The bad news for the Dallas Stars is, they come in to the 2011-12 season with most hockey pundits expecting them to miss the playoffs, ranking in 11th place or lower when April rolls around. The worse news is, they have a rookie coach, their leading scorer flew the coop in the off-season, and they may be moving to Medicine Hat at any moment.
That unfamiliar face behind the bench is Glen Gulutzan, coaching his first NHL team in his first NHL game. Both his playing and coaching careers topped out at the minor league level — until tonight. Star center Brad Richards decided to follow dozens of overpaid and underperforming hockey players to the white-hot Klieg lights of the New York Rangers’ dressing room. And the ownership situation is still very much up in the air — leaving the question open as to whether new ownership will want to take the team someplace where the most prevalent religion is not NASCAR.
And let’s not forget, this is the Dallas Stars team that handed their playoff berth to the Blackhawks on the final day of last season, with a hog-smoking performance against the nearly-impotent Minnesota Wild. That Cubs-worthy choke sent the Stars to an early tee time for the third straight season, and contributed significantly to the dismissal of former head coach Marc Crawford.
Not exactly a good time to be a Dallas Star.
The battle for the backup goaltender job with the Blackhawks this pre-season was the most anticipated contest at camp. That is, until Brandon Saad came along and played like he wanted his locker next to Jonathan Toews for the season. He may yet get his wish. But that’s another story.
Much ballyhooed rookie goaltender Alexander Salak came into camp with a phalanx of very vocal supporters, clamoring from any soap-box that they could find that the kid was “ready.” But the Blackhawks invited veteran netminder Ray Emery for a tryout anyhow. On Monday that battle came to an end when Emery signed a one-year contract and Salak was demoted to Rockford.
Did Salak “lose” the starting job to the enigmatic (and frequently problematic) veteran Emery? Was there ever a competition to begin with, or did the team just want to give the appearance of actually considering Salak when their intention was to sign Emery all along? A lot of fans are crying “foul,” believing that Salak was the better of the two goaltenders in the pre-season, and didn’t deserve the fate handed to him.
Here’s how I view the situation looking back at it now: the Blackhawks were left with two unpleasant choices after Friday’s loss to Pittsburgh, and they chose the least unpleasant of the two.
Four pre-season games down, three to go. Camp started with 60 players, and after Monday’s cuts we are now at 31. Seven goalies started camp, three remain. One of Chicago’s first-round thoroughbreds was surreptitiously yanked from a game roster and sent packing. And an 18-year-old second-round draft pick is making a serious case for getting signed and added to the roster on October 7th.
What started out as a dull camp with very few questions to be answered has turned out to be quite an exciting and eventful time indeed.
Fear not, faithful readers of Jeff Bartl’s “Boxing” feature here on Cheer The Anthem; Jeff will crank things up when the regular season gets underway. Until then, we’ll tell you what we can from the games we can see, and last night was one of those times.
The Blackhawks took a 21-man roster with only 8 proven veterans aboard to the mighty plains of Saskatchewan to take on the Edmonton Oilers in a game shown streaming live from the Blackhawks web site. Despite allegedly being restricted to the Chicago hockey market, reports were coming in from as far away as Pittsburgh and Minnesota that fans were able to see the game. Damned computers…
Two things before we get to the meat of the matter. First is, my only concern for this article is the guys that the Blackhawks acquired in the off-season and (barring injury) are likely going to be on the opening night roster. You know about the returning veterans, and the kids out there aren’t worth your time or mine.
Second, this is an artificial environment. What you could see at the Blackhawks Training Camp Festival is merely an example of what the guys did that day. They are just getting their feet under them, they are skating at 80%, and they aren’t in shape yet. So this is just an initial impression.
Those two things out of the way, here we go! Added bonus is the player’s nickname, where known.
It’s been hard to keep one’s chin up these last several weeks. Tragedy was heaped upon tragedy with the successive untimely deaths of three NHL veterans, followed by the unimaginable plane crash in western Russia that killed the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. It has been hard to get excited about the upcoming season, let alone engage in the good-natured trash-talking across social media that always accompanies the advent of a new year.
So with a heavy heart, I will take a deep breath and say a prayer for the departed and their loved ones. I ask that you do the same.
As I exhale, I will do what we all must: give myself permission to move on. I ask that you do the same.
* * * * *
It’s almost hockey season, ladies and gerbils. Training camp starts Friday. For those of you who are just joining us after a long, boring summer, welcome back — and pay attention. We have a significant amount of turnover since last year, and it’s almost all for the good. Additionally, the emergency appendectomy for Patrick Sharp earlier this week throws a wrench into what originally was a pretty cut-and-dried training camp.
Today it was announced that the Blackhawks have acquired David Toews from the New York Islanders for future considerations. David Toews is the younger brother of Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews.
The younger Toews is 21 years old, also a center, and shoots right. He played for the Brandon Wheat Kings last season, and their web site lists him at 5’10″ and 175 lbs. He notched 48 points in 60 games last year, adding 7 points in 6 playoff games.
Word is that the younger Toews will be added to the Blackhawks’ roster for the rookie tournament in Oshawa.
Next on the list: Brent Seabrook’s younger brother Keith (yeah, hilarious isn’t it?) and two of Patrick Kane’s younger sisters. Man, would THAT be an interesting locker room…
If we get more dirt on this we’ll pass it along.
Why are you reading this?
No, seriously, why are you reading this blog? Or any blog for that matter? You can get all the Blackhawks news as it happens from the team site, or any one of a dozen credentialed reporters all over the web, Twitter and Facebook. Why read the ramblings of me, or Jeff, or any of the 100 or so Blackhawks bloggers out there?
This might seem like a strange question for a blogger to ask. But it’s an important question, with an important answer.
You read us because we can, and do, say anything. Not everyone does. Here’s why.
When the injury to Patrick Kane was announced, and surgery was conducted, everyone was all happy and relieved. “Good thing it won’t impact the season!”
I just kept my mouth shut. I knew that the official line was a load of bullshit, but I kept my mouth shut.
So then today…
The era of the pure goon is dead.
The demise of players that could do nothing but pound opponents into tapioca began, really, when it became apparent that players like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were the future of the sport. In came rules to curtail the fisticuffs, along with an increased focus on skill. With rules to further restrict or eliminate the “trap” and “left-wing lock” defensive styles, the players that had gotten by with clutch-and-grab tactics were now actually forced to play the game, move their ass, and win or lose on skill rather than on their ability to diminish the skill of others. Pure goons went on life support.
And finally, following the most recent lockout the front of the net was turned from the war zone it once was to a “Mom-he’s-touching-me” fifth-grade gym class. Now you’re more likely to scuff your nail polish than get a cross-check across the shoulder blades. In other words, the jobs for pure goons with no talent other than the pugilistic arts are now few and far between.