Monday, August 23, 2010

What you really need to know about the 2010-11 Blackhawks

Thanks for the memories

A good friend of mine, and person I have great respect for, gave me a great idea for both the bandwagon fans, that had no idea who Martin Havlat, or Nikolai Khabibulin were (much less Steve Larmer, Al Secord, and Denis Savard), and the casual fans, that insist that the team just picked names randomly out of a hat to trade away to annoy the fans. His suggestion was a comparison of the players from the Stanley Cup winning team, and the team that’s going to go to war in mid September. Now, I know full well that of the 2 million Hawks fans at that celebration parade, about 80,000 could name half the players without a lineup card in front of them. That’s part of being successful, and I don’t knock that; if you don’t try arguing hockey with me. If you do want to argue Hawks history or hockey in general, you’re going to get a verbal enema. Please, as the Rock would say, “know your role and shut your mouth”. Use the writings of the hardcore players/fans/critics to educate yourself. There isn’t much that looks more idiotic than someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about at a sporting event or when trying to debate sports topics. Kind of like parents who argue why their child needs to play ahead of everyone else, and I witnessed over 10 years of this. Your kid sucks; if they were that good, they would be playing already, and if you knew so much you’d be coaching instead of cheerleading from the sideline between cell phone calls, Johnny Superdad.

Moving along, My point here all along has been that anyone who has been paying attention knew for well over a year that poor Stan Bowman was going to need to unload some salaries after this season. Again, this was not some grand scheme to piss you off because you bought a Byfuglien jersey for Easter, or any other distorted variation. If you bought a Byfuglien jersey you’re a fool in the first place, because he was one of the first people that were thought to be unloaded. This is something I predicted after the 08-09 season! He wasn’t staying for $3 million a year, and if you think Bowman could have jackhammered $3 million somewhere into this salary cap, you are quite dense. Maybe you should have asked a knowledgeable hockey fan before plunking down damn near $200 for a jersey. I’m not going to rehash my past rants about the situation, but please feel free to read them at your own leisure. You’ll be a more educated Hawks fan after reading them.
The most logical way to lay this out is by position, so let us begin:


2009-10 - Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland, Patrick Sharp, John Madden, Colin Fraser, and Jake Dowell

This was actually a position you could call “questionable” after Toews, last season. Everyone knows Toews is the number one guy and deserves every cent of his salary. I will be upset if he doesn’t finish his career in Chicago and if #19 isn’t hanging in the rafters when his career is said and done. Bolland was hurt a majority of the season, and the other guys really didn’t light the world on fire with their play on the second line in his place. Coach Q was forced to moved Sharp, who is naturally a winger, to Center for a good portion of the season. Sharp did an admirable job, which is why he could be a Center again this year, and one of the many reasons that he was not traded to clear up cap room. Flexibility is a very important asset in sports, and Sharp is as flexible as a player comes. Back to Bolland, he never really struck me as a second line center. His skillset and play is perfect as a third line center and shutdown player. Just look at the way he shut down Jumbo Joe Thornton in the Shark series last year. Bolland gave up 4” and close to 65 lbs to Thornton, and completely shut the man down, and that’s a VERY hard thing to do. As with most positions, last season, they were overloaded with talent. John Madden played very well, as did Colin Fraser, but they were pushed down the roster because of all the talent at the top. I LOVE everything about John Madden and really wished there was a way to bring him back, but it was not reasonable. Chuck Norris should wear John Madden pajamas to bed, because he’s blue collar, bad ass, son of a bitch. He did exactly what he was brought here for, and was rewarded with another Stanley Cup. The forth line was centered by Fraser, who could blossom into a Bolland type third line player with Edmonton, and Adam Burish. They did an excellent job all season, and would have gotten much more playing time on other teams, but were kind of wasted when the playoffs rolled around.

Projected 2010-11 - Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland, Patrick Sharp, Jake Dowell, Jeff Taffe, Mathis Olimb, Marcus Kruger, Nathan Davis, Evan Brophey

This season, the Center position will be pretty close to last year’s group. Sharp should center the second line and Bolland on the shutdown line, which is virtually no change. You lose Madden, but you’d gain more Sharp’s playmaking ability and some youth. The forth line is where you’ll see the biggest change. The most likely scenario would be Jake Dowell or Jeff Taffe playing there and there are a gaggle of young guys that would love to answer a midseason call-up to head to the UC. One player that might have seen some serious looks was Mathis Olimb, but he was setback in the prospects camp, when Kyle Beach maimed him and busted up his shoulder pretty good (if Beach is like that to teammates, makes you wonder how insane he’ll be to opponents. ::cough:: Dan Carcillo ::cough::). If the young players do just a solid job, this will be a wash. A full season of Dave Bolland with a Sharpie getting the hang of being a second line center sits just fine with me.

Kyle Beach tearing Olimb's shoulder up


2009-10 - Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Kris Versteeg , Troy Brouwer, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Tomas Kopecky, Adam Burish, Ben Eager, Bryan Bickell, and Jack Skille

Here is where they had a “logjam” of players. There just simply wasn’t enough playing time for all of these talented guys. This is a great problem to have, but it wastes a great deal of potential and probably costs quite a bit of money. Kane was a stud all year, Hossa missed 4 months and still had 51 points, Versteeg was solid with his usual mental lapses, Ladd was his usual quiet yet solid self, Eager was serviceable for his skillset, and Brouwer had a decent 40 point regular season. After that, Kopecky struggled to find a place, Buff was all over the map and only had 34 points in 82 regular season games, Burish was hurt 90% of the season, and the combo of Bickell/Skille racked up more miles on I-90 than they did noticeable playing time. The playoffs were a different story, as Kopecky finally looked like the player that Bowman was looking for, and Buff gained notoriety for parking his gimongous ass in front of Roberto Luongo and Evgeni Nabakov. I’ve made my opinions about Buff well known, but I’ll give a slight refresher for those too lazy to read past blogs. Buff is a one trick pony; he’s big. He’s not fast, he’s not overly agile, he’s not real smart, and he’s probably below average handling the puck. He’s a bowling ball that can run people over and can plant his butt in front of the net, and he can be very good at that. But, to keep a guy around that is really only useful as a screen in the playoffs for $3 million a year, isn’t smart. You can’t teach size, but you CAN find it cheaper somewhere else.

Projected 2010-2011 - Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Troy Brouwer, Tomas Kopecky, Viktor Stalberg, Fernando Pisani, Bryan Bickell, Jack Skille, Kyle Beach, Hugh Jessiman, Rob Klinkhammer, and a cast of thousands.

Offensively, this is where you’re going to see the biggest changes. Kane is tethered to Toews for life, and we might see big Troy Brouwer have a breakthrough year with them. Quenneville has put them all together quite a few times before. Brouwer, of course, isn’t as big as Buff, but he has better hands. My wild card, and you read it here first, is Viktor Stalberg. He’s a big, 24 year old winger with some great hands, that wouldn’t be out of place playing with two world class players like Batman and the Boy Wonder. He was lost in that abyss of a team called the Maple Leafs, last year. Even Phil Kessel was pretty transparent there, and who else did Stalberg have to play with there? Absolutely, no one. He had 14 points in 40 games, but this was as a rookie, with an atrocious team. He’s the same age, 4” taller, and 30 lbs heavier than the player he was traded for, Kris Versteeg. Of course, he probably doesn’t have the dangling skills Steeger has, but he has that thing you can’t teach, size. Toronto will be better this year, but Versteeg will get knocked around quite a bit with only Kessel to help in the scoring department. I can’t wait to see how many of Versteeg’s neutral zone turnovers end up in the back of his own net. If Brouwer doesn’t produce how "Q" would like, watch for Stalberg to find himself playing with Toews and Kane. Like I said, this is purely a hunch, but a good one.

Mr. Stalberg's College Highlight reel

The second line will most likely find the Czech connection, Hossa and Kopecky, between Sharpie. I was one of Kopecky’s most harsh critics, last season, until he finally found dug down in his chones and found some balls. It looked like something just finally “clicked” with him, once Hossa was back and comfortable. A full season of the Czech mob together, and I think we’ll have more appreciation for TomoKop.

The third line is anybody’s guess. You’ll either have Brouwer or Stalberg, with Bolland, and possibly Bickell or Skille. A late entry into the third line bonanza is Mr. Ulcerive Colitis himself, Fernando Pisani. I don’t really see a place for him on this team, but at $500K, I guess Bowman wanted to give it a shot. I’m not sold on anyone, just yet, so we’ll have to see how camp plays out. One thing is for certain, though, someone needs to break through for this group. Boruwer, Stahlberg, or Bickell could have a hell of a camp and get paired with Toews and Kane, which would leave the remaining two on the third line. That’s really not too shabby, any way you slice it. I’m really not a Jack Skille fan, but the kid had to have some talent to be a first round pick in ’05 ahead of players like: Devin Setoguchi, Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal, Martin Hanzal, Ryan Parent, Tuukka Rask, T.J. Oshie, and Steve Downie. I’d like nothing more than to see him be the breakout star of this year’s camp, a la Kris Versteeg two years ago. I know this is purely a pipe dream, but “first round” first line of Toews, Kane and Skille would make for a nice story. I wouldn't count on that ever happening, but you never know how things will play out. Look for, Stalberg-Bolland-Pisani, or Stalberg-Bolland-Skille/Bickell.

The checking line is even more of a crapshoot. Jake Dowell will, most likely, center any combination of Bryan Bickell, Jack Skille, Fernando Pisani, Kyle Beach, Hugh Jessiman, or Rob Klinkhammer. The thing holding Beach back will be his salary. The Hawks don’t want to flirt with the salary cap ceiling any more then they have to, so Beach’s paycheck may land him in Rockford for a full season, barring catastrophic injuries. Honestly, every single report I’ve heard is that he’s a more talented Dan Carcillo. THAT would be fun to watch, now wouldn’t it? Jessiman is a mountain of a man, but has been a HUGE first round bust from ’03. He’s only 26, so maybe he’s just a late bloomer; or the Rangers just suck at drafting players, and I highly suspect the latter. I love to pull for the underdog, but I can’t see much promise in a player that can barely hack it in the AHL. For all you trivia hounds, here is a fun fact: Hugh Jessiman is currently the only first round pick from 2003 to not play in an NHL game. By comparison, the two players drafted after him are Brent Seabrook, and Dustin Brown. You can now pause for a chuckle and a drumroll. Rob Klinkhammer is a tough kid that made it to some of the final cuts last season, and could see some time as a digger, as well. From what I saw, he looks like a tough kid that’s willing to get his nose dirty. We may even see some of the 6’8” and 258 lb John Scott at wing, who at makes Jessiman look like an anorexic midget, but I’ll cover him more later.


2009-2010 – Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Sopel, Jordan Hendry, Nick Boynton, and Kim Johnsson

Most of you know the story of the Defense, last season. Duncan Keith was the best defender in the league and his partner, Brent Seabrook, could be the top defenseman on quite a number of teams. Brian Campbell showed that he is more valuable than originally thought when the “D” struggled while he was hurt at the end of the regular season, and beginning of the playoffs. Campbell does really dumb things, sometimes, but he is a talented guy that can take the spotlight off some of the forwards, which can allow them to find open ice or sneak in behind the defenders. The Hjalmarsson saga was an interesting soap opera that we’re all familiar with, but he’s a solid top 4 guy that needed to be kept. Things were rounded out with Sopel, Hendry, and later in the year, Boynton and Johnsson (who played 8 games and was abducted by aliens, never to be heard from again). Here is where I’d like to address the curious case of Brent Sopel. He missed all but 23 games two years ago, and the Hawks did just fine. Last year everyone fell in love with him for blocking shots, but I have to straighten one misconception out. Blocking shots has less to do with skill, than it does DESIRE and POSITIONING. If you’re going to fall in love with a player for throwing his body in front of opponent’s shots, there are much cheaper, faster, and more talented players. In fact, I’d be willing to bet the 34 year old Jassen Cullimore would be glad to get walked around 2 or 3 times a game and block 4 shots with his mug for his league minimum $500K, as opposed to Sopel doing the same job last year for $2.5 Million. I firmly believe that the Hunchback of Sopel Dame blocked so many shots because he was too slow to get out of the way. What do you think of that?

Projected 2020-2011 - Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Hendry, Nick Boynton, John Scott, Jassen Cullimore

Top 4 are intact from last year, and technically, the top 6 are back. Boynton and Hendry count, because they both played in the Cup Finals. The Hawks lost a whopping one “D” player, a third liner to boot, from the team that last year was one of the top in the league. Scared? Was Brent Sopel the “X Factor” in the 2010 Stanley Cup? No, he wasn’t. The interesting signing of the year was John Scott. He’s a Jolly Green Giant that I’ve nicknamed Big Bad John, after a 1961 country song of the same name. As I pointed out earlier, he’s 6’8” and almost 260 lbs. If you check out any of his fights at you’ll see that he’s a real bruiser. I’m not really sure where he fits in the mix, but even Stu Grimson was an unknown cementhead at one time, when he was acquired from Calgary. He plays wing and defense, so he’s flexible.

The only real question marks are the young kids that they have acquired. These are all names you should watch out for in the coming years: Ivan Vishnevskiy, Nick Leddy, Brian Connolly, Shawn Lalonde, Simon Danis-Pepin, and Dylan Olsen. Any of them could see a little duty if there are any injuries or trades at any point in the season, but don’t be too surprised if you hear Vishnevskiy or Lalonde’s names first. It’s a bright future with the defensive core of the Hawks system.


2009-2010 – Antti Niemi, Cristobal Huet, and Corey Crawford

I’m a person that is glad to point out when I’m right. Shocking, I know, but before last season and even as far back as July 1st 2008, I was what you would call a “Huet Hater”. Anyone who knows me might chuckle at that, because it’s a bit of an understatement. I never understood it, and on top of that, I never felt Huet was even a decent goalie. So, yadda yadda yadda, I was right again, and Antti Niemi fell ass first into a goaltending job that Huet was trying his hardest to give to anyone that would take it. Fast forward, and Antti Niemi is the Stanley Cup winning goaltender. I remember a line that was once on the Second City Hockey blog, where the subject of the goalie battle was brought up for the umpteenth time and one of the guys said something to the effect of, “Huet is what we have, would you rather be right (regarding him being a wet noodle) or have the cup?” I’ll take both, thank you! Thanks Cristo-balless, for making me look so good.

Projected 2020-2011 – Marty Turco, Corey Crawford, and Hannu Toivonen

This position is the biggest change of the offseason. Neither goaltending choice will be back this year, and I’m not worried about that one bit. By the time the training camp starts, the Hawks will have somehow found a way to unload the epic facepalm called Cristobal Huet. AHL, Europe, Russia, Seven Bridges 30 and older league, no one really cares as long as his obnoxiously inflated salary disappears. Goodbye and good riddance. Marty Turco will provide plenty of solid starts and probably a few not so solid ones. Tell me how this differs from anything the Hawks got this past year and I’ll tell you how you’re wrong. In fact, It’s nice to have a guy that WANTS the starting job and isn’t just looking for an inflated payday. Yes, Antti Niemi, I’m staring a hole in your enormous forehead right now. Niemi wanted to play games, Huet wanted to play with himself, and Turco wanted to play goalie for the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Turco is more affordable than the other two clowns, to boot.

Gotta love his attitude

Here is something to make you look forward to this season

On to the backup position, I‘ve always been a fan of Corey Crawford. I’m glad to see he’s finally going to get a chance, after the 2 year shaft job he got, courtesy of Huet and Tallon. He deserved an honest shot behind Khabibulin two years ago, and before he ever got the chance, Tallon raced out on the first day of free agency to sign Huet. He must have been drunk, because the whole league was rolling on the floor when that came across the ticker. To show even more confidence in Crawford, they ran out and signed some unknown Finnish goalie/zamboni driver named Antti Niemi. Somewhere, Crawford was slitting his wrists and dousing a Dale Tallon voodoo doll in gasoline. He had to have hooked up with one of Tallon’s daughters or something. I’m glad to see that the kid has remained patient and is finally going to get his shot. I wish him well, and best of luck.

Can't pass up a montage with a Van Halen song

I can’t really comment on the great Hannu Toivonen because I’ve never seen him play. I WILL say that his stats don’t exactly have the Hall of Fame, in Toronto, licking their lips. There is one infamous clip I’ve seen of him, in a game with the Bruins in ’06, where he gets stuck behind the net, and then finally, ON the net. I’m sure he’s more than qualified to be an NHL backup, though. I’m pulling for Crawford, but Toivonon has just as much of a chance, at this point, especially because he makes less money.

His best Cristobal Huet impression

Here is a little more flattering clip

This wraps up my preview of the 2010-11 season. Now, I won’t run around crowing like some idiot bandwagon fan saying that the Hawks WILL repeat, but they have just as much of a chance as anyone. They have a very strong core, and you can expect them to be a strong team for several years to come. The newer, youngers guys are very promising and talented. The management has created a few holes, but they have also replenished the developmental system with a lot of young exciting talent. My prediction is that they will make it to at least the conference finals.

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