It wasn't long ago that we were embracing (or at least accepting) Daniel Carcillo as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. He had the complete support of the coaching staff, seemed to be fitting on the fourth line and was saying all the right things off the ice.
"It says something to not have to come here and be just a fighter," Carcillo told the Sun-Times in December. "And [Joel Quenneville’s] been great. With some coaches, they expect you to always fight or be on edge. With Q, it’s just playing good, smart, defense-first hockey."
That's a good quote, and precisely what you'd hope to hear from a player seeking to show he's more than a modern day enforcer. Carcillo seemed to be working out in Chicago, just as he had finally rid his game of the unforced errors that often defined his past.
Fast forward to mid-January, and Carcillo is set for a phone hearing with the NHL's player safety department on Monday. The two sides will discuss Carcillo's poorly timed, mindless cross-check on Mathieu Perreault from the weekend, and likely set the stage for a suspension to be announced.
After the loss to Winnipeg, Carcillo called it a "hockey play," then followed up with a much different sentiment from the one we saw in December. "To be honest, I wasn't thinking about anything. I was on the ice for over a minute, so I was pretty tired," Carcillo told NHL.com's Brian Hedger.
He then called himself an enforcer, explaining that "You just kind of have a bit of a reputation of unpredictability and other guys just need to know that if something does happen like that, there'll be an answer."
This is what we always worried about with Carcillo, a divisive acquisition right from the start. The hit on Perreault wasn't a particularly egregious play -- hockey fans witness uglier hits all the time -- but it was a reminder that Carcillo, for all the bluster about discipline and being a different kind of player, remains on the team as a quasi-enforcer.
Now, I'm not going to pile on Carcillo, because that would be like screaming at your dog for eating something off the table. Sure, you can get mad, but c'mon, were you really expecting anything different? This is what Carcillo has done for years, with some brief exceptions when he decided to focus his talents on actual hockey.
Unfortunately, far too often, it seems like Carcillo grows impatient with his lack of on-ice production and decides to contribute in other ways. Other, "lemme try to fight this guy" ways.
Carcillo last scored a goal on Dec. 13 in a 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders. Since then, he's recorded a total of six shots in 11 games. Instead of trying to dig out of the hole of poor production by hunkering down and playing good hockey, Carcillo has gone the other direction, turning his focus toward being a storm of fists and negligence.
On a team as good as the Blackhawks, this is unacceptable. This is a waste of everybody's time. Carcillo didn't prevent Jonathan Toews from taking a huge hit to the head earlier in the season. He didn't stop Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg from missing significant time. We're talking about NHL players -- dudes who will take pucks off their faces and keep playing -- do you really think they're freaked out by a 6-foot Carcillo skating around trying to stir things up?
My guess is that they're thrilled a team as otherwise brilliant as the 'Hawks is shooting itself in the foot by committing important minutes to such a frustrating player.
Now, obviously, Chicago's coaching staff would disagree, and I'm not here to entirely dismiss that. NHL teams are ultimately collections of human beings, and there might be things that Carcillo does on and off the ice to make his teammates more comfortable and add to the greater whole. The feel to a locker room, the way players interact and support each other, the degree of seriousness of everyone involved ... these things matter. Even the most staunch advocates of advanced statistics and analytics will admit that a spreadsheet can't capture the entirety of what happens over the course of a game.
However, almost all of the positives that Carcillo does bring are intangible, and can't really be demonstrated or supported by anything but the coaching staff's words. What can be proven, on the other hand, is that Carcillo is one of the worst players on the team.
Whether you're looking at raw scoring production (seven points in 31 games) or possession stats (-5.5 percent Corsi relative), Carcillo stands out as particularly weak. And his numbers have been trending in the wrong direction, too, since that relatively solid stretch of play in November. Not that you needed to see any of this to realize Carcillo wasn't producing.
We were running out of reasons to explain Carcillo's presence before his unfortunate display against the Jets, which culminated a few weeks of declining play. Even though nothing especially significant has changed over the past few days -- again, Carcillo making a dumb play and having a "meh" explanation isn't surprising -- it felt like a reminder of how bizarre the Blackhawks' line of thinking has been all along.
Carcillo thinks he's an enforcer now, even though the team doesn't need one. If only the coaching staff would agree, we could move on from this exasperating situation. Maybe the suspension will give everyone some time to reflect.