Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Jets with the Winnipeg Free Press’ Ed Tait

No banners up at the MTS Center yet, dude. (Getty Images)

Remember these guys? Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien make their return to the United Center since being dealt in salary dumps following the 2009-10 Stanley Cup run. After one middling season in Atlanta, the two are a part of the NHL’s long overdue return to Winnipeg, with Ladd donning the ‘C’ and Byfuglien carrying some new paper.

Here to help me preview the Jets is Winnipeg Free Press beat writer Ed Tait, who discusses the atmosphere in Winnipeg, the Jets still being the Atlanta Thrashers, and the two former Blackhawks. Enjoy!

Bartl: First thing, can you talk about the atmosphere in Winnipeg for the season opener and how the fans and players alike are embracing having hockey back in the city?

Tait: The season opener was like no other sporting event I’ve covered. There was a variety of different emotions shown by fans and players, from pure euphoria to sadness during the pre-game memorial to Rick Rypien. I saw grown men crying tears of joy, the Canadian national anthem has arguably never been sung louder in these parts and the MTS Centre concourse was jammed with people three hours before the opening face-off. The whole event had the feel of opening night and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final morphed into one. The cool thing for fans now is this: after this road trip to Chicago and Phoenix the next home game is against Pittsburgh and everyone has their fingers crossed Sidney Crosby is back on the ice.

Bartl: Eventually, the excitement of having hockey back will turn to wanting competitive hockey. Do the fans realize they’re still cheering for the Atlanta Thrashers, who have yet to win a playoff game? Will the fans be a bit lenient with them this season?

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Blackhawks on the Mend: Salak Recalled, Saad to OHL, etc.

Hopefully all of this injury shit is confined to the start of the season, when the ‘Hawks had five days to heel up and get back in gear.

♦   Corey Crawford practiced today with a sore groin, and he’s not certain if he can go against Winnipeg tomorrow night. Crawford downplayed it and said he’ll decide at the morning skate how healthy he is, but there’s no reason to rush back for the third game of the season. In fact, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea to sit Crawford either Thursday or Saturday against Boston anyway even if he was healthy.

The humorous part, though, is that Ray Emery also missed Wednesday’s practice with the flu. To counter that, the Blackhawks recalled Alexander Salak to either start or be the backup against the Jets. With all the hullabaloo over the backup goaltender, we all may get a chance to see what Salak is all about. Then if he posts a shutout, we can read 19 more blogs about whether or not Salak will replace Emery even after Emery is done vomiting. Yippy.

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That’s More Like It: Another Round of Boxing with Blackhawks-Stars

"Thanks for the roster spot, bitch." (Credit: Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

After Friday’s poop fest, it was more than nice to see the ‘Hawks score first and shut down the Stars out of the gate in a 5-2 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It also helped that Andrew Raycroft was getting beat like a group of Mormons in a keg race to his glove side all night. A couple of inches on numerous shots and this game could’ve ended 9-2.

Jonathan Toews scored out of the penalty box after Andrew Brunette got his first goal as a Blackhawk. Dave Bolland had a pair, including one that made Raycroft look like, well, Raycroft. Goals came much easier than they did Friday against Kari Lehtonen.

The Blackhawks seemed to be determined well before puck drop, as the ‘Hawks limited shots to Corey Crawford as he was playing a back-to-back for the first time since late last season. No real threats were posed other than a Vernon Fiddler goal which was set up by a nice give-and-go with former friend Adam Burish. Still, it took a great shot from Fiddler to beat Crawford to the far top shelf when Crawford had the near post covered.

Jamal Mayers helped welcome back Jake Dowell to the UC with a couple of haymakers, while John Scott was up to his same old shit – wasting a perfectly good uniform while dressing his large, worthless body for a whole three minutes.

Bolland, on the other hand, proved just how useful he can be when he can stay healthy. Friday and Saturday were night and day, and don’t think Bolland wasn’t a major cause of it. The Stars looked completely out of sorts, and Bolland provided plenty of offense as well. It’s probably both good and bad, but the ‘Hawks seem to be a different team when he’s out on the ice (See: Vancouver series, Games 4-7).

Onto Boxing to celebrate the first of (hopefully) many more victories. As always, separate images for the summary and box score, click each to enlarge:

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Let’s Get ‘Em Tomorrow: Opening Night Boxing with Blackhawks-Stars

Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Oh well. Not much to get nuts about here. One game down, 81 (and hopefully more) to go.

Sure, there are certain things that made me angry. The power play was 0 for 4, Duncan Keith looked like poop. Marian Hossa and Michael Frolik missed on a couple of good chances.

Again, it’s just one game and a 2-1 loss in Dallas on opening night isn’t something to cower in the corner about. It’s time for the Stars to head into our house.

It’s time for the triumphant return of Boxing – the first one here at our new home, Cheer the Anthem. There are two separate images, one for the game summary and one for the box score. Click on each to enlarge.

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Dancing With The Stars: Dallas Home-And-Home Kicks Off 2011-12

Photo: Getty Images

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.

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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Stars with ESPNDallas.com’s Mark Stepneski

With Richards gone, is Eriksson ready to shoulder the load?

The season opener(s) is upon us, and to help preview the home-and-home with the Dallas Stars is ESPNDallas.com’s Mark Stepneski, who discusses last season’s letdown, the departure of Brad Richards and the Stars’ gameplan for the weekend against the Blackhawks.

Bartl: After missing the playoffs on the final day of the season and allowing the Blackhawks to sneak in, has there been any talk around the team about that near miss providing added motivation for this season, or has the team moved on?

Stepneski: I think missing the playoffs for a third straight season is a big motivation. But the sense I get from the team is that this season is kind of a fresh start. There’s a new head coach in Glen Gulutzan and several new players have been added via free agency. Not many in the national media are giving them much of a chance – hardly anyone is picking them to make the playoffs – and that is providing a little extra motivation as well.

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Fans Puzzled Over Salak Demotion: Here’s Why

Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

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.

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Emery “Wins” Backup Goaltender Job, Which Means… Nothing.

Yep, that's our backup goaltender. The one on the left, dumbass.

The Blackhawks officially signed Ray Emery to back up Corey Crawford this season, ending the competition with Alexander Salak. Why should you care? Well, you really shouldn’t.

It doesn’t matter what the reasons were for Coach Q and Stan Bowman to go this route. There are plenty, I’m sure, and none of which are of any concern to me. Chicago fans have an affinity for the backup, no matter what sport. It’s always been that way. And finally, for the first time in a few years, Blackhawks fans don’t have to worry who the hell is wearing the baseball cap this season while the starting goaltender shines in net.

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Looking at What Counts when Nothing Counts

(Chicago Tribune)

After a nice little break I like to enjoy each offseason, I’m making my triumphant, much-anticipated return so you folks can remind me of how my fantastic, well-written, well-informed opinions are what you look forward to on a daily basis bother you.

I hit the United Center last night in my usual spot in Section 326, Row 12, Seat 11 and watched the Blackhawks earn a meaningless 4-3 win over Detroit, much to the delight of the woman behind me screeching each time the ‘Hawks crossed the red line. Thanks, psycho.

The problem with these games that don’t count is that bad shit still can happen, evident by the fact Viktor Stalberg will be sidelined three weeks with a leg injury, and Ben Smith got railroaded by a nasty hit which knocked him out cold. The bad stings, and the good is taken with a shaving of ice.

Now that I’ve made you more depressed about watching preseason hockey, here’s what I saw:

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Down To The Wire: Questions Remain at Blackhawks Camp

Photo: AP

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.

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Little Bit South of Saskatoon: Oilers Beat Blackhawks 4 – 2

Photo: Reuters

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…

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Training Camp Festival: First-Look Scouting Report

Photo: ChicagoNow

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.

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Training Camp In A Sentence

Photo: ChicagoTribune.com

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.

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Blackhawks Acquire Mini-Serious

Photo: Zimbio.com

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.

Necks In The Guillotine

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

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.

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Ruin & Destroy Camp, Part II

Photo: The Globe And Mail

Earlier this week we reviewed the non-active-play changes tested out at Brendan Shanahan’s GM circle jerk known as “R&D Camp.” Today we look at the proposed changes that will affect play on the ice. Buckle up, people; the stupidity has been flowing fast and furious among the league’s brain trust.

No line changes allowed for offending teams when called for off-sides: One of the most unique things about the game of hockey is the ability for teams to change players on the ice at nearly any time. The imbecile who came up with this rule for icing should have had his eyeballs ripped out with needle-nose pliers, and the same fate should befall the twit who came up with this too. But you know the league: they’ll implement this rule.

Face-off moves to offending team’s zone when called for off-sides: I don’t think this goes far enough, actually. I think that for off-sides calls the face off should be moved inside the crease. In fact, how about one inch in front of the offending team’s goal line. Maybe a half-inch. Oh wait, I’ve got it: off-sides calls result in a penalty shot. They want to increase offense? That will increase offense! They never listen to me, however: but for now, you can expect to see this rule despite it’s obvious shortcomings.

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Injury Prognoses

Photo: National Post

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…

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Ruin & Destroy Camp, Part I

Photo: NBC Sports

I was sitting on the dock in Muskoka on Wednesday, sucking on a Labatt’s and watching the kids splash around the lake, when it dawned on me: “Hold it! I’m in Canada! I can watch TSN!!!”

I’d been there four days already. Apparently when I cross the border I lose many important brain cells, even before I start drinking.

One of the things I like most about my parents’ place up north is the 365-days-a-year hockey coverage in the national media. TSN’s SportsCentre (love the spelling) program led with the NHL’s R&D Camp coverage, including a brief round table with three NHL GM’s, to discuss the proposed rules changes that were tested at the camp thus far. I have a feeling that if I had been able to watch the ESPN SportsCenter broadcast that night, they would have led with coverage of whether Chad Ochocinco had shaved his balls that morning, followed by whichever NASCAR driver had a hissy fit at qualifying, and spent exactly zero time on R&D camp.

Man, do I miss my homeland. They have their priorities in order.

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1 Bad Contract, 2 Bad Contract, 3 Bad Contract, Floor

Credit: Detroit Sports Nation

During my last appearance on the HOCKEENIGHT Puckcast, we briefly discussed the impending end of the NHL’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement following the coming season with the focus shifting mainly to the mandatory salary cap floor.

Forklift pointed out the relatively small gap between the cap ceiling ($64.3 million) and the minimum number ($48.3 million). For you math whizzes out there, that’s a $16 million difference – or the estimated amount of two high-priced studs or 3-4 second-tier players.

In the grand scheme of things, the amount separating the floor and the ceiling isn’t all that much, and I agree with Fork that forcing small-market teams to shell out dough relatively similar to those playing in high-revenue cities may, MAY (I’m emphasizing there with the all caps and the italics) do damage to those franchises.

With the ceiling and floor both rising, it has forced certain teams to take on some bad deals and overpay to simply hit the floor. For one, Dale Tallon brought to Florida Brian Campbell’s contract ($7.14 M) and signed Tomas Kopecky ($3 M), Ed Jovanovski ($4.1 M) and Tomas Fleischmann ($4.5 M) to deals which all made our acid reflux reach disheartening levels.

And yet with all that, the Panthers are barely standing on the floor. To Tallon’s defense, it was a spending spree forced upon him by the NHL’s CBA which required him to shell out these head-scratching deals.

But is that such a bad thing?

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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Blues with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford

Rather than the standard previews of Central Division foes from an outsider’s point of view, I decided to take a different approach. Behind Enemy Lines will take a look at our divisional rivals through the eyes of those invested in the team in one way or another. Today, the series concludes with the St. Louis Blues and beat writer Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Credit: Bill Boyce, AP

Bartl: One of the main questions surrounding the Blues was the health of David Perron, and it’s now known he won’t be ready to start the regular season following his November concussion. Will that have much of an impact on the team heading into the season, or were the Blues planning as if he wouldn’t be ready to go?

Rutherford: Not having David Perron in the lineup leaves the Blues without one of their top skill players and therefore hurts them, but because he missed the final 72 games of last season and most folks weren’t really expecting him to be ready, I don’t think his absence at the start of the season will have a dramatic effect. If the Blues struggle out of the gates and Perron is still out in January, it could weigh on them moreso, but they’ve been prepared to move on without him.

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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing Detroit with The Winged Wheel

Rather than the standard previews of Central Division foes from an outsider’s point of view, I decided to take a different approach. This week, Behind Enemy Lines will take a look at our divisional rivals through the eyes of those invested in the team in one way or another. Today, we look at the Detroit Red Wings with some good-natured, R-rated discussion followed by a great charity opportunity from Greg of The Winged Wheel.

Bartl: I’m going to get this out of the way quickly though it’s been discussed madly by pretty much everyone, but I’d like to know your opinion: Is Chris Osgood a Hall of Fame goaltender?

Greg: Abso-tittyfucking-lutely. (That’s me, all class right out of the gate). 3 rings. 400 wins. Hands-down the most mentally tough goaltender to step into the blue paint. The dude dominated throughout the playoffs, had a crazy-long career, and punched Patrick Roy in the mouth several times. That translates to one result: In.

Obviously, there are a good number of people who strongly believe that The Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz does not deserve a bid to the Hall. Those people are wrong. They often cite just absurd arguments. They argue that his career was unimpressive because he played behind an outstanding team. Not so coincidentally, these arguments are usually made by fans of historically shitty teams. Your favorite barely-mediocre first line-center looks a whole lot better when you write off every player to have ever played for any team who ever came close to winning anything. These buffoons also make the argument that Osgood just isn’t of the same caliber as Roy, Sawchuck, or Brodeur. That’s kind of like saying Dino Ciccerelli is not Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, or Steve Yzerman. Well… yeah. No shit. But, he’s still in the Hall.

Long story short – Ozzie belongs in the hall of fame. You don’t luck your way into 400 wins. Period.

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Bartl on the HOCKEENIGHT Puckcast

Last night, I had the pleasure of making another appearance on the PUCKCAST with The Writer Known as Forklift and his partner in crime, CT. We discussed many things – CBA, realignment, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith’s muscles, non-hockey topics – but mainly how much I hate America, given my Fox News appearance.

Enjoy the hour-plus banter and be less productive at work by listening through.