Do the Chicago Blackhawks Become a More Physical Team in 2014-15?June 13, 2014
The Chicago Blackhawks are used to being at or near the top of the NHL when it comes to skating, scoring, skill and talent.
They have won two Stanley Cup titles since 2010, and if they had beaten the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7's overtime in the Western Conference Final, they might be playing for their third in five seasons.
However, there's one area where the Blackhawks have not been among the leaders: physical play. When it comes to hitting, the Blackhawks have carved out their own spot at the bottom of the league's 30 teams.
Some of that is due to their skill at the puck-possession game—most hits are not delivered when a team has the puck. Physical play is used to separate opponents from the puck, and since the Blackhawks have it much of the time, they don't need to play the hitting game.
That excuse does not wipe out the need for physical play, though. The Blackhawks don't play the same kind of hockey as big, powerful teams like the Kings and the Boston Bruins.
Nobody is suggesting that Stan Bowman remake his team in that image. However, would the Blackhawks be better served by banging opponents' bodies more than they have in the last few years?
It would give them more options and would stop opponents from mounting full-frontal assaults on the Blackhawks in either the United Center or their own home arenas.
Take a look at the numbers.
The Blackhawks were last in the league in hits in the 2013-14 regular season. They were credited with 1,375 hits, according to NHL.com—nearly 200 fewer hits than the New Jersey Devils, who ranked 28th in the league. The Minnesota Wild had 1,412 hits and ranked 29th.
The Kings and the Columbus Blue Jackets were the top hitting teams in the league with 2,609 each this season. Both teams have developed a reputation for doling out hard, nasty hits, and opponents know that a game against either team is going to represent a physical test.
The Blackhawks were particularly passive on the road this season. They were credited with 559 hits away from the United Center, and no other team had fewer than 731 road hits this season.
While Chicago had a solid regular-season record this year, they were not the dominant team they were during lockout-shortened 2012-13.
In 2013-14, the Blackhawks finished with a 46-21-15 record for 107 points, the seventh highest point total in the league.
They were 19-14-8 on the road this season—with overtime and regulation losses, this means they were 19-22 away—and their passive nature outside the United Center did not help their road record.
With an average of 13.6 road hits per game, opponents knew they were not going to face any kind of physical test in their own arenas from Chicago.
The Blackhawks were a more physical team at home, relatively speaking.
They were credited with 816 hits at the United Center, a figure that ranked 25th in the league.
Chicago general manager Stan Bowman is not going to remake his roster in the offseason. They will still be led by core players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith. Supporting stars like Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad will almost certainly return as well.
But no team stays fully intact from one year to the next.
Adding a competitive player or two with a more physical edge might be useful. While the Blackhawks have as much skating speed and overall skill as any team in the league, there are nights when they have to be more assertive.
One of those nights occurred March 30 when the Blackhawks lost 4-1 to the Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. In that game, Toews was battered by a hit from the Penguins' Brooks Orpik that kept him out of action for the final six games of the regular season.
The Blackhawks did not get physical with the Penguins after the hit. Head coach Joel Quenneville was concerned about his players taking retaliation penalties and possible suspensions.
"There’s a price to pay, whether there's suspensions involved, or all of a sudden you're killing five minutes when you're looking to win the game," Quenneville told Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times. "You've got some other issues that can happen (for) getting even."
That attitude could explain why the Blackhawks have been so passive. A slight attitude adjustment in the offseason can only make the Blackhawks more versatile—and perhaps more dangerous.