Refusing to Take Sides

There are no shades of gray if you’re a sports fan in the 21st century.  Gone are the days when you simply could root for a team and its players.  Nope, roster positions have become news-breaking controversies.  

You, as the news consumer, are told you must take a side.  You either like Player X or you like Player Y.  Remember though, after your decision is made, there’s no turning back.  If you like Player X, you must stick by him ’til death do you part.  You also must hate Player Y at all costs, even it means cheering against your team.  Every mistake he makes, be sure to scream “I KNEW IT!!  HE SUCKS!!! I TOLD YOU SO!!!” from the mountaintops so everyone can hear you were right all along.  And, of course, the same rules apply if you’re  in Player Y’s camp. 

Being a Blackhawks fan is no different.  With Antti Niemi getting the start in-goal on Thursday against Calgary, the on-going goalie debate will only grow louder and perhaps more annoying.

Before we go any further, I should point out before I get labeled a Huet Lover or a Niemi Meatball: 

I. Don’t. Care.

I really find the debate over which goalie should start to be remedial.  Whether Niemi becomes the starting goalie or Huet remains it, it really doesn’t make a whole helluva difference to me.  If Niemi rattles off 7 wins in a row, I’ll be waving my Hawk pom-poms just as much as if Huet were to do it.  (I guess you could say I’ve discovered a shade of gray.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of room for those who want to join me.) 

Goalies are given way too much credit in wins and way too much blame in losses.  We’re one game removed from the Hawks scoring ONE goal, their power play going 0-for-6 while looking completely inept, their two defensive Olympians playing as though it was their first time on skates, and Cristobal Huet is wearing the dunce hat.  Makes no sense to me.   

Instead of just picking a side like we’re instructed to, I’ve tried my best to put on my Joel Quenneville thinking cap.  Let me break it down:

  • Your notoriously streaky goalie is going through a downturn. 
  • Your streaky veteran goalie, by all accounts, seems to have his head screwed on very straight.  Therefore, whatever decision you make will not shatter his confidence. 
  • You’re on a fairly important road trip against Western Conference opponents that, in all likelihood, can all but lock up a Top-2 seed for you.
  • Your back-up goalie who’s seen action in all of 16 games has performed well beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations. 
  • You’ve tried to protect your back-up as much as you could so you don’t completely destroy his confidence.
  • You also don’t want to overexpose your rookie goalie to the rest of the league.

With all that in front of us, I suppose the argument could be made that with the Hawks so far out in front the rest of the Central, why risk overexposing Niemi at the expense of a few extra points?  Of course, the easy counter-argument is at this point of the season, you kind of have to figure out what exactly you have in Niemi.

Is he still the guy who couldn’t outduel Corey Crawford in Rockford last year?  Or, is he in the midst of one of those magical years that goalies tend to have where everything goes their way? 

Therein lies the rub and wherever the truth lies, we’ll probably find out soon enough.  When we do, I’ll be the one who’s not telling you “I TOLD YOU SO!!!”.  Come say hi.

–Looks like it took Jeremy Roenick all of two days to become the hockey cliche-spewing mouthpiece I feared he would become.  Roenick’s opinion is that neither Huet nor Niemi are good enough to help the Hawks win the Stanley Cup.  Well, that’s just like, your opinion, man. 

The more aggravating part of the story is how the local media will run with this story.  Every day, there are literally thousands of people questioning the Blackhawks goaltending, but because a very recognizable ex-Blackhawk said it, it will make headlines.  What I really look forward to is a reporter having the stones to ask Jonathan Toews what he thinks about JR’s statement.  That will be fun.        

Anyways, that wasn’t really my point of bringing that all up.  Roenick’s main point was about how neither Huet nor Niemi seem to be the type of goalie who can bring you the Cup.   Before Dwayne Roloson’s PR staff hijacked the previous thread, Otter brought up a great question:

 A hot goalie can carry a team a few rounds, but eventually, the team with more offensive fire power will beat the hot goalie. I’m trying to think of the last time a team with the ‘hot’ goalie and just an okay team in front of him won the Cup… I know the Ducks lost to the Devils in 2003. The Hawks lost to the Pens in 1992…

Obviously, I was intrigued by the question.  So much so that I’ve started to do some research for a future piece.  If there’s any goaltending playoff performances that stick out in your memory from the past 20 years (other than Hall-of-Famers, they’re excluded.  Oh, and Dwayne Roloson.  We all remember him too), please be polite and share with the rest of the class.

*On the Farm*

–Byron Froese scored a goal in Everett’s 3-2 win over the Vancouver Giants.

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32 Responses to Refusing to Take Sides

  1. Fork says:

    Thinking Niemi is a better goaltender, based upon the belief that his style is superior, or that you think he’s better at stopping pucks, doesn’t make you a meatball.

    Thinking Niemi should be the starter because HUET SUCKS!!! HE’S A SIEVE!!! HE CAN’T STOP A BEACH BALL!!! makes one a meatball.

  2. Jon says:

    How about Cam Ward and the Carolina Hurricanes? That team wasn’t very good and he was superb in the playoffs.

  3. John says:

    Yeah, remembered that one. Of course, it was also the year after the strike and all sorts of goofy stuff happened.

    @Fork- And if you show any statistical evidence in Huet’s favor, you’re a Huet lover. I’m too old to care about something trivial like this goalie ‘controversy’. My 6 year-old cousin is enthralled by it. That was reason number one for me to stop caring.

  4. Fork says:

    What about those of us who think Niemi will be better than Huet, but he just isn’t yet?

    I need to be classified! I need to know where I stand, dammit!

  5. Dave Morris says:

    What about us Manon Rheaume fans? I mean, geez, FeatherFellas, equal opportunity here.

  6. cb says:

    I agree. Your strong, clearheaded arguments keep people coming back to this site. But you might convince more people without the patronizing tone.

  7. Dave Morris says:

    Hey, never mind the goalies, what about the Kyle Beach Kontroversy?

    “Kyle Beach, the Hawks’ first-round draft choice (11th overall in 2008) continues to be a major player for Spokane of the Western Hockey League. He has 47 points, 127 penalty minutes and is a plus-11 in 43 games for Spokane.”

    Almost fifty years without a Cup, so no wonder Hawkey Humans get restless when they get a sniff. Patience, y’all.

    BTW I like the patronizing tone. But then, I’m a cranky old coot and an Eric Nesterenko fan.

  8. Fork says:

    I have an autographed pic of Nesterenko, where he’s kneeing Louie Fontinato in the nads. True story.

  9. Bob in EP says:

    I have a picture of Dave Manson grabbing me by my tie with his fist cocked to punch me…

  10. CT says:

    “How about Cam Ward and the Carolina Hurricanes? That team wasn’t very good and he was superb in the playoffs.”

    Are you talking about the Cup winning Canes team? Because they had 112 points that year and were 2nd in the East.

  11. Jake says:

    That’s a great article..I honestly don’t care..Huet..Niemi..Santa Claus..whoever..I just want the Hawks to win

  12. blackhawkbob says:

    CB, believe it or not, this is John not being patronizing. Honestly, I didn’t think the tone was too bad, but John’s distaste for the general situation certainly shined through.

  13. Dave Morris says:

    @BlackhawkBob> don’t you *dare* alter the lofty tone of Fifth Feather.

    Is there no room left for elegant/informed arrogance? This is what we expect from you, Gentlemen.

  14. Otter says:

    Guardian yesterday… Feather today… the Internet can’t stop me, it can only hope to contain me.

    Anyway, the more I’ve looked at this and gone back the two the really stand out are Dryden and Roy coming out of no where as rookies and helping the Habs win the Cup. But of course, both became two of the greatest goaltenders of all time.

    I mean, Tom Barrasso won two Cups. Grant Fuhr had one of the greatest teams of all time in front of him and wasn’t even very good once he left Alberta.

    What I see is a lot of goalies that carry their team to the Finals, but then don’t win. The Ducks in 2003, Flames in 2004, the Oil in 2006 (though Pronger was on that team), and the Caps in 1998, The best case anyone could make is the Sabers in 1999 where a goalie (Hasek) stood on his head with basically 18 bodies in front of him. But they lost (even if it was ‘unfair’) and the Hawks are a lot better in every aspect of the game than that 1999 Sabers team expect in ‘net. Sure if the Hawks had 1999 Hasek in ‘net, they might go something like 70-9-3, but alas, they don’t really NEED Hasek considering everyone else on the team.

  15. Dave Morris says:

    The Dominator is ready for his comeback. Call the Prague Sports Complex now…operators are standing by.

  16. dominator says:

    I was born ready.

    Also Laraque looks like he might be available guys so how about an enforcer???!?!?!?!!!11?//?

  17. John says:

    cb, I didn’t mean to come off as patronizing. I suppose after being told multiple times that Dwayne Roloson is the answer for all that ails the Hawks, I was already in a foul mood. Either way, I appreciate the critique and I’ll try to be better in the future.

  18. Dave Morris says:

    @John> what, are you now going to mitigate your hard-hitting style? Horrors.

    Seriously, folks, all this remonstration over Hawks’ goaltending is just Cup envy.

    Even Glenn Hall–maybe one of the greatest goalies ever–only won 34 games (out of 65 starts) in his best season with Chicago. When the Hawks won the Cup in ’61, he went 29-24-17 with a 2.51 GAA and a .920 SV%. Not exactly *stellar* numbers…but the Hawks played like a *team* in front of him, and he got it done, when it mattered most.

    Anyone remember how much crap Hall took? The guy was under so much stress he tossed his cookies almost every game.

    As good as Tony O and Eddie were, they had more than their share of stinkers, including ‘soft’ goals in big playoff contests.

    When Belfour tended the twine up to the ’92 Finals, he had a 21-18-10 record with a 2.70 GAA and .894 SV%. Hasek’s record was 10-4-1 with a 2.60 GAA and .893 SV%.

    That makes The CristoAntti Combo look pretty damn good.

    The Blackhawks have their best goaltending in a long, long time. But that’s not good enough for some people.

    Yeah, Tallon got himself in hot water when he signed Huet before he could trade Khabby, but bottom line is, the Hawks went to 104 points and the WCF with those two.

    Now the Hawks are sharing the lead in the West with the Sharks as they flip Huet and Niemi.

    What’s the big frickin’ problem?

    You want Cup-quality goaltending in Chicago? It’s not like you can go to Goalies R Us and pick one off the rack.

    So either the team plays stellar D and the goalies do what they gotta do, or they don’t.

    Sometimes Huet gets it done. Sometimes he doesn’t. Like every other NHL goalie.

    Maybe Niemi is ‘the next guy’. Maybe he isn’t. You just don’t know at this point.

    Carey Price and Steve Mason were supposed to be miracle workers. What have they done beyond sparkling rookie seasons?

    Some people want to dump Huet, get Marty Turco or JS Giguere or Dan Ellis or whoever…assuming they are even available.

    And if that doesn’t work out, then what?

    It’s a team game. The team wins it, or loses it.

    Enjoy the ride.

  19. Fork says:

    Laraque could add depth to the penalty box, that’s about it. He’s not very good at hockey.

  20. Patrick says:

    John – don’t go changin’, to try to please me… Because you won’t. Stay the same snarky SOB that we all enjoy reading here.

    Goalie controversy or not, this is a team game, and if the Hawks play more games like the Ottawa game, they won’t win anything. If they tighten things up as we expect them to, by the time the playoffs roll around, they’ll be just fine. Q needs to figure that out, and it’s more than just who’s playing in net…

  21. Lee says:

    Laraque just released by the Canadians because Jaque Martin does not want any fighting. Thats my enforcer I have been talking about. Just sit him on the end of thebench, let the Canadians pays his salary and send him out when needed!!!!!!

  22. Lee says:

    Jaeckel has a very interesting blog on Hockey Buzz relating to all of the above

  23. Leonidas says:

    I’ll join the ranks of the indecisive and ambivalent.

    Look at the way Q shuffles lines if things aren’t working.. It’s not like he’s afraid to pull the trigger if he things a change will shake it up. He’s also not afraid to turn someone into the gatorade distributor if they’re playing like Cam Barker. I haven’t seen anything to believe this doesn’t extends to goaltending. I’d like to think Q and Co. won’t be afraid to change things up if Huet beings the playoffs with a bellyflop.

    The stats and sentiment represented by Mr. Morris and cb show what counts amidst all this murk: playing good defense, denying shots, puck possession. People tend to focus on the goaltender during playoffs because their play is salient and vivid after the game is over. No one remembers Sopel the Human Shield taking one off the tibia, or the ‘active stick’ of Brent Seabrook denying a shot, past the next intermission.

    Given that the safety bar has already clamped down on this roller coaster, worry more about the defense staying cohesive and how Bolland and Burish will be blended in in the coming months.

    Re: the Enforcer….How many goals / injuries would a one-dimensional brute save? You honestly think guys like Brandon Prust or Igninla are going to back off of smashing a skills player because they’re afraid of Laraque?

  24. Jack says:

    Laraque would get ZERO minutes on this team. And, who would you get rid of for him???
    This goalie non-controversey is getting quite boring. If the Wings can win a cup with Osgood, then the Hawks should be able to win with a cigar store indian.

  25. cb says:

    Far be it from me to rain on your parade; you guys do a fine job and I happen to agree with the essence of your argument. It’s absurd to talk about trading for Roloson but I find no harm in general discussion of the goaltending situation. Huet is in my book a legitimate concern. The fact that we can’t do anything about doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing.

    Whatever. Watch Niemi get chased out of the net in the first tonight and Roenick will be held up as some kind of prophet. God help us.

  26. blackhawkbob says:

    Lee:

    It’s the “sit[ting] him on the end of the bench” part that most people have a problem with. Moreover, a cursory look back at the last couple Stanley Cup winners will show you that an enforcer is rather unnecessary come playoff time.

  27. Otter says:

    Using a spot in the line up on an enforcer who can’t skate, pass, or score makes no sense if you’re trying to win hockey games. What good is an enforcer if only allows you to play three lines and causes you to lose in the 3rd period because the team is gassed? Or of course, you can play the enforcer, he can have a stellar -14… has anyone ever done any sort of analysis on how many goals an enforcer is worth (i.e. does playing an enforcer cost a team -.53 goals a game or something?) I’d imagine enforcers are sort of like single hitters that don’t walk in baseball: big during the disco era, pretty much dead in the 21st century.

  28. cb says:

    My god, are we still talking about Georges Laraque? Really?? Bob/John, you guys need to shut this thread down NOW. It’s out of hand.

    Or else steer it back to the comparably useful discussion of whether we should trade Versteeg, Byfuglien, Madden and Skille for Roloson.

  29. Dave Morris says:

    Lee, I suggest you read what the Hawks themselves have to say about this.

    “Blackhawks say Roenick’s analysis is wrong”
    http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=514494

    This is the best goaltending the Hawks have had since Belfour and Hasek. Probably better.

    If you want Huet to fail, just keep thinking the way you are.

    The rest of us will hope the Blackhawks play the kind of league leading defense they have for most of the season, and play the quality of hockey that has earned them an excellent chance to contend for the Stanley Cup.

  30. Lou says:

    @ Lee, that is exactly the dumb move that we have been hammering you on for months now. Broken record again, when is it going to stop?????

    Laraque is a goon. He can’t play a regular shift anymore. He’s scored 12 total goals in the last five years. Eager scored 10 last year and 3 this year. Do the math. Not a real good ROI

    How can a team built to roll four lines win when they have one guy sit on the bench? Answer: you can’t need 12 (twelve not eleven(11)) to do that.

    Jack, you have all of our permission to scout Cigar Store Indians

  31. Ryan says:

    How can someone follow hockey enough to know Laraque was let go by the Canadians, but not know enough to realize that putting him in a Hawks sweater is a terrible idea?

  32. OC says:

    WOW – all those Roli fans may have been right – did you see last night Roli 1 goal on 34 shots and 0 allowed in the shootout and the islanders win a 2-1 shootout – come on hawks new GM do something smart and bring him here – what a cheap ticket – 2 the CUP!!!!!

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