Pushing Forwards Back: Hawks' Forward Mid-Term Reports

So, over the next couple of days Matt and I will look at the forwards on the Hawks and the seasons they are having.  Because neither one of us is cogent, or probably sober, enough to do them all, we'll split them up.  Here, now, we'll do the Toews and Bolland lines, and Matt will take care of the rest when he gets bored at work, which should be any minute now.  Overall, it would be hard to argue against the work of a forward line that has the Hawks 4th in the league in scoring.  It's either encouraging or discouraging that there is room to improve, I leave that to you.  To the individuals....

2008 - Jonathan Toews 45 13 23 36 5 29 3 0 3 1 104 12.5

Most Hawks fans would tell you that Toews is having somewhat of a sophomore slump, though he's on pace for 23 goals and 66 points or so, which wouldn't be bad.  But we've all expected more.  Unfortunately, just about everything is working against Captain Marvel, the big one at the beginning of the season being Captain Marvel.  It was clear for the first 10 games, when Toews didn't have a goal, that he was pressing far too hard and trying to do everything himself.  As the goal-drought got longer, it only got worse.  Finally, Toews broke through, and he seemed to relax more.

Captain Marvel has also not been helped by the line re-shuffling.  On one side he's got Byfuglien, and there's been enough space wasted talking about him, and skating in by him, that we don't need to do that here, as I'll have to do it later anyway.  On the other side is Vers....sorry, VERSTEEG!, the clubhouse-Calder leader.  But Versteeg has benefitted from Toews more than the other way around.  It's Captain Marvel doing the hard work along the boards, setting up the play, and VERSTEEG! cashing in.  It's not that VERSTEEG! doesn't have good vision or hands to get Toews the puck, it just hasn't happened all that much yet.  Doesn't mean it won't.

But there have been moments from Toews that keep reminding us there's every chance #19 will hang in the rafters some day, and it begins with his tour-de-force at the Joe.  Toews is also being asked more often than not to stand in front of the net, at even strength and on the PP, more than his preferred half-boards, where Sharp has taken up residence to wail one-timers away.  Captain Marvel is still the heartbeat of this team, and we hope that a #2 center arrives soon to get him back with his preferred mates of Kane and Sharp, and we can see his best every night.  Three Guinness:

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G A P +/- PIM
2008 - Kris Versteeg 13 23 36 16 43

Ah, yes, the apple of Matt's, and my friend Ashely's, eye.  Before the season, I wrote the preview for Versteeg on our old site, and frankly I thought this kid was going to end up in a bucket.  He seemed to play a hard-nosed, physical, contact-heavy game, and at his size I didn't think he'd last.  Little did I know that VERSTEEG! was only doing that as he'd been put on the 3rd and 4th lines and was filling a roll.  VERSTEEG! has since played his way into a top-6 forward.  He's shown great hands, and an uncanny knack for just being in the right place at the right time, and also a skill for pissing off Wayne Gretzky.  Frankly, from what we expected, we could not have asked for anything more.  VERSTEEG! has hit a wall recently, and it's hard to tell if it's a slump or water seeking its own level.  This road trip will be big for VERSTEEG! especially, as the Hawks need to balance out their scoring from more than just Havlat doing all the work.  Still, we'll give Versteeg four Guinness:


2008 - Dustin Byfuglien 42 9 10 19 4 55 3 0 2 0 107 8.4

The bane of all our existence.  I know what the Hawks brass see in Buff.  A big forward, booming shot, decent (maybe) skating for that size.  But frankly, I'm tired of waiting for the total package to arrive, and believe that his $3 mil is Tallon's biggest mistake so far.  Sometimes Buff isn't physical enough to make his size count, sometimes he is.  Sometimes he brings it every shift, other times it's as if he doesn't care.  You'll see him blister a slapper top shelf as in against Nashville, other times you'll see open net chances go rollling off his stick, like against St. Louis Wednesday.  His goals and points have come in bunches, and he either can't, wont', or doesn't know how to get his big ass in front of the net, where he belongs.  He claims he'd rather be on the point for the PP, but his hands and vision aren't good enough to get the puck into the zone, or keep it there, to use his biggest asset.  His passenger-ship is also hurting our prized jewel Captain Marvel, who has to do the work of both most of the time.

I'm done waiting for Buff, and the Hawks should be, too.  I bet some GM will see his size and skill-set, and think he can get the best out of him.  Maybe a change of scenery would, but it's time to find out, and we need the cap space.  I don't want to see the Hawks get smaller than they are, but Buff being in the lineup or not doesn't really effect that.  Just because you're big doesn't mean you play that way.  1.5 Guinness:


2008 - Dave Bolland 45 8 17 25 14 18 0 1 2 0 58 13.8

In the dark days of the first season after the lockout, after whatever terrible loss the Hawks would have invariably suffered on that given night, I would cheer myself up by checking out Bolland's stats at London Knights.  It turned out to be 57 goals, 73 assists and 130 points, to go with 104 PIM.  Here was hope, I thought, before Kane's or Toews's name had ever appeared on anyone's lips.  Here was a genuine prospect, who would help change things.  I waited for Dave.  I waited for another season.  I kept tabs on him at Norfolk, where after a slow start he caught fire.  Finally, last year, he got the call.  He struggled a lot, but also showed flashes of being a wonderful player.  He had jam, speed, and an underrated pair of hands.  A broken foot against Edmonton pretty much scuppered last season for him, but I knew we had a player on our hands.

Bolland has gone and solidified that theory this season.  Maybe the points total won't wow anyone.  But anyone who has watched the Hawks every night knows that Bolland has been one of the best players on the team.  Not only has he contributed offensively, been a fine penalty killer, but more often than not he's been taking the other teams' best line out of the game.  Jarome Iginla probably never wants to see him again.  Bolland has become the Hawks Jordan Staal, and without any of the fanfare or price.  Perhaps one day Bolland will rise to a #2 center, but as long as he's the #3, the Hawks will have one of the best #3 centers in the league.  And my time spent checking up on him through the years will not have been in vain.  Four Guinness.


2008 - Andrew Ladd 45 8 20 28 19 18 0 0 0 0 107 7.5

Here's another player that only fans who watch most, if not every, game, can appreciate.  More often than not, Ladd has been the best player on the ice, especially since being paired with Bolland and The Perfect Beard.  He's created havoc in the offensive zone, constantly gaining possesion and turnovers.  He's been physical, and has actually gotten his big body in front of the net.  He's been even better in the other zone, as his +19 would attest, as would his lead amongst forwards in Behind the Net Rating.  We forget how young Ladd is, only 23, and how much room there is to grow.  If this is only the starting point, I can't hardly wait to see what's next.  4.5 Guinness.


2008 - Martin Havlat 45 15 22 37 16 16 4 0 2 0 128 11.7

Few players used to divide Hawks fans like The Perfect Beard.  Marty was either lazy or tentative, a pussy or just soft, ridiculously talented or overblown, depending on who you talked to.  Marty started the year playing with the wrong center, in Sharp, who couldn't get him the puck.  His performances early reflected a frustration, and also a little  gun-shy-ness to physicality, as he was clearly worried about his shoulder.  However, even during this time, Havlat popped up with important goals, like against Phoenix or Detroit at home the first time or against Calgary.  Still, it wasn't awe-inspiring.

Then came the switch which turned his season, and maybe the Hawks' season, around.  After the West Coast swing, Havlat was put on the line with Bolland and Ladd.  Despite playing the game in what appeared to a giant sulk for the indignity of being placed on what was called the "3rd" line, Marty still potted the game-tying goal in the 3rd period.  But after a few games, Havlat realized what we all did.  He wasn't being demoted, just put with a center who could actually, consistently get him the puck.  Since then, Havlat has been a force, at times carrying the team.  His line has been the Hawks 1st, 2nd, and 3rd line.  He has 20 points in those 23 games since the move, and you've noticed him on every shift.  If he played on the first PP unit, those points would be higher.  He's played so well some of us are wondering if resigning him isn't a ridiculous notion.  Either way, long may his dominant streak continue.  Another 4.5 Guinness