If Not For Some Rookie Mistakes

Photo: Marc Piscotty - Getty Images

When Jeff brought me on board, one of the things he told me was that if I disagreed with something he was advocating in one of his posts, feel free to say so.

Didn’t take long. Heh heh…

But we’ll get to that in a minute. I just have some quick thoughts about two rookie mistakes from the same play during last night’s game — Colorado’s first goal. The first mistake was from Nick Leddy, who was the victim of a bouncing puck, and incredibly speedy pair of forwards, and getting caught flat-footed in the attacking zone.

Sitting on the right point and fielding a pass from his mate Niklas Hjalmarsson, the puck bounces over Leddy’s stick, takes a Colorado carom off the boards, and it’s off to the races. What could he have done differently? The only thing that comes to mind is sacrificing the attacking zone: going to one knee to field the pass coming across from Hammer, using his hands to settle the puck down (keeping it in front of him and pushing it into the neutral zone, away from the Avalanche forwards), and having the team re-group. Other that that, the kid lost a foot race against one of the speediest guys in the league, pure and simple.

Credit to Coach Joel Quenneville, however: he still kept the kid out there, and Leddy put in a solid effort in 19+ minutes in place of the injured Brian Campbell. As he matures he is going to be a valuable asset to the team. However, it appears at this point that he’s not over the holy-shit-I’m-in-the-NHL jitters. This time last year, Leddy was trying to persuade a lovely young Scandahoovian girl to write his English paper for him. Now he’s skating alongside Olympic gold medalists. That would screw with anybody’s perspective.

The other rookie mistake was from 10-year NHL veteran Marty Turco. And this is where Jeff and I disagree. Turco was not the reason the game went into overtime; he’s the reason the Blackhawks didn’t win it in regulation.

Defensemen are taught from an early age: in a 2-on-1, play the pass. Play the PASS, play the PASS, PLAY THE PASS. This means that you never, EVER, stop covering the guy *without* the puck. Why?

First of all, it eliminates confusion between you and your goaltender as to who is covering whom. Secondly, it leaves the situation as a 1-on-0, and usually from a bad angle.

The path from the blue line to the net is a funnel. The further you can push the attacking forwards towards the goal, the less lateral room they have to maneuver, and the fewer shot options they have available. You keep them thinking about the pass/shoot decision until they’re so far down they’ve (still) got nobody to pass to very little open net to shoot at. That gives the advantage to the goaltender, and all of a sudden your 2-on-1 isn’t so scary anymore.

For this reason, they tell goaltenders from an early age, play the shooter. That’s where Mr. Turco fucked up.

As Nick Leddy was out of sight behind the play, it became a 2-on-1 towards our goal with Niklas Hjalmarsson busting his meatballs to cover the guy in the slot. This put Avs forward Chris Stewart carrying the puck off on the left circle with nobody to get a (decent) pass to. Perfect, right? Turco can stop that, right?

No. Turco was playing the pass, standing so far out of his crease I could have parked the U.S.S. Constellation, two of it’s tender ships and a life raft between him and the goal post, leaving Stewart to flick a wrist shot past Turco. An 8-year-old could have buried that shot with his skates untied. Fool-idiot rookie mistake.

I’m not saying we should have kept Antti Niemi, that ship has sailed. I disagree with the selection of Turco for just this reason. His performance is a balancing act, alternating between bailing the team out of deep doo-doo with Rogie Vachon acrobatics, and letting in crap goals like this one. If Turco hugs the post on this play like he’s supposed to, then the game is tied 2-2 going into the 3rd, and the Hawks win in regulation.

But as Jeff says, we’ve got 81 more of these to go. Nobody wins 82 games a season, this is just the start. We’re going to give ourselves ulcers if we judge each game strictly by the scoreboard. There was a lot to like about last night’s game. As the jitters subside, the team gets into proper condition, and the kids stop running into their teammates (not mentioning any names, Viktor Stalberg), we’re going to have a lot better outings than the one last night in Denver.

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It’s a league game, Smokey: Falling Snow Pile 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)

Well, that's PooP (Getty Images)

It’s pretty amazing how emotions shift so quickly. Until yesterday, I was still enjoying the Stanley Cup victory. Hell, I haven’t even gotten my season-ticket holder time to grope the thing. That happens Oct. 14.

But as soon as the VERSUS coverage shifted to Denver, I forgot everything that happened in June and during the Summer-long celebration. We’re back to reality, and the Colorado Avalanche made sure the Blackhawks know that, too.

The ‘Hawks showed flashes of their potential to repeat as champs, but also played like they were wearing slippers at times. It’s what comes with defending a title and having a target on your back. And there’s 81 more of these to go.

Though I would have loved to get started with a victory, the Blackhawks came out with a standings point from a game in which they trailed 3-1 and looked left for dead. So, there’s that.

Here’s the rest of what I’ve got for tonight…

♦   Before everyone starts leaving skid marks in their undies, Marty Turco is the reason that game even went to overtime. I wanted to get that out of the way just in case there’s a meathead reading this saying, “We should’ve never let Niemi walk.” Turco made some great saves tonight on good chances for the Avs — and more importantly, on good shots as well. There’s not much to complain about on any of those four goals.

♦  Turco’s athleticism is something we’re not used to, and it may cause heart failure for one or two people this season watching him chase the puck all over the place. Yes, he almost got burned getting caught in Bumblefuck deciding whether or not to chase down a loose puck entering the zone. But I’m convinced Turco’s ability to play the puck will be an asset for the ‘Hawks rather than a detriment. Minus the Chris Stewart goal, Turco snuffed the Avs on a couple more odd-man rushes because…

♦  … the ‘Hawks were noticeably different without  Brian Campbell. The Avs had enough short-handed chances tonight to make me want to strangle a small child. Part of the reason for that is Campbell’s speed wasn’t around to make up for the blue-line shortcomings of the forwards at the point. Aside from that,  Nick Leddy’s blunder which led to the Stewart goal may not have happened, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Oh, and the Blackhawks gave up 41 shots. This can’t keep happening. And if it does, it’ll be a long season.

♦  Marian Hossa is a fucking animal. He just does everything right. Even forgetting his deflection goal and beautiful assist on  Bryan Bickell’s tally, Hossa makes such good decisions and plays an outstanding defense for a forward. If he wasn’t known so much as a scorer and playmaker, I have no doubt he’d be getting more consideration for the Selke Trophy.

♦  Patrick Sharp is not only a very handsome man, he also played fantastic tonight. Even during the preseason, Sharp looked like a man just dying to get back on the ice and get the season started. Not a bad way to get going: Goal, assist and seven shots on goal.

♦  Getting back to Leddy’s miscue in the offensive zone that lead to Stewart’s goal: It was a 19-year-old play made by a kid seeing his first NHL action. Leddy turned a routine cross-ice pass into hacky sack.  Niklas Hjalmarsson was forced to saucer it to Leddy, who had time to either settle the puck down with his hand — a la  Duncan Keith – or simply let the puck slip past him and let the boards settle it down for him. Overall, Leddy didn’t play all that bad for a guy no one really figures is ready to play at this level. He made a rookie mistake.

Let’s just hope there’s not many more of them.

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

A couple non-’Hawks-related things…

For those who may not have noticed the names on certain posts,  Tim Currell has jumped aboard to help me out with some thoughts and keep this site updated with insightful words. My fault, Tim, for not announcing this earlier. But be sure to check the names on the posts to know who’s writing and who to direct your feedback to. You can find each of our email addresses on the “About” page.

Holy. Fucking. Shitballs. Look at this fucking goal by  Jordan Eberle, the Edmonton Oilers rookie making his NHL debut. I couldn’t go without posting this:

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Defending the crown: ‘Hawks open season vs. Big Falling Snow Pile

Photo: nhlsnipers.com

The Colorado Avalanche come into the 2010-11 season confounding even the most dedicated fans and the most astute prognosticators. Where will they finish this year? Well, anywhere from last to first. That’s all anyone is willing to commit to.

Well, maybe not first.

So what gives? Last year at this time the Avs were considered to stink like a month-old urinal cake. But then they rode the borderline spectacular play of goaltender and former Blackhawks draft pick Craig Anders(s)on — inside joke, for those of you who remember that far back — into the eighth place spot in the Western Conference and earned a trip to the playoffs. They were dispatched handily by San Jose, but nobody expected to see them anywhere but the golf course and self-help seminars beyond April 4th.

Last year’s miracle performance is exactly why nobody is willing to commit to any firm predictions about this year’s team.

From front to back: the forwards are a huge question mark, as a team just as young as the Blackhawks has the potential to deliver either the season of their lives, or fall victim to the sophomore slump. Paul Statsny leads the team up the middle, with two 19-year-old centers behind him in Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. Can they follow up last year’s performance? Pre-season would suggest otherwise, as the club managed to score more than two goals in only one of seven outings. So right away the offensive situation gets called into question.

Defense is even less inspiring, as 39-year-old Adam Foote is the only marquee name on the blueliner corps. The group will have to cut down the 31 shots against that they *averaged* last season if they want to have any hope of succeeding this year.

Which brings us to goaltending, and the out-of-nowhere performance of the afore-mentioned Mr. Anders(s)on, played this Thursday by Hugo Weaving.

After several failed attempts to ascend to something more than a backup-to-the-backup with both the Hawks and the Florida Panthers, he was acquired to play a similar role with the Avalanche. But fate stepped in, and before long he found himself in the starter’s role and rescuing a team of rookies and misfits night after night.

So was this a fluke? Can Anders(s)on keep it up? Again, pre-season suggests otherwise, as Peter Budaj was the one in net for the only two wins of pre-season, with Anders(s)on between the pipes for three losses.

So as you see, no easy answers. What team will show up on any given night, including this one, is anybody’s guess.

And just for your amusement, attendance is not quite what the Avalanche were experiencing in the Patrick Roy/Joe Sakic/Peter Forsberg days. To entice more Denvernians to the Pepsi Center, the team is offering a free day lift ticket to the Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort for every seat purchased. Remember folks, this is for the HOME OPENER.

On the Blackhawks’ side however, more is known about the team we will see when the puck drops on the 2010-11 season. Underachiever Ryan Potulny and career minor-leaguer Jassen Cullimore lived down to everybody’s expectations during camp, and were placed on waivers Tuesday. They cleared on Wednesday, and with luck that’s the last we’ll see of either of them.

Nick Leddy was at practice wearing a number 8 jersey, a move that we can assume is permanent for him. There does not appear to be any historical significance to the move; he wore number 5 at the University of Minnesota.

Coach Joel Quenneville was tinkering with lineups at practice the last two days, and for the first ten minutes of the game at least (until he gets impatient and plays musical wingers like he usually does) we could see Fernando Pisani alongside Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line. The only other move that could surprise fans is seeing Viktor Stalberg on the fourth line with Jake Dowell and Jack Skille. But don’t expect that to last either, this may be a what-do-we-do-with-Stalberg experiment that will last maybe one period.

Nick Boynton was suspended for one regular season game by Colin Campbell and the NHL Thought Police for what was very obviously a semaphore signal meaning “I enjoyed the cannoli very much, please thank your wife for me.” He can return Saturday against Detroit (*spitting noise*).

Late start for this one, puck drops at 9pm Chicago time. Carried on TV nationally by Versus and VersusHD, radio is WGN. No Comcast pre-game, since they are carrying the Bulls(hit) vs. Mavericks exhibition game.

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Time To Move On

Photo: AP

You haven’t really looked at it since June. It’s got a special hanger, and a special place in the closet. Nobody touches it but you. It is not to be washed. But it’s finally time.

You pull it close to your face, and inhale. The faint smell of sweat, beer, and United Center nachos.

The Jersey.

The last time you had it on, you were standing with 2 million of your closest friends, crammed on to Michigan Avenue, brushing the confetti out of your hair and straining to get a better look as Jonathan Toews hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup over his head at the Wacker Drive intersection.

It was the first time that magnificent silver chalice has seen The Windy City in nearly a half-century. All the eyes in the hockey world were focused on Chicago, and the city turned out for a party the likes of which have not been seen in decades. And you were there.

That day, you wanted the hockey world to stop time. We could just have the Blackhawks be Stanley Cup Champions forever. We could keep the team intact, watch the news reports as the players made the rounds to the local watering holes bringing the Cup with them, and celebrate like this once a week just to keep the magic alive — and remind the world that the Chicago Blackhawks were the best hockey team in the world.

But it doesn’t work that way. Time marches on, like ants to the drop of barbecue sauce you spilled on the deck while basting the ribs.  The summer comes and goes, the salary cap forces ugly and unpopular decisions, and eventually a new season is upon us.

And so it is.

The celebrations are almost over. We’ll parade the cup around a little more, and we’ll raise the Championship banner to the roof of the United Center on opening night. But really, it’s time to get serious. Training camp is over, decisions have been made. Pundits are lobbing speculations and predictions. The players are getting into shape, the coaches are watching film and juggling wingers, management is fielding offers and weighing possibilities, and the fans are gearing up.

That’s your job. It’s time.

So you pull The Jersey off its hanger, admire it for a second or two, then flip it over and put it on. It’s a little more snug than you remember (gotta lay off the bratwurst, amigo), but it’ll do.

It was a summer unlike any other, ever. There was a certain spring in our steps, a certain pride in our voices, a certain confidence in our posture. There was more Chicago Blackhawks merchandise worn on the streets than ever before. This city was more than proud, it was swaggering. It will never be equaled, and we wouldn’t want to try. It’s time to move on. It’s time to take on a new challenge. It’s time to go to work.

It’s hockey season again. The Chicago Blackhawks are defending Stanley Cup Champions.

Game.

On.

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Please Tell Me You’re Kidding

Photo: chicagonow.com

Monday it was announced that Chicago Blackhawks’ rookie Jeremy Morin was being re-assigned to the Rockford Ice Hogs of the AHL. I’m still more than a little surprised with this move, and while I have great respect for Blackhawks’ Head Coach Joel Quenneville and understand that he has a reason for everything he does, it would be great to know what the reason is.

Because this looks just plain butt-stupid.

First, let’s dispense with the non-issue: Morin was re-assigned to make cap room. In the words of the immortal Sherman T. Potter, mule muffins. When they officially assign Brian Campbell to the injured reserve list, which they will inevitably do, his replacement’s salary doesn’t count against the cap. The Hawks will designate Nick Leddy as Campbell’s replacement, leaving plenty of cap space to keep Morin in the lineup. So forget that, the issue isn’t relevant.

Which brings us to the *real* reasons they might have assigned him.

Go ahead, let’s hear them.

I’m waiting.

Come on, anybody. Just blurt it out, don’t bother raising your hand.

Yeah, that’s what I thought. NUFFIN. The kid’s got what it takes. He’s fast, he’s composed, he’s got the kind of drive and persistence that you want in a forward, he seems to be adapting to the speed of the big leagues just fine, he needs to learn the system, but that won’t be a problem in two weeks: what, EXACTLY, is the problem here?

And the answer becomes even more convoluted when you look at who might be taking that slot on the second line with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. Troy Brouwer has done a fine job up there before, but that means he won’t be taking one of the wings on the third line, where he is *best* suited. So assuming you do put Brouwer up with Kane and Sharp, who takes Brouwer’s spot on the third line wing? Bryan Bickell? Jack Skille? Ryan Potunly? Jake Dowell? Fucking Viktor Stalberg? No on all counts.

The problem here is that with the Morin demotion we have our first line set (Tomas Kopecky, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa), two second-line forwards (Kane, Sharp), two third-line forwards (Dave Bolland, Fernando Pisani), one swing man (Brouwer) and a flotilla of fourth-line detritus and otherwise underwhelming reserves. We have two important open slots and one guy capable of filling them. Either way Coach Q goes with Brouwer, we have a gaping hole that will be filled by an insufficient resource.

And once again I will reiterate that Viktor Stalberg has done precisely nothing to earn himself a roster slot with this team. He’s ill-suited for the third or fourth lines, and he hasn’t got what it takes for the top two. If it were my call, Stalberg would be the one looking at apartment listings in the Rockford area right now.

Barring a trade or free-agent signing that’s already in the pipeline, we’re screwing ourselves by demoting Morin. He’s shown himself capable of handling the task being given to him, and keeping him on the Hawks has zero down-side. There’s no benefit to Morin spending the next six weeks outrunning the drooling goons in the WWF — err, AHL: I hope the Blackhawks’ coaches realize that quickly, and get him back in a Hawks uniform before the curtain comes up on Thursday in Denver.

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Three Stories From Sunday

Photo: committedindians.com

The Chicago Blackhawks put in a period and a half of solid effort Sunday night in their last pre-season outing of the 2010-11 season, with a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues. We’ll skip the part about blowing the 4-1 lead, and how the first period was a less-inspiring repeat of the first period against the Penguins from two days ago.  Instead, here are the stories you should pay attention to.

With Brian Campbell out of the lineup 4+ weeks with a knee injury, Coach Quenneville decided to give rookie defenseman Nick Leddy time on the same pairing as the vet he is replacing alongside Niklas Hjalmarsson. Leddy logged 19 minutes of ice time and ended the night a minus-1, and looked jumpy. He was trying to get rid of the puck too fast when it landed on his stick, his usual patience nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t catastrophic, it just wasn’t what we are used to seeing from him.

This is probably just nerves, suddenly being handed shoes he feels ill-equipped to fill. But hopefully as he gets a few more games under his belt he’ll settle into this role, as there truly isn’t anyone else in the remaining blue line corps who can take up that torch as well as Leddy can. The games against Colorado and Detroit will tell the tale. If he hasn’t settled down by this coming Saturday, he’ll likely be in the press box or even in Rockford.

Then there’s Jeremy Morin. He’s been the surprise of the pre-season so far, and has been handed the opportunity of his career playing the left wing with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. Sunday against the Blues was a continuation of Friday night’s game with Pittsburgh: Kane and Morin seem to be a good match, and appear to be having more than a little bit of fun.

They’re still learning where each other is on the ice, and Morin still has to get used to the “cycle” that the Blackhawks use so effectively in the attacking zone. But it appears to me that later on this year we could see some eye-popping, highlight-reel goals from these two. I’m looking forward to seeing if this seed that Coach Q has planted will blossom.

And finally, I’m giving goaltender Marty Turco a new nickname: henceforth he is to be known as “Myocardial Marty.” Every time that guy leaves the crease I get heart palpitations. His behind-the-net expeditions make me clench my fists and dig my nails in so hard I’ve popped two blow-up dolls already this season.

There is an up-side to this ramblin’ spirit of his, as for the second time in three outings he whipped a saucer pass up the ice to the opponent’s blue line, right on the tape of his right winger, this time starting a 2.8-second tic-tac-toe set-up for Jonathan Toews to bury it behind Ty Conklin. This effectively gives us a third deep defenseman during our power play, and will give us an extra 10 to 20 seconds in the attacking zone.

But then, there’s the down-side, when Myocardial blows the clear around the boards, gets caught with his pants down behind the goal line, and gives up an empty-netter to the fourth-line weasel on the opposing team. After the game the guy sends him a muffin basket to thank him for the thoughtful gift.

If Blackhawks Assistant Coach Mike Kitchen knows his stuff, right now he is on the phone with the Invisible Fence people, and on opening night Myocardial Marty will be wearing one of those collars that zaps him whenever he strays too far from the mesh.

All right, folks. The Indian Head is now a bulls-eye as far as the rest of the league is concerned, everybody will be gunning for us. We open the season on the road against Colorado this Thursday, puck drops at 9pm Central. The defense of Lord Stanley’s Cup starts in 72 hours. Make sure there’s a sharp edge on the skates and tape up the sticks night and tight.

From here on out, it matters.

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There’s Good News, And…

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For those of you who haven’t been playing close attention to the Blackhawks in the last week, there’s good news, and there’s bad news.

The kids’ effort against the Penguins and then against the Blues looked like a 5-year-olds’ soccer game, with all five guys chasing the puck around the ice in a pack, running into each other, missing passes, dropping the puck to… nobody, and generally playing like a bunch of individuals instead of a team. Jack Skille sustained a minor injury to his arm, left the game in the second period and didn’t return, but was considered “day-to-day” by the post-game press conference.

Then cuts were made, and with a couple of exceptions, everyone who you’d expect was sent to Rockford to learn how to play hockey. The exceptions were Nick Leddy, the former University of Minnesota defenseman picked up in the Cam Barker trade; and Jeremy Morin, who has been impressing both the players and the coaches with his steady and impressive play.

Friday night brought a full-squad effort against the Penguins again, with all of the regulars plus Morin, who had earned himself a spot on the left side of Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line. I’m surprised he could fit his erection inside of his cup.

The Blackhawks took the first period to get warmed up, getting some solid chances against Marc-Andre Fleury, then commenced the onslaught in the second and never looked back. Goals by Fernando Pisani, Tomas Kopecky, Patrick Kane, and a pair from Marian Hossa while Corey Crawford showed his competence as the Blackhawks backup goaltender. The final score was 5 – 2. It should be noted that Penguins phenom Sidney Crosby sat out the game after an abbreviated morning skate. Apparently it was his heavy flow day.

The bad news from that tilt was the loss of Brian Campbell, who sustained a knee sprain and will be gone for a minimum of four weeks. This is troubling on a number of levels, but the one that people ignore is the period of time when Campbell was injured late last season after the Alexander Ovechkin hit. The Blackhawks had 9 wins and 8 losses in those five weeks, and their power play conversion during that period dropped to one of the worst in the league.

Love or hate his $7M+/year contract, Campbell makes a solid contribution to the overall success of the team. Statistically speaking, this is a fact.

The upside to this is, rookie Nick Leddy may just find himself in the opening night lineup for the Blackhawks, and if he can consistently demonstrate the kind of patience and puck-moving instincts that were evident at Minnesota and Prospect Camp, he might be logging top-four minutes before Campbell is back on the bench.

Tonight: another full-roster game against the Blues at the United Center. TV is the NHL Network, radio on WGN. Puck drops at 5pm.

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Blues In G

Photo: iOrder.com

The St. Louis Blues made the first, and one of the biggest off-season moves by snitching playoff hero goalie Jaroslav Halak from the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal management was pilloried in the local media, as fans in St. Louis wondered if their team had just acquired a gift from the hockey gods or just another flash in the pan.

But Blues GM Doug Armstrong was not anywhere close to being finished. Before the summer was out, he had acquired Vladimir Sobotka from Boston and prospect Stefan Della Rovere from Washington, drafted Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, and re-signed a solid core of restricted free agent veterans.

The bad news for Blues fans was that 18-year vet Keith Tkachuk (bless you) decided the time had come for a permanent Saturday morning tee time, and the shadow-of-his-former-self but still lovable Paul Kariya would sit out the year in the hope that lingering post-concussion syndrome symptoms would subside and let him continue his hockey career.

But the new offensive guns should more than make up for the loss in production from those is-he-really-still-playing vets. The story with the blues will be, will spectacular goaltending show up, and will it be enough to make up for a sizable but ineffective blue line corps.

For the Blackhawks, I can just imagine Joel Quenneville’s speech to the guys before the game tonight: “Okay, you young guys, I’m SERIOUS now! I want to see some effort out there! This REALLY REALLY IS your last chance to make the opening night roster, or Stan is going to go out and sign Robert Lang and Kyle Calder and ship the load of you to Toledo!”

Tuesday’s effort was middling at best, though none of us got to see it. The same can be said of tonight’s tilt, as you’ll have to be sneaky to find yourself a live video stream of the game outside of the St. Louis area. If you do, post below as a comment please.

The Blackhawks’ final roster cuts will come tomorrow, but honestly I think that Coach Q has his mind made up already. Guys that only turn it on when threatened with a demotion to the minors don’t belong on this team.

Puck drop 7pm, and we’ll see tomorrow what our 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks will look like.

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Will I stay or will I go…

Photo: chicagonow.com

The kids have been sent back to Juniors, the never-had-a-prayer’s have been released, and the not-ready-yet’s and may-never-be’s are (with a couple of notable exceptions) out in Rockford. So in the next ten days Blackhawks’ Coach Joel Quenneville has to pare down a roster of 31 players to 23. Eight guys gotta go. And with the exception of goaltending, the decisions about who goes and who stays are anything but cut-and-dried.

Starting with the netminders, I don’t think anyone will lose a minute’s sleep about sending Hannu Toivonen and Alec Richards down to the Ice Hogs. Richards is a throw-away, and Toivonen may blossom into a decent netminder at some point. But his play still needs work if he’s going to survive at the NHL level. So that leaves Marty Turco and Corey Crawford as No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, which is what everyone predicted and the way it should be.

On defense, the top four guys haven’t done anything to lose their roster spots, so Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson will remain. It was hoped that Jordan Hendry would step it up and show that he’s ready to be an 82-game player, and so far this pre-season he has done exactly that. But for that #6 spot, the peanut gallery all assumed that we would be swapping out John Scott and Nick Boynton, giving us a veteran presence as well as some grit and gristle in front of the net.

But then Nick Leddy showed up in camp, and brought his ‘A’ game. He’s a puck-moving defenseman, in the same mold as Duncan Keith, but he’s not the crease-clearing bulldozer we could have in Boynton or Scott. It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to have Leddy spend a year in Rockford, as kids straight from the college ranks usually take at least one season to get used to the grueling NHL schedule. But I’m sure Coach Q has a barrage of “what-if” scenarios going through his head with regards to this kid. He’s great insurance against an injury in the top-four ranks, that’s a given. But what if we kept Boynton, sent Scott down to Rockford, and swapped out Hendry and Leddy instead?

Either way, that means Jassen Cullimore and Brian Connelly, say good-bye to the Windy City. Four down, four to go. Which brings us to the forward ranks.

Oy-yoy YOY!

The Blackhawks have been configuring the forwards with two scoring lines, a defensive line, and a murder and mayhem line. Lines 1a and 1b are reasonably certain to be staffed with veterans: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer, and Tomas Kopecky are the safest bets, with Dave Bolland as the next-in-line center if Coach Q decides to move Sharp back out to the wing and push either Brouwer or Kopecky down to a third-line role. But what about that third line?

We had incredible success down the stretch last year with Dave Bolland centering the “shut-down” third line that played against opponents’ top forwards. Some of the top snipers in the league were kept off the scoresheet entirely using this strategy. But while Bolland has proven his worth in this role, who from the ranks of the newcomers could we give him on the wings that would fit the bill?

The obvious choice from the evidence so far in camp is Fernando Pisani, who has been a solid performer with a work ethic that is earning him the notice and praise from the coaching staff. So he’s pretty much a lock for the right wing on that line, but who else?

Troy Brouwer has filled that role before, and he adds size to a line with not-so-big guys to his right. So that would work. But that means moving him off the first or second lines, which means somebody with far less experience is going to be up with the big boys. I’m not sure Coach Q will be willing to take such a big risk.

In order to engage in a thoroughly masturbatory dissolution of Coach Q’s options, here are the remnants of the training camp detritus:

Viktor Stalberg: Most pundits had Stalberg slotted into a top-six spot from the git-go: I continue to say that he has done *nothing* to warrant that kind of position, and it would seem Coach Q agrees with me. The QStache made his displeasure known about that Monday afternoon: He wants to see production from Stalberg, or it’s a one-way ticket to Rockford. Stay tuned.

Igor Makarov: He seems to be a quick and solid two-way player, but hasn’t shown the consistency that’s needed, plus he’s a natural center. That makes him a better fit for a top-six role, but those jobs are filled — or are they? What about moving Sharp to the second line wing where he has had his biggest success, and have Makarov start the year feeding two of the top wingers in hockey? As appetizing as that may sound, Makarov is most likely going to see top-six minutes in Rockford to get some shifts under his belt against North American pros before anything like that happens.

Jeremy Morin: This kid’s a sniper with great hands and a stellar view of the ice, so he’d fit well on the top two lines — when he gets some hair on his balls. He’s being given a serious look, but he carries a hefty price tag, something the salary cap situation may not allow. It’s more likely that he and Makarov provide a one-two punch and rack up 100 goals between them in the AHL. But every time one of the veteran players is asked who is bringing it in camp, Morin is the first guy they mention. Hmm…

Jack Skille: What do you do with this guy? It’s borderline torture to send him down again, but where does he fit with this club? He’s not as fast as Makarov or Morin, he’s not a defensive specialist, and he’s not as big or tough as other players we could have on the fourth line. Unfortunately Mr. Skille hasn’t found his niche, and despite his effort during camp I’m afraid it may be curtains for him, for good.

Jake Dowell: The poor lad can’t close the deal. He gets the puck on his stick, and he either can’t make the pass or score the goal. The effort is there, but the skills just aren’t. It’s Rockford for him.

Kyle Beach: The thoroughbred Stan Bowman was so hot on at Prospect Camp is now being seen as a common draft horse. Recent comments from within the Blackhawks organ-eye-zation suggest he is now the Hawks’ goon-in-waiting. Pathetic role for a first-round pick that was supposed to be the next Brendan Shanahan. So he’s a fourth-liner.

Bryan Bickell: Size, speed, and grit: fourth line.

Ryan Potulny: He has been spectacularly mediocre, and barely showing any desire to win a roster spot. I am surprised he wasn’t waived. But with his veteran experience as the fourth-line pivot, he could give Beach and Bickell some feeds as they come off the boards towards the net.

Ben Smith: Okay, I’m going to ask this question, and it’s not supposed to be a joke, I’m actually serious. What the BLOODY HELL is this guy still doing here?!? Is he boinking somebody’s daughter? Does he have pictures of Stan Bowman doing a victory lap with some front-office intern? Is he the guy who picks up the pucks at the end of practice? Je ne comprends pas.

So with that in mind, and barring any injuries prior to the start of camp, here’s how I see it all shaking out. Coach Q has been showing the Kopecky/Toews/Hossa line some time both in games and practices, so I think we can bank on that being the top line to begin the year. He seems to like the Kane/Sharp combination, and I believe that Sharp will stay at center for the immediate future. So the only question becomes whether he keeps veteran Troy Brouwer up with them, or moves one of the kids into a top-six role.

Quenneville is asking himself, is anybody in the freshman ranks capable of the kind of solid, two-way play that is required of a third-line player? My answer to that is a resounding “no”. So if I were making the calls, Brouwer moves to the third line. Who goes up? Well, the way this kid Morin has been on the tips of both players’ and coaches’ tongues these days, I have a strong feeling that — to begin the year, at least — he wins himself a spot playing with two of the hottest forwards in hockey. If that happens, be on the lookout for a 19-year-old pimply-faced kid walking around town with a woody the size of Bolingbrook.

Bolland stays put as the third-line center, with Pisani and Brouwer on his flanks; and we round out the forward ranks with Potulny centering Beach and Bickell. Smith, Stalberg, Makarov, and Dowell get on the Greyhound. Skille will stay with the club as the “thirteenth forward,” but don’t expect that to last. Stalberg will be busting his butt to get back to the bigs, and of course there’s always the injury bug to throw a wrench in the works.

This is a good problem to have: too many guns, very few goons. That’s the way NHL hockey is going, and the Blackhawks are well stocked. As the superstar contracts expire, a new crop of talent will be eager to leave the sludge and boredom of Rockford in their wake and start lighting it up on Madison Street.

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No TV, No Crosby…

Jack Skille (20) is playing like he's on a mission to make the big club (Chicago Tribune)

For the first time this pre-season, we’ll all be relegated to our smart phones (or in my dad’s case, his U.S. Cellular handout flip phone) checking on updates. The Blackhawks will get their first glimpse of the new Console Energy Center in Pittsburgh when they take the ice against the Penguins at 6 p.m. CST. Judging by the look of the lineups, we shouldn’t be missing too much with this game not being televised.

Sidney Crosby will once again dodge the Blackhawks as he ices down his vagina this evening, but  Evgeni Malkin will man up and play (though probably pretty sparingly). The ‘Hawks are also going pretty thin, with  Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and both  Marty Turco and  Corey Crawford taking a night off.

The best news of the day came when  Jeff Taffe was sent down to Rockford so I don’t have to watch that shithead stumble all over the ice for the time being. With 19-year-old  Jeremy Morin looking pretty damn good for a roster spot and  Jack Skille playing exactly like he needed to in order to stick with the big club,  Taffe and Evan Brophey are easy-to-live-with casualties.

As McClure of SCH pointed out, it would be nice to see more out of  Makarov Cocktail and  Viktor Stalberg in this one, especially since the coaching staff is giving them every opportunity to show what they can do with the studs on this team.

Short and sweet for tonight. I’ll be keeping up on my Droid. GO ICEHOGS ‘HAWKS!!

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