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.