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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