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Thursday, April 17, 2014

2013-14 Blackhawks
Regular Season Report Card


With the conclusion of the 2013-14 regular season, it's customary to give my end of season report card. The Blackhawks will open up the playoffs on tonight in St. Louis as they attempt to defend their Stanley Cup championship.

On to parent/teacher conference:

The Center Icemen

19 - Jonathan Toews - No denying that Jonny is the heart and soul of this team, and it might be a blessing in disguise that he went down with an injury that forced him to take a few weeks off. The way this team jumps on the back of their captain, the only way he was getting significant rest was an injury. Even missing 8 games, he has 68 points. If you don't know what he does or what he is worth, you are way late to the game. Future hall of famer and retired number.
GRADE - A plus

65 - Andrew Shaw - This kid just keeps producing. 20 goals and 39 points while being moved up and down the lineup is sufficient for me. He has played all of the top 3 center position, and didn't look completely out of place doing so. He has played on the powerplay as well and, again, has not looked out of place. The chaos he causes in front of the net has helped to keep the Blackhawks powerplay in the top third of the league. This kid was a diamond in the rough when Bowman selected him in the 5th round of the 2011 draft.
GRADE - A

12 - Peter Regin - No one knew what to expect from this guy when he was acquired from the Islanders on February 6th. He has decent size and can give the Blackhawks a little more depth up the middle that they didn't have. I don't think you'll ever get more than 25 points out of Regin, but he can fill in where needed, without getting his ass kicked up and down the rink. As of late, he has shown some chemistry with some of the younger players, which is promising. He is a UFA in July and might not be back.
GRADE - C

16 - Marcus Kruger - Kruger has slid into the Blackhawks 4th line center and primary penalty killer roles very nicely. I would still like to see him make his way to 3rd line shutdown slot, but Quenneville is hesitant to break up anything successful, and the 4th line was his most consistent this season. Smith, Bollig and Kruger could possibly even be called the Blackhawks 3rd line, because the real "3rd line" of Bickell, Shaw and Versteeg has been dogshit on the wing.
GRADE - B

26 - Michal Handzus - Where do I begin and end with Handzus? He was old and Quenneville bled just about anything he had left in the tank last spring. So what do the Blackhawks do? Re-sign him for another year. I understand that he is one of the trusted Quenneville boys club members, but he's old, slow and goes against everything this team is built around. Now that the team faceoff percentage has been rectified, Handzus is really a non factor. There is no way he is back next year because there are kids like Teravainen waiting for a spot. Thanks for the spot duty, Zus.
GRADE - D

The Wingers


20 - Brandon Saad - It has been an up and down year for young Saad. If you look purely at the numbers, he had a great year. Unfortunately, he tailed off and was even a healthy scratch late in the season. 47 points in 78 games is nothing to thumb your nose at, but he didn't score a goal in his last 12 games, and only had three assists in that time period. This is a kid that the Blackhawks are expecting big things from. Maybe he's getting adjusted to a full NHL season, or maybe he'll just be a streaky player. Based on his size and length of presence we can easily forget that Brandon Saad is still only 21 years old. He has one year left on his entry level deal, and we should probably expect a moderate bridge deal coming soon. Saad is on the cusp of that long term range, but he needs to fully define just who Brandon Saad is and has to prove he can be consistent. He could have been sitting at roughly 55 points had he not disappeared for extended stretches. The potential is there, and he has show flashes of dominance.
GRADE - B minus

23 - Kris Versteeg - This guy! This! Fucking! Guy! I was a fan, his rookie year, but he was hidden behind such talent that allowed him to sneak in under the radar. Fast forward 4 years, and the rest of the league has realized what I had been saying all along. Versteeg is a peripheral player that is best in a 3rd line role, if on a good team. He hangs on to the puck far too damn long, and turns it over far too damn much. People seemed to forget these facts when Bowman made his "big deal" to bring "Dammit Versteeg" back. 29 points in 63 games is "OK", but Versteeg isn't some 23 year old kid anymore. He is 27 years old and makes $2.2 million a year. If the Blackhawks hang onto him, it'll be for 2 more seasons, which will test my patience. If they want to keep him around in the bottom 6 for a few seasons, I can handle it, but if they keep playing him with the top 6 and on the powerplay, I'm going to have and embolism. I suppose that for just $2.2 million, his salary isn't the issue. His play certainly is, though.
GRADE - D

29 - Bryan Bickell - People will run around saying that, based on the signings of other players of his size last summer, Bickell is a bargain. With that line of reasoning, I'll agree, but if you compare the rest of the league, they are all ridiculous albatrosses. Bickell just happens to be the least ridiculous of the group. I'm not of the thinking that just because Clarkson, Horton, and Clowe have more asinine contracts, Bickell is absolved. He needs to produce more. Produce SOMETHING. Sure, there are rumors that he has been injured, and has been wearing knee braces. You know who else will be doing alright wearing a knee brace? Patrick Kane. In a few years his contract will be in the Versteeg "Well he's sucking but he only makes..." range, but for the moment it tends to be a bit of a pain in the ass. If he shows up in the playoffs, then his grade goes up to a B minus.
GRADE - C Minus

28 - Ben Smith - Agent Smith was slotted into a perfect position for him. He was put into the no pressure 4th line, grind winger spot. Sprinkle in a little penalty killing and some spot duty at center, and that encapsulates Smith's first full NHL season. 26 points is pretty admirable for a guy that far down the depth chart, that only plays 12:44 a game. One would think that his role would expand some next season.
GRADE - B

11 - Jeremy Morin - This kid got the run-a-round that Pirri started. The times he was brought up, he wasn't given any chance to settle into a regular spot. When the time came to fill in for Kane and Toews, Morin jumped up and grabbed the opportunity by the ball bag. It's a crying shame that Quenneville will default to the "old trusties" in the playoffs, and Morin will have to watch players like Kris Versteeg under perform. If I was grading him on his late season call-up, exclusively, I would have given him at least a B plus.
GRADE - C

52 - Brandon Bollig -Two things about Brandon Bollig. He played every single game for the Blackhawks, this year, and he scored the first Blackhawks goal of the season. Everything else was just filler. He has done what is asked of him, even though he is certainly good for the occasional idiotic penalty, or momentum killing "fight". He hasn't blatantly hurt the team, even though there are players more talented and probably more deserving on the outside looking in. It is exhausting to fight this fight. Wasting my time hating his 10 minutes of playing time per night is pointless. Based on the extension he signed, he is obviously here to stay, so I'll focus more hate on Kris Versteeg. Seven goals and 14 points is more than anyone could have expected from the sculpted beard.
GRADE - B

88 - Patrick Kane - Kid is money in the bank and that will equal money in the bank, for him, some time after July 1st. Kane was right up in the top scorers in the league for a healthy portion of the season, all while towing the festering carcass of Michael Handzus behind him. Even after missing 13 games, Kane still ended up with 69 points. Not much to complain about there.
GRADE - A plus

81 - Marian Hossa -Another guy on this team that just "does". Maybe one of the best free agent signings ever for this franchise, Hossa has lived up to every cent of his contract. He is solid on both ends of the ice and doesn't crave the spotlight. Hossa has the perfect personality and skillset to settle in behind the flashier players like Toews and Kane, yet still put up big numbers and carry the team from time to time. Anyone that has a bad word to say about Marian Hossa should be stripped, tarred and feathered right next to the Hull/Mikita statues. Thirty more goals, and thirty more assists. Another consistent season.
GRADE - A

10 - Patrick Sharp -After Hossa, comes Sharp. As far as stats go, he led the team in scoring. As far as the spotlight goes, he's probably 4th or 5th on the team. This suits Sharpie well. No pressure for him as he just does what he does. Quarterback the power play, solidify the top 6, play for Team Canada in the Olympics, and lead the Blackhawks in scoring. All this while playing every regular season game. He has his streaks, but at the end of the day, he is vital to this team. Another great year.
GRADE - A plus

42 - Joakim Nordstrom -Nordstrom came out of training camp as a surprise. He made the team and it was quickly made clear that he was overmatched. He's a tall slim 4th liner, and while he may end up a serviceable NHLer some day, that day is not now. He got some seasoning in the AHL and came back a little stronger late in the season. Not much to love or to hate about him just yet. At this point he is just a player.
GRADE - C

I left out Matt Carey, Teuvo Teravainen and Brad Mills. 8 games total isn't worth recognizing yet, but Teravainen will be a subject next year.

The Defensemen


2 - Duncan Keith -After a few rough seasons following the Gold Medal, Cup Run, Conn Smythe and Norris Trophy, in 2010, Keith had a few rough seasons. Last year he bounced back a little and then up even one more notch this season. He has been probably the most mentioned player in the Norris trophy race, all season long. He finished with 61 points and the most ice time on the team. He was ranked 15th in TOI in the entire league which is a pretty good sweet spot to be in for Keith. No need to burn him out if they don't need to. There are still chapters to write in this book, and we'll see how the playoffs go, but his regular season was pretty exceptional.
GRADE - A

7 - Brent Seabrook -Good ol lucky number sleven. Carter Seven, even. Seabs has had a bit of a down year by his standards, but I'm not aboard that hate train. I am partial the Seabrook, so I generally cut him some slack. His numbers (7G-43A-41P) are a bit inflated because he plays with maybe the best defenseman in the league, but I still maintain that he could be a #1 on a good portion of the teams in the NHL. It is not time to take ol yeller out back and shoot him yet, but I would understand if they could get an asset for him this summer. I won't like it, but I would understand. There are players like Johns, Clendening and Dahlbeck in Rockford that are probably ready for a chance. Johns looks like he may be a BETTER version of Seabrook, someday, but those are some huge skates to fill. Hjalmarsson could move up and fill Seabrook's spot if needed. All this said, I hope he is around for quite a while. He has some things that very few other defensemen on this team have. Strength and intimidating physical play.
GRADE - B minus

8 - Nick Leddy -If I asked you to name which Hawks defenseman played every regular season game for the team the last three years, would you have said Leddy? It's true. Nick Leddy has been the most durable Blackhawks defender. In the playoffs, it's been a bit of a roller coaster, because he barely played down the stretch last spring because Quenneville had some bug up his tuchus. It's really time for Nick Leddy to shit or get off the pot, though. He might be the fastest player on the team, and he has been the one mainstay on the 3rd pair for 3 years now. He quite simply needs to move up the depth chart. Maybe he slides in and takes Oduya's spot so the Blackhawks can get some fresh faces in the lineup. Maybe Seabrook is sent packing and Leddy takes Hjalmarsson's spot. Never can tell what Bowman will do, but he needs to be bumped up to the next level. The kid is a player and was probably considered for a spot on Team USA, this winter. For him to be considered as one of the top US defensemen and be stuck as a 3rd pair player is pretty silly. That said, he had another pretty solid season. Leddy needs to be on the ice, with the puck on his stick, heading north. He may never be Duncan Keith, but his play is very similar.
GRADE - B

32 - Michal Rozsival -I will never understand this Bowman signing. one year, sure, but two? Fail. I realize Rozsival was a solid player in last year's ABBREVIATED SEASON, but signing him for 2 more years just makes zero sense to me. He is a leader and a decent 3rd line defender in spot duty, but he can't play every day. If they want to pay him $2.2 million to be a 7th defender and mentor young players...I guess that is a plan. A bad plan, but it is a plan. This season he played in 42 games and had 8 points. They can't buy him out, so the Hawks are stuck with him for another season, unless he retires.
GRADE - C

27 - Johnny Oduya -I don't have much issue with Johnny Oduya, or his play, as a whole. He logs some serious time against opposing teams most talented players. You're going to have hiccups. Hjalmarsson and Oduya did a pretty damn good job of shutting down some of the best talent in the world. To show just how important that was, both players were chosen to pay together for Team Sweden. This is nothing to thumb your nose at. Oduya is not Seabrook, and he isn't as talented as Leddy, but he has plenty of upside. His $3.375 million salary isn't all that bad, if you look at the other players out there doing his job. This said, I can see the Hawks dangling him on the market because of the affordable contract and his resume. I can't see the Blackhawks keeping these 5 top defenders going into training camp, but for the last 3 years I though Hjalmarsson was a goner. So, what do I know?
GRADE - B

4 - Niklas Hjalmarsson -I've definitely been hard on Hammer, but I can't argue with success. Hjalmarsson has become maybe the most unsung and under the radar player on the Blackhawks. He is a defensive machine on the Hawks end of the ice. He finished in the top 20 of shot blockers in the NHL while still managing a nice plus/minus and 26 points to boot. You're not going to hear about him making the all-star team, but he is a vital member of the core of this Blackhawks team.
GRADE - A

17 - Sheldon Brookbank -I really have no use for Brookbank. He is a cheap 7th defender that can throw hooks when needed. He was shuffled all over the lineup except where he needed to be, which is Rockford. Just a depth guy and Quenneville squeezed every ounce of production out of Brookbank. The only reason his grade is so high is that the team didn't spontaneously explode when he was on the ice, which was always a possibility.
GRADE - B Minus

David Rundblad came in late, but didn't play enough to illicit a review.

The Netminders


50 - Corey Crawford - Poor Crawford. He has taken on so much irrational hate. I'm certainly not blind, folks. He can give up some softies, and he does certainly look awkward out there, sometimes. The fact of the matter is that he carried this team to the Cup last year. He fully deserved the Conn Smythe and even Patrick Kane himself admitted that Crawford was snubbed. Crawford is good enough for the Blackhawks. Plain and simple. He's not Cristobal Huet, so people need to relax. I'm not going to say he deserves the Vezina trophy, but there is nothing to support any theory that he should be replaced. There are better goalies out there, but none in the Hawks system. He may very well be the Cam Ward of the Blackhawks, and never win anything again, but until he is the single reason the Blackhawks fail, he is not going anywhere. The Hawks would have to dump his salary to a team that had cap room and is in dire need of a decent goalie, and that's not happening for a while.
GRADE - B minus

31 - Antti Raanta - When the Blackhawks signed Raanta, everyone was kind of surprised. They had Crawford and Khabby, plus some young goalies in the system like Carruth, Simpson, and Whitney. It certainly doesn't hurt to have too much of a good thing, though. The chance that Raanta was going to start as Crawford's backup was slim to none. They weren't going to bury Khabby in the minors at $2 million. The only way Raanta was going to play was if Khabby got hurt, and that is exactly what happened. BUT, this was another Ray Emery theory. Just because he has a nice run when Crawford and Emery were hurt, doesn't mean he deserved or was ready to be an NHL #1. Antti Raanta isn't ready. They could have compensated for his deficiencies if they needed to, but AT THIS POINT Crawford is still a better goalie overall. This doesn't mean that next year Raanta won't light the place on fire. He very well could. Right now let us all enjoy the fact that the Blackhawks have two pretty good goalies.
GRADE - B plus

39 - Nikolai Khabibulin - Huge mistake that cost the Blackhawks $2 million. No one can get everything right, and Bowman had a huge whiff on this one.
GRADE - F

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Teuvo Teräväinen Will Disappoint You All


Great, I got your attention once again!

Almost three years to the day, I put together this little ditty about Marcus Kruger and how he was going to not meet the expectations most delusional fans had, and I was right. Kruger has turned into a real nice defensive center that can be trusted, but he is not the second line center the Chicago fans has been clamoring for since roughly, well, Bernie Nichols.

This is where I tell you that Teräväinen will disappoint you all!

Teräväinen might be closer to the solution, but he is not the solution to the second line, just yet. For those not aware, he a smallish player (listed at 5'11"/170, but that's a farce). While he's fast enough and agile enough to avoid most big hits, it'll take time for him to adjust to a smaller surface, where the big gorillas can corner and trap him easier. That said, he's much more than Marcus Kruger was. There is a reason Teräväinen was drafted in the first round and Kruger in the fifth round. Teräväinen is a special player, but if you are expecting him to do much more than just blend in, you will be sorely disappointed.

Please listen when I ask you all to calm down and have some realistic expectations. He should be able to hide between Toews, Shaw and Kruger while not getting completely decapitated. He should be able to add some offensive punch, especially with one of the most electrifying players in the league on his wing, which brings me to another issue.

One concern is that Teräväinen has, pretty much, been the Patrick Kane of every team he has been on. In Chicago, he will have to take on the role of being the secondary possession player on his own line, much less the entire team. The Blackhawks will not need Teräväinen to come in and light the world on fire, they only need him to be adequate and consistent. Both are more than what they have gotten out of recent second line experiments.

So, while you all wave your Teuvo Towels and sing his praises, please just take it down a notch. He may, and very well could, struggle. Don't be surprised, Folks.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Blackhawks Week That Was - 3/7


3/4 - Blackhawks vs Avalanche
4-2 Loss

  • Another game where the opposing goalie stole the show. Varlamov made 38 saves and kept the Avalanche alive long enough for the Hawks and Crawford to give up some marginal goals, at best.
  • The bright spots were, of course, the Blackhawks goals. The fourth line continued to be under appreciated, and overlooked. Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig worked the corner hard, giving Smith a prime chance to blow the puck by Varlamov. The Toews goal was a beautiful passing play, on the powerplay. Toews, Kane, Keith and Sharp all touched the puck, zig-zagging through the Avs defense, with Sharp finally hitting Toews on the backdoor. That was it for great Hawks moments.
  • Late in the third period, Saad made a rare youngster mistake by trying to walk through the Avs, as the last guy back. He had the puck picked off and Landeskog ended up with a partial break-a-way.
  • Crawford only saw 20 shots and 3 went in. Not his finest performance, by a long shot, but the rest of the team around him wasn't all that impressive either.
  • Duncan Keith had a gorgeous -3 hung around his neck, and Seabrook had himself a -2, so that tells you how the night went.
  • Handzus was eaten alive at the dots, going only 5 of 15.
  • HEY, ERIK JOHNSON! Remember that guy? One of the two guys picked AHEAD of Jonathan Toews? If you thought he was dead or retired, you're not the only one. He actually had 3 assists.
  • It must be nice to be so stacked at Center. The Avs have Duchene, Stastny, MacKinnon, and O'Reilly. All could be in most team's top 6. Throw in Talbot, who would make a nice #3, and you have quite the logjam. Their issue is that they don't have any real stellar wings other than Landeskog.
Here are the video highlights:
3/6 - Blackhawks vs Blue Jackets
6-1 Win
  • Bollig continued his point streak with the first goal of the game.
  • The Blue Jackets goal was horrendous. The Hawks turned the puck over as the defense went for a change, leaving the Jackets 2-on-0 with only Crawford to beat. Somehow, somewhere, there are a group of meatballs screaming, "Fucking Crawford! Worst goalie in the league". Those people would be enormous assholes who should be forced to be Buffalo fans.
  • The first Shaw goal was a great stretch pass from Brookbank, that put Shaw in on a partial break-a-way. Shaw finished with a little finesse and the Hawks never lost the lead. Shaw had himself a nice little night with 2 goals.
  • The first Toews goal was completely set up by Brandon Saad, weaving right through the Jackets defense, and finally hitting Toews, who was standing wide open on the back door. This Saad kid might have a future. After a not so impressive debut, as Hossa's fill in on Tuesday, Saad was like a man possessed in this one.
  • The Hawks were dominating at the faceoff dots as well. They won an incredible 69% of their draws, with Ben Smith and Handzus winning a combined 17 of 20.
  • Keith and Seabrook rebounded from a less than stellar game against the Avs, with a +4 and +3 respectively.
  • Brandon Dubinsky was credited with nine hits. NINE! Most stupid stat ever.
Here are the video highlights:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Blackhawks Trade Deadline Ticker


Here is a running ticker of Blackhawks deals for this deadline:


David Rundblad and Mathieu Brisebois from the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for a second-round selection in the 2014 Draft.
On Rundblad courtesy of EliteProspects.com:
Rundblad is an offensive minded defenseman with very good size and puck skills. He has impressive vision and likes to move the puck into the offensive zone with slick stickhandling and good speed. Handles the puck with confidence and has very good poise. A great option from the blueline, where he releases a fairly accurate shot and also find his teammates with tape-to-tape passes. Size and strength is good.

In his own end, Rundblad tends to not play it simple enough at times. He is a tad too creative and could also be more aggressive and determined in his play. If he develops his defensive game, he will be a high-scoring two-way defenseman. If not, he will still be a capable power play quarterback, but a potential liability in his own end.


Courtesy of Hockey's Future:
Rundblad is an offensive-minded defenseman with good size and excellent skills. He has good vision and carries the puck with confidence. A top notch player on the powerplay, Rundblad’s best attribute is his ability to distribute the puck quickly and efficiently while also being able to launch a hard point shot. Rundblad's defensive game was formerly a weakness but he has made great strides since joining the AHL and looks more and more comfortable with each passing game.

On Brisbois courtesy of Hockey's Future:
An offensive defenseman, Brisebois is a shifty skater and has great puckhandling skills. Eager to jump up and join the rush, he has learned how to pick his spots better as he has matured. He has great vision in the offensive zone and moves the puck well, as well as displaying a great shot and the patience to get it on net. Only average sized for a defenseman, he will also need to improve his skating to improve his play in his own zone.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Everyones 2nd Favorite Meatball Joint
- NHL Trade Deadline -


With the Olympics winding down and the NHL firing back up, the Blackhawks and the rest of the league gear up for the second silliest time of the year for league transactions, the trade deadline. This year is unlike most years past and, most likely, the years to come because the salary cap was dropped to a very restrictive level which will handcuff several of the leagues top teams. The Chicago Blackhawks are one of those extremely restricted clubs.

Every GM would love to improve his team with a blockbuster deadline deal, but the fact of the matter is that most teams that would be buying, simply don't have the room to add a significant player without moving a large salary out. Any GM would be lying, if they attempt tell you that they wouldn't love to add a big name player to their lineup. Every team has needs.

The world of the internet is both a wonderful tool, and a devious curse. Every person with an internet connection wants to speculate their team's potential targets, and most people have no understanding of a salary cap. The salary cap is the equivalent of quantum physics to the average meatball fan, which makes for some hilarious questions and speculation.

The first problem for the Blackhawks is that teams will want something of substance in return. Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman already unloaded a fourth round draft pick to the Islanders, on February 5th, for Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin, while also trading a second round pick this June for David Rundblad and Mathieu Brisebois today. Based on past experience, it has become evident that Bowman loves to horde all the draft picks he can and built the franchise from within, which would lead one to believe that there are not be many draft picks that Bowman be willing to part with, especially ones that are actually worth some merit. Prying something like a 1st or 2nd round pick from Bowman will be like prying one of his children out from his arms.

Consequently, the players that the Blackhawks might offer in return, would not necessarily be enough to acquire such names. Nick Leddy, Johnny Oduya, or Jeremy Morin might not be enough to pry a high profile player from these teams.

I have seen fans float names like Blackhawks 2012 1st round draft pick Teuvo Tervainen as trade bait which is, honestly, laughable. Teravainen is probably the top prospect in the Blackhawks system, so to send him away for a rental or aging player would be counterproductive to Bowman's style. The Blackhawks are not a team that feels that they are desperate so giving away a prized prospect will not happen, especially for any player the Blackhawks could afford, which brings me to the Hawks second problem: the Salary Cap.

According to CapGeek.com, after today's deal, the Blackhawks will have roughly $52,000 to play with at the deadline, which is peanuts. For salary to come in, salary needs to head out, and the Blackhawks are in no position to be able to unload any significant salary.

The Blackhawks, today, traded one of their precious draft picks for a guy that is basically a much cheaper Nick Leddy. I may be reading too much into this but there is no need for 3 powerplay quarterbacks (Keith, Leddy, Rundblad) on the roster with another one sitting in the AHL (Clendening). This could be posturing for another deal at the deadline, or this summer. I see Leddy, or Oduya or both expendable with this deal. Both is a little extreme, but The Hawks have mammoth Notre Dame D man Stephen Johns on the horizon, and Adam Clendening rapping at the doorstep as well. We will see how this plays out.