Rozner: Shape of Blackhawks changing quickly

  • Head Coach Jeremy Colliton walks the runway as he is introduced at the Chicago Blackhawks Convention in Chicago Friday.

      Head Coach Jeremy Colliton walks the runway as he is introduced at the Chicago Blackhawks Convention in Chicago Friday. John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/28/2019 8:45 AM

The Blackhawks have been behind the times for years now.

It happened gradually, in part because of their success and players needing to get paid, in part because they had done it one way for so long.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

They had a Hall of Fame coach with little patience for those who didn't produce immediately, who wanted a certain type of player and a single style, something the GM accommodated.

It worked quite well -- despite a lack of overall depth -- because a highly-skilled core covered up many holes.

But that group is aging, some of it departed or retired, and the Hawks desperately needed to get faster, bigger and deeper in order to keep up with the younger and emerging powers in the West.

What everyone learned from watching Pittsburgh a couple of years ago, Vegas the last two years and the Blues two months ago is that you need to roll four lines and three sets of defense if you want to play fast.

You can't play fast through three zones with half a lineup and the Hawks' bench has been too short in too many third periods the last few years.

It's something they've been trying to change since the season ended, when new coach Jeremy Colliton talked of needing more options, being willing to play a 200-foot defensive game, being more aggressive on the forecheck and having more energy throughout the lineup, not relying on 5 or 6 goals to get it done.

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Sounds remarkably like hockey.

"We have to win games in different ways," Colliton said, "and if you compare the roster now to the one we ended with -- or the one we had when I first came in November -- I think we can win in different ways."

There was quite a bit of optimism this weekend at the Blackhawks Convention, with a rebuilt defense, insurance in goal, more size and a fair amount of edge and character.

These were glaring weaknesses, some of which Colliton addressed in April. It's no coincidence and his influence has been apparent in the decision-making process.

"We have a group that's excited. They feel like we're on the right track," Colliton said. "We needed to make some adjustments. We've added some character, some personality. If anything, I think that'll help our chemistry."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Up front, the Hawks have added Andrew Shaw, Alex Nylander, Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith, to go along with last season's additions, Dylan Strome, Brendan Perlini and Drake Caggiula.

That's a significant turnover, but after having so many players who had the exact same game, change was needed.

On defense, they were bad and small, and have added Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan, a pair that could become the new 3-4 in the middle of the back end.

That doesn't even include all the kids on defense, who may be arriving sooner rather than later, and 6-foot-4 center Kirby Dach.

If Dach makes the team, and some in the organization believe he will, that will be eight new forwards on the roster in the last eight months.

It won't take long to determine if the Hawks have improved and whether these are the upgrades they appear to be, but it's hard to imagine their defense any worse than it was last year.

And if it works like they hope, it will create some long-awaited competition for ice time.

"We want it to be difficult to make the team," Colliton said. "For a young player, it shouldn't be easy."

That's been a huge problem the last few years, forcing youngsters into the lineup out of need.

"They're going to have to perform at a really high level to push someone out and that's exactly what we want," Colliton said. "Maybe they show that they can play at our level, or they can go to Rockford and continue to develop.

"If we do end up with an injury or we need to shake things up, we have someone who can step in and make a difference.

"Even among the veteran guys … there's going to be competition for a roster spot or ice time. All the great teams have that. If we want to really make a run, we need to be 25, 26 players deep."

It's July, so naturally optimism is running rampant.

The Hawks are demonstrably better on paper, but the West is getting better and Colliton will have to bring them together quickly.

Or risk getting run over again.

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