Blackhawks Breakdown Mailbag

  • Tanner asks: My feelings about the first line can best be described as “meh.” Ladd, Toews, and Hossa all seem like they are the same type of player..defensive minded, playing along the boards, grinder type, Etc. Are there numbers that support that or am I just making it up?

Well when one thinks about a defensive grind it out type player, we think of bad shot generation, good shot suppression, and overall low shot totals. Basically, a line where no team produces shots. So let’s take a look at the numbers.

  
The top line actually plays at a higher pace than team average this season. Pace is simply the total number of Blackhawks shots + opponents shots averaged out per 60 minutes. 

Most interestingly, the top lines offensive (shot generation) numbers are 5 shots better than team average, whereas their defensive numbers (shot suppression) are only a little over 1 shot better than team average.

Basically, the Ladd-Toews-Hossa line has been great offensively and somewhat good defensively.

I guess my way to explain it is the odd phrase “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”. Yes Ladd, Toews, and Hossa are more of a grinding, forechecking, LA Kings style line. Even though they do not play the way we are use to seeing Blackhawks top lines playing, they have still been effective. The Panarin-Kane playing style and the Ladd-Hossa playing style, although different, both appear to be capable.

  • Toews, Hossa, Saad seemed to work because Saad was a burner and mixed up what that line could bring. It seems a little late to change lines now, but what would you think about throwing someone else on that top line?

Before the trade deadline, I felt the Blackhawks needed a left wing that brought an elite shooting ability. Hossa is aging and his shot has declined greatly. Besides that fact, Hossa has still been an elite player. He has played great defense and helped drive possession. There is also Toews who plays a more conservative defensive first type game. I felt that line could use a sniper on their left wing to put the puck in the net. In the end, Bowman traded for the best available forward, which seems like a smart move. 

As for changing the top line, I wouldn’t worry about it. The top line, although strugging at first, is playing well now and looks ready for a cup run. The only possible move I see would be to drop Hossa to the third line and put Teuvo on the top line right wing. I don’t see Q doing that, but I just wonder how Teuvo would perform in a top line right wing role.

In the end it looks like Q has this setup for the playoffs.

Top 6 shutdown line: Ladd-Toews-Hossa

Top 6 scoring line: Panarin-Anisimov-Kane

Bottom 6 shutdown line: Desjardins-Kruger-Shaw

Bottom 6 scoring line: Fleischmann-Teuvo-(Weise or Panik)

For me, the only real question I’m torn on is who plays Teuvo’s right wing. I’m leaning Weise, but then Panik makes a couple plays that makes one think. Either way it looks like the Blackhawks will have two scoring lines and two checking lines.

For fun, I looked up the numbers of Ladd-Toews-Hossa and Saad-Toews-Hossa. Here is where things get a little tricky. I couldn’t simply compare their numbers. Last seasons team was obviously better and therefore would inflate Saad’s numbers. To fix this, I decided to compare Saad’s line to the 2014-15 team average and Ladd’s numbers to the 2015-16 team average. I could then compare the resulting numbers. 

  
So Ladd’s line has created 5.55 more shots/60 than the 2015-16 team average. Saad’s line only produced 3.81 more shots/60 than the 2014-15 team average.

OFFENSIVE ADVANTAGE: Laad-Toews-Hossa

For defense, The Ladd lines shot suppression was only 1 shot/60 better than the 2015-16 team average. Saad’s line gave up over 5 less shots per 60 minutes compared to his teams average.

DEFENSIVE ADVANTAGE: Saad-Toews-Hossa

The Saad line also had a better puck possession numbers compared to team average than the Ladd line.

OVERALL ADVANTAGE: Saad-Toews-Hossa

Sorry if this was quite confusing. Basically, the Ladd-Toews-Hossa line had better offensive numbers compared to team average than Saad-Toews-Hossa. However, the Saad-Toews-Hossa line had better defensive and overall numbers compared to team average than the Ladd-Toews-Hossa line.

 I’m already tired of typing Ladd and Saad in the same sentence. Let’s move on to the next question. Don’t worry, there isn’t anything this complicated in the rest of this mailbag.

  • @JohnGSchmitt asks: Are there any reasonable explanations for their bad possession stats this season other than simply being worse?

If we compare the numbers between this season and last, we see that last years teams was a better possession team. The 2014-15 team recorded 5 more shots for per 60 minutes and gave up 2 less shots per 60.

  
Yes, they are simply worse, but why are they worse? 

For one, this core is getting old. I feel the prime age for an NHL player is in the 22-28 age range. Most will argue that it’s even younger than that, around age 19-26. The Blackhawks core is getting to the age where players start to regress. With many players around 30 years old, the team is going to start the decline phase of the dynasty.

Another factor is defensive depth. Hjalmarsson and Keith are the only quality defensemen on the team. Seabrook has regressed and doesn’t play at an elite level unless Duncan Keith carries him. Rozsival is old and coming off a major injury. And then TVR, Gustafsson, and Svedberg were all not ready for top 4 roles. The defense has been shaky at best this season and I have continually disagreed with Q on his defensive pairing this season.

Thirdly, there was only one quality forward line for most of the season. The top line has been interesting as we’ve seen Garbutt, Tikhonov, Bickell, and Panik play with Toews this season. The Blackhawks were being carried by the Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line. Bowman recognized this and added Ladd, Fleischmann, and Weise at the deadline to fix the forward depth.

To summarize, the core is aging and they lacked both offensive and defensive depth for most of the season. There could be many reasons why this seasons team has underperformed, but I feel these are three main ones.

  • @dannyp58 asks: Any chance TRV stays with Hjalmarsson playing their strong sides and Seabrook goes back to being paired with Keith?

When the offense starts to struggle, we often see Q go to the nuclear option. That of course is when Q puts Toews and Kane on the same line to give the offense a jolt of energy.

I imagine Q has to have the same option in his back pocket for the defense. That is to put Keith and Seabrook together.

The idea behind the Keith-Hjalmarsson pairing is that it’s the two best defensive playing defensemen on the roster. They are matched up and tasked with shutting down the opponents best line. Even though this pairing is good, the rest of the pairings suffer.

Just like how Q splits up his two best forwards in Kane and Toews, it’s time to split up his two best defensemen. The Blackhawks no longer have the defensive depth to play Keith and Hjalmarsson together. In small sample sizes, the pairings of Keith-Seabrook and Hjalmarsson-TVR have performed very well.

I think Q has to realize this. He might not do it instantly, but I think we have a good chance to see the defensive nuclear option (Keith-Seabrook) in the playoffs.

As for Hjaalmarsson playing his strong side I do not know. Hjalmarsson (left shot) prefers to play the right side resulting in TVR (right shot) being forced to play the left side. This means that when paired together, both players are playing their off side. In looking at historical numbers, that is not a smart decision.

When battling along the boards, the defensemen on his off side has to use the backhand pass. The backhand pass is weaker and not as effective or accurate as a forehand pass. When playing defensemen on their off side, zone exits become sloppy and less successful.

Again, Hjalmarsson like to play his off side. It just so happens the he plays with one of the best defensemen in the league when he does this. Keith is a left shot who plays the left side. So to play with Keith, Hjalmarsson has to play the right side (his off side).

Does Hjalamrsson actually play better on his off side? Most likely no. But when one plays with Duncan Keith, they will feel like they play better. It just so happens that Hjalmarsson plays his off side with Keith.

People are probably annoyed with how much I talk about defensemen needing to play their strong side to perform as efficiently as possible. But the fact that Hjalmarsson and TVR both play their offside when paired together drives me nuts. My only guess to why is this. Q plans to play Hjalmarsson on his off side with Keith and play TVR on his off side with Seabrook or Rozsival. Because Q will be playing both defensemen on their off side in the playoffs, he’s keeping them on their off side together to prep for their playoff pairings.

The pairings that I’ve felt have perform performed the best are.

Option A:

  • Keith-Seabrook
  • Hjalmarsson-TVR
  • Gustafsson-Rozsival

Option B:

  • Keith-Hjalmarsson
  • Gustafsson-Seabrook
  • TVR-Rozsival

The Blackhawks have gone in a funk this season whenever Gustafsson and Seabrook have been split up. It’s been like clockwork. Whenever TVR or Svedberg have been paired with Seabrook, the results are lets just say unpleasant

  • @agonisti asks: Should #Blackhawks healthy scratch (aka rest) “core” for last 3 games & call up Ice Hogs, given recent Shaw, Hossa knicks?

In theory, this is a good plan as one doesn’t want their stars to get injured in a meaningless game right before the playoffs. However, I’m not sure about the actual logistics of the theory. For one, how much cap room do they have to bring in more AHL players. Another thought is fan consideration. How many fans bought tickets for the home finale vs St Louis expecting to see Toews, Kane, and Seabrook? Those fans won’t be happy if the Blackhawks fielded a lineup full of Icehogs. Another difficulty is the Icehogs are playing and need players for their games as well. If the Blackhawks call up a bunch of Icehogs, then Rockford will have to call up players from the ECHL.

In the end, it’s just not worth the hassle. The two players that need the most rest are getting it in Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa. 

Anisimov, Crawford, and Shaw are also getting rest because of injury. With only a couple games left, I would simply even out the playing time and not play Hjalmarrson 25 minutes in a mealiness game. But I’m not one who worries about injuries. Although, it does seem like Blackhawk player have been dropping like flys lately.

  • How has Panik faired compared to Hossa when he’s played on the 1st line?

Interesting question. To find the answer, I decided to compare the lines as a whole with Panik vs Hossa. I will use the lines of Shaw-Toews-Hossa and Shaw-Toews-Panik. This way, the linemates are the same for both Panik and Hossa.

To keep it simple, I looked at shot generation (offense), shot suppression (defense), and possession (overall play). Here is what I found.

  
Note: 14-19-65 line has played 33 minutes together (extremely small sample size) compared to 259 minutes together for the 81-19-65 line.

With Panik on the top line, the Blackhawks are producing a few extra shots every 60 minutes. However, on the defensive side, the Panik line is giving up 8 more shots per 60 minutes than the Hossa line. Remember, with Shot Suppression, a lower number is preferred as it means the Hawks are limiting shots. The Hossa line has also had a little bit better possession numbers.

To sum it up, the top line is a little bit better on offense with Panik. However, the top line is much better at defense and better overall with Hossa.

  • @granada014 asks: Do you think Ladd-Toews-Hossa has been as effective as the Hawks hoped? And if not, what’s the issue with it?

As for actual production, that line has scored 2 goals and given up 5 goals during even strength play this season. But as for overall effectiveness, let’s take a look at the shot metrics compared to team average. The stats used will be shot generation (offense), shot suppression (defense), and possession (overall game).

  
The top line of Ladd-Toews-Hossa has better offensive, defensive, and overall numbers than team average. 

This line started out slow, but it looks like they have figured things out. 54% is really good possession numbers and this line of defensive minded players has generated a good amount of shots.

I don’t think the line was very effective at first, but it looks like they just needed time to gel. Ladd had time to settle in and this line should be ready for the playoffs, depending on Hossa’s health.

Thus concludes the mailbag answers. Thanks to the people who submitted questions. Without you, this would be a blank page.