Last week after the St. Louis game, I asked anyone to give me one good reason why Matt Walker is dressing and playing important minutes on the 4th best team in the Western Conference, your Chicago Blackhawks. No one answered my call.
Thankfully for us, Pat Foley and Ed Olczyk came to the rescue. On Tuesday night, they went out of their way to praise Walker’s toughness and physicality. Wednesday night, they insulted everyone’s hockey intelligence by basing their pre-game talk about what an important piece Matt Walker has been. This came after they talked about the line of Kane, Toews, and Havlat and how important they’ve been. How are we supposed to take anything they say seriously again after hearing that.
So, now we have two reasons why Matt Walker continues to play big minutes on a Stanley Cup contender. Allow me to dispute both of these myths.
Myth #1: Matt Walker brings toughness to the team
Toughness is a tangible quality that people (fans, media, front offices, etc) seem to give an inordinate amount of attention to. The simple fact is, if you make to the NHL, there’s about 99.98% chance, you are tough. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tie someone up to the Balls of Steel Machine and quantify their toughness. What we’re left with is anytime someone is big and lacking any sort of skill, people automatically attach toughness as their main attribute. What they really mean is he’s probably bad at hockey.
There is no way any elite player can be successful at the highest level without being tough. You want to know who you could make a case as one of the toughest players on the team?
Think about it. First of all, he’s barely 5’8″, 140 pounds soaking wet, 20 years old, and competing against grown men. Not to mention, as a 15 year old, he played at the highest level of competition against 17 and 18 year-olds. And thoroughly dominated. He was trying to figure out why his voice was squeaking and his opponents were trying to figure out a way to jam their sticks up his rear-end. Kane also played over half of this season with a bum ankle.
So what does Walker do that is so much “tougher”? Well, he can throw some haymakers if he ever got his hands on someone. He doesn’t get knocked down very easily. That’s about it.
It’s not like opposing players are shaking in their proverbial boots because they’re lining up against Walker. They see players like him on a nightly basis. He’s not exactly haunting their dreams like Shane Churla.
And even if he does bring the “toughness”, does he need to do it on 18 minute per night basis? Ben Eager and Adam Burish bring a similar skill set as Walker and are likely to see between 7 and 12 minutes per night. They’re also not playing the most important position other than goalie. Does his toughness grow tougher with each passing minute he’s on the ice? I just don’t get it.
Myth #2: Matt Walker brings a physicality to the ice.
Yes, Matt Walker can throw his weight around assuming he catches whatever is skating near him. He also plays on a team with Brent Seabrook, Cam Barker, Ham Sandwich, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Dustin Byfuglien, and Troy Brouwer. They all throw their weight around effectively and also provide the ability to skate and chew gum at the same time.
What is it about Walker’s physical play that makes him different from the rest of the guys? Does he throw thunderous hits that monumentally shift the momentum of games?
Well no, not really. Most of the time, he isn’t quick enough to catch players to lay the lumber on them. The other players are all capable of doing the same thing, yet with better odds to actually lay a check on someone.
If all of this is too much opinion for you and statistics is more your speed, lucky for you, the NHL keeps track of hits. You’ll never guess where the bruising Matt Walker falls on the ‘Hawks…..9th, behind big behemoths like Dave Bolland and Sammy Pahlsson. 64 hits. In 63 games. The great physical presence that is Matt Walker brings a hit per night at anyone who dares to cross his path.
After proving there really is no reason for Matt Walker to play more than 8 minutes a night, the most frustrating part of this whole thing is how ‘Hawks brass seems to harp on everyone else’s mistakes (i.e. Ham Sandwich sitting for most of the third on Tuesday and the Havlat-Toews-Kane sitting the last 5 minutes on Wednesday night) but overlook anything Walker does or fails to do.
And to be fair, it’s not Walker’s fault the coaching staff continually taps him on the shoulder and sets him up for failure. It’s been said that good coaches figure out what their players can do and can’t do, and then they never ask them to do things they can’t do. My biggest fear for Walker is that he gets a regular shift in a playoff overtime game, makes a mistake that we’ve seen ad nauseum this season, and ends up costing the ‘Hawks a game.
When the fans line up with their pitchforks and torches after the game looking for his head, no one will ask why was he playing to begin with. Or why hasn’t he been replaced in the line-up by Aaron Johnson. No, they will want his blood and they’ll want it IMMEEEEEEEEDIATELY.
Editor’s note: Also for anyone who is not a regular follower of this website, I have been clamoring for Walker to be replaced since December. That is all.