Sunday, September 15, 2019

Subtle Predictions Bring Big Results For Blackhawks Season

By Randy Holndoner - @Bhawkschatter
The 2019-2020 hockey season is around the corner, so let's look at some subtle predictions that will lead to what we haven't seen in Chicago for the last five years.

Stan Bowman, loved and hated by many, made a lot of deals over the summer that didn't seem to be very eye-catching, but let's look a bit deeper as to how these new acquisitions will affect the following areas of improvement.



Acquisitions include: Calvin deHaan, Zack Smith, Andrew Shaw, Ryan Carpenter, Olli Maatta, Robin Lehner.

None of these players you will see as a first ballot All-Star, but touching the worst areas that needed improvement on this Blackhawks team, this team has improved greatly. 

Penalty Killing

Last season, the Blackhawks were the worst team in the league in the PK with a dismal 72.7%.  This stat has nowhere to go, but up.  Literally.  Zack Smith, 31, an 11-year veteran, has logged quality minutes in Ottawa as a PK-Specialist.  He puts in as much time as Marcus Kruger did, but he is an upgrade, and logs six minutes more per game, than Kruger.

Ryan Carpenter, 28, was a blip that barely made headlines, but he is your true replacement for Marcus Kruger.  Overall, a similar build, but more gritty than Kruger, he will log many minutes on the PK as well, and will be the fourth line Center, most likely.

The additions of Calvin de Haan, 28, and Olli Maata, 25, will be a HUGE upgrade. Both logged heavy minutes, which will make both, Duncan Keith, 36, and Brent Seabrook, 34, more effective, as they won't have to log as many minutes, with the amount of miles both players have put on over the years.  de Haan, is a reliable, stay-at-home, defenseman, with good puck-handling skills.  He will play a major role on the PK.  

Goals Against - Shots Against / Per Game - Faceoffs
With the improvement mentioned in the PK, these stats should also rise this year.  The best way to keep other teams from scoring is winning face-offs and controlling pucks.  With the departure of Marcus Kruger (50.6%), and Artem Anisimov (45.9%), the additions of Carpenter (50.6%), Shaw (48.1%), and Smith (50.7%), will improve these stats.  More bodies to throw on the PK, more obides to win faceoffs, in general.  Smith, by the way, has taken nearly 6500 faceoffs in his career, so don't let the label of Winger, fool you.


Then there is Robin Lehner, who was among the Vezina Trophy Finalists last year, and won the William M. Jennings Trophy, for being part of the goalie tandem of the New York Islanders, who gave up the least amount of goals last year.  Lehner also won the Bill Masterton Trophy last year.


A surprise signing, the Blackhawks have arguably the best 1-2 punch in the NHL for goalies.  If Corey Crawford can stay healthy, these two are going to a real force to be reckoned with.

Grit
Something that this team has been lacking in previous years, and was on all of the championship teams, has been grit.  Gone are the days of Bryan Bickell, Dan Carcillo, Adam Burish, Dave Bolland, and Ben Eager.

Enter the well-known, and loved, Andrew Shaw.  We need say nothing more of him.  Zack Smith on the other hand, has been in Siberia, a.k.a. Ottawa, his entire career, so Blackhawk fans don't see much of him.

Smith will become a loved player once the season starts.  Grit, and a physical game, are two things that he has excelled at over the years.  Seabrook led the team in hits last year with 124.  In his 11 year career, Smith has averaged 110, while having 136 last year.  Take into account that he is a forward, he will bring a physical presence, as will Shaw, 128 hits last year.  More importantly, both with win board battles, which this team has lost a lot of over the years.

Yes, the "Hits" column can be overrated. The argument can be made that, if you are hitting someone, you don't have the puck, and you risk being out of position to give that hit.  I would agree with that.  But, when you hit people, you also "chirp".  Chirping is an underrated stat that there is no column for that can make a huge difference in a game or playoff series.



Getting into someone's head to take them off their game can be very beneficial.  It could lead to stupid penalties, and as previously mentioned, cause them to be out of position to give a hit.  Think back, what could Dave Bolland have possibly said to Joe Thornton in the 2010 Western Conference Finals to where Thornton slashed Bolland's stick at a faceoff, causing a penalty?  Look back at pictures of the 2013 NHL Finals of Bryan Bickell and Zdeno Chara.  Those faces do not look like conversations that would appear on the Disney Channel.  The combo of Bickell and Shaw, kept Chara frustrated the entire series.  Just to note, Chara was on the ice for the final eight goals that the Blackhawks scored in that series.  You tell me, if he was distracted by something...or someone.

With that said, look for the rivalry of the Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche to pick up this year.  Colorado picked up, known agitator, and five-time suspended, three-time fined, Center, Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs.  He and Zack Smith know each other very well from divisional rival games between Toronto and Ottawa.

Depth
For all of the reasons above, all of the players acquired this year are an improvement to those that they have replaced.  The Blackhawks will have a solid set of four lines to throw at an opponent every night.  All lines, with the capability to score, which the Blackhawks did not have a problem doing last year.  They ranked eighth in the league in Goals For last year (267).

The biggest impact of these signings are on the back end of the ice.  de Haan, Maata, and Lehner.  All will play a major role in how this year turns out.  Depending on the health of Crawford, along with his contract status, this could be a changing of the guards at the goaltender position.

Playoffs
Which leads to the prediction that we, Blackhawk fans have been without for the last five years...PLAYOFFS.  By missing the playoffs last year by six points, and going through a dreadful stretch of games where they went 4-17-4, they WILL make the playoffs this season.

Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat, both enter the last years of their contracts, and will be having huge years.  We won't get into the mess that will occur after next off-season.  Focusing on this year, having them on a line, and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on a line should tell you what kind of offensive numbers the Blackhawks will put up this year.



This year is ramping up to be something special.  Strap in boys and and girls, HERE COME THE HAWKS!!

Pictures courtesy of NHL.com, NBCSprots.com

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Does Bowman's Busy Off-season Have Another Firework Left?

By Randy Holndoner - @Bhawkschatter

Stan Bowman has never been one to sit idle during an off-season, especially when he actually HAS money to spend.  Bowman addressed the two biggest problems that plagued the team last year, defense, and depth.

The Chicago Blackhawks ended last year giving up the second most goals in the entire league, 292 goals.  Bowman didn't look to free agency to fill those needs.  Instead, he went via the trade market. 

He brought defensemen, Olli Maatta, from the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Calvin de Haan, from the Carolina Hurricanes.  Both bring a defensive-minded game to a team that desperately needs it.  They play a similar game to that of Connor Murphy  Both average nearly 19 minutes of ice time a game, and both are six-year veterans in the league.


Having over 360+ games to each of their names is a huge benefit for the Blackhawks that have relied on numerous young players to develop quicker than anticipated and expected to produce.

Another hidden gem in all of this, is that each player is still under contract for the next three years.  No contract negotiations to bicker about.  Just go play hockey.

A familiar face came back via the trade route, which many fans on twitter seemed to dislike.  Andrew Shaw, 27, a gritty forward, who can win half of his face-offs, battle in the corners, and brings net presence for juicy rebounds.

There is instantly a concern for a player gone, only to come back and not produce (Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya).  The difference with Shaw coming back, is that he is not expected to be anything more than a 3rd line center/winger.  Although he can play on any line, the expectations are not that of him being a Messiah that will bring home the Stanley Cup, which he was a part of with this team twice ('13, '15).

And again, as with Maatta and de Haan, Shaw is still signed for the next three years.  Some worry that it could be a negative, rather than a bonus with years remaining on a contract, not knowing what to expect.

But with the addition of Shaw, Ryan Carpenter, who did come in as a free agent, helps give depth to the bottom six forward slot, and also strengthens the penalty kill unit, and someone who can win face-offs.

Then, which seemed to come out of nowhere, Bowman signed Vezina Trophy Candidate, and Masterson Trophy winner, Robin Lehner, to a one-year, $5mil contract.  This signing caused a hailstorm of thoughts as to why.  Is Corey Crawford still injured?  Will he be traded?  Will they put him in long-term IR, as they did with Marian Hossa, and use his $6mil for one last free agent splash?  Why sign Lehner, when Collin Delia, who arguably could use another year in the minors, was signed to a three-year extension at the end of last year?

Regardless, with a healthy Crawford and Lehner, a much updated defense, and depth at forward, the Blackhawks could make a run for the playoffs.  They missed the playoffs by only six points last year.

So the circulating question now is, does Bowman have yet another trick up his sleeve?  trade rumors of Artem Anisimov and Brandon Saad are still being tossed around.  As to who they would get, some say that he will trade for more depth and possibly picks.  

Ryan Dzingel is an attractive free agent that could replace Anisimov's contract.  A local player, 27, Dzingel would be another depth player that could land him a three-four year deal.

Bowman says that there are minor things left to do with the roster, but his phone is always open.  Time will tell if there is more to come, but the Blackhawks have made some very solid moves to put them into contention to make their way back to the playoffs.

Let's Go Hawks!

Pictures courtesy of nhl.com