Here’s what one of half of the Fifth Feather (blackhawkbob) said on March 16th following the low point of the season, a 4-2 home drubbing at the hands of the ever-dangerous New York Islanders:
As wild as it sounds, I think Byfuglien will move to the fourth line, and, so long as he uses his size and speed as necessary, I think he’ll have a very positive impact down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Consider him one for two in the Nostradamus department.
Byfuglien never found himself on the fourth line for an extended period, but to say he hasn’t had a positive impact the past few weeks is like saying Todd Marchant isn’t the NHL’s answer to cicadas.
I must admit I jumped off the Byfuglien bandwagon around the All-Star Break in January. It happened right after the Hawks dropped a game to the Blues for the third time and Big Buff was arguably the worst player on the ice.
It wasn’t much longer than that that Coach Q had seen enough too, and scratched Byfuglien two consectutive games in mid-February. Byfuglien came back on Valentine’s Day against Dallas and was a physical force, contributing an assist in a 6-2 drubbing of the Stars.
This is the one spot that some people are pointing to as the turning poing in Byfuglien’s season. But his inconsistent play continued. While he played an intricate part in a 4-2 win over the Kings on March 1st, he disappeared over the following weekend when the Hawks were swept by Boston and Colorado on March 7th and 8th.
The other argument people are making for when Byfuglien turned his season around was when Sammy Pahlsson joined the team. On March 13th, Pahlsson joined the Hawks in Columbus. Did Pahlsson’s presence make that much of a difference in Byfuglien? It’s hard to tell, but let’s take a look.
From that point until now, Byfuglien has scored 5 goals and notched 7 assists in 24 games. That’s hardly a Malkin-like streak, but that’s not Byfuglien’s game.
To understand what he truly does, you have to watch him on a nightly basis. Maybe he won’t notch a point on a goal, but if he’s setting a screen or is reeking havoc in the corner, he’s just as effective. Now when did this start?
Oddly enough, the first point I can recall is Pahlsson’s first game when the Hawks lost to Columbus 5-3. Brent Seabrook blasted a point shot, Byfuglien set probably his first effective screen of the season when he blocked Wade Dubielewicz’s view and the puck went right past him.
Obviously no one here needs any reminder what he’s done in the playoffs. Against Calgary, Byfuglien was one of the Hawks top 4 players but only showed up on the score sheet twice in the six games. Last night against Vancouver, Byfuglien was the most influential player on the ice. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that he has played on Pahlsson’s line the majority of the time.
Now that I think of it, there’s probably no better way to describe Byfuglien’s game when he’s on: Influential. His physical play can absolutely change the game. Maybe he won’t light up the scoreboard with his own skills, but the results of his actions on the ice will help the Blackhawks.
So, is there some weird connection to Byfuglien’s success and Pahlsson’s presence?
It kind of appears that way.
And if Pahlsson is the key to Byfuglien’s success, then perhaps Pahlsson is the most important free agent for the Hawks to lock up this summer.
–Speaking of free agents, the Martin Havlat and Hawks contract talks will continue in the off-season (where they belong), but that’s not where the problems lies.
There has been speculation of a long-term contract in the works for Havlat, perhaps as many as nine to 11 years.
I cannot stress this enough, unless the deal is for something around 9 years, $45 million, it could be a tragic mistake. No one should forget that Havlat was available to the entire NHL at last year’s deadline, and every team took a pass. Not to mention, at his age, there is a decent chance he won’t produce at this level for that much longer, let alone for 10 more years. Alright, that’s enough of the off-season hypothetical talk, we have plenty of months for that.
–On to Shoulder-gate. My favorite running sub-plot of the playoffs so far has been every time a key player has an off night, the media and fans start asking if the player is injured. After the Hawks admitted Jonathan Toews has been battling the flu earlier in the week, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported through a source that Toews is actually hurt.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews also seems to be slowed. One source said Toews was suffering from the flu on Thursday, but another said he has a significant shoulder injury and can barely raise one of his arms.
He didn’t seem to have too big of a problem raising his arms when he challenged Alex Burrows last night in the 3rd period. Nor did he have too many problems reigning blows upon him. So is he really hurt or is this just the Canadian media fanning the flames of an overzealous source?
It seems to be a combination of both. Or maybe, Toews just hasn’t been all that effective lately because he hasn’t played all that well. Is that allowed?