- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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CHICAGO -- An anti-climactic trade deadline passed in the NHL on Monday, and the Chicago Blackhawks finally added to their roster. But is the acquisition of defenseman Johnny Oduya enough to quiet general manger Stan Bowman’s growing critics? More importantly is he enough to help the Hawks do something special on the ice this spring?
The answer to both questions is probably no.
Oduya will help. He’ll contribute on the penalty kill, and he’ll take some pressure off both the Hawks' young defenders and perhaps even their veteran ones. But they need more the just a little help, although Bowman doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m very confident in the team,” Bowman said after the deadline passed on Monday. “We knew we had to add some experience on the back-end. We’ve been talking about that for a long time. That was our objective going in.”
Oduya gives Chicago experience, but is he really enough for a team free-falling through the standings? Most hockey observers think the Hawks have major issues, but Bowman simply thinks their 4-12 stretch is a speed bump.
“I think you have to show faith in your group,” he said. “These guys have done an awful lot over the last few seasons. They’ve accomplished a lot as a group. The main guys are still here. You go through times in the season where your team isn’t where it wants to be. That’s where we are at right now. Clearly we are not happy with these losing streaks. Adding a new player to the mix is going to help.”
But it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. Since the day Brian Campbell was traded, the Hawks have been short on defensemen. They were short on centers long before that. Then came the post All-Star break collapse. Long-term needs collided with shorter-term urgency and Bowman’s answers were Brendan Morrison and Oduya.
“Having the mobility of Johnny back there with the other defensemen I think is going to be a big help,” Bowman said.
That’s great, but who is going to center the second line or quarterback an anemic power play? Those needs are just as important but were left unaddressed. Bowman made it clear after trading Campbell in the offseason he would use the money and “flexibility” in-season. Oduya and Morrison are those additions and neither is overly impressive. The jury is in on Morrison and the trade is a bust. Oduya has yet to don a Hawks sweater but how much can he really help? And is he better than Kyle Quincey who went to Detroit or Hal Gill who landed in Nashville? Probably not based on what was traded for those players.
“You can look back at previous deadlines and the teams that made the most moves often stumble the most,” Bowman said. “Some of the teams that don’t make any trades are the ones that do really well.”
That sounds like a defense after-the-fact. Should Predators fans be down because their team made too many moves? Would finding a center or power-play quarterback along with Oduya been a bad thing?
“It did happen that the prices were to the levels where deals didn’t get made,” Bowman said.
Unless you’re Detroit who sent a first-round pick to Tampa Bay for Quincey. They didn’t mind a high price.
The difference here is Bowman doesn’t believe the Hawks have major issues or if he does believe that, he wasn’t able to fix them. So he did the next best thing---simply showed faith in what he does have.
“You have to rely back on the guys that have been here,” Bowman said. “I have a lot of faith in our leaders. We’ve won a Stanley Cup with these guys. They had a great run with us last year. The first half of this year they were dynamite. We admittedly need to be better than we’ve been. I’m excited. I’m excited for what’s to come with the group.”
Maybe the passing of the deadline will ignite the team, and Bowman did rightly point out the Hawks played great hockey coming off their recent nine-game losing streak. The problem is any short run of success has been followed by a miserable stretch of bad and uninspired hockey. This past weekend in California is the latest example. But Bowman disagrees with the notion there is a lack of urgency on his team.
“I don’t see it that way,” Bowman said. “They’re incredibly frustrated when we don’t win. There is a passion in there to get ourselves back.”
And therein lies the Catch-22 the Hawks face. Either the Hawks are oblivious to their issues or as they continue to focus in on them, they are unable to fix them. Which is worse?
“It’s a big disappointment,” Bowman said of his special teams.
“We’ve talked about it an awful lot. It comes down to execution.”
Ahh, the special teams. Even in a better first half of the season, the Hawks' special teams weren’t very special. They had one stretch on the power play that was impressive, but only one. And it doesn’t come close to offsetting the recent problems with the man advantage. The penalty kill has been bad most of the season but started to right itself coming out of the Hawks long losing skid. Then it went backwards again, giving up three goals over the weekend. It’s a microcosm of the Hawks season. Any progress they make seems to be followed by a step back. That’s actually on Joel Quenneville. But today is about Bowman and a deadline deal that won’t excite a jittery fan base.
“We talked about a lot of different position players,” Bowman said. “There weren’t any deals to be made whether it was they didn’t want to make the moves or they didn’t like what we wanted to make work.”
And so the Hawks are left without enough grit or a fore-check. They lack the proper point men on the power play and there is no reason to think the penalty kill is completely fixed. Marian Hossa still lacks a true playmaking center and Oduya doesn’t solve any defensive zone problems. That’s the glass half-empty approach but it’s not untrue.
“It’s hard to bring in a bunch of new players, it’s hard for that group to come together,” Bowman said. “It could go the other way on you.”
Hasn’t it already gone the other way?
21hJeff Gold and Ben Arledge