Nashville Predators

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“Bad Faith” and Distrust: A Players’ Perspective on the Lockout

Gary Bettman and the NHL don’t seem to get it. They never have. Since Gary took over in 1993, the NHL has seen three lockouts. Briefly, lockouts occur when the league feels that it can no longer sustain its current activities without a freshly negotiated collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Note, the league is the only one who can lockout the players. If the players are the unhappy party, they can go on strike. The CBA serves as a labor contract between the league and the players’ union on a plethora of subjects ranging from revenue, to contracts, to pensions, etc., etc.

Under Gary Bettman’s tenure, the NHL moved and expanded several teams to non-traditional hockey markets. Some have been successful and won Stanley Cups and filled stands, while others have floundered. The Phoenix Coyotes, originally the Winnipeg Jets, filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and the NHL had to take control of the team and they see some of the lowest attendance numbers in the NHL. The Bettman-expansion Atlanta Thrashers suffered so many losses and ownership struggles, that they moved to Winnipeg to become the new Jets, a city deprived of its original team by Bettman when he moved them to Phoenix to become the failing Coyotes. We can coin this the “Bettman cycle.”

In contract law, there is a term called “bad faith.” The gist of this term is that one of the parties to the contract intentionally or maliciously used deception to make the other party agree to the contract. We will examine this term with regard to the actions of the NHL.

Reports are surfacing that Bettman attempted a “bait-and-switch” of language in their CBA proposal regarding how the NHL could handle team punishments for hiding revenue (Charles Curtis- NJ.com). The league’s language was changed in such a way that Bettman would have sole control of the penalties.

Reports are also surfacing that the owners and their GMs told Gary Bettman, who in turn told the NHLPA, that they would welcome the opportunity to renege some of the contracts they offered to players (Charles Curtis- NJ.com). This of course angered the NHLPA, and why shouldn’t it? If someone offered you millions of dollars and wanted to take it back or even dump you from their roster, would you be happy about it or even ok with it? Of course not. Why is Gary Bettman, under the direction of the owners, doing this? Because they want to lower the salary cap of the NHL by ~$10M per year to $60M. That is a ~15% decrease for those not interested in doing the math.

The NHL was in a dire financial state in 2004 when a lockout took away the season. The reason they bounced back was savvy marketing. What could the NHL have possibly been marketing that would appeal to so many people and bring the league back to such great heights? Could it be players? Of course. And it was. Alex Ovechkin- drafted 2004. Sidney Crosby- drafted 2005. Jonathan Toews- drafted 2006. Patrick Kane- drafted 2007. Steven Stamkos- drafted 2008. New, young marketable players, appealing to young fans and fresh faces leading to increasing profits? You don’t say.

Fan attendance increased in post-lockout 05-06 for 25 of the 30 teams in the NHL. Moreover, the average cost (tickets, concessions, parking, etc.) for a family of four rose from $256 to $329 in 2011, per Forbes. The value of the average NHL team has increased from $159 million in 2003, to $240 million last year, and average NHL player salary from $1.6M to $2.4M (Forbes). Could it be that the reason more and more kids want to play hockey is due to young talents emerging every year and inspiring them? Could it be that the NHL is seeing record fan interest because the best players in the game are in their early twenties, bringing a new young generation of fans to the game? I think so.

Young, talented players like these are why the NHL was saved after the 2004 lockout. Young, talented players were able to bring more and more fans to the game and in turn allowed the league to increase its salary cap EVERY YEAR for the past 8 years. That is EVERY YEAR since the last NHL lockout. Coincidence? I think not.

In 2012, we saw ENORMOUS contracts being handed out left and right for big name players. Crosby- 12 yrs, $104M; Parise- 13 yrs, $98M; Suter- 13 yrs, $98M; Weber- 14 years, $110M. There were plenty of guys signed in the offseason who were arguably overpaid by their teams. For reference, go read articles by beat writers and read fan Twitters from the summer. Plenty of grumbling. Every one of these contracts was offered to players a few months before the collective bargaining agreement expired. The owners knew that the salary cap would be an issue moving forward in negotiating a new CBA, but they offered these contracts anyway. Here we are, 6-7 months later. It is January of the following year. We are still locked out, the players are not receiving their paychecks, and the owners want to LOWER the cap by 15%. The salary cap is STILL an issue the NHL and NHLPA cannot agree on. There is something fishy about this. I’m not saying that Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and Nashville are the teams responsible for the lockout. BUT, collectively, the owners knew that the CBA was going to expire very shortly after these contracts were signed, and yet they still offered them. Now, they want to lower the cap and the GMs “regret” and want to renege some of the contracts they offered.

The NHL has shown a mechanical unwillingness to negotiate with the NHLPA. A number of times when the league made proposals and the players countered, Bettman and his cronies stood up and walked out of the room. The NHL has used fruitless, and frankly pathetic, language such as “final offer,” “only offer on the table,” and “take it or leave it” in their negotiations with the NHLPA. Sounds a bit like something a small child would say when he or she doesn’t get his way doesn’t it?

Since the 2004 lockout, NHL league revenues have increased by nearly 64%. Revenues, of course, don’t translate to team profits and there are only a handful of financially viable teams in the league. There are a number of teams struggling financially. Some are struggling due to poor ownership and mismanagement, but others are struggling, because they are in places where hockey fans simply don’t exist and hockey teams don’t belong in the first place. This falls squarely on the owners and the league, not the players. Still, the players have made concessions. They have agreed to a 50-50 split of revenues, they have agreed to limiting contracts. Still not enough. How does the NHL respond? They behave like stubborn children, say “take it or leave it” and LITERALLY just walk out of the room. They try to make a preemptive strike on the NHLPA by going to court and trying to block the NHLPA from disbanding and filing an antitrust suit against the league.

We’ve heard from numerous reporters and writers from TSN and various other news outlets that there is a strong sense of distrust between the NHL and the NHLPA. Are you surprised? I’m not. The players are the ones who bring the fans to the stands. The players are the ones whose skills allow teams to market them and bring people to the arenas. Convincing players to sign for their teams by making them believe that they will receive a large amount of money and ultimately wanting to renege those contracts by masquerading under a new collective bargaining agreement? That is the DEFINITION of “bad faith.” Putting up with the NHL’s unwillingness to compromise, hearing the NHL say “final offer” countless times, watching the NHL storming out of meetings and behave like an 8th grader who just got dumped; do these things seem like the type of behavior that builds trust? Is this behavior expected to be perceived as professional? The question you need to ask yourself is, how would you feel if you were in the players’ shoes? Would you be okay with the NHL wanting to renege some contracts? Would you “trust” them? I sure wouldn’t.

The NHL needs to keep in mind that the players are the ones who rescued the league after the last lockout. The players will be the ones who will help them bounce back from this lockout. Fans don’t come to see Gary Bettman and his golf buddies at hockey games. Fans come to see the Crosbys, and the Ovechkins, and the Toewses. This lockout won’t end until the NHL decides to accept this and start showing some more respect to the players.

Some Good, Some Bad, But We’ll Take It

Photo: ESPN

First thing’s first: with their 5-4 win over Nashville last night, the Chicago Blackhawks have clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s the first time since 1995 that the club has managed this feat for 4 consecutive years.

And there was much rejoicing.

The story of how they got that win, however… Well, I’m going to quote Pat Foley (always a dangerous move, I realize) and say that, “It doesn’t have to be an oil painting.”

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Crushing Blow: Blackhawks Get One More Shot At Nashville

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Every time the Blackhawks go up against Boris Badenov and the Nashville Predators I find myself sitting there wondering, Why the HELL does Chicago have such problems with this team? Other teams kick the crap out of them regularly, as evidenced by Nashville’s losses to Pittsburgh and cellar-dweller Edmonton just last week. Why, oh WHY, do the Blackhawks usually end up either on the short end of a close game, or being humiliated by a staggering margin against these pukes?

In the 5 games between these teams this season, the Blackhawks have come away with a only one win — and that one went into overtime. Chicago has better records this year against St. Louis, Vancouver, and Detroit (*spitting noise*). They’re laughing at us in Music City, counting the ‘Hawks as an easy win, and hoping that they manage to land Chicago as a first-round playoff opponent instead of the Red Wings.

Nashville fans are laughing at us. That has to fucking stop. Tonight. And that means the Blackhawks had better deliver a crushing blow to this Predators team, and make it clear that taking Chicago lightly will be a costly mistake.

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Talk Is Cheap: Blackhawks Look To End Losing Streak In Nashville

Photo: Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

The Blackhawks play Nashville tonight, and it’s my job to tell you about what we can expect during the game. So here’s the obligatory paragraph about the Predators before we talk about the Blackhawks’ 8-game losing streak.

Nashville is 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, most recently losing in a shootout to Boston. They’ve always been a defense-first team, but this year they are doing well in both categories — just outside the top-10 in both goals-for and goals-against. They can kill you from many, many angles: 9 players have 11+ goals, 9 players have 29+ points. Goaltender Pekka Rinne continues to shine, his .924 save percentage ranks among the league’s top-10. Neither Ryan Suter nor Shea Weber has been traded, and likely won’t be before the puck drops this evening. So that’s bad for us.

Will that work? Okay. On to business.

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Punched Out: Boxing, Once Again, with Blackhawks and Predators

JIM YOUNG, REUTERS

There may not be a team in the league looking more forward to the All-Star break than the Blackhawks.

Playing without Jonathan Toews and of course Patrick Sharp, the ‘Hawks looked fell short on the defensive end a dropped the final game before the break, 3-1 to the Predators.

Despite the offense lacking, I didn’t feel the offense necessarily was the issue. Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson are becoming painful to watch. Absolutely and completely painful. It actually hurts from getting so damn angry at their problems – and they’re many.

No more crap about Leddy being young and learning and being thrust into a position to learn on the job. He’s playing for a Stanley Cup contender, and that label for the ‘Hawks comes in spite of him, not because of him. The second goal was a direct result of his inability to play defense with enough muscle nor brains. The blind ring around the boards didn’t work simply because he thrre it into a forechecker’s legs, leading to a nice kick pass for Mike Fisher’s goal.

Hjalmarsson gets plenty of blame as well, as Fisher had all day to prepare himself for that pass. At this point, I’d like to see Sami Lepisto get a night with one of these two in the press box. Something needs to be done.

(UPDATE: It’s since been confirmed it was Sean O’Donnell on the ice with Leddy, and not Hammer. My eyes weren’t working right from the opposite end of the stadium, which is my bad. However, it doesn’t change my stance that one of these guys needs a seat up high for at least a game.)

♦   Corey Crawford is giving up far too many rebounds, but this game could’ve gotten out of hand tonight if it weren’t for him. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith allowed a breakaway chance, as did Hjalmarsson’s flat feet. Crawford stopped them both, then made some saves in the third that could’ve doomed the ‘Hawks had they gotten past him. No real praise, but no real thoughts of this being his fault by any means.

♦   Dave Bolland won 17 of 20 faceoffs tonight. Dave. Bolland. Won. 17. Of. 20. Faceoffs. I slowed it down for you to make you read it slower. Between that and his goal, I think he embraced taking Toews’ spot on the top line.

♦   Marian Hossa is an under-appreciated part of this team. He never gets enough credit, in my book. The reason he’s not talked about much is because he doesn’t do much wrong. I guess it gets hard to constantly praise someone.

♦   Patrick Kane stopping to twirl mid-breakaway is a prime example of him thinking too much about his slump. No, I really don’t have any idea what’s running through his head. It could be hookers or pretty pink bows. However, it’s hard not to speculate when a true, killer goal scorer refuses to simply take his space and go hard to the net to try and beat the goaltender like he’s always capable of doing.

♦   Andrew Shaw has officially become Q’s new Kris Versteeg. Shaw led all ‘Hawks forwards in ice time tonight, and while he’s playing hard, I don’t necessarily believe he deserved all that time. Q is trying to ride the hot hand, but Shaw hasn’t exactly done anything stellar over the past few games to have me going nuts over him. As I’ve said before, everyone needs to stay grounded on this guy – including Q.

♦   Michael Frolik was a healthy scratch in favor of Bryan Bickell. And no one cared or noticed one way or the other. The drop off of these guys is epic.

Here’s Boxing…

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This Time, Let’s Not Be Such Easy Prey

I’m sure there are those who wouldn’t mind re-living last Saturday’s embarrassment down in Nashville, but I’m not among them. As far as I’m concerned we should have pulled the team off the ice and forfeited when the bloop grounder to short hopped past Corey Crawford. That was the sign that it was not our night, and no measure of effort nor change in strategy would change that.

The Hockey Gods played a joke at our expense, and we walked away with a 5-2 loss. Thanks very much, assholes.

How did Nashville do it? The same way they always do. They played their usual more-boring-than-Latin-mass style of defensive hockey, and took advantage of the many, many scoring opportunities we gave them. Were it not for some heroics by Marian Hossa the Blackhawks would easily have been shut out.

Tonight, let’s not be such easy prey, shall we fellas?

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Logjamin’: Competitive Central Division on Pace to Make History

Zetterberg, Toews, Weber, Oshie

One day, the Blackhawks are sitting atop the Central Division standings, at times boasting the most points in the NHL. The next, they wouldn’t even have home-ice advantage in the first round if the playoffs began at that moment.

It’s a difficult time to keep up with the constant shifts in the standings, but such is life in the competitive Central – which is currently on pace to make a bit of history while providing us fans with some entertaining hockey down the stretch.

This is the 13th season since the NHL went to six divisions and the current playoff format in 1998-99 (the 2004-05 season marked the lockout). In the 12 completed seasons, at least one division has sent four teams to the playoffs 10 times.

In a game Blackhawks fans likely won’t forget soon, Minnesota beat Dallas on the final day of the 2010-11 regular season to prevent the Pacific from becoming the first division to send all five teams to the postseason.

Essentially, the playoff format has three division winners and five “wild-card” teams. The only seasons one division didn’t claim three “wild-cards” were 2000-01 and 2005-06.

The 2008-09 season marked the one time two divisions accomplished the feat. The Atlantic and the Central, when Detroit (No. 1 seed), the ‘Hawks (4), St. Louis (6) and Columbus (8) qualified four of their five teams – the only time since current realignment the Central has done it.

Overall, a single division qualifying a quartet is quite common. The rarity lies in what the Central currently is on pace to accomplish – place all four teams within the top six seeds.

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Captain, is it Serious?: Boxing with Blackhawks and Predators

(John Russell, NHLI via Getty Images)

The amount of pain resulting from Saturday’s 5-2 loss in Nashville is to be determined.

Jonathan Toews played less than 10 minutes before leaving, and the ‘Hawks played careless defense and got sub-par goaltending from Corey Crawford, helping extend their road losing streak to four games.

There’s little question the “upper-body” injury that kept Toews from finishing is the same that sent him to the bench against Florida. The slash to the hand/wrist area is the likeliest of anything anyone can think it to be. How it got aggravated, though, is anyone’s guess.

I know this may be tough to hear without a diagnosis and it coming after a humiliating defeat to a division rival, but as long as Toews’ injury isn’t a clean break, it came at the best possible time. If it’s necessary, Toews can sit Tuesday and then relax for a week after skipping the All-Star game next Saturday, and we can see where we’re at then. If this happened in the middle of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch, then I may be a bit more concerned.

That doesn’t mean I’m not now, especially since the vagueness of the NHL injury front keeps us from knowing much. However, though briefly, I’m remaining optimistic.

♦   Allowing a 100-foot goal became Crawford’s biggest of his many blemishes this season – and maybe his career. We can talk about funny bounces all we want, but that floater has to be stopped. The momentum completely shifted after the ‘Hawks controlled most of the game to that point. He’d later go down like he took a shotgun to the chest on a move by Kostitsyn, leading to the hook in favor of Ray Emery, who was promptly greeted with a breakaway he stopped.

♦   Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson - I’m begging them to prove their worth soon. Leddy’s offensive talent doesn’t help with what the Blackhawks need. They have plenty of scoring. What the ‘Hawks need is defensive reliability, which he’s not giving at the moment. The failed clear led to Hammer staring at Legwand, as Wilson slid right behind him for an easy goal. That’s not on Crow, that’s the defense. And Duncan Keith didn’t do Crow any favors by coming up way too high on the kill, leaving Smith two clear cracks at putting it into the net.

♦   Marian Hossa played an outstanding game at both ends, and potted the only Blackhawks’ goals while making the red-hot Pekka Rinne look pretty damn bad.

Here’s Boxing…

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Haunted Madhouse: Boxing with Blackhawks and Predators

(Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)

When Nashville scored in the first minute off a fluky goal, I couldn’t help but think Halloween had something to do with it. But the Blackhawks turned the “holiday” into Hawk-o-ween with 5-4 overtime victory over the Predators and the Barry Trotz’s non-existent neck.

A couple quick things before Boxing …

♦   While Pekka Rinne made a few great saves which kept this game from possibly getting out of hand, the Blackhawks found his weakness between his arm and above the pad. He made some great saves on Marian Hossa when the puck never left the ice, but Patrick Kane beat him past the hip on his goals, including his second when Rinne was caught too far toward his net and didn’t take away the angle. Overall great game from him, but the Blackhawks exposed a weaker part of his game.

♦   It’s gotta be noted the powerless play went 0 for 7 tonight, including a missed opportunity on a third-period 5-on-3 which could’ve resulted in doom had the ‘Hawks not come away with two points. The ‘Hawks are 0 for 18 over their last four games, and they’re converting on an 8.9 percent clip – 29th in the league, one spot above St. Louis’ 8.3 percent.

Yes, there was some good puck movement out there, and Rinne had plenty to do with the 0-fer tonight, but if we’re going to crunch stats and talk about every other statistic under the sun, we can’t ignore the results. With a 7-2-2 record, there’s not much to complain about except for the PP, but I don’t think I’m out of line saying the ‘Hawks need to start converting rather than looking pretty and not scoring, because it will come back to bite them down the line.

♦   Duncan Keith’s injury may damning if anything is broken on that hand.

♦   A great game from Kaner, giving him 11 points on the season – which may be surprising considering the stat I give you in Boxing.

♦   Three goals in two games for Viktor Stalberg, who completely fooled Rinne and stuck it under the arm on the short side for the winner.

♦  Two breakaway saves from Corey Crawford – who got away with an iffy performance tonight – and Jonathan Toews went 20 for 25 on faceoffs. Neato.

♦  Two quick site notes: As I posted earlier, Jim Nakis, AKA “HjammerTime” on the SCH comment boards, is our newest writer on CtA. Please give him a warm welcome.

Secondly, I keep receiving plenty of emails about an iPhone app. Here’s what you do. Pull up Safari and type in cheertheanthem.noticeorange.com. Bookmark that page and it works just like an app. That should solve it until we get our own app built, which may take some time with Apple being assholes.

And Boxing …

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BOO!!! Blackhawks Look To Put A Fright In The Predators

Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Wouldn’t it be a riot if the players got to dress up for Hallowe’en games? If I were better at PhotoShop I’d have prepared a whole album full of images for you for this preview of the Blackhawks vs. Predators game, but instead we’ll just have to use our imaginations.

Nashville Head Coach Bary Trotz’s (Boris Badonov) team marches into the United Center tonight for these clubs’ first meeting of the season. These teams split the 6-game series last year 3 each, the biggest difference being the margin of victory. When Nashville won, it was a one-goal game. When Chicago won, it was (for some strange reason) *exactly* three goals. Go figure.

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A Smile Can Make the Pain Go Away: Boxing with Blackhawks/Preds

Credit: Frederick Breedon, NHLI via Getty Images

Put a log on whatever fire is currently lit under the Blackhawks’ collective ass.

The Blackhawks finally realized that a regulation NHL  hockey game lasts 60 minutes, rather than pretending this was Kindergarten and there was nap time after the milk gets passed out.

A few thoughts before we get into Boxing:

♦   You’ll hear this a lot, I’m sure, but Duncan Keith played his best game of the season. I’d love to know why he decided to save it for this long, but we got back our Norris Trophy winner for a night. Keith was all over the place, made smart passes and looked more aggressive and smart than I’ve seen him in awhile.

♦   Niklas Hjalmarsson played only three minutes in the third period after suffering an upper-body injury.

♦   Hi, Marian Hossa, I like when you’re awesome. Pekka Rinne  may as well have been Ray Charles  on that breakaway, because he had no chance. I like this Hossa. I want more of this Hossa. Please can I have more of this Hossa?

♦   No more bitching about calls from that Vancouver game a few weeks ago. I’ve heard people bring it up once a week since how the Blackhawks got hosed. That makes two phanton goaltender interference calls that negated goals for the opposition, and we won both games. We’re all even. Drop it now.

♦   Why Viktor Stalberg continues to see less than 10 minutes per night boggles my mind. What’s he done so wrong? This looks like another instance similar to when Q got something in his head about Jordan Hendry and he got scratch more than an instant lotto ticket for two months.

♦   Corey Crawford played very well tonight, and his save on Martin Erat right off the initial faceoff to open the game kept Nashville from taking early momentum. If that goal goes in, I might be writing something completely different tonight.

And now, Boxing:

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This Is Getting Old Already: Blackhawks Must Win in Nashville

Photo: LIFE/Getty Images

The Nashville Predators sit in a 4-way tie for the 5th through 8th spots in the Western Conference, with the Blackhawks nipping at their heels only 2 points behind. A win for the ‘Hawks tonight puts them into that pile as well, with momentum on their side. Put simply, it’s another must-win game. Just like the last one, and like the other 21 left to be played after tonight.

I’m investing in a defibrillator. This is getting ridiculous.

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Sin And Redemption: Blackhawks Split Weekend Series

"Nice of you to join us, there, Toewsy!"

Another third period collapse cost the Blackhawks a point on Saturday, and it was only due to remarkable goaltending on the part of Corey Crawford that they managed to keep it to one. But the story was different on Sunday, as the Blackhawks erupted for four goals in the third period, turning up the gas and stuffing the previous night’s loss down the Predators’ throats.

Additionally it was a weekend that showed some of the areas of weakness the Blackhawks need to work on: between the two games their superstar forwards scored only one of the ‘Hawks’ eight goals; penalty killing was heinous; and the predictability of the Blackhawks’ shootout participants means everyone but the greenest of rookie goaltenders knows who is shooting, in what order, and where they will be aiming for.

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Into The Lions’ Den: Home-And-Home With Nashville

I heard you used to me good, old man...

The Chicago Blackhawks have an important two games this weekend with the division rival Predators, who just had a six-game win streak come to an end with a 3 – 2 loss to Florida. We know this team and their strategy well: aggressive two-man forecheck; three-across modified trap defense; and stingy — but not impenetrable — goaltending.

The Preds are 2nd in the league in goals against, but 24th in goals scored. Their leading scorer Patrick Hornqvist has a whopping 13 goals. Patrick Sharp has 25 goals, and the Blackhawks have 6 players with 10 goals or more.

So the key for this weekend will be breaking out of our zone, smashing through their defense, and pummeling their goaltender. Also mission-critical: ZERO mistakes in our own zone. Having Nick Boynton out of the lineup should help to minimize that problem. We lost the first two games to these guys this season, but took the third in a definitive 4 – 1 victory at home on December 22 — battering goaltender Anders Lindback with 35 shots. Repeat that performance, and we’re golden.

So that’s the Predators in a nutshell: now on to more important matters. There are several things to be on the lookout for with the Blackhawks, first among them rookie goaltender Corey Crawford. Craw-daddy has a 120+ minute shutout streak going, and will start again tonight in Nashville.

First up, let’s dispense with the “gotta be a record” talk. The modern era record is 323 minutes set by Brian Boucher with Phoenix in 2004. But the longest shutout streak in the history of the NHL is held by Alec Connell of the Ottawa Senators back in 1927 — 461 minutes, 29 seconds. Seven and a half games.

But the really interesting talk involves a certain trophy that starts with a ‘C’ that is given to the top rookie in the NHL. This, to my way of thinking, is the Chicago media types getting WAY ahead of themselves and creating something fun to write about.

After all, when Steve Mason won the rookie of the year back in 2008-09 he racked up 33 wins. Corey Crawford is currently at 15, and there are 37 games left in the season. Assuming he gets 4 out of 5 starts, he’d have to win 18 of those 30 games to meet Mason’s mark. Not that 33 wins is the minimum requirement, I’m just saying — it’s a long shot. Let’s be happy that we have a hot starter with a strong, veteran waiting in the wings, and hope it continues.

The other thing to keep an eye on will happen when the puck drops, and will be invisible to the naked eye. Rookie defenseman Nick Leddy is playing his 10th game with the Blackhawks tonight. The minute the puck drops, Nick Leddy is likely to be with the Blackhawks for the rest of the season.

The ten-game threshold is the point at which the team “burns” the first year of Leddy’s entry-level contract. That means that the team has decided that Leddy is ready for the NHL, and is willing to back up that opinion by tossing aside a half-million dollars. From a practical perspective, the team would not breech this limit without a firm intention to keep Leddy in Chicago for the remainder of the season. No sense in blowing 500 large if you aren’t going to get your money’s worth.

Get used to seeing Nick Leddy as the fifth D-man with the Blackhawks. A welcome change.

Game time is 7:00pm tonight in Music City. TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers can find the game on channel 239.

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Too Many Men on the Site

How do ya like us now?: Boxing with ‘Hawks/Predators (12/22/10)

Cash. Money. Hoes. (Chicago Tribune)

Three straight wins, two against opponents above the Blackhawks in the Central and another against a team the ‘Hawks should have fits with.

Oh, and all that was done without  Marian Hossa and  Patrick Kane.

Wednesday’s win against Nashville wasn’t exactly exciting — is anything against Nashville ever exciting? — but it’s two more points heading into a short Christmas break earned without two of the Blackhawks’ best offensive weapons. Pretty impressive to say the least.

Remember last season when the ‘Hawks were playing well around Thanksgiving and Hossa returned with a two-goal performance? A new season, a different holiday and another return is coming up. Would be nice to have a repeat of that shit.

One quick note: Jack Skille and  Dave Bolland each played a hell of a game. (Bartl limbers up, sits back, takes deep breath, inserts foot directly into mouth.)

And onto Boxing we go…

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Must Kill Moose And Squirrel: Predators Visit Chicago

Photo: AP/Mark Humphrey

Did you hear? Jim Balsillie came to Nashville! Who? Jim Balsillie! The owner of the company that makes BlackBerry smartphones who has more money than Daddy Warbucks and wants desperately to buy an American NHL team and move it to Hamilton, Ontario except he’s pissed off enough owners of existing teams that nobody will ever let him buy controlling interest in an NHL franchise and even if he somehow weaseled his way into buying one they would never EVER let him move it to Hamilton because Gary Bettman is a butt-munch and has convinced the owners that he should get whatever he wants and he hates Jim Balsillie’s guts! That guy! He was in Nashville!

Does this mean he’s trying to buy the Predators? Is he trying to assemble various minority interests to form a majority stake? I think you’d have better luck trying to pick which reality TV show Kate Gosselin is going to show up on next.

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Picking The Carcass Clean: Blackhawks Hunted By Predators

Those of you reading this are probably dreading tonight’s game. My comment to my wife yesterday was, every day the Blackhawks don’t play is a day they don’t lose. That’s what it’s come to.

How bad is it? In our last 10 games we are 3-7 including 5 losses on home ice. The losses are close, four of the seven are by one goal. Patrick Sharp in his last six games has no goals, two assists, and rates a -7. Marian Hossa is a -3 in his last six games with no points, period. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have totaled no goals, five assists and are a combined -10 in their last four games.

To call this a slump is like calling Megan Fox “cute.”

But this goes beyond statistics. When this team took the ice last year, they were intimidating. There was a confidence and a determination about them that elicited fear in opponents, and prepared crowds in other arenas for the inevitable reality that their beloved skate-monkeys were about to be treated like toilet paper.

This year, I don’t think they could instill fear into the hearts of an opposing squad of pee-wee girls. Their passing is the biggest giveaway. Last year it was no-look, tape-to-tape at full stride from the opening minute. Now it’s hard to get them to hit an open man standing still.

They’re skittish, they’re tentative, they’re trying to do too much, they’re trying for highlight-reel goals, and it’s making them look foolish. I hate to say it, but this team more closely resembles the Blackhawks of 10 years ago than team one that hoisted the Stanley Cup.

They’ll get the next chance to redeem themselves and show us that they *can* bring the intensity tonight when they take the ice in Nashville. The last time they faced the Predators it was on home ice, as they gave rookie goalie Anders Lindback his first *ever* win in his first *ever* start by letting a third-period lead slip away with two late goals. This was to become a trend, as the last two games showed us.

The significant change to the lineup for the Hawks is that Dave Bolland will be back at center between Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane. Bolland was activated from IR on Friday after sitting out the last two weeks with an upper-body injury.  Bolland’s play prior to being placed on IR was arguably the worst of his career as a Blackhawk, so it’s unlikely that his return will spark anything more than uncomfortable sideways glances.

Nashville comes in at 6-5-3, having just broken a five-game losing losing streak by beating St. Louis in a shootout on Thursday. Lindback has actually been their more consistent goaltender this year, as starter Pekka Rinne has shown some chinks in his armor. No injuries of substance to the Predators, and they will come in eager to get the home-town crowd back on their side.

Game time is 7:00pm tonight. Comcast SportsNet for the TV broadcast, WGN AM-720 is the broadcast radio outlet, and XM subscribers look for the game on channel 238.

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Too Many Men on the Site

The Evil Troll & Company Steal One In The UC

Photo: The Tennessean

By now you’ve either seen, heard, or read about the Blackhawks’ snooze-inducing loss to the Nashville Predators, Barry “The Evil Troll” Trotz leading his crew of injury replacements to a late-3rd-period game winner that sealed the deal against Chicago.

I’m not going to give you the blow-by-blow, as it will likely put you to sleep — just like the second period of last night’s game did. Typical Nashville, but just like last year’s playoff series, whatever it is they do, they seem to throw the Hawks off their game every time. Last night was no exception: the forwards could barely get anything going, and the defense looked like they all had their skates on the wrong feet.

Some quick thoughts about the ups and downs:

- Rookie Nashville goaltender Anders Lindback beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions in his first NHL start. So he’s probably sitting at home milking the moose right now, thinking about last night’s win and dreaming of his Ryan Miller-esque contract demands. Well, don’t rub it raw there, Andy. Next time we see you it may be 50 shots coming at you instead of 25. Even blind mice find cheese every once in a while. This ain’t over.

- Dave Bolland was easily one of the most consistent, over-performing players throughout the playoffs last year. Now he looks like he’s playing over-40 Men’s League. Is he injured? Sick, maybe? Did his hamster die? Something has to change there. He’s a liability right now.

Viktor Stalberg hasn’t impressed me with any exceptional bursts of speed quite yet. What impressed me last night was his shot. The kid can unload, both slap shot and wrist shot. More accuracy, and he’s going to have goalies wondering how it got behind them so fast.

- If Patrick Sharp hasn’t fully recovered from whatever “undisclosed injury” he suffered last week, get him off the ice. Right now he’s playing like old people have sex: slow and sloppy. We need him at full capacity, and if that means letting him have two weeks off, so be it.

- If there is one thing I would work on with this team right now, it’s conditioning. The Hawks used to out-skate teams by 10 minutes into the second, and dominate by halfway through the third. That needs to happen again if we are going to put up good numbers this season.

- Corey Crawford played even better against Nashville than he did against Buffalo. He was screened on the first goal, the second was a deflection, and the third was a PK defensive lapse that left Joel Ward standing by the far post with enough time and space to smoke a cigarette and chat up the girls in the front row before snapping in the game-winner. Crawford has great reaction time, he’s squaring to the shooter well, he’s seeing the ice much better, and his rebound control is improving. Suffice to say I have a good deal of confidence in our backup goaltender.

- When Niklas Hjalmarsson comes back on Saturday, give Duncan Keith the night off. The guy is killing himself out there, and it doesn’t help his game, and it doesn’t help the team. He can’t be two defensemen, he can only be Dunc. Right now he’s being whipped like a rented mule, and it’s going to take a toll.

- Speaking of which, I would like to see a return to the Niklas Hjalmarsson we saw during the last regular season. He’s been trying to be a cross between Brent Sopel and Brian Campbell, and in the process he’s turned into Alain Nasreddine. Stop it, Nik. You’re no good to us this way.

- The Blackhawks had four — that’s FOUR — shots on goal in the third. That means I had only four shots fewer than the entire team while sitting on my living room couch and arguing with my cat about whose roast beef sandwich that really was.

- It’s my belief that this line juggling and musical defensemen is contributing to this crappy start. I know it’s Coach Q‘s way of doing things, but you can’t develop chemistry with guys who you only play with for three shifts a game. Look at it this way: it can’t get much worse if we stick to set lines for an entire game. Why not try it once, see what happens.

The Hawks are at Columbus on Friday, and you can bet Buffalo will be puttin’ on the foil to get a crack at Hammer when they visit the UC on Saturday. Check back here for previews before and wrap-ups after each game, and we’re always good for some laughs at others’ expense. Hey, they say stick to what you’re good at.

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Boxing with Blackhawks and Monsters in the Forest in Arnold movies, 10/13/10

Here’s Wednesday’s twisted box score from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators. Enjoy.

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Cats Without Fangs: Injury-Riddled Predators Visit Chicago

Photo: The Tennessean

Anders Lindback and Mark Dekanich. Ever heard of them? Me neither. But one of them will be between the pipes for their first NHL start when the injury-depleted Nashville Predators arrive at the United Center for the game against the Blackhawks.

During Saturday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks, usually-impenetrable starting goaltender Pekka Rinne suffered an undisclosed lower-body injury and is out for, well, they’re not saying.

And seriously, is this “undisclosed injury” crap ever going to end? Tell the truth: the guy took a puck in the man-jigglies.

Lindback, a gangly 22-year-old Swede at 6’ 6” tall, is the likely choice to get the start — his first in North America — after coming in to relieve Rinne on Saturday night. He stopped all seven shots in 17 minutes of play during that game. But that’s 17 minutes more than Dekanich has ever played in the bigs, so the Predators had better hope Lindback is up to the task. Not an enviable position to be in when your star goalie is out.

In fact, the Preds will be without many of their effective weapons for this tilt with their Central Division rivals, as Martin Erat, Jamie Lundmark and Sergei Kostitsyn are all out of the lineup with various (wait for it…) undisclosed injuries. In fact, the entire thing is so secretive, I’ve heard that all of the players will wear number double-zero with no names on their jerseys so that the Hawks don’t even know who is on the ice!

Incognito or not, we can expect to see former Blackhawks J.P. DuMont and Speedy Stevie Sullivan, and we can also expect Barry Trotz’s minions to play a style of hockey that could put a crack-addicted gerbil to sleep. Pinch and press, dump and loiter, four-men across at their own blue line. It’s like a concert where the band just plays “Wooly Bully” over and over endlessly.

This will be just the second game of the year for Nashville, so we have little to go on past their 4-1 win over league-scourge Anaheim on Saturday. With so many guns absent from the arsenal, it’s anybody’s guess how the Preds will respond. Look for newly-minted captain Shea Weber to try to rally the troops against the defending champs.

And speaking of the Blackhawks, getting a win under their belt was no-doubt a confidence builder. And in a move that came as a surprise to everyone, late Wednesday afternoon Coach Q named Monday’s winning goaltender Corey Crawford for tonight’s start. No suggestion that Marty Turco was either injured or falling out of favor: the Hawks schedule has them in 4 games over the next 6 days, and the Coach is merely putting his ducks in a row to get the right ‘tender up against the right opponent.

The forward corps are looking reasonably good. Patrick Sharp returned on Monday after missing the Detroit (*spitting noise*) game with — you guessed it — an undisclosed injury, and he was a factor in the win over the Sabres. Newcomers Viktor Stalberg and Jack Skille are working their butts off; Patrick Kane is starting to catch fire; and Marian Hossa is already as hot as a two-dollar pistol with five points in three games.

Some of our expectations of our veterans haven’t been met, in particular Dave Bolland whose face-off percentage looks like he’s using a badminton racquet instead of a hockey stick. Here’s hoping that turns around quickly.

News on defense is not so good. Already reeling from the absence of the injured Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson has earned a two-game suspension from the league for his hit on Jason Pominville during Monday’s game. That leaves Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, both already logging 28+ minutes per game, to hold down the fort with an unstable compliment of rookies and lesser-talented veterans behind them.

Never mind the fact that both Dunc and Seabs have made an uncharacteristically large number of bone-head plays themselves so far this young season. All it took was one injury and one ill-conceived hit, and suddenly our best-in-the-league defense looks barely capable of stopping a beach ball. Tonight will be a big test of who can (and does) step up.

Rallying from two goals down in the Sabres victory says a lot about this team. One of the best traits of the Stanley Cup Championship lineup was that they *never* gave up on a game. I’m hopeful that what we saw on Monday was the beginning of that attitude returning to the Hawks’ locker room.

Puck drops at 7:30 at the United Center, TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio WGN AM-720, XM channel 208, Sirius “Best of XM” subscribers can find the game on channel 217.

Check back here for the wrap-up and commentary Thursday morning.