It’s going to be ok. I promise.
Front Office: Stan Bowman – B-
Head Coach: Joel Quenneville – C
Bowman’s additions have met mixed reaction so far. For a while, Carcillo was the best thing since sliced bread… until he became a statistical ghost and got suspended again. Brunette hasn’t worked out very well, and the additions on the blue line haven’t been incredibly successful. The best move of his summer was bringing in Jamal Mayers, who has been consistent in the role he’s been asked to play. Honestly, his grade would be much lower than a B- based on the production of his additions if he hadn’t limited his losses to one-year deals.
Quenneville’s grade takes a hit because the team continues to make a lot of the same mistakes that make fans take Advil before and after so many games. The inconsistencies in play and, most importantly, the fact that they continue taking struggling opponents for granted are two things that can be put back on leadership after a quarter of the season.
Marian Hossa: A+
Jonathan Toews: A
Patrick Kane: A-
There are three guys on the roster that have, for the most part, brought it on a nightly basis. Hossa has been in beast mode since the puck dropped in Dallas, posting 23 points in 20 games. Toews has been the steady captain we’ve all come to love and appreciate, winning 62.4 percent of his faceoffs and leading on every shift with obvious effort. But his team-leading 10 goals put him on pace for yet another career year.
The surprise in the first quarter of the season was Kane, who moved to center and didn’t miss much of a beat. In October, he was winning over 50 percent of his faceoffs, but he has declined in that area in November; he’s now sitting at 47.9 percent on the year. However, he still has 22 points in 21 games.
Patrick Sharp: B+
Nick Leddy: B+
Jamal Mayers: B
Marcus Kruger: B
Steve Montador: B-
Brent Seabrook: B-
Sharp has been the steady veteran he’s always been, putting up 19 points in 21 games despite a tough streak without a goal. Mayers has been, as we mentioned before, the best free agent acquisition of the summer with four points and 25 hits so far. He’s also winning over 55 percent of his faceoffs. While Montador’s had lapses defensively, his offensive production sparked a once-dead power play, which gets him out of the C grades. And Seabrook’s absense has been evident in the last two ugly losses.
But perhaps the two players that have exceeded their preseason expectations the most have been two babies: Leddy and Kruger. Through Monday, Leddy’s 15 points rank seventh among all NHL defensemen, and he’s been more consistent than Keith so far this year. Does he make mistakes? Sure. But he’s 20 years old. Kruger was sent packing to Rockford to open the year, but came up and has forced himself into the lineup every night. His production isn’t as eye-popping as Leddy’s (five points in 20 games), but he’s been very good in penalty killing duty and his 10 blocked shots are tied with Bolland for second among Hawks forwards (Frolik has 13).
Daniel Carcillo: C+
Viktor Stalberg: C+
Ray Emery: C+
Michael Frolik: C+
Dave Bolland: C
Corey Crawford: C
Carcillo’s hockey IQ has been surprisingly high after most assumed he was being brought in as a rented goon. He’s spent some quality time with Kane and Hossa and that line has been effective at times, and he’s dropped the gloves more than anyone else on the team. However, he needs to stay off the suspension list.
Stalberg has actually exceeded expectations to date. He’s on pace for a 40-point, 20-goal season and has actually looked somewhat-capable on a line with Toews and Hossa (and yes, I know, Helen Keller could look capable with those two). However, he’s 5th on the team with 23 hits and his 11 takeaways are a surprising total while picking up 12 penalty minutes. Now if only he could aim…
After getting off to such a hot start, the third line of Frolik-Bolland-Bickell has dissolved into a frustrating lack of production, and now Frolik’s banged up. Bolland got off to a hot start but his production disappeared. Meanwhile, both of the Hawks goalies have been frustrated by poor play in front of them by the defensemen for sure, but there have been too many soft goals in 21 games for a championship contending team to allow.
Duncan Keith: D
Andrew Brunette: D
Bryan Bickell: D-
Sami Lepisto: D-
John Scott: D-
Brunette hasn’t found a role on this team because, frankly, he’s too slow. Lepisto and Scott are struggling to prove that they’re NHL players so far this year, and we’ve discussed Bickell’s issues at length already.
The most frustrating player on the roster so far this year has absolutely been Keith, who might personally represent the swings in quality play from the entire roster. Yes, he’s blocked 39 shots and has a team-leading six power play points. But he has been on the ice for 31 opponents’ goals, which is tied with Carolina’s Eric Staal for the worst total in the NHL. He’s making mistakes that would get someone with Leddy’s resume sent back to Rockford, something that cannot happen from a former Norris Trophy winner.
Niklas Hjalmarsson: F+
Rostislav Olesz: F
Sean O’Donnell: Inc
Ben Smith: Inc
Olesz is in Rockford where he belongs. O’Donnell is in the press box, where he doesn’t belong (why Scott? why Lepisto?), and Smith should have been up much sooner.
If Keith is frustrating and disappointing, Hjalmarsson is confounding. Yes, he leads the team with 51 blocked shots. But what else has he done this year? He’s been on the ice for nine power play goals from Hawks’ opponents, he has only 15 hits and has fewer points than O’Donnell in eight more games played. Hjalmarsson is proving to be no better than a fifth defenseman this year, which doesn’t work when he’s being paid to be a top-four guy.
Overall Team Grade: B
Have the Blackhawks played like a steaming pile this season? At times, yes. Have they buried a lot of their glaring weaknesses, like a pathetic power play and underwhelming penalty kill unit, by out-scoring their opponents? Sure. There is plenty to complain and worry about with this roster.
Despite all of the ugliness we’ve discussed above, the reality remains that the Hawks have been a good team overall so far. They rank third in the league in goals per game (3.29), and the power play has quietly climbed into the top half of the league (T-13th – 17.3 percent). Thanks to Toews, the Hawks rank second in the NHL, winning 52.6 percent of their faceoffs as a team. Most importantly, the Hawks are 7-1-2 at the United Center, and their 27 points not only lead the Central but are still tied for the most in the Western Conference.