Monday, January 31, 2011

Puckin Hostile Mid-Season Blackhawks Report

Normally, I just do a season ending Blackhawks report card, but since I've been hot on the Hawks tail this year and have some down time with the All-Star break, I figured that I'd put together a mid-season one, as well. We're all well aware that the team has been vastly underachieving, compared to most expectations. I, like most everyone else, expected much more at this point in the season. Sure, there were major changes made in the offseason, but none of them were ones that I would call blockbusters. I've weighed them more than a few times, and the quality of players traded is virtually a wash. The only real player to breakout is Dustin Byfuglien, and there was no way he was going to get that amount ice time on this team. Not playing with Keith, Seabrook, Campbell, and Hjalmarsson. They might not score as much as he has, but they are all more complete players. I've read it many places, and just what IF "this" is the team we really have? A 4th to 8th place team. Disappointing, to say the least, but there is a reason only one of 30 teams can win the Stanley Cup and repeating is so rare. This is going to be an extremely rough ride for the next 32 games, and I really hope I'm not writing a season wrap-up in early April.

The Valedictorians
    Patrick Sharp ~ A ~ What more could we ask for from Shooter? He's near the top of the league in quite a few categories, he's leading the powerplay that is right at the top of the NHL, and he's providing guidance and a great example for the younger players. If he season ends as it has started he'll shatter all previous career highs. He's on a pace for roughly 50 goals and 90 points. That's nothing to sneeze at, but that minus 10 +/- needs to be a bit better. He has been worth every cent of that $3.9 million, and we are all thankful that he wasn't part of Operation Cabbage Crunch last summer. Add to all of this an AllStar MVP trophy, and Shooter is having himself an exceptional season. Couldn't happen to a cooler guy. Maybe married life has done him some good, this season. If that's the case, we need to get the rest of these guys married by April!

    Corey Crawford ~ A ~ Surprise of the season, well if you weren't THIS GUY, who was calling for more Corey Crawford two seasons ago!!!! Yes, Corey was slated to be the backup to Khabby, and could have done it, but, in one of his few head scratching moves, Dale Tallon has some brilliant plan to bring Christobal Huet in, and because he must have had a big fat Wirtz wallet, he signed some unknown Finnish kid named Antti Niemi. There is your vote of confidence, Mr. Crawley. I'm VERY happy to see Corey bounce back and rally from the SHIT treatment he got, and play as well as he has. The irony in this is that Corey is a restricted free agent just like Niemi was last year. Fun timee, eh? At least they are going to have some money to spend, and Turco will be off the books, as well.

    Bryan Bickell ~ A ~ Who would have thought that the surprise of the season would be a close race between Mr. Crawley and One Trick Bick? 12 goals, 14 assists, and a plus 11 is pretty remarkable in 47 games for a player with such a limited skillset. He ranks sixth among all rookies, in scoring. He is also third on the team, and second in the league among rookies, with 117 hits. Bick has slid into the position formerly held by Andrew Ladd, and has done an admirable job. Let's just hope he just "keeps on, keepin on".

    Brian Campbell ~ A ~ Another player in the surprise category is Brian Campbell, although his salary clearly indicates we should expect this of him every year. He began the season on IR, and the team struggled mightily, much like the end of the season and first round of the playoffs last year. Something about Carrothead makes this team run better. He's DEFINITELY still overpaid, but his importance to this team has been proven now twice. He's been a freakish plus 23 since coming back. Along with Hammer, Soupie is quietly holding down the second pairing while the Duncan Seabrook circus continues to make people scratch their heads.

    Jassen Cullimore ~ A ~ Some might be a little left aghast by my grade for Cullisnore, but I based this not on his play compared to other players, but what we would have expected from him. No one could have predicted that he would have been the most solid 3rd line d-man this year. Now, part of this is because Quenneville was half retarded for the first third of the season, and had Hendry playing every position but the one he's good at, but Culli played his position well. Unless a sniper takes out half the defensive core, we won't see him again, but he deserves some kudos.

    Jonathan Toews ~ A minus ~ Captain Serious has certainly has his struggles, and started yet another season slowly. He's has, though, provided the leadership that a captain should, even when he wasn't scoring. While Hoss and Kaner were out with injuries he held things together, for what could have been a disastrous part of the schedule. He really does need to more consistently put the puck in the net, and he's taken a few really bad penalties, but I'd be frustrated sometimes too if I was the captain of this team.

    Troy Brouwer ~ B ~ The Hawks are getting, pretty much, what you'd expect out of Brouwer. He's on pace for 45/50 points, and could crack the 30 goal mark, with a solid last 32 games. Now keep in mind this is all while skating a majority of the seaon with two of the top playmakers in the entire NHL, so take that for what it's worth. The place where he is really excelling is hits. He is 5th in the league with 165. This is where he needed to make up for the loss of Byfuglien, and has. Can't complain too much about what they have been able to get out of him, but he needs to learn to bury the puck into an open net.

    Brent Seabrook ~ B ~ One of three hawks to have played all 50 games thus far, and is on pace to have best offensive season, yet. His career high was 32 points and he's sitting at 26 now, so he's on his way to a career year, even though that is not his job on the team. The problem, as with quite a few Hawks, is his plus/minus. He's usually around +20 and this year he is sitting at -6. That just won't work for this team. This team counts on him and Keith to be the examples, and play in all the critical minutes. His increased time on the powerplay hasn't translated into many more points, but his even strength production has been better. Don't ask me how that's happened. He's sitting behind Brouwer, on the team, with 147 hits, and that leads the league for defensemen.

    Jake Dowell ~ B plus ~ Jake the Snake has been another pleasant surprise. No one expected much out of him in the first place, but he has exceeded my expectations to replace Colin Fraser. Not that much had to really be done to replace him, but Dowell has played center on the second, third and forth lines at different points in the season, and has not looked that out of place. He's on pace for a 30 point season and lead the team with 8 fighting majors. Fraser is currently riding a 2 goal and 1 assist season for edmonton, so take that for what it's worth. This is one position where there was a considerable upgrade in talent and production. His plus 9 shows that he is not a liability to the team, no matter where he's played.

    Jack Skille ~ B plus ~ I guess this was the year Jack Skille finally decided that he wanted to be an NHL player, rather than an AHL footnote. His raw talent was never the issue. but there have always been big questions about his head, and whether it would translate into an NHL player. The answer is yes. He's been one of the unsung heroes of the season, and has done just about everything asked of him. He's spend a majority of the season on the forth line, which has made me mental with frustration, but there isn't really any other place for him at this point. Skille, Dowell, and Stalberg have created one of the best forth lines in recent memory. Of course Burish, Fraser, and Eager were fan favs, but this years line is dangerous in many ways, and frighteningly fast. Skillington isn't a huge guy, but the way he throws his body around like a crash test dummy is fun to watch. He is currently fourth on the team with 89 hits, which is phenomenal, considering he only gets and average of 11 minutes and 16 shifts per game.

The Passable
    Jordan Hendry ~ B ~ Poor Jordan. All season long, EVERYONE has been calling for him to play more on the back end, and Quenneville has done nothing of the sort. Throwing him out there for 5 minutes a game at forward with the Big Slow isn't going to do any good. He CAN play forward, but I CAN bake Lasagna...with instructions and someone guiding me along. Just to show that not ALL fans are idiots, once Q but him back on D with Leddy, he immediately took to it, and played well. You can't fault the last of solid play on Hendry. Fault the fact that he was a square peg being forced in a round hole. To Hendry's credit, he has taken it like a man, and eaten his humble pie with a smile. I hope his second half is a little easier than the first.

    Patrick Kane ~ B minus ~ Kaner is on pace for roughly 70 points, and that's not too shabby, but for Kaner that's on the low side. He HAS lost 9 games to injury, so that will shave a few points off the top, but he should be around 85 points this year. Unless he gets shot out of a cannon in the second half, that's not going to happen. He's also played quite a few games in which he was CLEARLY still not 100%, and for those games, he was virtually invisible. He absolutely cannot play hide-n-seek the second half, because the team is going to count on his playmaking to carry them if they plan to make a serious run in the playoffs.

    Niklas Hjalmarsson ~ B minus ~ Some might consider this season a bit of a disappointment for Hammer, based on the salary they were forced to pay for him, but I really don't see it that way. Sure his offensive numbers are WAY down, but that's not the reason he is where he is. He is there to do the dirty work for Brian Campbell, while Campbell prances around the ice doing his best Bobby Orr impression. Hammer was put there to eat puck after puck, and smile about it. A much better version of Brent Sopel. He has done exactly that. The problem is that 6 points in 48 games is bad for ANYONE, even Brent Sopel. He needs to be a bit more involved in the offensive end. Last year he had 2 goals and 15 assists, and you would expect something like 20 points this season. Defensively, he's been a horse, with his plus 6. He has 100 blocked shots, which is good for 15th in the entire league, and he takes most of them with a mild grimace, and carries on with his day. I was down on this kid at the beginning of his career, but he has shown some serious guts and grit.

    Fernando Pisani ~ B minus ~ I was baffled by the signing of Fernandog in the offseason, but I couldn't argue with the economics of his deal. League minimum for a player that has some serious playoff experience, and is known as a shutdown line kind of player and penalty killer. He has done what you would imagine he would do here, and that is not poop his pants. He has played solid in his own zone and thrown in a couple of goals. You'd really like to see more scoring from him, but he is what he is. 7 goals and 13 points is about what you'll get, at this time in the season, but his plus 3 tells you that he hasn't been a huge liability.

    Tomas Kopecky ~ C plus ~ TomoKop is a peculiar case. He is one of those guys you either love or hate. There isn't much middle ground in the game of Kopecky. He has already tied or broken all of his previous offensive season highs, except for penalty minutes, which he's sure to break in his next game or two. He has always been an even or minus player in the +/- category, and that still holds true. He is getting top six ice time, and he's getting a good deal of powerplay time. The problem IS that they, and by they I mean Quenneville, are asking too much of him. The main issue here is, no matter how they dress him up, he's never going to be a good NHL center. He has been one of the WORSE face-off men in the entire LEAGUE for the last two years, and he isn't exactly doing a Bolland style shutdown in his own end. He's an winger that has a bit of that Sean Avery "annoying" factor, along with a slight knack for putting the puck in the net. On his best day's he's an average second liner, and on his worst days he shouldn't even be playing on the forth line. The problem with that is we never know what we're going to get. He's the Magic 8-Ball of this team.

    Viktor Stalberg ~ C plus ~ My boy, Pik-to-Click Vik. I've gone to bat for him a number of times this season, and so far, he's generally made me look like a dolt. He started off lukewarm, and went to hot, and then the concussion hit. Work on the street from bitter Leafs fans is that once he gets a bad headshot, he becomes a real meatball, fast. So far, that's been the exact situation. He has BLAZING speed and has a nose for the net, but has been a combination of snake bitten and just tuned out. I'm still certain that he can be a better player than Versteeg, but his productivity just isn't there. He can't blame the line he's been on because, he has played with the top line for a number of games, and not much changed. The jury is still out, but he needs to get hot.

    Duncan Keith ~ C ~ This is NOT the Duncan Keith we've all grown to love. Who are you, and what have you done with the man we use to know? He's had flashes of the old Dunc, but he's also had flashes of the new Nick Boynton. Yes, that's a very bad thing. He is only on pace to possibly crack the 50 point plateau, which is down from almost 70, last season. The bigger concern is his -4, as compared to +21 last year. That's being on the ice for FAR too many goals against. He's even been taken off the first powerplay unit, in favor of Seabrook and Sharpie, which has payed off greatly. His shooting percentage has been atrocious, at 2.9%, and that's because he has been firing pucks into defenders shin guards rather than goalies and nets, all season long. It's like he is a one trick pony, and can't adjust to fake a shot, and skate around a defender. This is hard to believe from a Norris trophy winner, who has been a model defender for most of his career. If this doesn't drastically change, he is going to be one of the big reasons the Hawks won't make it past round one.

    Marian Hossa ~ C ~ This year is the year Marian Hossa hasn't been able to stay healthy. Last year we knew we would be starting the season without him, and when he joined the team, he hit the ground running. This season he has had flashed of the dominant Boss, and games where he didn't look like he was feeling 100%. He's missed 16 games, so his 27 points put him on pace for around 50, which is quite low for Hossa standards. He is, on average, a point per game guy, and needs to find that stroke again. He's in the prime of his career and can't be dropping off.

    Marty Turco ~ C ~ I was one of the biggest Marty supporters when the Hawks signed him last summer, and he has kind of made me look like a fool. He's a good goalie, but maybe he is really in the sunset of his career. I thought his aggressiveness and leadership were exactly what this team needed, and it has really caused nothing but chaos. No one knows quite what to do with him when he gets a hold of the puck, and unlike Tim Thomas, his unorthodox style has his defense on their heels. He has put on a happy face, a lot like he did last year in Dallas, but he CAN'T be happy to be sitting on the bench. At this point, you would almost wish that Philly had signed him, because the Hawks might not have been practically shut out by Bobrovsky the Builder, a week ago. I like Marty a lot, but I'm sorry to say, that he's really going to be begging for a job next season. We got him at a bargain, so it is really no skin off our teeth, but he might be looking at making even less as a backup somewhere next year. Nice knowing you, Marty.

    Jeremy Morin ~ Incomplete ~ I wish we had a little more to go on with Morin, but since the Hawks were forced to put Leddy's contract into motion, it looks like they are going to let Morin marinade in Rockberia for the season. I'm not really opposed to this, because there really isn't a spot for him, right now. He is not going to fit in with the Bolland Brigade, and the top 2 lines look pretty set. The only person I can see Morin replacing, in the near future is Kopecky, but not this year. He is a very talented player, and will be a very good Blackhawk someday. Just be patient.

    Nick Leddy ~ Incomplete ~ We saw a brief glimpse of the person called Nick Leddy in the first few games of the season, and he was clearly over matched. He was sent off to Rockberia, and the World Junior Championships for a little character building, and came back a little more seasoned than before. We really don't know what we have yet, in the former Minnesota Mr. Hockey, but all signs point to a future top 4 guy. He still has a while to go, but there is a lot of promise.

The Class Clowns
    John Scott ~ C Minus ~ Big Show, is the Big Show. Nothing more, and not like there could be much less. He's a big lug that has cement fists. He's not going to score goals, set people up, or play great on the defensive end, he's just going to...exist. He would really be owed a big fat "F" if it weren't for the fights, because a time or two, he brought out some emotion from the fans. The thing he needs to learn, is just WHEN he should be fighting. In the beginning he would fight when provoked, and later on it just because a sideshow act. No meaning or point. When I finally had enough was the staged fight with Cam Janssen from St. Louis. This isn't the WWE. The last couple of times he's played, he provided nothing to the team. He played in the Philly game and didn't fight at all, when Jake the Snake and One Trick Bick fought, while Scott just skated around looking more stupid that usual. He's not even first on the TEAM in fighting majors. He has a LONG way to go, if he expects to end up in the same category as Tie Domi, or Bob Probert. Quite frankly, I don't see the skills to do it.

    Dave Bolland ~ D plus ~ Now we have the other side of the coin, which is disappointment of the year. Invisi-Bolly. Yes, I know he has gotten hot recently, but for the first half of the season, he was DREADFUL! He has 5 goals in his last 7 games, and all that work has his total to just 10 goals. He's still third on the team in faceoff percentage, behind a guy that isn't even a center, Pat Sharp. The only thing he's done well, is shutdown opponent's money lines, and maintain a plus 6 while doing that. Yes, he's only 24, and he's coming off a year where he had major back problems, but he's making $3.375 million a year. To earn that, you need to put the puck in the net and make some plays on the plus end of the ice.

    Nick Boynton ~ D ~ Well, Well, Well. Mr. Dick Boynton. He has surely made himself into the whipping boy of this team, and not without good reason. Asinine penalties, epic brain farts, and even badly timed fights have plagued his season enough to get him a very special seat up in the press box. After playing so well in the finals last season, everyone, including me, thought that he could certainly hold down the 3rd d-man pairing for the season, right? WRONG! It was his position to lose, and he did just that. As much as Quenneville wanted to keep Jordan Hendry in his near west side shallow grave, the failure of Boynton to play solid, at best, has made Q swallow his pride. Not only Hendry, but the circus that is Dick Boynton and his poor play has forced the hand of the Hawks to start Nick Leddy's contract time clock a tickin. So, not only has Boynton's poor play affected his time and the team chemistry, but it's cost the team an extra affordable year on Leddy's rookie deal. Thanks Nick, you're a real peach.

    Ryan Johnson ~ Incomplete ~ This guy drives me absolutely mental. I still don't know why he's here, desecrating the number of the great Wayne Presley. Everyone is going on and on about his penalty kill expertise, but he doesn't kill penalties. They ramble on about his faceoff skills, but the last time he played, it was at wing. I don't get it. There was a reason he was sitting at home playing scrabble, when the Hawks called. I'm sure he was as surprised as we were, with this one. The funniest part is that they can't even send the guy down while he steals money from this team in the press box, yet they have to play Salary Cap Shuffle with Nick Leddy, to save a few bucks. StanBo, what are we missing?

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