Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Bait & Switch: Blackhawks Nearly Silent on Free Agency Day 1

Photo: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The first day of NHL free agency is like Christmas for fans of any team. Last year, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman was very active right out of the gate, gift wrapping several key role players within the first 3 hours. That flurry of activity gave Blackhawks fans hope for a pony under the tree on July 1st, 2012; but instead fans will have to settle for a hamster.

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Blackhawks Add 8 During Eventful NHL Entry Draft

Photo: ESPN

There were teams holding multiple first-round picks, teams looking to move disgruntled stars, teams looking to shed salary, and teams looking to improve their draft position. The 2012 NHL Entry Draft had all the makings of a first-round free-for-all — and for once, it did not disappoint!

Even before the first 10 picks were in the books, there were players and picks flying all over the room. Jordan Staal sent to Carolina for Brandon Sutter and the Hurricanes’ 1st round pick; Lubomir Visnovsky traded from the Ducks to the Islanders; Mike Ribiero went from Dallas to Washington.

And Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman was smack dab in the middle of all the action…

Observing quietly.

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Shooting Skeet While Blindfolded: Who Will Blackhawks Pick First?

One concussion, one car accident, one too many moguls, one too many beers, one of any number of things can deep-six your carefully-chosen and highly-coveted first round selection in the NHL draft. In some ways, the pick has more value before it turns into a living, breathing human being: because once it is, you’re stuck with it — and whatever happens to it.

So in some ways, your first round pick is kind of like shooting skeet while blindfolded. You do your best and prepare carefully, but in the end your success rate depends just as much on luck and fate as it does on anything else.

When presented in that light, maybe we’re taking this draft business a little too seriously. But let’s face it: most of us aren’t interested in seeing who the Blackhawks pick with their #18 selection; we’re hoping that some deal gets done during the draft that changes the ‘Hawks roster, or draft position, or both. So let’s explore some possibilities.

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End Of Season Reviews: Patrick Kane, Part II — Now Let’s Talk Hockey

Photo: MSN/FoxSports

Breaking down Patrick Kane’s season by looking at his end-of-year totals is impossible. All you see is the fact that his goals, assists, and points were all down against the last 2 years. The story of the boy’s season is much more intricate, and it all started last summer when a certain Blackhawks executive who shall remain nameless (but whose name rhymes with “Dan Showman”) decided to cover up his inability to obtain a second-line center, and in the process throw a wrench into Kane’s season.

In short, Kane was put in a position to fail, and I don’t hold him responsible for his statistical slump. It’s most demonstrably the fault of the guy who has never played a single minute of time in the NHL.

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End Of Season Reviews: Patrick Kane, Part I — Booze & Barter

Photo: ESPN

When the season ended, the five of us here at Cheer The Anthem held a “draft” of sorts, to determine who did which player’s evaluation. A couple of rounds went by and I saw that nobody had picked Patrick Kane yet. So I said, “Okay, sure, why not.”

That was late April.

Now, regretting that decision, I decided to separate this evaluation into two parts — to dispense with the off-ice shenanigans and trade discussion up front, then on Monday we’ll talk about how Kane plays hockey.

*     *     *     *     *

We’ve all seen the pictures and read the articles about Patrick Kane’s Cinco de Mayo visit to Madison, Wisconsin, so I’m not going to re-live the experience with you now. But from this we know three things: first, the kid is a binge drinker, if not an actual alcoholic; second, that this behavior has established itself as a pattern over the last 3 summers; and third, that he is to the point where he needs help. Arguing with these points is merely denying reality and making excuses for a kid who doesn’t need people to make excuses for him anymore.

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End of Season Reviews: Dan Carcillo

I don't think knees are supposed to bend that way.

There was a time when Blackhawks fans questioned the signing of Dan Carcillo, fearing his off-the-cuff antics would eventually lead to some potentially damaging incident that validated all the concerns.

After the man appropriately nicknamed CarBomb proved everyone right, Stan Bowman went ahead and re-upped him for two more years, putting fans back in the same worrisome position.

Oh, and he got a raise at that.

Carcillo managed to pack a season’s worth of drama into a mere 28 games – a number cut short by suspensions and a season-ending injury that came while making an illegal hit he’s bound to repeat down the road.

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End of Season Reviews: Jimmy Hayes

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Part two of the dynamic duo called up in 2012 is Jimmy Hayes.  I had really high hopes for this kid this season, but his presence was merely a teaser of his future potential on the Blackhawks, as well as a potentially promising indication of what’s to come.

I have a soft-spot in my heart for the big guy.  For one thing, he’s American.  Secondly, he is 22 years old.  Lastly, and most importantly, Jimmy’s frame is built to bruise.  Standing 6’6″ tall and weighing in at over 220 lbs, Jimmy has the body to hit and hit hard.

Jimmy started the season strong, scoring 2 points in his first three professional games.  He netted 2 points in three different games for the Hawks.  Not bad for a kid playing just above 10:00 per game on the season.  Hayes started the season as a top line forward and netted 7 points in his first 10 NHL games.

Unfortunately, Hayes was a part of the player carousel that the Blackhawks had going this season, and it prevented him from developing any sort of offensive consistency, dropping in the depth chart towards the end of the season.

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End Of Season Reviews: Johnny Oduya

Photo: Bill Smith/Getty Images

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

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

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

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End of Season Reviews : Dave Bolland

The Rat doesn’t need any introduction. Let’s get right to it!

The Good:

After Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, you’d be hard pressed to find a Blackhawk who is asked to do more than Dave Bolland (okay, maybe Jonathan Toews) night in and night out. Whether it’s anchoring their most important line, killing penalties or playing on the power play, he does it all, and he does it all pretty damn well. This season, Bolland was once again asked to shoulder the burden of shutting down other teams top lines, and as usual, he delivered. The 200 ft game Bolland (he played tougher minuets than anyone) can and does bring to the table is a major factor in the success of this hockey team – especially in the playoffs. As usual, Bolland was a mainstay on the penalty kill (which was awful) and led the team with 3 shorthanded goals, which really wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was the fact that he ended up tied for 2nd on the team with 7 power play goals. His 10 special teams goals were 2nd on the Blackhawks behind Marian Hossa. Another reason everyone loves Bolland : the playoffs! His performance was criticized in some quarters, but I thought that line was the most consistent and effective the Blackhawks had. I shudder to think what the Phoenix series would have ended up looking like without Bolland, along with Bickell (which probably says something about the ‘Hawks).

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End Of Season Reviews: Michael Frolik

Ever seen them in the same room together?

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

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

And then the 2011-12 season started…

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Blackhawks fire Mike Haviland

A Blackhawks coach is leaving Chicago, but it’s not Joel Quenneville – yet.

The ‘Hawks fired assistant coach Mike Haviland on Tuesday in a surprising move few saw coming. It’s pretty safe to assume the first head on the chopping block would have been Mike Kitchen, given his responsibilities with the horribly bad special teams.

Al Cimaglia wrote recently he heard Haviland had an “unwritten promise” to succeed Coach Q, but that sure doesn’t seem to be the case now. I’m assuming Haviland was just as surprised as we are.

Then again, the Blackhawks needed a fall guy for another disappointing playoff “run,” and rather than Kitchen, Q decided to let go of supposedly his right-hand man.

So, in a matter of months Haviland went from being a finalist for the Winnipeg job to unemployed. Seems like a tough break.

We’ll be back with an update once we hear from those who made the decision.

End of Season Reviews: Patrick Sharp

There’s plenty of discussions regarding the Blackhawks’ financial situation and the money tied up in either under-performing players or long contracts currently on the roster.

But along with Jonathan Toews, some of the Blackhawks’ most wisely spent money is being given to Patrick Sharp – and he proved it once again with another solid season.

The Handsome One underwent an emergency appendectomy in the offseason, welcomed his first child into the world Dec. 10 – then scored the next night against San Jose – missed eight games because of a broken wrist suffered against Detroit on Jan. 8, played through the break the rest of the season, and still finished with a team-leading 33 goals.

He may have had a rough playoff series, but what Blackhawk didn’t?

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End of Season Reviews: Andrew Shaw

With 2012 just five days old and #ShawFacts unborn, the Blackhawks’ fan base sounded like a group of owls, collectively yelling “Who?!” after hearing  Andrew Shaw was being called up from Rockford.

The little-known fifth-round draft pick wasn’t expected to be in the Blackhawks’ plans this season or even next season, depending on who you ask. Hell, I challenge most of you to even recall the ‘Hawks drafting him.

But there was Shaw, a 180-pound ball of energy unexpectedly ready to make an impact.

And from his first game, that’s exactly what he did. Shaw provided the grit and tenacity we’d hoped to see from more experienced players while also packing a scoring punch. Sure, there are deficiencies in his game. He has plenty to learn, and that aggressiveness he showed ended up costing him in the playoffs, but Shaw provided a pleasant surprise for the ‘Hawks by getting an early jump on his career.

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End of Season Reviews : Bryan Bickell

The likelihood of President Obama ever attending a hockey game did not increase after meeting Bryan Bickell at the White House last season.

Ahh, Bryan Bickell. If you’re the type of fan who has bemoaned the ‘Hawks lack of grit and toughness the past two seasons, you probably fucking hate Bryan Bickell.  You tell anyone who will listen what a softy he is – ugly too!

There is little question that through two full seasons, Bickell has been a disappointment in a few categories. As a young  6’4 forward with a decent shot,  the Blackhawks envisioned Bickell being a big part of replacing what players like Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager brought to the ‘Hawks forecheck in the years leading up to the Cup victory. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, even though I would argue that he hasn’t been exactly been a flop either.

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End of Season Reviews: Jamal Mayers

Photo: Chicago Tribune

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

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

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

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Things are Gonna Get Easier

Adrian Aucoin participating in second-round playoff hockey for a team that resides in the desert seems about as likely as him being captain for the Blackhawks. Unfoturnely, both have happened.

Well, maybe they won’t. I don’t know. They’re definitely going to be different, though. Right?

Basically, there are a lot of questions marks for Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks’ roster in the offseason, and with hockey still being played in places like Hollywood, the desert and whatever the hell you want to call New Jersey, attempting to make sense of it all seems futile.

What we will do, however, is discuss the good and the bad among last season’s contributors and disappointments who donned the Indian head on a player-by-player basis.

Each week we’ll bring you five player reviews and maybe some random discussion. Here’s what you can look forward to for the first week, as myself, Jim, Tim and JMH breakdown your 2011-12 Blackhawks – who will be playing as much playoff hockey as I will the rest of this season.

Monday — Duncan Keith

Tuesday — Jamal Mayers

Wednesday — Bryan Bickell

Thursday — Andrew Shaw

Friday — Patrick Sharp
We’re going to try and mix in stars and role players each week, with these recaps taking you through the Stanley Cup finals. And if St. Louis ends up playing for the Cup, you’ll likely need your hockey fix since you won’t be watching those assholes.

So, even though the Blackhawks’ season is over, ours isn’t quite yet. Keep checking back.

Detour On The Road To Dynasty

( Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)

Well, it’s not the way we had it scripted, but the 2011-2012 Chicago Blackhawks season ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

It was supposed to be  a lot different (better), of course. This particular ‘Hawks team was going to be the one to restore all the glory after a mostly forgettable 2010-2011 season. That season was written off fairly early by many fans who understand how contracts and the CBA worked. Hey, they would be back with a vengeance the next season, reloaded and rested, right? We heard a lot about how much that loss to Vancouver pissed them off. We heard about how hungry they were to prove the critics wrong. We were told the ‘Hawks finally had some money to spend. We had reason to be optimistic.

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Raffi Torres nailed with 25-game Suspension for Hit on Marian Hossa

Video of The Shanahammer laying the smackdown above

And the verdict is in. Brendan Shanahan has leveled Raffi Torres with an astounding 25-game suspension for his hit on Marian Hossa in Game 3.

Most of us thought 10. I sure as hell thought it would be 10. But 25? I guess that’s what happens when you’re a repeat offender and deliberately concuss someone in the playoffs.

It won’t bring Hossa back when the ‘Hawks desperately could use him down 3-1 to Phoenix, but at least Torres will serve his time.

Torres’ suspension in the longest since New York Islanders forward Chris Simon was suspended for 30 games in December 2007 for stomping on the ankle of Jarrko Ruutu.

Pretty amazing this hit warrants a 25-game suspension from Shanahan but not even a two-minute penalty from four apparently blind referees/linesmen.

Around the World: Bettman Speaks, Torres Decision Saturday, ‘Hawks Goaltending

Gary Bettman continues taking heat for his league getting embarrassed on a national stage, with nine players getting suspended so far in these playoffs. Some of it is deserved, some not, but the fact remains the dirty play has taken on horrible level that is making hockey look nothing like a goon sport to the casual observer.

And with the NHL being quite obviously the fourth major sports league, bringing in casual observers is what Bettman needs to get his NHL more eyes that stay focused on the product rather than veering off after the pointless fights end.

Bettman spoke at an Associated Press Sports Editors meeting on Friday, standing by Brendan Shanahan and his rulings to this point – including the the three-game smackdown laid on Andrew Shaw and the non-suspension of Shea Weber.

While Bettman did make a good point — “For everybody who says (a certain suspension is) too much, there are people who say it’s too little. For everybody who doesn’t like a particular judgment, they say they’re being inconsistent.” – he also didn’t do himself any favors by avoiding taking some of the drama out of the situations by at least seeing another point of view.

“Everybody will have a different view,” Bettman said. “In Vancouver, they probably thought Bitz was being picked on and got suspended for too much. In Chicago, everybody felt that Shaw shouldn’t have been suspended at all because Smith was faking. Not the case.”

Maybe Mike Smith genuinely was injured, but I’ve never seen anyone recover from getting shot in the face that quickly. He sure hasn’t seemed to lose a step, carrying the Coyotes to a 3-1 series lead over the ‘Hawks heading into Saturday’s Game 5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shaw Sits Three : ‘Hawks v. Phoenix

Yup

As you all know by now, Andrew Shaw has been suspended for 3 games by NHL chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for his collision with Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith in Game 2. That’s right folks, Shaw will sit longer than Shea Weber, Matt Carkner and Byron Bitz - all of whom committed offenses far more  harmful to the game than Shaw did. So what did we learn today? Do not, under any circumstance, get close to a goaltender. Why the NHL considers the brains of goaltenders more important than the brains of other players is a question they will have to answer down the road. It’s absurd.

Shanahan, praised by many as the man who would save hockey from itself, has been unacceptably inconsistent with his rulings and is quickly losing credibility all around the league. Have his rulings really been any better than those of Colin Campbell? I’m not so certain anymore. Sure, he has been more transparent with his cute little video explanations, but what good is transparency without consistency? Wasn’t consistency the real problem with Campbell? Shanahan promised to step in and reform a broken system. To date, he has failed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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