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.
Posts by Tim Currell
Quick: name one player on the Sabres. Ryan Miller, good. Now name one more.
Yep, you got the same answer I did: “Uhhh…”
The Sabres are a balanced attack team, ending last year with nobody at the 30-goal or 70-point plateau — but five at or near 20 goals, and FIFTEEN guys with 20 or more points. So essentially, they come at you three lines deep, and they attack from the front: only one of their top eight scorers is a defenseman.
If you did know who plays for Buffalo, you’ll see some minor shake-ups from last season. Jordan Leopold joins the blueline corps, and Rob Niedermeyer is the new “name” up front. Patrick Lalime (yes, God bless him, he’s STILL playing) rides the pine waiting for their superstar goalie to get a hangnail. However, the grousing coming from Lake Erie’s armpit is basically, “How do you expect to do any better than you have been with the SAME LINEUP?” Looking back three seasons, it’s apparent that they have a point.
However scoring is not the focus for the Sabres, as their goals-for last season was middle-of-the-pack, despite winning the Northeast Division and finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference. Which means this team is about stopping goals, not scoring them. I’ve always objected to the defense-wins-hockey-games theory (it actually results in 0-0 ties, if executed to perfection — how’s that winning?), and their playoff record shows it: two, count them, TWO playoff wins in three seasons. The goalie can’t win *every* game for you.
Which brings us back to their star, Ryan Miller. Few would argue that his silver-medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (8 goals against, .946 save percentage over 6 games) wasn’t worthy of the MVP award, and Miller continues to perform like a hall-of-famer with each passing season. He is the reason the Sabres finish as high as they do, and his consistent 2.5-ish GAA means all the team in front of him has to do is score 3 goals a night. So it’s the Blackhawks’ job to stop that.
Unfortunately, stopping goals hasn’t been the Blackhawks’ strong suit this season. They’ve allowed seven goals over two games, with solid performances from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but middling, deer-in-the-headlights efforts from the rest of the defensive squad. The absence of Brian Campbell is hurting us, as it did last season, and that will be a problem against Buffalo.
Additionally, the Blackhawks haven’t found their scoring touch as yet either. On this team, when Bryan Bickell leads the team in goals, something’s askew. Alas, it is indeed, as neither Patrick Kane nor Jonathan Toews has lit the lamp so far this year. Against a powerhouse goaltender at the other end of the rink, this does not bode well for our chances. Pray Mr. Kane decides to humiliate the home team and set the building on fire in front of his home-town fans.
Brandon Pirri has been sent back to Rockford, suggesting that Patrick Sharp will return to the lineup tonight. His energy and strong play will hopefully provide a spark and get the ball rolling. The Hawks need a confidence-builder, and few things could do that better than racking up 5 goals and chasing a superstar goaltender in the first two periods of the game.
On defense, Jordan Hendry is a scratch for the second game in a row, and John Scott will get another chance to land that pesky triple salchow. Hopefully Coach Q will start to mix the pairings up a bit to try to solidify what has been an inconsistent effort from the rear guard thus far.
After the Hawks morning skate it was announced that Corey Crawford will start tonight. I’ll bet that cheesed off Marty Turco, who has no wins in his first two starts. But it will be good to see Crawford get his first start behind him, and if we see the same kind of don’t-even-think-about-scoring-on-me approach he exhibited in the pre-season, this could be a good outing for him and the team.
I just hope we don’t rely on our goalie to win this one for us. How ironic would that be.
The season so far hasn’t been awful, it just hasn’t been what we’re used to seeing. Perhaps tonight we can catch a glimpse of the speedy, tic-tac-toe passing team we saw for most of the year last year. That, above all, would get the Blackhawk faithful back on the bandwagon. If we have to endure much more of the team we’re seeing now, and it may be difficult to convince Hawks fans that the bandwagon isn’t going into the ditch.
Puck drop 6pm, TV is Comcast SportsNet. Does anybody even listen to games on radio anymore? Comment here if you listen on traditional broadcast, Sirius or XM. If so, I’ll try to put those channels up here for you each game so you don’t have to hunt them down constantly. I hate that.
Seems the Red Wings organ-eye-zation didn’t care too much about my vicious evisceration of their geriatric lineup, as the only assisted-living candidate that was cut from the team late in the pre-season was Kirk Maltby.
Don’t let the oxygen tank hit you in the derriere on the way out the door, gramps.
But you can be sure to see five more of the skating senile on Saturday night, all north of 37 years of age: Tomas Holmstrom, Mike Modano, Kris Draper, Nick Lidstrom, and Chris Osgood.
As predicted, barely any of the young mustangs in the Detroit stables made the team: Justin Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz will bring his -11 rating from last season to the forward ranks; and Jakub Kindl, still fuming from his not-unexpected defeat during the copyright infringement lawsuit with Amazon.com, will be on the blue line.
Detroit brings with them the usual cast of characters: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, Johan Franzen, and prodigal Euro-trash Jiri Hudler fresh off an I’m-taking-my-football-and-going-home contract dispute that landed him teaching pre-schoolers how to tie their skates in Russia for a year. Or something.
Our pre-season win against the Motor City’s limp and incontinent came with leaky sieve Osgood in net, and however I’d be surprised if we were so lucky this outing. You can bet Jimmy Howard will be between the pipes, and he’s a more formidable backstop, if only due to the fact that he doesn’t soak his teeth between periods. We’ll see what Coach Cranky Pants decides to do.
All kidding aside, whatever the Scum are doing, it appears that they are firing on all cylinders to start the year: last night they blanked Anaheim 4-0. Let’s hope the back-to-back games gives us the advantage.
For the Blackhawks, it’s likely the same lineup we saw against Colorado, with the likely exception of defenseman Nick Boynton replacing either Jordan Hendry or John Scott. You will continue to see the same 12 forwards in the lineup for the foreseeable future, as injuries and salary cap restrictions mean we can only carry 12 on the roster right now. So everybody plays. Yee-ha…
The fun begins at 7:30pm, and what fun it will be. Expect Lord Stanley’s Cup to make an appearance at center ice, as the Blackhawks raise the Championship banner to the roof of the United Center prior to dropping the puck.
And won’t that be a treat for the Detroit (*spitting noise*) players to watch. Chicago is “Hockey Town” now, bitches.
When Jeff brought me on board, one of the things he told me was that if I disagreed with something he was advocating in one of his posts, feel free to say so.
Didn’t take long. Heh heh…
But we’ll get to that in a minute. I just have some quick thoughts about two rookie mistakes from the same play during last night’s game — Colorado’s first goal. The first mistake was from Nick Leddy, who was the victim of a bouncing puck, and incredibly speedy pair of forwards, and getting caught flat-footed in the attacking zone.
Sitting on the right point and fielding a pass from his mate Niklas Hjalmarsson, the puck bounces over Leddy’s stick, takes a Colorado carom off the boards, and it’s off to the races. What could he have done differently? The only thing that comes to mind is sacrificing the attacking zone: going to one knee to field the pass coming across from Hammer, using his hands to settle the puck down (keeping it in front of him and pushing it into the neutral zone, away from the Avalanche forwards), and having the team re-group. Other that that, the kid lost a foot race against one of the speediest guys in the league, pure and simple.
Credit to Coach Joel Quenneville, however: he still kept the kid out there, and Leddy put in a solid effort in 19+ minutes in place of the injured Brian Campbell. As he matures he is going to be a valuable asset to the team. However, it appears at this point that he’s not over the holy-shit-I’m-in-the-NHL jitters. This time last year, Leddy was trying to persuade a lovely young Scandahoovian girl to write his English paper for him. Now he’s skating alongside Olympic gold medalists. That would screw with anybody’s perspective.
The other rookie mistake was from 10-year NHL veteran Marty Turco. And this is where Jeff and I disagree. Turco was not the reason the game went into overtime; he’s the reason the Blackhawks didn’t win it in regulation.
Defensemen are taught from an early age: in a 2-on-1, play the pass. Play the PASS, play the PASS, PLAY THE PASS. This means that you never, EVER, stop covering the guy *without* the puck. Why?
First of all, it eliminates confusion between you and your goaltender as to who is covering whom. Secondly, it leaves the situation as a 1-on-0, and usually from a bad angle.
The path from the blue line to the net is a funnel. The further you can push the attacking forwards towards the goal, the less lateral room they have to maneuver, and the fewer shot options they have available. You keep them thinking about the pass/shoot decision until they’re so far down they’ve (still) got nobody to pass to very little open net to shoot at. That gives the advantage to the goaltender, and all of a sudden your 2-on-1 isn’t so scary anymore.
For this reason, they tell goaltenders from an early age, play the shooter. That’s where Mr. Turco fucked up.
As Nick Leddy was out of sight behind the play, it became a 2-on-1 towards our goal with Niklas Hjalmarsson busting his meatballs to cover the guy in the slot. This put Avs forward Chris Stewart carrying the puck off on the left circle with nobody to get a (decent) pass to. Perfect, right? Turco can stop that, right?
No. Turco was playing the pass, standing so far out of his crease I could have parked the U.S.S. Constellation, two of it’s tender ships and a life raft between him and the goal post, leaving Stewart to flick a wrist shot past Turco. An 8-year-old could have buried that shot with his skates untied. Fool-idiot rookie mistake.
I’m not saying we should have kept Antti Niemi, that ship has sailed. I disagree with the selection of Turco for just this reason. His performance is a balancing act, alternating between bailing the team out of deep doo-doo with Rogie Vachon acrobatics, and letting in crap goals like this one. If Turco hugs the post on this play like he’s supposed to, then the game is tied 2-2 going into the 3rd, and the Hawks win in regulation.
But as Jeff says, we’ve got 81 more of these to go. Nobody wins 82 games a season, this is just the start. We’re going to give ourselves ulcers if we judge each game strictly by the scoreboard. There was a lot to like about last night’s game. As the jitters subside, the team gets into proper condition, and the kids stop running into their teammates (not mentioning any names, Viktor Stalberg), we’re going to have a lot better outings than the one last night in Denver.
The Colorado Avalanche come into the 2010-11 season confounding even the most dedicated fans and the most astute prognosticators. Where will they finish this year? Well, anywhere from last to first. That’s all anyone is willing to commit to.
Well, maybe not first.
So what gives? Last year at this time the Avs were considered to stink like a month-old urinal cake. But then they rode the borderline spectacular play of goaltender and former Blackhawks draft pick Craig Anders(s)on — inside joke, for those of you who remember that far back — into the eighth place spot in the Western Conference and earned a trip to the playoffs. They were dispatched handily by San Jose, but nobody expected to see them anywhere but the golf course and self-help seminars beyond April 4th.
Last year’s miracle performance is exactly why nobody is willing to commit to any firm predictions about this year’s team.
From front to back: the forwards are a huge question mark, as a team just as young as the Blackhawks has the potential to deliver either the season of their lives, or fall victim to the sophomore slump. Paul Statsny leads the team up the middle, with two 19-year-old centers behind him in Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. Can they follow up last year’s performance? Pre-season would suggest otherwise, as the club managed to score more than two goals in only one of seven outings. So right away the offensive situation gets called into question.
Defense is even less inspiring, as 39-year-old Adam Foote is the only marquee name on the blueliner corps. The group will have to cut down the 31 shots against that they *averaged* last season if they want to have any hope of succeeding this year.
Which brings us to goaltending, and the out-of-nowhere performance of the afore-mentioned Mr. Anders(s)on, played this Thursday by Hugo Weaving.
After several failed attempts to ascend to something more than a backup-to-the-backup with both the Hawks and the Florida Panthers, he was acquired to play a similar role with the Avalanche. But fate stepped in, and before long he found himself in the starter’s role and rescuing a team of rookies and misfits night after night.
So was this a fluke? Can Anders(s)on keep it up? Again, pre-season suggests otherwise, as Peter Budaj was the one in net for the only two wins of pre-season, with Anders(s)on between the pipes for three losses.
So as you see, no easy answers. What team will show up on any given night, including this one, is anybody’s guess.
And just for your amusement, attendance is not quite what the Avalanche were experiencing in the Patrick Roy/Joe Sakic/Peter Forsberg days. To entice more Denvernians to the Pepsi Center, the team is offering a free day lift ticket to the Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort for every seat purchased. Remember folks, this is for the HOME OPENER.
On the Blackhawks’ side however, more is known about the team we will see when the puck drops on the 2010-11 season. Underachiever Ryan Potulny and career minor-leaguer Jassen Cullimore lived down to everybody’s expectations during camp, and were placed on waivers Tuesday. They cleared on Wednesday, and with luck that’s the last we’ll see of either of them.
Nick Leddy was at practice wearing a number 8 jersey, a move that we can assume is permanent for him. There does not appear to be any historical significance to the move; he wore number 5 at the University of Minnesota.
Coach Joel Quenneville was tinkering with lineups at practice the last two days, and for the first ten minutes of the game at least (until he gets impatient and plays musical wingers like he usually does) we could see Fernando Pisani alongside Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line. The only other move that could surprise fans is seeing Viktor Stalberg on the fourth line with Jake Dowell and Jack Skille. But don’t expect that to last either, this may be a what-do-we-do-with-Stalberg experiment that will last maybe one period.
Nick Boynton was suspended for one regular season game by Colin Campbell and the NHL Thought Police for what was very obviously a semaphore signal meaning “I enjoyed the cannoli very much, please thank your wife for me.” He can return Saturday against Detroit (*spitting noise*).
Late start for this one, puck drops at 9pm Chicago time. Carried on TV nationally by Versus and VersusHD, radio is WGN. No Comcast pre-game, since they are carrying the Bulls(hit) vs. Mavericks exhibition game.
You haven’t really looked at it since June. It’s got a special hanger, and a special place in the closet. Nobody touches it but you. It is not to be washed. But it’s finally time.
You pull it close to your face, and inhale. The faint smell of sweat, beer, and United Center nachos.
The last time you had it on, you were standing with 2 million of your closest friends, crammed on to Michigan Avenue, brushing the confetti out of your hair and straining to get a better look as Jonathan Toews hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup over his head at the Wacker Drive intersection.
It was the first time that magnificent silver chalice has seen The Windy City in nearly a half-century. All the eyes in the hockey world were focused on Chicago, and the city turned out for a party the likes of which have not been seen in decades. And you were there.
That day, you wanted the hockey world to stop time. We could just have the Blackhawks be Stanley Cup Champions forever. We could keep the team intact, watch the news reports as the players made the rounds to the local watering holes bringing the Cup with them, and celebrate like this once a week just to keep the magic alive — and remind the world that the Chicago Blackhawks were the best hockey team in the world.
But it doesn’t work that way. Time marches on, like ants to the drop of barbecue sauce you spilled on the deck while basting the ribs. The summer comes and goes, the salary cap forces ugly and unpopular decisions, and eventually a new season is upon us.
And so it is.
The celebrations are almost over. We’ll parade the cup around a little more, and we’ll raise the Championship banner to the roof of the United Center on opening night. But really, it’s time to get serious. Training camp is over, decisions have been made. Pundits are lobbing speculations and predictions. The players are getting into shape, the coaches are watching film and juggling wingers, management is fielding offers and weighing possibilities, and the fans are gearing up.
That’s your job. It’s time.
So you pull The Jersey off its hanger, admire it for a second or two, then flip it over and put it on. It’s a little more snug than you remember (gotta lay off the bratwurst, amigo), but it’ll do.
It was a summer unlike any other, ever. There was a certain spring in our steps, a certain pride in our voices, a certain confidence in our posture. There was more Chicago Blackhawks merchandise worn on the streets than ever before. This city was more than proud, it was swaggering. It will never be equaled, and we wouldn’t want to try. It’s time to move on. It’s time to take on a new challenge. It’s time to go to work.
It’s hockey season again. The Chicago Blackhawks are defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Monday it was announced that Chicago Blackhawks’ rookie Jeremy Morin was being re-assigned to the Rockford Ice Hogs of the AHL. I’m still more than a little surprised with this move, and while I have great respect for Blackhawks’ Head Coach Joel Quenneville and understand that he has a reason for everything he does, it would be great to know what the reason is.
Because this looks just plain butt-stupid.
First, let’s dispense with the non-issue: Morin was re-assigned to make cap room. In the words of the immortal Sherman T. Potter, mule muffins. When they officially assign Brian Campbell to the injured reserve list, which they will inevitably do, his replacement’s salary doesn’t count against the cap. The Hawks will designate Nick Leddy as Campbell’s replacement, leaving plenty of cap space to keep Morin in the lineup. So forget that, the issue isn’t relevant.
Which brings us to the *real* reasons they might have assigned him.
Go ahead, let’s hear them.
Come on, anybody. Just blurt it out, don’t bother raising your hand.
Yeah, that’s what I thought. NUFFIN. The kid’s got what it takes. He’s fast, he’s composed, he’s got the kind of drive and persistence that you want in a forward, he seems to be adapting to the speed of the big leagues just fine, he needs to learn the system, but that won’t be a problem in two weeks: what, EXACTLY, is the problem here?
And the answer becomes even more convoluted when you look at who might be taking that slot on the second line with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. Troy Brouwer has done a fine job up there before, but that means he won’t be taking one of the wings on the third line, where he is *best* suited. So assuming you do put Brouwer up with Kane and Sharp, who takes Brouwer’s spot on the third line wing? Bryan Bickell? Jack Skille? Ryan Potunly? Jake Dowell? Fucking Viktor Stalberg? No on all counts.
The problem here is that with the Morin demotion we have our first line set (Tomas Kopecky, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa), two second-line forwards (Kane, Sharp), two third-line forwards (Dave Bolland, Fernando Pisani), one swing man (Brouwer) and a flotilla of fourth-line detritus and otherwise underwhelming reserves. We have two important open slots and one guy capable of filling them. Either way Coach Q goes with Brouwer, we have a gaping hole that will be filled by an insufficient resource.
And once again I will reiterate that Viktor Stalberg has done precisely nothing to earn himself a roster slot with this team. He’s ill-suited for the third or fourth lines, and he hasn’t got what it takes for the top two. If it were my call, Stalberg would be the one looking at apartment listings in the Rockford area right now.
Barring a trade or free-agent signing that’s already in the pipeline, we’re screwing ourselves by demoting Morin. He’s shown himself capable of handling the task being given to him, and keeping him on the Hawks has zero down-side. There’s no benefit to Morin spending the next six weeks outrunning the drooling goons in the WWF — err, AHL: I hope the Blackhawks’ coaches realize that quickly, and get him back in a Hawks uniform before the curtain comes up on Thursday in Denver.
The Chicago Blackhawks put in a period and a half of solid effort Sunday night in their last pre-season outing of the 2010-11 season, with a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues. We’ll skip the part about blowing the 4-1 lead, and how the first period was a less-inspiring repeat of the first period against the Penguins from two days ago. Instead, here are the stories you should pay attention to.
With Brian Campbell out of the lineup 4+ weeks with a knee injury, Coach Quenneville decided to give rookie defenseman Nick Leddy time on the same pairing as the vet he is replacing alongside Niklas Hjalmarsson. Leddy logged 19 minutes of ice time and ended the night a minus-1, and looked jumpy. He was trying to get rid of the puck too fast when it landed on his stick, his usual patience nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t catastrophic, it just wasn’t what we are used to seeing from him.
This is probably just nerves, suddenly being handed shoes he feels ill-equipped to fill. But hopefully as he gets a few more games under his belt he’ll settle into this role, as there truly isn’t anyone else in the remaining blue line corps who can take up that torch as well as Leddy can. The games against Colorado and Detroit will tell the tale. If he hasn’t settled down by this coming Saturday, he’ll likely be in the press box or even in Rockford.
Then there’s Jeremy Morin. He’s been the surprise of the pre-season so far, and has been handed the opportunity of his career playing the left wing with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. Sunday against the Blues was a continuation of Friday night’s game with Pittsburgh: Kane and Morin seem to be a good match, and appear to be having more than a little bit of fun.
They’re still learning where each other is on the ice, and Morin still has to get used to the “cycle” that the Blackhawks use so effectively in the attacking zone. But it appears to me that later on this year we could see some eye-popping, highlight-reel goals from these two. I’m looking forward to seeing if this seed that Coach Q has planted will blossom.
And finally, I’m giving goaltender Marty Turco a new nickname: henceforth he is to be known as “Myocardial Marty.” Every time that guy leaves the crease I get heart palpitations. His behind-the-net expeditions make me clench my fists and dig my nails in so hard I’ve popped two blow-up dolls already this season.
There is an up-side to this ramblin’ spirit of his, as for the second time in three outings he whipped a saucer pass up the ice to the opponent’s blue line, right on the tape of his right winger, this time starting a 2.8-second tic-tac-toe set-up for Jonathan Toews to bury it behind Ty Conklin. This effectively gives us a third deep defenseman during our power play, and will give us an extra 10 to 20 seconds in the attacking zone.
But then, there’s the down-side, when Myocardial blows the clear around the boards, gets caught with his pants down behind the goal line, and gives up an empty-netter to the fourth-line weasel on the opposing team. After the game the guy sends him a muffin basket to thank him for the thoughtful gift.
If Blackhawks Assistant Coach Mike Kitchen knows his stuff, right now he is on the phone with the Invisible Fence people, and on opening night Myocardial Marty will be wearing one of those collars that zaps him whenever he strays too far from the mesh.
All right, folks. The Indian Head is now a bulls-eye as far as the rest of the league is concerned, everybody will be gunning for us. We open the season on the road against Colorado this Thursday, puck drops at 9pm Central. The defense of Lord Stanley’s Cup starts in 72 hours. Make sure there’s a sharp edge on the skates and tape up the sticks night and tight.
From here on out, it matters.
For those of you who haven’t been playing close attention to the Blackhawks in the last week, there’s good news, and there’s bad news.
The kids’ effort against the Penguins and then against the Blues looked like a 5-year-olds’ soccer game, with all five guys chasing the puck around the ice in a pack, running into each other, missing passes, dropping the puck to… nobody, and generally playing like a bunch of individuals instead of a team. Jack Skille sustained a minor injury to his arm, left the game in the second period and didn’t return, but was considered “day-to-day” by the post-game press conference.
Then cuts were made, and with a couple of exceptions, everyone who you’d expect was sent to Rockford to learn how to play hockey. The exceptions were Nick Leddy, the former University of Minnesota defenseman picked up in the Cam Barker trade; and Jeremy Morin, who has been impressing both the players and the coaches with his steady and impressive play.
Friday night brought a full-squad effort against the Penguins again, with all of the regulars plus Morin, who had earned himself a spot on the left side of Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line. I’m surprised he could fit his erection inside of his cup.
The Blackhawks took the first period to get warmed up, getting some solid chances against Marc-Andre Fleury, then commenced the onslaught in the second and never looked back. Goals by Fernando Pisani, Tomas Kopecky, Patrick Kane, and a pair from Marian Hossa while Corey Crawford showed his competence as the Blackhawks backup goaltender. The final score was 5 – 2. It should be noted that Penguins phenom Sidney Crosby sat out the game after an abbreviated morning skate. Apparently it was his heavy flow day.
The bad news from that tilt was the loss of Brian Campbell, who sustained a knee sprain and will be gone for a minimum of four weeks. This is troubling on a number of levels, but the one that people ignore is the period of time when Campbell was injured late last season after the Alexander Ovechkin hit. The Blackhawks had 9 wins and 8 losses in those five weeks, and their power play conversion during that period dropped to one of the worst in the league.
Love or hate his $7M+/year contract, Campbell makes a solid contribution to the overall success of the team. Statistically speaking, this is a fact.
The upside to this is, rookie Nick Leddy may just find himself in the opening night lineup for the Blackhawks, and if he can consistently demonstrate the kind of patience and puck-moving instincts that were evident at Minnesota and Prospect Camp, he might be logging top-four minutes before Campbell is back on the bench.
Tonight: another full-roster game against the Blues at the United Center. TV is the NHL Network, radio on WGN. Puck drops at 5pm.
The St. Louis Blues made the first, and one of the biggest off-season moves by snitching playoff hero goalie Jaroslav Halak from the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal management was pilloried in the local media, as fans in St. Louis wondered if their team had just acquired a gift from the hockey gods or just another flash in the pan.
But Blues GM Doug Armstrong was not anywhere close to being finished. Before the summer was out, he had acquired Vladimir Sobotka from Boston and prospect Stefan Della Rovere from Washington, drafted Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, and re-signed a solid core of restricted free agent veterans.
The bad news for Blues fans was that 18-year vet Keith Tkachuk (bless you) decided the time had come for a permanent Saturday morning tee time, and the shadow-of-his-former-self but still lovable Paul Kariya would sit out the year in the hope that lingering post-concussion syndrome symptoms would subside and let him continue his hockey career.
But the new offensive guns should more than make up for the loss in production from those is-he-really-still-playing vets. The story with the blues will be, will spectacular goaltending show up, and will it be enough to make up for a sizable but ineffective blue line corps.
For the Blackhawks, I can just imagine Joel Quenneville’s speech to the guys before the game tonight: “Okay, you young guys, I’m SERIOUS now! I want to see some effort out there! This REALLY REALLY IS your last chance to make the opening night roster, or Stan is going to go out and sign Robert Lang and Kyle Calder and ship the load of you to Toledo!”
Tuesday’s effort was middling at best, though none of us got to see it. The same can be said of tonight’s tilt, as you’ll have to be sneaky to find yourself a live video stream of the game outside of the St. Louis area. If you do, post below as a comment please.
The Blackhawks’ final roster cuts will come tomorrow, but honestly I think that Coach Q has his mind made up already. Guys that only turn it on when threatened with a demotion to the minors don’t belong on this team.
Puck drop 7pm, and we’ll see tomorrow what our 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks will look like.
The kids have been sent back to Juniors, the never-had-a-prayer’s have been released, and the not-ready-yet’s and may-never-be’s are (with a couple of notable exceptions) out in Rockford. So in the next ten days Blackhawks’ Coach Joel Quenneville has to pare down a roster of 31 players to 23. Eight guys gotta go. And with the exception of goaltending, the decisions about who goes and who stays are anything but cut-and-dried.
Starting with the netminders, I don’t think anyone will lose a minute’s sleep about sending Hannu Toivonen and Alec Richards down to the Ice Hogs. Richards is a throw-away, and Toivonen may blossom into a decent netminder at some point. But his play still needs work if he’s going to survive at the NHL level. So that leaves Marty Turco and Corey Crawford as No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, which is what everyone predicted and the way it should be.
On defense, the top four guys haven’t done anything to lose their roster spots, so Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson will remain. It was hoped that Jordan Hendry would step it up and show that he’s ready to be an 82-game player, and so far this pre-season he has done exactly that. But for that #6 spot, the peanut gallery all assumed that we would be swapping out John Scott and Nick Boynton, giving us a veteran presence as well as some grit and gristle in front of the net.
But then Nick Leddy showed up in camp, and brought his ‘A’ game. He’s a puck-moving defenseman, in the same mold as Duncan Keith, but he’s not the crease-clearing bulldozer we could have in Boynton or Scott. It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to have Leddy spend a year in Rockford, as kids straight from the college ranks usually take at least one season to get used to the grueling NHL schedule. But I’m sure Coach Q has a barrage of “what-if” scenarios going through his head with regards to this kid. He’s great insurance against an injury in the top-four ranks, that’s a given. But what if we kept Boynton, sent Scott down to Rockford, and swapped out Hendry and Leddy instead?
Either way, that means Jassen Cullimore and Brian Connelly, say good-bye to the Windy City. Four down, four to go. Which brings us to the forward ranks.
The Blackhawks have been configuring the forwards with two scoring lines, a defensive line, and a murder and mayhem line. Lines 1a and 1b are reasonably certain to be staffed with veterans: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer, and Tomas Kopecky are the safest bets, with Dave Bolland as the next-in-line center if Coach Q decides to move Sharp back out to the wing and push either Brouwer or Kopecky down to a third-line role. But what about that third line?
We had incredible success down the stretch last year with Dave Bolland centering the “shut-down” third line that played against opponents’ top forwards. Some of the top snipers in the league were kept off the scoresheet entirely using this strategy. But while Bolland has proven his worth in this role, who from the ranks of the newcomers could we give him on the wings that would fit the bill?
The obvious choice from the evidence so far in camp is Fernando Pisani, who has been a solid performer with a work ethic that is earning him the notice and praise from the coaching staff. So he’s pretty much a lock for the right wing on that line, but who else?
Troy Brouwer has filled that role before, and he adds size to a line with not-so-big guys to his right. So that would work. But that means moving him off the first or second lines, which means somebody with far less experience is going to be up with the big boys. I’m not sure Coach Q will be willing to take such a big risk.
In order to engage in a thoroughly masturbatory dissolution of Coach Q’s options, here are the remnants of the training camp detritus:
Viktor Stalberg: Most pundits had Stalberg slotted into a top-six spot from the git-go: I continue to say that he has done *nothing* to warrant that kind of position, and it would seem Coach Q agrees with me. The QStache made his displeasure known about that Monday afternoon: He wants to see production from Stalberg, or it’s a one-way ticket to Rockford. Stay tuned.
Igor Makarov: He seems to be a quick and solid two-way player, but hasn’t shown the consistency that’s needed, plus he’s a natural center. That makes him a better fit for a top-six role, but those jobs are filled — or are they? What about moving Sharp to the second line wing where he has had his biggest success, and have Makarov start the year feeding two of the top wingers in hockey? As appetizing as that may sound, Makarov is most likely going to see top-six minutes in Rockford to get some shifts under his belt against North American pros before anything like that happens.
Jeremy Morin: This kid’s a sniper with great hands and a stellar view of the ice, so he’d fit well on the top two lines — when he gets some hair on his balls. He’s being given a serious look, but he carries a hefty price tag, something the salary cap situation may not allow. It’s more likely that he and Makarov provide a one-two punch and rack up 100 goals between them in the AHL. But every time one of the veteran players is asked who is bringing it in camp, Morin is the first guy they mention. Hmm…
Jack Skille: What do you do with this guy? It’s borderline torture to send him down again, but where does he fit with this club? He’s not as fast as Makarov or Morin, he’s not a defensive specialist, and he’s not as big or tough as other players we could have on the fourth line. Unfortunately Mr. Skille hasn’t found his niche, and despite his effort during camp I’m afraid it may be curtains for him, for good.
Jake Dowell: The poor lad can’t close the deal. He gets the puck on his stick, and he either can’t make the pass or score the goal. The effort is there, but the skills just aren’t. It’s Rockford for him.
Kyle Beach: The thoroughbred Stan Bowman was so hot on at Prospect Camp is now being seen as a common draft horse. Recent comments from within the Blackhawks organ-eye-zation suggest he is now the Hawks’ goon-in-waiting. Pathetic role for a first-round pick that was supposed to be the next Brendan Shanahan. So he’s a fourth-liner.
Bryan Bickell: Size, speed, and grit: fourth line.
Ryan Potulny: He has been spectacularly mediocre, and barely showing any desire to win a roster spot. I am surprised he wasn’t waived. But with his veteran experience as the fourth-line pivot, he could give Beach and Bickell some feeds as they come off the boards towards the net.
Ben Smith: Okay, I’m going to ask this question, and it’s not supposed to be a joke, I’m actually serious. What the BLOODY HELL is this guy still doing here?!? Is he boinking somebody’s daughter? Does he have pictures of Stan Bowman doing a victory lap with some front-office intern? Is he the guy who picks up the pucks at the end of practice? Je ne comprends pas.
So with that in mind, and barring any injuries prior to the start of camp, here’s how I see it all shaking out. Coach Q has been showing the Kopecky/Toews/Hossa line some time both in games and practices, so I think we can bank on that being the top line to begin the year. He seems to like the Kane/Sharp combination, and I believe that Sharp will stay at center for the immediate future. So the only question becomes whether he keeps veteran Troy Brouwer up with them, or moves one of the kids into a top-six role.
Quenneville is asking himself, is anybody in the freshman ranks capable of the kind of solid, two-way play that is required of a third-line player? My answer to that is a resounding “no”. So if I were making the calls, Brouwer moves to the third line. Who goes up? Well, the way this kid Morin has been on the tips of both players’ and coaches’ tongues these days, I have a strong feeling that — to begin the year, at least — he wins himself a spot playing with two of the hottest forwards in hockey. If that happens, be on the lookout for a 19-year-old pimply-faced kid walking around town with a woody the size of Bolingbrook.
Bolland stays put as the third-line center, with Pisani and Brouwer on his flanks; and we round out the forward ranks with Potulny centering Beach and Bickell. Smith, Stalberg, Makarov, and Dowell get on the Greyhound. Skille will stay with the club as the “thirteenth forward,” but don’t expect that to last. Stalberg will be busting his butt to get back to the bigs, and of course there’s always the injury bug to throw a wrench in the works.
This is a good problem to have: too many guns, very few goons. That’s the way NHL hockey is going, and the Blackhawks are well stocked. As the superstar contracts expire, a new crop of talent will be eager to leave the sludge and boredom of Rockford in their wake and start lighting it up on Madison Street.
When the Detroit Red Wings open the regular season for 2010-11, it is likely that nine of the twenty players on the bench that night will be 35 years of age or older.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the team has entered into a sponsorship deal with Depends(tm) Undergarments.
The usual suspects are back — Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Dan Cleary, Nick Lidstrom, yadda-yadda-yadda — leaving very few openings for youngsters. So I’m not going to bother reviewing them, they won’t be in a Wings uniform this year.
Red Wings management lobbied hard in the off-season to get permission for Tomas Holmstrom to bring his walker on to the ice, but were ultimately denied.
Coach Scowl is back, trying to continue his quest for the Guinness Book of World Records for the most time without smiling.
Veterans not in the lineup tonight: Todd Bertuzzi (gout), Kris Draper (rheumatism), Brian Rafalski (attending the wedding of his granddaughter), and Chris Osgood (“Oy, my back!”).
The league has granted an additional :30 during each TV time-out, to allow trainers to empty Ruslan Salei‘s colostomy bag.
The only roster moves of any significance are bringing in Mike Modano for reasons nobody can figure out, and the return of prodigal son Jiri Hudler from the KHL.
And there you have it: the 2010-11 Detroit Red Wings. Brought to you by the AARP, AmeriGlide Mobility Aide Power Scooters, and Island Pines Residential Assisted Living Center of Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
Corey Crawford starts in net for the Blackhawks; Nick Leddy, Jeremy Morin, and Kyle Beach are all expected to be in the lineup. Puck drops at 6:00pm Chicago time, TV coverage on Comcast SportsNet.
Much was made of the off-season moves by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as they first brought in Steve Yzerman as GM, who then brought in AHL and Major Junior coaching enigma Guy Boucher as Head Coach. Many trades ensued and free agents were signed, and the result is that the Lightning team that will take the ice against the Blackhawks in Winnipeg may be a little (*ahem*) shocking.
First, to the personnel. Consistent, if past-their-prime forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis return to join young powerhouse Steven Stamkos. Those three players accounted for just over half of the goals scored by the Lightning last year, so more scoring punch was definitely needed. So Simon Gagne was acquired from the Flyers, and Coach Boucher must now fill out the ranks with the least of many evils from the youth and middling veteran talent that remains in camp. Two long-time veterans from the KHL were acquired in the form of Johan Harju and Niklas Persson, but only time will tell if that experiment delivers the jolt it was intended to.
On defense, youngster Victor Hedman is now joined by four relatively steady, but by no means spectacular veterans: Pavel Kubina, Matthieu Roy, Brett Clark, and Randy Jones. Defense was Tampa Bay’s biggest problem last year, allowing 260 goals against, fourth-worst in the league. However it is puzzling to try to figure out what Yzerman’s strategy is, not bringing in a marquee defensive pair to anchor the team. One problem at a time, I guess.
Which brings us to goaltending. To replace the departed Antero Nittymaki, Yzerman has acquired yawn-inducing Dan Ellis, who spent last year with Nashville amassing a barely-winning record and a .909 save percentage over 31 games. Not exactly the kind of guy who can energize a team or its fans. In fact, the biggest headline Ellis has made in his NHL career actually came about because of a comment he made on his Twitter account.
But there appears to me some method to Yzerman’s madness. Believe it or not, it appears that what the first-year GM is hoping to do this season is win using the member of the organ-eye-zation least likely to score a goal, block a shot, or make a save: his coach.
Guy Boucher holds a post-graduate degree in Sports Psychology, and has implemented a radical offensive system not seen before in the NHL with any consistency, called a 1-3-1 forecheck. The first man into the zone pushes the puck to the outside, while the strong-side defenseman and remaining two forwards press to that side three-across, leaving one defenseman to cover counter-attacks.
Boucher has run the system with significant success. In his first year behind the bench with the Hamilton Bulldogs he racked up 52 wins, good for the second-best record in the AHL. The 1-3-1 has been the exclusive focus of the Bolts’ training camp efforts. The specific details are either a big secret, or so complicated that nobody is willing to talk about them and risk looking like an idiot. Even the Tampa Bay press is mostly cloudy on the subject.
Boucher and the Bolts will premiere this new strategy Tuesday night against Dallas. What success they have with it remains to be seen, and it should be noted that the three big offensive threats mentioned earlier will be resting against the Stars to be fresh for when they meet the Hawks in Winnipeg on Wednesday.
So they’re throwing the big guns at us right out of the gate, and word late Tuesday is that Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Duncan Keith, will all be in the lineup for the Blackhawks. Add to that some fully-loaded up-and-comers in Igor Makarov, Viktor Stalberg, and Jeremy Morin, plus Nick Leddy on defense. And Coach Q, not being one to keep the public waiting, is giving us a taste of Marty Turco in his first outing as a Blackhawk. He will split the game with moderately talented and definitely unpronounceable Hannu Toivonen.
So the fans in Winnipeg should be in for a doozy. Or, depending on whether Boucher’s 1-3-1 can work at the NHL level (and if the Lightning players have had enough practice to execute it properly), we may see a game of shinny erupt and a 15-2 Blackhawks victory.
Either way, it will be one Blackhawks fans won’t want to miss. And thankfully, with Comcast Sports Net covering this and two other home games, they don’t have to!
UNITED CENTER MAIN LOCKER ROOM
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 9:43AM.
Jonathan Toews: Uhh, guys? Over here, guys? Please give me your attention for a second…
(*mumbling and murmuring gradually subsides*)
Toews: For those of you who were part of the team last year, welcome back; those of you new to the organ-eye-zation, good to see you. I’m Jonathan Toews, I’m the captain of the Blackhawks, and I’m going to get training camp officially underway. You’ve all passed your medicals, so we can—
Patrick Sharp: Actually, sorry to interrupt Johnny, but they just sent this down. Where’s Phillipe Paradis?
Phillipe Paradis: Here!
Sharp: Hey, I have a note from the team doctor here saying there were some irregularities with one of the tests they did yesterday, and they need you down the hall right away.
Paradis: Oh, wow. Okay. Is everything all right?
Sharp: I think so, yeah, it’s probably nothing. But anyhow, we’re in a rush, so they’re coming up to meet you.
Paradis: What, here?
Sharp: No, it’s kinda personal, I guess. There’s no place to change, so just strip down here and dash down the hall to your right two doors, then across the hall and open the red door on your left.
Paradis: Oh, crap. Now?
Sharp: Yeah, c’mon, go! We’ll wait for you, just get on down there. Hurry up!
(*Paradis strips down to his jock strap, dashes out of the room*)
Sharp: Okay, everybody sit tight.
Dave Bolland: We have to wait?
Sharp: Because the doctor didn’t send me anything. I just sent him buck naked into a room where McDonough is giving a press conference.
(*Door blasts open, Paradis scrambles through and slams it shut behind him, holding it closed*)
Paradis: You SUCK!!!
(*Room explodes with laughter*)
Toews: All right, all right, settle down. Now aside from Sharpie having some fun with the new guys, we all know why we’re here. The Chicago Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and everyone is trying to make the team. You’ll each have your chance to show the coaches what you can do, and despite what everybody says about the salary cap and all that stuff, EVERY position on this team is up for grabs.
(*Strange slurping, growling and gurgling noises comes from around the corner in the trainer’s supply room*)
Toews: Anybody know what that is?
Tomas Kopecky: Yeah, that’s Kyle Beach. He was trying to eat one of the younger guys, so the trainers had to pry him off and let the kid go.
Toews: Again? What is this, four times now?
Jordan Hendry: Five, if you count the taxi driver he tried to make a snack out of two days ago.
Toews: So why is he making that racket?
Hendry: He’s okay, they let him gnaw on a side of beef.
Toews: Hope this doesn’t get worse when we get out on the ice.
Jack Skille: At least he didn’t try to chew his own arm off again.
Toews: Yeah, can’t have that. Club’s got a lot of money invested in him. Okay, well just ignore him, we’ll talk over it. So I see the usual suspects are back, you guys have fun playing with the Cup? Eh? I know Kaner was — Hey, where’s Kaner?
Marian Hossa: I think I saw him in the hall by the sky box elevator.
Jake Dowell: Oh, no way! That guy wearing nothing but fuzzy girl’s slippers and a raccoon-skinned cap lying face-down in a pile of beer cans, handcuffed to a blow-up doll? I told security to toss the guy out!
Toews: Ah, they’ll probably recognize him… But on second thought…
Brian Campbell: I’ll go get ‘im…
Toews: Hey, thanks Soupy. All right. Who else is here? Where’s Dunc?
Duncan Keith: Yo!
Toews: How are the new chicklets?
Keith: Eh, not bad. I fink they ordered the wong five. My fianfe fev I look like Gawy Bufey.
Toews: Let’s see.
(*Keith smiles, everyone shifts nervously in their seats*)
Toews: I think she may be right about that. Hope they can fix them, otherwise we’ll have to start calling you Bugs.
(*Viktor Stalberg pops his head around the corner of the bathroom entrance, catches Niklas Hjalmarsson’s eye*)
Stalberg: Hey, Hammer — this good? Hmm?
(*Shows Niklas Hjalmarsson how his hair looks from different angles*)
Stalberg: What do you think? Sexy enough? Lots of hot chicks out in the stands today, gotta get the ‘Swedish Wave’ looking its best!
(*Stalberg disappears back around the corner*)
Hjalmarsson: He’s been doing that for the last three hours…
Toews: So okay, enough of that. For the new guys here, does anybody have any questions about the team or what’s expected of them during camp?
Fernando Pisani: Hey, yeah, I do. I noticed when you guys played us last year that when we started up the ice heading towards your goal there were these two guys there trying to stop us. What’s the story there?
Ryan Potulny: Yeah, I saw that too! Is that some special strategy or something?
Toews: Yeah, I thought that might be confusing for you two guys. Those are called ‘defensemen’, and we have six of them on the bench every night.
Marty Turco: Seriously?!? YESSSSSSSSSSSS!!! I KNEW something was missing in Dallas! Damn, I’m gonna LOVE it here…
Toews: Yeah, their job is to stop the other team’s forwards from scoring.
Pisani: Okay, yeah, sorry. They didn’t have those in Edmonton.
Toews: No problem. Anybody else? No? Then okay, let’s get the ball rolling here. Just remember guys, we’re all on the same team out there, so don’t be trying to take anybody’s head off. Everybody give it your best shot, and we look forward to fielding another Stanley Cup-winning team again this season.
Brent Seabrook: Hey, Johnny?
Toews: Yeah, Seabs, what’s up?
Seabrook: Uhh… I think you better come see this…
(*Toews walks over to the end of the locker room, where a large figure is huddled on the floor in the corner, sobbing*)
Toews: Hey man, you okay?
Adam Burish: Hey… (*sniff*) Yeah, I guess…
Toews: Dude, what are you doing here?
Burish: (*sniff*) Well… (*sniff*) I missed you guys…