The Chicago Blackhawks are in crunch time. They have 43 points and are two points behind the Nashville Predators for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Discover Central Division. With 14 games left, every game matters. Every point matters. The Blackhawks are in a situation where adjustments have to be made if they want to regain solid footing in the division. Because of this, our Blackhawks crew comprised of myself, Greg Boysen, Gail Kauchak, and Shaun Filippelli will discuss all of the pressing issues regarding the team’s fight to the finish on our weekly show, ‘Blackhawks Banter.’ Here is a sneak peak at some of the topics that will be covered on the next episode.
On April 8, the Blackhawks acquired forward Brett Connolly, defenseman Riley Stillman, center Henrik Borgstrom, and a seventh-round pick from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Lucas Carlsson and Lucas Wallmark. This was the first domino to fall for the team prior to the trade deadline on April 12. Coach Jeremy Colliton confirmed that Connolly and Stillman will join the team in Columbus for their five-game road trip. Borgstrom is playing overseas, so we don’t have to worry about him at the moment. The defense is a revolving door, so it’s hard to predict Stillman’s defense pairing. With that, I want to specifically focus on Connolly. Because we love to play “head coach,” which player in the lineup would you sit in order to play him?
The most logical person to sit for Connolly would be Ryan Carpenter. At 30 years old, he is not part of the youth movement, so sitting him wouldn’t interfere with anyone’s development. He also hasn’t been playing all that well of late either.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of Carpy. He plays a tough, smart game. And he’s signed for this year and the next for a cheap $1 million cap hit. He’s an excellent complementary player that I believe the Blackhawks would like to keep in the fold. However, in order to see what they have in Connolly, benching Carpenter (for now) makes the most sense.
Connolly is a bottom-six winger, so you can rotate him with those guys. If you watched Thursday’s (April 8) debacle against the Dallas Stars, Carpenter would be an easy choice to sit after the terrible game he had. Overall, I don’t expect much from Connolly. He is not the big piece of this trade. If anything, he will be left exposed for the expansion draft and we will see where it goes from there.
In my opinion, the obvious answer here is David Kampf. I think he’s done well this year, in that he’s managing a larger workload of faceoffs, is averaging the highest ice time of his career, and chips in with production here and there. He’s also one of few Blackhawks who have a winning faceoff percentage throughout 2020-21. However, in his past 11 games, he only accumulated one assist, winning 48.5 percent of the draws. Besides, with Kirby Dach, Pius Suter, Philipp Kurashev, Carl Söderberg, and Dylan Strome playing throughout the lineup, Kampf becomes the natural odd-man out to get Connolly in.
My first thought was Kampf. Although he has been reliable in the faceoff dot, he hasn’t provided much else this season. He has no goals this season and it’s hard to keep rationing how much playing time he gets. I think if he were to sit for one game, it wouldn’t affect the team that much. So, I would sit him for Connolly to start.
Defenseman Nikita Zadorov has had a rough go of it lately. He has taken seven penalties in the last 10 games. He ranks seventh in the league with 11 minor penalties taken in 5-on-5 play, and he’s ranked 13th in the league with 13 overall minors. (from ‘After Blackhawks’ trade, what will their 2021-22 lineup look like? 10 observations after ‘fragile’ loss to Stars’ – The AthleticNHL – 04/08/2021)
He’s also had several brutal turnovers lately. The most recent one came against Dallas on April 8 that resulted in a Stars’ goal during a 4-on-4 in the second period. Do you think the coaching staff should consider making him a healthy scratch to allow him to reset?
Here’s the thing. Zadorov plays a certain role with the Blackhawks, and that is the heavy-hitting and physical “enforcer” role. Nobody else on the team really fits this mold, and it does play a part in the overall scheme of things.
Remember that recent Tampa Bay Lightning game when the Lightning players were taking liberties with the Blackhawks and everyone was livid, coach Colliton asked his team not to retaliate? Well, that’s what you might see all the time if it wasn’t for someone like Zadorov. If he wasn’t running around hitting people and saying “Don’t touch my goalie” and getting in someone’s face when they push Patrick Kane, you would all be complaining the Blackhawks are too soft. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
That being said, it would be nice if Zadorov’s assets could also include being a relatively good defenseman. His mistakes are certainly hurting the team of late. So, I wouldn’t be adverse to sitting him out a few games, to give him a better overall perspective of how he can contribute positively while still having an edge to his game. Newly acquired defenseman Stillman is said to have a similar physical style of play. I imagine Zadorov might be the odd man out so they can give Stillman a look. And speaking of defensemen, Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin have been sitting out for way too long. They should also get back into the lineup soon in some way, shape, or form.
I grew tired of the Zadorov experience weeks ago. Sure, he can give you big hit, but he is constantly skating out of position to do so. He is taking costly penalties and making brutal turnovers. My biggest issue is there is never any accountability. Any time he makes one of these bone-headed blunders, he is right back on the ice his next shift. I would love to scratch him and give those minutes to one of the young defensemen. Will that happen? I am not holding my breath.
Yes. Need I say more?
For the sake of this piece, I’ll go on. From the moment he was acquired, I never did feel like Zadorov was going to be a good fit for this team. I understand that he was picked up to add some physicality and he’s certainly done his job in that regard. His is currently the only Blackhawk with over 100 hits and about 40 between him and second on that list. However, he’s looked slow, sluggish, and out of place on the ice more often than not. While seeing his personality shine through has been refreshing as a hockey fan, I don’t think that alone justifies keeping him in at this point. Especially at the cost of having others get in to develop.
Yes, I do think Zadorov should be healthy scratched. Sometimes it’s in the player’s best interest to be healthy scratched if they’re in a slump. Being able to give players a mental break can do wonders for them. Plus, our defense group is still very crowded, so it would allow another player to get a second look in the process. I think the good outweighs the bad in the scenario of deciding to bench him.
The Blackhawks’ goaltending has come back down to Earth, as Greg mentioned during our last show. Malcolm Subban has struggled in his past few starts and Kevin Lankinen has lost a bit of his hot streak, too. The team’s third-string goalie, Collin Delia has not played since the beginning of the season. He is currently with the Blackhawks’ affiliate team, the Rockford IceHogs, to keep him in shape. Even though the regular season is soon coming to an end, do you think he should get another shot in the crease?
Players like Delia and forward Brandon Pirri have certainly gotten the shaft this season. They sit in no-man’s-land on the taxi squad and don’t really get a chance to play either with the Blackhawks or the IceHogs. It’s gotta stink. But Colliton made it pretty clear when he was asked about this by the media on Friday.
Based on this quote, I don’t see the Blackhawks utilizing Delia unless they “officially” fall out of playoff contention. Heck, they don’t even seem to want to use Subban! I truly hope Delia eventually gets his shot to prove himself. But, unfortunately, I don’t see it happening this season with the Blackhawks.
Sure. At least that will be one less thing people can complain about on Twitter. I don’t see the harm in giving him a couple of Subban’s starts, but he looked really rusty his first two games with Rockford before picking it up, so it could be ugly with the lack of playing time. This season has been rough on him, but he is far from the only player this has happened to under these strange COVID-19 times. Hopefully, next season is back to “normal” with a full schedule and no taxi squads, so he and many others can get the playing time they need and deserve.
I absolutely think Delia should get another chance in their crease. In fact, I’ve thought so for a few weeks now. Not in a way that punishes Subban or Lankinen, but more so to get Delia into some action and allow him the chance to both redeem himself and further progress his play.
While I can get behind sticking with the hot hand when it’s working, their goaltending hasn’t been as consistently reliable as it was during Chicago’s successful streaks. Frankly, overplaying Lankinen also isn’t the right strategy to help develop his game and confidence either. All signs point to it making sense to let Delia back in, to at least see where he’s at and take it from there.
I want to see Delia get another chance. I don’t think he has gotten a fair shot up to this point. All three goalies started out bad this season and the only player that didn’t get a chance to redeem himself was Delia. Even though the team has to get as many points as possible for the playoffs, I don’t see the harm in starting him against a team like the Detroit Red Wings. Like Shaun said, Chicago’s goaltending isn’t what it was. So, I don’t see the harm in putting Delia in. He might end up impressing more than Subban. Who knows?
We’ll talk more in-depth about the questions above, the trade deadline, and more! So, 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.