NHL Network’s E.J. Hradek talks Blackhawks

E.J. Hradek (middle) on the NHL Network - courtesy of the NHL Network

by Scott King

E.J. Hradek appears on NHL Now weekdays at 4:00 p.m. ET throughout the regular season. Recently, Chelsea Blogger picked his brain about all things Hawks in the midst of an interesting up-and-down year for the team.

As of Monday, the Blackhawks have 61 points, five back of the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card.

What’s the current state of the Blackhawks?

The game changes fast now and it’s really driven by a lot of young talent. It’s changed. That said, the Blackhawks fans, I always say, it’s been a decade, right about a decade or a little bit more, it’s been a great run, they’ve been at the top of the National Hockey League for several years, leading into last year – missing the playoffs, but they’ve been right in the mix of things.

They’ve won the Stanley Cup three times in that stretch. By comparison, the New York Rangers had a great run for about 10 years and were in the Stanley Cup Final, in the Eastern Conference Final on a couple of occasions and they never won the Stanley Cup.

They went into a rebuild last year and now they’re going through that process. So for the Chicago Blackhawks, they’re fortunate they still have some really high-end players that were part of that run in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for sure.

I think Duncan Keith is still a really good player, even if it’s despite the fact that he’s in his mid-30s now. I think he can still be helpful to a winning team, in a winning situation in Chicago, but they are kind of re-tooling that group.

They’re bringing in younger players and the fanbase there, I’d say be happy you won three times in 10 years and hope that the younger players coming in are going to give them a chance to have another era of success in the near future.

But, it’s a challenge because it’s hard to win in this league. There are 31 teams, soon to be 32 and the difference between winning and losing on both sides is a single goal and you have to be good on defense, you have to be good in goal and it’s not easy. The job in front of Stan Bowman and that group to kind of re-tool things is not going to be an easy one.

How remarkable is it that Jonathan Toews is having one of the best seasons of his career after a couple disappointing ones and some injuries?

He’s a professional and he’s a competitive guy. Jonathan Toews has always been ultra-competitive. That’s why he’s had the kind of success he’s had in his career and in his life.

He understands the last couple of years for his standard – I always talk about with these guys, especially the guys with the high-end [skill] – their set of expectations is always way higher for them and for their teams than ours are as fans. Even if we have high expectations, those guys have higher expectations of themselves.

He’s put in the work and he’s been terrific this year. I think Jonathan Toews wants to continue to be one of the go-to guys in this league and you’re right he’s having a terrific season this year and he’s on pace to probably score more than 30 goals, be up around 70-80 points when all is said and done when he stays healthy.

You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse and I think the last couple of years, for Jonathan Toews, he realized, ‘Listen, I’ve got to do more to maintain the level that I want to play at. I think he’s put in the time and it shows in his game on the ice.

Are you surprised that Coach Q didn’t get another job coaching right away?

No, I’m not. He’s getting paid six million dollars for the rest of this year and next year. I think Joel has been there for a long stretch in Chicago. He’s coached a long time in this league.

I think Joel is a guy that is someone who’s enjoying a little bit of a break from it. I think if a perfect situation unfolded in front of him, I think he’d consider that, but I’m not surprised he’s not rushing into anything and I think he’s very smart for doing that. I think he can use the break, enjoy his life a little bit and then re-evaluate what he wants to do next.

The good news for him is if he decides to do nothing, he’ll still get paid six million dollars next year. So I would sign up for that pretty quickly and I think most people would. I think coaches like to coach.

There’s just not a lot of teams in this league that pay a lot for their head coach. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s just a reality. That limits I think his number of teams right away to a handful.

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