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.

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