Six was the unlucky number for the Blackhawks this spring. They finished sixth in the Western Conference, and were bounced out of the playoffs in six games by the Phoenix Coyotes.
And now that the playoffs are officially done, let’s look back at the series with Phoenix to see what happened.
Obviously the Blackhawks struggled to generate offense once Marian Hossa left the lineup. Based on the comments made by coach Joel Quenneville after Game Six, and the obvious emotion surrounding his words, Hossa’s health will be an ongoing concern this summer.
And the Blackhawks struggled to find an emotional spark from their bottom six forwards once Andrew Shaw was suspended. He returned on Monday night and played a smart game; Phoenix was clearly trying to bait him into a dumb penalty the way they did to Viktor Stalberg in Game Five but, to Shaw’s credit, he didn’t bite.
But overall, the Blackhawks first round series was disappointing on ever level.
Superstars underwhelming was disappointing. Role players not stepping up was disappointing. Heck, even the positives from the series were disappointing.
Everyone is pointing at the superstars on the roster, but the depth of the organization was tested in these playoffs – and failed. And that disappointment and frustration will lead to an intriguing summer in which general manager Stan Bowman will have to make a number of tough decisions.
Where did Dave Bolland go?
For the last two years, his supporters have pointed to his postseason performances during the Cup run and again against Vancouver as justification for him not being able to take the step to becoming the team’s second line center.
Against Phoenix, Bolland had three assists in six games. He also had only three hits and just three takeaways, while winning only 44.2 percent of his faceoffs. The Blackhawks were a scary team to play against when Bolland was a physical grinder in the bottom six forwards, but he was a ghost in the Phoenix series.
Where was this Bryan Bickell all year?
Against Phoenix, Bickell was the player that made Troy Brouwer expendable last summer. He was a strong, physical power forward that racked up a team-leading 32 hits in six games to go with two goals.
In the regular season, Bickell had nine goals and 128 hits in 71 games. It’s frustrating to see Bickell skate like a guy that wants to be a top-six forward for a couple weeks in mid-April after taking the months of November, December and January off during the regular season.
Is Viktor Stalberg for real?
After shattering his career bests in every statistical category this year, the 22 goal scorer disappeared. He had only two assists in the series, and had half as many penalty minutes (eight) as he did shots on net (16). Was his regular season a mirage, or will he chalk the last six games up as a “learning experience?”
What do the Hawks do with Corey Crawford?
There’s no doubt that the goaltending position will be the focus of the majority of this summer’s dialogue for Blackhawks fans after Crawford became the scapegoat for the series loss. And he certainly earned the criticism he’ll hear in the coming months after allowing two unbelievable soft game-winning goals at the United Center in Games Three and Four.
But looking back at the postseason as a whole, Crawford’s struggles appear to be a league-wide epidemic. He had a better save percentage than Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, all of whom carry a significantly higher profile than Crawford. And the only statistic in which Ilya Bryzgalov was better than Crawford was wins.
Do the Hawks look for an upgrade between the pipes this summer? Perhaps. But they certainly won’t be alone.
Over the coming days, we’ll look back at the overall performance of the 2011-12 Chicago Blackhawks and look ahead to the future of the organization. There need to be improvements, and there is no question the organization won’t sit still.
Where do the Blackhawks go from here? Only time will tell. But these are four questions that will certainly play a role in this summer’s decisions from the front office.