Blackhawks

With revamped roster, Coach Q in for toughest season behind ‘Hawks bench

Man, what a crum catcher.

The most I’ve seen and heard of  Joel Quenneville this off-season came in the form of the split-second clip of him dancing like an idiot with the Stanley Cup during a commercial advertising the Blackhawks championship DVD. Other than a couple of public appearances, QStache has been relatively unseen and unheard from.

He better enjoy the dark now, because the spotlight will be shining on him shortly.

The salary cap casualties led to open positions still relatively unsettled. QStache’s established roster of Stanley Cup champions is now filled with a plethora of question marks — both on the ice and in the locker room. It’ll be QStache’s job to help develop chemistry between his returning core and incoming newbies.

It’s no real secret QStache was handed the keys to a Blackhawks team already switching into high gear. Following the dismissal of  Denis Savard, QStache had a roster filled with continuity and talent. While there’s no doubt his experience behind the bench helped push the Blackhawks to their Stanley Cup victory, a lot was already put in place the past two seasons.

Subtractions in the past couple off-seasons were met with more-than-welcome additions, namely the signing of  Marian Hossa. Though I’ve stated many times I still believe the Blackhawks have more than enough talent despite the departures to defend the Cup, it’ll take chemistry on the ice with a large amount of new signings and Rockford Icehogs to jell into the contenders they were last season.

For that, QStache is responsible. We all know he has a quick trigger when it comes to changing the rotation. Musical Lines may be seen more than ever this season in order to keep his stars like  Jonthan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Hossa playing to their full capabilities, while also putting together the correct combination of role players on the third and fourth lines. I won’t even venture a guess right now on who should be where because camp hasn’t even opened. There’s a reason he has the job.

Don’t forget the fact QStache will have nightly decisions once again on when to play/sit his veteran goalie,  Marty Turco, in favor of a young, inexperienced backup in Corey Crawford. The goaltending became the biggest story surrounding the Blackhawks last season. If Turco poops himself the first few games, you can bet he’ll be hearing “Cor-ey, Cor-ey,” from the UC crowd.

Bottom line, the 2010-11 season will be QStache’s toughest behind the ‘Hawks bench. And it’ll take more than a fantastic lip brow to get this team playing like defending Cup champs from the get-go.

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Loss of Niemi reminiscent of Havlat, Khabibulin leaving town

Sorry for the delay in posts, everyone. I decided to take a good chunk of time off before camp gets underway and I begin writing like crazy. Problems? You’ll get over them.

I remember July 1, 2009 vividly.  Marian Hossa signed a mega contract with the Blackhawks, and I leapt in jubilation. I texted friends, made phone calls and began dissecting the ‘Hawks roster in preparation for the new lines.

But what I remember most is the lack of enthusiasm amongst my fellow ‘Hawks fans. Signing Hossa meant the inevitable departure of  Martin Havlat, and no one could seem to get over it — especially when the ‘Hawks confirmed Hossa would be out until November with an injury.

Later in the day,  Nikolai Khabibulin signed a multi-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers, meaning the ‘Hawks would go with a combination of  Cristobal Huet and an unknown in net for the upcoming season. On a day when I felt the Blackhawks improved considerably — using the money saved on Khabby’s cap hit to spend on Hossa — no one shared in my optimism.

Just over two years later, with a Stanley Cup championship banner set to be raised, the pity party over departed Blackhawks reached its climax with  Antti Niemi’s move to the San Jose Sharks. And similarly to a couple years ago, I refuse to shed any tears.

Though the ‘Hawks shed salary this off-season trading away fan favorites  Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, etc., I don’t lump those moves in with Havlat/Khabby. The ‘Hawks had to make cost-cutting decisions and they were the casualties. So be it.

As much as it can be construed as such, letting Niemi go wasn’t simply based off the salary cap but rather return on investment based on performance. Havlat, Khabby and Niemi all felt they deserved more than what the Blackhawks were offering. Havlat and Khabby found takers, and the Blackhawks look like geniuses. Havlat has played like dogshit, and Khabby is getting ready to serve jail time.

Furthermore, I’m not fully convinced the Blackhawks would have jumped and paid Niemi what he wanted if they had the cap money to spend on him.

The fact Niemi signed for less than the arbitrator’s award ($2 million compared to $2.75) means the rest of the NHL agreed with the ‘Hawks. It’s proof the ‘Hawks simply don’t play hardball — here’s what you’re worth, take it or go find it somewhere else. So far, the Blackhawks haven’t been burned.

Once again, the fan base is having a hard time watching a guy go. It’s a bit more understandable this time around given Niemi back-stopped a Cup winner, but I guess I’m in the minority thinking the Blackhawks will be just fine with  Marty Turco. Sure, he hasn’t won a Cup. Niemi hadn’t either until June.

What I see from the Niemi signing is the Sharks putting themselves in a situation similar to the 2008-09 Blackhawks: Two netminders who can be considered No. 1s, and because of that neither is the definite starter. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks go into the season with Turco as the clear-cut guy ready to defend the franchise’s Cup and win one for himself. I’m not complaining.

While seeing Niemi in Sharks teal may be strange, remember the way Chicago felt when Havlat and Khabby took the money and ran. Greed got those two nothing but mediocre teams and a bleak future.

The Blackhawks got a Cup.

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Niemi talks… kind of

Chicago Tribune

Ssshhh. Hear that? No? Good. Things are finally quiet this off-season. It’s kind of nice, actually. And speaking of quiet, former Blackhawks goalie  Antti Niemi finally talked a bit about his time in Chicago and his future.

In his interview with  David Haugh, Niemi expressed his disappointment and said he always believed a deal would get worked out. Reading his quotes, it convinced me further Niemi’s agent,  Bill Zito, persuaded Niemi to hold out for more cash and convinced him he can have the best of both worlds: The Blackhawks and the money.

“I thought it would get worked out all along and never really thought it wouldn’t,” Niemi said. “And then when it happened and they signed (Marty) Turco, I was real disappointed. I still am. But it worked out for them, so …”

Now, Niemi is looking for a new team. He squashed any thoughts of him playing in Europe and said he’ll only play in the NHL next season.  Lyle Richardson of The Hockey News wrote last week about Niemi’s possible destinations, pointing out the San Jose Sharks look to be the only real option right now.

Either way, it looks as if Niemi will be fighting for a No. 1 spot despite winning the Stanley Cup. Is the money really worth having to compete for the starting job again? If I were Niemi, I’d fire Zito before signing that next contract simply to keep Zito from getting any commission.

√  After  Ilya Kovalchuk had his deal rejected by the NHL and upheld by an arbitrator, the ruling also noted the league is still investigating the contracts signed by  Chris Pronger, Roberto Luongo, Marc Savard and the Blackhawks’  Marian Hossa.

The extensions signed by the other three players do not kick in until this season. Hossa is the only one to have already played a year under the signed contract. I honestly don’t believe the NHL will come after Hossa’s contract, nor do I believe they’ll make much of a stink over the other three front-loaded deals either. The NHL seems to be more out to make a point of attempting to scare teams off from signing players to similar deals in the future.

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The Blackhawks Off-Season Drama, Seinfeld Style: Part II

Part of me wishes I had no ammo to write something like this. A calm off-season would’ve been nice. But nothing worth having ever comes easy, right?

Last season, the ‘Hawks signed Marian Hossa to a monster deal and let Martin Havlat walk. They let Nikolai Khabibulin walk and gave the reigns to Cristobal Huet. They even botched the initial offers to their restricted free agents. That led to The Blackhawks’ Off-Season Drama: Seinfeld Style, Part I.

After losing a good chunk of a Stanley Cup championship team, it’s only fitting I do this again and relate the Blackhawks’ off-season to the greatest T.V. show of all-time.

In no particular order of the events that occurred, here’s Part II:

“You see, this is what I do with women. I start out too strong, now I have to become real. That’s when it all falls apart.”

Antti Niemi came out of nowhere. He saw more ice time driving the Zamboni than he did dressed in pads for his Finnish team. Then, Dale Tallon came along and found him. It’s a great story, and when he began succeeding for the Blackhawks everyone thought the franchise had something great for years to come.

Then, reality set in. It’s a funny thing — hockey players like to be paid. Weird how they like money, eh? Niemi is no different. Shit got real, and now Niemi is pondering his next move rather than getting ready to defend the Stanley Cup he helped bring to Chicago for the first time in 49 years.

Well whoopy-woo. I’ll start crying later. Sorry, Antti, but I’m on the  Marty Turco bandwagon now.

“Have you ever been through an audit? It’s hell. It’s the financial equivalent of a complete rectal examination.”

We’ve been crunching numbers and discussing the salary cap situation dating back to … hell, before this season even started. David Haugh finally did something useful and talked with Stan Bowman for a bit rather than make his own bullshit assumptions like the rest of the meatball part of the fan base.

It’s been a wild ride this summer, no question. Bowman has been criticized so often over the past few months it’s amazing he hasn’t been hung from the Michael Jordan statue yet. You upset Bowman kept  Dave Bolland, who has a bad back, in favor of  Dustin Byfuglien? Well, do you think the other 29 GMs don’t know Bolland has a bad back? Do you think only people in Chicago know he has a bad back? Do you really think his value was higher than Byfuglien, who netted Bowman a first- and second-round pick?

The amount of work Bowman put into getting this team under the cap (pending Huet’s demotion/deportation) while keeping the central core of The Champs together should be commended. Bowman won a goddamn Stanley Cup. Maybe give the guy the benefit of the doubt and let the ‘Hawks play a few games before everyone starts shitting themselves.

“What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?! He had 30 home runs, over 100 RBIs last year! He’s got a rocket for an arm. You don’t know what the hell you’re doin’!”

This is the way of thinking for every meatball if they were sitting in front of Bowman. The trades of Byfuglien and  Kris Versteeg obviously weren’t popular with those fans who only got cable around the time the playoffs started. Here’s what I wrote at one point of the season about Byfuglien:

Dustin Byfuglien shocked the living shit out of every Blackhawks fan with his display of skill we all knew he had, yet rarely seems to show. Snagging a loose puck in his own zone, skated 300 MPH down the left boards, fought off a defender with one arm while dragging the puck with the other, turned in front of Lundqvist then shot it five hole for the game-winner while falling down. Jubilation ensued.

That was back on Dec. 10. From then through roughly May, Blackhawks fans were privy to the underachieving Byfuglien.

And Versteeg? Here’s a glimpse of a whole piece I wrote on him back on Jan. 26:

This is Versteeg’s second five-plus game scoreless streak of the season, and he’s gone scoreless in at least three-game bunches in three other stretches. This for a guy coming off a nine-game scoring streak. At the very least, his consistency hasn’t been something to brag about.

I’m not saying Bowman reads Blackhawk Up, nor am I saying I can do his job by any means. The point is that if some short blonde guy who drinks too much sitting up in Section 326 can see this shit, I’m assuming Bowman did, too. Get over it.

“Nobody drives like me. Nobody. I’m doing things in this car, you have no idea they’re going on.”

This is Bowman’s response to all the meatballs. Go ahead, criticize. But he’s doing so much behind the scenes that neither you nor I know or even understand. I’ll say it again: The Blackhawks will be under the salary cap with one of the best core groups of players in the entire NHL. Shut up.

“People don’t turn down money. It’s what separates us from the animals.”

Blame  Doug Wilson all you want, but  Niklas Hjalmarsson signing that offer sheet was about getting his green. I’m sure Hammer never thought he’d get an offer like that this season. When Wilson and the Sharks came along with a ton of cash, Hammer did everything he should’ve done. No matter the outcome, Hammer would’ve been playing with one of the best teams in the Western Conference — and getting paid handsomely to do so.

Granted, it made the ‘Hawks even more cap-strapped. But can you blame the guy? We all would’ve done the same thing. Sign the sheet, play for a good team and get paid no matter what.

“You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.’”

Huet pretty much looked like a he’d given up in March. The poor guy actually has a good amount of talent to be a solid goaltender in the NHL. The problem? He’s a flippin’ head case. Now, the Blackhawks have given him, his agent and his $5.625 million cap hit permission to seek another team. It’s just a matter of where Huet will end up. The only thing for sure is that he won’t be wearing the Indian head at the start of the season.

“It’s one day. Half a day, really. I mean you subtract showers and meals, it’s like twenty minutes.”

No matter what type of ‘Hawks fan you are or how you’ve viewed this off-season to date, we can all share in one thing: We’re all looking forward to hockey season!

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Ramblings from your Internet friends

I’m heading up to Michigan’s U.P. for a camping trip this weekend and distancing myself from anything related to technology. Well, except for the wave runner I’ll be zooming around on.

I wanted to leave you with a link to the Blackhawks Blogsphere Rountable conducted by Second City Hockey’s McClure which includes myself, Forklift from Hockee Night, John from the Fifth Feather and Block from The Third Man In.

If the Blackhawks happen to trade Jonathan Toews while I’m gone, Frank Rekas from The Rat Trick will be posting it here so those who have the Droid and iPhone apps will be satisfied with up-to-date content.

Enjoy the weekend, ya’ll.

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Reactions on Niemi, Turco from the guys with credentials

A roundtable discussion with myself, Fifth Feather, Hockee Night, The Third Man In and Second City Hockey will be posted later. After that, I’m done talking about this whole situation for at least a week. It’s starting to drive me insane.

While most of the Blackhawks blogsphere chimed in with positive reactions to the  Marty Turco signing and  Antti Niemi dumping, some of the mainstream folk seemed to have a different opinion regarding  Stan Bowman’s handling of the ‘Hawks’ cap situation.

Before delving into that, Adam Jahns of the Sun-Times provides us with some statistical comparisons between Niemi and Turco. The main point that sticks out: Niemi allowed three-or-fewer goals 39 times; Turco, 38. The Blackhawks went 29-10 in those games, while Dallas went a modest 21-17. Anyone who doesn’t believe the overall talent of a team makes a goaltender better should shampoo my crotch.

√  Along those lines, I’m wondering why the  Tribune allows anyone other than  Chris Kuc to write about the Blackhawks. David Haugh, king of the weekly ‘Hawks fluff piece,  decided about halfway through the playoffs he wanted to become a cynic. No matter what he writes about hockey, he never fails to make himself look like an idiot.

Haugh’s painful piece never gave any concrete point one way or another, though the premise was correct: Neither the Blackhawks nor Niemi won yesterday. Problem is, at no point did Haugh mention Niemi’s regular season compared to that of Turco’s or the mere fact Niemi has yet to be in net for a full season. It’s not that anyone is diminishing Niemi’s contributions in the playoffs, it’s that the Blackhawks weren’t about to pay $2.75 million for a goaltender who — despite winning a Cup — hasn’t completely proven he can be the man for a full season. Turco has, and he came in at $1.45 million cheaper to a cap-strapped team. Just as fans shouldn’t diminish Niemi’s contributions, Haugh shouldn’t be anointing Niemi a savior “after just 64 games in an Indianhead sweater.”

√  Ah, Steve Rosendouche. This guy never ceases to amaze me. All season long, Rosedouche dismantled the Blackhawks goaltending situation by saying on numerous occasions the ‘Hawks couldn’t win the Cup with the goaltenders on the roster. You know who was on the roster the whole season? Antti Niemi. Now, Rosendouche is talking like Niemi’s number should be retired. This gem really got me going:

“The combination of Detroit’s Stanley Cup success with Chris Osgood behind Nicklas Lindstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Scotty Bowman and the cap has made it easy to diminish the importance of goalies.”

Yeah? And? I mean, haven’t the Blackhawks made it clear that a goaltender who has never played in a Cup Final before, never started a playoff game before, never played a full season as the No. 1 before can still win a Cup? Rosendouche couldn’t stop talking about how Niemi’s playoff inexperience could doom the ‘Hawks. Well, he was wrong — like usual. Because Niemi won 16 playoff games for the ‘Hawks must mean no other goaltender who dons the Indian head can duplicate that, right? Jesus Christ.

√  Jesse Rodgers of  ESPN Chicago  questions Bowman’s decision-making process this off-season beginning with the  Niklas Hjalmarsson offer-sheet surprise and culminating with Niemi’s departure. Other than contradicting himself by saying the ‘Hawks made a mistake in getting nothing in return for Niemi, then answering his own question by mentioning no other team wanted Niemi for that salary, Rodgers makes a decent point:

Bowman’s eve of free agency statement, “Offer sheets don’t concern me,” is the quote of the summer, and the subsequent offer to Hjalmarsson more than likely sealed Niemi’s fate. There is little doubt the money the Hawks had for Niemi before getting Hjalmarsson’s offer sheet was higher than after they matched it.

Yeah, Bowman misread that situation and it cost the ‘Hawks more money than he anticipated keep Hjalmarsson. Still, no matter if the ‘Hawks had the money or not, I don’t believe they wanted to invest that much in Niemi. I think that’s a point most people are overlooking. Bowman simply did not want to pay over $2 million for a goaltender who hasn’t played a full regular season, even if he did help win the Cup.

√  While the Daily Herald’s Tim Sassone agrees Hammer’s offer sheet ended up being the main demise for Niemi, he doesn’t fully disagree with the move.

Will the Hawks miss Niemi? Probably. He was terrific last season, especially in the playoffs, and has the potential to be a great goalie. Do we know for sure that he’ll turn out to be another Dominik Hasek? No, we don’t, and that’s a risk the Hawks are willing to take.

With Turco, at least the ‘Hawks know they’re getting a guy who’s played a full season, has experienced a good amount of playoff action and even made a few all-star teams. For half the money, it seems like a good investment.

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Bowman says NO: Niemi now UFA as Blackhawks go with Marty Turco

I’ll get right into this.

I thank  Antti Niemi  for his contributions to the Blackhawks and for back-stopping Chicago’s first Stanley Cup champion since 1961. His ability to forget goals-against and move onto the next play was a welcome relief from the headcase that was  Cristobal Huet.  Niemi’s quiet demeanor meant zero backlash toward fans or media when they criticized him, making for a somewhat peaceful situation in net compared to the Huet circus throughout most of the season. He has obvious skills that will be missed.

Is he worth $2.75 million for one season with no guarantee for a future long-term agreement for a cap-strapped team? Especially when the Blackhawks got virtually the same quality for less than half that money in  Marty Turco?  No. Absolutely not. And since  Stan Bowman  couldn’t find a trade partner for Niemi — and if you don’t think he tried, you’re a damn idiot — it’s pretty apparent other teams throughout the league feel the same way.

I don’t mean to be a downer here. But I had someone send me a message saying that the decision to let Niemi walk away “will far and away be the decision that determines Stan Bowman’s future as a quality GM in the NHL.” I’m sorry, but that can’t be further from the truth. I don’t feel there was much of a decision to make here, personally.

The Blackhawks just won a Stanley Cup dealing with a goaltending controversy that wasn’t completely settled until March. Bowman viewed Niemi and  Corey Crawford  as equal talents coming out of training camp, and Bowman solidified that point by publicly stating it’s Crawford’s time to make the big club. Clearly, Bowman doesn’t view goaltending to be a make-or-break position for a contender — and the Blackhawks proved his point this past season.

Investing $2.75 million in Niemi would have strapped the ‘Hawks even further. The extra million dollars in cap space allows for plenty of roster flexibility when the injury bug hits and during the early season evaluating period for the new faces. It may not sound like a lot, but in hockey a million bucks goes a long way.

Once again, people are getting too caught up in the name game. I’m sorry I’m trying to bring this to reality so quickly for those who worship Niemi, but we didn’t just let  Patrick Roy  go. This wasn’t the 1990s choice of keeping  Eddie Belfour  over  Dominick Hasek.   Niemi is a fine goaltender and will have some success elsewhere. But Turco is a more-than-acceptable replacement for a guy nobody even heard of going into camp last season. Before we start flooding Bowman’s office with hate mail, take a step back and realize who Niemi really is: A came-out-of-nowhere goaltender who played well enough behind the best defense in the NHL to not win nor lose games all by himself. You’re telling me Turco can’t do that next season?

Am I in the minority in feeling this way? Yes, there are knocks on Turco. He’s not going to do backflips or stand on his head and start winning Vezina Trophies all of the sudden. And neither is Niemi. The Blackhawks need a serviceable goaltender to make a few key saves.

In Turco, they have that — for $1.45 million less.

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Confirmed: Bye bye Niemi, hello Turco

 

Chris Kuc has confirmed the Blackhawks are walking away from  Antti Niemi’s  contract and have signed  Marty Turco  to a one-year deal.

More to come.

Bowman talks Niemi, Crawford

With a decision on  Antti Niemi’s $2.75 million arbitrator-awarded salary looming early Monday,  Stan Bowman addressed the issue — and it doesn’t sound too promising for Niemi fans.

Bowman didn’t officially tip his hand one way or the other, but the consistency in his comments remained by stating the Blackhawks have numerous options with or without Niemi.

Per Chris Kuc of the Tribune:

“There are always options in every decision,” Bowman said Sunday during a panel discussion at the 2010 Blackhawks Convention. “You have to weigh what it would take, what it would do to your team in terms of flexibility-wise if you decide to keep him (or) if maybe you have to move somebody else along. There’s no one right way to do it. But we’re going to all think about it and we’ll come up with the right decision.

“I’ve tried to say this all along. You know, one guy does not make a team here. We’ve got a lot of great players and we’re going to be ready come October to defend the Cup and we’re going to work on making sure we get it right.”

Bowman feels he’s going to get it right either way, despite the fact the Blackhawks really haven’t had a legit, consistent, No. 1 goaltender since Eddie Belfour. Letting go of Niemi and signing either  Marty Turco or  Jose Theodore would put the Blackhawks back in this same situation next season of searching for a goaltender. Or would it?

It appears Bowman is ready to give  Corey Crawford his shot on the big club.

“(Crawford’s) spent a number of years developing in our system and I think the time is now for him to get an opportunity to show us what he can do,” Bowman said. “He’s certainly had a chance to learn his craft in the minor leagues. He’s carried the load down there year after year. I think it’s time for him. That’s one of the things we’re looking forward to, is you have to give players an opportunity.”

Go back to the beginning of this past season when Niemi and Crawford were battling for the back-up spot behind  Cristobal Huet. At the time, the organization viewed Niemi and Crawford to be on equal footing talent-wise. Could it be, despite Niemi’s success of helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, that Bowman still feels the same as he did roughly nine months ago?

The plan now that Niemi received a figure which may be too high for the ‘Hawks to take on without trading anyone else away — which Bowman may not want to do — could very well be to find a short-term solution in Turco or Theodore to help groom Crawford for the big job in 2011-12.

No matter what, we’ll get a better idea tomorrow morning.

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Arbitrator gives Niemi $2.75 million

It’s decision time for GM Stan Bowman.

After hearing the case between the Blackhawks and goaltender  Antti Niemi,  the arbitrator ruled Saturday seemingly in favor of Niemi, granting the Finn $2.75 millionfor what would be a one-year contract. Bowman and the ‘Hawks now have 48 hours to accept the figure or walk away and allow Niemi to be an unrestricted free agent.

There’s also a possibility the ‘Hawks could sign the tender and trade Niemi, which may be the best for both sides. The Blackhawks have been rumored to be exploring the possibility of signing  Marty Turco  or  Jose Theodore,  with each of them saving the ‘Hawks over $1 million of cap space compared to Niemi’s now-set cap number.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out, but I’m stick to what I’ve been saying all along: Start preparing for life without Niemi.

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One year, one Stanley Cup and a whole bunch of fun with Blackhawk Up

I’ve been thinking of what to write in this first sentence for quite sometime. I realized the reason it’s been so difficult is because I can barely put into words the amount of gratitude I have for all those who have made Blackhawk Up what it’s become.

Today marks the 365th day since Blackhawk Up launched on the FanSided network with me being the sole writer (save for one epic post by Forklift over at Hockee Night when I was on vacation during the Stanley Cup Final). It’s been one hell of a ride watching the site continuously grow with more and more readers each passing day. I glanced over the traffic numbers throughout the year, and the constant rise puts a huge smile on my face. The success of the site obviously spiked due to the Blackhawks’ run throughout the season, but I hope you all kept coming back because of the words I wrote.

I have so many loyal followers who have interacted with me through the comments, email, Twitter and mainly the Facebook page that it would take me forever to thank you all individually. With the amount of time I spend on making this site what I want it to be, it’s an amazing feeling knowing there are people out there who actually look forward to my next post. There aren’t many successful sites out there today with one writer, so the fact I’ve been able to provide constant posts for all of you who — for some reason — actually wait to read what I have to write is a great accomplishment. And it’s all because of you readers who stop by to take a gander.

I’ve been very right about a lot of things I’ve written here, and I’ve also been very, very wrong. I’ve been the calming influence, though I’ve also added plenty of fuel to the fire. I’ve taken on columnists from Detroit and even made a national television appearance when I got double-teamed like a fledgling pornstar.

No matter what I wrote, you were there to either agree or disagree for the past year — and I’ve welcomed, and will continue to welcome, both sides. You know why the Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup mean so much to me, and I’m glad I can explain my side of the story to those who share in my obsession.

With no disrespect to anyone else, I’d like to thank some people individually:

– Adam and Zach Best, the co-founders of FanSided, who launched the site, let me run with it and proceeded to let me have a voice throughout the network. Thanks for all your support and attention.

– My grandmother, who cringes at every single curse she reads, yet is still the most loyal reader of anyone. The woman actually sat and cried when she saw me on TV. She supports everything I do unconditionally, and Blackhawk Up is no different.

– The Blackhawks blogsphere, namely Fork and CT of Hockee Night and Sam, McClure and Killion of Second City Hockey. I’m sure all of them received my initial email and said, “Great, another shitty ‘Hawks site has popped up.” I think they all quickly learned I knew what I was doing, and we’ve all shared many adult beverages discussing the ‘Hawks. I’ve been on multiple PUCKCASTS with the Hockee Night fellas, and Sam has let me contribute to The Committed Indian on a few occasions. If I hadn’t started this site, I may have never met any of you. Thanks for the past year, and I look forward to many more.

– Jeff Erikson and Neil Brown, my partners in crime in Section 326, Row 12, Seats 9-11. Jeff has been my best friend since sophomore year in high school, and when he presented me with the opportunity to share a season ticket at the beginning of the 2008-09 season I jumped at the chance. Of course, he would have never came to me with this if it hadn’t been for Neil, who told Jeff he was purchasing tickets and asked if he wanted in on it. We’ve laughed, cheered and even shed a few tears after the ‘Hawks won the Cup. Gentlemen, now we finally have something to be happy about every June 9th. Thank you both for your support.

Now that I’ve gotten a bit sappy, I’d like to send out one more thank you to all of you readers and the 20,000 or so followers through the Droid and iPhone apps. None of the words I write would mean a damn thing if you didn’t stop by and read them.

Here’s to many, many more years at Blackhawk Up — and hopefully another Stanley Cup or two or ten.

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‘Hawks present negatives on Niemi hoping for positive outcome

I never understood the two-faced hilarity that is salary arbitration. The Blackhawks will tell a judge all the reasons they feel  Antti Niemi shouldn’t be compensated as he sees fit. Conversely, Niemi and his agent will explain why Niemi’s performance to date warrants a top-tier goaltender salary.

The ‘Hawks will attempt to prove why Niemi’s not worth the money, and Niemi’s agent will fight it. Yet the entire time, the Blackhawks want Niemi back wearing the Indian head — and from what we’re told, Niemi wants the same, but only for the right price.

It’s a back-and-forth process each side has dealt with since the Stanley Cup arrived back in Chicago. And today, we’ll finally get a ruling on what Niemi deserves — and doesn’t deserve. Either way, there will be countless overreactions to the judgment. People will cheer if the ‘Hawks win, and people will break shit if Niemi does. Neither reaction makes much sense.

As a sidenote, this is the reason I’ve stayed out of all this off-season salary cap shit. I haven’t posted here much because all I’d be doing is bitching about people whining over the Byfuglien and Versteeg trades and calling them their favorite players. Rather than crunch numbers or freak out about who will be the Blackhawks’ fourth-line center who can fit under the cap, I’ve been enjoying my Stanley Cup. I feel there should be a three-year grace period when you can’t bitch and complain about any move a franchise makes not involving a star player after winning a championship. I’m sick of hearing about all this crap. The Blackhawks just won the goddamn Stanley Cup. Enjoy it, shut up, and let the chips fall where they may.

If anyone believes the ‘Hawks go into today’s hearing with an offer of anything more than $2 million, they need to put the bong down. If anyone believes Niemi will present a demand of anything less than $3 million, they need to relinquish the crack pipe. Someone is leaving the hearing pissed off.

My guess? Start preparing for life without Niemi, ‘Hawks fans. I don’t see how this can work out. I would love to see Niemi back in net next season. It’s the best for both sides. But will I kill myself if Niemi is protecting another team’s goal on opening night? Hell no. There are viable options out there, mainly the constant rumor of  Marty Turco, who would come cheaper than Niemi.

No matter what happens, the Blackhawks will have a goalie good enough to play well behind one of the best defensive units in the NHL. Freak out about this hearing if you must, but it isn’t make or break for the ‘Hawks. It’s natural to get caught up in the names when your team wins a title. Problem is, I’m hearing too much of people worrying about the names of the since departed rather than what they actually brought to the table — which, sadly to say, is replaceable.

And the same goes for Antti Niemi.

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Really, Kovalchuk? 17 years?

17 years is a long time to be married.

Just for the record, the 17 years indeed does NOT relate to the amount of time he spent making this decision. It’s the number of years apparently agreed upon by the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk. Holy. Piss.

Remember when the league made a big, gigantic stink over contracts during last season’s free agency period? Marian Hossa’s  now-modest 12-year, $62.8 million deal makes the NHL look stupid for even looking into it. Kovalchuk’s deal is reportedly worth upwards of around $150 million.

At the conclusion of the reported contract, Kovalchuk will be 44 years old and heading into  Chris Chelios  territory while being tortured by the media and fans to just give it the hell up already. I’m wondering how much a team is going to enjoy a $7-9 million cap hit for a 44-year-old. Then again, Hossa won’t exactly be young by the time his Blackhawks contract is complete, so … whatever.

Either way, the ridiculous back-and-forth saga with the Los Angeles Kings is now over with after the Devils finally met the demands of a guy who is one hell of a player, but doesn’t deserve this contract. I’m sorry. I think he’s a great player and even hoped the ‘Hawks at one point would make a deal for him. But $150 million for nearly two decades? These are the kinds of contracts we expect to come out of MLB and NBA guys, not NHL guys. Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

The fact I’m writing about this, which is the first update in a week, shows how slow it’s been around Chicago pertaining to the ‘Hawks. Yeah, they signed  Jack Skille.  That’s great. Only 80 more guys to go with $7.92 in cap space. Rather than constantly write about shit you know and beat the hell out of a horse that’s been dead and buried for nearly a year now, I’ll wait until something of substance happens. Or I’ll just curse a lot to take the place of it.

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If Niemi’s price is too high for Hawks, which team shells out the cash?

Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi hoists the Stanley Cup after his team defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final hockey series in Philadelphia June 9, 2010.   REUTERS/Shaun Best (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY)

Capologists and ‘Hawks fans alike busted out the calculators in wake of  Niklas Hjalmarsson’s spankin’ new 4-year, $14 million contract thanks to those sore-loser San Jose Sharks. While the past few days may not have rivaled “The Decision,” a la  LeBron James, the ‘Hawks considered a looming variable: Keep Hammer, and risk losing Chicago’s first Stanley Cup-winning goaltender in 49 years.

It’s widely speculated  Jarslov Halak’s contract with the St. Louis Blues — coming in at a $3.75 million cap hit — will be a benchmark for  Antti Niemi’s award following his July 29 arbitration hearing. It’s obvious this may be the case, given that Neimi’s statistics are comparable to Halak’s numbers in relation to each player’s time served in the NHL and Niemi’s shiny new ring.

If the arbitrator rules Niemi deserves a similar salary, the Blackhawks have 48 hours to decide whether or not to accept the decision and pay him, or whether to lose exclusive negotiations and the right to simply match other offers and let him walk as an unrestricted free agent. In a strange twist of fate, working with the mentality  Cristobal Huet’s cap hit is buried in the minors, the latter may end up benefiting the Blackhawks — and here’s why.

Despite playoff success — which, of course, Niemi possess more of than Halak — the two goaltenders are vastly different in the eyes of NHL personnel and the fans they’re responsible for putting in the seats. Halak has star power in the public eye — he’s outspoken, animated at times on the ice and he greatly contributed to knocking out of the playoffs the two biggest stars in the game, Sidney Crosby and  Alexander Ovechkin.

It shouldn’t be a secret Halak’s image soared on a team of relatively unknowns and past-their-prime players as it slayed hockey giants. Halak was in demand as much for his star power as he was for his performance in 18 playoff games.

Niemi doesn’t have star power. He’s quiet, seemingly aloof and won’t be the main attraction for any paying fan. For as well as he played at times in the playoffs and in the regular season, he was regarded as the weak link on an otherwise stellar Blackhawks team. Though Halak’s playoff success carried him to his current popularity, Niemi’s resulted in a simple ho-hum. The view is the ‘Hawks won more in spite of Niemi rather than because of him.

Niemi just may be a better goaltender than Halak, and the arbitrator may feel he deserves Halak-like money, but no one is going to be kicking his door down to give it to him — including the Blackhawks. I’m not convinced even if if the Blackhawks had cap space to work with they’d shell out that type of money for him. If the Blackhawks don’t believe Niemi to be worth that type of money just yet, what’s to say other teams will be so willing to devote nearly $4 million per year to a goaltender with 27 regular season wins? Proven, yet aging, goaltenders like  Marty Turco are on the market at a discounted rate. The Blackhawks know that, too.

The Blackhawks view Niemi as a valuable asset, but not valuable enough to lose a second-tier defenseman to an in-conference power for what may turn out to be the same money. The ‘Hawks felt Hjalmarsson would be a bigger loss than Niemi, and they proved that by matching the Sharks’ offer sheet.

If the ‘Hawks allow Niemi to test unrestricted free agency, it may end up working in their favor. Which team goes after him at that price? Edmonton? Possibly Columbus considering  Steve Mason’s disaster-filled sophomore season? That would just put Niemi in another goaltender controversy. Ottawa? The options are thin. Even if any of these teams came after Niemi, will he take a larger paycheck and more pressure to carry a team which will rely on him for its success? Personally, I don’t even think a team is ready to make that commitment to him, no matter if he believes he’s ready for it or not.

Niemi’s best bet would be to return to a cushy situation in Chicago at a discounted rate, sit between the pipes behind stellar defensive units and be neither the savior nor the sore thumb. The ‘Hawks want Niemi back, but only if he fits into their cap plans — not only for this season, but for the future.

Bottom line, I’m not sure if we need to start worrying just yet whether or not the Blackhawks are going to end up losing  Brian Campbell and/or Patrick Sharp in order to clear space for Niemi’s pending arbitration ruling, as well as the rest of the restricted free agents needing deals just so the ‘Hawks can field a team next season.

If it comes down to it, the Blackhawks have made clear they’ll find a cheaper, suitable replacement for Niemi on the open market. My guess? Niemi ends up back with the Blackhawks for much less than we anticipatedbe it a contract agreement before the arbitration hearing, or once Niemi sees there’s no NHL team out there willing to shell out the cash for him.

With the way this off-season has gone, nothing is outside the realm of possibility.

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Blackhawks match Sharks’ $14 M offer sheet for Hjalmarsson

The Blackhawks made it official they will match the San Jose Sharks’ offer sheet for  Niklas Hjalmarsson  and sign him to a 4-year, $14 million contract. The cap it will be $3.5 million over the next four years.

Antti Niemi’s  arbitration date is set for July 29, and we’ll have to see if the ‘Hawks let him walk after the St. Louis Blues gave  Jaroslav Halak  a monster deal and set the bar pretty high for a goalie of Niemi’s comparable experience.

I’ll have more later on this decision and what it means for the ‘Hawks chances of keeping Niemi, or if they’ll be looking elsewhere for some goaltending.

Sharks ink Hjalmarsson to offer sheet

TSN.com is reporting Niklas Hjalmarsson signed a 4-year, $14 million offer sheet from the San Jose Sharks. I’m not sure about you, but a $3 million-plus offer is not what I expected — and I doubt the Blackhawks expected it, either.

The Blackhawks have seven days to match the offer sheet. With Antti Niemi awaiting a contract, this may be difficult to swing.

More details as they become available…

Prospect Camp

Well, the wedding season is here meaning I am out of town for the weekend attending the first of many this summer. If anyone is attending the prospect camp and would like to share their analysis, shoot me an email to jeffrey.bartl@gmail.com. I’ll post your write-up on the site and credit you however you please.

Have a great weekend!

Head on up to Lake Toews, where the locals bathe in victory

We have no idea where the lake will be located, but this one looks pleasant, eh?

Go ahead, dive in. You’ll immediately feel like a winner. Let’s just hope the bugs in Manitoba aren’t so big you’ll be naming them  John Scott.

Per Puck Daddy, the Canadian province will re-name one of it’s 400 million lakesafter Blackhawks captain  Jonathan Toews.  The damn kid has everything else, might as well give him his own body of water.

As dumb as I think all of this re-naming shit is after athletes for one reason or another, this is a hell of a lot better than some of the idiocy going on in Canada. For instance, an Edmonton couple recently named their child after No. 1 pick Taylor Hall, and two dipshits named their poor baby girl ‘Syd’ after  Sidney Crosby  scored the game-winning goal in the Olympics.

These people need to go wash off that stupidity in Lake Toews, where cleanliness is taken Captain Seriously.

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Stu Grimson remembers Probert: ‘Bob was both a friend and a foe’

The tragic passing of former Chicago Blackhawk and legendary enforcer  Bob Probert  brought out the soft side in some of his fondest sparring partners.

Ken Daneyko  referred to Probert as a “teddy bear” off the ice, and  Tie Domi  has spoken nothing but kind words since learning of Probert’s death. They shared his personal struggles and related to Probert, knowing Probert dropped the gloves far less times to throw fists on the ice than he did to wage wars with himself  off it.

Stu Grimson  needed some time to compose himself  after learing of Probert’s death, remembering Probert as a man he fought relentlessly during his career then developed a relationship with after hanging up the skates.

“Bob was both a friend and a foe,” Grimson said through e-mail from Nashville. “he was my fiercest rival on the ice, but I was able to get to know him more after we retired.”

The two bonded during a trip to Afghanistan when they visited Canadian troops a few years back.

“I was really fond of Bob,” Grimson said. “He was a great guy. The hockey family will miss him, though not nearly as much as his young family. This is tragic news.”

The Blackhawks honored Probert with a Heritage Night on February 22, 2009.

Here’s a video montage of some of Probert’s best fights. RIP, Bob.

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Byfuglien, Eager, Sopel traded to Atlanta for picks

Per Jesse Rogers, in the first of what may be many salary cap-related trades, Stan Bowman  sent  Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel  and  Ben Eager  to the Atlanta Thrashers for a first- and second-round pick.

More details later as they come in, along with analysis.

UPDATE:  ‘Hawks receiving the 24th and 54th overall picks in Friday’s draft, plus prospect Jeremy Morin and veteran Marty Reasoner.

ANOTHER UPDATE:  ‘Hawks prospect  Akim Aliu  is included in the deal.

With the 30th pick, the Chicago Blackhawks select…

Tyler Toffoli, C, from the Ottawa 67s of the OHL.

The first-ever FanSided NHL Mock Draft will be posted today on the network’s new general NHL blog, Too Many Men On The Site. Be sure to check it out as you prepare for Friday.

From the start, I hoped Toffoli would last this long — and he also may be there at 30 for the actual NHL Draft. If so, the Blackhawks would be wise to take him for a few different reasons.

Toffoli is a raw talent. I watched him play when the NHL Network ran some OHL games and I saw a kid who has a lot of potential but is nowhere near NHL-ready — which is just fine, given the status of the Blackhawks farm system. There’s good depth at the forward position, plus enough prospects at defense giving the ‘Hawks the luxury of taking a chance on a raw, talented player like Toffoli.

Akim Aliu, Evan Brophy, Nathan Davis, Bryan Bickell, Jake Dowell, etc., will be NHL regulars before Toffoli, giving Toffoli time to develop his game. The general consensus on Toffoli from scouting reports says he’s not particularly stellar at any given aspect. What he has is a natural ability to score.

Toffoli came in ranked from 15 to 20 before the previous season began. His draft stock dipped a bit because of a horrible start to the year. But Toffoli bounced back to 79 points (37A, 42 G) in 65 games in the OHL.

If Toffoli is availabe at 30, it could be a steal for the Blackhawks. He’d be entering the NHL with more refined skills — He just turned 18 — by the time Jonathan Toews  and  Patrick Kane  are in the middle of their extensions.

The draft is Friday from Los Angeles and will be televised on NHL Network. Let’s find out if I’m right.

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Blackhawks Theater: Jackie Moon as John McDonough

NOTE: In every sports-themed movie, each character plays a distinctive role for their fictional squad. Blackhawks Theather will compare those characters and their roles with those of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. This segment will run each and every day for the next month at 10 a.m. CST. That should keep us all busy up to and throughout the Capocalypse. Enjoy.

Though you won’t see  John McDonough wrestling a bear anytime soon, his PR savvy and built-in knowledge to sell his product have led to over 100 consecutive sellouts at the United Center and counting.

McDonough’s promotions are far less shady than those of  Jackie Moon’s (Semi Pro), but each had a goal in mind: Drive up attendance and resurrect a dormant franchise to relevance. McDonough succeeded in a difficult task to mend strained relationships with Blackhawk greats like  Bobby Hull and brought them back for a multitude of  Heritage Nights, which the fans ate up.

Just like Moon’s Flint Tropics proved, winning sure does help. McDonough’s been criticized for his constant desire to be in the spotlight. It’s even been joked about on certain blogs that McDonough was going to throw another parade to celebrate the victory parade. But no one can doubt McDonough’s genius in making the ‘Hawks a fan-friendly franchise — something rarely experienced during the  Bill Wirtz years.

Both Moon and McDonough pulled out all the stops to get their respective franchise noticed. Let’s just hope McDonough doesn’t try and sing “Love Me Sexy.”

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Blackhawks Theater: Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh as Patrick Kane

NOTE: In every sports-themed movie, each character plays a distinctive role for their fictional squad. Blackhawks Theather will compare those characters and their roles with those of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. This segment will run each and every day for the next month at 10 a.m. CST. That should keep us all busy up to and throughout the Capocalypse. Enjoy.

At their age, the amount of talent possessed by each of these wunderkinds stopped people in their tracks to catch a glimpse. And like many young talents with money and fame coming so quickly, the ego and sense of invincibility took over at times.

No one every questioned the potential of Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Bull Durham). The kid threw 100 m.p.h and could strike out any hitter at any given time. Lack direction, his ego led to a bar fight with a veteran over a woman and his sexual escapades became more important to him than his control. He struggled in the face of having to tone down his attitude and ego with some direction, and eventually “Nuke” ended up in The Show, knowing exactly what to say when confronted by the media.

Patrick Kane draws a parallel. His off-season arrest for a confrontation with a Buffalo cab driver humbled him to the podium in front of his toughest critics to deliver an emotionless speech before USA training camp. If that wasn’t enough of a lesson, photos surfaced of Kane and teammates with their shirts off partying in a limo in Vancouver. Once again, he was forced to explain himself.

Sometimes we all forget athletes are human beings, too. If I was asked to tell stories of my days as a 21-year-old single male to people ready to make judgments, my presence would be banned in 30 states. The spotlight thrust the lives of “Nuke” and Kane into the public eye, and they struggled coming to grips with it.

The main comparison? Both “Nuke” and Kane succeeded and reached their ultimate goal — “Nuke” to The Majors, Kane winning the Stanley Cup. Maybe a little shit storm when you’re young isn’t all that bad.

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PUCKCAST: Blackhawk Up and HOCKEENIGHT get nasty

Once again, I appeared on the HOCKEENIGHT PUCKCAST with Forklift and CT to discuss a whole bunch of shit. However, I stayed pretty much silent during Fork’s tales of Cuban beastiality. No joke, he talked about some Cuban guy having sex with animals.

Enjoy.