Monday, 25 October 2021

Have You Heard About Owen?

I'll be upfront and tell your right at the beginning of this article that I am not superstitious whatsoever. I believe that effort and hard work put in will result in good things at the end, and that streaks are a combination of hard work and a dash of luck. Luck, as you know, can go both ways, so you may see players working hard without the results they desire, and this "snakebitten" player usually starts to see his or her confidence erode as the chances simply won't go in. The Chicago Blackhawks are a whole other story this season as they seemingly have been working hard, but the results aren't there.

Maybe you believe in karma? After all the news that broke out of the Windy City about the Blackhawks and their cover-up of sexual assaults and every denial about knowing it was going on during their championship run in 2010, perhaps the "Hockey Gods" are exacting some revenge on a team that looked like it would compete this year. Chicago has started the season 0-5-1 thus far, and they have looked rather terrible in doing so which results in the image above where head coach Jeremy Colliton handed a blank whiteboard to the players on the ice for them to draw up their own scheme for goals against the Red Wings.

Maybe you believe that handing players insane contracts for insane lengths of time have contributed to the mess we're seeing in Chicago? The Kane contract and the Toews contract were hard to stomach at the time of them signing their $10.5 million deals, but GM Stan Bowman went ahead and threw some additional gasoline on the fire by signing former Blue Jackets defender Seth Jones to an eight-year, $9.5 million deal that all but assured that the Blackhawks would be filling most roster spots with AHL talent.

It doesn't matter if the Blackhawks went out and acquired the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Marc-Andre Fleury if he has no one that can help him. Eight of the Blackhawks forwards are signed to deals for $1 million or less - a figure near the league-minimum for contract value. The four defenders the Blackhawks have sunk the most money into - Jones, Calvin De Haan, Jake McCabe, and Connor Murphy - aren't really the kind of defenders that are seen as dynamic or stoppers in the NHL. They buried Brett Connelly in the minors at $2,375,000 for this season and the next, and have Dylan Strome watching from the pressbox for $3 million as they try to work out a trade to move him. And to add a little more salt to this wound, the Blackhawks are without Patrick Kane, Riley Stillman, and Jujhar Khaira due to COVID-19 protocols.

This team is an absolute mess right now, and laying blame at the feet of one person isn't really fair despite Bowman's inability to extract value out of anyone while overpaying for players who may never live up to the value of their contracts.

Perhaps you think I'm being too harsh on a team that's clearly transitioning to a new era of players following Stanley Cup successes. In that regard, consider this stat: the Blackhawks have yet to lead in any game this season, trailing for a whopping 360:57! They've been booed off the ice by United Center fans three times in six games, and their sellout streak at the arena came to an end on Sunday as there were tickets available the game for the first time in 535 contests.

All of these factors have the Blackhawks searching for answers, but they aren't losing their perspective on the remaining games in the season.

"I believe we have the makings of a good group," Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton told reporters on Sunday night. "We haven't put it together yet, so we need to. I feel like we can play a brand of hockey and be a team that people in Chicago are proud of, but we got to deliver."

It's fairly clear in watching this Blackhawks team that there are systemic problems all over the ice, and that leads back to the systems being run by Colliton and his staff. The Blackhawks, who don't have overly imposing forwards, are chipping pucks in deep and looking for recoveries when it seems clear that they have the talent to be able to skate the puck in with possession and try to generate offensive chances. Their defenders aren't particularly skilled at pinching in to keep pucks alive in the offensive zone, so it seems like the Blackhawks spend more time defending than generating offence.

Chicago currently has the third-worst Expected Goals-For at 42.22% as per Natural Hat Trick. Some of that is due to a woefully low shooting percentage as the Blackhawks simply can't hit twine with their shots, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that they're chasing pucks they've chipped into the offensive zone as opposed to maintaining possession. And while shooting percentages will regress back to the mean and we'll see the Blackhawks score more goals at some point, they'll need to shore up their defensive zone as well. In all six games thus far, no team has scored less than four goals per game. That's a death sentence for any hockey team that's struggling to score as it is.

The Blackhawks will play the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, and one has to wonder if either team will snap out of their early-season funks. After that, they have dates with the combined 10-0 Carolina Hurricanes and St. Louis Blues on back-to-back nights, so October's horror show may continue into November if the Blackhawks can't find a way to win this week.

Blackhawks fans may want to get used to the new kid that Chicago management has brought in. His name is Owen, and he isn't often seen in Chicago, especially around the United Center. However, if this Owen Six kid becomes Owen Nine, I suspect there may be dramatic changes on the horizon in Chicago come November.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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