The 2011-12 Chicago Blackhawks were an improvement over last year's club. Or were they?
The Blackhawks came into this season with higher expectations than a 97-point season and first-round exit from the playoffs. This year's team yielded a higher point total but wound up one-and-done once again in the postseason.
This begs the following question: Which post-Stanley Cup 'Hawks team was the better unit?
Let's make a case for both teams.
Of Course This Year's Team Was Better
The 2011-12 'Hawks finished with 101 points. Excluding the horrid nine-game stretch that saw them go 0-8-1, Chicago was one of the league's best teams. They led the NHL in points well into January, unlike the previous season were the 'Hawks played catch-up all the way.
Chicago's playoff position was higher. Sure, they finished fourth in the division, but the Central was stacked with four teams over 100 points.
This year's team didn't blow leads and leave points on the table like the season before. They had better depth than the Hangover 'Hawks of 2010-11. Chicago had five players with 20-plus goals. They had to be the better team. At least that's what I was telling myself.
A big regular season from Marian Hossa (a team leading 77 points), and big numbers from Viktor Stalberg (22 goals, 21 assists) along with the belief that Bowman had upgraded our role players and a strong first half had me thinking along those lines.
Which was the better team?
Not So Fast: The Case For The Hangover 'Hawks
Chicago's total of 97 points consisted of one win fewer that this year's effort. The 97 points would have still put the Hangover 'Hawks into the sixth seed, by the way. Maybe by the way the two seasons developed, the 2010-11 club suffers by comparison.
A look at some other numbers tells a whole other story.
Both squads were top-five in goals scored, though the Hangover 'Hawks were fourth in the NHL with 252 goals. Defensively, last season's team has an even bigger advantage.
Chicago gave up 225 goals in 2010-11, good for 12th in the league. They plummeted to 22nd in the NHL this season, giving up 238 goals.
The Hangover 'Hawks only had four players who topped 20 goals but had eight player hit for at least 15 goals, as opposed to just six this season.
The woes of the power play were well documented, but just to make my case, here are the percentages:
2010-11: 23.10 percent (fourth in the league)
2011-12: 15.16 percent (26th in the league)
The penalty kill numbers aren't as dramatic, but the 'Hawks were better at it in 2010-11. Despite Marty Turco, the 'Hangover Hawks were better in both save percentage and goals against.
Advanced numbers, from Behind The Net also suggest that the Hangover 'Hawks were the better group. The Blackhawks' plus-minus per 60 minutes while at even strength was 0.2 this season compared to 0.3 in 2010-11. The gap in four-on-four plus-minus (1.0 to 0.0) was even wider in favor of the Hangover 'Hawks.
The Hangover 'Hawks were slightly better at even strength and decidedly better on special teams. Defensively they were the superior group. Obviously the decision to deal Brian Campbell for cap space that was used ineffectively was a big part of the story.
It's stunning considering where this team was in the standings back in mid-January, but the tired, inconsistent Hangover 'Hawks were a better team than this past year's group.
Until I crunched the numbers, I would have believed the opposite to be true. This suggests that Bowman's tinkering with the roster last summer yielded worse results. Of course, it matters little when the postseason results are similar. Two post-Cup campaigns, two first-round exits.
I'd be very interested on your thought on this issue, so please vote in the poll and weigh in with your thoughts.