While it hasn’t been the start we were all hoping for, it’s a long season and the Chicago Blackhawks are just getting into full swing. The identity of the team is beginning to take shape, and we here at The Hockey Writers can’t wait to dissect it all season long, for better or for worse. As we head into a chilly November here in Chicago, our team of Meghan Dillon, Adam Cumbee, Scott Schultz, Greg Boysen, Stephen Amason, and Gail Kauchak weigh in on the state of the Blackhawks with our monthly roundtable.
Blackhawks’ Firsts Results
Last month we had some fun and predicted a number of firsts for the Blackhawks as they embarked on their 2019-20 season. Let’s see who got these firsts, and how our staff fared with their predictions.
First Goal: Alex Nylander
Absolutely no one on our staff predicted this! After all, Nylander was predominantly an AHL player on the bubble to make the team. Who woulda thunk it?
First Assist: Patrick Kane
Yes, Kane assisted on Nylander’s goal. I’m not sure this comes as any surprise, but it was only Scott that made this prediction.
First Power Play Goal: Alex DeBrincat
Hey, the Hockey Housewife Gail called this one! She’s really smart.
First Penalty: Duncan Keith
Scott was analytical here. He chose Keith because he’s always at the top of the penalty minutes. Good call, Scott!
First Fight: Nobody yet
Although this wasn’t from a lack of trying during the recent Predators matchup.
Dennis Gilbert wanted a piece of Austin Watson, but Watson wanted no part of it.— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) October 30, 2019
Respect the rookie for trying to inject some life into #Blackhawks.
First Call-Up: Dennis Gilbert
Defensemen Connor Murphy and Calvin de Haan were both unable to go for the Blackhawks’ first game of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers. So Gilbert was recalled literally right after he was sent down to the Rockford IceHogs. It was a lot earlier than we all expected, but Adam correctly picked Gilbert.
Record After First Month: 3-6-2
Oh this is so depressing! All of us predicted much higher than this, although Greg chose the lowest at 5-5-1. I guess you win, Greg.
Let’s move on to our questions for this month.
Blackhawks’ head coach Jeremy Colliton had a rough go of it last season. He replaced a future Hall-of-Fame coach in Joel Quenneville just 15 games into the season. He had to implement his system and coaching style on the fly. The Blackhawks struggled, yet by the end of the season they finished strong and made a last-minute push for the playoffs.
This season was a fresh start for Colliton and his staff. He had the ear of general manager Stan Bowman regarding offseason moves. He had a full training camp with his players. Yet while it’s still early in the season, the Blackhawks have struggled out of the gate. Which begs the question; is Colliton the right man to help this team succeed?
Is Colliton the Man?
I was all for Colliton going into the season. It was amazing how close the Blackhawks got to the playoffs last season, and I was excited to see that success continue. But as of right now, I’m not so sure.
A part of me wants to see someone else take the role of head coach. But transitioning to a new coach and adjusting in the middle of the season is a very difficult process. Colliton deserves a little more time to prove himself as a strong head coach. But he’s not the right fit if he doesn’t deliver some wins soon.
This one is tough because there were glimpses of good last season, but this season just feels so broken. The top-six isn’t producing, the defense is porous; it’ ugly. I think Colliton has the potential to be the man, but the key to that is being less fickle with his lines. There is a definite lack of chemistry and the constant changes aren’t really helping. He’s still learning, so hopefully that’s something he learns sooner that later. If he can do that, I think he will be successful.
I’m not sure if the question should be if Colliton is the man for the job, or if he is necessarily NOT the man for the job? The level of execution right now is dismal, and all the coaching in the world won’t help that. I know the argument that a good coach will bring out the best in his players, and that is true. However, as a player at the college level (baseball) my opinion is that at this level poor execution is not necessarily the result of poor coaching.
These are all professional hockey players who have been playing this game their entire lives. They know how to control the puck and NOT stand around on defense – if they need a coach to tell them that, they should find a different profession. Now if this continues, then yes it will fall on Colliton’s shoulders. Right now it’s his job to fix it, and if and how that happens will answer the original question.
We’re a year into the “Colliton Experience” and ideally, you’d like to see progress. That hasn’t happened yet. The team is still showing the same defensive struggles they did last season. The penalty kill is still terrible. Even the offense, which was so good last season, has taken a step back.
So the simple answer is no.
We were told that having a full training camp with Colliton would make a huge difference. I’m still waiting to see that difference. Colliton was put in a very tough position in replacing a legend, but he sure hasn’t done himself any favors.
Colliton wasn’t given the best team in the league to start with. Even with a full training camp, you can’t have too many high expectations going into this season. Still, he’s got some of the best players in the league and there’s certainly a cause for concern regarding how the season has started for the Blackhawks.
There’s more than enough talent on the team to have a successful season. But if you can’t get those players to perform at their best or there’s trouble with some of those guys understanding what’s expected of them, you’re bound to have some problems. It’s not the start the Blackhawks had in mind. But for now, the team should take things day-by-day. As long as the team starts to move in the right direction, Colliton will keep his spot as the head coach.
I’d really, really like to see Colliton succeed. After all, we certainly don’t want Coach Q’s firing to be all for naught. And things seemed so promising at the end of last season.
But something is definitely off. There’s so much talent on this team; why are they so bad? Yes, Colliton believes in his system and feels if they stick with the plan it will pay off in the long run. But is he catering to his players’ strengths? Is he adjusting and adapting and trying new things? That’s what good coaches do.
It certainly looks like the players are gripping their sticks too tight; thinking too much. And has Colliton lost the room, especially the veterans? I still think it’s too soon to really know, but things don’t look very good right now.
Moving on, three-time Stanley Cup winner and alternate captain Brent Seabrook has recently been a healthy scratch for two consecutive games for the Blackhawks. Coach Colliton is making a statement, saying in order to win he must put the best players on the ice regardless of status. Seabrook has expressed his frustration about the situation.
I don’t think I need rest. I think I feel great, I’m 34, you guys seem to want to write articles about my age and my speed. I feel like I still got a lot to offer in this league and still be a good player for somebody.
Moving forward, what would you recommend the Blackhawks do regarding Seabrook?
The Seabrook Situation
Due to Seabrook’s long history with the organization, this is a tough one. However, we must set all emotions aside and think logically here. If you asked me a few days ago, I would say it’s right to trade him immediately because of his poor performance.
But it appeared team morale was low after he was scratched for two games in a row. Trading him with his contract will be extremely difficult, and I think he serves as a strong leader on the roster. He also believes he still has a lot to offer, and I think there is plenty of truth to that statement. Like Colliton, he needs a little more time to prove himself capable of remaining on the team. If not, it’s time to cut the cord.
I get that he’s frustrated, but I think the Blackhawks are doing it right. If Seabrook is a liability on the ice, he shouldn’t be on the ice. He has a very unfortunate contract, so unloading him is a large task.
If they can trade him, that’d be great for both Seabrook and the Blackhawks’ payroll. If they can’t then you hope this situation lights a fire under him, and he proves there’s still something left in the tank.
The Blackhawks’ defense is clearly a problem. Continuing to stay the course just because it’s what you’ve been doing is simply going to maintain the status quo. Which is not acceptable. Nobody can be above being replaced if they aren’t doing their job. Seabrook will always be considered a key part of the glory days and the triad of Stanley Cups, but if he can’t produce at the level necessary to win it’s time to move on.
I am honestly disappointed in his reaction to the latest benching. A true leader would grasp the fact he’s not what he was, and adapt to a different role with the new roster.
Scratching Seabrook was a tough call, but it was the correct one because he is no longer one of the best six defensemen on this team. Sitting him for a second game was puzzling. But when a coach makes lineup changes and the team wins, the majority of the time he keeps said lineup for the next game.
Seabrook is a competitor and even though he says he feels great, he has to realize his best years are behind him. I will forever be grateful for everything Seabrook has done for the organization, but those are not valid reasons to keep playing him. Unfortunately, because of his contract, there really isn’t a clear solution. Maybe if he gets mad enough he’ll demand a trade, but actually finding someone to take on his contract will be a difficult task.
Sometimes you have to make a statement to your team. Benching Seabrook lets everybody know that no matter who you are or what you’ve accomplished in the past, nobody is bigger than the team.
With that said, the Blackhawks are still a much better club with Seabrook in the lineup as opposed to him being on the bench. If he’s back on the second defensive pairing or even the third pairing, the Blackhawks at least need his leadership on the ice and in the locker room. Plus, he still holds the only goal for the defensive unit so far this season.
After all the history, it would be a real shame if Seabrook left the Blackhawks with bad blood. But having a declining player with a mega contract on the roster for another five years is a tough pill to swallow. But we should focus on the present for now.
Let’s face it; the Blackhawks don’t exactly have a plethora of defensemen with a whole lot more to offer than Seabrook. And he’s only been paired with Olli Maatta so far this season. Ok, that isn’t working. What if Colliton shakes up the pairings? Put Seabs on the third pairing and limit his minutes. Take him off special teams altogether.
In the meantime, the 34-year-old can still be a leader and positive presence in the locker room, and he can mentor the younger players. See how that goes and take it from there.
Thanks for reading everyone! Feel free to leave your comments and opinions below. In the meantime, let’s see when that first fight finally comes to fruition. And here’s hoping the Blackhawks’ record improves. Time will tell whether Coach Colliton can help this team succeed, and the fate of Seabrook. Never a dull moment with the Blackhawks, for better or for worse!