The bad news for the Dallas Stars is, they come in to the 2011-12 season with most hockey pundits expecting them to miss the playoffs, ranking in 11th place or lower when April rolls around. The worse news is, they have a rookie coach, their leading scorer flew the coop in the off-season, and they may be moving to Medicine Hat at any moment.
That unfamiliar face behind the bench is Glen Gulutzan, coaching his first NHL team in his first NHL game. Both his playing and coaching careers topped out at the minor league level — until tonight. Star center Brad Richards decided to follow dozens of overpaid and underperforming hockey players to the white-hot Klieg lights of the New York Rangers’ dressing room. And the ownership situation is still very much up in the air — leaving the question open as to whether new ownership will want to take the team someplace where the most prevalent religion is not NASCAR.
And let’s not forget, this is the Dallas Stars team that handed their playoff berth to the Blackhawks on the final day of last season, with a hog-smoking performance against the nearly-impotent Minnesota Wild. That Cubs-worthy choke sent the Stars to an early tee time for the third straight season, and contributed significantly to the dismissal of former head coach Marc Crawford.
Not exactly a good time to be a Dallas Star.
The battle for the backup goaltender job with the Blackhawks this pre-season was the most anticipated contest at camp. That is, until Brandon Saad came along and played like he wanted his locker next to Jonathan Toews for the season. He may yet get his wish. But that’s another story.
Much ballyhooed rookie goaltender Alexander Salak came into camp with a phalanx of very vocal supporters, clamoring from any soap-box that they could find that the kid was “ready.” But the Blackhawks invited veteran netminder Ray Emery for a tryout anyhow. On Monday that battle came to an end when Emery signed a one-year contract and Salak was demoted to Rockford.
Did Salak “lose” the starting job to the enigmatic (and frequently problematic) veteran Emery? Was there ever a competition to begin with, or did the team just want to give the appearance of actually considering Salak when their intention was to sign Emery all along? A lot of fans are crying “foul,” believing that Salak was the better of the two goaltenders in the pre-season, and didn’t deserve the fate handed to him.
Here’s how I view the situation looking back at it now: the Blackhawks were left with two unpleasant choices after Friday’s loss to Pittsburgh, and they chose the least unpleasant of the two.
Four pre-season games down, three to go. Camp started with 60 players, and after Monday’s cuts we are now at 31. Seven goalies started camp, three remain. One of Chicago’s first-round thoroughbreds was surreptitiously yanked from a game roster and sent packing. And an 18-year-old second-round draft pick is making a serious case for getting signed and added to the roster on October 7th.
What started out as a dull camp with very few questions to be answered has turned out to be quite an exciting and eventful time indeed.
Fear not, faithful readers of Jeff Bartl’s “Boxing” feature here on Cheer The Anthem; Jeff will crank things up when the regular season gets underway. Until then, we’ll tell you what we can from the games we can see, and last night was one of those times.
The Blackhawks took a 21-man roster with only 8 proven veterans aboard to the mighty plains of Saskatchewan to take on the Edmonton Oilers in a game shown streaming live from the Blackhawks web site. Despite allegedly being restricted to the Chicago hockey market, reports were coming in from as far away as Pittsburgh and Minnesota that fans were able to see the game. Damned computers…
Two things before we get to the meat of the matter. First is, my only concern for this article is the guys that the Blackhawks acquired in the off-season and (barring injury) are likely going to be on the opening night roster. You know about the returning veterans, and the kids out there aren’t worth your time or mine.
Second, this is an artificial environment. What you could see at the Blackhawks Training Camp Festival is merely an example of what the guys did that day. They are just getting their feet under them, they are skating at 80%, and they aren’t in shape yet. So this is just an initial impression.
Those two things out of the way, here we go! Added bonus is the player’s nickname, where known.
It’s been hard to keep one’s chin up these last several weeks. Tragedy was heaped upon tragedy with the successive untimely deaths of three NHL veterans, followed by the unimaginable plane crash in western Russia that killed the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. It has been hard to get excited about the upcoming season, let alone engage in the good-natured trash-talking across social media that always accompanies the advent of a new year.
So with a heavy heart, I will take a deep breath and say a prayer for the departed and their loved ones. I ask that you do the same.
As I exhale, I will do what we all must: give myself permission to move on. I ask that you do the same.
* * * * *
It’s almost hockey season, ladies and gerbils. Training camp starts Friday. For those of you who are just joining us after a long, boring summer, welcome back — and pay attention. We have a significant amount of turnover since last year, and it’s almost all for the good. Additionally, the emergency appendectomy for Patrick Sharp earlier this week throws a wrench into what originally was a pretty cut-and-dried training camp.
Today it was announced that the Blackhawks have acquired David Toews from the New York Islanders for future considerations. David Toews is the younger brother of Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews.
The younger Toews is 21 years old, also a center, and shoots right. He played for the Brandon Wheat Kings last season, and their web site lists him at 5’10″ and 175 lbs. He notched 48 points in 60 games last year, adding 7 points in 6 playoff games.
Word is that the younger Toews will be added to the Blackhawks’ roster for the rookie tournament in Oshawa.
Next on the list: Brent Seabrook’s younger brother Keith (yeah, hilarious isn’t it?) and two of Patrick Kane’s younger sisters. Man, would THAT be an interesting locker room…
If we get more dirt on this we’ll pass it along.
Why are you reading this?
No, seriously, why are you reading this blog? Or any blog for that matter? You can get all the Blackhawks news as it happens from the team site, or any one of a dozen credentialed reporters all over the web, Twitter and Facebook. Why read the ramblings of me, or Jeff, or any of the 100 or so Blackhawks bloggers out there?
This might seem like a strange question for a blogger to ask. But it’s an important question, with an important answer.
You read us because we can, and do, say anything. Not everyone does. Here’s why.
When the injury to Patrick Kane was announced, and surgery was conducted, everyone was all happy and relieved. “Good thing it won’t impact the season!”
I just kept my mouth shut. I knew that the official line was a load of bullshit, but I kept my mouth shut.
So then today…
The era of the pure goon is dead.
The demise of players that could do nothing but pound opponents into tapioca began, really, when it became apparent that players like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux were the future of the sport. In came rules to curtail the fisticuffs, along with an increased focus on skill. With rules to further restrict or eliminate the “trap” and “left-wing lock” defensive styles, the players that had gotten by with clutch-and-grab tactics were now actually forced to play the game, move their ass, and win or lose on skill rather than on their ability to diminish the skill of others. Pure goons went on life support.
And finally, following the most recent lockout the front of the net was turned from the war zone it once was to a “Mom-he’s-touching-me” fifth-grade gym class. Now you’re more likely to scuff your nail polish than get a cross-check across the shoulder blades. In other words, the jobs for pure goons with no talent other than the pugilistic arts are now few and far between.
Despite the lingering question mark about a second line center, and the wisdom of putting a completely unproven goaltender as Corey Crawford’s backup, the one place where there is little left to discuss is on defense.
To start with, there is universal agreement that John Scott’s best position is, in fact, in the press box. Or Rockford. Or Europe. Or the UFC. Or as a Walmart greeter. Anywhere but in a Blackhawks uniform between buzzers.
Wednesday afternoon the word came out on the Twitterscape that the Chicago Blackhawks had reportedly invited veteran goaltender Ray Emery to a tryout with the team at training camp in the fall. There is no contract in place, this will be a tryout only, meaning if the Blackhawks decide to pass it doesn’t cost them anything.
Ray Emery will be approaching his 29th birthday as camp gets underway. He is 6’2″, 196 lbs, and catches left. Drafted 99th overall in 2001 by the Ottawa Senators, he has also spent time with Philadelphia and Anaheim. But his career is a story of stops and starts.
I’ve read several pieces in the last 3 weeks singing the praises of Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman. Not necessarily with support for his latest moves, but spewing statements like, “There’s a reason he’s GM and you’re not,” and “He’s done a great job so far, we have no reason to doubt him.”
How quickly you forget. I, however, have not.
So here we are, just trying to enjoy the opening of the Chicago Blackhawks Convention, when we get news of some contract activity from the Blackhawks front office. But one of the names wasn’t on the roster last year. Then, the feces hit the climate control as news was released of one of the Blackhawks’ superstars going under the knife.
First, the expected (and, in fact, announced by what turned out to be a completely reliable source on Twitter Thursday night) signing of winger Michael Frolik to a 3-year, $7 million contract was made public by the Blackhawks brass. But along with that news came word that, despite GM Stan Bowman’s proclamations to the contrary, the team had been wading into the free agent waters once more.
The Blackhawks signed UFA defenseman Sami Lepisto to a one year contract worth a reported $750K. Lepisto is 6’1″, 195lbs, 27 years old, and shoots left. He was traded from the Coyotes to the Blue Jackets last season, playing in 70 games and tallying 4 goals and 12 assists with a +10 rating. Add to that 55 penalty minutes, 72 hits, 90 blocked shots. This was his second full season in the NHL, and his stats from the previous year were very similar. Lepisto became a free agent when Columbus refused to extend him a qualifying offer before the deadline.
Then in the midst of all the speculation about Chris Campoli packing his bags, the bomb dropped.
It was announced that Patrick Kane injured himself during his off-season training routine, and fractured his left scaphoid — a small bone near the long bones in his wrist.
Now is the time to come up with your best beer drinking/masturbating/punching a cabbie joke.
He will require surgery to repair the fracture, which will take place this coming Tuesday. The team physician indicates that Kane’s recovery will be complete by the time training camp starts, and he will miss no time during the pre-season or regular season.
Sorry, but this pisses me off. I’m going to withhold comment until Kane shows up training camp — or not. If he’s there, and all is well, fine. If not, put on your flak jackets.
Then, as if the waters weren’t rough enough, Bowman waltzed out in front of 100 microphones and declared that negotiations with Campoli were over, and the defenseman would be traded. A bottom-two defenseman asking for a $1 million raise and scheduled for arbitration? Yeah, good luck trading that, Stan. Especially after you tossed any leverage you have with other teams out the window by announcing that you had stopped negotiating with his agent. Smooth. You maybe should have consulted dad on this one, Sparky.
Well, holy char-broiled shit burgers. What will the team announce tomorrow? Please… Let it be nothing…
The free-agent falderall appears to be over from the Blackhawks’ point of view, which has a lot of fans puzzled, and more than a few of them pissed off. The only clear and concise declaration from GM Stan Bowman after the end of the season was that the ‘Hawks were going to acquire a big, tough center to play on the second line between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.
They did not. And by all the evidence available to the casual observer, they didn’t even try.
Failing to do so doesn’t just put the second line into question, it throws the entire top-nine forwards’ alignment into pure chaos. And so the speculation begins: what the hell are they thinking, and what will the top three lines look like when the season starts?
I got into a brief Twitter-spat on Tuesday with blogger colleague Tab Bamford from Committed Indians regarding the rumored re-alignment in the NHL. The proposed plan would move Detroit (*spitting noise*) to the Eastern Conference, ripping apart the Blackhawks/Red Wings rivalry. His contention is that this is no time for alarm. I couldn’t disagree more. His post later that day provided an opportunity for a more lengthy retort, which you are now reading.
Tab’s nothing-to-see-here-people argument is four-fold. First, that the story itself has no merit, having been broken by an unreliable source. Second, that the rumored re-alignment assumes the Coyotes stay in Phoenix, rendering it unbelievable on its face. Third, that the league has too much respect for history and tradition, and would never disassemble a rivalry as old and storied as the Blackhawks/Red Wings. And fourth, that it doesn’t make sense from a financial perspective.
Buckle up, people…
Every year the draft occurs, people get jacked up about the new crop of hungry young pups, and talk turns to which of these sled dogs will be mushing with the team straight out of camp.
Settle down, people. This year’s draft picks still aren’t weaned yet…
On Sunday the Blackhawks announced that they had signed restricted free-agent winger Viktor Stalberg to a two-year contract worth a total of $1.75 million. Terms of the deal are believed to be $875K/year, though that has not been officially confirmed as yet.
Stalberg was one of three restricted free-agents still to be signed, and one of two that had filed for arbitration. The contract terms represent a raise of just $25K per year for Stalberg, likely a token amount so his agent could say that he got him something. The arbitration results were unlikely to get him much more.
So, okay, nice deal for the Blackhawks. Under $1 million was likely what they were shooting for, and they got that for two years instead of just one — which the arbitration award would have been had it gone to that stage. But Stalberg is another winger, one of 9 now under contract, and that assumes Patrick Sharp plays center and we don’t re-sign Michael Frolik. We’re overcrowded at this position: where does Viktor Stalberg fit in?
The Chicago Blackhawks are holding their annual Prospect Camp starting today and running through Monday at Johnny’s Ice House West from 10am – 1:30pm (roughly). Sessions are open to the public, and I do suggest getting there somewhat early — seats are very limited, and they fill up quickly!
For those of you who are going to see any of the on-ice sessions this weekend, we thought we would put up a who-to-watch-out-for post here to give you at least some idea of who is likely to stand out.
All right, here we are.
Stan Bowman made his free-agent moves early. His choices most likely knew exactly where they wanted to go and exactly what the Blackhawks would be offering (not that I’m suggesting Stan, or ANY of the NHL GM’s were tampering at all, noooooo…). Then Stan took the long weekend off. With the exception of Steven Stamkos, the big fish have all been caught and eaten.
The “Free-Agent Frenzy” is over. Now, the actual work begins.
Here’s a quick update for those of you who missed the announcement by the Blackhawks late Tuesday. The newest members of the Blackhawks have chosen their jersey numbers for the 2011-12 season.
I know that was my reaction, and based on his reputation and the proliferation of fight videos on YouTube, I expect a lot of you said pretty much the same thing.
Daniel Carcillo is now a Chicago Blackhawk. That’s going to take some getting used to.
Okay, this is it! Free agency starts at 11am Chicago time. Speculation is rampant as to who the Blackhawks will go after, so we thought we’d add to the prognosticating with a quick summary of who, why (or why not), and what the chances are.