2010-11 Ramblings

Despite Criticism, Bowman Got it Right Choosing Crawford Over Niemi

When Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman decided to let Antti Niemi walk rather than match his arbitration award, the fanbase held its breath collectively.

How could Bowman not lock up the only Blackhawks goaltender in 49 years to lead the franchise to a Stanley Cup and turn to a netminder past his prime? Forget the salary-cap constraints, fans said, Niemi is the backbone the ‘Hawks needed to make another run.

Bowman instead signed Marty Turco to take Niemi’s spot in goal, though Bowman’s decision wasn’t as black and white as the critics made it seem. He didn’t choose Turco over Niemi, he chose Corey Crawford – and rightfully so.

Supposedly hamstrung after matching San Jose’s four-year, $14 million offer sheet for Niklas Hjalmarsson, Bowman simply couldn’t afford the $2.75 million salary due Niemi following the hearing. Bowman insisted he made multi-year offers to Niemi and his agent following the Cup run, but Niemi’s camp never bit and took the Blackhawks all the way to the end.

And that may have been Bowman’s plan all along.

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The Day-After Calm: Blackhawks Haven’t Won Anything Yet

Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune

I know first-hand the excitment everyone is feeling after the Game 6 overtime victory, which forced an improbable Game 7 on Tuesday in Vancouver. Battling back from 0-3 to force a deciding game is an accomplishment in itself – and a rather exciting one to boot.

After Ben Smith flipped the winner over Roberto Luongo, I was so excited I couldn’t be cooped up in a cab or on the bus. I live two miles north of the United Center up Damen Ave. in Wicker Park, and I walked every step of the way home. I even stopped in a couple bars to have a celebratory drink.

Some gloating and a nice sleep later, I’ve finally come back to Earth to realize the most important thing: The Blackhawks haven’t won anything yet, and they may have put us fans in a worse position to suffer heart failure than if they were simply swept away.

The roller coaster ride of this series resembles the entire 82-game season nearly as much as the Sedin twins do each other – and it’s been nearly just as ugly. Injuries, storylines, depths of despair, moments of hope, more painful miscues, then a rise to get us all back on the teeter-tottering bandwagon named “Repeat.”

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‘Vigneault’ Is French For ‘Wussy’

Photo: Vancouver Sun

We were all blissfully confident that we knew who was going to lead the Canucks out of the tunnel on Sunday night. Vancouver Coach Alain Vigneault was adamant in his response to a reporter’s question following his team’s game 5 loss: Roberto Luongo would start. Call it stubborn, call it stupid, call it Shirley. Whatever you call it, everyone was on the same page.

So when the reports from the United Center started blazing across the Twitterscape that Cory Schneider was leading the team on to the ice for warm-ups, heads spun around. What happened? Was Luongo hurt? Did Vigneault get overruled by the Canucks’ General Manager? Did Luongo chicken out? Or was this some calculated move on Vigneault’s part intended to make bloggers and the press look like idiots?

Given some time to think about the move to start Schneider instead of the poorly-performing Luongo, it was the desperate move of a coward who cares less about winning than he does about saving his job.

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Tim’s Bits: Back To The Madhouse!

Thanks to Rich Lindbloom

Some notes for you to mull over as we get ready to welcome our Blackhawks back to the Madhouse on Madison tomorrow night.

In Thursday’s post-game press conference, Vancouver Coach Alain Vigneault was asked if Roberto Luongo would start game six. The reporter didn’t even finish the question before Coach Pouty-Face snapped, “Yes.” Pride goeth before destruction, methinks.

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Seabrook travels; Luongo staying calm; Canucks brass gets earful

 

Credit: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune

Just stopping by quick to throw out a couple storylines heading into tomorrow’s Game 5 in Vancouver …

Despite suffering a concussion in Game 3 from Raffi Torres’ horrendous hit, Brent Seabrook will travel with the Blackhawks to Vancouver and could play in Game 5, according to Coach Q.

I’m not sure how I feel about this, given the recent history of players hitting the ice too quickly after a concussion. See: Crosby, Sidney. And especially since the Blackhawks just gave Seabrook a big-money extension. It was clear Seabrook was dazed and skating off balance when he came back on the ice for his next shift. He then sat out the rest of the game. That means there’s a problem, and it probably hasn’t fixed itself in four days.

Even putting that aside and looking at it from a must-win point of view, Seabrook sat out the Game 4 rout. That doesn’t mean I feel Seabrook is useless and the Blackhawks can win without him again, but why risk the chance of long-term injury when it doesn’t seem completey necessary? Of course, we said that about Dave Bolland and then saw what happened.

It can go either way, but I would rather have Seabrook sit and see how he feels for a potential Game 6.

CLICK THE JUMP FOR MORE NOTES

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No Suspension for Torres; Toews Downplays Canucks’ Dominance

 

Word came out today that Vancouver Canucks’ notorious jackass Raffi Torres will not be suspended for his crushing hit on Brent Seabrook in Game 3 on Sunday. And before any of the Canucks fans who have been chiming in on this site begin foaming at the mouth, read what one of your own had to say about Torres and his hit.

Seabrook sounded off on Torres, saying the hit deserved a suspension. Ignoring the fact Seabrook is obviously biased toward the decision being the recipient of the hit, remember that Torres just recently came off a suspension for a cheap shot on Oilers’ rookie Jordan Eberle.

In a brief Twitter discussion I had today with the The Globe and Mail’s  James Mirtle, he had this to offer regarding the NHL and their policies toward these types of hits:

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Waiting Game: Blackhawks’ playoff fate rests in hands of Minnesota Wild

Bend over, boys. (Chicago Tribune)

Here we go. It’s Dallas vs. Minnesota to save an erratic and inconsistent regular season. Dallas wins in regulation, the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will be watching the playoffs from their couches.

4-3, Detroit. Goddamnit.

In roughly three hours from the time of writing this, the Blackhawks will know whether or not they’ll have a chance to defend their Stanley Cup. It’s absolutely unbelievable, if you ask me, that it’s come down to this.

And since I’m a nobody, how about we ask Jonathan Toews.

“It’s so frustrating it has come down to this. I’m pretty much speechless. When it’s the culmination of an 82-game season and you’re sitting here in this situation, after working so hard for such a long season, and with the group that we have, it’s unreal to be here. The fact that we’re completely at another team’s mercy right now. … I can’t believe it.”

I’ll leave you with my column from The Committed Indian, which was sold outside by Second City Hockey’s Sam Fels before the loss to the Red Wings.

What a difference a year makes, eh?

Sam gave me this space for the last regular season game of 2009-10, though the situations are much different. Last year, I wrote about the Blackhawks overcoming injuries and adversity to have a shot at the No. 1 seed.

I also wrote the ‘Hawks looked like a Stanley Cup contender for years to come. While dynasties are rare and down seasons will happen, this Blackhawks team taking the ice in front of you today has made sure Game 82 means everything – and not for the better.

No matter your thoughts on the moves this past offseason – though they were completely necessary – I don’t believe any of us thought the Blackhawks could miss the playoffs this season. Yet a loss in regulation today against hated Detroit and a Dallas victory of any kind later tonight against Minnesota means the ‘Hawks will be watching the postseason from their couches.

How bad do those two home losses to Edmonton look? Or the loss to New Jersey on Nov. 3 when the Devils entered the game 2-9-1? Losing seven of the first 11 at the United Center? The wet fart that has been the penalty kill?

The aforementioned deficiencies in performance have contributed to making Game 82 matter for a much different reason than last season. We’ve all tossed around the term “must-win” since February, and we’re unfortunately still saying it in April – before the postseason.

Today is the ultimate “must-win” – or at least “must-not-lose-in-regulation” – game. Have we all decided to drop our standards and justification for excitement because the situations have changed since last season? I’m having a hard time deciding whether I’ll be happy the ‘Hawks made the playoffs or be upset they barely qualified.

However, celebrating last season’s Stanley Cup victory was one of the greatest moments of my life. The only way I’ll have a chance of that repeating come June is if the Blackhawks get into the postseason. Philadelphia – and the rest of the Eastern Conference, for that matter – proved in 2010 that getting in is all that matters. Anyone can win it all by getting hot at the right time.

I hope the Blackhawks fit that bill.

Jonathan Toews has almost single-handedly brought the ‘Hawks to the brink of the postseason. Without him, this column would be more of a eulogy. With the Captain on our side, you have to believe the Blackhawks can beat anyone in a seven-game series, simply based off the fact Toews won’t let this team fold up.

Corey Crawford has been a pleasant surprise this season, and has been a huge reason for a good chunk of victories.

It’s the shell of Duncan Keith that worries me. It’s the stupid penalties that get me flustered. And it’s the lack of urgency which resonated for most of the latter part of the season that makes me wonder if the ‘Hawks can compete with a much better Vancouver team than they beat the past two postseasons.

It’s unfortunate Game 82 has become so important. But if the Blackhawks can survive to see Game 83, anything can happen.

November Flashback: Proving 2010-11 Expectations Were A Bit Overblown

Back on Nov. 7, I wrote a column for Sam Fels’ wonderful creation The Committed Indian before the Blackhawks dropped to 7-8-1 with a 2-1 loss to Edmonton.

In my column titled, “10 Reasons Why the Blackhawks Can Repeat,” I shared my optimistic viewpoints skewed by a Stanley Cup run last season. I’ve decided to go back and breakdown what I wrote in November to what’s actually happened so far in 2010-11.

If you hate my guts, you’re going to want to share this with any and all of the electronic options available to you at the end of the post. I was wrong way more than I was right, though I don’t feel I’m anywhere near alone in most of these thoughts dating back five months.

Below are each of the reasons I wrote Nov. 7, with a detailed explanation and update to current times.

Have a blast.

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Tim’s Bits for Tuesday

Fairly large amount of news coming out of the Blackhawks’ practice today, so I thought I would pass it along. This is, more or less, a good-news/bad-news situation, so bear with me.

First of all, Patrick Sharp’s knee injury is ~not~ season-ending. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he will miss several games. This puts the Blackhawks down two top-six forwards as we hit the final 10 games of the season. More on that in a minute.

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