Let’s try something new around these parts.
It’s inspired by the excellent “This Week in the Bulls” series revived by Ricky O’Donnell this winter now that the Chicago Bulls are — according to sources — back. The SCH version of this will obviously be more Blackhawks-centric but should appear on most Monday mornings. This week’s edition slid back to Tuesday due to Monday being a gameday.
Presenting: The Blackhawks Week That Was and Will Be
Is the name too long? Almost certainly. But it’s a pretty good summation of what to expect from each post: a look back at what happened in the week before along with a quick look at what’s coming down the road. The topics will almost always be Blackhawks-focused. At times, it may stray elsewhere around the league. It’s likely to continue into the offseason when the topics may stray all over the place. We’ll find out when we get there. It’s not going to be serious unless it needs to be.
Above all else, though, the hope is that it’s going to be fun. Because that was always the whole point of being here in the first place. It’s always going to be a place where I’ll frequent the comment section for further discussion on any of the topics presented, because that’s also a significant reason for this whole thing. So stop on by whenever you’re avoiding work on Monday (or Tuesday) morning because I’ll probably be here, doing the same thing.
There will probably a bunch of music references sprinkled in as well because, why not? Without further ado, let’s dive in:
The Week That Was
Monday, Jan. 24: Avalanche 2, Blackhawks 0
Wasn’t a terrible performance from Chicago. They’re just not as good as Colorado.
Wednesday, Jan. 26: Blackhawks 8, Red Wings 5
For one night, “Detroit sucks” was accurate. That didn’t suck.
Friday, Jan. 28: Avalanche 6, Blackhawks 4
No more games against the Avalanche this season? Fine by me.
Monday, Jan. 31: Canucks 3, Blackhawks 1
A significant portion of this article was written during the third period of this game, which indicates how much of it was worth watching.
Searching for a Former Clarity
The Blackhawks announced the committee that’s going to help the team hire a new general manager, with the decision expected in the next few weeks:
Marian Hossa, Eddie Olczyk and Patrick Sharp selected as advisors to assist in search for the next #Blackhawks general manager. pic.twitter.com/8LCvI4VaES— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) January 31, 2022
The announcement feels ... fine. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with having a couple former players on the committee along with a guy like Olczyk who’s been around the league forever. As long as they’re part of the committee and and all of it, it seems like a reasonable approach.
The real interesting name, for my money, is Mike Forde. His name is probably unfamiliar to those in the Blackhawks fan base, but he’s well-known around professional sports leagues across the globe. He was the subject of a lengthy profile from The Ringer last year that detailed his background with the NBA and the Premier League.
Here’s an excerpt that gives a brief overview of what Forde does as detailed by Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé:
Forde told him about his previous career as an executive for some of Europe’s premier soccer clubs, including Chelsea. He told him about Sportsology, the consulting firm he founded and runs. He explained that his job is to help professional sports organizations—in all sorts of leagues, all over the world—perform internal analysis and assessments but that sometimes he also helps fill GM vacancies. He explained, with the kind of detail typically reserved for tedious management workshops, how the searches in those situations worked. They talked about what Ranadivé hoped to achieve, identified strengths, and diagnosed weakness. Ranadivé relished it all.
Forde’s involvement does not guarantee success, of course. The article dives into those who don’t speak as highly of Forde, whether it’s related to the lack of diversity within Sportsology or Forde’s work overall. But hiring a person more associated with soccer and basketball for the hiring of such a high-profile hockey position suggests the Blackhawks organization is actually willing to listen to voices from outside the hockey world. That can be chalked up as progress for a team that had a guy named Bowman in charge for the prior decade-plus.
Dylan Strome and a study in recency bias
It’s real easy to be high on a player after they score a hat trick, as Strome did against the Red Wings last week during a career-high, four-point game. If performances like that were more frequent over the course of Strome’s tenure with the Blackhawks, though, then perhaps he would not have been the subject of trade rumors for the last few years.
It’s always felt like there’s something more to be gleaned from Strome’s talent than what’s been displayed at times. When he first came to Chicago early in the 2018-19 season, he was nearly a point-per-game producer with 51 points in 58 games. In the 129 games since, he has just 73 points: about 0.57 PPG. Yet the offensive talent is on display in games like the one he had against Detroit.
I loved the play below, in particular. So many players would try to follow up their own rebound with another shot that would probably be smothered by the opposing goalie. But Strome has the hockey instincts to notice Lafferty being wide open at the back post and the hockey skills to give Lafferty an easy tap-in:
Mr. Sam Lafferty's first goal as a Blackhawk pic.twitter.com/7SBeqZA3Ti— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) January 27, 2022
Strome may never be a top-line center but he certainly seems like he wouldn’t kill a good team if he was on the second line. Strome’s faceoff percentage has skyrocketed up to 55.7 percent this season, miles above his career mark of 48.1 — a sign that he can still find ways to improve.
Right now, the Blackhawks have two players who are unquestionable top-six guys: Kane and DeBrincat. That leaves four spots open.
Toews is probably on the fringe and trending downward due to his age. Strome is probably on the fringe as well but he’s still young, turning 25 in March. Lukas Reichel is the only prospect with a ceiling near the “top-six forward” label right now. Giving up on Strome by this year’s trade deadline feels like it would create another hole in the lineup with no replacement imminent.
And there’s another question regarding Strome that applies to a few other younger players within the organization: what would he look like if he played for a coach that knew how to put him in a spot where he could best succeed?
The Week That Will Be
Wednesday, Feb. 2 vs. Minnesota Wild
Last game before the All-Star break and if the Blackhawks play on Wednesday like they did on Monday, then the Wild will be more than happy to kick the Hawks’ collective ass up and down the ice all game.
After that, it’s All-Star weekend.
I’ve never really cared much for the All-Star Game but have always been a fan of the Superskills Competition because it provides a close look at how insanely talented these players are.
And this idea rules:
Las Vegas NHL 21 in ’22: It's blackjack meets hockey.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) January 31, 2022
Full deck of oversized playing cards on a rack. 5 players shoot pucks at them to make “21” in the least number of shots, without going bust. The player who wins two rounds is crowned Puck Shark. pic.twitter.com/0da4jLQhl4
Just don’t hit on 20, like this genius.
One Last Thing
Because we all need something to keep us going for the final three months of this season, here’s a thing we can track over the rest of the season: Alex DeBrincat’s pursuit of a 50-goal season.
Suggestions welcome for a title of this portion of the weekly posts. I will spend a potentially unhealthy amount of time over the next week wrestling with possibilities.
Last Week: 4 games, 3 goals
Season Totals: 45 games, 26 goals
Current Pace: 0.58 goals per game * 82 games = 47.56 goals
Including Monday’s game, DeBrincat has just three goals in his eight games. He had nine in the nine games prior. If he heats back up, that pace will jump back over 50. He was at 23 goals after 36 games: a pace of 52.39 over 82 games.