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.