Dogs In The Desert… For Now: Blackhawks Visit Coyotes
As the Winnipeg Jets celebrate their reincarnation north of the border, the team that represents the ashes of the old incarnation of that squad still sits, parched, in the dusty climes of Phoenix, awaiting whatever fate Fuhrer Bettman decides they should have. Stuck in the mobius loop of lousy-team-low-revenue-no-buyers-can’t-attract-good-players-so-lousy-team, Bettman faces mountains of humiliation should the team be forced to move from a location he personally hand-picked for NHL expansion. So, he isn’t approving any deals that involve moving the team to places where snowmobiles are used as transportation for part of the year.
The proud, arrogant little bastard should be beaten to death at center ice before puck drop at the All-Star Game. Fans of hockey all over the world would pay $5000 a ticket to watch that.
But I digress…
So how the hell do you run a team when you have no money, no fans, no management (save the Fuhrer looking over your shoulder every few weeks, telling you to spend less money on laundry detergent), and the potential for packing up and moving north at literally any moment?
Looking down the Coyotes roster is an experience in repeating three phrases to yourself: “Who?” “He’s still playing?” and “They signed HIM?” Misfits, no-names and the elderly are all solidly represented. This is a team made up of the lesser of many, many evils. Once you get past Captain Shane Doan, the sole leftover from the Jets days in 1995-96, you find poster-boys-for-mediocrity Daymond Langkow, Ray Whitney, and Radim Vrbata. Those are the four highest-paid forwards on the team.
Transitioning to the blue line, ignoring the fact that Adrian Aucoin is still (surprisingly) vertical, you have Keith Yandle sporting a $5+ million per year contract, followed closely by Michal Rozsival. Uhh, WHAT? Who the F*** is THAT guy? Then you look into the details and find that it was actually the Rangers who signed him to his 4-year, $20 million deal — with a no movement clause — and his contract makes perfect sense.
Some interesting decisions were made in goal after reliable backstop Ilya Bryzgalov flew the coop in the off-season (officially his rights were traded to Philly, but he would have left anyhow, may as well get something out of it). They stuck with barely-competent backup Jason LaBarbera in the same role, and signed Tampa Bay cast-off Mike Smith for the starting duties. At 2 years and $2 million per it’s not a big risk, especially since all they really have to do is give the appearance that they are trying to put a competitive team on the ice. Nobody’s paying attention.
This would all be more than a little disturbing were it not for the fact that the roster looked nearly identical at this time last year. The team doesn’t care, the fans don’t care. The team is very obviously treading water. There is precious little else it *can* do.
On the Blackhawks side of things, we could — could, mind you — see something we haven’t seen since the playoffs last year: a full roster of healthy, experienced players.
The off-season began with Patrick Kane undergoing wrist surgery, then just before training camp we had Patrick Sharp’s appendectomy. As the pre-season got underway both Dave Bolland and Viktor Stalberg went down with injuries. Once the regular season started, we welcomed back both Sharpie and Kaner, but lost Marian Hossa. It’s been nothing short of a M*A*S*H unit in the Blackhawks dressing room since the draft back in June.
Tonight, with luck, that all ends. The Blackhawks are hinting that Hossa, the last of the walking wounded, will make his return tonight against the Coyotes. So for the first time this season Head Coach Joel Quenneville will actually have a full set of experienced, talented wingers to switch up every shift from the opening face-off.
Speaking of switching up wingers, the biggest switch-up of the season so far has been the one yielding the best results. When word got out that the team was going to try Patrick Kane at center, exactly nobody was optimistic that it would work. Yet there Kaner is, sitting on 2 goals, 4 assists and a +3 rating over the first four games. Multiply that out, and he finishes the season with 41 goals and 123 points. Yowsa! It’s early yet, but right now it looks like we need to stick a ‘C’ in the position column for the lad.
The one thing that causes a heavy sigh about the team being healthy is that we’ve had to say good-bye to the youngsters that were doing so well earlier this season. Brandon Saad was sent back to his Junior team; Brandon Pirri is down in Rockford, where he will now be joined by hustling winger Ben Smith, who the team sent down today.
Marcus Kruger is still with the team, so the coaches apparently want more of a look at him. But this has been a fantastic start to the year for both the team and its fans, and it is encouraging to see so many kids coming up the pipeline, eager to keep the winning tradition alive. Hurry back, boys: there’s a stadium full of folks who can’t wait to see you back at the UC.
An interesting note lingering out there from last game. Enigmatic winger Rostislav Olesz was scratched from the lineup at the very last minute in favor of immovable object John Scott. No word ever came out on what the reason for that was, though at the time it looked bad for Olesz. However, Monday at practice Olesz was skating in Hossa’s spot on the second line with Kane and Daniel Carcillo. Could be merely a placeholder with Hossa expected back on Tuesday. But keep an eye on this situation — Olesz hasn’t found a niche with this team yet, and at $3+ million a year, he’s an expensive guy to have sitting in the press box.
West coast start tonight: 9pm puck drop, so set the DVR so the kids can watch tomorrow after school. A startling change for the TV broadcast also — WGN has the game on, live, on a Tuesday night! That hasn’t happened since… oh, gee, about 1975? Damn. Broadcast radio is WGN AM-720; XM subscribers look for channel 213; Sirius Premiere customers tune to channel 212.
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.
|Print article||This entry was posted by Tim Currell on October 18, 2011 at 6:31 am, and is filed under 2011-12 Regular Season, Blackhawks, Chicago Blackhawks, Phoenix Coyotes, Phoenix Coyotes. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|