Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton preaches work ethic and compete level as the primary foundation for rebuilding the team back into a contender. This past season, the Hawks exhibited both traits fairly consistently despite the final outcome of games in a losing season.
Some of the unfavorable scores were due to poor execution of fundamentals in all zones. Some of it was due to a squad that was largely young and inexperienced. And some of it was the byproduct of having few high-end talent at key positions and roles in the lineup.
On that last point, the Hawks lack of a #1 defenseman is a topic being debated almost ad nauseum in the blogosphere especially with Duncan Keith's decline from that distinction and interest in some of the NHL's upper echelon of D-men in Seth Jones and Dougie Hamilton.
Another example was the absence of #1 center and captain Jonathan Toews. Losing Kirby Dach for most of the season added to the impacted depth down the middle. It didn't help that Dylan Strome failed to take the bull by the horns in order to step up as a top 6 center.
Also, remember at the start of his coaching tenure, Colliton also stated that line combinations don't matter as much as working and competing hard. While that's part of the equation to win, it may not be enough to do it consistently in the regular season and playoffs.
In other words, work ethic and compete level can only take a team so far. To get a team over the hump, top-shelf talent needs to take over. Yet, sometimes it's the other way around where blue-chip talent hits a limit but then work ethic and compete level propels the team.
Winning clubs need both. For the Hawks at present, they may have an increasingly perpetual supply of players on the varsity team and in the system who can work and compete hard. What the organization is deficient in is all-star caliber players at all positions.
Patrick Kane is still performing at an elite level but Toews is an unknown at this point while Keith is fading more each year. Are there facsimiles of other past heroes from the recent Cup era like Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Corey Crawford?
At the start of this offseason, general manager Stan Bowman has publicly said that he wants to add more "experienced and accomplished" players. Is he referring to Jones, Hamilton, and other players of that ilk? Or is he referring to the blue-collar types?
A few days ago the Hawks signed Czech forward Jakub Pour who fits that latter category: a big body who is industrious and plays a heavy style suited for the bottom 6. As such, he may not move the team's needle much and may have a difficult team even cracking the roster.
Pour gets added to a legion of hard workers with at least above average compete levels like MacKenzie Entwistle, Adam Gaudette, Mike Hardman, Vincent Hinostroza, David Kampf, Philipp Kurashev, and Pius Suter. And don't forget the king of relentlessness Brandon Hagel.
None of the above, though, project to be top 6 forwards. Dach still has 1st line potential. Alex Nylander perhaps if he can finally put it all together. Top prospects and rookie hopefuls Lukas Reichel and Henrik Borgstrom were drafted with the 1st or 2nd lines in mind.
When looking at the blueline, Adam Boqvist and Wyatt Kalynuk may have sufficient talent to play on the top pair but neither are necessarily poised to eventually become the #1 defenseman. Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin realistically top out as 2nd pair defenders.
There's also the chance that the eventual water level for Boqvist, Kalynuk, Mitchell, and Beaudin is no higher than #3 on the D depth chart. Do any of them come close to replicating the championship pedigree of the Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson triumvirate?
And that's the kicker: the Hawks may have an endless supply of middle 6 and bottom 6 forwards and 2nd pair and 3rd pair rearguards but not enough star power to get the team to the next levels of competition. At some point, playoff berths and one-and-done series won't cut it.
To put it another way, there's a dropoff in talent after Kane and Alex DeBrincat. Dominik Kubalik may be trending toward DeBrincat's stratosphere. Regardless, the Hawks need more game-breaking talent to move up in the league from a tweener team to a Cup-contending one.
Reported by Mark Lazerus and Scott Powers of the Athletic
, a league source states that RFA defenseman Nikita Zadorov is seeking a 5-year contract at $5.85M per year which is a hefty raise over his latest salary of $3.2M. Even an increase to $4M is a stretch.
Zadorov has had three consecutive "show me" deals first with a 2-year deal in Colorado then successive one-year contracts with the Avalanche and now the Hawks. The league source claims Zadorov is now aiming for more job security now that he's in his late 20's.
While one can't blame a player for seeking such security, it isn't easy to fathom paying $5.85M for a defenseman who struggles to be consistently effective at protecting the net, throwing his weight around, and intimidating the opposition.
Although he's nothing more than defensive depth and a heavy hitter who can fight, career minor leaguer Dmitri Osipov adds experience and muscle to a young IceHogs blueline. As the roster stands at present, the 2021-22 D corps includes the following:
* Jakub Galvas (1st year)
* Chad Krys (3rd year)
* Isaak Phillips (2nd year)
* Alec Regula (2nd year)
Cole Moberg was not offered an NHL contract once his draft rights expired earlier this month but it's not out of the question for the Hogs to sign him to an AHL contract instead. Phillips and Moberg formed a dependable and physical D pair last season.
This past season Michael Krutil was first on an amateur tryout agreement then was inked to a standard player contract for the remainder of the campaign. For at least the next season, it's in his best interest to develop in juniors. The pros was too much for him.
There's also the possibility that Mitchell and/or Beaudin start 2021-22 in the AHL to round out their defensive game at a more appropriate level then graduate back to the NHL in due course. Spots open up for them, though, if veterans Calvin de Haan and Zadorov are moved.
According to the aforementioned Athletic article, the Blackhawks will hold prospects camp virtually this summer. The reason for this decision is that it would be tough for European prospects to participate in order for there to be an equitable experience for all.
See you on the boards!