Now that we can stop talking about the bigger ice and lineups and other coaches, perhaps it’s time to reset where we are with the Hawks and where it’s going.
The Hawks have a few days here to get the legs back under them, though the seven Olympians who went the route through the weekend probably won’t rejoin practice until Wednesday or maybe even Thursday’s morning skate. Obviously, for a little while the Hawks are going to need the non-Olympians to carry them a bit (a Brandon Saad binge would be most welcome, as well as Andrew Shaw coming in from the cold). I’d also look for Bryan Bickell to be more effective (not that he’s been as bad as everyone wants us to believe) as he really needed more time for his deteriorating knees to heal. Hell, maybe he’ll even crack 10 minutes per game.
What can we expect the Hawks to look like post-break? For comparison’s sake, the last time we did this wasn’t especially pretty nor terribly ugly. The Hawks came out of the last Olympic Break with a 5-4-2 record, losing to the Islanders first out before ripping off three in a row and then entering something of a ho-hum period. You may remember this as Cristobal Huet’s Last Stand, with a complete spit-up in Columbus handing the job to Antti Niemi. Whether that was break-induced or just normal March doldrums, I leave to you. The Hawks closed out March then losing three of four, before crashing through April winning five of six but losing at home on the final day to not get the top seed over San Jose (which ended up totally mattering, right?)
Where we stand now is the Hawks are tied with the Blues on the Central throne but have played three games more. Depending on how the Blues come out of the break, winning the division is going to be tricky. As we all know, even a three- or four-point lead gets really hard to make up when so many games become three-pointers. Basically, the Blues only have to win one and get a point in another of their games in hand to make it highly difficult for the Hawks. Those two games between the two at the United Center in March and April are going to be huge, if winning the division is something you value (our official blog position is that we don’t, but it’d be kinda nice).
The Hawks have some lineup juggling to do, and that’s even if they don’t make one more move before the deadline which no one is anticipating. While after the deadline you can carry as many players as the cap will allow, A) the Hawks don’t have a lot of space and B) the Hogs are actually poised to make the playoffs for once and I’m sure the organization thinks it’s more valuable for some players to be participating in a playoff chase in the AHL than sitting in the pressbox up here. Also, keep in mind last year that due to the delayed season the NHL season ended way after the AHL one did, which is not the case this year.
The Hawks will have an extra forward for these games, which they haven’t basically all season (and no, skating Brookbank or Kostka up there doesn’t count). Michael Kostka was launched yesterday on waivers and claimed by Tampa. Some have bemoaned the loss of Ryan Stanton instead of Kostka at the beginning of the year, but you shouldn’t. Stanton likely wouldn’t have played much more if any more games than Kostka did, and there are better defensive prospects that would have seen him gone next year anyway (Johns, Clendening, Dahlbeck, etc.)
It appears that Q is already taking a liking to one Peter Regin. He will probably be the latest to be shoe-horned into Patrick Kane’s line, though he really isn’t that type of player. But other than Toews, that type of player isn’t on the roster. If Q didn’t want to kill Brandon Pirri’s spirit however, this would be the perfect time for him to really go for the “Three scoring lines and one checking line” model he’s been using most of the year, but more effectively. Handzus would be in a suit of course, with Shaw replacing Bollig to join Kruger and Smith. I guess what I see is Versteeg/Saad-Pirri-Kane, Versteeg/Saad-Regin-Bickell, and that other line. But we won’t get there and likely Regin goes between Kane and Versteeg with Handzus centering Saad and Bickell/Shaw. Of course, Handzus, Bickell, and maybe Regin are going to rotate being the healthy scratch. Though when I close my eyes and concentrate it’s Bollig who occasionally takes his turn in the pressbox. Then I open my eyes and only see a cold, cold, senseless world.
The schedule doesn’t do too many favors. The only team out of it the Hawks will see this month is Buffalo in a couple Sunday, and arguably Carolina (but is anyone out of it in the Metrosexual Division?). Remember that the entire Central is in the playoff hunt, and the Hawks will see the Predators three times the rest of the season and no matter where the Preds are they’re always a threat to be annoying. They’ll see the Jackets twice, the Penguins twice (though they don’t have much to play for anymore), the Blues twice, the Avalanche twice, and there’s a tricky three-game trip at the end of March that will take them to Ottawa, Boston, and then Pittsburgh.
All right everyone, get your stretching in and make sure you’re warmed up properly. Before you blink, Game 1 is going to be upon us, no matter who it is against. It’s quite the sprint.