon Saad is 12th among forwards. 13th on that list? CONNOR FUCKING MCDAVID. Brandon Saad, himself, is getting slightly more chances per 60 minutes than the best player on the planet. When it comes to high-danger chances per 60 minutes, Saad ranks 10th among all forwards. 9th on the list? TAYLOR FUCKING HALL. A very likely Hart finalist is only slightly outdoing Brandon Saad when it comes to getting really good chances.
Now, it would be folly to suggest that “finish” is purely luck. It is not, but it’s too simple to say, “He’s not scoring enough,” when we can dig deeper and see why he might not be scoring enough. As we’ve said all season, Saad’s shooting percentage has bottomed out, Even a return to last year’s 11.4%, instead of this year’s 7.9, would see Saad with 25 goals right now. And assuming the power play could ever get the toad out of its ass it might be closer to 30.
Saad could simply repeat this season, process-wise, have his SH% spike to 13 or 14% because he got to see a couple more hungover goalies than this season, and be a 30-35-goal guy and then we’d get all these “redemption” stories.
Trading Saad when his value would be at its lowest, unless a monster return, would be monumentally stupid. Remember this when the Hawks now invariably do so.