Looking back at the night and series before, it isn’t just bewildering that the Hawks’ season came to a conclusion on the back of not one but two shots hitting both posts in this series (Andrew Ladd managed it in Game 3 as well). It’s bewildering that this sort of margin hasn’t come to bite the Hawks before. Of all the things that have been impressive about the last seven or eight seasons, it’s that the tiny, tiny margins that playoff games and series are decided on have rarely if ever bitten the Hawks until now.
Seriously, the Hawks are Zdeno Chara hitting a post and and whichever multiple OT game against Nashville or Anaheim swinging the other way from having just one Cup and essentially being Penguins West. It is that thin for an organization that has constantly rolled out some of the best and deepest teams in the league.
But then, you notice the luck more when your team is flawed in the ways the Hawks were this season.
You can only ask so much of the top of your roster, even if that top of the roster are some of the best players in the world. The Hawks didn’t just need Duncan Keith to play half the game in this series. They needed him to do so perfectly. He was far from it in Game 3, was responsible for the first two goals last night, and the Hawks are going home. That doesn’t mean Keith isn’t probably the best d-man around still, and certainly the most influential to his own team. It just means the Hawks needed something that even he couldn’t achieve to win one round. That’s how deep the problems go, when you’re requiring something beyond Keith.
Stan Bowman, and whoever is also helping to GM this team as we know it’s not him alone, will never face accusations of shortening the window or bungling the one they had. Three in six assures that. But as he goes through the smoldering wreckage of this season, I bet he wonders how he might have handled his blue line a little differently. While Stephen Johns only managed the last quarter of a season in Dallas, he almost certainly would have been on the Hawks team from training camp and I can pretty much guarantee he would have provided more than Svedberg or Rundblad, and probably Gustafsson too. The fact that he left himself so out over a barrel on the Patrick Sharp deal that he had to throw in his best defensive prospect just to get him out of here (even though they have a great room, guys) has not faced near enough scrutiny.
Some will see Trevor Daley whipping passes to various Penguins and wonder if more of an effort to integrate him should have been made. I’m not sure about that. Daley needs such a stable partner, and you can’t waste Hjalmarsson on him and that was about the only option. The Penguins have a solid, mid-roster free safety in Brian Dumoulin. The Hawks have queens and pawns on the blue line, but no bishops or rooks. You wonder if Stan doesn’t longingly wonder about Klas Dahlbeck, who could have at least been solid on a third pairing. But the chances of Daley working out here were always slim.
But then we know that there are just players that Quenneville and Kitchen (who if he’s getting as large of a say as some suspect in the organization, everyone should be frightened) make their minds up on before the skates even hit the ice. Daley was one. Ehrhoff was another, and it makes you wonder if the communication lines between GM office and coach’s room are still dysfunctional. Ehrhoff was certainly no worse an option than Rundblad or Gustafsson (or TVR, in all honesty), and yet was never given a chance. Neither was Daley, really. You wonder now.
There were cheap options last summer. We screamed for John Moore or David Schlemko, but they were ignored to take on Daley for a failed experiment before it began and to shove TVR into a role he at best wasn’t prepared for. This is how you end up with barely 2.5 d-men in a playoff series against a very deep opponent.
Stan will probably face some heat for his trade acquisitions at the deadline, further scraping the cabinet of picks and prospects. But no one said that at the time, and whatever Ladd, Weise, and Fleischmann ended up being, they were certainly better than Dr. Rasmussen, Working Class Kero, Hinostroza, and whichever other jokers ended up getting games on the roster. The Hawks were a better team after the deadline than they were before it. They just weren’t good enough.
Stan rolled the dice last season at the deadline, and it worked out (though only half of his pickups contributed). He did it again and it didn’t. That’s how these things work. It doesn’t make Stan a genius or an idiot, just a pretty good GM who couldn’t quite overcome the obstacles that were either put in front of him or he created. We’ll find out more about him in the next season or two when he’s got to get real creative and he has to get more of his picks not just onto the roster but contributing heavily.
The miles caught up to players in a way we hadn’t seen before. Marian Hossa played himself off the top six (though he looked pretty good last night as a third-liner, no?). Andrew Ladd did too in his brief time here, and I wonder if he didn’t actually end up costing himself money. Keith looked mortal in the playoffs. It wasn’t the miles for Seabrook so much as the calories. The clock struck 12 on Michal Rozsival, or it did again depending on your viewpoint. Patrick Kane hit a wall from carrying the team offensively until the last week when faced with a bunch of teams that had stopped caring long ago. Toews couldn’t overcome having to do the work of two or three players once it became apparent Hossa couldn’t be Hossa anymore and Brandon Saad was nowhere to be found.
Quite simply, the Hawks asked too much of their players who had brought them so much before, which again tells you just how great they are and how flawed the rest was. Because they almost did it. But this time they couldn’t ice a team that didn’t need the bounces or luck to go their way as they had in the past. And the bounces and luck didn’t.