The Blackhawks will be gone in the first round once again next Spring


Parise and Suter are gone.

The Blackhawks- a middle-of-the-pack playoff team at best, despite the delusions of General Manager Stan Bowman- are probably out of luck in their efforts to fill their two most glaring weaknesses- the lack of a natural second-line center and at least one more top four defenseman- through the free agent market. The trade route seems unlikely in the extreme. It’s a given that the Hawks’ inadequate goaltending will go unaddressed.

In fairness, Stan Bowman seemed to make a genuine effort here. Still my prediction is that the Hawks will be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs again next year. If they get to the second round, they should hold a parade.

In the meantime, Bowman needs to publicly acknowledge reality. It does not help the confidence of the fan base that the Hawks’ very substantial weaknesses will be addressed if the team’s general manager remains in public denial.

Hawks GM is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma


So what’s the deal with Stan Bowman?

On one hand, he had a decent draft, and apparently made a move this week to bring elite goalie Roberto Luongo from Vancouver to the UC. Luongo refused to waive the no-trade clause in his contract because he wants to play in a small market.

But on the other hand, he can make absurd statements like this:

We don’t have to make moves. We can kind of be selective in doing things to improve our team going forward. It’s hard to say at this point if our team is going to be the same as it stands right now.

It’s hard so say what to think of Stan Bowman at this point. Is he the totally clueless clown who really think the Hawks are just a tweak or two away from being a Stanley Cup caliber team again? Or does he have the brains to do what it’s going to actually take to get us back there?

One thing is sure: if the Hawks don’t at least to the second round of the playoffs next spring, Stan Bowman needs to be looking for a new job- or an awful lot of the Hawks fans who came out of hibernation when Dollar Bill died and Rocky Wirtz took over are going to be snoozing again.

A very Bowman draft for the Blackhawks

Malcom Subban went to the Bruins, who don’t really need him.

The Blackhawks- who really, really did- instead chose a seventeen year-old left wing from Finland, Teuvo Teravainen, who was expected to go much higher in the draft and who has been compared to Patrick Kane (but hopefully with more maturity). Teravainen can also play center, a crying need for the Hawks.

Not a bad choice at all. I can really understand grabbing a talent like Teravainen who somehow was still available even at the risk of losing Subban. I wouldn’t have done it, but that doesn’t mean there’s not an upside.

Chicago also selected defenseman Dillon Fornier in the second round. Another decent pick, but only decent. And the goalie the Hawks finally selected- in the seventh round- was Matt Tompkins, who was rated tenth among North American goalies in the draft and whose numbers are not particularly encouraging. Another merely decemt prospect without much upside, a commodity with which the Hawks’ system is well-stocked.

Meanwhile, we’re still stuck with Corey Crawford between the pipes, and no relief in sight.

All in all, Bowman- the clueless wonder who think that the Hawks, at best a middle-of-the-pack playoff team, only need “a few tweaks” to win another Stanley Cup- did better than I feared, though not nearly as well as I’d hoped. I guess we’ll have to look to free agency and trades to provide those “tweaks,” which will need to include decent goaltending, greatly improved team toughness (including an ability to dominate the shooting lanes the Hawks lost when they lost Dustin Byfuglien), at least one more strong defenseman (and preferably two), another solid center, and vastly improved special teams.

Maybe this draft will provide a few of those answers- a few years down the line. And don’t get me wrong; Teravainen and Fornier, at least, were decent picks. But this is an organization notorious for having unbelievable depth in throughly mediocre hockey players, while lacking stars anywhere but on the parent club. The Hawks’ two top picks may well prove to be anything but mediocre, but somehow I have my doubts about Tompkins as the goalie of the future.

And I still have grave doubts as to Stan Bowman’s fitness as general manager. He has a long way to go to prove to me that he hasn’t been possessed by the spirit of Bob Pulford.

ADDENDUM: Here is another take on what to expect from Teravainen. However disgruntled I am by Bowman’s failure to address the Hawks’ netminding woes, it should be said that adding a Claude Giroux or a Martin St. Louis to the team isn’t a bad days work all by itself.

Or even another Patrick Kane.

ADDENDUM II: Oops, I missed one- and it’s a major mistake.

The Hawks drafted two goalies in the seventh round. The other one is Brandon Whitney- the number two rated North American goalie, right behind Subban.

That changes things a bit. I’m not sure I want to criticize Bowman to much for passing on Subban and coming up with both Teravainen and Whitney, even though the drop in talent from Subban to Whitney is rather steep, if the scouting reports are right.

This could turn out to be a decent draft for the Hawks after all. But one thing remains certain: Bowman is on the bubble.

If he doesn’t make some major moves to correct the Hawks’ glaring weaknesses- weaknesses he thus far as declined to acknowledge- over the off season, and we get bounced from the playoffs in the first round for the third straight year, he has to go.

There is no excuse possible for not addressing problems as plain as the four feathers on the Chief’s head.

The Kings make the Blackhawks look bad


Steve Rosenbloom of the Trib nails it: the longer the Kings hang around in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the worse the Blackhawks look- and the more depressing it becomes that GM Stan Bowman apparently doesn’t have a clue.

The Kings are everything the present edition of the Hawks stopped being when they had to take that salary cap hit after winning the Cup two years ago: proficient on special teams, large and physically dominating, defensively competent, and possessed of above-average goaltending. But after two years of finishing back in the divisional pack and then being eliminated in the first round, Bowman apparently hasn’t had it sink in yet that the problem with the Hawks isn’t that they underachieve.

It’s that ever since the championship, they’ve lacked the talent to be a geniune Stanley Cup contender. Moreover, they’ve lacked it at easily identifiable places which somehow don’t seem to appear on the Bowman radar screen.

Here, meanwhile, are ten free agents we should target. Wanna bet on how many Bowman will land?

Coach Q staying- and unless Stan Bowman gets his head together, he needs to go!


Despite rumors that he would be going to the Montreal Canadiens, Coach Q is staying with the Hawks.

For which, huzzah!

“I love this organization,” says the first coach since Rudy Pilous to lead the Warriors of the Four Feathers to Lord Stanley’s mug.

Speaking of which, somebody needs to give Stan Bowman a good, swift kick in order to bring him back to reality. The Hawks, as presently constituted, are not a Stanley Cup contender, and haven’t been since 2010.

They need more talent. Urgently. The GM’s apparent conviction to the contrary is more than worrisome; it will prevent them from becoming more than a middle-of-the-pack playoff team they actually are, no matter what Bowman thinks. The 2010 Stanley Cup champion is history. Bowman needs to start living in the present- and getting some size around the opponent’s goal, some help on special teams, and maybe another defensive defenseman, while keeping a wary eye on Crow between the pipes.

This is beginning, in fact, to feel disturbingly like the clueless “Dollar Bill”/Bob Pulford era. If Stan Bowman doesn’t make some major moves during this off-season, he should be fired and replaced with somebody who knows hockey better than he does.

Two views of the state of the Blackhawks


Here is a bad assessment of the Blackhawks by GM Stan Bowman, and a good one by the Trib’s David Haugh.

Since it’s Bowman rather than Haugh who is going to make the decisions, I can’t say I’m optimistic about next season. Maybe that Pirri kid can be the Hawks’ second line center next year- he led Rockford in scoring- but Patrick Kane belongs on the wing. And while we might as well resign ourselves to another season of the Crow between the pipes; Bowman badly underestimates the importance of a consistent goaltender.

Blackhawks go- and so should Crow

Puck Daddy’s lead for the Blackhawks’ second and final playoff victory of the 2012 campaign pretty much said it all:

The Chicago Blackhawks had two options entering their fifth straight overtime game against the Phoenix Coyotes: Wait around until Corey Crawford gave up some Snuggle Bear-soft goal to Mikkel Boedker, or end the game before it got to that point.

The Warriors of the Four Feathers were eliminated from the playoffs last night by the Phoenix Coyotes, and three of their four defeats came when Crawford muffed easy stops in overtime. And it especially hurts because, with the exceptions of Boston and the Rangers (and maybe the Caps)- each of whom is one game from elimination- all the elite teams have likewise bitten the dust. Pittsburgh, Detroit, San Jose, Vancouver are gone. The Cup this year will probably be won by a team nobody figured would have a shot.

My guess is that it will be St. Louis. If it is, we’ll never hear the end of it. Our only defense will be to point out that the Blues will still have won one fewer Stanley Cups than the Cubs have World Series.

In any event, Corey Crawford carried his woefully inconsistent pattern over the regular season into the playoffs. Crawford might well be nicknamed “Streaky” rather than “Crow;” he can be counted on to play brilliantly right up until the worst possible moment, when he suddenly becomes a sieve.

Or not. Sometimes he plays brilliantly for weeks at a time, only to revert to Bad Corey for weeks at a time. He averaged out this year to be at best a mediocre goalie. In this, Crow’s first complete season as the Hawks’ starting goaltender, the Good Guys finished 12th among the 30 teams in the NHL in goals allowed. No team can do that badly between the pipes and claim to be among the league’s elite. And when the problems the Hawks had this season on the blue line (hopefully resolved with the late-season addition of Johnny Oduya) are added to the equation, you have a team with no real pretence to being a Stanley Cup caliber team.

Have the Hawks improved from last season, when a team decimated by the salary cap that was the last in deceased owner Bill Wirtz’s many injuries to the team he mismanaged so badly for so long? Maybe.

Wirtz- in case you missed this- almost single-handedly talked the NHL Board of Governors into adopting the cap, which forced the 2010 Stanley Cup champions- a young team which seemed set to contend for a decade- to dump several key players and instantly drop back to the middle of the NHL pack. Last year they finished eighth in the Western Conference, making the playoffs on the final day of the regular season and coming back from a three games to none deficit to force overtime in Game Seven of the first round.

Crow’s stellar play was one key reason for the comeback, just as his inability to thwart Vancouver early in the series was a key reason why the Hawks had to make that comeback. When Corey Crawford is good, he is very, very good. But one thing he is not is reliable. And reliability in goal is not optional for a Stanley Cup contender.

This year the Hawks looked like an elite team for most of the season. But after the All-Star break they went into a swoon that included a streak of nine games without a victory. In fact, they were streaky even before that. The Blackhawks started 8-2-2. For the next ten games, they were 4-5-1. Then they went 11-2-1, then 1-4-1, and then 5-0-1. And then they went 0-8-1.

They never completely recovered from that rough stretch. But still, they finished sixth in the Conference this year instead of eighth, and seemed to have a much more beatable first-round opponent in Phoenix.

The guts and grit which characterized last year’s Hawks in the playoffs were still in evidence this year. Four times they trailed the Coyotes late in the third period, only to tie the game in the closing minutes. They lost three of the four on soft overtime goals in sudden death.

The Hawks’ problems are finite and reversible, The stupid and unnecessary trade of defenseman Brian Campbell last summer threw the Hawks’ blue line into a state of chaos which only a late-season trade for Oduya seems to have ended. The Hawks, it seems to me, could still use some help on defense, but that problem at least seems on the way to being resolved.

Their power play and penalty killing units both stink. They obviously miss the ability to dominate the shooting lanes and the opposition goal crease provided by somebody like Dustin Byfuglien. Jonathan Toews was out through most of the late season due to a concussion, and never really hit his stride; Andrew Shaw was suspended for messing with Phoenx goalie Mike Smith, Marian Hossa was removed from the equation by Raffi Torres’s infamously dirty hit, and neither Patrick Kane nor Patrick Sharp seemed to show up for this series. Actually, it should be said that the inconsistency of Crow this season was characteristic of the Hawks’ offensive stars generally. But nobody doubts the future of Toews or Sharp or Kane or Shaw or Hossa. The jury is still out on Crow.

Before the collapse, Detroit Mike Babcock said, “A few weeks ago, everyone thought Chicago was going to win the West. A little adversity never killed anybody. It’s just how you respond from it.” Well, adversity is one thing. Inconsistency is another. It’s the inconsistency the Hawks must address above all, and it seems to me that it starts in goal.

Yes, I know that the immortal Tony Esposito was renowned for giving up soft goals. In fact, at times it seemed that the only goals Tony Zero ever gave up were soft ones. But Corey Crawford is no Tony Esposito. I am also aware that it took a while for Hall of Famer Ed Belfour to achieve consistency. But Crow is no Eddie the Eagle, either.

The strength of the Hawks’ farm system is unparalleled depth. Its weakness is an almost complete lack of star potential. The Buffalo Sabres are in deep rebuilding mode, and their star goalie, Ryan Miller- the guy who starred in net for the U.S. Olympic hockey silver medalists in 2008- had an off year. It might be possible to package Crow with five or six of our journeyman prospects in a deal for Miller. Right now the Sabres need competent players in volume; that’s one thing the Hawks’ organization has in strong supply.

The San Jose Sharks thought that taking advantage of the Hawks’ salary cap problems by signing Antti Niemi away from the then- Stanley Cup champion Hawks would bring the Cup to Team Teal. It didn’t work. The Sharks barely made the playoffs, and were eliminated in the first round by St. Louis. Perhaps a deal to bring Antti back to Chicago could be worked out. It would certainly be a popular move with the fans, and other than getting Miller it would be the solution I myself would most like to see. Whether the Hawks could provide a quid pro quo the Sharks would find attractive is another matter.

Cam Ward of the Hurricanes, Miikka Kiprusoff of the Flames, Evgeni Nabokov of the Isles, and Nikolai Khabibulin of the Oilers could each be available for the right price, and it might well be one the Hawks could afford. Regrettably, none of the goalies in the Hawks’ farm system appear to have much more potential than Corey.

But it seems to me that the Blackhawks’ chances of winning another Cup any time soon depends on finding a top-notch goalie. And sadly, despite the high hopes I had for him, Corey Crawford seems not to fit the bill.

I frankly expect him to be in the crease again when the season starts next October. And whether he is or not may well be a test of how committed Rocky Wirtz and the Bowmans are to winning another Cup. Especially the way Brian Elliott is playing, the Blues- whom I have a hunch are going to be the ones to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug this year, due in large measure to their ridiculous depth in goal- as well as the Preds, the Sharks, the Canucks, and even the aging Red Wings will be formidable obstacles within our own conference in coming years, and that doesn’t even address teams like Pittsburgh and the Rangers and the Flyers and the Caps and the Bruins in the East.

Whatever chance the Hawks have of regaining their status as an elite team depends on making some bold moves. I think they will. But the one which might prove the most necessary in the long run- replacing Corey Crawford in goal- is the one necessary move I am regrettably least confident that they will make.

ADDENDUM: The contrasting responses of Crow and of Captain Jonathan Toews to the Hawks’ ouster speak volumes. And I think the analysis of the author of this article is spot on: Crow is part of the problem, but so is the lack of a second-line center anda Byfuglien-type big guy in front of the net.

Stan Bownman needs to address all three problems before the Hawks lace ‘em up again.

Lowlights and analysis courtesy of ESPN:

Captain Serious saves the Hawks

Not since 1951 have five consecutive games in a Stanley Cup playoff series gone to overtime. But last night’s 2-1 Blackhawks victory meant that the current first round series between the Good Guys and Phoenix has done precisely that.

Jonathan Toews buried a shot at 2:44 of overtime, and the Hawks stayed alive.

Puck Daddy’s lead in the article linked to above is a hint as to the step I think the Hawks will have to make over the summer if they fall short in their quest for their second Stanley Cup in three years.

Game Six will be Monday Night at the UC. Anything can happen at this point.

BTW, the Coyotes’ Raffi Torres has been suspended for 25 games for his dirty hit on the Hawks’ Marian Hossa in Game 3. It’s the longest NHL suspension in five years, and- given Torres’ track record- in my opinion is richly deserved.

Coyotes bite. So do the officiating- and the score

The Hawks lost to Phoenix 3-2 last night in their third straight overtime game.They now trail their best-of-seven first-round series 2 games to 1.

Worse, they lost Marian Hossa on a dirty  (and unpenalized) hit by the Coyotes’ Raffi Torres (right), who actually left his skates to make it. Hossa was removed from the ice on a stretcher.

Minutes later, the Hawks’ Brandon Boelig was given an ironic major penalty for roughing.

With forward Andrew Shaw suspended for three games for a hit on Phoenix goalie Mike Smith which did not knock Smith out of the game, the Good Guys must now proceed without two of their top forwards.

Despite the lack of a penalty, Torres will face a hearing conducted by league officials. Torres had a history of pulling stuff like this against the Hawks when he was with Vancouver. In last year’s first round, he delivered a controversial hit to Chicago’s Brent Seabrook.

Hang in there, Sons of the Four Feathers. You’re better than these guys.

ADDENDUM: Torres  has been suspended indefinitely pending a hearing by the league. Game Four will be played Thursday night at the UC.

That’s more like it!


Blackhawks 4, Coyotes 3.

Patrick Sharp tied the game with 5.5 seconds left in regulation, and Brian Bickel won it in overtime.

The first round Stanley Cup Playoff series is tied at one game apiece. More importantly, the Hawks have stolen home ice advantage.

The Hawks tied the score with 14.2 seconds left on Thursday night, but lost it in overtime. This team has character- and being only a year removed from winning the Cup, it knows how to win. And maybe if they just don’t use a goalie, they’ll go undefeated the rest of the way!

The series switches to the United Center on Tuesday night. GO HAWKS!

Hawks begin new Cup quest tonight

Tonight the Blackhawks begin their quest to bring our Stanley Cup back home where it rightfully belongs with a first-round matchup against the Phoenix Coyotes at the Dog House.

Captain Jonathan Toews is confident he’ll see action.

GO HAWKS!

LYRICS:

Here Come the Hawks, the mighty Blackhawks
Take the attack, Yeah, and we’ll back you Blackhawks
You’re flyin’ high now, so let’s wrap it up
Let’s go you Hawks, move off
Now all look out, Here Come the Hawks,
Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks, Here come the Hawks

Here they come movin’, weavin’, flyin’ high and throwin’ spray,
Blades flashin’ sticks crashin’ tryin’ for the play,
And the Blackhawks, take control,
There’s a shot, AND A GOAL!

Here Come the Hawks, the mighty Blackhawks
Take the attack, Yeah, and we’ll back you Blackhawks
You’re flying high now, so let’s wrap it up
Let’s go you Hawks, move off
Now all look out, Here Come the Hawks
Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks, Here come the Hawks

(instrumental)

Here Come the Hawks, the mighty Blackhawks
Take the attack, Yeah, and we’ll back you Blackhawks
You’re flying high now, so let’s wrap it up
Let’s go you Hawks, move off
Now all look out, Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks,
Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks,
Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks, Here Come the Hawks!

Singing the blues in St. Louis

First, the St. Louis Blues win their division. And now, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s Purple Palace in suburban Kirkwood has decreed that the LCMS logo be changed from


to

When I lived there, I used to say that the trouble with St. Louis is that people wear too much blue and not enough red during the hockey season, and too much red and not enough blue during the baseball season. Well, purple is almost red, and maybe making this particular change as the baseball season begins is a step in the right direction.

GO CUBS!

Hawks beat Blues, clinch playoff spot

Victory! My Blackhawks beat the Blues- who will almost certainly win the division this year, but didn’t last night- 4 to 3 in a shootout. The victory clinches a playoff spot for the Good Guys.

It wasn’t Prozac that did it. It was Dave Bolland.

Worryingly, the Sons of the Four Feathers blew a two-goal third period lead before Bolland struck. But if captain Jonathan Toews ever gets back from his concussion, maybe the Madison Street Warriors can make a deep run into the playoffs after all (of course, whether Good Corey or Bad Corey shows up will make a major difference.

My instincts say that we’re still at least two years away from recovering from the Bill Wirtz salary cap debacle which forced the partial dismantling of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions. But we can only hope.

ADDENDUM: Looks like I miscalculated. They needed a regulation victory to clinch a playoff berth; the victory over the Blues left them a point short.

This they remedied with their shootout victory over the Preds Saturday night. The Hawks can finish no lower than sixth in the conference; they could finish as high as fourth. The top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs.

Duncan Keith is back from his suspension. As soon as Captain Serious returns, we’ll be all set for the post-season. Or as set as we’re gonna be.

Discouraged and disgusted

I guess it’s back to the bad old days for my Blackhawks- the days of simply hoping to make the playoffs, as opposed to looking forward to an actual assault on the Stanley Cup.

No question but that getting Johnny Oduya from Winnepeg for draft picks just before the trade deadline will help. But I really don’t think it’s going to be enough. Perhaps some of the damage Stan Bowman did by trading Bryan Campbell can be undone. But I don’t see this deal doing much about the Hawks’ inconsistent scoring or the equally inconsistent- and frequently downright sloppy- goalkeeping of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery.

I frankly don’t care about making the playoffs. If we’re not going to have a shot at winning it all, why bother? Maybe Bowman will do something during the off-season. Maybe Carter Hutton or Alexander Salak will mature before next Fall and take over for us in goal.

But I’m not counting on it. Now is the winter of our discontent, Hawks fans. Stan Bowman has just done a Jim Hendry on us.

Hawks 2, Detroit 1

Corey Crawford seems to have regained his mojo, and the Blackhawks are suddenly playing as in days of yore.

Crow has a .958 save percentage in the last four games- all victories. Only five to go, and we’ll be at .500 for the last eighteen. :(

The trade deadline is Monday, and the clock is ticking on General Manager Stan Bowman. Crawford seems to have recovered just in time; there had been talk of including him in a package to land a more reliable goalie. If Crow can keep this up, that may not be necessary. Maybe now we can address the hole on the Good Guys’ blue line left by the inexplicable trade of Bryan Campbell.

Another top-notch forward wouldn’t hurt, either. This team still hasn’t recovered from the blow dealt the 2010 Stanley Cup champions by Dollar Bill’s Revenge, the salary cap. Right now I don’t see us as a Stanley Cup calibre team. We’ve got some rebuilding of the lower half of the roster to do, and I, for one, wish Bowman would get on with it.

No more Campbell trades, though. I’d hate to think of Stan Bowman as the Jim Hendry of hockey.

Crashing Blackhawks seek some trade deadline Febreze

The Blackhawks- having lead the division for most of the year, the conference for much of it, and the league for quite a bit of it- have sort of crashed and burned of late. In fact, they’ve lost seven in a row, and tumbled to fourth in the division. It’s not too late to get back on track, but Corey Crawford- who is running out of time to have his poor play explained away by that groin injury earlier in the year- has pretty much stunk up the goal crease. And after a brief hot streak, backup Ray Emery hasn’t been much better.

Terrible defense is one reason, and I doubt that the Hawks will be able to do much about that this season. But with the trade deadline coming up on February 27, there are several top notch goalies who could possibly be had for a price the Hawks (who have no particular salary cap problem at the moment) could probably manage.

Cam Ward of the Hurricanes, Ryan Miller (yes, that Ryan Miller!)of the Sabres, Miikka Kiprusoff of the Flames, Evgeni Nabokov of the Isles, and Nikolai Khabibulin of the Oilers could all be available for the right price. I would shy away from the Bulin Wall, though. Nabokov might be the best bet, having a relatively low salary and being a free agent at the end of the year. And who knows? Maybe the right price might even bring Antti Niemi home. He should never have been allowed to leave, of course. But hindsight is 20-20.

Most of these guys would make the defense look a lot better. Of course, a trade for a decent defenseman couldn’t hurt, either. And as good as the Hawks are at scoring, they’ve even been hurting there of late.

Let’s see what Stan Bowman can pull off. Especially as well as the Good Guys did for most of the first half, it’s too early to give up on them. Maybe we can still raise that second Cup in three years.

Ok, so I don’t know everything!

I take back everything I said earlier this season about Blackhawks’ backup goalie Ray Emery.

The dude’s record so far is 6-1. Corey Crawford is 12-7.Despite a respectable won/loss record,  I’m afraid Corey has been a bit of a disappointment to me thus far this year. Good to know that the Good Guys have the depth between the pipes to cover for him.

BTW, that overtime victory over the Sharks- the current Cup favorites- last night was pretty sweet! ONE GOAL!

By the way…

…the Blackhawks passed that test against rival Vancouver Wednesday night.

Final score: Hawks 5, Canucks 1.

The Good Guys remain Number One in the Western Conference. After recovering from that salary cap attrition last year, they once again seem to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Two Cups for Chitown in three years might even make up for the P__kers winning the Super Bowl and the C___nals winning the World Series.

The Blackhawks are the best in the West

Meanwhile, the Blackhawks are 11-4-3, leading the Western Conference of the NHL.

Big game coming up Wednesday night against the Vancouver Canucks, who are rapidly replacing the Red Wings as the Hawks’ most bitter rival. One team has eliminated the other from the playoffs in hard-fought series in each of the past three years. Without discounting Detroit, San Jose, or even Nashville, the Canucks look to be the biggest obstacle between the Hawks and a return tot he Stanley Cup Finals next Spring.

The Good Guys looked awful against the Canucks a few weeks ago. They have some momentum right now, sporting a three-game winning streak. Wednesday night should tell us a great deal.

ONE GOAL!

Odds make ‘Hawks favorites to win the Conference, and third favorites to win the Cup

The magazines have made the Sharks and the Caps the favorites to win the Cup. Paddy Power- the Irish betting site- makes it the Caps and the Pens, with us third. We’re 10/3 favorites to win the Western Conference, with the Sharks and Canucks at 4/1.

Odds to win the Stanley Cup:

Capitals 6/1
Penguins 13/2
Blackhawks 8/1
Sharks 17/2
Canucks 17/2
Flyers 10/1
Bruins 10/1
Kings 12/1
Dead Things 14/1
Lightning 16/1
Sabres 18/1
Rangers 25/1
Ducks 25/1
Habs 33/1
Preds 33/1
Oilers 35/1
Flames 40/1
Canes 40/1
Blues 40/1
Devils 40/1
Leafs 50/1
Wild 66/1
Jackets 66/1
Isles 66/1
Stars 80/1
Dogs 100/1
Jets 100/1
Panthers 100/1
Sens 150/1

Apparently Daytwah’s 6-0-0 start hasn’t impressed the Irishmen.

Emery, not Salak, will back up Crawford for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks start the season with Corey Crawford firmly installed as our number one goalkeeper. To have a proven starter of Corey’s caliber in place at the outset of the season is awfully nice for a change.

But I have to quarrel with Coach Q’s choice of a backup. Ray Emery (left) may have experience, but he doesn’t have anything like rookie Alexander Salak’s potential.

Each played three games during the pre-season,with Salak running up a .929 save percentage and a 1.94 goals against average compared to Emery’s .813 save percentage and 4.58 GAA, I just don’t get GM Stan Bowman’s comment that “We’re in the fortunate position to have to make a difficult decision on two netminders that impressed throughout our entire training camp.” Salak’s numbers are indeed impressive. Emery’s? Not so much.

Granted, Emery has a .908 career save percentage and a 2.67 career GAA. I guess that’s a better test than three games. And Bowman and Company must feel that Salak needs some seasoning at Rockford before he’ll be ready to be the standout NHL goalkeeper he has the potential to be.

One thing is sure: the Hawks have, in as many years, come up with Antti Niemi, Crawford, and now Salak. For a team that went for years without being able to produce a top-notch goaltending prospect ( I think Ed Belfour was the last one before Niemi), they seem to be on a roll.

Now all look out- here come the ‘Hawks!

With a proven starting goaltender for the first time in three years (including the Stanley Cup season of 200-2010), as well as replacements for the depth they lost to the salary cap last year, a longer winter, and some regained physicality, my Blackhawks have a very positive prognosis going into the 2011-2012 season.

I expect another deep playoff run- and perhaps the second Stanley Cup in three years. ONE GOAL!

‘Eddie the Eagle’ makes he Hall of Fame on the first ballot

Ed Belfour, the goaltender who kept the Blackhawks Stanley Cup contenders even during the early days of the “Dollar Bill” Wirtz era, has been elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

He had to wait to get to Dallas to actually win the Cup, but played well enough to do it in 1992. That year the Hawks reached the Finals, only  to be swept in four games by the Pittsburgh Penguins Each of those four games, however, was decided by only one goal. If the truth be told, the Penguins were a sgnificantly better team that year than the Hawks were; “Eddie the Eagle” kept it close.

Though he had a bad temper (I remember him once reacting to the elimination of the Hawks from the playoffs by breaking his stick over the crossbar of the goal he’d been defending) and a reputation as something of a problem in the clubhouse, he had a 2.17 goals against average in the playoffs. Compare with the legendary Patrick Roy’s 2.30.

Belfour’s backup during his years with the Hawks, btw, was a fellow named Dominik Hasek. He was that good. Ironically, when Belfour finally won his Cup with Dallas in 1999,  Hasek was in the net for Buffalo.

“Eddie the Eagle” was a good one, and along with Glenn Hall and Tony Esposito was one of the three goaltenders who dominate my memories of the Blackhawks down through the years. Hopefully Corey Crawford will be the fourth.

A historical note

Not that I’m trying to rain on the Bruins’ parade or anything, but I just came across the You Tube recording below of the home-town WGN Radio call of Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup winning goal in Game 6 of last year’s Finals. Just to have it in my archives, and also to share with fellow Hawk fans who read this blog, I thought I’d post it.

In case you’ve wondered whether Chicago fans take their hockey seriously, this may enlighten you.

A slightly-edited version, synched to the video of the Cup-winning goal can be seen by clicking the next video, “Patrick Kane Stanley Cup OT Goal- Great Call by Announcer” on the right side of the screen after the video ends.

Here’s to the Hawks reclaiming their hardware next June!

Game on!

This year’s Stanley Cup Final series- held to determine who will babysit Lord Stanley’s Mug until my Blackhawks can reclaim it next June- began last night with a hard-fought 1-0 victory for the Vancouver Canucks over the Boston Bruins.

The Canucks are probably the best team in the NHL this year; they even managed to eliminate the Hawks in sudden death in Game Seven  of their series. They led the league in both goals for and goals against. I think they’re going to win- probably in six games- but, conference loyalty or no, I’m personally rooting for the Bruins.

Original Six, baby!

Duerson did have CTE

The detailed autopsy requested in his suicide note by former Bears star Dave Duerson, who shot  himself in the chest Feb. 17 in order to preserve his brain for study, reveals that he did, indeed, have the injury-induced syndrome which has claimed the lives of at least 20 other former NFL players.

Former Blackhawks Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert also were found at autopsy to have suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

The disorder- linked to repeated concussions- is a form of dementia which results in personality changes, memory loss, and depression.

Martin Luther taught that suicides- whom he said were often victims of a “mugging” by the devil through depression rather than rebels against God’s providence- might not necessarily be damned. Surely if there was ever a noble suicide, it was Duerson’s, who gave his life in order to help his fellow athletes.

May God have mercy on him, and on all who suffer from CTE.

Dethroned

The Hawks kept coming back.

After trailing three games to none against Vancouver, they won three straight and forced a Game Seven. Trailing Game Seven 1-0 inside the last two minutes of regulation, Jonathan Toews tied it up.

Was it destiny? Alas, no. It’s hard to see how they could have come any closer. Corey Crawford- who by rights should be one of the candidates for the Calder Cup- stood on his head; Coach Joel Quenville called Crow’s performance the greatest exhibition of clutch goaltending he’d ever seen. But when it Alexandre Burrows scored on a knuckle ball of a slapshot 5:22 into overtime, it was the Canucks who would be advancing, and the Hawks who would be going home.

Final score: Vancouver 2, Chicago 1.

My Blackhawks have been dethroned as Stanley Cup champions. They have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I’m proud of them. And I think the next Stanley Cup will come long, long before we’ve had to wait another 49 years.

We knew all along that it wouldn’t be easy to repeat. It doesn’t happen very often; the last team to pull it off was the 1997/98 Detroit Red Wings. Playing from October through June is exhausting, and three months off doesn’t give you much time to recover physically or emotionally- especially when it’s largely taken up with celebrations, ceremonies, guest appearances, and so forth. And it figured to be even tougher without Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Colin Fraser, John Madden, Ben Eager, Adam Burrish- and especially Dustin Byfuglein, Kris Versteeg and Antti Niemi, lost to to the late Bill Wirtz’s last dirty trick on the team he owned: the salary cap he almost single-handedly got adopted by the NHL.

The advent of Corey Crawford takes the sting out of losing Niemi. But undoing the damage will still be the work of more than just one more off-season. I doubt that the Hawks will be able to mount another realistic challenge for the Cup for another two or three years. But I have confidence in the Bowmans; Scotty, after all, served Detroit pretty well when it came to building championship teams, and his kid is no slouch, either. We’ll get there sooner, rather than later.

And in the meantime, watching the Hawks will still be something it wasn’t through all those dark and dreary years of managerial ineptitude under Dollar Bill: fun.

Sadly, the Cubs seem to be going through their own mini-Bill Wirtz era at the moment. I didn’t follow them very closely last year, and I won’t this year, either. What’s the point?

I’m a Bulls fan in principle, but only in principle; I’ve never been much for basketball. The White Sox, of course, are the enemy. And from the look of things, the Bears won’t even be playing come fall. It’s going to be a long, dry spell for this kid sport-wise.

One more reason to wish that the dream- which seemed to be over even as it only began- had lasted just a little longer.

Cool as a cucumber, the Blackhawks force Game Seven

Not quite a week ago, Vancouver led the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks three games to none in the opening round of the 2011 playoffs, and everybody counted the champs out.

Last night Ben Smith’s overtime goal gave Chicago a 4-3 victory in Game Six, tying the series at three games each and forcing a decisive seventh game between the Hawls and the team most people picked to win the Cup this year.

The issue will be decided Tuesday night in Vancouver. One thing is certain: the heart of last year’s championship team remains, however depleted its talent level may have been by the late Bill Wirtz’s final affront to Hawk fans, the salary cap. The coolness of this team- and notably of rookie goalie Corey Crawford, whose exclusion from the ranks of the Calder Cup candidates is hard to justify- under the kind of pressure faced by a defending champion on the brink of elimination has been remarkable.

Whatever may happen from here on out, I feel a great deal better about this team winning another Cup in the near future, even if not this year, than I have all season. This is a very, very good hockey team- and if they manage to oust the Canucks Tuesday night, don’t rule out a deep run into the playoffs and- who knows?- maybe a repeat as Cup winners, salary cap or no.

BTW, Canucks goalie Corey Schneider was injured last night. Roberto Luongo, against whom the Hawks scored almost at will in the two previous games, will perforce be in the nets for Vancouver Tuesday night.

Victory! The Cup isn’t lost yet!

After losing three straight to Vancouver, the Blackhawks blew the Canucks out of the rink for the second straight game last night- this time in Vancouver.

Final score: Chicago 5, Vancouver 0. Goalie Corey Crawford- snubbed when it came to the nominations for the Calder Cup (Rookie of the Year) despite being among the statistical leaders in wins while only having started half the season- shut out the league’s leading offense, outshining the Canucks’ justly-touted (and defiant) Roberto Luongo.

The Hawks can tie the series and force a seventh game in Vancouver with a victory at the United Center on Sunday. Suddenly, I’m liking their chances.

You may have noticed my pessimism about the post-season. But if the Hawks win this series after having trailed three games to none, all bets are off. Anything can happen. In that case, the defending Stanley Cup champions will have proven that they do win when they really, really have to- the way champions are supposed to.

Proved it four times in a row.

Blackhawks win! Still on life support- but also still alive

The Blackhawks’ offense- which has apparently been on vacation during the first three games of the Conference quarter-finals against the Vancouver Canucks- went back to work on Tuesday night.

The Hawks beat Vancouver 7-2 at the UC, staving off elimination. The Canucks now lead the series 3 games to 1.

The bad news is that the defending Stanley Cup champions now have to win three in a row- two of them in Vancouver- in order to stave off elimination. If they can do it, it could be an emotional turning point- especially since Vancouver is the consensus favorite to win the Cup this year.

On the other hand, it’s never a good sign when a defending champion’s website carries a feature on how hard it is to win the Cup two years in a row. In fairness, though, it’s been up there since the playoffs began.

Here’s the home team take on Tuesday night’s victory, and the steep, grueling road ahead

Vancouver 3, Hawks 2

For the third game in a row, the Good Guys came up a goal short against the Canuckers. Vancouver now leads the best-of-seven series three games to none.

I’m afraid you can pretty much stick a fork in us. We’re one and done.

With Corey Crawford in goal the entire season instead of only half of it next year, a better-rested team (some commentators have claimed that the Hawks are exhausted after playing hockey for eight of the last twelve months, But wouldn’t that apply to the Flyers, too?) and- hopefully- some major roster moves to improve the penalty kill and shore up the defense,  perhaps the Major’s warriors can take a stab at making it two Cups in three years next year. But I have a feeling that it’ll take a longer time than that. When push comes to shove, the Hawks are losing to Vancouver because right now Vancouver is a significantly better hockey team than they are.

Dad got to see three Blackhawk Stanley Cups. The first two were four years apart.  The third came twenty-four years later. My first two were forty-nine years apart. I hope I live long enough to see my own third.

Now it’s time to worry

The Vancouver Canucks won their first Stanley Cup Playoffs Game Two against the Blackhawks in three years last night, holding off the champs, 4-3. The Bad Guys now lead the series two games to none, with Game Three scheduled for the United Center tomorrow night.

To say that it’s a must-win for the Hawks is an understatement.

The Hawks are reported to be showing signs of exhaustion. No doubt. Also signs of missing nine key players due to Dollar Bill Wirtz’s salary cap.

Incidentally, the first sentence of the fifth paragraph of the story linked to above contains yet another piece of evidence that educational standards in North America are going down the tubes.

Don’t sweat Canucks’ Game One victory

Roberto Luongo shut the Hawks out 2-0 Wednesday night in Game One of the opening round of the Good Guys’ Stanley Cup defense.

But sweat it not. Vancouver also won Game One last year, and the year before. The Hawks won both series.

They go at it again tonight at Rodgers Arena. It’s a bummer that I won’t be able to listen very well; WGN Radio doesn’t come in very clearly in my apartment, and I won’t be able to listen on the internet this year. In fact, since the games start so late, I won’t even know the result until I get to a computer tomorrow.

Such are the consequences of living in a state where they think the Hawks are a college football team.

Sigh.

Anyway- go get ‘em, champs! ONE GOAL!

By the skin of our teeth

Who ever heard of the Cubs losing a game they had to have?
– Frank Chance, “The Peerless Leader,” 1908- the year the Cubs won their last World Series

All the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks had to do yesterday was to tie the Detroit Red Wings- whom they had thrashed in Detroit the night before, and had beaten four times in a row- in regulation
and the five minute overtime to make the playoffs. And they were playing at home.

Last year they would have done it. No problem. Winning games when a team has to is the hallmark of a champion. But the Hawks just couldn’t get it done yesterday.

It was one of the best hockey games I’ve seen in a long time, and the Hawks certainly didn’t lose for want of effort, heart, or discipline. They “left it all out on the ice,” as the saying goes. Twice the Wings led by two goals in the third period, and twice the Hawks managed to cut their margin back to one. But when the final buzzer sounded, Detroit had won, 4-3.

Oh, the Hawks are going to the playoffs anyway. As it happens, just before firing their coach the Minnesota Wild managed somehow to beat Dallas 5-3. The Hawks were in- and thus granted the privilege of playing the team with the best record in the league, the leading offense, the leading defense, and which either led or finished second in just about every other significant category. My guess is that the Vancouver Canucks, whom the Hawks have ousted in each of the past two years,  will end up winning the Cup this year. For the Hawks to beat them is not impossible. But it seems much less likely, now that we know that this is a team that doesn’t necessarily win the games it has to.

Dustin Byfuglien. Andrew Ladd. Antti Niemi. Kris Ver Steeg. Brent Sopel. Ben Eager. Adam Burish. Colin Fraser. John Madden. All key players from the 2010 Stanley Cup championship team. All them are gone now, due to the last dirty trick played on Blackhawk fans by the man in the Hall of Fame as a “builder,” but whose career as the Hawks owner more accurately could be summed up in the word “wrecker”” William (Dollar Bill) Wirtz.

A combination of penny pinching, arrogance, bad judgment in picking subordinates and absolute loyalty tto those inept hirelings despite their blundering almost destroyed the franchise. Chicago- one of the great hockey cities in North America- almost forgot what hockey was during the Bill Wirtz era. Wirtz refused to allow home games to be televised. No matter, though; the teams he put on the ice were so inept that nobody would have watched. The fans who filled the old Chicago Stadium to the rafters to cheer for Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita and Glenn Hall stayed home. And Dollar Bill just didn’t learn. He just wouldn’t listen. After a while, the fans simply stopped caring. If Wirtz didn’t care, why should they?

After a while, you couldn’t give Blackhawk tickets away. The relatively rare cheers raised by Chicago fans echoed off the empty seats.

Bill Wirtz died in 2007, leaving the team to his son, Rockwell. Rocky made it a his number one goal to woo the fans back. The team started winning again. And once again, the stadium was filled to the rafters.  But before he died, Dollar Bill had left Hawk fans one final “gift:” he almost single-handedly talked the NHL owners into adopting a salary cap.

That salary cap decimated the championship team that Wirtz’s son and heir, Rocky managed to build with the help of all those high draft choices awarded to the Hawks over the years because they were so consistently bad. It could have been a dynasty, a team for the ages. Instead, a great hockey team was reduced to a merely good one.

The Hawks will do better next year than they did this year. They found a new and elite goalie during the second half in Corey Crawford, and pretty much turned it around in the second half; they figure to finish much higher than eighth in the conference next year almost no matter what they do in the off season. That’s especially the case because they won’t be exhausted by the necessity of playing into the early summer this year.

Despite their historical dominance over the Canucks in the playoffs, I don’t see the Hawks  getting past the first round. They could pull off an upset; they’re a good team, and a far better one than their record for the season indicates.

But I doubt it. And if they somehow do, I don’t see them repeating as Stanley Cup champs. Yesterday’s game was one which a championship team would have found a way to win.

Last year’s team would have.

Now or never for the champs

The Blackhawks’ 4-2 victory over Detroit last night at Joe Louis- their fourth win in a row against the division champion Red Wings- means that all they have to do is tie Detroit in regulation in tomorrow’s 11:30 am game at home to make the playoffs. One point is all it will take.

If the Hawks lose in regulation to the Wings, they will need Dallas to also lose in regulation in order to have the chance to defend their championship. On the other hand, the Hawks still could finish as high as fifth in the conference when the dust clears tomorrow night.

This is it, guys. From this point on, you’re playing for all the marbles. Hopefully, having to scramble to make the playoffs will prime them to keep scrambling when they get there.

ONE GOAL!

15-6-2

Marian Hossa scored an overtime goal last night to give the Hawks a 3-2 road victory over the Red Wings, and solidify their grip on the last playoff spot in the Western Conference of the NHL.

The Hawks have gone 15-6-2 in February and March after having barely played .500 previously. As is often the case even in bad years, they have pretty much owned the Wings all season.

They play Boston tonight in another huge game. They’re getting hot at the right time. We shall see what we shall see.

Hawks 6, Sharks 3

The Hawks scored five goals in the second period and beat San Jose last night, 6-3.

The victory was the defending Stanley Cup champions’ eighth in the last twelve games, and snapped a three-game losing streak. It leaves them all alone in fourth place in the Western Conference.

Every game from here on out is huge. All are against teams with winning records, and most are against fellow participants in the very clogged race for the last six or seven of the eight Western Conference playoff spots.

Uh-oh.

The recent Blackhawks winning streak is history. They’ve now lost three in a row, though both their shootout defeat at the hands of Tampa Bay Thursday night and this afternoon’s overtime loss to the Caps did each earn the Good Guys a point. On the positive side, the champs did tie the game with 38 seconds left on a Jonathan Toews goal after pulling the goalie on a power play late in the third period.

The Hawks aren’t far from where they need to be. Mainly, they need defense and penalty killing- not goaltending; Corey Crawford has been just fine. Keep in mind, by the way, in viewing the stats to which the link above leads that Crawford has only been the Hawks’ starting goalie for a little more than half the season.

But tomorrow nights’s home game against San Jose is huge. All of the Hawks’ remaining games are against teams with winning records, and they’re in the midst of a run of games with the  four or fiveother teams that are pretty much lumped together with them for the last couple of slots in the playoffs from the Western Conference.

The Hawks repeating as Stanley Cup champions looks to me like a longshot; I have to like Washington, Philadelphia, and Vancouver right now. But again, we’re not that far away. If we don’t repeat, here’s hoping that the Bowmans can figure out a way to upgrade our defense and penalty kill enough to overcome Dollar Bill Wirtz’s final joke: the salary cap he single-handedly talked the Board of Governors into adopting, which forces the Hawks to get rid of six or seven key players from their Stanley Cup winners of last year for much, much less than they were worth.

Datsuk has noticed

Puck Daddy has an interview with the Red Wings’ Pavel Datsuk in which he says this about my Blackhawks:

They are one of the leaders in the League now. They’re in the Top 5. They did have a very tough beginning of the season, because it is very difficult to start a season after winning the Cup. There was a lot of attention the media paid to them. Teams were playing different against them because everyone wants to beat the Cup winner. They also had so many changed made during the offseason. On top of that they had a very tough schedule to start off the season. It all takes its toll. But right now they’re back to where they should be.

While there’s an element of whistling in the dark here that I freely admit- you don’t lose the number and quality of players the champs did to Bill Wirtz’s pet salary cap without suffering a falloff in the overall quality of your team- I think Datsuk is right.

At least I hope Datsuk is right.

I’m about to watch the Hawks play Florida on TV. A victory would be their tenth in a row. And it’s March… the playoffs are just around the corner.

ADDENDUM: Actually, while they’re fourth in the conference, the Hawks are tenth in the league. And despite outshooting Florida 39-15 last night, they lost, 3-2. Corey Crawford had a bad first period, allowing three goals (he was badly screened on the third). 

Sometimes in hockey you lose even games you dominate. But when you outshoot the other guys 39-15, you have to figure that you’re going to be OK if you keep it up.

They try again tonight against Tampa Bay. They have fifteen games left- and the next four after tonight, against teams either just in front of them or just behind them in the standings, will be crucial.

Probert and Fleming had CTE

Blackhawks tough guys Bob Probert (left) and Reggie Fleming (below, right)suffered from CTE- the same syndrome fear of which lead Bears great Dave Duerson to take his own life a little over a week ago.

CTE is a dementia that comes from repeated blows to the head, such as those suffered by boxers, football players- and, it seems, hockey players. Hockey players suffering from the syndrome, however, tend- like both Probert and Fleming- to be those who played at least part of their careersbefore the NHL instituted its requirement that players wear helmets.

The syndrome- which often involves personality changes, memory loss, depression, and other symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementias- can only be positively diagnosed on autopsy. Probert, who died of heart failure, left instructions similar to those Duerson gave in his suicide note: to make sure that, after his death, his brain was studied for what it could teach medical science about the consequences of repeated brain injury. Probert and Fleming were both as famous, however, for their fighting abilities as for their hockey playing.

Fleming was a member of the 1961 Hawks Stanley Cup championship team. Probert, before turning away from the Dark Side and joining the good guys, played most of his career with the Red Wings.

Hawks appear headed for the playoffs

The Blackhawks- who have won five straight games, and are finally geting things together- moved into fifth place in the Western Conference last night with a win over Minnesota.

The top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs. In other words, if the season ended today, the Hawks would get their chance to defend the Stanley Cup after all, despite a season that started off very, very discouraging indeed.