Blackhawks enter trade-deadline week riding scoring surge
Despite scoring 35 goals in their last eight games, the Blackhawks’ off-ice news will far outweigh their on-ice news during the final week before the NHL trade deadline next Monday.
Inside the locker room, the Blackhawks’ focus remains on preparing for their upcoming games, not wondering which of them will still be around to play said games.
“No one’s really walking around saying, ‘Hey, when are you out of here?’ ” MacKenzie Entwistle said with a laugh.
But from the outside, as the NHL schedule entered the final week before the trade deadline at 2 p.m. Monday, it’s clear those off-ice moves will far outweigh — in terms of long-term significance — the Hawks’ results in their three remaining games before the deadline (Tuesday against the Bruins, Saturday at the Wild and Sunday against the Jets).
Marc-Andre Fleury is the focal point of the Hawks’ negotiations. It sounds like all possibilities are still on the table regarding Fleury’s fate, with no concrete movement on that front yet.
Dominik Kubalik, Calvin de Haan, Ryan Carpenter, Henrik Borgstrom, Kevin Lankinen and Dylan Strome have decent chances of being dealt, too. Those not listed can’t feel too comfortable, either.
“As you play in this league for a few years, you figure out how the business side works,” Jake McCabe said. “It is what it is at this point, frankly. It’s tough when you see buddies go, but [it’s] also exciting for them if they’re going to chase it and going to a contender. It is a little bit of a weird week.”
Coincidentally, the Hawks enter this weird week riding their largest offensive surge of the season, despite being well into too-little-too-late territory.
They’ve scored 35 goals in their last eight games, including 28 at even strength. Their even-strength goals-per-game average during the stretch (3.5) is double that of their first 52 games (1.75).
As a team, their expected-goals and scoring-chance rates per 60 minutes at even strength have increased slightly — from 2.16 to 2.29 and from 24.1 to 25.3, respectively — but the biggest difference has been finishing.
Patrick Kane has 19 points in those eight games. His 10 points in three games last week earned the NHL’s first star of the week. Alex DeBrincat has 13 points, Strome 11, Brandon Hagel nine, Seth Jones eight, Caleb Jones six, Jonathan Toews five and Carpenter four in the eight games.
When asked Monday what he sees as the reason for the surge, interim coach Derek King first delivered a characteristic joke — “I think these guys are looking to get traded” — before elaborating.
“We’re doing all the little things right,” King said. “We’ve been really harping on these guys ... about our ‘D’-zone coverage. And then [about] our forecheck with us changing our forecheck, being a little more aggressive and [pinching] ‘D’ down the wall with a higher ‘F3.’ We’re just getting better at it, and it has been helping. We’re staying within our structure, and we’re playing like that for as close to three periods as we can.”
In the big picture, the surge hardly matters. The Hawks have won only four of those eight games and, at 22-30-8 (with identical 11-15-4 records home and away), are nowhere near the playoff race.
But its intersection with deadline mania provides a few interesting subplots for what eventually might be looked back upon either as a pivotal moment in the Hawks’ trajectory or as an overhyped, overanalyzed non-event.
NOTE: Connor Murphy and Tyler Johnson remain in concussion protocol — neither practiced Monday — but are said to be doing relatively well. They were at Fifth Third Arena for tests and treatment.