Shhh. You hear that? That’s the gentle hum of – what should be – the quiet end to the Blackhawks’ offseason.
It’s now been weeks since the bloodied cabbie and more than a month since the large contract, the terminated general manager, the disputed contract and the signee-turned-surgery-subject.
The quiet is nice, isn’t it?
So, before another Blackhawk decides to go under the knife or – worse yet – pull one on his driver, let’s take a moment to dive into THN’s Annual Yearbook for the 2009-’10 season.
But, beware: if you haven’t yet read the referenced mag and intend to, turn back now and come back when you’re more prepared.
To begin, THN predicts – gulp – the Hawks to end the Red Wings’ run of eight straight division championships, nabbing them for the second spot in the conference come playoff time. THN qualifies its prediction, saying the Hawks could be the conference’s top regular season performer if goaltender Cristobal Huet “plays like a $5.6-million goalie.” For the record, the publication picks the San Jose Sharks as the conference’s top playoff seed, and believes the Wings will be the best of the rest at number four.
The other division winner will again be Vancouver, THN says. Of course, they’ll have to beat the Bouwmeester-full and Cammalleri-less Flames to do it.
Sure, the Wings will go it alone without Marian Hossa, Juri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson, but they’ll insert Ville Leino, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, three players who took last year’s playoff run to show the world they belong. In picking the Hawks to win the Central, THN is surely out on a limb – somewhere I’ll stay away from in the middle of August.
Besides, it would ruin the Fifth Feather’s season preview.
Dunc and Keith
As a quick aside, a friend recently thought Duncan Keith was two players – not because he was so fast he appeared to be in two places at once, but because his name made him sound like two men: Dunc and Keith. I suppose she was onto something: up until his regular season injury suffered against Buffalo in March, we saw Dr. Dunc, the speedy defenseman who used his speed and skating as his deadliest weapon. But, as the regular season wrapped up and the playoffs began, we saw more of Mr. Keith, the over-aggressive defenseman who often skated himself out of position.
As the magazine does annually, THN ranked the NHL’s top fifty players. While three Wings made appearances in the top ten (Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom), three Hawks cracked the top 50, though none were ranked higher than 30.
Duncan Keith could have been the most noteworthy for being named to the list. Nevermind the fact Keith wasn’t on the previous yearbook’s list, though it certainly is another sign the smallish d-man has become one of the NHL’s most dependable blueliners.
No, it’s his spot on the list that is most important here. It’s no secret that, so long as Mr. Keith doesn’t make the trip to Blackhawks’ training camp this summer, Dr. Dunc will be strongly considered for one of the top six defensemen spots on Team Canada’s Olympic entry. And, THN apparently believes he should get that sixth spot, as the publication ranked him the 37th best player in the NHL, behind only five other Canadian-born d-men and ahead of others like Dion Phaneuf. The top five Canadien blueliners – who double as the five locks to make Team Canada in February – are Mike Green, Chris Pronger, Scott Neidermayer, Jay Bouwmeester and Shea Weber.
Perhaps the most intriguing spot on the rakings was one that wasn’t filled. Rather, under the heading, “Off Last Year’s List,” appeared Jonathan Toews’ name. Toews was 40th on last season’s list, but 34 goals wasn’t enough to keep him in the rankings.
THN, however, found it in its heart to put Niklas Kronwall, Jason Spezza and Johan Franzen in the top fifty.
Simply put, if you think Johan Franzen is a better hockey player than Jonathan Toews, you might be a redneck.
Other ranked Hawks were Marian Hossa (30th) and Patrick Kane (34th). Martin Havlat was 41st.