The Chicago Blackhawks’ fate has been sealed. They will be missing the playoffs for the third time in the past four years. While knowing where the team officially stands, all you can do is look towards the future. I think it is safe to say that they have a very long way to go in terms of getting back to Stanley Cup contention. Getting back to that competitive status means having to dive deeper into the roster that they already have.
There are some positives and some negatives, and our Blackhawks’ team comprised of myself, Gail Kauchak, Greg Boysen, and Shaun Filippelli have a lot to discuss on our weekly show, ‘Blackhawks’ Banter’ in regards to the players. Here is a sneak peek of some of the topics that will be covered on the next episode.
Although Collin Delia has not seen NHL ice in over four months, he started the last two games of the Carolina Hurricanes’ series, on May 4 and 6, and gave one of the most solid goaltending performances that the team has seen in recent weeks. He ended the series with a .939 save percentage. Given his hot back-to-back starts, do you want to see him finish out the season, or do you want to rotate between him, Kevin Lankinen, and Malcolm Subban?
The remaining two games are at the United Center with fans present for the first time this season. I believe Lankinen deserves a start in front of the fans. He’s been the No. 1 netminder all season, and the rookie will be thrilled to strut his stuff live to the Blackhawks’ faithful.
It could be argued Subban deserves this as well, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Delia gets one of these back-to-back games. His performance in the Hurricane’s series was impressive, especially on Thursday night with a 2-1 overtime win. Who knows what will happen with the netminder position in the offseason, but Delia has put himself back into the conversation.
Sure, why not? Does it really make a difference at this point? Give Sunday’s game and let Lankinen finish out the season out on Monday. Delia has been a good soldier during a challenging season, so reward him with another game. Hopefully, next season will be back to normal, and we see Delia and Lankinen as your standard goaltending tandem.
I was happy to see Delia get back in, as I’ve been on that side of the debate for some time now. While I think it’s Lankinen’s net to lose, and rightfully so, the Blackhawks should have already granted Delia a chance at redemption once their goaltending numbers started to see a steady decline. With that said, and with two games remaining as I provide my insights on this, I’d like to see Subban get the next one and Lankinen close out the year. That way, all three were given a chance to end the season on a high, while Lankinen is rewarded for carrying this team as he did for most of the season.
I’m on the side of the rotation. Although Delia has been great in his last two starts, I think the goalie rotation should be mixed up to end the season because the team needs to keep evaluating them. With the rotation, I am more than happy to see Delia and Lankinen close out the games as those are the two that will most likely be competing with each other come next season.
One of the players that have stood out this week is 22-year-old forward, Mike Hardman. He was an undrafted, free agent signing out of Boston College and played right away in April. He quickly became a player that the coaching staff has not wanted to take out of the lineup, and he seems to have found a home on the fourth line. He even scored his first NHL goal on May 6 against Carolina. What stands out to you about him and his game?
Obviously, his size and physicality are something the Blackhawks don’t have a whole lot of. (He’s 6-foot-2, 200 pounds). I know we all roll our eyes with this stat, but Hardman has 24 hits in his first six games played.
But he also brings a little bit of skill and seems to have a good hockey IQ. It’s great to see him get this opportunity to play here at the end of the season, and he seems to be making the most of it. I’m excited to see more of him next season.
His size stands out the most. On a team where most skill players are on the smaller side, it is easier for him to be noticed. He plays well along the boards and in front of the net, and the team sure could use more of that. It is bizarre seeing someone in a No. 86 jersey with that size playing a power game.
It’s hard to ignore the passion Hardman has for this game. He clearly doesn’t shy away from opportunities to use his physicality, averaging four hits per game thus far. He’s already a big body as a 22-year-old, so it’ll be interesting to see how much more strength he can add behind the frame and what that can translate into as far as his progress and development is concerned. While he’s still only at one goal through seven games in the NHL, seeing what he’s accomplished in the years prior makes it exciting to anticipate what more he’ll be capable of at this level.
Something that stands out to me besides his physicality and skill is the fact that you never really hear his name. On this team, that’s a very good thing. If you hear someone’s name a lot, it’s usually for negative reasons. Every time you hear Hardman’s name, it has been for something good. He effectively flies under the radar, which is something I like to see. Those underrated players are always fun to watch, so these last games should be even more exciting.
We have to talk about Dylan Strome again. He has now been healthy scratched five times in the past 10 games. He has struggled a lot this season, being a minus-5 in his last game. It seems like an indication that he has fallen out of favor with the Blackhawks. As being one of the highest-paid players on the roster, do you agree with head coach Jeremy Colliton’s decision to bench him as of late?
I’m pretty sure the Blackhawks have decided Strome is not a part of their future, and if that’s the case it makes sense not to play him. Unfortunately, Strome doesn’t have a whole lot of flexibility and adaptability to his game. He’s not really a factor unless he’s playing with the likes of Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat. He’s not really effective on the wing instead of his natural position at center. And heck, he’s not even really that good at faceoffs when he does play center. Add that to his defensive deficiencies and his hefty $3 million cap hit, and I’m not surprised the Blackhawks are looking to move on.
Colliton’s handling of Strome has been bad since day one. He plays his best at center, especially with DeBrincat on his left wing. However, he has barely played center and has spent very little time with DeBrincat.
A coach’s job is to put players in the position to succeed, but he refuses to do it for Strome. I think the two just don’t mix. We saw this in the past with Joel Quenneville. For whatever reason, the player just can not win over the coach. I will be shocked if Strome is back next season. The biggest problem with that is your head coach has destroyed all of his trade value.
Yes, I do agree with Colliton on this one. Ultimately, we’ve been preaching this same strategy all year long with others on their roster, so this is no different. If the player in question isn’t doing what they’re there to do or simply aren’t fitting with the structure and strategy in place, it’s in the team’s best interest to address that. While I’m a fan of Strome in a general sense, if he’s not pulling his weight in the way he’s being paid to, it’s on the decision-makers to do their job as effectively as possible with that information in mind.
I definitely agree with the coach. We have been talking a lot about on the show is wishing that Colliton held the players more accountable in situations like this. I think he has gotten better with that, and I agree with him because the other young players on the team, like Pius Suter, Vinnie Hinostroza, and Brandon Hagel, have had more impact than Strome this season at a fraction of the cost. I agree with Greg that I would be very surprised if he is still in Chicago next season.
We’ll talk more in-depth about the questions above and more! Be sure to tune in and share your thoughts with us!
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Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.