By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Coaching mistakes are made all the time in hockey. The Blackhawks are not immune to this problem and Joel Quenneville has made his share of goofs.
However, his recent discussion of “dysfunction” on his coaching staff and the firing of assistant coach Mike Haviland is not indicative of why the Blackhawks were a middle-of-the-pack Western Conference playoff team that was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. That was not a function of coaching, player deployment, motivation or tactics.
The primary issue for the team is a lack of talent and depth. This has been the primary issue since the team was dismantled following its 2010 Stanley Cup victory.
If you want to know why the Hawks have been eliminated in the first round for the past two years, take a close look at the Washington Capitals. The Caps barely qualified for the playoffs this year and didn’t secure their position until the final week of the regular season. They clinched the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference when they defeated the New York Rangers in the final game of the regular season.
That gave them a first-round matchup with the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, a team that was expected to go deep in the playoffs again. But the Capitals forged a new identity over the closing weeks of the season and they got physical, played tough defense and got great goaltending. They have also gotten tough, hard-nosed play from one Troy Brouwer, whom Blackhawks fans will remember was a key piece of their championship team.
Brouwer is not as talented as Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin or Mike Green. However, he hustles with every stride he takes on the ice and has been involved in several crucial moments for the Caps. One of them was a goal in the final moments of Game 5 of the first round against the Bruins. With the score tied at 3-3, Brouwer skated over the Boston blue line towards the faceoff circle when he unleashed a hard wrist shot that beat Tim Thomas to the short side and gave Washington a 4-3 lead. The Capitals won the game and took a 3-2 advantage in games and eventually won the series in 7 games. Brouwer has continued to be a thorn in the side of the Rangers in the second round.
He makes up in toughness and consistency what he lacks in talent. The Blackhawks need players of his ilk. Heck, they need him.
No matter how the coaching staff gets altered, the basic makeup of the team is not going to change. Stan Bowman seems to think that the Blackhawks have enough talent and they should have gone much deeper in the playoffs than the first round. He is mistaken.
The Blackhawks did not get past the Vancouver Canuck in last year’s playoffs because they got outcoached. They simply were not as good as the Canucks. They weren’t outworked or outcoached by the Phoenix Coyotes this year. They were beaten by a better team.
The Blackhawks have some outstanding core players in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. However, they lack the difference making players on the second and third lines who can give them a big edge at key moments in the postseason.
They also have ordinary goaltending that is not going to get the job done in the future. Bowman may kid himself if he wants to, but if he doesn’t bring in a top goaltender and gritty players like Brouwer to help out Toews and Kane, next year will end in the same kind of disappointment that Blackhawks fans have had to face the last two years.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.