Somehow, Blackhawks went from ‘tough’ guys to new guys
BY ADAM L. JAHNS email@example.com March 7, 2012 9:18PM
The Hawks expected a return to the “tough” days of 2010 with the addition of players such as Andrew Brunette (second from right) to a core of stars including Patrick Kane (right), Brent Seabrook (left) and Marian Hossa. | Tom Gannam~AP
Updated: April 10, 2012 11:32AM
The Blackhawks’ offseason plan called for toughness, and it made perfect sense when it was pitched to everyone: Add some tougher players to provide the team’s stars protection and more space to operate, and they’d all succeed.
The Hawks had that toughness when they won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and lacked it last season when teams such as the Vancouver Canucks had their way with them. It seemed simplistic, but spot on. The Hawks’ core jumped on board.
‘‘Last year, we had some tough times against some of the tougher teams around the league,’’ defenseman Brent Seabrook said during the Hawks fan convention.
The new players declared their worth.
‘‘After the team won the Stanley Cup, they lost some of their grit, and I think everybody realized that,’’ agitator Daniel Carcillo said during his introductory news conference. ‘‘[General manager Stan Bowman] brought me in. He brought Jamal [Mayers] in. He brought Steve [Montador] in and brought Andrew [Brunette] in to get that back, to get that attitude and that swagger that they had when they won the Cup.’’
So, what happened?
The ‘‘tough” plan blew up because of injuries and poor play. Instead, it looks like the Hawks are in the midst of partial rebuilding process where rookies get to prove themselves and learn on the job.
Every team in the Western Conference playoff race was in action Tuesday. Of those that remained in the top eight in the West, the Hawks, who are missing center Jonathan Toews and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson because of concussions, dressed the most rookies at five. But they didn’t have to with veterans Sean O’Donnell, Michael Frolik and Brendan Morrison all healthy scratches.
The St. Louis Blues dressed no rookies Tuesday. The Vancouver Canucks, Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes each had two and the San Jose Sharks had one. The Detroit Red Wings, who have their own injury concerns, had three; the Nashville Predators dressed four.
The Hawks have had nine rookies play in a combined 147 games this season, which is significantly more than all of those teams but the Predators. Rookies have played in 209 games for the Predators, who addressed their veteran depth by adding defenseman Hal Gill and center Paul Gaustad. When the Hawks won the Cup, rookies played in 20 games.
The Hawks have turned to their youth because the organization’s faith in their ‘‘tough” plan faded. In fact, it’s debatable if it ever really worked. With 14 games left, the Hawks find themselves with a ton of concerns, especially on special teams. Only Mayers has lived up to the billing the Hawks gave him.
Carcillo’s reputation got him into more trouble than anticipated, and his season ended when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Mondator never really got a chance on special teams and has missed 14 games in a row with a suspected concussion.
O’Donnell has been the Hawks’ sixth defenseman for most of the season but hasn’t played since Johnny Oduya was acquired and has been a healthy scratch in six of the last eight games.
It goes on, too.
Brunette, who was brought in to help the top two lines and the power play, has spent most of the season among the bottom six and just scored his second goal in 29 games on Tuesday.
Defenseman Sami Lepisto was signed to provide depth as another puck-mover, but he’s been scratched 43 times and is dealing with an injured left leg.
Frolik received a new three-year deal in the summer to be another scoring threat, but his poor play has resulted in him being scratched in 11 of the last 19 games.
The Hawks have had no other choice but to turn rookies Andrew Shaw, Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Bollig up front and Dylan Olsen on defense to provide physical play and depth. It’s clear teams won’t stop taking runs at the Hawks. Opponents, notably the Blues and Red Wings, have even targeted the rookies.
‘‘It’s where we’re at,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said when asked about relying on rookies.
Like sixth in the West, it’s where the Hawks didn’t plan to be.