After watching the Blackhawks become the gold standard for NHL success from outside the organization the past several seasons, Dale Weise, Tomas Fleischmann and Christian Ehrhoff have to be wondering what the big deal is. Since they were acquired in trade-deadline deals — along with former Hawk Andrew Ladd — the Hawks are 4-5-2, getting outscored 34-28.
“Yeah since I’ve gotten here, things haven’t gone really well so far,” Weise said. “But that’s OK. You’re going to go through those lulls. It’s better to go through those now than in about a month or so.”
Whether it’s the transition to a new system or the newcomers being caught in the undertow of a massive team slump, the Hawks still are waiting for the trade-deadline bump to kick in with eight games remaining in the regular season.
Ladd had five points (three goals, two assists) with a minus-1 rating in 11 games, playing on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Fleischmann has four points (three goals, one assist) amd is a minus-3 in 11 games, but all four points have been inconsequential — coming with the Hawks either leading or trailing by three goals or more late in the third period.
Weise arrived late because of visa issues and has one point and is a plus-one in nine games. Ehrhoff has one point and is a minus-1 in five games and has been a healthy scratch in four of the last five games.
Then again, it’s still early. At this time last season, Antoine Vermette — a defensively responsible center supposedly a perfect fit Joel Quenneville’s system — was struggling to fit in with the Hawks. Andrew Desjardins had been a healthy scratch for back-to-back games. And 40-year-old Kimmo Timonen was still trying to find his legs and his game. As it turned out, both Vermette and Desjardins played key roles in the playoffs, helping the Hawks win the Stanley Cup.
So maybe Niklas Hjalmarsson has the right idea when he suggests that the upcoming four-game Western road trip could become a key bonding experience for a struggling team.
“It’s something we obviously want to turn around and I think the road trip is a good way to get the so-called new group together,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s a good way to get the group together and go on a Canadian road trip. I think it’ll be a good way for us to kind of press the re-start button and try to find out way back to our game and the way we know we can play.”
Desjardins said it took him seven or eight games to feel comfortable in the Hawks system last season. “You’re coming in and you’re doing different things,” he said. “Chemistry with line mates, systems with the coaching staff, your role — it all comes into play. With some guys it takes longer than others.”
But Desjardins said he didn’t think the introduction of new players into the system has been the reason for the Hawks’ current slump.
“The transition of figuring out exactly where you’re fitting in might take a little bit of time,” Desjardins said. “But besides that, I think the guys are pretty good here at bringing everybody together and making you feel welcome. I think that’s the easiest part.
“I don’t think you can completely pinpoint the hiccup or whatever to [the newcomers]. That’s just the way it goes. Sometimes you have a little bit of a roller-coaster to the season. Maybe it’s one of those situations.”
Weise said he’s still getting there. “I think I’m just starting to feel comfortable now,” he said. “The first couple of games you get in and it’s so quick. You’re trying to learn the system really quickly and there’s not a lot of practices so you can’t really pick it up there. And playing a little more the last couple of games [10:30 of ice time the last three games], getting some more reps obviously helps.”
Weise was a productive playoff performer with the Canadiens the past two season. He scored five goals, but each played a key role in a Montreal victory, including an overtime winner in 2014.
“I’m one of those guys, the more comfortable I am, the better I play,” Weise said. “When I’m out there just playing and not thinking; just doing what comes natural — that’s going to take a few games I’m starting to get a little more comfortable the last couple of games.
“I’ve had some success in the playoffs. I think everyone enjoys playing int he playoffs. That’s the best time of year to play. I’m really excited to get down the stretch and get into playoff hockey.”
Asked about Ladd’s production, Quenneville pointed out that each of the top two lines is struggling as a unit. And he hinted that Ladd is not cemented on that first line. But he is confident Ladd will make a positive impact on the team eventually.
“Whether he’s playing with that [top] line or not, he can make an impact on our team,” Quenneville said. “No matter who he’s playing with, I expect that line to score and be reliable defensively. He gives us energy and good experience. Right now you don’t want to look at one guy and say he’s the reason it’s not effective, because everybody’s got to take ownership right now.”
In other words, the picture can completely change by the first round of the playoffs. With the expected eventual return of forward Marcus Kruger and goalie Corey Crawford, the Hawks will be at full strength. And at full strength, the Hawks have dangerous potential that could make non-factors in March into key factors in April and May.
“The best thing about this team is just the way they play,” Weise said. “They way they transition from D to offense — it’s the best team I’ve been on for sure.
“As a winger, it makes my job easy. Our defense gets the puck, you just get on your horse and get going and the defense finds you. You’re not thinking about where you’re going, you’re just trying to get open, get some speed, and the D will find you.”