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.
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.
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.Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
Ssshhh. Hear that? No? Good. Things are finally quiet this off-season. It’s kind of nice, actually. And speaking of quiet, former Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi finally talked a bit about his time in Chicago and his future.
In his interview with David Haugh, Niemi expressed his disappointment and said he always believed a deal would get worked out. Reading his quotes, it convinced me further Niemi’s agent, Bill Zito, persuaded Niemi to hold out for more cash and convinced him he can have the best of both worlds: The Blackhawks and the money.
“I thought it would get worked out all along and never really thought it wouldn’t,” Niemi said. “And then when it happened and they signed (Marty) Turco, I was real disappointed. I still am. But it worked out for them, so …”
Now, Niemi is looking for a new team. He squashed any thoughts of him playing in Europe and said he’ll only play in the NHL next season. Lyle Richardson of The Hockey News wrote last week about Niemi’s possible destinations, pointing out the San Jose Sharks look to be the only real option right now.
Either way, it looks as if Niemi will be fighting for a No. 1 spot despite winning the Stanley Cup. Is the money really worth having to compete for the starting job again? If I were Niemi, I’d fire Zito before signing that next contract simply to keep Zito from getting any commission.
√ After Ilya Kovalchuk had his deal rejected by the NHL and upheld by an arbitrator, the ruling also noted the league is still investigating the contracts signed by Chris Pronger, Roberto Luongo, Marc Savard and the Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa.
The extensions signed by the other three players do not kick in until this season. Hossa is the only one to have already played a year under the signed contract. I honestly don’t believe the NHL will come after Hossa’s contract, nor do I believe they’ll make much of a stink over the other three front-loaded deals either. The NHL seems to be more out to make a point of attempting to scare teams off from signing players to similar deals in the future.
Part of me wishes I had no ammo to write something like this. A calm off-season would’ve been nice. But nothing worth having ever comes easy, right?
Last season, the ‘Hawks signed Marian Hossa to a monster deal and let Martin Havlat walk. They let Nikolai Khabibulin walk and gave the reigns to Cristobal Huet. They even botched the initial offers to their restricted free agents. That led to The Blackhawks’ Off-Season Drama: Seinfeld Style, Part I.
After losing a good chunk of a Stanley Cup championship team, it’s only fitting I do this again and relate the Blackhawks’ off-season to the greatest T.V. show of all-time.
In no particular order of the events that occurred, here’s Part II:
√ “You see, this is what I do with women. I start out too strong, now I have to become real. That’s when it all falls apart.”
Antti Niemi came out of nowhere. He saw more ice time driving the Zamboni than he did dressed in pads for his Finnish team. Then, Dale Tallon came along and found him. It’s a great story, and when he began succeeding for the Blackhawks everyone thought the franchise had something great for years to come.
Then, reality set in. It’s a funny thing — hockey players like to be paid. Weird how they like money, eh? Niemi is no different. Shit got real, and now Niemi is pondering his next move rather than getting ready to defend the Stanley Cup he helped bring to Chicago for the first time in 49 years.
Well whoopy-woo. I’ll start crying later. Sorry, Antti, but I’m on the Marty Turco bandwagon now.
√ “Have you ever been through an audit? It’s hell. It’s the financial equivalent of a complete rectal examination.”
We’ve been crunching numbers and discussing the salary cap situation dating back to … hell, before this season even started. David Haugh finally did something useful and talked with Stan Bowman for a bit rather than make his own bullshit assumptions like the rest of the meatball part of the fan base.
It’s been a wild ride this summer, no question. Bowman has been criticized so often over the past few months it’s amazing he hasn’t been hung from the Michael Jordan statue yet. You upset Bowman kept Dave Bolland, who has a bad back, in favor of Dustin Byfuglien? Well, do you think the other 29 GMs don’t know Bolland has a bad back? Do you think only people in Chicago know he has a bad back? Do you really think his value was higher than Byfuglien, who netted Bowman a first- and second-round pick?
The amount of work Bowman put into getting this team under the cap (pending Huet’s demotion/deportation) while keeping the central core of The Champs together should be commended. Bowman won a goddamn Stanley Cup. Maybe give the guy the benefit of the doubt and let the ‘Hawks play a few games before everyone starts shitting themselves.
√ “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?! He had 30 home runs, over 100 RBIs last year! He’s got a rocket for an arm. You don’t know what the hell you’re doin’!”
This is the way of thinking for every meatball if they were sitting in front of Bowman. The trades of Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg obviously weren’t popular with those fans who only got cable around the time the playoffs started. Here’s what I wrote at one point of the season about Byfuglien:
Dustin Byfuglien shocked the living shit out of every Blackhawks fan with his display of skill we all knew he had, yet rarely seems to show. Snagging a loose puck in his own zone, skated 300 MPH down the left boards, fought off a defender with one arm while dragging the puck with the other, turned in front of Lundqvist then shot it five hole for the game-winner while falling down. Jubilation ensued.
That was back on Dec. 10. From then through roughly May, Blackhawks fans were privy to the underachieving Byfuglien.
And Versteeg? Here’s a glimpse of a whole piece I wrote on him back on Jan. 26:
This is Versteeg’s second five-plus game scoreless streak of the season, and he’s gone scoreless in at least three-game bunches in three other stretches. This for a guy coming off a nine-game scoring streak. At the very least, his consistency hasn’t been something to brag about.
I’m not saying Bowman reads Blackhawk Up, nor am I saying I can do his job by any means. The point is that if some short blonde guy who drinks too much sitting up in Section 326 can see this shit, I’m assuming Bowman did, too. Get over it.
√ “Nobody drives like me. Nobody. I’m doing things in this car, you have no idea they’re going on.”
This is Bowman’s response to all the meatballs. Go ahead, criticize. But he’s doing so much behind the scenes that neither you nor I know or even understand. I’ll say it again: The Blackhawks will be under the salary cap with one of the best core groups of players in the entire NHL. Shut up.
√ “People don’t turn down money. It’s what separates us from the animals.”
Blame Doug Wilson all you want, but Niklas Hjalmarsson signing that offer sheet was about getting his green. I’m sure Hammer never thought he’d get an offer like that this season. When Wilson and the Sharks came along with a ton of cash, Hammer did everything he should’ve done. No matter the outcome, Hammer would’ve been playing with one of the best teams in the Western Conference — and getting paid handsomely to do so.
Granted, it made the ‘Hawks even more cap-strapped. But can you blame the guy? We all would’ve done the same thing. Sign the sheet, play for a good team and get paid no matter what.
√ “You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.’”
Huet pretty much looked like a he’d given up in March. The poor guy actually has a good amount of talent to be a solid goaltender in the NHL. The problem? He’s a flippin’ head case. Now, the Blackhawks have given him, his agent and his $5.625 million cap hit permission to seek another team. It’s just a matter of where Huet will end up. The only thing for sure is that he won’t be wearing the Indian head at the start of the season.
√ “It’s one day. Half a day, really. I mean you subtract showers and meals, it’s like twenty minutes.”
No matter what type of ‘Hawks fan you are or how you’ve viewed this off-season to date, we can all share in one thing: We’re all looking forward to hockey season!