Thanks for heading over to part two of my interview with Mike Berman. If you haven’t had a chance to read part one, you can do so here. Mike got to cover the Hawks playoff series this year so naturally I had to hear his thoughts on the playoff run that Hawks fans are desperately trying to forget.
What was it like covering the playoffs? Take us through your average day.
A normal day would be: I go to their morning skate. That’s around 11 a.m. Those are usually relatively short, and then we do interviews in the dressing room after. Then we will decide what from those interviews will work well for live shots before the game. After that, it’s writing your live shots and thinking about what you are going to say. Most of the time those live shots are really short, a minute. That includes the sound byte, so you’ve got to be concise and get to your point quickly and say what is most important. After the live shots are done, you watch the game, you’re taking notes, you’re paying attention, you’re thinking what you’re going to ask about after the game and what your story is going to be about. Then, depending on what time the game starts, if there’s time after the game, you might be doing a post-game live shot on the late news. But if the game runs through the news then it’s probably just putting together a quick story for the morning sports. They are lengthy days. They are pretty packed but they are really fun. I mean you’re sitting there covering Stanley Cup playoff action!
What was the vibe like throughout the Hawks playoff run in the rink. Did it deteriorate as the games went on?
I think there’s no question that from the fans’ perspective, there was a lot of frustration. You’re talking about a team that had 109 points, the second best in team history. They won the West and then they are coming off of a first-round exit last year when they lost in seven to the [St. Louis] Blues. There was a lot of, not just hope for a deep run this year, but also frustration left over from last year. I think that that all combined to, as the games went on and they kept losing, really frustrate Hawks fans, and I don’t blame them because it was a bad series. They were bad and they would be the first to tell you that. They were very honest and forthcoming and upfront in showing their disappointment and saying, ‘We weren’t good enough. We are shocked and angry and surprised, but they were the better team.’
What do you think the Hawks need to do moving forward? Do you think they need to go through rebuild or do you think only minor changes need to be made?
They are not going to do a complete overhaul. They still have a core group of guys and they’ve added to that core group with guys like [Artem] Anisimov and [Artemi] Panarin and [Richard] Panik; guys who are capable scorers. But they do need to make some changes and I think that the primary change is that they have to get faster. It was very evident in that Predators series that they were slower than Nashville. Nashville beat them to the puck so often. I think that the big culprits for the Hawks were some older guys who were defensemen. Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, guys like that who are reaching a point in their career where they aren’t as effective anymore. I’m not sure Duncan Keith would be put in that category; he’s still really good. I think they need to get younger and quicker with their defensemen and they need to really be strong with their third and fourth lines, so they aren’t so dependent on those first two lines.
Kane and Toews didn’t really show up that series. I think that a lot people were surprised on how much they were underperforming. Do you think that’s because they had a bad playoff run or because they aren’t adapting their playing style to, like you were saying, the way the NHL’s style of play is evolving?
I don’t think either of them played particularly well. Toews had a rough go of it in the playoffs of late. I do think some of what was in play was that they didn’t have a great series. But I also think they can’t win completely on their own and I think that the surrounding parts struggling in that series played a big role as well. I am by no means ready to write off Kane and Toews as starting on the other side of the hill or declining in their career. They haven’t even hit 30 years old yet so I think that they have a lot of good hockey left. I also think they become more effective when the parts around them are more efficient and effective.
Do you think that they have strong rookies in place that they can start to rely on?
I do think so. I think that DeBrincat is just this all-world guy. He was just the league’s rookie of the year [in the OHL]. It seems like he has really bright days ahead. Think about what last year, as rookies, Schmaltz and Hartman were able to do. They were meaningful contributors and then Kero and Hayden and a guy like Panarin that is younger too. I definitely think they have good young talent, and now it’s about doing what Stan Bowman has been so good about for so many years: finding the pieces from other places to supplement all of the talent that they have.
Do you think the salary cap is backing them into a corner or do you think they will be able to get around it and make some good moves?
I’m not going to pretend to be a numbers wizard with the salary cap. Everyone knows that the salary cap plays a big role, so that is always going to be a challenge hanging over the head of Stan Bowman. But that is what makes the Blackhawks winning three cups in less than a decade so impressive. It’s been in the salary cap era and they have always been able to tinker enough where they can still be competing for championships.
What do you think about them trading Scott Darling?
They were in a spot where they had to trade Darling because he was coming up on free agency. They weren’t going to bring him back at dollars that a starting goalie would demand, because that’s what he wants to be and that’s frankly what he deserves. He deserves that shot. Crow [Corey Crawford] is their guy, they aren’t going to deviate from that and I think they were smart to trade Darling because they got something in return as opposed to just letting him walk and then getting nothing. From Darling’s perspective, he wants to be a starting goalie. He’s clearly proved, in the opportunities he’s had, that he’s worth that opportunity for another team.
What qualities do you think the Hawks need to consider when looking for a new backup goalie?
If they can find anyone who can come close to being as reliable as Darling I’m sure they would be thrilled because he was a heck of a backup goalie.
What are your thoughts on Crawford? He clearly gets a lot of criticism, especially from fans.
I think that Corey Crawford is one of the single most underappreciated athletes in Chicago sports history. I mean, this is a guy who has won multiple Stanley Cups and has been a part of a big chunk of this incredible run, and yet fans continually exhibit frustration with him and wonder if he is the right guy. Well, I think we saw in the playoffs, we were reminded that he is the right guy. He was under siege so often. Game 1 they lost 1-0, so that could have gone either way. Game 2 was the outlier; that was a bad game. They lost 5-0. But then for Games 3 and 4 in Nashville, he gave them a chance to win. It was much more on everyone else than it was on Corey Crawford that they were swept in that series.