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:
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
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.
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.
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