Comcast needs a pre-season, too

Watching the replay of the Blackhawks’ 4-2 pre-season loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, I noticed something very strange. Pat Foley and  Eddie Olczyk clearly were announcing the game the entire time. Apparently, Comcast disagreed. Have a look:


I did a little research but couldn’t find out who any of these three people are; unless of course it’s just the dummy template some intern forgot to fill.

Much like the Blackhawks, Comcast isn’t immune to needing some exhibitions. Luckily this intern will have another chance tonight to prove his/her worth before Comcast makes it’s first roster cuts.

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Detroit (*spitting noise*) Preview

Photo: http://www.bittenandbound.com

When the Detroit Red Wings open the regular season for 2010-11, it is likely that nine of the twenty players on the bench that night will be 35 years of age or older.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the team has entered into a sponsorship deal with Depends(tm) Undergarments.

The usual suspects are back — Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Dan Cleary, Nick Lidstrom, yadda-yadda-yadda — leaving very few openings for youngsters. So I’m not going to bother reviewing them, they won’t be in a Wings uniform this year.

Red Wings management lobbied hard in the off-season to get permission for Tomas Holmstrom to bring his walker on to the ice, but were ultimately denied.

Coach Scowl is back, trying to continue his quest for the Guinness Book of World Records for the most time without smiling.

Veterans not in the lineup tonight: Todd Bertuzzi (gout), Kris Draper (rheumatism), Brian Rafalski (attending the wedding of his granddaughter), and Chris Osgood (“Oy, my back!”).

The league has granted an additional :30 during each TV time-out, to allow trainers to empty Ruslan Salei‘s colostomy bag.

The only roster moves of any significance are bringing in Mike Modano for reasons nobody can figure out, and the return of prodigal son Jiri Hudler from the KHL.

And there you have it: the 2010-11 Detroit Red Wings. Brought to you by the AARP, AmeriGlide Mobility Aide Power Scooters, and Island Pines Residential Assisted Living Center of Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

Corey Crawford starts in net for the Blackhawks; Nick Leddy, Jeremy Morin, and Kyle Beach are all expected to be in the lineup. Puck drops at 6:00pm Chicago time, TV coverage on Comcast SportsNet.

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‘Hawks vs. Lightning Live Chat

Lightning To Strike in Winnipeg

Photo: Nick Moir

Much was made of the off-season moves by the Tampa Bay Lightning, as they first brought in Steve Yzerman as GM, who then brought in AHL and Major Junior coaching enigma Guy Boucher as Head Coach. Many trades ensued and free agents were signed, and the result is that the Lightning team that will take the ice against the Blackhawks in Winnipeg may be a little (*ahem*) shocking.

First, to the personnel. Consistent, if past-their-prime forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis return to join young powerhouse Steven Stamkos. Those three players accounted for just over half of the goals scored by the Lightning last year, so more scoring punch was definitely needed. So Simon Gagne was acquired from the Flyers, and Coach Boucher must now fill out the ranks with the least of many evils from the youth and middling veteran talent that remains in camp. Two long-time veterans from the KHL were acquired in the form of Johan Harju and Niklas Persson, but only time will tell if that experiment delivers the jolt it was intended to.

On defense, youngster Victor Hedman is now joined by four relatively steady, but by no means spectacular veterans: Pavel Kubina, Matthieu Roy, Brett Clark, and Randy Jones. Defense was Tampa Bay’s biggest problem last year, allowing 260 goals against, fourth-worst in the league. However it is puzzling to try to figure out what Yzerman’s strategy is, not bringing in a marquee defensive pair to anchor the team. One problem at a time, I guess.

Which brings us to goaltending. To replace the departed Antero Nittymaki, Yzerman has acquired yawn-inducing Dan Ellis, who spent last year with Nashville amassing a barely-winning record and a .909 save percentage over 31 games. Not exactly the kind of guy who can energize a team or its fans. In fact, the biggest headline Ellis has made in his NHL career actually came about because of a comment he made on his Twitter account.

But there appears to me some method to Yzerman’s madness. Believe it or not, it appears that what the first-year GM is hoping to do this season is win using the member of the organ-eye-zation least likely to score a goal, block a shot, or make a save: his coach.

Guy Boucher holds a post-graduate degree in Sports Psychology, and has implemented a radical offensive system not seen before in the NHL with any consistency, called a 1-3-1 forecheck. The first man into the zone pushes the puck to the outside, while the strong-side defenseman and remaining two forwards press to that side three-across, leaving one defenseman to cover counter-attacks.

Boucher has run the system with significant success. In his first year behind the bench with the Hamilton Bulldogs he racked up 52 wins, good for the second-best record in the AHL. The 1-3-1 has been the exclusive focus of the Bolts’ training camp efforts. The specific details are either a big secret, or so complicated that nobody is willing to talk about them and risk looking like an idiot. Even the Tampa Bay press is mostly cloudy on the subject.

Boucher and the Bolts will premiere this new strategy Tuesday night against Dallas. What success they have with it remains to be seen, and it should be noted that the three big offensive threats mentioned earlier will be resting against the Stars to be fresh for when they meet the Hawks in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

So they’re throwing the big guns at us right out of the gate, and word late Tuesday is that Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Duncan Keith, will all be in the lineup for the Blackhawks. Add to that some fully-loaded up-and-comers in Igor Makarov, Viktor Stalberg, and Jeremy Morin, plus Nick Leddy on defense. And Coach Q, not being one to keep the public waiting, is giving us a taste of Marty Turco in his first outing as a Blackhawk. He will split the game with moderately talented and definitely unpronounceable Hannu Toivonen.

So the fans in Winnipeg should be in for a doozy. Or, depending on whether Boucher’s 1-3-1 can work at the NHL level (and if the Lightning players have had enough practice to execute it properly), we may see a game of shinny erupt and a 15-2 Blackhawks victory.

Either way, it will be one Blackhawks fans won’t want to miss. And thankfully, with Comcast Sports Net covering this and two other home games, they don’t have to!

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Makarov Cocktail explodes onto scene

Igor Makarov has received such high praise through the Prospects Tournament and beginning of camp, you’d think some people have actually forgotten about the off-season purge — if only for a minute.

Tonight, we’ll see how Makarov fares against some established pros and others fighting for roster spots.

I can only think to nickname the Russian-born forward Makarov Cocktail (Get it? Like Molotov Cocktail?) the way he’s exploded onto the scene with the big boys after being destined for Rockford when camp broke. Because of all the hype, Cocktail is giving me more of a reason to plan my night around a Blackhawks preseason game.

There’s no reason the kid can’t make the roster with what he’s shown so far according to QStache, who’s been singing his praises. Though I haven’t seen him in person, the talk I’m gathering from his speed and quick trigger sounds like a  Kris Versteeg-type guy, which means there will be a lot to be desired in other aspects of the game. But if Cocktail can put the puck in the net over the course of the preseason like he’s been doing so far in camp, he’ll get his shot with the big club.

But let’s not pencil in Makarov just yet. Given Makarov’s raw skill set, players like  Bryan Bickell and  Viktor Stalberg rank ahead of Cocktail in the competition for a top-6 spot. If Cocktail doesn’t crack the top-6 when the preseason concludes, look for him to be sent to Rockford to develop his scoring touch a bit more while working harder on the defensive end. There’s a possibility Cocktail gets a shot on the third line if  Patrick Sharp centers the second line, leaving  Dave Bolland centering the third. Makarov will need a solid passer who can find him at the right moments to score, and Cocktail may only be trusted with either Sharp or Bolland — and of course  Jonathan Toews, but the top line is out of the question.

Cocktail gets another chance to impress QStache tonight when the ‘Hawks take on Tampa Bay tonight in Winnipeg. Look for Tim Currell’s preview later this afternoon.

Other stuff…

Anyone have a few million bucks lying around?  Lame-duck goalie  Cristobal Huet has listed his River North condo for $3 million. Later, dude.

Tim Sassone puts in his two cents for Bickell.

Just so everyone doesn’t go around hanging themselves after a loss, Fifth Feather has your Idiot’s Guide to the Pre-Season.

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http://blogs.dailyherald.com/node/4681

End Of A Short Summer

Photo: Mike Vallely

UNITED CENTER MAIN LOCKER ROOM
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 9:43AM.

Jonathan Toews: Uhh, guys? Over here, guys? Please give me your attention for a second…

(*mumbling and murmuring gradually subsides*)

Toews: For those of you who were part of the team last year, welcome back; those of you new to the organ-eye-zation, good to see you. I’m Jonathan Toews, I’m the captain of the Blackhawks, and I’m going to get training camp officially underway. You’ve all passed your medicals, so we can—

Patrick Sharp: Actually, sorry to interrupt Johnny, but they just sent this down. Where’s Phillipe Paradis?

Phillipe Paradis: Here!

Sharp: Hey, I have a note from the team doctor here saying there were some irregularities with one of the tests they did yesterday, and they need you down the hall right away.

Paradis: Oh, wow. Okay. Is everything all right?

Sharp: I think so, yeah, it’s probably nothing. But anyhow, we’re in a rush, so they’re coming up to meet you.

Paradis: What, here?

Sharp: No, it’s kinda personal, I guess. There’s no place to change, so just strip down here and dash down the hall to your right two doors, then across the hall and open the red door on your left.

Paradis: Oh, crap. Now?

Sharp: Yeah, c’mon, go! We’ll wait for you, just get on down there. Hurry up!

(*Paradis strips down to his jock strap, dashes out of the room*)

Sharp: Okay, everybody sit tight.

Dave Bolland: We have to wait?

Sharp: Yeah.

Toews: Why?

Sharp: Because the doctor didn’t send me anything. I just sent him buck naked into a room where McDonough is giving a press conference.

(*Door blasts open, Paradis scrambles through and slams it shut behind him, holding it closed*)

Paradis: You SUCK!!!

(*Room explodes with laughter*)

Toews: All right, all right, settle down. Now aside from Sharpie having some fun with the new guys, we all know why we’re here. The Chicago Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and everyone is trying to make the team. You’ll each have your chance to show the coaches what you can do, and despite what everybody says about the salary cap and all that stuff, EVERY position on this team is up for grabs.

(*Strange slurping, growling and gurgling noises comes from around the corner in the trainer’s supply room*)

Toews: Anybody know what that is?

Tomas Kopecky: Yeah, that’s Kyle Beach. He was trying to eat one of the younger guys, so the trainers had to pry him off and let the kid go.

Toews: Again? What is this, four times now?

Jordan Hendry: Five, if you count the taxi driver he tried to make a snack out of two days ago.

Toews: So why is he making that racket?

Hendry: He’s okay, they let him gnaw on a side of beef.

Toews: Hope this doesn’t get worse when we get out on the ice.

Jack Skille: At least he didn’t try to chew his own arm off again.

Toews: Yeah, can’t have that. Club’s got a lot of money invested in him. Okay, well just ignore him, we’ll talk over it. So I see the usual suspects are back, you guys have fun playing with the Cup? Eh? I know Kaner was — Hey, where’s Kaner?

Marian Hossa: I think I saw him in the hall by the sky box elevator.

Jake Dowell: Oh, no way! That guy wearing nothing but fuzzy girl’s slippers and a raccoon-skinned cap lying face-down in a pile of beer cans, handcuffed to a blow-up doll? I told security to toss the guy out!

Toews: Ah, they’ll probably recognize him… But on second thought…

Brian Campbell: I’ll go get ‘im…

Toews: Hey, thanks Soupy. All right. Who else is here? Where’s Dunc?

Duncan Keith: Yo!

Toews: How are the new chicklets?

Keith: Eh, not bad. I fink they ordered the wong five. My fianfe fev I look like Gawy Bufey.

Toews: Let’s see.

(*Keith smiles, everyone shifts nervously in their seats*)

Toews: I think she may be right about that. Hope they can fix them, otherwise we’ll have to start calling you Bugs.

(*Viktor Stalberg pops his head around the corner of the bathroom entrance, catches Niklas Hjalmarsson’s eye*)

Stalberg: Hey, Hammer — this good? Hmm?

(*Shows Niklas Hjalmarsson how his hair looks from different angles*)

Stalberg: What do you think? Sexy enough? Lots of hot chicks out in the stands today, gotta get the ‘Swedish Wave’ looking its best!

(*Stalberg disappears back around the corner*)

Hjalmarsson: He’s been doing that for the last three hours…

Toews: So okay, enough of that. For the new guys here, does anybody have any questions about the team or what’s expected of them during camp?

Fernando Pisani: Hey, yeah, I do. I noticed when you guys played us last year that when we started up the ice heading towards your goal there were these two guys there trying to stop us. What’s the story there?

Ryan Potulny: Yeah, I saw that too! Is that some special strategy or something?

Toews: Yeah, I thought that might be confusing for you two guys. Those are called ‘defensemen’, and we have six of them on the bench every night.

Marty Turco: Seriously?!? YESSSSSSSSSSSS!!! I KNEW something was missing in Dallas! Damn, I’m gonna LOVE it here…

Toews: Yeah, their job is to stop the other team’s forwards from scoring.

Pisani: Okay, yeah, sorry. They didn’t have those in Edmonton.

Toews: No problem. Anybody else? No? Then okay, let’s get the ball rolling here. Just remember guys, we’re all on the same team out there, so don’t be trying to take anybody’s head off. Everybody give it your best shot, and we look forward to fielding another Stanley Cup-winning team again this season.

Brent Seabrook: Hey, Johnny?

Toews: Yeah, Seabs, what’s up?

Seabrook: Uhh… I think you better come see this…

(*Toews walks over to the end of the locker room, where a large figure is huddled on the floor in the corner, sobbing*)

Toews: Hey man, you okay?

Adam Burish: Hey… (*sniff*) Yeah, I guess…

Toews: Dude, what are you doing here?

Burish: (*sniff*) Well… (*sniff*) I missed you guys…

Short Notes From Training Camp Festival



I managed to score some 100-level tickets to the Blackhawks Training Camp Festival on eBay, so the little missus and I moseyed on down to take our place among the 15,000 or so at the UC (the crowd was announced at 18,000 but I’m confident not everybody showed up) to see Lord Stanley’s Cup glisten in the spotlights and watch the season officially get underway.

I didn’t take notes, I didn’t take (many) pictures, but I wanted to pass along some observations on a few players from watching the first practice, all of the first scrimmage, and half of the second scrimmage. There is good, there is bad, but there is very little ugly. Unless you count Jeff Taffe. Yeeesshh…


Forwards:

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews: Both have come to camp in shape, and on their game. This is unsurprising for Captain Serious, but Kane has reportedly spent his summer waist deep in blondes and Bacardi. You’d never know: he looked as fresh as he did last October. Had a back-and-forth break-away battle with Turco and deked him out of his dental work at one point.

Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa: Still getting their legs under them. They didn’t look bad, but they didn’t stand out either.

Jack Skille, Bryan Bickell: These are two of the wingers to slot into the open slots on the third and fourth lines. It’s obvious that they are a step ahead of their fellow minor-league compatriots.

Viktor Stalberg: Good looking kid. That’s all I can contribute. No evidence of the reported “Swedish Rocket” speed. My wife thought he skated a lot like me. Can’t say I disagree…

Igor Makarov: If this kid continues to deliver like he did in Prospect Camp, the Rookie Tournament and the day I saw, it will be difficult to deny him a roster spot. He doesn’t stand out on the ice like a Patrick Kane, he just comes out of nowhere and delivers the goods.

Kyle Beach: I still don’t see what the fuss is about. At Prospect Camp he stood out like Pam Anderson at a PTA meeting. With the big boys, he’s nothing special.

Jeremy Morin: Not this year, sorry. Needs to grow up.

Ludvig Rensfeldt: Plays even bigger than 6’ 3”, and already has a handle on the North American game. Not this year, but soon.

David Gilbert: Feisty little fucker, and quick feet. Needs work on stick handling and puck control, but not a throw-away.


Defense:

Duncan Keith: New teeth, no beard, shorter hair, in shape, and on his game.

Brent Seabrook: Does not appear to be in shape yet.

Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jordan Hendry, Nick Boynton: About what you’d expect.

John Scott: Jesus H. Christ on a cracker, this guy’s a friggin’ MONSTER!

Simon Danis-Pepin: Seriously, why is this guy here, and what could the Hawks possibly see in him?


Goaltending:

Joe Palmer, Alec Richards: Toledo fodder.

Hannu Toivonen: Not, I repeat, NOT going to challenge for the backup spot. And if Crawford goes down with an injury, we need to trade for a solid back-up. This kid isn’t anywhere NEAR ready.

Marty Turco: Okay, yeah, it was the first day. But if what I saw was what we can expect all year, we’ll struggle to make the playoffs. I want to like this guy. We’re stuck with him, so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, for now. But he did precisely *nothing* to instill confidence in Blackhawks fans on Saturday.

Corey Crawford: This is the bright light on the horizon. He was head and shoulders above *any* goaltender on the ice, period. The kid sees the ice well, predicts how a play will develop, has good rebound control, doesn’t get jumpy under pressure, fights for every single save, and is a formidable target in net. If Turco can’t handle the load, I can see Crawford handling it just fine.

We’ll see how much of this plays out during the pre-season, and if we see any trades materialize before opening day this all takes on a whole new flavor. The roster I’m not worried about, there should be only a handful of actual “kids” suiting up for the game against Colorado. The rest falls on Coach Q, whose mustache looked ready for another championship season!


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QStache signs extension

Multiple reports surfaced this morning the Blackhawks have signed coach  Joel Quenneville’s  mustache to a contract extension, which will be announced at a 2:30 p.m. CST news conference. QStache was entering the final year of his current deal with the ‘Hawks.

No question QStache deserves it. He’s 97-44-19 since taking over the ‘Hawks from  Denis Savard  four games into the 2008-09 season in which QStache led the team to a Western Conference Finals appearance. He won a President’s Trophy in St. Louis, had good success in Colorado and shook the playoff-choke label by winning the Stanley Cup last season. QStache obviously knows what the hell he’s doing, and I’m happy he’ll be doing it here in Chicago for at least a few more years.

As I wrote the other day, QStache faces a difficult test behind the bench this season with a revamped roster. But I’ll say this: There’s not many other coaches in the world I’d rather have doing it — despite his constant renditions of Musical Lines.

Congrats, Coach Q.

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With revamped roster, Coach Q in for toughest season behind ‘Hawks bench

Man, what a crum catcher.

The most I’ve seen and heard of  Joel Quenneville this off-season came in the form of the split-second clip of him dancing like an idiot with the Stanley Cup during a commercial advertising the Blackhawks championship DVD. Other than a couple of public appearances, QStache has been relatively unseen and unheard from.

He better enjoy the dark now, because the spotlight will be shining on him shortly.

The salary cap casualties led to open positions still relatively unsettled. QStache’s established roster of Stanley Cup champions is now filled with a plethora of question marks — both on the ice and in the locker room. It’ll be QStache’s job to help develop chemistry between his returning core and incoming newbies.

It’s no real secret QStache was handed the keys to a Blackhawks team already switching into high gear. Following the dismissal of  Denis Savard, QStache had a roster filled with continuity and talent. While there’s no doubt his experience behind the bench helped push the Blackhawks to their Stanley Cup victory, a lot was already put in place the past two seasons.

Subtractions in the past couple off-seasons were met with more-than-welcome additions, namely the signing of  Marian Hossa. Though I’ve stated many times I still believe the Blackhawks have more than enough talent despite the departures to defend the Cup, it’ll take chemistry on the ice with a large amount of new signings and Rockford Icehogs to jell into the contenders they were last season.

For that, QStache is responsible. We all know he has a quick trigger when it comes to changing the rotation. Musical Lines may be seen more than ever this season in order to keep his stars like  Jonthan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Hossa playing to their full capabilities, while also putting together the correct combination of role players on the third and fourth lines. I won’t even venture a guess right now on who should be where because camp hasn’t even opened. There’s a reason he has the job.

Don’t forget the fact QStache will have nightly decisions once again on when to play/sit his veteran goalie,  Marty Turco, in favor of a young, inexperienced backup in Corey Crawford. The goaltending became the biggest story surrounding the Blackhawks last season. If Turco poops himself the first few games, you can bet he’ll be hearing “Cor-ey, Cor-ey,” from the UC crowd.

Bottom line, the 2010-11 season will be QStache’s toughest behind the ‘Hawks bench. And it’ll take more than a fantastic lip brow to get this team playing like defending Cup champs from the get-go.

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Loss of Niemi reminiscent of Havlat, Khabibulin leaving town

Sorry for the delay in posts, everyone. I decided to take a good chunk of time off before camp gets underway and I begin writing like crazy. Problems? You’ll get over them.

I remember July 1, 2009 vividly.  Marian Hossa signed a mega contract with the Blackhawks, and I leapt in jubilation. I texted friends, made phone calls and began dissecting the ‘Hawks roster in preparation for the new lines.

But what I remember most is the lack of enthusiasm amongst my fellow ‘Hawks fans. Signing Hossa meant the inevitable departure of  Martin Havlat, and no one could seem to get over it — especially when the ‘Hawks confirmed Hossa would be out until November with an injury.

Later in the day,  Nikolai Khabibulin signed a multi-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers, meaning the ‘Hawks would go with a combination of  Cristobal Huet and an unknown in net for the upcoming season. On a day when I felt the Blackhawks improved considerably — using the money saved on Khabby’s cap hit to spend on Hossa — no one shared in my optimism.

Just over two years later, with a Stanley Cup championship banner set to be raised, the pity party over departed Blackhawks reached its climax with  Antti Niemi’s move to the San Jose Sharks. And similarly to a couple years ago, I refuse to shed any tears.

Though the ‘Hawks shed salary this off-season trading away fan favorites  Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, etc., I don’t lump those moves in with Havlat/Khabby. The ‘Hawks had to make cost-cutting decisions and they were the casualties. So be it.

As much as it can be construed as such, letting Niemi go wasn’t simply based off the salary cap but rather return on investment based on performance. Havlat, Khabby and Niemi all felt they deserved more than what the Blackhawks were offering. Havlat and Khabby found takers, and the Blackhawks look like geniuses. Havlat has played like dogshit, and Khabby is getting ready to serve jail time.

Furthermore, I’m not fully convinced the Blackhawks would have jumped and paid Niemi what he wanted if they had the cap money to spend on him.

The fact Niemi signed for less than the arbitrator’s award ($2 million compared to $2.75) means the rest of the NHL agreed with the ‘Hawks. It’s proof the ‘Hawks simply don’t play hardball — here’s what you’re worth, take it or go find it somewhere else. So far, the Blackhawks haven’t been burned.

Once again, the fan base is having a hard time watching a guy go. It’s a bit more understandable this time around given Niemi back-stopped a Cup winner, but I guess I’m in the minority thinking the Blackhawks will be just fine with  Marty Turco. Sure, he hasn’t won a Cup. Niemi hadn’t either until June.

What I see from the Niemi signing is the Sharks putting themselves in a situation similar to the 2008-09 Blackhawks: Two netminders who can be considered No. 1s, and because of that neither is the definite starter. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks go into the season with Turco as the clear-cut guy ready to defend the franchise’s Cup and win one for himself. I’m not complaining.

While seeing Niemi in Sharks teal may be strange, remember the way Chicago felt when Havlat and Khabby took the money and ran. Greed got those two nothing but mediocre teams and a bleak future.

The Blackhawks got a Cup.

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