Blackhawks Blogger Roundtable
It's been a while since we've done one of these, but given the couple days off that the Hawks have, and that they're approximately midway through the season, I figured we'd get to the bottom of some issues with some throbbing hockey minds. Being represented this go around are Forklift of HockeeNight, John of the Fifth Feather, Jeff Bartl of Blackhawk Up, Chris Block of The Third Man In, and some guy named Sam who does Madhouse Enforcer for NBC.
And if you wanna find hell with me, I can show you what it's like...
- What do you see as being wrong with Duncan Keith to this point in the season, and can it be fixed?
Fork: I'm hoping it's something as simple as him being a little overwhelmed at being paid $8 million, and is trying to do too much. You can see where he's just not simplifying his game - looking for that one extra pass, shooting where there's no lane, playing with the puck too much. All things that are not part of the Duncan Keith game.
I'm envisioning the solution being R. Lee Ermey walking into the Hawks' dressing room and yelling at him "What's the matter with you, boy? You're DUNCAN KEITH!!! Start playing like you're DUNCAN KEITH!!! Do you understand me???"
John FF: At this point in the season, other than blasting shot after shot off shin guards, he's been alright. His start to the season is what everyone remembers now, but the mistakes Keith has been making lately (poor angles, firing the puck away without looking, etc.) are all things he's been doing his whole career. So I'm not sure those things will ever be wholly rectified.
The difference between last year and this year was his shot finding the back of the net with a bit more regularity and his mistakes weren't as glaring because when he did make them, it was Huet's fault or the opposition didn't capitalize on them.
Bartl: I'm inclined to side with The Feather here, because a lot of his mistakes are things we've seen before. The difference seems to be they're happening a lot more frequently than last season. Maybe he's over-thinking, trying to anticipate the opponent's forecheck rather than than reacting to what it gives him to work with. The blind passes are more frequent, and when he does hold possession, he seems to be holding it too long. Far too many times he's been caught dilly-dallying with the puck as the opposition moves on in him force a turnover or at least slow down the 'Hawks attack. Then there's the obvious blind shots without finding a lane before firing. Whether or not it can be fixed depends on him dealing with the mental side of getting over his mistakes, in my opinion.
Sam: I heard Barry Rozner on the Score say something to the effect of he's thinking too much out there. So because it's Rozner I have to go 180 degrees on this and say he's not thinking at all. Everything seems in such a rush with Keith, he's gotta make this pass RIGHT NOW or rush this puck around the boards instead of taking the extra second to make a better decision. It's the same in the offensive zone, where instead of walking a d-man it's just fire it now. He's trying to play at such a high speed, instead of playing at a normal speed that would be faster than most everyone else's game anyway. I thought his offensive numbers last year were a bit of an anomaly, so that'd doesn't bother me, but I wish he would just breathe in his own zone. I think it can be fixed though, he hasn't this prolonged a slump in a long time but it was just a couple weeks ago he was very good in that four game winning streak.
Block: I know this is a tough sell and hard to do logistically given other limited options, but I’d like to see Keith taken off the power play. Save his energy for the tough matchups 5-on-5 and the penalty kill. For the good of the team, recent failures of that PK unit is something the reigning Norris Trophy winner needs take ownership of. I’m tired of Toews being the only consistent (at least vocal) stand-up guy in that room. His game really began to tail off before the halfway point of last season, but for various reasons, Keith’s mistakes stand out more obviously this year. What strikes me is a total lack of enthusiasm in protecting the front of his goal. Also missing are the defensive reads and one-on-one defensive stands resulting in takeaways and the odd-man chances-for in transition which makes a big difference in that team-worst -7 plus/minus ranking not to mention the team’s win/loss record. As far as the power play, there’s a misconception of Keith being a huge contributor to that unit. Only 23 percent of his points came on the power play last year as opposed to 42 percent this year as he’s on pace to see better than a 20 point drop in overall production this season. Keith has been on the ice for 6 of the last 14 goals scored by way of the power play (one being an empty-netter) and it’s the Seabrook and Sharp tandem that have taken over first pairing responsibilities. On the short-handed side of things, Keith has been involved in 9 of the last 14 power play goals scored against the Hawks. Head up; stick on the ice. Keith needs to simplify things. Get defensive.
- Based on the season thus far, is Corey Crawford a long-term solution in net? And if so, will his price tag being a problem?
Sam: Lifetime? We won't know that for two to three years. But he's appearing to be every bit the solution that Antti Niemi would have been. This question can't be answered until we see how he finishes the season, but I really can't see how he could make more than 2-2.5 mildo.
- While he's been great since returning, as both the numbers and eye-test show, can Brian Campbell keep up this high a level of play for the remainder of the year?
Fork: As long as he stays healthy, there's no reason to believe he shouldn't. He's playing to his contract, and is currently one of the best defensemen in the NHL.
John FF: If his first two years here are any evidence, we can probably expect a lull in his play at some point. It would be lovely if he could keep up this play for the rest of the year, but if you're looking at it realistically, his play is probably going to drop off for a couple weeks. Then you'll hear from the usual places about what a waste he is.
Bartl: I still feel one of the main reasons we're asking this question is simply because of his contract. While I understand the amount of money a player makes will determine a decent level of evaluation, Campbell has been mainly solid since he's been here, save for a few publicized moments. Even so, those moments are amplified because of the dough he rakes in. Short answer: Yes, I believe so, simply because he's playing solid enough to shut up the meatballs, but not outstanding enough for us to start gushing. He's playing well, and I can see that continuing.
Sam: Don't see why not. This is kind of the thing he did for like five years in Buffalo which made him so expensive in the first place. If anything he can be better as his offensive numbers aren't quite where you'd like them, as good as he's been.
Block: As long as Campbell’s playing alongside a partner who allows him to do what he does best, there is no reason he can’t. If Hjalmarsson’s play were to drop off for a stretch, I’d switch the pairings and put Campbell with Seabrook right away because Campbell is far too important to what is intended to be a puck possession offense to have his efforts fatigued in any other way. Not to beat on Keith, but when Duncan Keith is on the bottom and Brian Campbell is on top of your team in the plus/minus category and there’s 26 +/- points separating the two, there’s no denying the former isn’t taking his defensive responsibilities seriously enough.
- Since returning to the Hawks after the WJC, what have your impressions of Nick Leddy been, and do they differ at all with what you saw in the first 5 games of the year?
Bartl: Leddy has been up-and-down, which is actually a compliment for a 19-year-old kid thrust onto a team maybe a year too early because of lost players and, more alarmingly, poor play from the guys we hoped would produce even minimally. His adventures are less threatening than what we were getting from Nick Boynton on a nightly basis. Having a 19-year-old kid fuck up every once in awhile compared to Boynton fart away pucks twice a game is easier to deal with. And as both Fork and the Feather said, he seems to make Hendry better. This seems like it's going to be the best third pairing we role out this season, baring any moves by Bowman.
Sam: To be honest I haven't noticed him all that much, which is probably a good thing. He's definitely playing with more confidence as some rushes up ice would attest, as to the non-panic in his own zone. But Wednesday is the last game he can play without starting his contract clock, and I don't know if he's the answer to the third pairing problems. And if you're not sure, then he should probably go down.
Lastly, how nice of a guy is Sam for giving away copies of the Indian for free on Sunday?/
John FF: Considering his heat was just shut off and he hasn't electricity in two years, I'd say the guy is preparing to sit in his throne at the right hand of God.
Bartl: What a swell fella. I had my money out and ready to go before I walked into the UC. I guess I should feel even more lucky that one of his Craigslist fellons didn't just try and take my money anyway, only to see the bold FREE TONIGHT! in the corner when I sat down.
Sam: Considering he only did it so everyone would tell him what a nice guy he is, that makes him a total asshole.
Block: I’d double up what Sam wrote.