When I started this thing about two months ago, I suggested there may be some random tangents along the way.
I just didn’t expected the first substantial tangent to be such a devastatingly sad one.
Taylor Hawkins died on Friday night at the age of 50 and I — like so many other music fans — remain in a state of shock that the Foo Fighters’ drummer is gone from this world. It seems incomprehensible. The Foo Fighters have been omnipresent for well over two decades, with a discography that stretches back into the prior century and a lineup that’s remained largely unchanged throughout the band’s tenure.
And they were in the middle of tour! They were playing all over South America! The entire set from their Lollapalooza Argentina show is on YouTube and there’s zero indication of the fate awaiting them. Just a few days before that, they were in Chile, where Hawkins traded spots with Dave Grohl for a fantastic cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” Watch that video and explain to me how in the hell someone that full of life is gone. It defies explanation.
Sometimes the simplest description is also the most appropriate: Hawkins — and, because of him, the Foo Fighters — were such a fun band. It doesn’t feel like any other words are necessary here. They were so fucking fun. They were in a band that exploded in popularity, that sold out massive arenas wherever they went, and they were having the time of their lives whenever they walked out onto a stage.
Part of that fun stemmed from doing the same thing that every group of teenagers does when they’re starting a band: they covered the music they grew up loving. Queen was a popular choice — with Hawkins channeling Freddie Mercury as much as possible. They covered Cheap Trick at the Cubby Bear with Rick Nielsen. They covered KISS with Paul Stanley. They covered Rick Astley with Rick Astley. They covered John Lennon’s music with Van Halen’s lyrics. They did an entire album as the “Dee Gees.”
And it always felt like Hawkins was the center of all of this. Whether he was walloping on the drums behind Grohl or stepping out front to sing those songs himself, no one in the building looked like they were having more fun than Hawkins.
Just look at what this guy was wearing the last time the Foo Fighters stopped in Chicago:
Tiger-striped leggings. Van Halen “5150” board shorts (which he threw into the crowd seconds after this screenshot). A shirt with a drum kit and a caption of: “The tempo is whatever I say it is.” How could anyone not have a blast with that guy hammering away on the drums for two or three hours every night?
And in what felt like the blink of an eye, Hawkins is gone. A family has lost its husband and father, a group of tight-knit friends in a band has lost one of their own and entire music world has lost someone who made an immeasurable impact.
The scene below will never happen on another stage in another part of the world again, and it makes the world feel a little less fun than it was before last Friday.
Taylor Hawkins forever.
The Week That Was
And now to raise everyone’s spirits: the 2021-22 Blackhawks!
And the week started off so well!
Getting colder ...
Blowing a three-goal lead on the road to a team desperate for a win that kept them in the playoff chase does not feel like such an egregious sin.
Especially when it’s compared to whatever the hell this game was.
Derek King deserves a lot of credit for steering this team to safety after the disastrous first month of the season. His record is 23-24-8 this season, which isn’t great but certainly could’ve been worse after the way October went. He’s also been generally pleasant in media appearances, an uplifting presence and positive PR look for a team in desperate need of both. I’ll forever be in favor of more people as head coach with a personality like King, the ones who don’t take these games so seriously. Pro sports can still be fun, you know.
But King’s comments following Monday’s debacle against Buffalo were uninspiring:
"I'm very surprised, disappointed. And they should be disappointed. We'll find out come next game how disappointed they really are about losing a game like that."— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) March 29, 2022
They just struck me as a coach who was running out of ideas, barely over 50 games into his initial stint as an NHL head coach — interim or not. King was not placed in an easy spot when he took over this role but it seems like any NHL-level head coach should have an idea of how to keep players disciplined within the hockey systems being implemented. And if those players are moving outside of those boundaries, then the coach should also have some method to bring those players back inside the lines: a quick bag skate at a practice, a spot on the bench for a shift or a period or even an entire game ... something to communicate that those mistakes are not acceptable. After blowing multi-goal leads in the last two games, it feels like King is struggling to keep the Blackhawks in order — and that makes it very difficult to envision King as any sort of long-term option behind the bench.
In a similar vein:
King on ice time for Blackhawks’ young players:— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) March 26, 2022
“They’ve got to earn it still. There’s still that accountability. I’m not just going to throw ice time at guys because this isn’t developing.”
This is an understandable philosophy for King to implement. But that coin has two sides, and the other one of it begs this question: after the horrific defense played in the last two games that led to a seven goals worth of leads disappearing, what blue-liners are earning the right to be in the lineup every game? We don’t know if he’d be any better, but it’s hard to imagine that the recently signed Alex Vlasic could possibly be any worse.
Alex Vlasic healthy-scratched for the 3rd straight game.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) March 29, 2022
One last thing
This was posted in Tuesday’s MBS but I wanted to bring it here again because it was such a fascinating conversation: former Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya was on the “32 Thoughts Podcast” with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek earlier this week. Oduya, a notoriously reluctant interview throughout his playing career, talked for about 50 minutes on a wide range of topics. Perhaps the most interesting part came when Oduya was asked by Marek about the role physicality plays in defensive hockey right now:
“In New Jersey, we always talked about positioning first. You can go make a hit but you can’t get out of position to do it ... if you’re running around all the time and you have no control of what you’re doing because you want to collect hits, I think that’s a very bad strategy for a defenseman. For me, it was always more about trying to absorb hits and actually get the forwards to hit me. It’s tough for forwards to run around and hit people. Ask any forward, and if you tell them to go around and get 20 hits in a game, that’s super difficult to do. They’re going to be gassed out. For me, the more people chased me and the more they hit me — if I’m smart and I can move the puck, then come and hit me as much as you want. You’re the one who’s going to get tired.”
And one other quote related to developing younger players (Oduya is coaching teenagers in Sweden right now), which has some relevance with the Blackhawks’ current state of affairs:
Before you used to come in and you’d have two or three years in the minors and you’d learn how to play the game. That time is basically gone now. It’s so much more important to learn those things way earlier.
The whole podcast is worth your time. Plenty of Blackhawks flashbacks in there as well, including a discussion of what it was like to be on the ice for that wild finish to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
The Week That Will Be
Thursday, March 31 at Florida Panthers
Friday, April 1 at Tampa Bay Lightning
Sunday, April 3 vs. Arizona Coyotes
Going from facing Florida and Tampa on back-to-back nights to hosting Arizona is about as turbulent of a roller-coaster ride the NHL can produce.
Kitty chases Fiddy
He’s not out of contention yet, folks.
Last Week: 4 games, 4 goals
Season Totals: 67 games, 38 goals
Current Pace: (38 goals / 67 games played) * 82 games = 46.51 goals
Now just three away from tying his career-high with an outside shot at 50 goals if DeBrincat caught a real heater over the final month of the season. It’s asking for an awful lot after a 4-game, 4-goal binge though.