I've been beating the Ray Emery drum from the get-go. I think he'd be an ideal 3rd goalie and if ANYBODY can exemplify how un-important a bad game should be, that's Ray Emery. As for that second-line center? Oy. I suppose one could put Hossa with Toews and Sharp and Kane with Bolland and Brunette. Of course, that depth chart isn't worth the paper it's printed on, being that John Scott is on the fourth line.
Free-Agent Signings: Now What?
All right, here we are.
Stan Bowman made his free-agent moves early. His choices most likely knew exactly where they wanted to go and exactly what the Blackhawks would be offering (not that I’m suggesting Stan, or ANY of the NHL GM’s were tampering at all, noooooo…). Then Stan took the long weekend off. With the exception of Steven Stamkos, the big fish have all been caught and eaten.
The “Free-Agent Frenzy” is over. Now, the actual work begins.
We still have holes in the lineup that need to be filled, most glaringly the 2nd-line center the Blackhawks claimed to have as their #1 priority this off-season.
Looking at the official-unofficial-official depth chart, we see Patrick Sharp slotted into the 2nd-line center role, Andrew Brunette to his left, and Viktor Stalberg playing left wing on the first line. I think we can all agree that keeping these players in these roles will weaken the team.
Sharp is a left wing sniper. He belongs on the left side with a quick pivot who can dish to either wing. Brunette is a big, tough winger who can run interference in front of opposing goaltenders. That’s what we need for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the first line. And Stalberg spent most of last season trying to convince everybody that he couldn’t find a role on this Blackhawks team; putting him anywhere but the fourth line (or Rockford) until he figures out what he can do well is the only way to handle his identity crisis. Which all assumes we accept the arbitrator’s ruling and keep him around, which I doubt.
What’s needed is Sharp on the second line left wing, Brunette on the left wing up front, and Stalberg awaiting his turn to be the media’s whipping boy and trade-bait target. That means, we need that second line center if we’re going to get back into Stanley Cup contention.
The other matter that I have been trying to pound into people’s heads is the goaltending situation. We need — and by that I mean, we absolutely will be committing suicide if, on October 7th, we do not have — an experienced backup goaltender on the roster.
At present, there is *nobody* in the pipeline with any level of experience that can step up to that job, and Alexander Salak is an unproven kid who may pee his pants when facing a 25-game-per-year backup role. I do not feel that sacrificing every single game to a guaranteed 7 – 2 loss is an acceptable solution when Corey Crawford needs a break. We need to have somebody with a proven record on a two-way contract who can actually give us a genuine chance to win when injuries occur, or when Salak turns out to be the disappointment I fear he will be.
If I’m wrong, no harm done: stick our cheap veteran goaltender in Rockford to mentor the kids until they grow some hair on their gonads. But if I’m right, and the history of disappointing teams suggests that I am, then failing to add such a player — before the season starts — will be a catastrophic mistake.
So with those two needs in mind, what are our options?
Move Dave Bolland to second-line center, put Kruger in at third-line and hope for the best: Not wise, and the team knows this. Bolland has had very little chemistry with Marian Hossa in the past, and having two of our best two-way players on what is supposed to be a scoring line is just silly. Additionally, Kruger had 7 games with the Blackhawks last season, and showed unequivocally that he needs some time to get used to the North American game.
Float with Sharp for now, promote Marcus Kruger or make a trade after Christmas: This isn’t totally unreasonable, but then the question remains, how much would we be sacrificing in the interim? I suppose the opportunity cost is a factor with any lineup change, but this equation might have a substantial negative impact. Not sure I like it.
Trade for a center: The first question should be, who do we have as bait? I guess it depends on how awesome we want the center to be. I mentioned Stalberg before, and with the addition of Sean O’Donnell and the rise of Nick Leddy we don’t necessarily need Chris Campoli (again, assuming we keep him following arbitration). Other possibles up front might include Bryan Bickell, who is great production for the money, and there are a host of expendables in the system, led by head case Kyle Beach. We could discuss trading Rostislav “Rusty” Olesz all day long, but nobody wants him. That was a contract trade, if we’re lucky he’ll just waste away in the press box. If we’re really lucky he’ll have his left thumb torn off in an ATV accident and retire.
Oh… Did I say that out loud?
Who could we go after? Brandon Dubinsky is the most frequently-mentioned name, but unfortunately he filed for salary arbitration with the Rangers on Tuesday, and we’ll need to wait until that plays itself out before we can make a move. Looking in other directions, I’m personally a fan of Brandon Sutter in Carolina; Derrick Brassard might be a luxury that Columbus can no longer afford, he might be a decent alternative; and the price is a little steep, but it would only be for one year and then Jarret Stoll would be a free agent. So there are some suggestions.
Sign a free-agent center: Who’s left? Jason Arnott, for one. Chris Drury for another. We could go the geriatric route and pursue Kris Draper, John Madden, or Mike Modano, but I don’t think any of those three have enough gas left in the tank to perform at a top-six level. 35-year-olds abound: Rob Niedermayer, Todd White, and Vaclav Prospal. Beyond that the pickin’s are very thin indeed. With the exception of the first two, I think we’d be making a big mistake with any of these guys — and only a smaller mistake with Arnott or Drury.
So, on to goaltenders…
Do nothing about a backup goalie, let Salak sink or swim: I’ve outlined the potential tsunami of doom that this course of action represents, though I freely admit that there’s about a 75% chance that this is exactly what the organ-eye-zation will do. Further evidence that Stan Bowman needs a leash, and somebody with a firm hand to jerk it.
Heh heh… He said ‘jerk it…’
Trade for a backup: Two theories here: either a seasoned vet with some “oomph” left in him, in which case we could shoot for somebody like Brent Johnson or Martin Biron; or try for an up-and-comer who would have some trade value in March, in which case I would like Anders Lindback, Kevin Poulin or Cory Schneider.
Sign a free-agent backup: Very, and I mean VERY, few options here. We could turn around and re-up Marty Turco, and promise him a minor-league goaltending coach gig when his year is up. We could roll the dice on the walking wounded with either Chris Osgood or Patrick Lalime. Or we could go with Ty Conklin, who really shouldn’t be holding out hope for a starter’s job, though with the risks being taken on the Edmonton, Toronto and New York Islanders’ goaltending depth charts, come December he could very likely have one. And there is always Ray Emery, who is rumored to be getting a solid look from more than a few NHL teams. But I think when the dust settles, Emery will find himself watching the games on TV come October.
I like the trade route better than the alternatives for both of these position. The Blackhawks are strong in many areas, and can afford to lighten the load in one or two areas without hurting the team. Now it’s time to hold our breath, cross our fingers, and wait until StanBow pulls the trigger. We all hope he hits the target this time.
About the author
Tim spent Saturday mornings playing street hockey in suburban Toronto before moving to Chicago at age 11. He played amateur hockey in Chicagoland through high school, got his B.A. in Communications, then wasted 7 years as a news/talk radio host. Today he tinkers with computers and web sites and yells at the TV a lot.
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