Welcome one, and welcome all to Blackhawk Down Low’s premier edition of the Monday Mailbag. A (hopefully) recurring feature that will contain a question and answer session with fellow bloggers discussing the latest hot topics.
This edition of Monday Mailbag features the boys over at Hockeenight.com, Fork & CT. So without further ado, let’s get to the questions.
Hit the Read More button to read our discussion on Skille trade rumors, Stalberg’s ceiling vs. Skille’s, playoff realities, the penalty kill, and who really runs the Blackhawks’ roster.
I swear to you, this isn't Photoshopped
I’m sure you heard the Jack Skille rumor on Wednesday about him nearly being dealt to Toronto. Do you think it’s a good idea to trade Skille? If not, do you see anyone else on the Hawks as being a better choice to deal taking into account the role they play and the return they could bring?
CT: I'm fine with trading Skille, or just about anybody else off the roster at this point. The Hawks seem to have their core, then a bunch of guys who make a $1MM or less. While some of those lower paid guys bring good things to the table, I wouldn't protest a trade of any of them. The problem is, with the exception of maybe Brouwer, none of those players is likely to bring you much back. If you think that shuffling the deck chairs by replacing a 4th line energy guy with some other 4th line energy guy is going to help, then trade Skille. But if Stan Bowman thinks this thing needs major surgery, then he's going to have to trade from his core.
The guy I'd like to see traded is Bolland. I wasn't a fan of his contract when he signed it, and I like it less and less each day. I'm sure he could be a 20-25 goal scorer on some team that has to use him on the second line, but it doesn't seem like the Hawks are going to use him that way.
But the truth is, if the Hawks want to make some kind of blow-it-up blockbuster trade, I think Patrick Sharp would have to be the centerpiece. I mean he’s on pace for a career high in goals, his contract isn’t outrageous, and there’s still one year left on the deal. If the Blackhawks reach the point where they’re looking to do a bit of a reload, then Sharp’s the guy who would command the biggest return. Granted, it would be tough to do, but Stan Bowman gets paid the big bucks to make the tough decisions.
Fork: Trading Skille is pretty much the same as anyone else making under a million, with the exceptions of Bickell and Crawford. None of the rest of the guys (Stalberg, Dowell, Pisani, Johnson, Hendry, Boynton, Scott - did I miss anyone?) aren’t doing anything that any of the other guys on that list can't do, with the exception of pummeling, which is clearly Scott's domain. Hasn't won any games, though.
Then, you've got a couple guys with expiring deals around a million, Kopecky and Brouwer. Kopecky actually has the best return potential, because his stat line looks better than what we've actually seen on the ice. I don't think the Hawks could deal Brouwer in a one-for-one swap that would fit under the cap and give them anything any better than what they get from Brouwer. I think we're just going to have to ride this one out, unless they actually find a taker for Dave Bolland.
Kelly: Well, I already addressed the first part of this question in my post on Wednesday (I’m opposed to trading Skillz), but in regards to if there’s anyone else the Hawks could trade, I think the only real way we could make an improvement on a deal is if we deal Dave Bolland or Bryan Bickell. I think anyone above Bolly & Bicks (the “core” and Corey Crawford) would be considered untouchable and anyone below them (save maybe Stalberg) wouldn’t fetch much of a return.
Bolly’s major issue is his health. He’s missed major time the last 18 months due to various ailments and it will be a red flag for some teams. Also, he’s having a pretty down year and although everyone saw what he did in the playoffs last year, some will wonder which is The Real Dave Bolland. His salary doesn’t help either.
Bickell would be an interesting piece of trade bait. I think the Hawks brass is high on Bicks, but I doubt they consider him untouchable. Bickell’s got some good potential although I don’t see his ceiling being much higher than his performance thus far this season. If the Hawks found someone that overvalued Bickell, *cough*DALETALLON*cough* maybe we could swing a favorable deal. Beyond that situation, I don’t see any way to get an upgrade anywhere.
Who has the higher ceiling: Stalberg or Skille?
CT: Good question. I hadn’t realized until now that they both had the same number of points this season. Ideally, we’d fuse the two guys together into one helluva a player. Skille’s motor and willingness to take the body combined with Stalberg’s size and better scoring touch would be a formidable player. I guess I’ll say Stalberg has the higher ceiling, as his problems (defensive shortcomings and lack of physicality) can be overcome through hard work and a change of mindset, whereas it doesn’t seem likely that Skille is suddenly going to learn to finish. If a coach can ever get through to Stalberg, I think he's the pick.
Fork: I liked Jack Skille a couple years ago, and thought he'd turn into a pretty good player. Here we are now, and he's the same damn player - I think we're seeing Skille's ceiling. As for Stalberg, maybe he can score some goals playing in a defense-optional role, but that will never happen here.
Kelly: I’m actually mad at myself for this one because it is so hard to say. Skille has had plenty of time to bud into a damn solid hockey player and he keeps underperforming (against expectations) and I’m fairly certain that’s why the rumors of him being on the trading block are swirling. There just always seems to be this air around Skille that he’s ready to explode. He could develop into a great two-way forward (Marian Hossa style, not the same skill obviously, but similar style) because of the tenacity and speed he has. Stalberg on the other hand has so far been exactly what people in Toronto had said he’d be: a lightning fast forward that has no scoring touch and shies away from physical play. The first quarter of the season saw Stalberg start on a 20-goal pace which has since gone as cold as Hilary Clinton’s vagina. I think Stalberg could top out at 20 goals playing his ass off for 82 games, but that’s it. I’m going to say Skille’s ceiling is higher, but in much greater doubt of reaching said ceiling.
So, here we are, into the second half of the season and we’re still bubbling in and out of the playoffs. Do the Hawks make the playoffs? In what position do you see the Hawks finishing?
CT: I think one product of last year’s awesome season was that we forget just how much of dogfight it can be to earn a playoff spot. Detroit struggled all year before pulling it together and grabbing the 6th seed. Philadelphia snuck in on the last day after a shootout win (just think if they hadn’t been able to battle back and beat the Blackhawks on a pair of goals in the last 2 minutes of their game at the Wells Fargo Center that March). I think the Hawks will still make the playoffs, probably as a 6 or 7 seed. But if they get hot, it could be the 4. Or the 8th if they don’t. But not the 5th seed. That’d just be ridiculous.
Fork: The field between 4 and 11 is so tight, that I'm not wasting any anxiety over it. I think all this jerking off they're doing is just part of a master plan to get the 8th seed so they get Vancouver in the first round, and they will destroy any glimmer of confidence Luongo has.
Kelly: The reason why Fork isn’t losing any sleep over this is exactly why I am. I don’t see the blob that is the middle of the Western Conference doing much separating the rest of the season, meaning that if the Hawks remain consistently inconsistent, they could easily slide out of the playoffs quickly. It could only take a few (as in 3 or 4) games to slide from being in the top half of playoff teams to missing the playoffs. That being said, I think we will eventually get our act together and clean things up. I think we’ll make the playoffs, but there will be a lot of nervous people in Chicago the last week of the regular season. Final standing place: 7th at best.
What’s wrong with the penalty kill? Is this just bad luck? Or is it bad coaching? As many have said, there isn’t a big difference in personnel on the kill.
CT: I have no idea. The two guys missing are John Madden and Brent Sopel. Was their combination of shot-blocking and face-off winning really that potent? Fernando Pisani and lately Ryan Johnson seem to have been brought in to fill out these roles, but haven't done the job. Yeah, the Hawks have gotten some bad bounces, but everybody has those. For whatever reason this year, it seems like the forwards have been unable to cover the opposing point men, allowing them to get clean looks at the net (looks that Duncan Keith would kill for about now). I did think that with the changes the PK might be mediocre this year, but I had no idea that it would simply be atrocious. Last year there were stretches where I preferred seeing the Hawks PK unit on the ice to its power play. This year? I just thank god they’re one of the least penalized teams in the NHL.
Fork: There's a huge difference, and it's in a jockstrap in Atlanta. Not having Brent Sopel's dong out there on the PK means a lot less shot blocking, and a lot more Nick Boynton. Unacceptable.
Also, John Madden wasting away in Minnesota means Toews and Hossa have had to be out there against the top PP unit every night, instead of Bolland and somebody. This means teams aren't nearly as worried about the possibility of any shorthanded opportunities. It allows them to be more aggressive on the PP.
Kelly: I think that the issue with the kill is with positioning and with being too aggressive. Sometimes just letting the play come to you is important, and maybe the Hawks are trying to recreate their league-leading shorthanded goal magic from last season, but that just isn’t going to happen. The penalty kill is a pretty simple concept. Your four players make a box. You don’t go too wide and you don’t go too high. We’ve seen our PK guys tend to get a little too aggressive, trying to force the issue and getting out of position opening up passing and shooting lanes. I think if we follow the same rules Q has been preaching to our even strength units and try to keep it simple, letting the play come to us, we should see an improvement.
Finally, regarding all the goofy roster moves (Skille/Dowell scratched in favor of Johnson/Scott, Hendry and Scott playing at forward when other options are available, etc.), do you think those are stemming directly from Q or from Stan Bowman? What does that say about how the organization is actually being run?
CT: One thing I’ve noticed this year is that now that things have gotten a little rocky, the fanbase (at least the internet portion of it) seems to have rabbit ears over who is sending messages to whom. Is Quenneville’s management of his personnel a message to the front office that he’s going to play stiffs like Scott and Boynton until he’s given something better? Did Bowman mandate that Boynton should sit and Jordan Hendry should play? And where is the great Machiavelli, John McDonough through all of this? Holed up with Scotty Bowman in spider hole somewhere, periodically dispatching Jay Blunk to the outside world to mandate the collection of urine in jars and oversee the construction of the Spruce Goose? Wait, what am I talking about again?
Oh yeah, the front office. To tell the truth, I have no idea how the organization is run. I do know that if this current crew is given an extremely talented team, they can win a Stanley Cup with it. But now that the waters have gotten a bit rough, we’re going to find out how they really work together. Is Joel Quenneville really willing to potentially sacrifice wins to make a point to the front office by dressing Scott and Boynton? Personally, I don’t think that’s what Q is doing, at least with Boynton. I mean, we saw two years ago with Matt Walker that Quenneville seems to have a weakness for journeyman defensemen with a bit of snarl. And if Quenneville WAS trying to send a message about Boynton sucking, then he should have walked into Bowman’s office last week and told him send Boynton packing instead of the fairly effective Jassen Cullimore.
The Hawks front office has some decisions to make at this year’s trade deadline. Do they think that this team just needs to get untracked and can play better hockey on a more consistent basis with some fine tuning, or does it need a major addition? StanBo and Q will be under the microscope and will be interesting to see how they perform. Hopefully they can get this team into the playoffs, because they’ve still got the horses to make some noise. But if they don’t, then the decision will have to be made in the offseason as to whether the vaunted “core” should be kept together or if somebody needs to go to make room for new parts.
Fork: If there were any truth to the Skille rumor, then he might have been a scratch in case a deal was finalized during the game. As for Dowell being scratched, I have no clue.
Now John Scott - let's take out the sheer entertainment value of his ability to beat people up off the table. In sheer hockey terms, he's not very good. However, the fact that he got a two-year deal on July 1 leads me to believe there was something someone in the Hawks' organization liked. Not just his talent for brutality, because they won without having a lower primate out there dragging his knuckles on the ice. I think they might have seen a behemoth Dman and thought they could turn him into another Dustin Byfuglien up front. Although, even Byfuglien isn't up front (at least not in the boxscore) any more.
As for QStache playing these guys, I think Chris Block hit the nail on the head earlier this season - I think Stan got him these bums, and Q's attitude is, "OK, you give me garbage, I'm playing garbage". If you're ever going to have this type of pissing match between the coach and GM, it's certainly better to do it while the Stanley Cup is in your trophy case.
Finally, I think the real key indicator for the organization will be what happens this summer - the likelihood is that long-suffering Blackhawk fans will be mired in a one year Cup drought. However, they will still have Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Bickell, Keith and Campbell. If Bolland stays healthy, you'll hear a lot less about him being part of the "core", because he'll have trade value. Hjalmarsson might get shopped around, who knows - he can't be moved this season because he was signed to an offer sheet - and hopefully Seabrook, Brouwer and Crawford all get shiny new contracts.
There's a pretty good supply of young guys in the pipeline. Morin might be ready for next season. If Beach ever extricates his head from his anal orifice, he'll see the inside of the United Center as well. I'd really like to see Leddy and Olsen get a full season together in Rockford - the short-term gain you might get from bringing them up isn't as large as the short-term benefit of having them learn each other's tendencies. They are looking like Keith/Seabrook 2.0, so why not let them stick to each other's sides and rack up first-pair minutes instead of 6 minutes a night in the NHL?
I think the organization is in pretty good shape. Even though this season is a pretty bumpy ride, the long-term potential for the Chicago Blackhawks is such that when we're older and feebler than we are now, and someone mentions when the Hawks won the Stanley Cup, you'll need to ask, "which time?"
Kelly: I’m not so much worried with the organization as far as player personnel is concerned. We have a ton of young talent in the A and juniors, we have veteran presence that is also young, and we have all the right types of players to be consistently good and advance deep in the playoffs for years to come.
What concerns me is exactly what Fork mentioned above (and Block did mention it earlier this season) in regards to the pissing match that seems to be going on between Q & Bowman. If we can’t get our GM & Coach on the same page, how do we expect our players to play consistently and be on the same page? It’s nearly impossible if they’re all wondering if they’ll be scratched, even if they didn’t do anything to deserve it. We’re all Chicago Blackhawks, from Stan Bowman & Q to Tomas Kopecky & Jim Cornelison. We should all be following the damn marketing slogan: ONE GOAL. We all should have the same goal. And if for whatever reason Q & Bowman can’t get on the same page and work within the cap together to be a legal team and ice the best roster every night, then one of them has to go. Simple as that.
That being said, seeing Nick Leddy called up for Friday night’s game against Ottawa and not having Skille & Dowell scratched in favor of Scott & Johnson was very encouraging. Hopefully bygones and going to be bygones and that will be the end of the Q VS. BOWMAN discussion. Again, we’re all Blackhawks and we need to act like it and work together.
I hope you all enjoyed the first edition of Mailbag Monday. A special thanks to CT & Fork from Hockeenight again for being the first in what will hopefully be a long series of posts like this. From all of us at Blackhawks Down Low, especially myself, we greatly appreciate it.
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