Fireside Chat

Welcome to another edition.

I always try and imagine what that creep Lovitz is saying in this picture. It’s different every time I look at it. Anyways, I wanted to touch on something that’s been sort of bandied about since Marko Dano’s demotion and how he didn’t understand the Hawks “system.” Let me put this out there as a misnomer right away.

Hockey is not football.

As much as Pierre MacGuire wants to slowly tickle himself over Dan Byslma’s forechecking strategy, there isn’t a 500 page playbook that guys are expected to memorize at the onset of training camp and are guarded as though they contain a nuclear launch code.  Hockey is more like basketball in the sense that everyone knows what their opponent is going to do. There are no secret forecheck or neutral zone traps that teams are stunned to see at the outset of a game.

For this example and Marko Dano, let’s deal specifically with the Blackhawks and what their philosophy is. I say philosophy because that’s how you truly separate team from team. At some point during the season, every team is going to run a 1-2-2 forecheck or a left wing lock.

The days of teams playing one system from start to finish waved goodbye when the NHL returned from the strike in 2005. What the game has evolved to is a system of hybrids where teams will fluctuate how they want to attack or defend certain teams (sometimes shift to shift) and it’s the team that recognizes the changes quicker that generally is more successful.

This is also why hockey people that call Boers and Bernstein are notorious for disagreeing with everything the previous callers just said. At one point during the game, yes, the Hawks were forechecking with two guys on the puck. And yes, during another point, they were only forechecking with one guy. But that doesn’t mean it was happening the whole time for either. In essence, everyone is right and yet, we all lose.

Does that make sense?

So for example, if you watch a team with a really good power play (not the Hawks) they’ll set up as though they’re in an overload (forward in the corner, forward at the top of the circle, forward in front of the net) and the killing team will form a diamond to defend it. Then if the team on the power play makes a couple of quick passes and their guys move with the puck and the killing team doesn’t recognize quickly enough, they’re now in an umbrella and will have a clear advantage.

Something like that during a course of a game, it’s not really something the coach can call out as a play and the players then execute because there are a lot of different unpredictable variables. Who has the puck? Where is the puck? Where are the defenders? All of these factors change the ideology within a matter of seconds.

It’s up to the players on the ice to react to everything that’s happening. Almost like a Pascal code on ice. “IF the puck is here, THEN I do this.”

Which brings us to Marko Dano.

As Sam once told me, the Hawks aren’t expecting their players to run Mike Martz’s route trees out there. And he’s right. The Hawks have a relatively simple philosophy.

Wingers on the wall for a breakout; center helping out down low. The hybrid model, of course, is sneaking the weak side winger past the defensemen for the stretch pass (which we’ve seen them fall in love with for extended periods of time). When they don’t have the puck, the wingers collapse into the slot to lessen the shooting lanes and create more layers of their defense.

In the neutral zone, the Hawks basically line up three across just inside the red line with the defensemen right behind them to force teams to chip it in. The thinking here is that they’re layered enough so that if one guy does get beat, there are teammates close enough to lessen the damage and avoid any odd man rushes.

When you hear Quenneville mention “layers,” this is what he’s referring to.

Offensively, the Hawks want to carry the puck into the zone and then move the puck around until they get a clear lane to the net. They’ll be a forward down low, another forward supporting him with an outlet pass behind the net and another forward lurking in the slot. It can all change depending on where the puck is and who has it but this is basically everything you need to know.

So in four paragraphs, I’ve basically described everything the Hawks forwards are expected to do. Yes, it’s extremely simplified, there aren’t sweet terms included like F1 or F2 which help to make me sound smarter and I left out subtle nuisances they incorporate like active sticks and high/low passing. But for all intents and purposes, this is what they’re trying to do.

If Marko Dano cannot pick up on this “system”, then it’s a minor miracle that he even made it out of his house this morning, let alone professional hockey.

What’s more likely is that Dano’s hockey instincts are not up to snuff with the Hawks philosophy. As those of us who put ourselves up on the cross and watched preseason hockey, Dano was caught flat-footed in the offensive zone or nowhere near the puck during a cycle too many times.

It could’ve been for a myriad of reasons. He could’ve been nervous playing with two Hall of Famers. He could’ve been thinking too much (likely). He could’ve been inundated with too much information.

All it really boils down to, though, is that his instincts aren’t sharp enough yet for the Hawks to be giving him top 6 minutes. That’s not to say he can’t develop these instincts over time. It could be just a matter of adjusting to the speed at which the decisions are made in Chicago as opposed to Columbus. After all, the skill level is not the part that is in question. When he does make his way back east on I-90, watching how he moves without the puck and his play anticipation will be the key things to watch.

I hope this makes sense. Explaining hockey can be a pain in the ass sometimes. If you have any questions or want to call me an idiot, feel free to do so @FifthFeather.


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