The More You Know

Obviously, the big news of the day is the Blackhawks have a planned press conference at 2 pm on Thursday afternoon to announce the re-signing of Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane.  There is a whole lot of speculation about what their cap hits will be: Kane and Toews supposedly come in at $6.3 million and Keith at $5.5 million.  As of now, nothing is official. 

Also, the Hawks brain trust will have to answer how they’ve successfully dodged the tagging issue.  Whether they plan on making a trade in the next 14 hours or they’ve done something to skirt it, we’ll all find out soon enough.  For what it’s worth, Bob McKenzie says the Hawks may have just enough room to fit all three in without making any immediate moves.  Either way, Thursday promises to be a busy day at the Feather. 

Until then, this should hold you over.  Here’s our piece that ran in Tuesday’s “Committed Indian”:

Well, here we are, just past the quarter pole of the regular season.  The Blackhawks are returning home after a “take your pants off and run around the block while primal screaming” kind of road trip.  They started off by leaving a mushroom stamp on the collective forehead of Alberta; Antti Niemi stole two points in Vancouver; and they bent San Jose over the kitchen sink.  In Anaheim, it wasn’t their day and Jonathan Quick stole the second point in Los Angeles by doing cartwheels in the crease.  All told, nine out of a possible 12 points makes a successful Circus Trip, and with the makeshift elephant lavatory now cleansed from the Blackhawk dressing room (They better not have stepped on the Indian, otherwise Ben Eager may have them euthanized), the Hawks are ready to return home. 

While the end of the road trip may leave a stale taste in more than a few fans’ mouths, one of the more encouraging things to see was how well the Hawks played in the Staples Center during the last game of the trip.  The place has been a House of Horrors for this generation’s Blackhawks and on Saturday, they played their best game there in quite some time.  One point there – especially following five straight road games – is nothing to scoff at. 

Nevertheless, after 25 games, we have more than enough of a sample size to make some definitive proclamations about this year’s Blackhawks, their division and their conference.  Keep in mind, we still have no idea what’s in store once the playoffs roll around.  There is way too much time left and way too many variables in the equation to make any sweeping rationalizations. 

Here’s what we’ve learned: 

Barring an act of God, the Blackhawks should, once again, finish with a top-four seed.  If the Hawks keep up their current pace, they are going to finish the season with well over 100 points.  Since the NHL went to their current overtime format following the strike, only once has there been more than four teams in the West that finished with over 100 points and that was in 2006-2007.  So if recent history is any indicator, the Hawks are well on their way to home-ice advantage.  

The Blackhawks have become the team to beat in the Central Division.  Take a deep breath here.  While the Predators have pulled off their latest Michael Myers re-enactment, they simply don’t have the secondary scoring to sustain their current pace – unless Barry Trotz successfully resorbs the first born male of each of his players as an over-the-top motivation ploy.  The Red Wings are scratching and clawing for points on a nightly basis with their laundry list of injuries.  Granted, their “Big Three” (Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom) are still healthy, which will always give them a chance, but they’re going to need help that simply isn’t there many nights.  Tonight’s opponent, the Blue Jackets, has one of the goofiest goal differentials you’ll ever want to see out of a playoff contender and can still prove to be a formidable opponent.  Unfortunately, their back line is too wretched to win any division.  Finally, the Blues will win when an opponent takes them lightly or if they can manage to get 100% effort from all 19 skaters.  That’s just not going to happen enough for them to win 50 games. 

Antti Niemi appears to be a stable back-up goalie.  In his 6 games thus far, Niemi has pitched two shutouts and has played stretches where he looked like an actual NHL goaltender.  Make no mistake: if it hadn’t happened this way, the Hawks could have a major question mark on their hands.  

While the strategy of letting Niemi and Corey Crawford duke it out in the preseason, then keeping the loser in Rockford as a super-insurance policy seemed good on paper, the reality hasn’t played out as planned.  If you hadn’t noticed, Crawford has been replaced in Rockford by Joseph Fallon.  Most nights, Crawford doesn’t even dress as the IceHogs have felt more comfortable with rookie Alec Richards as the back-up.  As they say in the business, that’s bad. 

Of course, if we could see Niemi more than once a month, we’d really be in business.  The nice thing about having a decent back-up goalie is your starter stays fresher as the season wears on.  If someone could pass this advice along to Joel Quenneville, it would be much appreciated. 

The San Jose Sharks have a terrific top line; after that, it’s a crapshoot.  Without taking anything away from the bitchslap the Hawks delivered last Wednesday in San Jose, the Sharks are not the powerhouse of years past.  Though their back end is reasonably strong (much like the Feather’s), after Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, they’re a mish-mosh of forwards with a dash of Joe Pavelski mixed in.  That should be good enough for them to win the division again, but the gap is closing quickly as the Kings get better.  Even with another President’s Trophy win, to us, they seem destined for another playoff letdown; there’s no telling who Heatley will kill or quit on if that happens, but it bears watching. 

The Blackhawks likely have six or seven Olympians.  With Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane now locks for Teams Slovakia, Canada and USA, respectively, Dustin Byfuglien and Jonathan Toews remain slight question marks for their countries’ teams.  With Brian Burke running the show for the US and two-thirds of the Red Wing brain trust doing the same for Canada, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Byfuglien, the large, offensively capable menace, and Toews, the hard working two-way threat, don’t get their invitations.  

Add to that the possibility that, all other things being equal, Brent Seabrook gets the call as the last Team Canada defenseman to play along side his partner for the last half decade, it’s possible seven Hawks, including Tomas Kopecky, will head to Vancouver in February.  But, while having a handful of important players playing extra, highly competitive games in the middle of the NHL season may not be a good thing, most of the NHL’s other top teams will share the same plight.  It’s also an example of youth helping the Hawks. 

Trade activity leading up to the March 2nd deadline may be the quietest in years.  While plenty of Hawk fans have donned their GM hats since word leaked about the possible re-signing of the Big Three, the fact remains that the few teams with cap space aren’t going to take on salary for the sake of taking on salary.  Add in the fact that the cash-strapped teams won’t want to make additions until the last possible day to save cap space, and it’s a recipe for little movement until the calendar flips to March.

Eddie O is in love with our children.  Ok, we get it.  You’re trying to be like Steve Stone.  The only difference is Stone never beat that saying over our heads with a Northland stick on a daily basis. 

What will we learn in the next 25 games?  Who knows, but that’s what makes this so damn fun.

*On the Farm*

–The Rockford IceHogs came out with guns blazing against their intra-state rival, the Chicago Wolves.  Rockford threw 21 shots on net in the first period while only giving up 6 shots on their own net.  They also led in the more important category, goals.  Kyle Greentree got the Hogs on the board with his fourth goal of the year.  Bracken Kearns and Jack Skille had assists on the goal.  Three minutes later, Skille followed it up with a goal of his own.  Kearns and Jassen Cullimore were credited with helpers. 

In the second period, Bryan Bickell scored his fifth goal of the year with assists from Richard Petiot and Peter MacArthur and it was all the insurance Rockford would need. 

The Wolves scored twice in the third period but they never managed the equalizer and the Hogs held off for a 3-2 win.

Joseph Fallon stopped 24 of the 26 shots he faced.

Shawn Lalonde had a goal and two assists in Belleville’s 4-3 loss to the Ottawa 67′s.  It was a big day for Lalonde.  Earlier in the day, he was invited, along with fellow Blackhawks defensive prospect Dylan Olsen and 34 other players, to participate in Team Canada’s National Junior Team Selection Camp.  The tryouts will take place on the weekend of December 12th. 

With three returning defensemen from last year’s gold-medal winning squad, it will be an uphill climb for both Hawk prospects to make the team.

Byron Froese had an assist on a power-play goal in Everett’s 6-2 loss to the Kelowna Rockets.

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21 Responses to The More You Know

  1. Dave Morris says:

    Wow, you guys jumped on this one fast.

    Actually, I like the way Bowman Junior has become Silent Stan this year–as opposed to Talkative Tallon.

    Not that I want to diss the departed, but I always felt Dashing Dale was one step away from cardiac arrest as he breathlessly waded into the media swamp.

    The Hawks’ Official Site cryptically features the following teaser: “The Chicago Blackhawks will hold a press conference at the United Center on Thursday, December 3 at 2:00 P.M., to make a special hockey operations announcement. The announcement will also be carried live on chicagoblackhawks.com.”

    Perhaps less exciting than the Victoria’s Secret lingerie show online, but then again, for Hawkey fans, perhaps more.

    Until this afternoon, gang.

  2. Dave Morris says:

    BTW very good article by Craig Custance in the Sporting News this morning on the new contracts and their possible impact…”Blackhawks Signings Make Sense, But Tough Calls Ahead”. Link here, via YahooSports:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/news?slug=tsn-blackhawkssigningsma&prov=tsn&type=lgns

    In the article, Stan Bowman acquits himself very well, and Detroit GM Ken Holland has some pertinent comments.

    The “Pittsburgh Model”, as refined by Ray Shero, appears to be new template for team-building as mandated by the era of the salary cap. We shall soon see whether Stan Bowman earns himself a place as Shero’s equal.

  3. feyer says:

    McKenzie brings up a point regarding Corey Crawford, that might help explain his recent fall from grace. Given he is under contract next year, any call up for him decreases the tagging room available. Not substantially, but if tagging room is tight as we think, his call up could be an option no longer available.

    http://tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=300841

  4. John says:

    I suppose, but as I wrote yesterday, Crawford seems to be hurt anyways. So I don’t think tagging has anything to do with it.

  5. Dave Morris says:

    @Feyer> the main problem with McKenzie is his evident absence of knowledge of the Hawks’ asset base.

    McKenzie used to be a pretty decent hockey journalist until he decided to become a TV star and best-selling author.

    He has been surpassed by web-based writers like Lyle Richardson. Richardson’s own “SpectorsHockey.net” and work for Fox Sports offers a more rigorous and balanced viewpoint than McKenzie, who suffers from the ‘soundbite mentality’ of TV talking heads.

    From SpectorsHockey today, Richardson’s snapshot of the Hawks’ situation:

    “It’ll be interesting to see what moves, if any, the Blackhawks make leading up to today’s announcements of the re-signings of Kane, Toews and Keith. As for Patrick Sharp, I still believe the ‘Hawks prefer to retain him this season but they might move him this summer. Sopel remains the most likely candidate to be moved in my opinion.”

    http://www.spectorshockey.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=754:trade-coming-for-blackhawks&catid=5:trade-rumors&Itemid=4

  6. John says:

    And when I said tagging doesn’t have anything to do with it, I meant Crawford’s fall from grace. Don’t want any confusion there.

  7. The Roar says:

    No, there will not be any trade before 2pm.People gotta stop listening to the trade rmor mill.. Pens have been put to paper. Any trade would have to have taken place BEFORE the 3 signed their contracts IF it were to put them over cap for this year. Signing 2 then trading then signing the 3rd would have been an option, but the move to clear cap/tagging space would have had to take place BEFORE ink was put to paper (for all 3). Luckily someone knows how to run the numbers! The Wolf’s deal is prob. what kept us under, hence the 13 year deal. It’s either front, mid, or back-loaded. Similar to Hossa’s deal (lpay special attention to his latter years) but the Wolf actually has the possibility to play out his 13 years unlike Hossa [unless Cheli agrees to DNA donation for Marion]. Main point: Signings have taken place so a move now wouldn’t have anything to do with tagging room. they’ve constructed these 3 contracts well and keep next year’s committed pay under this year’s cap.

    On a totally different note: Can anyone explain to me the real meaning of Ham Sandwich’s nick name? Where did it originate? I’ve been around enough locker rooms and come up with enough names myself to know a more cleanly version of the story might be in order, but it has been bothering me for some time now not knowing… Help anyone?

  8. John says:

    Well I’m going to watch the press conference at 2 with both ears wide open to see if any reporter asks the Hawks brass how they’ve skirted the issue. Unless every number out there is wrong, the Hawks have apprx. $60 million committed to next year’s payroll which is well above the $56.8 cap. Now, surely there must be something allowing them to do this; I just hope there’s someone at the press conference with enough stones to grill the Hawks about it.

    As for Sandwich’s modest beginnings, here’s where you can find it.

  9. feyer says:

    Sassone is saying no moves are required at this time.

    http://blogs.dailyherald.com/node/3019

  10. feyer says:

    … but then he follows up with some numbers that show a different story. $60.6 million in committed salary vs about $57.9 million (this years cap of $56.8 + $1.1 in this year’s current cap space) in tagging room available. A shortfall of $2.7 million.

  11. Dave Morris says:

    Bob McKenzie is still trying to figure it out…from his Twitter:

    “TSNBobMcKenzie Crawford, BTW, is currently injured but not badly. Tagging becomes moot if Chi moves Sopel or player with contract for next yr for one w/o.
    28 minutes ago from web

    “TSNBobMcKenzie Which might explain why vet Dan Cloutier is in Rockford on a one-year deal. He could be called up without affecting tagging room.
    30 minutes ago from web

    “TSNBobMcKenzie If Chi tagging room is tight, and it is, and goalie gets injured, probably couldn’t bring up Crawford, who is under contract next year.
    31 minutes ago from web”

    Hey, the guy’s persistent.
    ;-)

  12. Lou says:

    @The Roar, the rumor mill provides for entertainig speculation, no one puts the rumor mill in a corner. But you are right on the money!

    A move will ultimately happen but as it has been all along, the right move to make the team better.

    The Fifth boys came up With Ham and it just kind of got its own following out here.

  13. Dave Morris says:

    Did we learn anything from that press conference?

    Wonder how much lettuce Ham Sandwich will get.

    OK gang…let’s play Hawkey!

  14. John says:

    Not much other than a gigantic circle jerk for the Big Three courtesy of the Chicago media.

    I’ve seen some places where Ham Sandwich will $3 million dollars. That is beyond insane. Probably something similar to the Keith deal that will be expiring at the end of this year.

  15. Dave Morris says:

    @John> correct me if I’m wrong here…but I didn’t hear any numbers confirmed (there were some problems with the HawksTV livestream)…and I have not seen any numbers confirmed by the Trib, Herald or Sun Times.

  16. John says:

    CSN had the contracts exactly as they were reported. 6.3 hits for Toews and Kane. 5.5 for Keith.

  17. Dave Morris says:

    @John> thanks.

    Now, StanBow really starts to earn his money.

    I expect you gentlemen will have a full fledged article on these signings and their potential impact…looking forward to it.
    :-)

  18. Lou says:

    Tlusty to Canes. Wonder if that is part of another deal? Or not.

    @Dave, I’ll hoist my first beer to you tomorrow at the UC and let you know what the vibe is.

  19. Dave Morris says:

    @Lou> cheers, bro. :-)

  20. Dave Morris says:

    PS another interesting item from Lyle Richardson at FoxSports.com:

    “While the new salaries of the three (Toews/Kane/Keith) pushes the Blackhawks committed payroll for next season to around $60 million it’s believed the club gets a break on that because it also includes the bonus cushion which would allow teams to spend over the cap by up to seven percent.”

    More here…

    http://community.foxsports.com/Spector/blog/

  21. Dave Morris says:

    @John, Bob> I’m still wondering about the actual numbers. This from the Sun-Times this afternoon, post-press conference:

    “The club would confirm only the lengths of the contracts. Toews and Kane signed for five seasons and Keith for 13. Other sources said Kane and Toews will be paid $6.3 million per season and Keith’s long-term contract will pay him $72 million.”
    http://www.suntimes.com/sports/hockey/blackhawks/1919911,blackhawks-toews-kane-duncan-120309.article

    So…does this mean that the numbers remain confidential?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

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