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.
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.
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!!
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
√ 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.
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: 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…
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.