Are Bowman and Colliton on the hot seat?

Matthew Rago, Editor-in-Chief

This offseason, the Chicago Blackhawks emphasized the importance of getting off to a good start. Instead, the team sits at 2-3-1 while allowing 3.33 goals per game.

After finishing the first half of 2018-19 in 13th place, the ‘Hawks admirably battled their way back into playoff contention, finishing just six points out of a wild card berth. This season, the ‘Hawks wanted to avoid falling victim to another slow start, a phenomenon that has hampered the Blackhawks over the past three seasons. Once again, they failed to evade early season woes. However, this season feels different from seasons past.

After becoming the first top seed to get swept out of the playoffs by a No. 8 seed in 2016-17, missing the playoffs the next season came as an unwelcome surprise. However, entering the 2018-19 season, there was an assumption that a team disabled by a devastating disappointment would respond with a renewed vigor, utilizing their experience and skill to overcome adversity. Instead, they faltered right out of the gate, coach Joel Quenneville was fired and the team missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. This season, however, a reluctant acceptance has seemed to manifest itself: the Blackhawks can no longer rest on their laurels. They aren’t a favorite to make the playoffs and won’t be until they prove otherwise.

Stan Bowman’s misfires have placed the Blackhawks in another compromised position. The offseason trade that saw Henri Jokiharju traded for Alex Nylander was almost universally lambasted. Since then, Nylander has contributed four points (two goals, two assists) in five games. Despite this, he’s already began to accumulate healthy scratches under coach Jeremy Colliton

The Blackhawks’ defense still hasn’t recovered from the Brent Seabrook contract, which essentially forced the Hawks to usher Niklas Hjalmarsson away for a lesser return for the sake of retaining the rapidly declining Seabrook. Sure, Connor Murphy, who the Blackhawks received in return from the Arizona Coyotes, hasn’t been atrocious, but he hasn’t been very good either.

The Hawks’ could have had a defensive pipeline that featured Jokiharju, Bowen Byram, Nicolas Beaudin, Ian Mitchell and Adam Boqvist.  Instead, they opted to trade away Jokiharju and draft Kirby Dach over Byram, who instead went to our division rivals, the Colorado Avalanche.

Head coach Jeremy Colliton also looks overmatched and outclassed. He’s already resorting to putting the line combinations in the proverbial “blender”, an early-season admission that he was incapable of accurately assessing his personnel. Anyone who has ever played hockey at an advanced level understands the importance of chemistry. It is imperative that a player knows what areas of the ice his linemates gravitate toward. To be effective, a player must understand the strengths and weaknesses of his linemates. Continually separated and reuniting players sabotages that goal. Perhaps obliterating the lines is a knee-jerk reaction to yet another slow start by Johnathan Toews, but at some point, Colliton needs to demand Toews jumpstart his own offensive production. However, Colliton may not have the respect or the locker room voice to do so.

At age 34, Colliton is the youngest head coach in the NHL. In fact, Colliton is two years younger than Hawks’ defenseman Duncan Keith. At the time of hire, Colliton was an unproven and unknown commodity, serving as the head coach for the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. Bowman is essentially asking his Stanley Cup holdovers, who (aside from Corey Crawford) each have resumes that include three Stanley Cups, to respect the word of a failed counterpart. The only difference between Keith and Colliton is that Keith succeeded as a player while Colliton failed to stick with the New York Islanders. Colliton, unlike many other former players-turned-coaches, didn’t take up coaching because he aged out of his playing years. Instead, he took up coaching because he couldn’t cut it as an NHL player. So asking accomplished players like Toews, Patrick Kane, Keith and Seabrook to accept a subservient role to Colliton is an ambitious request. Those guys have ascended the mountain; those guys have executed Stanley Cup winning game plans; those players possess both the talent and hockey IQ to succeed in the NHL. Colliton, already disadvantaged by his age, has yet to prove capable of either.

It is too early in the season to hit the panic button, but the early-season returns have not been promising. The same issues that plagued the ‘Hawks last season have resurfaced this season. Entering Tuesday, the ‘Hawks rank dead last in the NHL in penalty kill percentage at a paltry 72.7%. That is not winning hockey. They currently sit in the middle of the pack in power play percentage, ranking 15th with s 20.2% conversation rate. However, that ranking is bolstered by an early season flurry of power play goals. The lack of energy and urgency displayed by the ‘Hawks, particularly after two consecutive playoff misses, is disconcerting. If the ‘Hawks can’t find a way to counteract a concerning pattern of indifference, it may be time to bring in new leadership. Sure, it is still early, but it fee;s like we have read this story before.