FanPost

Let’s Get Physical

The moves over the past week have sparked a lot of talk about physical play and goonery. I wanted to unpack and share my perspective on this, consider the Hawk moves over the past week in light of this perspective, assess where the team is today, and consider what else we might expect for this season. I encourage anyone to patiently explain to me that I do not know what the fuck I am talking about. Thank you.

Up front, hockey is a very physical game (Hell, even basketball is a very physical game.) And as the playoffs approach and advance, the physicality is dialed up. There is a “line” between legitimate physical play and goonery, and when more is at stake, teams are gonna push that line. Any team that wants to succeed must have a strategy for dealing with this reality.

Also, my own preference is for the skill game. I could watch Patrick Kane all day. To suggest, however, that Kane (or even Honk or Donk) are wussies is absurd. To do what they do in a medium of violent mayhem only heightens the value of their artistry. Also, these guys have the puck on their stick a lot, and the rules for legitimate violence in hockey are mostly directed at the guy with the puck. You want the puck on your stick, you got stones, in my book. (Contrast so-called tough guys like Raffi Torres, who rarely handle the puck.)

When I put these two things together, I invoke those martial Romans and their crisp tongue: Si vis pacem, para bellum (If you want peace, prepare for war.)

Crude hockey player classification system

Type I: Skilled, big, physical

The best answer is to load up on skilled, physical players. Guys like Kesler, or Andrew Ladd (man, did I Big Yellow Taxi that one!), or, going way back, Al Secord. Genuine hockey tough guys AND genuine hockey skill players.  The advantage to having such players is two-fold: you’re not sacrificing a “hockey spot” to get physicality, and these guys are on the ice for meaningful minutes if and when the shit goes down. The problem with this answer is scarcity. Seabrook is prolly the only Hawk in this group.

Type II: Skilled, big

Second best are big, skilled but not overly physical players- think Toews, Hossa, Buff. Guys who can’t get pushed around but aren’t going to make the opposition hear footsteps much. Again, scarcity.

Type III: Kinda skilled, big, physical

Next best is a “poor man’s” version of big, skilled, physical. Guys who can play some and hit some. (Bickell, Brouwer, Hjammer from last year.)

Type IV: Physical

Descending another rung on the meathead ladder, we get to Eager level- guys who can play a bit and hit a lot. The Hawks didn’t have anyone like that last year.

Type V: In a class by himself

And at the far end of the spectrum is the Genial Giant.

Type VI: Primarily skilled

Most of the rest of the team was primarily skill guys, and while there is a continuum of physicality here, it’s not gonna make or break a team. Last year, in decreasing order of physicality: Sharp, Keith, Bolland, Frolik, Kopecky, Campbell, Stalberg, Leddy, Kane.

Type VII: “Guys”

…and of course, some plain old “guys”:  Pisani, Dowell, Campoli, etc. from last year.

How much red meat is not enough?

Framed this way, the question is: how important are “Type IV” players to a team? Not so important if your team has lots of Type I, II, and III guys, but looking at last year’s Hawks roster, they didn’t. We all knew losing Ladd, Buff, and Eager would hurt, but none of these holes were filled, making the Hawks one of the smallest, softest team in the league last year, although still highly-skilled.

Here’s why I think deterrence can be a factor.  Other teams will naturally try to exploit a team’s softness. You’d be crazy not to. I recall a clinic administered to the Hawks in Calgary last February. It was the perfect script for beating the Blackhawks this year and, knowing how things get dialed up in the playoffs, I found it ominous. Suppose though, that the Hawks had, say, Carcillo and Eager on the 4th line last year. Does it affect the opposition’s game planning? Maybe I’m naïve, but I think it does.

From an individual player’s perspective, suppose you know you have “immunity”- i.e. there’s no one on the other bench tough enough to scare you. Does that not allow for a bit more of a sense of abandon on the ice (remember, it’s the playoffs now and everyone is jacked), the extra oomph in finishing a hit, pushing the line just a bit farther?

Most of us haven’t played serious level physical hockey, and none of us have played on the NHL level, so I feel like we all can only speculate about this, but this seems consistent with what Quenville was trying to accomplish with the Great John Scott Experiment- to fill a gaping hole as cheaply as possible.

When I look at the past week through this lens, I approve of most of the moves. Brunette is a Type II player, Mantador and Olesz are Type III, Carcillo and Mayers are Type IV, and O’Donnell is big anyway, and the more dubious ones (other than Olesz) are cheap and expendable.

RFAs: WTF?

Michael Frolik. You scored 11 goals last year. You will not be a top-6 forward on a team that doesn’t suck. If you think you’re so great, sign a one-year deal. If you want serious minutes on a seriously good line on a seriously good team, that would be Chicago. You don’t deserve $2 million- here’s $1.7.

Chris Campoli. You kinda screwed the pooch there, eh? The good news is, the Hawks want you back! I understand you also want to stay here- great. Here’s the deal- you’re the number 6 d-man, unless Leddy completely fucks up. Easy minutes, easy opposition, no special teams- $1.7 million- take it or leave it.

Viktor Stalberg. You’re a good kid- here’s $1.2 million.

Blackhawks: Do not cave in to stupid demands here- these decisions are where championships are made. These guys are all replaceable, and either they want a role on a team that is going places, or they don’t.

Next year’s roster as of now

Let’s assume the above sweet talking lands the Hawks their RFAs. At that point, the Hawks are prepared to go to battle with a better line-up than last year:

Line

Pos

Name

Cap

1

L

Brunette

2.000

1

C

Toews

6.300

1

R

Kane

6.300

2

L

Olesz

3.125

2

C

Sharp

3.900

2

R

Hossa

5.275

3

L

Bickell

0.541

3

C

Bolland

3.375

3

R

Frolik

1.700

4

L

Stalberg

1.200

4

C

Kruger

0.900

4

R

Carcillo

0.775

13

F

Mayers

0.550

1

D

Keith

5.538

1

D

Seabrook

5.800

2

D

Hjalmarsson

3.500

2

D

Leddy

1.116

3

D

Campoli

1.700

3

D

Montador

2.750

7

D

O'Donnell

0.850

1

G

Crawford

2.667

2

G

Salak

0.600

22-man roster

60.462

Remaining swag

3.838

 

From here, whence?

But that’s not all. Under this scenario, Stan still has $3.8 mildo to throw around ($3.3 million if the Hawks keep Fluffy around, although it’s harder to defend with the above roster; $3 million even if they overpay their RFAs.)

Adding, say, Chris Drury or a similar hard-nosed veteran FO/PK 4th liner costs maybe a million net (sending Kruger down saves $0.9 million.)

With $2.8 million left, the Hawks could cover just about any size contract at the trade deadline. Alternatively, if Olesz doesn’t work out, or the Hawks can move him, there’s another $3 mildoish to land the elusive missing top-6 forward. None of these moves will leave Stan incapable of finding the extra $1.5 million or so he'll need to resign Sharp. 

Up until now, Stan has pretty much had his hands tied financially. Right now, that is not true. He has marshaled his resources well to this point, in my opinion, but how we handles the RFAs and what he does with his remaining swag will be his biggest tests so far.


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