Blackhawks notebook: Dominik Kubalik’s disappointing season not ending on a high note
Three straight healthy scratches last week demonstrate just how far Kubalik has fallen this season. Plus, Derek King explains why he keeps reinserting Erik Gustafsson.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dominik Kubalik had been a healthy scratch before, particularly during his rookie season, although he certainly wasn’t accustomed to it.
But three games in a row? That was something he’d never endured.
“It’s a new experience,” he said Monday. “You’re trying to take it the best you can: get some extra work on the ice, be in the gym a little bit, refresh my mind, keep my head a little loose. And when you get a chance to go back, just be ready for it.”
After remaining with the Blackhawks through the trade deadline, Kubalik hoped he’d be able to at least finish his disappointing season on a high note.
But that’s not how it has panned out. Kubalik has been in and out of the Hawks’ lineup more than ever this April, including that three-game stretch against the Stars, Kings and Sharks.
When Kubalik was asked if the time he spent as a scratch, watching the games from high up in the press box, could help him — something often mentioned by players in his situation — his answer reflected just how much of a beating his morale has taken.
“Obviously you can learn from it,” he said. “When you’re on the ice, you have a second to make a decision. When you’re playing with confidence, you usually make good decisions. When you’re not, you’re trying to force plays, maybe trying to make something happen, but you shouldn’t do that. Yeah, sometimes it’s nice to watch it [from above], but obviously on the ice, it’s different.”
He did score in his return to the lineup Saturday against the Predators, and he enters Wednesday with a respectable seven points in his previous 10 games. And he notched a goal Wednesday. But his reputation as a down-on-his-luck scorer looks like it’ll follow him into restricted free agency this summer, and it seems unlikely the Hawks will re-sign him.
“He’s an NHL [player],” interim coach Derek King said. “He’s good enough to play in the NHL. He’s just having one of those years, [and] it just happened to be bad timing.
“I’m not sure what his deal’s going to be — if he’s back or if he’s going to go somewhere else. But he’ll eventually get out of it, and he’ll put some numbers up. He’ll score some goals.”
King has established a steady rotation of defensemen lately with Riley Stillman, Erik Gustafsson, Caleb Jones and Calvin de Haan taking turns playing and sitting out.
On Wednesday against the Coyotes — the Hawks’ last trip to Gila River Arena before the Coyotes move to Arizona State’s new but tiny (5,000-seat) arena next season — Stillman and Gustafsson dressed, and Jones and de Haan sat.
Gustafsson’s repeated returns to the lineup have frustrated some fans, who see no reason to continue playing the struggling veteran who’s on an expiring contract. But King explained that he wants to be respectful to everyone until the final day.
“He’s part of the team,” King said. “And maybe he can give us a power-play quarterback — he brings something different. It’s not based on play; it’s just the human element of it.
‘‘These guys are here. They’ve been a part of the team all year. I’m not just going to go, ‘You know what, you’re not playing the last 10 games because I need to play [somebody else].’ ’’