The following is our contribution to this year’s final issue of The Committed Indian. It is well worth the $2 Sam is charging so splurge away.
That big smile on your face gone yet? Yeah, didn’t think so. These are quite differenttimes for Blackhawk fans. When Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews debuted for the Hawks three years ago, you didn’t have to be Pierre Macguire’s thong to know things were going to turn around for this franchise quickly.
By November of 2007 – when the Fifth Feather was a mere glimmer in our eyes – the two of us partook in one of our patented long-winded phone conversations. By the end, we had convinced each other that with these two players, the Hawks were well on their way towards hoisting the Stanley Cup.
But standing atop the hockey world in just three years? That’s kooky talk. Steve Yzerman waited his whole career for his moment with Lord Stanley; it took Joe Sakic almost ten years; and the list of big names that never hoisted the Cup grows longer with each passing season.
When Kane’s shot snuck under Michael Leighton’s pads, it was a moment we thought would come, but somehow never actually materialize. A lifetime filled with disappointments, heartbreak, and Igor Korolev can break even the strongest man’s will. Either way, we were right in our early prognostications. We’ll bask in it for a little while if you don’t mind.
Ok, we’re back.
At the same time, it takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. Unfortunately, we are neither big nor men (basically, we’re overgrown children with the ability to buy beer on our own), but in running a website primarily dedicated to all things Blackhawk hockey, we are oftenwrong with certain analysis or prognostications.
It seems like now would be the perfect time to air out our mistakes from this past season like a pair of stale shin guards. And boy, do some of these just stink.
Cam Barker is ready to make “The Leap”. Doesn’t it feel like Barker played for the Hawks like years ago? Hard to believe it was just a few months ago that Barker was this team’s 6th defenseman. And, way back in September, we pegged the gravelly-voiced defenseman as one of our breakout players for this year’s Blackhawk squad.
After playing in a career-high 67 games last season while quarterbacking the number one power play unit, it was hard to see how he wouldn’t – at the least – rack up big points. After all, it was Barker who was the Hawks best defenseman in their opening round win against Calgary in 2009. Years of waiting for the 3rd overall pick to deliver on all his promise seemed to be over.
Then this season started.
Barker opened up as a third pairing defenseman. He injured his knee in the first month of the season. Quenneville opted for Patrick Sharp on the point for the first power play unit. Even when Barker returned from injury, he never was able to grab his spot on the point back, as Coach Q tried other options atop the power play.
Instead, Barker was relegated to third pairing minutes and third pairing match-ups. This was the worst of both worlds for him. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, it was only a matter of time before Barker was sent packing. Stan Bowman completed a trade right before the Olympics deadline and that was the end of Barker’s Blackhawks career. It also brought a merciful end to our horrendous pre-season prediction.
The Hawks will need to roll all four lines to compete for the Cup. There is no argument that the Hawks needed all four lines in the regular season. Who can forget Colin Fraser finishing the season with his buns on fire? When the playoffs came, though, the fourth line was basically an afterthought.
Last year, we got so caught up in how the Red Wings had four lines that could play significant minutes, no matter their roles. On top of that, the Hawks fourth line was a force during last year’s playoff. Adam Burish even contributed offensively during the Hawks’ 2009 run, and Ben Eager was a difference-maker on more than a few nights.
This year – not so much. Outside of foolishly flapping his gums, Burish did nothing during the Cup run. Please, spare us this talk about how he helped take media attention away from the shy Jonathan Toews. The only time Burish stuck his face in the lights was when something good happened. Ben Eager scored a huge goal in Game 2 of the Finals, but after that, he didn’t do much to rise above the five-to-six-minutes-a-night bar.
With each passing round, the fourth line wingers saw their ice diminish significantly. By the Stanley Cup Finals, Eager was lucky to play more than 4 minutes a game. Burish found himself in the press box scheduling interviews by Game 2.
If the Hawks win the Cup, it will be in front of Cristobal Huet. Let’s set the stage for this one, since it seems particularly foolish in retrospect.
It’s the third game played at the United Center of the season – sixth overall – and as the third period begins – while the Hawks lead 3-1, mind you – an overeager if not inexperienced fan runs to the first row of a 300-level section and unfurls over the balcony a sign that reads, “One Goal: Trade Huet.”
It’s in front of that background that we set out to calm the masses and send the message – which we truly believed – that there was no reason to “go all Rex Grossman” on Huet. And, while there certainly remains no reason to purposely attempt to destroy the confidence of a player on “your” team, our underlying hypothesis was wrong: the high-priced veteran goaltender wasn’t the only goaltender wearing the Indian head capable of carrying the Hawks to hockey immortality.
And boy, did Antti Niemi ever prove us wrong.
Like many, we were very skeptical of what a 26 year-old unorthodox goalie with less than 5 NHL games experience (prior to this season) was capable of. Huet was completely shell-shocked by March, the team played on egg shells in front of him. Things were not going as planned.
Enter Niemi and our final admission of error.
You need a ‘hot’ goalie to win the Stanley Cup. This was a favorite rallying cry for those looking for reasons why the Hawks wouldn’t win. We claimed you didn’t need one; others claimed you did. In the end, we were both – sort of – wrong.
People who said the ‘hot’ goalie is the key ingredient also said the Hawks didn’t have a goalie with the pedigree to get ‘hot’. In reality, any goalie playing in the NHL has the capability of getting ‘hot’ at anytime. There’s no rhyme or reason for it. It just happens. Goaltending is the most unpredictable position in all of sports.
While we claimed the Hawks just needed to have someone not crap themselves in a big situation, the truth is having a ‘hot’ goalie makes everything so much easier. Imagine if Niemi wasn’t as good in the San Jose series. Say the Sharks split the first two at home. The series drastically changes. Ultimately, the Hawks would probably still the win the West, but in avoiding games 5, 6, and 7, Niemi helped save his teammates for the Cup Finals.
Happy now? We’ve admitted when we were wrong. Now it’s your turn. Show yourselves thee who claimed the Hawks weren’t tough enough to win the Cup or those wanting to burn Joel Quenneville at the stake or if you’ve ever questioned how good Patrick Kane is.
Word to the wise, it’s easier to admit you were wrong when you’re slamming a beer out of a tin foil Stanley Cup your buddy’s cousin made.