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If the Hawks can't play better defense than they did this past week, the playoff dream will die. That will happen even though the Hawks went into today only three points in back of second wild card Minnesota.
The primary problem is that this team simply doesn't have a No. 1 defenseman. A guy becomes a No. 2 defenseman by effectively doing whatever the No. 1 guy needs him to do in a team's top pairing and the Blackhawks don't have that guy either. They had those kinds of guys the last couple seasons but traded them away.
Last year, after Michal Kempny was a healthy scratch for the Hawks for 14 straight games, general manager Stan Bowman traded him to the Capitals. He received nothing of value in return. All Kempny did in D.C. was pair with superstar defenseman John Carlson to backstop an awesome Stanley Cup-winning run. (Hey Hawks, as the trade deadline approaches it is a week from Monday - are you showcasing the guys who might get sent away? That would be a good idea.)
The same thing happened the year before, a fact that should be highlighted in the first slide of the PowerPoint presentation regarding why coach Joel Quenneville had to be fired and why Bowman has to go as well. The 2016-17 season was when Bowman traded veteran defenseman Trevor Daley to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Quenneville couldn't figure out how to use Daley effectively. The Penguins put him to work on their top defensive pairing and watched with joy as he did the job well enough to enable that team to win that Cup.
All of this is kind of a disturbing trend. Keep an eye on Brandon Manning, the defenseman the Hawks traded to the Oilers recently. If Edmonton goes on a playoff-qualifying run, there's a good chance Manning will play a substantial role.
I'm still guessing the Manning trade will pay off for the Hawks, though. They got a couple intriguing players back, and not just because they have unusual names. Drake Caggiula won the lottery and almost immediately lined up with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the Hawks' first line. He has shown some promise in that role. And early returns indicate Slater Koekkoek (pronounced Coo-Coo - his name is Slater Coo-Coo) has the potential to be a solid blueliner.
The goat on Saturday was Connor Stinking Murphy. His brutal giveaway set up the second Blue Jackets goal perfectly and his embarrassing misplay at the point gift-wrapped the two-on-one that the Bread Man (good old Artemi Panarin) used to give his teammate Cam Atkinson a slam dunk goal. It was the equivalent of a perfect alley oop pass.
Another goat, as he has been all season, is Brandon Saad. If the Hawks were going to make a smooth transition from one era to the next, they desperately needed Saad to not only become a star but to become a two-way star in the mold of say, Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins, who was last seen orchestrating his team's convincing win over the Hawks early last week.
Not only is Saad not that guy, he might not even be a top two-line guy. Not good.
Still, the trade of Panarin for Saad (there were a few other things in the deal but that player for that player was the centerpiece) may not go down as a crushingly stupid move.
Free agency looms for Mr. Panarin and someone is probably going to pay the forward who dominated his team's game against the Hawks (two goals and a beautiful assist) in excess of $10 million a year. That someone probably won't be Columbus. In fact, there are some who believe the Blue Jackets should trade Panarin and star goalie Sergi Bobrovsky to get something for them because the Jackets probably won't be able to sign them in the offseason.
If the Blue Jackets trade Panarin, then Bowman wins the trade hands down.
The schedule gives the Hawks a chance to bounce back quickly. They host the miserable Ottawa Senators on Monday evening at 7:30, travel to Detroit to take on the Red Wings Wednesday evening and then have a huge home game with division rival Colorado on Friday.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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