Can improving possession metrics help Blackhawks shore up defensive issues?

Can improving possession metrics help Blackhawks shore up defensive issues?

NASHVILLE — There are plenty of reasons why the Blackhawks will be watching the Stanley Cup playoffs from home for the second straight season. None more glaring than their defensive issues.

While it certainly got better in the second half of the season as players got accustomed to Jeremy Colliton's man-on-man defensive zone structure — which softened into a man-and-a-half — the Blackhawks still finished 25th in 5-on-5 goals against per game (2.25) and 30th in 5-on-5 shots against per game (27.7). Fixing that is their No. 1 priority going into the offseason.

"I think we've shown we can," Colliton said when asked whether the current personnel can get it done. "We're not ... we're gonna try to get better in that way too. But I think as the year went on we did play better defensively. And the thing is, it's not, we got a lot of firepower but we're not gonna get less offensively by being better defensively, we'll get more, we'll create more, we'll score more. That's the pitch, that's what we have to get across. We've made some progress and then we started to win some more games as the year went on but I don't think we're a top defensive team yet."

In what form that improvement comes in, that remains to be seen. The Blackhawks are likely going to look for external help in free agency, but they want the growth to largely come from within and how they play.

"It's a lot of things," Duncan Keith said. "It's a lot of reasons. Obviously the team's got the puck more. I always think it starts in our own zone and defending. A lot of it too is making good plays out of the zone, getting the puck out of the zone and getting the puck up to our forwards clean, then being smart with the puck up the ice, getting it in deep when we have a chance. There's a lot of things. There's good teams, and every team's good now. It's not one thing." 

One way to improve the defensive numbers as a whole is by possessing the puck more than your opponents, which leads to spending less time in your own zone. The Blackhawks’ possession numbers were down from years past, and that doesn’t tend to favor the statistics on the defensive side of things.

When asked whether improving upon those possession metrics at 5-on-5 could help limit the defensive issues, Colliton gave a passionate response.

"I think it's all of the above,” Colliton said. “I think all of these stats, the possession numbers, whether it's Corsi, high-danger chances and the scoring chances, it's all ... the definition of all those things is arbitrary. And I think every team, every person evaluates things differently and we have our own numbers. It doesn't mean the ones that are public are not relevant, of course they are. It's the full picture. 

“I mean [Patrick Kane], you look at his possession numbers, he's not in the top half of our team, but no one would doubt that he's a tremendous possession player. If you look at high-danger chances for or against, it doesn't look good on the paper if you go to those sites. But no one would doubt that he's our most dangerous offensive player. 5-on-5 since December I think he's plus-20. So I think you have to be careful how you interpret stuff."

And he’s right. No player in the NHL this season had the puck on his stick more than Kane, who averaged 1:19 per game, according to He also ranked among the top 5 in controlled zone entries and puck possession in all areas. 

And to Colliton’s point, the Blackhawks as a team ranked No. 1 at generating scoring chances off the rush. So they’re obviously on the right track in that department, which is a big part of the game nowadays.

But where the Blackhawks can separate themselves from the bottom of the pack next season is by strengthening their cycle game and wearing out the opposition by literally possessing the puck that way, not necessarily through shot attempts. That’s a formula teams have used to beat the Blackhawks this season, and one that works against any team. It’s a large reason why the Blackhawks have given up the most high-danger chances, because they weren't great at defending against the cycle.

It’s easy to place the blame on the blue line group when the defensive numbers across the board are near the basement, but it’s going to take all three forwards and both defensemen on the ice at a time working as a five-man unit to get the bigger issue solved next season.

“You defend with five guys and you attack with five guys,” Colliton said. “That’s the way the game is played now. Forwards and the D got to work together, whether it’s defending — you start defending in their end by how you play with the puck and your gap and your back-pressure and all the way up the ice. We can be better at controlling the neutral zone and denying clean entries and if you do a good job of all that, you’re in your D-zone less, and then of course, you’ve got to be better there, too.

“Protecting the middle of the ice and getting in shot lanes and controlling the front of our net. I think compared to the rest of the teams in the league, we gave up more deflections and tips and rebounds. So we’ll work on all that.

“I think it needs to look more like it has lately, and less like it did in November and December. We’ve seen a progression, but obviously got some work to do over the summer to prepare and make sure we don’t waste training camp. We’ll be better.“

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade probabilities and playoff chances in 2019-20


Blackhawks mailbag: Trade probabilities and playoff chances in 2019-20

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.

Based off of your conversations with Craig Button, Mark Kelley, Mark Eaton, etc. [on the Hawks Talk Podcast] which draft prospect makes the most sense to take at number 3?

Hey Charlie! Who do you believe the Blackhawks are gonna pick third overall and why?

We're almost a month away from the NHL Draft in Vancouver and the Blackhawks have had more than five weeks to prepare for who they might take at No. 3 overall. The organization held scouting meetings in the first week of May and Blackhawks Vice President of Amateur Scouting Mark Kelley joined the Hawks Talk Podcast and touched on whether they're leaning a certain direction yet.

"We don't," he said. "Stan [Bowman] and I, we haven't even asked that question of each other. I think we both trust the process."

The Blackhawks have conducted most of their on-ice research at this point. Now it's more about gathering second and third layer information and diving into their personal backgrounds, which they will do at the NHL Scouting Combine from May 27-June 1 in Buffalo when they sit down and interview all the top prospects.

But getting back to the original question(s): If we had to narrow the field right now, 17-year-old standout defenseman Bowen Byram and USA star center and Illinois native Alex Turcotte might be separating themselves as the favorites to be taken at No. 3. Byram is as complete of a defenseman as they come and Turcotte is a potential future first-line two-way center. Both of those players would make sense for different reasons.

Hi Charlie! Could Hawks get a dman and/or top 9 forward through trade from a cap troubled team like Lightning, Pittsburgh instead of potential overpaying a free agent?

There are always pros and cons to everything. In free agency, there's the risk of overpaying and being locked into a long-term contract that could make life challenging in a salary cap world. On the flip side, dipping into the trade market means you have to give up assets. 

The Blackhawks have spent the past three years trying to replenish their farm system because they spent the previous decade using that ammo to go for it all. The only way it makes sense for the Blackhawks to acquire a top-four defenseman or top-six forward is if it's for a player that could impact the team in both the short term and long term, and is on an affordable long-term contract.

That being said, the Blackhawks should absolutely explore what's out there because there's an urgency to get things turned around as soon as possible.

With the signing of Dahlstrom & Koekkoek and the expected signing of Forsling, do you think the Blackhawks make a trade involving a defenseman before the draft? Especially with all the recent hype of Bowen Byram. Seems like there are more expendable dmen than ever right now.

If the Blackhawks believe Byram is the best player available at No. 3, they will take him and "worry" about the logjam of defensemen prospects the next day. Even if they don't draft Byram, it's hard to see a path for their Big Four blue line chips (Nicolas Beaudin, Adam Boqvist, Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell) to break in around the same time — or with the team, at all — simply because the math doesn't work. There aren't enough roster spots available.

We're of the mindset that the Blackhawks should continue to develop them under their own roof because their value increases as they become more NHL ready and if they're developed properly. If they see a deal that benefits the team now and four-plus years from now, the Blackhawks will pull the trigger on something like that if or whenever it ever crosses their desk. Whether that could come before or after the draft, who knows.

1) Was Toews not invited to play for Team Canada or did he decline? 

2) Can Kane and DeBrincat help USA to Gold this year? 

3) Any chance or rumors of draft day trades? Up or down?


1) Team Canada likely reached out, but Jonathan Toews has accomplished everything there is to internationally so it's completely understandable if he respectfully passed on the opportunity. Two Olympic gold medals, two gold medals at the World Junior Championships, a gold medal at the World Cup and another gold at the IIHF World Championship. He's paid his dues. And at 31 years old, rest and recovery are more important than adding more mileage on his body.

2) This is probably the deepest team USA has fielded. And it started with Patrick Kane committing as captain for the second straight year. They have the center depth (Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Jack Hughes and Luke Glendening), high-end defensemen (Noah Hanifin, Quinn Hughes, Ryan Suter and Zach Werenski) and firepower on the wing (Alex DeBrincat, Johnny Gaudreau, Kane and James van Riemsdyk) to make a deep run. The biggest question mark is whether or not their goaltending (Thatcher Demko and Cory Schneider) can hold up their end of the bargain. 

3) It's safe to say there is less than a 1 percent chance that the Blackhawks trade up from No. 3. The Devils are trying to re-sign Taylor Hall and trading out of the No. 1 spot and losing out on Jack Hughes would be inexcusable. And the Rangers, who hold the No. 2 pick and are expected to have their hand in some marquee free agents this summer, could speed up their rebuilding process by adding Kaapo Kakko, who's dominating the IIHF World Championship right now.

Trading back, although unlikely, is an interesting possibility and one to consider only if you're fixated on a player and can guarantee that he'll still be on the board a couple picks later. The other part of the equation is finding a team that's hungry enough to both jump up and give up the assets to do it. But we shouldn't spend too much time on this. It would take a lot for the Blackhawks to want to move out of No. 3 in general.

Will the Hawks be a playoff team this year?

The Blackhawks missed the playoffs this season by only six points despite everything that went on: a midseason coaching change, Corey Crawford missing action with another concussion and two eight-game losing streaks. But that may have been more about the top-heavy Western Conference, with the Colorado Avalanche securing the second wildcard spot at 90 points. The bar will likely be heightened next season.

If the Blackhawks want to avoid a three-year playoff drought, things need to change, such as overall possession numbers, team defense and the penalty kill. And if they play their cards right this summer, it can: No. 3 overall pick, financial flexibility they haven't had before with Bowman in charge and a full training camp under head coach Jeremy Colliton to get on the same page.

The Blackhawks also need teams above them to take a step back, which is possible when you factor in the question marks surrounding Nashville and Winnipeg in the Central Division after first-round exits this spring. Every year there are surprises in this category. That's hockey.

Early prediction: Playoff hockey will return to Chicago next season.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Blues' 'Gloria' is reminiscent of White Sox with 'Don't Stop Believin'' and Blackhawks with 'Chelsea Dagger'

Blues' 'Gloria' is reminiscent of White Sox with 'Don't Stop Believin'' and Blackhawks with 'Chelsea Dagger'

Sports and music have always had a great friendship, as long as you don’t bring up that whole “Disco Demolition Night” on the South Side back in 1979.

The St. Louis Blues are the latest team to adopt a somewhat obscure song, “Gloria,” in hopes of playing it on a loop until the championship parade is over.

The Blues decision to go with Laura Branigan’s 1982 hit sounds eerily similar to how the White Sox landed on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” back in 2005. A handful of players go to a bar, a song from three decades earlier plays with nearly everyone in the establishment singing a long and – bingo - you have your team anthem.

It got me thinking about how the Blackhawks landed on "Chelsea Dagger" and the soundtrack for three Stanley Cup championships?

This relationship did not start in a bar. It actually began at Madison Square Garden, where the Blackhawks opened the 2008-09 season.

John McDonough and Jay Blunk listened to the Rangers “goal song” four times that night and asked team employees if the Blackhawks needed a signature song, too.

The overwhelming response was “yes” and the task to find the Blackhawks jam was on.

The Blackhawks version of American Idol judges were team employees Pete Hassen, Ben Broder and intern Matt Benjamin.  No fancy studio for this trio.  They were driving in Hassen’s car when Benjamin alerted the group to the Fratelli’s song, Chelsea Dagger.

It was met with mixed reviews in the car, but it made the final three tunes they considered, along with a song from Gwen Stefani and Fall Out Boy.

The Blackhawks had been using Joe Satriani’s, “Crowd Chant” as their main goal song, with some specialty tunes for Jonathan Toews ("Johnny B. Goode"), Patrick Kane ("Rock You Like a Hurricane") and Patrick Sharp ("Sharp Dressed Man").

Game operations began working “Chelsea Dagger” into their goal song playlist. The reaction from the United Center faithful was extremely positive. Fans were dancing in the aisles and singing along with the “do, do, do-do…do, do-do” chorus.

By the start of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Chelsea Dagger was the only goal song for the Blackhawks. The tune has harmonized perfectly the past decade with hundreds of thrilling goals and championship runs. All thanks to a former team intern’s, one-hit wonder.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.