Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chickens Come Home to Roost

Before the playoffs even began, I tried to stay positive because many of my friends see me as an eternal pessimist.  I tried to keep my negative comments stifled, for the most part, but I HAD to tell someone all the reasons why I thought the Hawks wouldn't make it far in the playoffs this year.  Sometimes I hate when I'm right.

From the outset of the year, many voices around the league identified the Hawks' lack of a second-line center.  In previous years, Patrick Sharp was a decent center, but after having great success at wing last season, it was hard to justify moving him from that position.  With little cap space to make any improvements, the Hawks had to look internally for a second-line centerman and found Patrick Kane.  Much to the surprise of many (including myself), Kane was very productive at the beginning of the year, with the Kane/Hossa pairing making many forget the traditional Kane/Toews pairing.  However, as time wore on, Kane's success wore out and the Hawks only answer to replace him was the questionable signing of Brendan Morrison.  As a result, the Hawks suffered from a lack of puck possession, with Jonathan Toews being the only true, elite faceoff-winner on the team.  Fast forward to the playoffs and you see Patrick Kane back at center, losing 3/4 of his faceoffs, giving the puck to the Coyotes.

Defense was another weakness for the Hawks coming into the season.  The Blackhawks had to part ways with Dale Tallon's brilliant $7M/year through 2016 contract for Brian Campbell in order to fill a roster.  (By the way, they got Rostislav Olesz, who spent nearly the entire season in the AHL.)  The Hawks might have replaced Campbell's speed and puck-moving ability with Chris Campoli if he had a reasonable idea of his value.  Instead, Campoli chose to start the year as a free agent, get signed by the lowly Canadiens, and spend much of the year injured, but I digress.  With Campoli out of the picture, the Hawks decided to sign a senior citizen, a pedestrian defenseman, and a veteran whose only real contributions came at the beginning of the season.  The defense was a point of weakness all year, until they signed Johnny Oduya at the deadline.  Even then, the Hawks' D could not be described as a strength.

Goaltending was not something many Hawks fan saw as an issue.  After having a great year and a fantastic playoffs last year, Corey Crawford had earned himself a new contract.  Beyond that, the Hawks signed a veteran backup who was making an NHL comeback in Ray Emery.  Unfortunately, the sophomore slump I feared showed it's head in November and didn't go away until the end of March, when Crawford reassembled his game.  Crawford developed a penchant for letting in weak goals and getting his team behind.  I'll give Crawford credit for dueling to 5 straight OTs against the Mike Smith, but take away the two very weak OT goals Crawford gave up to Mikkel Boedker, and the Hawks might have been the team advancing.

Special teams.  Simply put:  they didn't score on the power play and they allowed too many goals on the penalty kill.  Championship teams use the man-advantage and don't allow other teams to use their advantage.  Part of this could be due to the loss of Campbell, who was able to move the puck well and enter the zone quickly.  However, part of it could be due to my next point.

Big players didn't show up in big games.  Early in the season, Kane, Toews, Hossa, and Sharp were all lighting the lamp enough to burn your retinas.  However, as the season moved into late winter/early spring, the goals dried up and games that used to be wins started turning into losses.  Imagine if the Hawks scored a few more goals.  The Hawks come away with multiple wins.

Alas, the Hawks face another long summer, trying to figure out how to remedy their most recent shortcomings...

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