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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Ahead - Blackhawks Comparison

Not quite the same as last year, eh, fellas?

Well, here we are ladies and gents. The title defense is over, and the Cup is overflowing with vomit, and beans, like a porta-potty after a Dropkick Murphys show. In all actuality, I'm happy for Boston and their fans, though, because they are a hardworking city that gets little respect, like Chicago. Oh yeah, and a little situation regarding sending the Canucks home as losers, and inciting their fans enough to burn their own city down. Sweet justice. If anyone else was going to win the cup, have it be Boston. An original six team, with history and pride, and not some bunch of arrogant western Canadians with a severe entitlement complex.

As far as the Hawks go, No one can really say they played like defending champs last season, if you disregard games 4, 5 and 6 against Vancouver. Of course the cap restrictions and necessary roster changes handcuffed them, and they were unceremoniously ousted by their new most hated rival. In my forecast last year, I predicted that the Hawks would be most likely be ousted, and that Vancouver would make it to at least the conference finals. I would have loved to be proven wrong, but when you're good, you're good. Even with the same exact team as the previous year, it would have been hard to repeat. That being said, they made it interesting. Some people stepped up, and other people left much to be desired.

Here is a breakdown of last years Blackhawks team as opposed to this years projected roster. Remember, it's July, and things can change, but I wouldn't expect much in that regard. Here goes...


2010-11 - Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland, Patrick Sharp, Jake Dowell, Ryan Johnson, Marcus Kruger

What a frustrating year it was, for the center-icemen of the Blackhawks. Toews had a typical Toews year, but also had to shoulder much more of the load than he has in the past. I'm sure this took a toll, and a quiet summer should do him wonders.

As I expected, Patrick Sharp was forced upon us as the second line center. Now, while this isn't the worst thing for us to endure, he's not a center. He's a wing that can try his hardest to fill in where he's needed, and in this case it was at center. Pretty Boy Patrick went to work with his hardhat and lunchbox, every day, and had a great year. One would think they could reward him by getting a legit second line center and letting him go back to where he is more comfortable. One would think.

Dave Bolland was "Invisibolly" for a solid portion of the season, and had to endure some injuries. Just when he was finally waking up, he ended up hurt as a result of a cheap but fairly harmless looking elbow to the back of the head from Pavel Kubina. When he finally returned for games 4-5-6-7 in the playoffs, he showed everyone what he CAN be. Maybe THE BEST shutdown center in the league. He rendered the Sedin sisters useless. He just needed more consistency. I'm looking for a breakout year, for him. This team needs it.

Jake Dowell, and Ryan Johnson filled in on the 4th line admirably, but Dowell faded fast towards the end of the year, and in the playoffs. Kruger was an interesting story, as Bowman proclaimed that bringing in the undersized Swede was their plan all along. He was in WAY over his head, and he was NOT the answer they were looking for at center. This was evident in the 7 regular season games he played, when he went -4 with no points. It's not entirely his fault that he was shipped over in the heat of a serious playoff push, after playing on a bigger European ice surface, and thrown to the wolves, but he IS a pro hockey player, and needs to learn to adjust. Kruger showed some spark in the playoffs, playing wing in 5 of the 7 playoff games where he was a +2 with and assist. I cursed Bowman for signing Ryan Johnson, originally, but by seasons end, I was a fan. Johnson's faceoff talents and penalty kill expertise was part of the reason they played better in the second half of the season.

2011-12 Prediction - Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland, Patrick Sharp, Marcus Kruger

This year, they are as thin at center as they have ever been. We were fed lines about acquiring a solid second liner to fill that gaping hole, but that time came and went. If ANYONE thought that there was a soul in that front office that was bringing Brad Richards in to play behind Toews, they are certifiable morons. He wanted to be the high paid, #1 center, and that is what he got in NY. That was never happening here. Jonny B. Goode is the man, and everyone else falls in line behind him. After Richards, there wasn't much to pick from, so Stan was quick to decide that they were going to work with their current options. Unless Marcus Kruger skates through camp like his hair is on fire, Sharpie will open at second line center, AGAIN. We could be in worse situations than having the AllStar MVP as our second line center, but AGAIN; he's not a center.

Davey Bolland is in no danger of losing any spot he has, and if he plays like we all know he CAN, might make a solid second line center, someday. Wouldn't THAT make everyone happy, and things much easier? I know it would make THIS guy much more comfortable. Again, Marcus Kruger is an curious case, because he doesn't look like he can take the grind of being an NHL center, but we only saw 12 games of him.

I'm not really sure what they intent to do with the 4th line, because there are really no true centers to play with those guys. Jamal Mayers might be able to play there, but this is only a temporary solution. Ben Smith can play center, but showed that he has more of a spark than a 4th liner and is a wing by trade. Brandon Pirri is far too small and fragile for the 4th line. Mark McNeill isn't an NHL player yet, and the rest of the Rockford slugs aren't going to offer much help, either. It's hard to believe they are worse off at center this year, but it's cold hard truth. Some kind of move needs to happen to change this, so if a trade happens, look for a center to be making their winter address 1901 West Madison. There are still low priced centers out there, too. At least they had Dowell, to start the year last season, and Ryan Johnson filled in nicely, once he got in shape. Signing Johnson, Madden, or even Zenon Konopka wouldn't have hurt their depth, that's for certain.

Right/Left Wingers

2010-2011 - Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Michael Frolik, Troy Brouwer, Tomas Kopecky, Viktor Stalberg, Fernando Pisani, Bryan Bickell, Jack Skille, Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin, John Scott, Jordan Hendry

The wings were a pretty solid core group. Kaner, Sharp, and Hossa were solid, even with Sharpie playing more center than wing. Kopecky has a decent year, despite never having a true defined roll, and Brouwer was the same case. One-Trick-Bickell was a HUGE surprise, because NO ONE expected production out of him, and he gave us 37 points. Good for him. Frolik was a STEAL from Florida in exchange for Skille, and proved to be a tough but undersized two way player. Stalberg always shows flashes of potential but was extremely inconsistent, and he played best with Dowell and Skille as the kamikaze 4th line. Getting 16 points out of Pisani was about all we were going to get, so whatever. Jeremy Morin looked exciting but the Hawks decided not to throw his contract in to gear with wasted bottom six minutes, and sent him back to Rockford, only to get hurt. After the season, Kopecky, and Brouwer were deemed expendable, which resulted in them becoming former Hawks. John Scott...well...he can punch. The thing is that with Scott, if he could SKATE, he would be a folk hero in this city. He's a VERY nice guy that provided some physical presence. The problem is that by the end of the season, he was just the punch line to our jokes. No one feared him, because he couldn't CATCH, and wouldn't check anyone. But we'll always have the Kevin Westgarth fight, right? (sigh)

2011-2012 Prediction - Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Andrew Brunette, Michael Frolik, Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell, Dan Carcillo, Ben Smith, Rostislav Olesz, Jeremy Morin, John Scott, Rob Klinkhammer

This is really where Stan Bowman can make himself a hero with Chicago fans, and I'd personally like to see that. I will second guess and question moves, but all-in-all I want to see them succeed. Make all those Twatters looks stupid, Stan!

On the first line, We know what we'll get with Kaner and even though he surprised us by having wrist surgery, he looks to have added some bulk. He was pushed around a majority of the year, and we'll see if the presence of Carcillo, Bickell, and Scott can't give him some room to breathe. Talk has been that the person that may be the steal of free agency, Andrew Brunette will play opposite Kaner. Brunette is tough, smart, and just produces. Now, he's getting up there in age, but that won't stop him from picking up the wondertwin's scraps or feeding them for some highlight reel goals. He's a former Wild captain, so his leadership might be even bigger than his on ice contributions. This summer alone, the Hawks added 3 former team captains, which is HUGE for a team that lost their identity last season.

On the second line, Hoss is Hoss, and even though he lost 17 games to injury last year, he still had 57 points. He does well hiding on the second line, now if they could only find him a permanent center, and opposite wing. We'll see how he does in his first season here without Kopecky, too. I would expect the same production out of him this year. Who will be playing the other wing, is anyone's guess. Frolik could be there, Stalberg could step up, Olesz might actually be able to play, and Morin or Smith could have a great camp. They could even decide that Kruger is going to be an NHL wing. No one really knows. My educated guess would be that Frolik opens up with Sharpie and Hossa. Not too shabby.

Bolly's wingers on the shutdown line will begin with Bryan Bickell. He earned a spot with his surprising production and well documented size. Again, the other side could range from Olesz, Stalberg, Smith, or Morin, to even Kruger, or Carcillo. Camp will be important for this part of the roster, to see who steps up. As it is, this looks like it'll be a revolving cast of characters, but my gut feeling would be Olesz or Smith will be the leading candidates. They aren't going to pay a guy $3 plus million to play on the 4th line or not play at all. That's a BITTER pill to be swallowing each night.

As with the center, the forth line wingers are a complete crapshoot. Mayers, Smith, Stalberg, Carcillo, Scott, Olesz and Morin could all see time there. A forth line of anyone with the Big Slow and Carbomb's dopey, gap toothed grin would certainly be interesting, but isn't going to do much other than wreak havoc. I can't see Quenneville dressing both cementheads on the same night, but then again, we had to watch a forth line of John Scott/Jake Dowell/Jordan Hendry. ANYTHING, is an upgrade over that.

In the most curious of all moves that Bowman made this summer, I'm interested to see how this Dan Carcillo move goes down. I still have to openly say I'm not a huge fan, but I'm definitely intrigued. I'm sure if fans liked John Scott pummeling faces last year, they are going to get into Carcillo's shenanigans. Speaking of shenanigans...

Carcillo drops Matt Bradley with one punch

Carcillo and new teammate Steve Montador

and WHO can forget this????? SHENANIGANS!


2010-2011 - Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Chris Campoli, Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy, Jordan Hendry, Nick Boynton, John Scott, Jassen Cullimore

The lines on defense were shaken up all year. Quenneville had to split up Seabrook/Keith, and Campbell/Hammer because the third line of Leddy and Boynton/Cullimore/Hendry/Scott wasn't cutting it. As a result, Leddy got a big push, that didn't absolutely kill anyone while he was out there. That was great news for a kid that was a year out of playing in high school, so that Cam Barker trade is really looking up, now. Cullimore was the best of the fill-in players, with Hendry playing average, and Boynton/Scott absolutely sucking the LIFE out of the team. Cullimore was sent back down to Rockford and is now signed in Europe, Boynton was waived and picked up by the Flyers (How'd that work out for ya?), and Hendry and Scott were banished to the press box for all eternity. At the deadline Bowman tried to acquire Montador THEN, and failed, so they picked up a very serviceable Chris Campoli, from Ottawa. This trade was kind of a steal because the chance that Ryan Potulny was going to play on ANY Blackhawks team was nil. This certainly boosted the athletic talent level of the group, but did nothing for the toughness, and it showed when the Canucks pushed around the Hawks for 7 games. Seabrook was really the only bad ass on the corp, but his need to become a jack-of-all-trades took a toll on his ability to continue to be a physical force. If you told me at this time last year that Seabrook and Sharp would be the "D" pair on the first powerplay, I would have told you to get off the glass pipe, Amy Winehouse (too soon?). BUT, that's exactly what happened, and they did VERY well, finishing 4th in the league with a makeshift group, working on PURE talent, is MORE than admirable. Can you imagine if Keith and Campbell were able to contribute at all? Instead, Keith decided to try and shatter every pair of shin pads that stepped in his way. I guess this is part of the reason why they found Campbell so expendable, because if they didn't need him on the PP, then where did they "need" him?

Penalty kill; well that's a whole different story. YIKES

2011-2012 Prediction - Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Steve Montador, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy, Sean O'Donnell, Sami Lepisto, Dylan Olsen, Shawn Lalonde, Joe Lavin

This is where the Hawks will be bigger, tougher, and a bit slower. Trade out Campbell, Campoli, Hendry, Cullimore and Boynton for Montador, O'Donnell, Lepisto, Olsen and maybe even Lalonde, Lavin, or Connelly. Montador and O'Donnell are bonecrushers, as well as Olsen and Lavin. Personally, I like this new mix of thunder and lightning. Keith/Seabrook, Leddy/O'Donnell, Hjalmarsson/Montador with Lepisto ready to step up the speed factor at any moment. It's going to be nice to not have to rely on Jordan Hendry and John Scott, to be your "fill-in" players. Hendry wasn't bad, but John Scott was simply atrocious. By all reports, Lepisto could even end up sliding into a more regular spot, which is a VERY nice problem to have to deal with. Lepisto was a real "under-the-radar" signing, but it should prove to be a very valuable one.

The biggest difference fans will see is the physical toughness. I was never too comfortable with a corp of puck moving d-men, and really no big bulldozers. You wouldn't have seen Campbell getting hurt like he did, if he had a big physical partner. The Hawks management must have noticed that as well, and fixed the problem. While I will certainly mention, more than a few times, how much we'll miss the puck movement of Soupie, his salary needed to go. Just the sheer volume of players that the move allowed the Hawks to sign was worth it. Sure they took on Olesz's dumb contract, but it was about 4 million less than Campbell. Chris Campoli couldn't come to terms with the team, and Stan was pretty quick to let him walk. They got the guy they originally wanted, anyway, in Montador. Montador was an alternate captain in Buffalo, so his leadership should help the younger guys deal with more. The same goes for O'Donnell, as he was an alternate captain, himself. He's a big body that will take NO crap from anyone. It'll be nice to see guys in the Blackhawks jerseys actually punishing opposing players.

To psyche you up for the new season, here are a few highlights of the new guys:

Montador hits Jeff Skinner

Montador meets Luke Schenn

Evander Kane, meet Sean O'Donnell

Louis Eriksson...Sami Lepisto


2010-2011 – Marty Turco, and Corey Crawford

What an interesting year it was. Unlike the 09-10 Quenneville didn't wait until February to decide which goalie was the better option. Turco played decent, but Crawford was far more consistent and far more solid. The team never seemed to get use to Turco's wild and crazy style. Fans were left holding their breath when he would have control of the puck, not because he didn't know what he was doing, but because the defense had no idea how to deal with a goalie that can control the puck like he does. When you couple that with the soft goals he gave up, Crawford was asked to step up, and he did. After his years of being passed over, he shit all over everyone, by taking the starting job for good. I love seeing the underdog win, a la Tim Thomas. Just goes to show that all the scouts in the world don't always know everything. Don't think that the presence of Marty Turco didn't help Crawford's progression either. Having a mentor there to help you through is HUGE, so the money Turco was paid is well worth it. Marty was a professional throughout the whole ordeal.

2011-2012 Prediction – Corey Crawford, and Alexander Salak

For the first time in what has probably been an eternity for Crawford, he is the undisputed number 1 guy. I'm going to assume that this will bode well, and things will be alright. No one can be certain, but Crawford is mature and level headed. It would take quite a step backward for him to crash and burn. I, myself, have been waiting to see Crawford in this role for a couple of years. This is one of the positions that fans need not worry about, unless there are major injuries.

Once again, for the third year in a row, we have a relatively unknown second string player, Alexander "The Alligator" Salak. Relatively unknown if you're outside of the Chicago or greater Miami area, that is. Those of us "in the know" have been very high on Salak, since Stan pulled the trigger on this transaction. Florida fans are NOT going to be happy when both Frolik and Salak succeed, this next season, and Skille remains, well, Jack Skillington. They let Vokoun go to Washington, traded Salak, and only Scott Clemmensen remains from last year. They then signed Jose Theodore to hold the fort for a year, because Jacob Markstrom was so highly regarded. It looks like that's why Tallon let Salak go, but I'm not so sure that was the right choice. Uncle Dale decided that the Panthers goalie gang was too crowded, and the Hawks were the lucky recipients. Again, thanks for the solid, Dale!

As far as the remaining goalies in the system, the Hawks are thin; actually anorexic. Alec Richard will be in Rockford, and other than Huet in Europe, they have no other goaltenders signed. This is no reason to panic, because they have plenty of time to sign some players. They have a few players that participated in the prospect camp, that could be brought to Rockford. Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth are Blackhawks property, and just need to be signed to an entry level deal. If Crawford or Salak end up failing miserably or getting seriously injured, there may be a bit of panic, but they have the cap room to sign a Marty Turco or Ray Emery type, or trade for a castaway from somewhere else. If fans and reporters are flipping a lid over 3rd string goalies, they must REALLY be bored, and everything else must be looking REALLY good.

So, there you have it, folks. As I see it, the 2011-2012 Blackhawks are going to have a new look, with the same solid core of familiar faces. Players like Captain Serious and Kaner will have some of the pressure taken off their shoulders, which will allow them to just play, instead of carry the team on their back. The low risk veteran signings and the existing young core group should prove to be a solid team this year, with the potential of another conference finals appearance. This team WILL be better than the team we saw last April.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hawks Lock Up Frodo and Lepisto

One down, one to go.

This morning it was reported my Pavel Barta from http://www.isport.cz that Michael Frolik signed a 3 year $7 million deal with the Blackhawks. Then denied by Chris Kuc. Then confirmed by a host of thousands, later in the day.

Now, while I think that an annual Frolik cap hit of $2.33 Million is a tad bit high, in this market, that's not too shabby. The Twitards have ALREADY been chirping that he only had 13 goals last year, but two thirds of his season was with an absolutely DEPLORABLE Florida Panthers team. The guy is only 23, he has 3 full NHL seasons under his belt and two 21 goal/40 plus point seasons. Once he found his spot on this team, in 7 playoff games, he had 5 points, all while also having to play with the shutdown crew. Remember, genuises, Rostislav Olesz, who has never scored more than 14 and is 2 years older, is making ALMOST $1 million MORE per season. If Alex Salak pans out, and Frolik just maintains, this Skille trade could end up being even more embarrassingly in Stanimal's favor.

In somewhat of a surprising under the radar move, the Blackhawks also signed former Coyote and Blue Jackets D-Man, Sami Lepisto to a 1 year $800 contract. This could mean a few things, the most welcome of which could be the exit of John Scott. It CERTAINLY means that there is no more room for him on defense, so he may just be set up at an "as needed" cementhead, when Carbomb's fists are swollen. This also may or may not figure into the curious case of Chris Stromboli. It COULD mean they are expecting some redonkulous arbitration number that they just aren't going to pay, OR it could just mean that they want one more solid D-man to keep the troops rested and healthy. At any rate here is the scouting report on the newest Blackhawk:
Assets - Moves the puck with aplomb. Has sound defensive instincts and a history of putting up numbers at lower levels. Can log a lot of ice time.

Flaws - Can lose battles in front of the net and in the corners, mainly due to a lack of strength. Is somewhat inconsistent, especially in the offensive zone.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Let the Craziness Begin

This time of year, between free agency and the beginning of training camp, is the time of the NHL year that brought me to begin writing this blog. Every "Tom, Dick and Harry" has a gripe and opinion. Most of which are either moronic, or just plain splitting hairs, and this season is no different. There are questions and concerns, as there are with any year. Some are legitimate and some are just because people have nothing better to do with their time. Actually, most of it is the latter. I watch people ask the beat writers some of the dumbest questions known to man, on a daily basis, on twatter. This frustrates me to no end, because as a fan, most of these questions answer themselves. This is why I could never be a beat writer with direct access to the fans. I'd flame each and every one, because I can understand mistakes, but what I can't tolerate is stupidity.

Last year, we had the little fanboys and fangirls claiming the management was purposely tearing the team apart, in some diabolical conspiracy to make the team worse. Makes sense, right? Anyhow, that was addressed last year, so I'm not going to open THAT can of worms again, but we have the same idiocy going on in Blackhawk Nation this summer. There are some really odd ones out there, so let me address a few:
  • What should be the BIGGEST concern is a second line center. Last year, I proclaimed that Sharpie would be the #2, and Bolland belonged at #3, which is exactly what happened. Based on what the roster looks like, that is the same scenario we'll see this camp. Sharpie is out of position and they're not getting all their full value out of him, but there is/was no other option. It's obvious, to those with brain, that Stanimal was not going to dump a truckload of cash into another long term embarrassment of a contract, that they would be begging ANYONE to take, in 3 years. Brad Richards was NEVER coming to Chicago, and I doubt they ever contacted his agent. They hedged their bets on role players with contracts that were of minimal risk. In a business sense, SMART. Not flashy, but you're not eating an Alex Yashin size buy out, if the guy flakes. It's not the end of the world that the All-Star game MVP is your #2 center to start the season, but this is a temporary fix. No one at Rockford is going to be able to handle #2 OR #3 duties, and this includes Marcus Kruger. He's just TOO small, and TOO inexperienced. Hell, Bolland isn't even in a position to move up to the #2 slot, even though he has proven to be an excellent #3 guy, when he finally decided to show up. Barring some glorious miracle in NY, with one of their RFA Centers not returning, we're going to be fed Sharpie out of position. The Hawks have $6.2 Million in cap space, so an in season move is the most likely scenario.

  • When you have nothing else to rag about, you turn to...Backup Goalie. Considering the Blackhawks luck in developing young goaltenders, you'd think that people would trust their eye for talent, but alas, I've read twatters crying about how thin the team is at goalie. First of all two years ago, we were slated to begin the season with CRISTOBAL HUET as our #1, and two hardly known guys named Niemi and Crawford, battling for the #2 slot. How'd that work out? THEN, last year they had a fairly questionable #1, in Turco, with that same hardly known Crawford kid who couldn't beat out an undrafted free agent, in the #2 slot. How did THAT work out? In each of the last two years the Hawks developed, young, hardly known players into solid NHL starters, so this is not some huge surprise. Now, for the first time in years, the Hawks starter is back. Good, no? On to the #2 guy. Not to mention they have one of the best goalie coaches in the entire game of hockey.

    So, this season the backup slot goes to Alexander Salak. Who, you ask? I've written about him previous, but he comes with exactly 6 less pro games than Crawford came with, last season, and exactly 2 MORE games than Niemi had in HIS rookie year. Lets drill down a little more, though. Salak was in Europe, on loan from the Panthers, all last season, but in 09-10 he played VERY well in the AHL with Rochester. Well, as in, 29-14-0 with a 2.89 GAA, and .910 SV%. Our new hero with the capital "C" on his chest, Corey Crawford, was 24-16-2 with a 2.67 GAA and .909 SV%. You see where I'm going with this, right? This year our goaltenders are LESS at risk than they were the year we won the Stanley Cup. That is, unless everyone was pinning their high hopes on Hannu Toivonen, last year.

    Lets say, for argument sake, that Salak pisses through his diaper, and plays like Luongo in games 4 and 5 last year. OH NOES! Alec Richard really isn't the man, but could he fill in for 10 games? MAYBE. Let's say he can't. Kent Simpson, Mac Carruth, and Cal Heeter aren't ready, right? That would be a correct assumption, because goalies typically take longer to make the NHL ranks. You don't see many 18 year old goalies playing in the NHL. OH NOES TIMES TWOS! As of this very moment, Marty Turco, Ty Conklin, Patrick Lalime, Ray Emery and a host of others are going to be begging for a job, soon, and there are NOT many open slots in the NHL. Chances are that a decent serviceable guy will be hanging around, and if the world comes crashing down, Stan has some cap room to make a trade. If we get to that point, there are probably much bigger issues going on. So, lets put the poison kool-aid down, and relax. A majority of the hockey world hasn't even seen Salak even PLAY yet.

  • If anyone thinks that the NHL is going to break up what might be it's most intense rivalry, to leave the Hawks in a division that consists of Columbus, Nashville, Winnipeg, and Dallas, they are out of their minds.

    First of all, The Hawks SHOULD and WOULD dominate that division into laughability, because the only team listed that is actually competition would be Nashville.

    Second, You're more likely to see the Packers and Bears split up, because THAT is just as silly.

    Third, I'll let Tab Bamford over at the Committed Indian spell it out for you a little better, before this whole things gives me a migraine. NHL Realignment Reality Check

  • Rostislav Olesz will be somewhere on the opening day roster for the Blackhawks, whether it's on the forth line or in the press box. Like most executives, Stanimal isn't going to admit failure easily, and buying out Olesz wasn't going to happen. Bowman came right out and said that the period for buying out his contract had passed, and who is going to trade for this guy? They aren't going to send him to Rockford, making over $3 million a year. Get use to seeing a little #85 out there.

  • Most Rockford players are still a ways away from playing in the NHL. Plan all you'd like but the only player looking at NHL time, other than Ben Smith, is Jeremy Morin. I've watched a few of them, and they belong in the AHL. This is not a knock, they just need seasoning. Accept it, because it's the harsh reality. If you want to cheer for them, make the trek an hour and a half west.
This will be continued, oh yes it will...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Views from Above at the Prospect Camp

I ventured out to the Prospect Camp on Sunday with a friend, to get a look at the baby Hawks, and I can't say I wasn't a little surprised. The raw talent is there, with each of the players, but some were clearly more ready than others. Now, these observations are based on the Sunday sessions alone. The only player on the camp roster that I didn't see out there was one of the the biggest ones, Dan Delisle. I'm not really sure why he wasn't out there, but it's a shame, because I wanted to see how he moved at 6'5" 225. That's A LOT of player right there. Be sure to check the Puckin Hostile Facebook page to see some pictures and a video from Sunday's action. Anyhow, on to my observations:

The Standouts

This guy is a machine, and I love his style. He's on the smallish side, for NHL D-Men, but his hockey IQ looks to be at genius level. He plays solid position, and has a little attitude to his game. I watched him push around young kids just about every time there was a drill that allowed contact. I see reports out there, that he's too small, bla, bla, bla. Nik Lidstrom is 6'1"/190 and Kevin Bieksa is 6'1"/200, so that size argument only holds so much water with me. Not every defenseman can be 6'5" 220, nor would you WANT that. If you have the brains and a mean streak, you can work around the size disadvantage. This guy has a some sass in his game, and has no problem blasting someone to the ice. I like his poise, and confidence on the ice, as well. He holds his position and doesn't seem to give up and ground. He will play in the NHL SOMEWHERE in the future. He might not be a #1 or #2 guy, but he can be a #5 or #6 guy, at the very least, somewhere. There is clearly something the Hawks like about defensemen from Notre Dame, because there were 3 of them in this camp, and all of them have the goods to play in the NHL someday. I'd be surprised if he can't make it to a #3 or #4 slot, at some point in his career.

A player no one has heard of, from the Leominster MA, where the International Dek Hockey headquarters are located (Coincidence? highly doubtful). Again, balk all you'd like at his small stature, but the kid has happy feet and quick hands. The roster has him listed at a very generous 5'9" 170, but he was always making a play with the puck. As a goalie, I would much rather see a big guy coming at you, than some tiny little waterbug, that can stop on a dime. Theo Fleury and Steve Sullivan have made quite some careers this way. Now, I'm not saying he's the next Fleury/Sullivan, but he has skill. He does get pushed around at times, but he can also use his small frame to get underneath and squirt off bigger players, too. He may or may not ever play in the NHL, but it's not because he doesn't have skill. I'm rooting for the kid, and would love to see this exciting kid in Rockford, at least. Unfortunately, Sunday's camp was mostly drills and I didn't get to see his positioning, and that may blow my whole theory out of the water, but on raw skill alone, he's got something.

He's got some spice and spunk to his game. Well rounded offensive skills, but, of course, I didn't get to see him in game action. I would say he has some potential to be a slightly bigger Sharpie, but that's being very generous. He's got the tools, but you really can't tell what he looks like until you see him in a REAL game situation. He didn't do anything flashy, but he did what he was asked to do, and did it well. All that being said, he was well worth the draft pick. Maybe the steal of this draft.

I know he's not a huge surprise, but he's certainly a huge kid. At 6'5" and LISTED at 210, you can't miss him. Even thought he's listed at 210, reports are that he weighs as much as 235, now. I watched him rip off quite a few wrist shots at those poor goalies. He's a big body, and could help at wing with that size. He makes Troy Brouwer look like Stevie Moses, dwarfing Brouwer by 3 inches and roughly 20 lbs. That's nothing to sneeze at, and he now has some AHL experience under his belt, so let's see what he can do in the big boy camp. At the very least, he's a year away, and best case scenario, he plays well enough to earn some time with Hawks this season. Pack your bags, Kyle Beach.

He's ready for the big time, and it's just a matter of where. With the Defensive Corp already crowded, he's not going to see much time with the Hawks unless we see injuries or catastrophic fails by someone. This is a very nice problem to have, though, so lets enjoy it. He has the size and maturity to make the jump, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do when camp starts in a few months. All indications point to a baby Seabrook, in the making. I'll take that any day of the week, because I'm a BIG fan of Seabrook. If he looks this poised in camp, he may make Hammer expendable at the trade deadline, which would free up even more salary. And, PLEASE, don't yap at me about Hammer, because I've seen what he can do, but if we can replace that with younger and cheaper, they are going to do it. Olsen IS younger, cheaper, and probably more talented.

The Warm and Fuzzies

I'm not going to list each and every middle of the road player in the camp, but there were a few that didn't blow me out of my seat, but have some skill. I'll like list out a few bullet points below:
  • Mark NcNeill looked average. He clearly has the tools and brains, so he just had an average day. No reason to panic and curse Stan out.
  • Kevin Hayes had flashes, but nothing really grabbed me with him, either. Maybe that is because of his big brother making everyone look like children. He'll be fine.
  • Byron Froese, Rob Flick, Philippe Paradis, and David Gilbert all looked pretty good. They are all pretty good size, and moved well. Nothing too flashy, except Froese practicing his one timers after practice with Sam "The Dean of Mean" Jardine (I've been dying to use that). Froese was parked at the top of the circle and didn't miss a single shot, which is NOT easy to do with one timers, goalie or not.
  • Andrew Shaw looked pretty good for his size. It was clear that the organization likes him, because he was pulled aside with Hayes and Lavin, by Marc Bergevin to get a little fighting tutorage. Nothing like watching a 5'10"/180 guy trying to wrestle a 6'5"/233 guy.
  • Ludvig Rensfeldt, Joakim Nordstrom, and Mirko Hoefflin were pretty much what you'd expect out of European prospects. They were a little on the thin side which means that they are pretty open to being planted into the tenth row of the seats, and rendered useless from then on. That being said, they can skate the hell out of the puck, when they want to, but that brings one name to mind: Marcus Kruger.
  • Adam Clendening, Shayne Taker, Paul Phillips, and Michael Paliotta all caught my attention. Clendening, Phillips and Paliotta looks solid both ways, and Taker is out of the Lavin/Johns Notre Dame mold. Take it for what it's worth, they were drills, folks.
  • The Goalies were nothing to write home about. Simpson, Carruth and Heeter were clearly the top three, in that order, and "Mr.Irrelevant" Johan Mattsson showed me the least. Drills don't always showcase a Goaltender's skills the best, and they certainly leave these guys hung out to dry, so again, take it for what it's worth.
The Disappointments
Leave it up to me to bash Stan's first draft pick last year, but he was shockingly and noticeably bad. I was really looking forward to see him, because he's a mountain of a kid, but he couldn't handle the puck to save his life. I'm sure he just had a bad day or was using his unlucky stick, but OUCH. I'm sure I saw John Scott handle the puck better than that, a time or two, and I'm SURE I saw Jassen Cullimore and Nick Boynton handle it better. His fellow Golden Domers (Lavin/Taker) out-shined him all day. Most of the scrimmage drills had him paired with Lavin, and Lavin looked more like the 2nd rounder than Johns. In a matter of 5 minutes I watched him whiff over the top of 3 out of 4 passes, which should have really been academic plays. He certainly needs some seasoning, that much is apparent. I have nothing against the kid, and I'm hoping he gets his head together, because we could use that size SOON, but Sunday was NOT his day.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

On Ice Activity Begins in 3...2...1!

This morning begins the first on ice training for the 2011/12 Blackhawks at Johnny's Ice House, with the first session of the Prospect Camp. Stanimal addressed this year's camp with the press and stressed that this years camp would be a little different, from past camps. They are going to cater more to the actual Blackhawks players, rather than trying to find hidden free agents. This makes sense, if they want to build the system up like they say, and get these young players ready for the NHL. If you noticed, the recent young players have not progressed like like the current players did, when they were prospects. You had Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Bolland all come up through the system and thrive at a young age. Even former players like Byfuglien, Versteeg, Wisniewski, Burish, and Eager played major minutes as youngsters. Part of the latest lull is directly because of the previous players success, but some of it is because the young players haven't been prepared. You'll have one or two players sneak through, like Three Times-A-Leddy, and Agent Smith, but players have hit a roadblock in Rockford lately, and it's not from IDOT construction. Players like Morin, Makarov, Beach, Pirri, and Lalonde should be pounding on the UC locker room door. Either it means they aren't prepared, or they aren't the talent that they were thought to be. I'm going with the first choice. So, in a nutshell, it's nice to see Stanimal notice this and make a change. Kudos to him, because god knows we have been hard on him.

As far as the camp goes, this should be interesting, and I'm hoping to make it out to one of the practices, this weekend. If you'd like to see the full roster of players, you can CLICK THIS LINK. Some fan favorites to watch are hometown boys Alex and Terry Broadhurst, Luke Sandler, and Paul Phillips. Everyone loves to see a hometown boy make it big. Some prospects to watch are new draftees Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault, Brandon Saad, and Klas Dahlbeck. As well as past picks and prospects Rob Flick, Byron Froese, David Gilbert, Jimmy and Kevin Hayes, and Ludvig Rensfeldt.

The main guys I'm looking forward to seeing are huge defenseman Stephen Johns, defenseman Dylan Olsen, and winger Brandon Saad. These defensemen are suppose to step up in the near future and take the spot of O'Donnell and maybe even Hjalmarsson. Johns is a BIG boy at 6'4" and 220, so he could definitely take that O'Donnell spot, and Dylan Olsen is suppose to be the next Brent Seabrook type player. Saad was called a wild card, but he might just be the next EXCITING Blackhawks player with personality. Just something that strikes me as interesting about this kid. I'm stoked to hopefully get out and see these guys skate in person.

On a side note, for all those looking to get their new players jerseys, it was announced that Brunette will wear Rich Sutter's old #15, Carbomb will wear lucky #13 (or unlucky if you associate it with Zhamnov), Mayers will do Adam Creighton proud and don his former #22, Rosty Olesz will wear the ever popular #85, The Matador will take Stevie Konroyds old #5, and O.D. will wear Bob Murray's old #6. Run out and get your Rosty Olesz jersey, while they last, folks!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Campoli Racetrack's 5 Miles Long, Oh Do Dah Day

The off-season can never be without drama in good old Chi-town, for the Blackhawks. Last year it was Antti Niemi and Nik Hjalmarsson, and this year it's Viktor Stalberg, Michael Frolik, and Chris Campoli.

All are RESTRICTED Free Agents and all were extended qualifying offers, on time, by the Hawks. This means that the Blackhawks can match any offer they sign with another team, or let them walk away.

In Campoli's case, he was eligible for salary arbitration and chose to go that route, which the Hawks can ALSO walk away from, once a decision is made. I can't say I'm surprised at Campoli's decision, based on the insane contracts Defensemen have been signing this summer. He just wants his piece of that pie. Most of you know how hard I was on Antti Niemi and his agent last year, and might look at this as a hypocrisy this year, but I assure you these are different. Last year, the market for goalies was the worst in recent memory. Goalies were virtually giving their services away for free, and some were just left to rot, like Evgeni Nabokov. This being the case, Niemi and his agent rolled the dice and tried to gouge the market, and the Blackhawks. Kind of a "dick move", if you ask me, and whether did or not, I'm telling you. The gamble worked out for both teams and Niemi, in the long run, because he was able to command a healthy extension in San Jose, and the Hawks found their new hero, in Corey Crawford. Even though the Marty Turco experience was a failure, his contract was hardly a sore thumb. Now the Campoli situation is the complete opposite because teams are paying enormously inflated numbers for marginal players. A player of Campoli's "supposed" skill would have a gripe. Just look, for example, at former Blackhawk and more recent cheapshot artist, James Wisniewski. He was able to hornswoggle Columbus into paying for his services to the tune of $5.5 Million for six excruciating years. The guy is a good player, but not $5 million good. If that is the market value on a puck moving defenseman, then the $3 million Campoli is looking for isn't all that crazy. I'm by no means defending him, but I can see the angle he is playing. This would still be OVER double last year's salary, and the Hawks have enough on the roster to replace him. You didn't have THAT good a year, Chris, and we'll always have THIS:

I'm not sayin, but I'm just sayin...

On to the rest of the clowns in the circus. Viktor Stalberg can pretty much walk, if he doesn't like what the Hawks will give him. He is of a limited skillset, and that does not including his extensive panty dropping and boyish good looks. He's a very fast player, but really had no defined role, which someone like Jeremy Morin or Ben Smith can fill, younger and cheaper. The puck bunnies would love to stare into his eyes for another season, but there is no premium on that. We're talking about a player that had 24 points in 77 games, so it would be nice to have a player back with the experience of playing under Quenneville for a year, but not necessary. Tread lightly, Pick-to-Click Vik, because you're replaceable.

Michael Frolik, is another situation altogether. He's young, and not arbitration eligible, so he can test the market all he likes, but the Hawks can always reel him back in. Reports claim that he is looking for $2.5 million a year, which is almost exactly double his salary last year. This is STILL half a million less than the Hawks/Leafs/Flyers/Panthers got stuck paying Kris Versteeg two years ago. Versteeg is good for about 10 more points per year, but Frolik actually pitches in on his own end of the rink, is two years younger, and doesn't try to rap (which is PRICELESS, in and of itself). I'll take him over Stalberg, in a heartbeat, especially since I don't have a vagina to factor into the mix.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Cherry on Top?

Just when we ALL thought the Blackhawks were done, in this free agent frenzy, they laid THIS "Bomb" on us (Cue the Jaws theme)

HEIGHT: 6' 0"
BIRTHDATE: JAN 28, 1985 (AGE 26

The Blackhawks have agreed to terms with forward Dan "Carbomb" Carcillo (KAR-sihl-oh) on a one-year contract for $750,000.

Carcillo, 26, recorded six points (2G, 4A), including two game-winning goals, and ranked second on the team with 127 penalty minutes in 57 regular-season contests during the 2010-11 campaign with the Philadelphia Flyers. He added two goals, one assist and 30 penalty minutes in 11 Stanley Cup Playoffs tilts, and registered a +2 plus/minus rating in the postseason.

Originally selected in the third round (73rd overall) of the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carcillo has posted 36 goals, 37 assists and 986 penalty minutes in 282 career regular-season games over parts of five seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes (2006-2009) and Philadelphia (2009-11). He led the Flyers in penalty minutes (207) and hits (194) during the 2009-10 campaign, and paced the NHL with 324 penalty minutes in 2007-08 with the Coyotes.

The King City, Ontario, native has also notched five goals, six assists and 69 penalty minutes in 33 career Stanley Cup Playoffs tilts, which includes a run to the 2010 Stanley Cup Final with the Flyers.

VIEWS - I REALLY dislike this guy, but I can see how the Chicago fans and media will latch onto this guy. Heart, Drive, and a knack to get under opponents skin worse than 20 Sean Avery's and Steve Ott's. I don't like it, but I understand. He's on our side, now, so I'll put on a happy face, but I'll have my eye on him, and I'll NEVER forget this:


Blackhawks War Room

This will be a running ticker of Blackhawks Free Agent Signings

Players Signed

The Blackhawks have acquired defenseman Steve Montador (MAWN-tuh-dor) from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a seventh round draft pick in either the 2012 or 2013 National Hockey League Entry Draft. He signed for $11million over 4 years, for a cap hit of $2.75 million.

Montador, 31, registered a career-high 21 assists and 26 points (5G, 21A) and paced the Sabres with a career-best +16 plus/minus rating in 73 regular-season games during the 2010-11 campaign. The blueliner led Buffalo with 136 blocked shots and paced team defensemen with 86 penalty minutes while collecting one assist in six Stanley Cup Playoffs contests.

A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Montador has recorded 28 goals, 89 assists and 762 penalty minutes in 519 regular-season tilts over parts of nine NHL seasons with the Calgary Flames (2001-06), Florida Panthers (2005-08), Anaheim Ducks (2008-09), Boston Bruins (2009) and Sabres (2009-11). He has tallied eight points, a +11 rating and 36 penalty minutes in 43 career Stanley Cup Playoffs games, including a run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final with Calgary.

The seventh round draft pick dealt to Buffalo, in either the 2012 or 2013 NHL Entry Draft, was previously acquired from the Florida Panthers on June 27.

Assets - Makes the most of his ability and has the versatility to be used in virtually any game situation. Shoots the puck with aplomb and can also deliver big hits. Has also played wing at the NHL level.

Flaws - Sometimes has trouble with the decision-making process in the defensive zone, as he's prone to making mistakes with the puck. That usually prevents him from seeing big minutes.

HEIGHT: 6' 1"
Shoots: Left
BIRTHDATE: Aug 24, 1973 (AGE 37)
BIRTHPLACE: Sudbury, ON, Canada
DRAFTED: WSH / 1993 NHL Entry Draft
ROUND: 7th (174th overall)

Brunette, 37, is a veteran of 1,032 National Hockey League regular-season games, collecting 256 goals, 450 assists and 706 points, which includes finishing third on the Minnesota Wild with 46 points (18G, 28A) while appearing in all 82 contests last season. The Sudbury, Ontario, native has also skated with the Washington Capitals (1995-98), Nashville Predators (1998-99), Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2001), Colorado Avalanche (2005-08) and Wild (2001-04; 2008-11) during his 15-year NHL career.

Dating back to the start of the 1998-99 season, Brunette has played the most games (970) of any NHL player and has missed just two contests over the last eight regular seasons. He tied for first on Minnesota with eight power-play goals last season, a campaign that saw him appear in his 1,000th regular-season game (February 1). Washington’s sixth pick, 174th overall, in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Brunette has also appeared in 43 career Stanley Cup Playoff tilts, racking up 34 points (16G, 18A).

Assets - Has great offensive instincts. Can set up plays and finish them off with equal zest. Is very creative with the puck and positionally sound. Does great work around the opponents' crease.

Flaws - Is a below-average skater, which prevents him from elevating his play to a top-tier level. Does not initiate a lot of contact, despite having the size to do so.

Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 237
Shoots: Left
Born: Oct 13, 1971 (Age 39)
Birthplace: Ottawa, ON, Canada
Drafted: BUF / 1991 NHL Entry Draft
Round: 6th (123rd overall)

Signed for $850,000 for 1 year. O’Donnell, 39, collected 17 assists and 18 points in 81 regular-season games with the Philadelphia Flyers last season during his 16th NHL campaign. The Ottawa native, who helped the Anaheim Ducks capture the Stanley Cup in 2007, has appeared in 1,173 career regular-season contests, racking up 222 points (31G, 191A) and 1,786 penalty minutes. He has also helped his clubs reach the Stanley Cup playoffs 10 times during his career, notching 19 points (6G, 13A) and 129 penalty minutes, which includes helping the New Jersey Devils reach the Final in 2001.
O’Donnell has also skated with the Los Angeles Kings (1994-2000; 2008-10), Wild (2000-01), Devils (2001), Boston Bruins (2001-04), Phoenix Coyotes (2005-06), Anaheim (2006-08) and Philadelphia (2010-11), finishing last season 10th on the NHL’s active list in games played.

Assets - Is usually a plus player and combines leadership with a good shot from the point and hockey sense. Plays with a mean streak. Always thinks team first.

Flaws - Takes a few too many bad penalties that can hurt his team. Tends to lose control of his temper. Lacks offensive flair. Is wearing down over time.

HEIGHT: 6' 1"
Shoots: Right
BIRTHDATE: Oct 24, 1974 (AGE 36)
BIRTHPLACE: Toronto, ON, Canada
DRAFTED: STL / 1993 NHL Entry Draft
ROUND: 4th (89th overall)

1 year for $550,000. Mayers, 36, registered three goals, 11 assists and a +3 plus/minus rating in 78 regular-season games with the San Jose Sharks during the 2010-11 campaign, and skated in 12 Stanley Cup Playoffs contests. He also accrued 124 penalty minutes which paced the club during the season, and ranked fourth among team forwards with 105 hits.

Originally selected by the St. Louis Blues in the third round (89th overall) of the 1993 National Hockey League Entry Draft, Mayers has recorded 202 points (84 G, 118A) and 1,093 penalty minutes in 815 career regular-season games over parts of 13 NHL seasons with St. Louis (1996-2008), Toronto Maple Leafs (2008-10), Calgary Flames (2010) and San Jose (2010-11). The Toronto native is also a veteran of 60 career Stanley Cup Playoffs contests, notching 13 points (5G, 8A) and 32 penalty minutes.

Assets - Is big, strong, tough and determined. He's a far better skater than the average banger. Can win face-offs, play all three forward positions and kill penalties.

Flaws - Doesn't have much of an offensive arsenal. Will take a few bad penalties on occasion. Plays out of control at times.

HEIGHT: 5' 11"
Shoots: Left
BIRTHDATE: Aug 14, 1978
BIRTHPLACE: Comox, BC, Canada
DRAFTED: DAL / 1997 NHL Entry Draft
ROUND: 9th (242nd overall)

Signed a 2-way contract worth $525k if in the NHL. McLean, 32, notched 27 points (10G, 17A) and 22 penalty minutes in 2010-11 in 50 games with Bern of the Swiss League, where he has spent the last two seasons. Originally selected by the Dallas Stars in the ninth round (242nd overall) of the 1997 Entry Draft, McLean previously skated for the Blackhawks from 2002-04, recording 11 goals, 20 assists and 54 penalty minutes in 78 regular-season tilts. The Comox, British Columbia, native has posted 162 points (56G, 106A) in 385 career regular-season games over parts of six NHL seasons with Chicago, Colorado Avalanche (2005-07) and Florida Panthers (2007-09) and registered one assist in eight Stanley Cup Playoffs games with Colorado in 2006.

Assets - Has plenty of hockey smarts and a wealth of playmaking ability. Is a proven scorer at lower levels.

Flaws - Is smallish and brittle, which makes it difficult for him to find regular playing time at the NHL level. Must improve his defensive game.

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