Blackhawks

End Of Season Reviews: Johnny Oduya

Photo: Bill Smith/Getty Images

The 2012 NHL trade deadline was awash in armchair quarterbacking, as is usually the case; but this year, nobody could agree on what the Blackhawks needed to add to the mix. There were advocates for replacing nearly every position on the ice, including misinformed Moneyball disciples treating players like futures contracts and suggesting that “Jonathan Toews‘ trade value has never been higher!”

Please, go launch a hostile takeover or something. Come at me with that nonsense, I’ll implant your graphing calculator in your pancreas — the fun way.

As it turns out, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman showed his impotence, failing to acquire the 2nd-line center that fans and media pundits had been unanimously clamoring for since 2010. He also added another “Who?” on the blue line, and unpleasant memories of The Chris Campoli Incident flashed before our eyes. Thank goodness Johnny Oduya turned out to be a far better bet, though his first 20 minutes in a Blackhawks uniform didn’t help to ease our fears one bit…

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End Of Season Reviews: Michael Frolik

Ever seen them in the same room together?

We should have seen this coming. Specifically, we should have taken Florida Panthers’ fans seriously when they echoed our, “Ha-ha, you got Skille!” chants with, “Ha-ha, you got Frolik!” Apparently the scouts on both teams had mad cow disease when doing the assessments on these guys. Like just watching them play wasn’t enough to make them walk away for good.

But at least Florida regained its common sense in the off-season. Whereas Jack Skille got re-signed at $825K, our intrepid StanBow somehow thought Michael Frolik was worth nearly double his salary from the previous two years, and on a 3-year contract to boot. Once the ink dried on that deal, it was very obvious who got the better of this trade.

And then the 2011-12 season started…

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End of Season Reviews: Jamal Mayers

Photo: Chicago Tribune

When the Blackhawks signed veteran winger Jamal Mayers in the off-season, I thought it was the best acquisition they made. 12-year veteran, decent size, decent speed, enough grit and gristle to be useful. Sure, past his prime. But for the price we signed him at, he might chip in for 10 goals and 15 assists and provide some veteran leadership on the 3rd or 4th lines.

Those totals didn’t materialize (6G + 9A, and zippo in the playoffs), but we got a healthy dose of what Mayers was made of in the first 15 games of the season. Before the campaign was a month old he had 2 goals, including a game-winner, plus 2 helpers; and was getting an average of one shot on goal each night. He also took it upon himself to beat the crap out of no fewer than 5 guys. He was the only Blackhawk who registered a fighting major until Daniel “CarBomb” Carcillo went nuts during the Vancouver game on November 6th. Mayers was doing all of this while logging an average of only 10 minutes of ice time a night.

So now the season is over, and Mayers is a free agent. He was, arguably, the best investment Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman made — dollar for dollar — in the 2011 off-season. Hard not to pass on that kind of success again…

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Fuggedaboutit: Coyotes Put Blackhawks on Brink of Elimination with Another OT Win

Oops, I did it again. (Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

Go ahead and think sweet thoughts about how the Blackhawks stormed back from 0-3 down against Vancouver last season. Say it. “Anything can happen!” “It’s not over yet!”

This doesn’t feel the same, though, does it?

Losing back-to-back overtime playoff games on home ice is one thing, but the manner in which they were lost is even more disheartening. Once again, Mikkel Boedker slipped one past Corey Crawford in the extra period, and the Coyotes took a 3-1 series lead over the ‘Hawks with a 3-2 win Thursday at the United Center.

What we’ve seen in this series is a team consistently one step behind the other, constantly giving chase, even making it interesting at times, but ultimately falling short. I don’t for one second believe the Blackhawks have been badly outplayed in this series, but Phoenix is playing just well enough to overcome the talent gap and is beating the ‘Hawks on scheme rather than skill.

The whole let’s-spot-the-Coyotes-a-lead-until-late-in-the-third-period-then-tie-it-when-we-look-defeated thing might be exciting, and this series has had no shortage of free hockey. It’s the mental lapses that lead the games to get to that point that are the most frustrating, and Phoenix is taking full advantage.

There’s no doubt the ‘Hawks missed Marian Hossa and even Andrew Shaw, but what ultimately changed? The same shit happens whether they’re in the lineup or not. The Blackhawks are that close, but it really doesn’t mean a damn thing. Losing one-goal, overtime games is the same as losing 10-0. If it was January and the ‘Hawks were playing this way, we could say, “The Blackhawks haven’t played at their best the past four games and they’ve still taken all of them to overtime and earned a point. That’s a good sign.”

In the playoffs, it gets you down 3-1 in a series to a team that doesn’t possess the talent, but just wants it more. And that’s the thing – it really doesn’t seem like the ‘Hawks want it until they’ve fallen behind. They can talk all they want about what needs to change and they know where their deficiencies lie. They did that all season. It’s nothing new. But if you can’t change what needs to be changed, if you can’t execute the way you know you must, then all that talk is about as useful as screen door in a submarine.

If seeing Hossa go off on a stretcher isn’t enough to get the ‘Hawks psyched to be flying all over the ice, then what in the funky hell is enough? What’s it going to take? If they know the answer, it may be too late anyway.

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Never Say Die: Blackhawks Even Series, Await Word on Andrew Shaw

"You know I was just bullshittin'." (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

A full day has passed, and I still can’t believe the ‘Hawks won that game. Complete disappointment to utter elation to ridiculously nervous to celebratory shots all in about 40 minutes. Saturday had some of everything.

And once again, it had Brent Seabrook. Definitely the MVP of the first two games for the Blackhawks, Seabrook was a part of a last-second regulation goal to tie the game. His blast from the point was redirected past Mike Smith by Patrick Sharp, sending the ‘Hawks into OT where Bryan Bickell would win it 4-3.

Just a couple of quick things as we await Game 3 at the UC on Tuesday…

♦   First, let’s address the “hit” on Smith by Andrew Shaw. Before getting fully into it, the NHL needs to immediately institute a rule that states if a player needs medical attention from the bench due to an apparent blow to the head, said player should be required to be taken to the locker room for testing as soon as he’s able to stand on the ice. With all the constant policing against hits to the head and the effects on star players – Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, etc. – you would think this would be in the rulebook already.

Smith laid there for a few minutes as if he had gotten shot. Shaw clearly was trying to avoid the contact, and whatever happened incidentally did not require the sack-of-bricks fall and ensuing fake blackout by Smith. If it was that serious, Smith should never have stayed in the game. Instead, we may have witnessed the best dive of the playoffs – even better than Ryan Kesler’s load of bullshit on Sunday night – that almost cost the ‘Hawks the game due to a major penalty call.

Shaw will meet with Brendan Shanahan today, and if Shaw is issued any sort of suspension, Shanahan should immediately be fired. For the rest of his career as The Shanahammer, he’ll have to answer for not penalizing Shea Weber and rightly so. For Shaw to be levied a suspension and Weber allowed to skate free would be such a crime there’s no way Shanahan can ever be taken seriously again.

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Iced: Game 1 Boxing with ‘Hawks and ‘Yotes

The three of you can just keep walking. (Chicago Tribune)

When teams finish off the regular season hot and head into the playoffs on a role, you can throw the records and the seeds out the window. Sometimes, things inexplicably just seem to go right for said team.

Phoenix played roughly 59 and a half minutes without their leading scorer, survived a possibly deflating tying goal late in the third and beat the Blackhawks in Game 1 3-2 in overtime on Thursday night in the desert.

Radim Vrbata played all of 30 seconds before leaving with an injury, but Martin Hazal’s redirect past Corey Crawford ended up being the difference – along with some help from Mike Smith.

A series of icing calls in OT didn’t help either, the last coming from Marcus Kruger, who subsequently lost the ensuing draw to Hanzal before he scored the winner.

It ruined the comeback of Jonathan Toews, who wasted little time showing how much the ‘Hawks missed him. He scored the game’s first goal and later assisted on Brent Seabrook‘s tally with less than 15 seconds left in regulation.

So, what went wrong? A lot of things…

♦   The Coyotes’ first goal had such incredible amounts of horrendous shit happening that I can barely bring myself to discuss it. Niklas Hjalmarsson hasn’t exactly been Mr. Dependable in the last, well, most of the season, but that might have been the worst shift of his life. In a span of about 45 seconds, Hjammer made an errant pass for an in-zone turnover, whiffed on a clearing attempt, sent a blind ring around the boards, poked away a badly needed freeze from Crawford, before finally allowing Taylor Pyatt to slip behind him to knock in a goal that was all – and I mean ALL – Hjammer’s fault.

What a fucking deflating stretch that was for the ‘Hawks. And no, I won’t ignore the fact the Coyotes got away with a blatant too many men non-penalty that could’ve been called by Stevie Wonder. However, there was too much farting from Hjammer going on that it trumps those two seconds of blindness from the refs. I saw many people blaming the officiating after the game, but that’s just a poor excuse from sore losers. The ‘Hawks lost that game on their own, and it all started with Hjammer’s terrible play on this goal.

♦   If that weren’t enough, the Blackhawks got caught badly in a change, leading to known cocksucker Raffi Torres skating into the zone unabated before finding Antoine Vermette for the go-ahead goal. Hjammer is an actual human being and is not invisible, but he still parked himself in Crawford’s line of sight, allowing Vermette to blast it home.

♦   Quick give me a good reason why Sean O’Donnell played ahead of Dylan Olsen. Now, take your reasoning of, “Maybe Q doesn’t want to play so many rookies in the playoffs,” and shove it directly into your asscrack. Hurry and try and find another one. I dare you.

O’Donnell not only provided a lovely screen on the OT goal, but he was so far away from the net on an even-strength point shot that I have to wonder if he’s ever played hockey before in his life. Nick Leddy was left to deal with Hanzal in front of the crease, and that proved to be no good for anyone as Hazal got his stick on the shot and put it in.

As Nakis pointed out on Facebook, it’s time to send O’Donnell to the glue factory. Go ahead and play the “He has playoff experience!” card, too, if you wish. That’s bullshit as well. Put his old ass in the press box and call it a day. Damnit.

♦   Brandon Bollig over Jimmy Hayes in the playoffs, when teams barely drop the gloves? Yep, makes sense – for all six minutes of Bollig’s ice time. Thanks.

♦   Part of me loved the energy Andrew Shaw brought to the game. The logical part of me was screaming at him to calm the fuck down (oxymoron?). Shaw was at it before the puck even dropped and continued running his mouth throughout the game. He luckily got away with a blatant trip with about three minutes left that could’ve killed the Blackhawks’ chance to tie the game.

♦   Speaking of, when Seabrook scored that goal, not once did I think the ‘Hawks were going to lose this game. What’s got two thumbs and was very, very wrong? This guy.

♦   Once again dividing myself in two, I’m conflicted on what Vrbata’s injury may do in the grand scheme of things for this series. On one hand, if it’s serious and he can’t play, it seems to be a great advantage for the ‘Hawks with the opposition’s leading score shelved. On the other hand, the Coyotes just beat the Blackhawks by taking advantage of mistakes and getting solid goaltending from Smith. Vrbata may not have made much difference. Let’s wait for the diagnosis, I guess.

Game 2 in the desert on Saturday night. Most of the CtA crew will be out and about watching the ‘Hawks hopefully tie things up, and we’ll let you know where we’re headed if anyone wants to watch me freak out over absolutely everything that happens while drinking heavily.

Here’s Boxing…

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Jonathan Toews: “It’s time to go.”

And with those 4.5 words, he’s back.

Jonathan Toews officially will play in Game 1 against the Phoenix Coyotes tonight, and may we all rejoice and breathe a sigh of relief. After sitting out 22 games due to a concussion, the Captain will return.

Here’s what he told Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune:

“I’m very excited. I don’t think I’ve gone through anything like this in my career where it’s been touch-and-go for just over two months and you don’t really know when you’re going to feel 100 percent. (And) you’re doing everything you can and it seems to always be the same thing every time you wake up. These last couple of weeks have been really good. I’ve worked really hard not only to get over this but to feel ready and feel well enough to play a game. I’m really happy about that. Not only myself but the rest of the guys are excited to go out there and play.”

Obviously, this doesn’t guarantee anything in terms of wins and loses, but there’s no bad news about finding out Toews will be in the lineup. Does Q send him out there centering Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa? Will he shy away from contact at all? One thing is for certain, the Coyotes aren’t going to go easy on Toews for a single second. He’ll be the target of physical play every shift he’s on the ice.

Either way, things got a whole lot better for tonight’s matchup. See you on Comcast at 9pm.

The Season Starts Now: Blackhawks at Coyotes, Game 1

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America

It’s finally that time of year, folks.  The regular season is now meaningless history.  History will be made, starting now.  The two month grueling process of hell, otherwise known as the Stanley Cup Playoffs, begins its 2012 chapter.

The Blackhawks start their run in Phoenix.  Everyone was begging for the 3-6 seed matchup for the past month.  Well, folks, you got your wish.  We get to face the Yotes.

Game 1 will need to be a statement game.  Mike Smith has been very stingy against the Hawks (and the rest of the league, for that matter) in every game this year.  The Hawks will need to score, and they will need to score early tonight.

Jonathan Toews practiced with the team yesterday afternoon and expects to play tonight.  I hate to be cynical, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  His status seems to change by the hour, which is understandable with finicky head injuries.  Assuming Toews comes back, it could give the Hawks the spark they need to score early.

The Yotes are a physical team and will get after you and crash the net.  The defense needs to make a statement tonight too.  The Hawks cannot let the Yotes win the battles in front of Corey Crawford, leading to an easy tap-in.  When you’re facing a tough goaltender like Smith, you cannot give up easy goals.  The Hawks’ defense needs to make Phoenix work hard for their goals.  If they don’t, they will not win this game or this series.

The Hawks play a quick, open game of hockey, which is the exact opposite style that Phoenix plays.  They tend to grind it out.  Due to this, Phoenix will look to physically out-battle the Hawks and, excuse my language, knock the Hawks on their asses to slow the game down (see: Minnesota Wild vs. Blackhawks, regular season games 80 & 81).  The Hawks can’t afford to get caught up in the post-whistle stupidity and goonery.  The Hawks need to keep their cool and play at their level, rather than that of Phoenix.

Lastly, if Toews does indeed come back, the Hawks will need to keep an eye on him.  Phoenix will be going after him physically.  You can bet your house on it.  It will be really important for them to find the right balance of sticking up for their captain, and not getting carried away playing grab-ass.  Blackhawks fan-favorite Raffi Torres is nearing the one-year anniversary of his demolition of Brent Seabrook.  Just hope he doesn’t try to celebrate the anniversary with a gift for Toews.

Game starts at 9:00 PM Central on NBCSN.

I Would Shave My Beard, but We’ve Become Attached: A Brief History of the Playoff Beard

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It is a tradition that has become both a fan-favorite and an essential glue of solidarity between NHL fans and players.  The playoff beard.  Many fans grow one.  Many fans wish they could grow one.  Almost all NHL players grow one while they are in the hunt for the Cup.  While many of us (myself, included) partake in this superstitious ritual, I would venture to guess that there are some out there who do not know the roots of its tradition.

Nowadays, if someone mentions the New York Islanders, it’s likely going to be a conversation about how terrible they’ve been in the past decade, how Rick Dipietro might be one of the biggest busts in recent memory, how they may or may not get a new stadium, or how John Tavares simply deserves to be surrounded by a better team.  It’s easy to forget that the Islanders of the 1980s had one of the most dominant and storied dynasties in NHL history.

In 1980, the Islanders, with the likes of Clark Gillies, Gord Lane, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and Ken Morrow, found themselves in the playoffs after an impressive 110 point season.  As a sign of solidarity, many of the players decided to grow beards during their Cup run.  Well, as fate would have it, the 1980 Islanders won the Cup.  In fact, they won the next three Cups after that as well.  The Islanders won an impressive 19 consecutive playoff series, while growing the playoff beards.  A tradition was born.

Although the beard-growing tradition took a break after the Islanders dynasty ended, it made resurgence in the 1990s and is now a league-wide phenomenon.

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Hawks vs. Coyotes: Reviewing the Season Series

Look at those glorious 'staches.

Yeah, I know. Everyone says you can throw out the regular season once the playoffs start. Things begin anew and what happened in the past should stay there.

That’s probably how the Blackhawks should feel after going 1-2-1 against Phoenix, including dropping the final three meetings. While most – including myself – still believe the Blackhawks can – and should – win this series, the Coyotes were a giant pain in the ass in 2011-12.

And a quick “Did You Know?” … Joel Quenneville and Dave Tippett were teammates with the Hartford Whalers from 1983 through 1990. As you can see, Tippett also once had as fine of a ‘stache as his boy Q. That’s cute. If I was their teammate and saw them together, I’d call the duo “Q-Tip.” Jokes. I get jokes.

Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of the season series:

October 18 at Jobing.com Arena

Dave Bolland scored a short-handed goal 2:27 into the third period to put the ‘Hawks up 4-2, and they’d go on to win 5-2 to improve to 3-1-1 on the season. Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Jamal Mayers and Bryan Bickell also scored.

Taylor Pyatt and Ray Whitney had goals for the Yotes.

The Blackhawks controlled the action most of the way, outshooting Phoenix 15-4 in the first period and 35-16 for the game.

Corey Crawford made 14 saves to earn the win, while Jason LaBarbera took the loss.

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