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Blackhawks Week That Was and Will Be, 1/31: Legacies

Some thoughts on Monday’s news and a look at one Blackhawks blue-liner who’s having a rebound season.

Colorado Avalanche v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

There were countless times on Monday when my mind went to Stan Mikita.

With Bobby Hull dying on Monday, the two pillars of the Blackhawks teams from the 1960s are both gone from here now but will remain immortalized by the statue outside the United Center and by their names and numbers hanging from the rafters.

As the discussion hovered around Hull’s horrendous off-ice behavior, I kept thinking about Mikita, because Mikita was — and will forever be — just about the epitome of everything you’d hope one of your sports heroes would be.

Mikita was every bit of Hull’s equal on the ice and not worth any comparison off of it. Mikita came from humble beginnings in rural portions of the Slovak Republic before retiring from hockey in 1980 as one of the game’s legends. He was, perhaps, an even better man off the ice, helping start the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association and working extensively with the Special Olympics. That article linked in the prior sentence also tells the story of why Mikita cleaned up his act on the ice, leading to a pair of Lady Byng trophies: because his daughter, Meg, wondered aloud why her father was always sitting by himself in the penalty box. It’s no wonder that it was Mikita — not Hull — who wore the “C” in Chicago during their years as teammates.

When Mikita died in 2018, the Blackhawks hosted a public visitation at the United Center amidst a seemingly never-ending string of tributes from the NHL community. The Blackhawks also wore a No. 21 patch throughout the 2018-19 season and painted Mikita’s number on the ice behind each goal.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Mikita was worthy of all of those tributes because of who he was as a person as well as a hockey player. But Hull was not, in ways that that have been talked and tweeted about for nearly 24 hours now.

And that’s why the Blackhawks need to acknowledge that in whatever way they decide to recognize Hull at the team’s next home game on Tuesday, Feb. 7 against the Anaheim Ducks. Hull’s number is still going to be in the rafters. Hull’s name is still all over the team’s record books. Hull’s likeness is still depicted in that statue outside the stadium. His hockey contributions are not going anywhere.

But for all of Hull’s failings as a person, he cannot be acknowledged in the same way as his long-time teammate was. The Blackhawks’ organization won’t be kicking dirt over Hull’s grave but they sure as hell don’t need to toss any undeserved flowers in that direction, either.

The Week That Was

Tuesday, Jan. 24: Canucks 5, Blackhawks 2

It’s entirely possible this could be the high point of the Rick Tocchet era in Vancouver, which would be hysterical.

Thursday, Jan. 26: Blackhawks 5, Flames 1

This is the kind of performance the Blackhawks need to put together every few weeks to sustain us among the plethora of losses between them.

Saturday, Jan. 28: Oilers 7, Blackhawks 3

Will be oversharing this tweet as an attempt to speak it into existence:

Hold Fast Hope

Back to the present-day Blackhawks.

Given Luke Richardson’s prototype as an NHL player, Jake McCabe figured to be high on the list of players who could flourish under Richardson’s guidance. And through half of this season, it’s starting to look that could be the case.

Let’s start by looking at McCabe’s player card from JFresh Hockey:

The percentages to the left are based on the past three seasons overall, which puts McCabe into the top fifth of NHL defensemen — pretty damn good value at $4 million AAV. The charts to the right confirm the general consensus of the eye test regarding McCabe’s play: solid play in his final season with the Buffalo Sabres (2020-21), a tough debut season in Chicago while recovering from offseason knee surgery (2021-22) before a return to solid play this season.

Although most players on the team have horrendous possession numbers because of the team’s overall lack of quality this season, McCabe stands out among Blackhawks defensemen. Of the eight blue-liners who’ve skated at least 200 minutes at 5-on-5 this season, McCabe has the best shot attempts share (CF%) at 45.30 percent, and is second-best in shot share (44.66 percent), scoring chance share (43.14 percent) and expected goal share (44.34 percent). The only players above him in those categories are ones who’ve had more favorable zone starts, too. Put it all together, and McCabe has been on the ice for 28 Blackhawks goals and 31 opponents’ goals at 5-on-5, a differential of minus-3 that is the best among Chicago defensemen and looks even better when placed in the context of the team being minus-56 (yikes!) overall this season.

The simplest way to put it is that the Blackhawks have been better when McCabe’s been on the ice. We’ll get into potential trade discussions later but, with McCabe under contract for two more seasons at that rather affordable $4 million AAV — an amount which could be even lower if the Blackhawks retain some value — he could be a highly desired piece of some contender’s championship puzzle at the deadline. He also turns 30 in October, so his place in any long-term Blackhawks’ plans would be an interesting discussion — one that’s likely ongoing over at 1901 W. Madison.

The Week That Will Be

A quick update on the future of SCH: There’s not too much to report because our corporate overlords have still not given us enough detail on what’s going to happen to this space after February. We know they’re not shutting the sites down completely but we also know they’re not going to compensate us (or someone else) for our work. We don’t know if we’re going to be allowed to take the reins of things like the website itself, domain, publishing platform, social media accounts, etc. once things end. This is all to say: we still don’t know what’s going to happen yet but we’ll let you know when we do.

Does that sound frustrating as hell? If so, join the club!