Blackhawks’ Roundtable: Colliton, Kane and Tanking Concerns

It’s been a long and winding road for the Chicago Blackhawks this season. While not exactly for the faint of heart, one has to admit it’s been interesting and entertaining. The 2018-19 season is a transition one, for sure. The Hawks haven’t been doing a whole lot of winning, but there’s been much change, and some progression as well. And there are still a lot of hockey games left to analyze and dissect.

With that in mind, today, our Blackhawks writers Meghan Dillon, Greg Boysen and Gail Kauchak debate three more burning questions in our monthly roundtable. Let’s get to it.

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Jeremy Colliton has been head coach of the Blackhawks since Nov. 8, a total of 34 games and counting. At 34 years of age, he’s the youngest active head coach in the NHL, and he came to the job with zero NHL coaching experience. He’s been tasked with bringing the Blackhawks back to relevancy, something future Hall of Fame coach Joel Quenneville was unable to do.

As you can see from the Hawks’ 10-18-6 record since Colliton’s been at the helm, there have been numerous ups and downs. But it’s also a relatively small sample size. In your opinion, do you think Colliton has what it takes to make it in the NHL?

1. Is Colliton Boom or Bust?

Meghan Dillon

Colliton is doing well for someone with no NHL coaching experience. However, I don’t think the Blackhawks are his best fit. He’s done a good job in many aspects, but he would be a better fit for a team with younger players and a younger history. It’s no secret the NHL is getting younger, but Colliton is the same age or even younger than many of the veteran Blackhawks. They also have a long, storied history with high expectations. He would probably do well with younger players, and would be a better fit with a team that hasn’t been around for long, such as the new Seattle team.

Greg Boysen

I think it’s unfair to all involved to label Colliton’s job anything at this point. There have been plenty of good things as well as elements to the Blackhawks’ overall game that still need major improvement. The key is that the team is progressing under him and that is all you want to see.

Colliton has done something that Quenneville was never able to do and that is get the power play to be consistently effective. Even when the Blackhawks were winning Stanley Cups, the power play always seemed to struggle despite all the talent on the roster. The first change he made was taking Duncan Keith off the top unit and things immediately improved. The penalty kill, well, that’s a different story.

Head Coach Jeremy Colliton
Head coach Jeremy Colliton inherited a tough job with the Chicago Blackhawks. It remains to be seen how he progresses as an NHL coach.  (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

The defensemen are still struggling with going from Quenneville’s zone system to Colliton’s man-on-man strategy.  The old system was big on shot suppression by clogging the lanes and blocking shots. Colliton is not concerned with how many shots get to the net, but rather that the goaltender can see them all. He would rather have his defenders in position to clean up rebounds and prevent second chance shots.

This is where they have struggled the most. We have seen too many players left wide open in the slot because the defensemen still haven’t learned their responsibilities. That isn’t on the coach, but on the players.

After having talked to Colliton numerous times when he coached the Rockford IceHogs, he’s a very smart coach and has the mind to be behind an NHL bench for a long time. He isn’t the emotional coach that Quenneville was and he leans more on analytics than the previous regime. He was put in a very tough situation by replacing a legend, so he deserves the time to get things to his liking.

We can pass a fair judgement on Colliton when he is allowed to pick his own coaching staff and work with the front office to get a roster that fits his system better.

Gail Kauchak

Colliton inherited a not-so-good team on the fly. But in a very short amount of time, he got everyone to buy in to his tactics. Most of the youngsters had already worked with him and did nothing but sing his praises. He went straight to all the veterans as well, who could otherwise have felt threatened and alienated by this new, young coach. One of Colliton’s biggest strengths is he’s an excellent communicator, and he develops a one-on-one relationship with every one of his players.

The Blackhawks may not always be executing well, but there are very few games during Colliton’s short tenure in which they haven’t been competitive. That’s because he has them all believing they can improve. I’m sure that’s not an easy thing to do, especially considering all the losing and the bleak outlook for the immediate future.

Colliton freely admitted the team is mainly focused inward right now, and they haven’t done much in the way of game-planning for their opponent. The young coach is very smart and open to new ideas. Imagine what could transpire when he gains more experience and can utilize his analytical mind to strategize against other players and coaches.

It’s been pretty amazing what Colliton has accomplished in a short amount of time. The sky is the limit. I believe in the not-too-distant future he will be considered one of the best coaches in the league. He will be the Quenneville of today.

We all know Patrick Kane has been on a hot streak of late. He’s scored 10 goals in the last 10 games and notched multiple points in five of the last six games. According to Charlie Roumeliotis of NBC Sports Chicago, Kane is on-pace for 47 goals and 110 points this season, which would surpass his career high in both categories. Do you think Kane will end up having the best season of his career, and why?

2. Can Kane Sustain?

Meghan Dillon

Kane can have a successful season, probably one of his best, but the best season of his career (his 2015-16 season when he took home the Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award) is a hard one to beat. He has the potential, and it’s definitely possible, but he’s up against one of the most outstanding seasons a forward has had in modern NHL history.

Patrick Kane, Blackhawks
Patrick Kane is on pace to surpass his previous career highs in both goals and points. Can he get it done? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Greg Boysen

When Kane gets on these types of hot streaks, he is one of the best players on the world and nearly impossible to stop. Can he keep up a two points-per-game pace? That is highly unlikely, but there is no reason why he can’t put up career numbers.

Of course, health will be the biggest factor towards whether he eclipses 100 points this season. If he stays on the ice, he is showing that he can score in all situations and from anywhere on the ice. His chemistry with Erik Gustafsson has been fun to watch and teams will continue to have a hard time stopping them. If anything, this season can put to bed the narrative that Kane needs to have Artemi Panarin on his line in order to succeed.

Gail Kauchak

It’s sad Kane is having one of the best seasons of his career amidst one of the worst seasons for the Blackhawks. But then again, it’s truly amazing that Kane is having one of his best seasons amidst one of the worst seasons for the Blackhawks.

He’s the master of making the most with what he has to work with, and right now that’s Alex DeBrincat and Gustafsson. I do believe Kane will surpass his point record (106) this season. He’s currently at 65 points. But exceeding 46 goals (his career high from 2015-16) might be a long shot. He’s currently at 27 goals, with 34 games remaining. But Colliton is certainly giving him an advantage by double-shifting him and playing him heavy minutes. He has numerous opportunities to work his magic. One thing is for certain; we’ll all be rooting for him!

There are too many games left in the season for the Blackhawks to statistically be out of playoff contention. But let’s face it, it’s pretty far-fetched considering their inconsistency on the ice. Not to mention they currently sit in last place in the league. With that in mind, would you rather see them win games and improve, or lose games and gain a higher draft pick?

3. Should Blackhawks Win or Tank?

Meghan Dillon

The Hawks should keep playing their hardest. I’m a firm believer you should always play your best, and I have a feeling many of the Blackhawks feel that way too. It will be a long time before it’s possible to tell if the team will get a good draft pick out of losing, so they should keep playing their best for now.

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Greg Boysen

Blackhawks fans are in a hard spot. Yes, getting a player like Jack Hughes is a sexy proposition, but actively rooting for your favorite team to lose is not normal. You can bet no one in that locker room cares about where the Blackhawks draft this summer as many of them won’t be here next season and are playing for their next job.

Team USA's Jack Hughes
Jack Hughes is predicted to be the top draft pick in 2019, and most teams would love to add him to their roster. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Carlos Osorio)

The ideal scenario is that the Blackhawks improve as a team and still find a way to get one of the top draft picks. While cheering for a loss should be unnatural, there is no shame in not being upset that the team played a competitive game against a superior opponent and lost on a goal late in regulation.

We will have to wait to see what the roster looks like after the trade deadline before the tank crowd can really get excited. This current roster is not bad enough to finish with the worst record in the league. Kane is having an MVP-worthy season. Jonathan Toews is back to producing like we have been used to seeing. DeBrincat is emerging into a star and goaltender Collin Delia is going to steal too many points down the stretch. However, that can change if the front office tears things down between now and the deadline.

Gail Kauchak

No, no, no! No tanking. The players won’t tank, and the coaches won’t tank. It’s not in their nature. One must remember these are all highly-competitive people. They probably hate losing more than we hate watching them lose.

We’ve already established the Blackhawks aren’t winning a lot right now, but they’re always competing. As they should be. Hopefully this is all part of getting worse before they get better. All part of the process, and to mess with that process would be wrong. I’d like to see the team continue to progress (albeit slowly), and end the season on a high note.

Besides, if the Blackhawks don’t finish the season in last place, they’re still going to finish close to the bottom, even if they play their best from here on out. They might not get Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, but they’ll still be in a position to obtain a top draft pick.

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It hasn’t been easy watching the Blackhawks this season. But there’s always plenty to talk about. And we here at The Hockey Writers are ready to weather the storm with you. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more!