Rozner: Playoffs reminder of where Chicago Blackhawks lacking

 
 
Updated 4/23/2019 7:28 PM
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  • Blackhawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook clamp down on Columbus right wing Josh Anderson in a February game at the United Center.

    Blackhawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook clamp down on Columbus right wing Josh Anderson in a February game at the United Center. Associated Press

It's probably tempting to watch the NHL playoffs every night and wonder what might have happened had the Chicago Blackhawks sneaked in at the end.

After all, Dallas and Colorado barely found their way in as the lowest seeds in the West and have advanced out of the first round.

Columbus was fortunate to grab the last spot and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in postseason history, sweeping out the Presidents' Trophy winners in Tampa.

Carolina, the seventh seed in the East, has pushed the defending Stanley Cup champs to seven games.

It's been a spectacular start to the playoffs, the games a treat for hockey fans.

But if you're being honest, you can't look at the Hawks and think that if they had found the last spot that they would have done what some of these teams are doing right now.

The second-half revival was impressive and it does lend itself to optimism for next season, especially with a coach in place and not having to install systems on the fly.

Still, you watch the teams that are winning and a few things jump out immediately.

Up front, when coaches load up a top line, the rest of the group is deep enough to provide secondary and sometimes tertiary scoring.

If you believe Dylan Strome can continue to get better -- and his 51 points in 58 games are pretty decent evidence -- the Hawks are still a top-notch, second-line winger away from being able to provide more offense when Jeremy Colliton goes nuclear.

Is Brendan Perlini is an answer? He had moments. But the Hawks need to have an answer going into next season.

That also assumes that Drake Caggiula or someone like him can provide balance alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, if those two stay together for any length of time.

The playoffs are also a reminder of how fast teams are from top to bottom and through all three zones. The Hawks are not fast enough 1-18.

But the biggest problem remains the defense. When you watch these games, what you see is teams rolling three sets of defense and with the ability to turn and burn.

Transition has to be clean and instant, or the fire drill that ensues can be interminable, the resulting shift debilitating, the effects lasting and the ice tilted.

When the season ended the Hawks did not have six -- and for a season you really need eight or nine -- defensemen who can handle the size and speed of the brutal forecheck you see in the playoffs.

We're not talking about surviving the regular season and finding a playoff position. The object is to win a series or four, right?

And a glance at the Hawks' defense does not show a group capable of doing that as we sit here today, though that can change quickly with alterations and development.

Erik Gustafsson, for all of the criticism of his defensive game, is quite capable of retrieving a puck and getting the play moving the other way.

Gustav Forsling showed some signs at the end of the season of being the guy he was a couple of years ago, when he could also move the puck.

Slater Koekkoek had stretches when it appeared he could handle it.

Connor Murphy and Carl Dahlstrom probably formed the most consistent defensive pair once Murphy was healthy.

Duncan Keith is still quick enough but inconsistent, and Brent Seabrook is obviously not the player he once was.

Furthermore, it's not just the ability to transition out of the zone, but sometimes you will get bottled up and then there is the size factor.

When you're stuck in your own end, some of these players can handle the physical side of it, and some are seriously overmatched.

In the postseason, it's no longer the ballet you see in the regular season, and handling long stretches in your own end is no picnic.

Murphy and Seabrook can take care of themselves and Keith is unafraid. Gustafsson started using his size at the end of the season, so that's a positive.

Sometimes the answer is merely in finding the right pairings of speed and size.

You don't need six all-stars, but you do need six who can play against any line without having to play matchups and forcing huge minutes on your best defensemen.

The Hawks have a pile of talented defensemen on the way, and with the league getting younger all the time it's not unheard of for players to jump in and be a factor.

So if you're being honest, you see the Hawks lacking on defense, and that has to be the priority this summer if the team really wants to make another run at a Cup while Toews and Kane are still Toews and Kane.

The No. 3 pick in the draft is a good place to start.

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