Well we have our first official blip of the season. Actually the whole month has been something of a blip. But this three game losing streak is clearly the nadir. While the Hawks lost some games earlier in the month due to luck or sterling goalie performances, these past three have certainly been “meh” performances. While the Hawks dominated possession for the first 40 last night, it’s not like Al Montoya had to perform cartwheels to keep the Hawks at bay.
So the question now is whether the Hawks are just bored, or the toll taken from playing until almost July is now coming due. The disheartening thing is that we really won’t have an answer until April.
I thought it would be useful to compare it to the last team to try and defend a Cup through a full season, which would be the Bruins. The B’s season was of a different patter in ’11-’12. They were definitely tripping over themselves in October, laced through November-January basically, were pretty bad for the first half of March, picked it up toward the end of the year slightly, finishing 7-1-2. They then spit it in the first round against Washington in seven games.
The Canucks were coming off the same strain that year, just not having a bauble to show for it. They thrashed about in ’11-’12′s first six weeks, caught absolute fire from there until March (helped by an awful division), stumbled a bit in March before also closing with a flourish before they themselves snuffed it in the first round.
So basically the Hawks aren’t suffering a blip that those teams didn’t, it’s just at a different time. The Hawks started much better than either of those two teams, and maybe just be catching their breath again. Or they could be drained. I kind of lean to the former, but again we won’t know until the season is over really.
It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a reason, or many reasons, that no team has repeated in 14 years (of silence, 14 years of pain…). It’s impossibly hard to do. It’s not the NBA where you can keep giving the ball to Lebron and have him solve most of your problems. Teams change too much, the road is so long, you can’t hide your weaknesses behind the brilliance of an individual or two for an entire season.
-I nearly flew off the handle last night on Twitter in a discussion about Bryan Bickell. I’m sure this isn’t Chicago-exclusive, but fans here really do have this belief that when a player signs a much richer contract than he had before that he’s suddenly going to transform into a different player.
Bicks is in his fourth full season here. He’s 27. We know what he is. To expect him to turn into John LeClair or Gary Roberts or something simply because he signed a contract he was offered is simply idiotic. Bickell is just a solid, not spectacular, checking winger who chips in goals here and there and is pretty good on the forecheck and on the wall. He’s not a banging crashing torpedo and he’s never going to be. That’s just not his game. It can be frustrating that he’s not at that size, but that doesn’t mean he’s not useful.
(We’re actually seeing the same things with Corey Crawford, whose extension hasn’t kicked in yet. But all Crow is proving is that he’s a second-tier goalie in this league, which means he’ll just be more up and down than the top-tier guys. And that’s fine. We already knew that thanks to the variances in his first three years in the league).
You can bash his contract as merely cashed in on one playoff performance, but the thing is Bickell has been pretty good in all three of the playoff runs he’s been a cog for. In 34 playoff games in the past three years, Bicks is 13-10-23. You’ll take that from a 3rd liner. And if we get it again this spring, is anyone going to remember this regular season?
There are things working against Bickell. One is that he’s had two knee injuries to deal with, including playing last year’s Final on a torn MCL (and damaged wrist) that really should have kept him out of the lineup (making the claims of the unwashed that Bicks “doesn’t want it” laughable). He’s clearly still working through that. Second, the Hawks desire to keep using stretch passes instead of building through the neutral zone does not suit Bicks at all. He needs to be hitting the line with speed, not standing still because he just doesn’t have the legs to get in on the forecheck from a standing start.
And is this season really so bad? He’s the second best possession forward on the team behind Toews. He has 7 goals in 39 games, which I’m pretty sure is a better rate than the 6 in 54 Working Class Hero Brandon Bollig has.
As The Chicago Homer wrote brilliantly today, Bickell is an easy scapegoat. Q can trash him in the press and scratch him and face no scrutiny because of the backlash against Bickell’s contract. He can assert himself without much consequence. If Q really wanted to send a message to the team he’d park Seabrook’s ass in the pressbox for a game. But that would raise questions he’d have to answer, and some of them might be coming from the players themselves. No such thing happens with Bickell.
As I’ve said for all of the six seasons I’ve done this, you can’t criticize a player for his paycheck. It doesn’t have anything to do with his performance. Bickell didn’t put a gun to Stan’s head to give him that deal, and he very well may have gotten more elsewhere. While people say Bickell is replaceable, the Hawks didn’t have anyone in the system to step in and do what Bickell does. The closest was Jimmy Hayes, and you saw how that went. They could let Frolik go because Smith was ready to be a 4th liner with the parent club. Stalberg could go because Morin was ready to…. oh, right. Well, it works in theory.
It just feels like Q is taking it out on Bickell simply to do so. I don’t think it’s fair. We know what he is. Why does he suddenly have to be something else?