Sunday, July 3, 2011

The surprise signing of Dan Carcillo to the Blackhawks: asset or liability?

The Chicago Blackhawks have locked in the majority of their core players for the next few years - players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook. What really had changed over the past few years is the people who support them on the ice - the grinders and character players.

Chicago made a series of quick signings in the opening round of  free agency. First, they completed some trades before the deadline, unloading Brian Campbell's $7M+/yr contract and getting back from Florida a forward named Rostislav ("Rusty") Olesz. Then they traded with Buffalo prior to FA to pick up defenseman Steve Montador, who they signed to a 4-year contract at a comfortable $2.75M cap hit.  The Blackhawks were quick out of the gate on Friday, with signings of solid veteran forwards Jamal Mayers (last team San Jose; 1 year/$550K) and Andrew Brunette (last team Wild; 1 year/$2M est). They also got another veteran defenseman, Sean O'Donnell (last team Flyers; 1 year/$850K est). Brett McLean was also signed to a cap-friendly, 2-way, 1 yr contract, but his name isn't on the Blackhawks roster, so that is a signing more likely meant to benefit the prospects in Rockford.

But Stan Bowman didn't stop there. The final signing on Friday was Daniel Carcillo, most recently of the Philadelphia Flyers, to a 1 yr/$775K contract.

To call the Blackhawks fanbase "stunned" would be an understatement.

Twitter and Facebook and message boards promptly lit up, expressing fans' anger, bewilderment, disbelief. A portion of fans went through the stages of denial quickly and said they were ready to embrace Carcillo in a Hawks sweater, but as Friday turned to Saturday, the fan discussion didn't slow down. The thread on the Blackhawks fan forum is 16 pages and counting, for example. There's the fans who flat-out hate him and aren't about to change their opinions; there's those who hate him but will accept him because he's wearing the Indian head; there's those who are just willing to accept him as a team player; and there are those who are actually excited about the signing.

So, how can a guy who's most likely to be a 4th-line pest in Chicago be causing such a variety of responses?

To this point, Carcillo has best been known to Blackhawks fans as the guy who took out his own teammate, Jeff Carter, in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final round, while attempting to take out Tomas Kopecky:

Adam Burish then chirped Carcillo, "Hey, hey, that's the best hit you had all year!"
Let's look at his hard, cold stats to begin with: Carcillo was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins 73rd overall (3rd round) in 2003; but by the time he cracked into the NHL during the 2006-07 season, he was playing under the Coyotes banner. He spent 2-1/2 years in Phoenix - even became a fan favorite - before ending up in Philadelphia, where he's spent the past 2-1/2 seasons.   

During the 2010-11 season, Carcillo had just 4 goals, 2 assists, -14, 127 PIM - and two GWG, with an average 7:45 TOI in 57 games. With 5 seasons under his belt, he's put together 36 goals, 37 assists, cumulative -30, a whopping 986 PIM, 4 GWG, and a decent-enough 8.4 shooting %. Divide that by number of seasons played, and it's an average 7 G, 7A/yr, plus an average 197.2 PIM per year - or, putting it simply, a career average of more 3-1/2 minutes of sin bin time per game played. Perhaps surprisingly, his playoff PIM average is much better - just over 2 PIM per game played.

What his stats look like in the NHL:

2006-07 PHX Coyotes18437-774-12.514:56
2007-08 PHX Coyotes571311241324112.312:43
2008-09 PHX Coyotes543710-13174-3.211:58
2008-09 PHL Flyers20-44-280--10:16
2009 Flyers - Playoffs511235-258:11
2009-10 PHL Flyers761210225207111.411:14
2010 Flyers - Playoffs1724633419.510:32
2010-11 PHL Flyers57426-1412727.17:45
2011 Flyers - Playoffs11213230-12.88:25

Carcillo's PIM is the greatest concern. He's known as "an energy guy" and an agitator - both assets - and he's also known for being able to draw penalties. But his PIM taken is a point for concern.

In the 2010-11 season, the Blackhawks took 265 minor (2nd lowest in league) and 30 major (7th lowest), plus 2 miscellaneous and 1 goalie penalties for a total of 309 penalties/742 PIM. (average: 9 PIM/game) Overall, that gave Chicago the 3rd-lowest total PIM in the league last year; only Florida (716) and Nashville (720) were lower. Philadelphia, on the other hand, had 1,119 PM (including 49 majors), which ranked 7th-highest. Carcillo only played in 69.5% of the games, yet compiled 11.3% of the Flyers PIM and led the team (tied with Shelley) for 13 majors. (He was second-highest in PIM on PHL to Scott Hartnell, and tied Jody Shelley - so 3 players made up 35.4% of the team's penalties.)

In comparison, Chicago's John Scott - who had the team high of 72 PIM (and let's face it, a couple of his majors were given simply for being John Scott), made up 9.7% of team penalties.

Here's where potentially adding more PIM to the Blackhawks' bottom line becomes an issue: during the 2010-11 season, Chicago had the 6th-worst PK in the league, just 79.2%. They had the 2nd-worst home PK (75.6%), which dragged down their road PK of 82.4% (15th). Having the 2nd-lowest PK time in the league doesn't help when the actual PK effort is so bad. It's a huge difference from the 2009-10 season, when Chicago took 166 more PIM, but had the 4th-best PK in the league at 85.3% -- including the second-best home PK at 89.4% (road PK was 81.9%).

The Blackhawks clearly need to improve their PK across the team; the 2010-11 season 79.2% cumulative PK is the worst average since 1997 by a full percent. (Records on the NHL site only go back to the 1997-98 season.) That kind of dropoff from the previous season seems unfathomable; especially as even during the seasons where Chicago's winning percentage was well below .500 - all the seasons 1997-98 through 2006-07 - the PK % was still very good. 

The other concern about Carcillo is the type of penalties he takes. Aside from racking up fighting penalties - Carcillo has no problem dropping the gloves - let's take a look at a few of his career "highlights":

Undisciplined hits vs Matt Bradley -
resulting in 9 min PP for Caps, and a suspension for Carcillo

Carcillo also had a brawl with Max Talbot in a game vs Pittsburgh during the 2009 playoffs, which was credited in sparking the Penguins into coming back from a 0-3 deficit to win 5-3 -- and eliminate the Flyers from the playoffs.

Carcillo has been labeled "dirty", a "cheap shot artist", and a "diver". Don Cherry ripped into Carcillo, nailing him on fighting style and his reputation for diving:

In summary, Carcillo is a player who comes to Chicago carrying a lot of baggage; known for taking stupid and occasionally reckless penalties on the ice; and he's had more than a few suspensions, including his most recent, for verbally abusing a ref off the ice, which will carry through the first two games of the 2011-12 season. There's plenty to dislike about Carcillo, and a lot of questions about how a guy known for being a goon is going to fit into a team known for speed, puck possession and clean play.

It's a well-known fact that the Blackhawks needed more consistent physicality on the team last year. The fact that Troy Brouwer - the most physical guy on the team but unfortunately for him not the most consistent about it (or his scoring) - got traded rather than re-signed with a due raise is an indicator of this. The fact that every player the Blackhawks picked up or traded for as Free Agency began (except perhaps Olesz, who seems to be a question mark) is known for being physical is another.

After the Carcillo signing, Stan Bowman talked to BHTV, stating:

"Carcillo's a player that's intreguing in a lot of ways, because he certainly has a lot of personality. He's difficult to play against. I think he brings a lot of that 'edge' to the game, and he's a good hockey player as well. I think that gets lost in the shuffle that he does stir it up quite a bit. But we actually like that about that game; I think there's nothing wrong with having a guy that can disrupt the other team and get them off their game a bit. .... We want to be a game that's a little bit more difficult to play against, and I think he fits in that category."

Can he fight? Yes, he can, and willingly; the Blackhawks have needed more willingness to drop the gloves, especially now that Jake Dowell and Troy Brouwer will be playing for different teams next year. Blackhawks fans may remember Carcillo's tilt against Dowell last season:

Can he score? Yes, he can do that, too. And he can do it in highlight-reel ways, too:

Carcillo grabs his own rebound off Ryan Miller in a PHL-BUF 2011 playoff game
(and follows it up with chirping as he heads to bench after)

Carcillo scores a beauty of a goal against Toronto during the 2009-10 season

What's unfortunate about Carcillo is that his goals are unpredictable, and his seasonal output has been irregular. While in Phoenix, he averaged more than 11:58 TOI per game over three seasons, and even his best season in Philadelphia averaged nearly half a minute less of TOI/game.

Here's an interesting statistic: While in Phoenix, Carcillo scored a goal every 6.45 games; in Philadelphia, his production dropped to one in every 9.56 games -- but rose to one every 6.6 games in the playoffs. How can these statistical differences be explained? Is it his linemates? The coaching? The team's style?

You can see from highlights that Carcillo has natural talent in his game - and more importantly, he's willing to go to the net, grind, and do the "dirty goals". The primary concern for Chicago is getting regular production out of him, without losing the fire that makes him such a thorn in other teams' sides. In other words, Carcillo needs to take lessons from Dave Bolland on how to best be a pest and get in other teams' heads without taking stupid penalties - and more vitally, without getting suspended in the process.

It's important to remember that Coach Joel Quenneville believes in disciplined play, and most importantly, he rewards players who do well and work hard at their jobs/roles by giving them ice time. You fall into disfavor with Q, and you end up spending your time in the press box. There is zero doubt that Carcillo will be on an incredibly short leash to start off the season. Not only will he have to prove himself in training camp, but provided he makes the team, he will have to keep proving himself night after night: proving to Stan Bowman that he made a good decision in taking him on; proving to Coach Q that he should stay in the lineup. And yes, even prove to the diehard Blackhawks fanbase that he might be worthy of their support, and even possibly their affection.

It's not even alien to suggest that he might find his way into Blackhawks fans hearts. A number of fans, knowing the personalities of Chicago players, have expressed concern over how Carcillo - a "goon" of a player with the nickname "Carbomb" - might fit into the Blackhawks locker room.

Investigating Carcillo's history with both Phoenix and Philadelphia fans, however, suggests that Carcillo might even ... *gasp* be a nice guy off the ice. In fact, a little searching around the internet turned up an article from dated January 23, 2010 titled "Daniel Carcillo has loosened up the Flyers locker room", and which went on to source somebody from inside the Flyers locker room who stated "(Carcillo) is completely insane.  Insane in a good way.  He has everyone laughing, having fun, and has become the spark plug the Flyers so desparately needed."

Hmm. Might Patrick Sharp find a new buddy to join him in wild practical jokes?

Coyotes fans said he was "a fan favorite" during his time there. He was certainly popular in Philadelphia for how he got under other teams' collective skins; but more than one Flyers fan called him "a nice guy" off the ice. In reviewing a lot of post-game video interviews, he doesn't seem like a bad interview.

In fact, if his 2010 pre-Winter Classic interview is any indication, he may be a very entertaining interview, indeed: 1. he started wearing a moustache for the WC as a "throwback" to the spirit of the WC; and 2. he predicted he was going to be a part of the first fight in a Winter Classic.

Carcillo will be among the new players introduced to the Chicago fanbase in less than two weeks when the annual Blackhawks Convention opens on July 15th. It will be interesting to see the reception that he gets; surely he will know that the majority of the fanbase is likely to wait to see what he is like, both as an off-ice personality, and much more importantly, if he joins the team as an asset or a liability.

Who will we see on the ice in October - the pesky agitator who can contribute some third- and fourth-line goals? Or the mess of a player known as "Carbomb"? Time will tell.

In the meantime, welcome to Chicago. Let's see what you've got.


  1. Half of the videos in here are duplicates of the dowell carcillo fight, which doesn't match up with their description, might want to check on those video links

  2. It's a bug on Blogger. :\ Sometimes the videos load properly and other times they duplicate.

    Oddly enough, it only happens with videos, so maybe it's a bug on how Blogger & connect?


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