Archive for the ‘Chicago Blackhawks’ Category

Tuesday’s Tour Around the Central

November 2, 2009

You know it’s a slow news week when you do a Google News search for the Blue Jackets and every single thing that pops up has to do with Ovechkin and his wonky shoulder. And, as an afterthought, how they came from behind to win their game Sunday.

Anywho, let’s see what’s out there in America’s Heartland – and Nashville.

Our friends (and by friends I mean fellow smartasses who also write a gameday newspaper – they’re like Game Time’s cousins or something) over at Second City Hockey have a recap of what you can tell about the Blackhawks after one month in. Kudos to them for not doing what a lot of other Hawks sites are doing – “Wooooo! We’re in FIRST!” is not an in-depth analysis. Because, um, there are like 65 or so games left. Gimmie substance, please.

Hockey’s Future has the top 10 organizational rankings out, and the Blue Jackets are 4th (Blues are 1st and the Preds are 2nd, so the Central should be tough for some time to come). Nikita Filatov is their number one prospect and apparently will be a contender for the Calder this year. Someone might want to mention that to Ken Hitchcock.

Mirtle wrote an excellent six part series on the viability of the Nashville Predators as a hockey market. Excellently researched – as a fan of the Thrashers, I appreciate someone taking the time to visit Nashville to see what’s going on there first hand. I’m fairly tired of people writing stuff that usually sounds like:

“(Insert non-traditional market team here) doesn’t have the fan base to succeed. Their attendance is awful. They need to win in the playoffs or else (insert big name star) is going to leave in free agency. Since they’re located in the south, the team will automatically finish in the bottom of their Conference. Oh, and LOL @ rednecks!”

MLive.com is hoping that the Red Wings have turned a corner. That’s odd – so do I. Into a wall.

And finally, continuing the injury bug that has been harassing the Blues for the past few seasons, Andy McDonald does his best impression of me in high heels and takes a header into the boards:

Thank God he appears to be ok so far, though he probably won’t play Thursday as a precaution. No word yet on Sunday at Atlanta.

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As the Blackhawks turn OR The Young and the Reckless OR Don’t call them the Chicago Cabs

August 9, 2009
VS
I know that was the predictable photo to run, but c’mon.

Let me ask everyone: has any NHL team EVER had a crazier off-season than the Chicago Blackhawks?

Hearing the details of Patrick Kane‘s bizarre, alleged assault of a cab driver, it was hard to believe it wasn’t a joke at first. (It’s not a joke, is it?) The event as an alleged incident brings up plenty of questions:

Is there ANY way booze was not involved? What is pocket change to a guy who will earn more than $3 million in the 2009-10 season? Does EA boot him off the cover, like they did with Dany Heatley?*

Well, at least hockey players didn’t electrify dogs

* – Obviously, Heatley’s incident was way worse. But is getting arrested the EA NHL series’ answer to the Madden curse? Heatley, Eric Staal and now Kane. Just sayin’.

ANYWAY, it’s truly been a crazy summer for the Chicago Blackhawks franchise. Let’s look at the biggest stories/snafus/angry Tweets in chrono-illogical (like what I did there?) order.

  • A lot of people liked the Hossa signing, but who could defend Fax-gate? By not properly sending Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker qualifying offers, the cracks in the ‘Hawks foundation were starting to become undeniable.
  • Dale Tallon, the butt of many CLS jokes, gets fired. Fax-gate is more or less an excuse to promote Scotty Bowman’s son. I find out that maybe Tallon wasn’t the only one behind the BRILLIANT resurgence of the Blackhawks. (Sorry, Dale, I should have spread the snark)
Chicago’s omelette of sadness
  • In a watershed moment for social media, Martin Havlat badmouths the Blackhawks on Twitter. Apparently, the team owed more to a guy who earned his contract for exactly one season. The Blackhawks franchise now has enough egg on its face to make an omelette.
  • Hey, you know that already questionable Hossa signing? It gets better. Apparently, Hossa needed off-season shoulder surgery. He could miss up to 30 games in the very regular season they are risking everything for. Rumor has it, the team didn’t even require Hossa to take a physical. Notice a pattern yet?
  • And now the face of EA Sports’ hockey game … a guy who will represent USA Hockey … a #1 draft pick Patrick Kane is now in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

And there is still a solid amount of summer to go. What do the ‘Hawks have left for us?

I, for one, cannot wait to find out what happens next.

We feel kinda bad now: Chicago fires Tallon

July 14, 2009
Mirtle used this photo first, but we had to use it because of the obvious foreshadowing.

So far, we’ve seen posts from Second City Hockey, St. Louis Game Time, Puck Daddy and James Mirtle regarding the firing of Dale Tallon. After waking up from a profoundly bizarre nightmare, let’s leave it at that right now. Perhaps we’ll update this with a more extensive round-up/link dump if the hockey blogosphere justifies it.

Obviously, the excuse for firing him was the QO debacle (perhaps we should call it FedEx-gate?), but next season is one of the most pivotal in Blackhawks’ history and the decisions they make will have an impact on the next decade. They might as well go with the guy(s) many assumed were inevitably going to be in charge anyway.

It will be an interesting story to follow and no doubt about it: the Blackhawks are, at the moment, the story of this summer.

For the hell of it, here are our posts regarding Chicago’s salary cap situation:

Losing Kane, Keith or Toews: a crushing inevitability.
Bashing the Hossa signing.
The Blackhawks’ salary cap situation looked worrisome as early as mid-March

Losing one (or more) of Kane, Toews, Keith: a crushing inevitability for the Blackhawks

July 7, 2009

Editor’s note: This post runs really long and might have some inexact math. The major point, though, is that the Blackhawks have painted themselves into an astonishing corner. It is legitimately difficult to imagine them holding onto two of Kane, Toews and Keith.

If they do keep all three, it will require the Hawks to deal with a stunning lack of depth.

Feel free to prove us wrong and point out mistakes. We expect this post to be a crucial part of how we look at this scenario.

And, obviously, we hope you find it interesting.

***

The Chicago Blackhawks horror show salary cap situation keeps dominating our thoughts as the story of the free agency week. Quite a few share our “WTF are they thinking?” train of thought, but many others have voiced their disagreements with our apparent Chicken Little outlooks.

With all that in mind, we decided to break this situation down in various ways. We think you’ll eventually acknowledge the obvious: this is one mind bogglingly screwed up salary cap situation.

First, we’ll look at the Chicago Blackhawks cap commitments in 2009-10 and 2010-11. Keep in mind these will be CURRENT, without any TALLON MAGIC. (Sorry, We’ll try to limit our sarcasm).

Then we’ll list players by their trade-ability. After all, Tallon will have to make moves if he’d like to keep … you know, the two kids who turned his franchise around.

Finally, we’ll look at a few hypothetical situations. Since we’re laying out everything but the Blackhawks’ prospect contracts, feel free to assemble your own panic soaked Chicago Blackhawks roster!

(We used CapGeek.com for calculations and NHLSCAP.com to double check RFA/UFA statuses)

Chicago Blackhawks 2009-10 Roster/Cap Commitments

Forwards

Marian Hossa: $5,233,333
Patrick Sharp: $3,900,000
Dave Bolland: $3,375,000
Dustin Byfuglien: $3,000,000
John Madden: $2,750,000
Andrew Ladd: $1,550,000
Tomas Kopecky: $1,200,000
Troy Brouwer: $1,025,000
Ben Eager: $965,000
Patrick Kane: $875,000
Jonathan Toews: $850,000
Jack Skille: $850,000
Adam Burish: $712,500
Colin Fraser: $700,000

Defense

Brian Campbell: $7,142,875
Brent Seabrook: $3,500,000
Cam Barker: $3,083,333
Brent Sopel: $2,333,333
Duncan Keith: $1,475,000
Niklas Hjalmarsson: $643,333

Goalies

Cristobal Huet: $5,625,000
Antti Niemi: $892,500

Numbers

ROSTER SIZE: 22
SALARY CAP: $56,800,000
PAYROLL (without bonuses): $52,137,207
CAP ROOM: $4,662,793

Salary Cap Commitments for 2010-11

Forwards

Marian Hossa: $5,233,333
Patrick Sharp: $3,900,000
Dave Bolland: $3,375,000
Dustin Byfuglien: $3,000,000
Tomas Kopecky: $1,200,000

Defense

Brian Campbell: $7,142,875
Brent Seabrook: $3,500,000
Cam Barker: $3,083,333
Brent Sopel: $2,333,333

Goalie

Cristobal Huet: $5,625,000

Numbers

ROSTER SIZE: 10
SALARY CAP: $56,800,000
PAYROLL: $38,848,874
CAP ROOM: $17,951,126

OK, now let’s look at the guys Chicago would likely TRY to move (with snarky category titles!)

Highly movable:

Sharp ($3.9 million)
Byfuglien ($3 million)
Seabrook ($3.5 million)

You JUST SIGNED him!

Bolland ($3.375 million)
Barker ($3.08 million)

Gainey-bait:

Huet ($5.625 million)
Sopel ($2.33 million)
Campbell ($7.1 million)

***

OK, so there’s hypothetical situation #1: The Blackhawks don’t move salary, but manage to sign Kane, Toews and Keith for a dream scenario $13.5 million. Oh, and the Salary Cap doesn’t drop at all (snickers).

Forwards: Hossa – Kane – Toews – Fugly – Sharp – Bolland – Kopecky – 5 minimum wage forwards

Defense: Keith – Campbell – Barker – Sopel – Seabrook – minimum wage defenseman

Goalies: Huet – Minimum wage netminder

Numbers:

ROSTER SIZE: 13
SALARY CAP: $56,800,000
PAYROLL: $52,348,874
CAP ROOM: $4,451,126
CAP ROOM PER OPEN SPOT: $445,113

(Note: the Blackhawks would probably still have to find a way to get rid of Sopel to make that work)

Hypothetical situation #2: The Cap drops to $50 million. Kane-Toews-Keith agree to a combined $13.5 million out of the bottoms of their bottomless hearts.

a) They would start over a $50 million cap to begin with, so they banish Brent Sopel to Salary Cap hell. (Again)

b) The NHL’s minimum salary will be about $500,000. That number could be very important to Mr. Tallon around July 2010.

c) We would assume the Blackhawks would need to keep/wouldn’t be able to trade:

Hossa, Kane, Bolland, Toews, Seabrook, Keith, Barker. For the sake of sanity, they’d probably keep Kopecky to make Hossa happy or some dopey shit.

d) So, if the Blackhawks lived in a dream world in which they could rid themselves of Brian Campbell, Cristobal Huet, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Sharp …

… while signing Kane, Toews AND Keith to trio of bargain contracts …

They would have five forwards and three defensemen for $30 million. This would give them $20 million to fill (at the minimum) seven forward spots, three defensemen and two goalies. To ice a hockey team, they would have approximately $1.67 million per roster spot.

Without a goalie. Without even two full lines of forwards or defense.

This is if the Blackhawks unload a murderer’s row of idiotic contracts.

Even if this situation played out with the current cap, they’d have $2.16 million per open spot.

And this the DREAM scenario.

We don’t know what else can convince you. Go play around at CapGeek.com and see if you can find a way to explain how the Blackhawks aren’t mortgaging their future. Seriously, we’ll gladly eat crow if it means that there is some order restored to the universe.

***

Every team pushing the cap this year will have some serious headaches if the salary cap drops. Especially if it drops by $6 million. The Chicago Blackhawks, however, are mavericks.

They insist on struggling even if the cap DOESN’T drop.

Time for us to get some Advil.

Marian Hossa to Chicago was a great signing … and Michael Jackson died with his original nose

July 4, 2009

What a strange week-plus it’s been. First, the world mourned a pop star while somehow glossing over his priest-besting “alleged” past of molesting children … acting as if the man wasn’t ignored for a decade and a half of irrelevant music making.

At least that wasn’t unprecedented, though, because we were alive at a time when the world somehow felt epic sadness about Anna Nicole Smith too.

Yet, the most shocking moment might have been the eventual approval of Chicago’s random, short-sighted signing of Marian Hossa. We love Puck Daddy, but … come ON!

“Chicago Blackhawks: We’ve said our piece on the Marian Hossa signing for 12 years and $62.8 million. They get a major pass for it in this report card because any quibbles about the deal are going to come down the line. Right now, from a hockey perspective, it’s the move of the Frenzy.

Goaltending, future cap considerations and Tallon’s propensity to overpay aside, if the test is whether a team is closer to a Stanley Cup after its deadline moves, the answer for the Blackhawks is an unequivocal “yes.” Conditions could change next summer; but for now, it’s a solid GRADE: A-“

Puck Daddy’s “Free Agent Frenzy Report Card

Stunning.

“Has the world gone CRAZY? Does no one give a shit about the (salary cap)?”

If you look at the move from a Havlat-for-Hossa point of view then yes, of course, the Blackhawks made a good decision. Yet, even if Havlat might have been their most productive forward this season, is there ANYONE who attributes Chicago’s resurgence to the Gaborik-in-Sheep’s clothing?

No, really, raise your hand. We want to catalog the crazies in our midst.

It boggles our mind that people can look at the signing WITHOUT acknowledging the fact that the Blackhawks painted themselves into a serious corner with this move. Tallon reminds us of friends who would buy a Wii, PS3 and X-Box 360 on their birthday and then realize they had no money left for games.

Sorry, but the move cannot be examined without looking past the 2009-10 season. By that logic, the Dallas Stars harbor no regrets about trading away Jarome Iginla since they won one Cup with Joe Nieuwendyk.

We asked how in the world the Hawks would keep Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith before they added Marian Hossa and gave Dave Bolland a surprisingly rich deal for a guy with such a light resume. When you factor in Hossa, Bolland and Kopecky‘s deals, the Hawks will have $10 million less to sign those big three next year. And that’s without factoring in the possible signing of Kris Versteeg and/or Cam Barker.

And as Joe at Sacrifice the Body pointed out, having about $20 million for 10 players is tough enough until you realize the VERY real possibility of the cap falling significantly.

In a DREAM scenario, the Hawks would sign Toews and Kane to dual $5 million per year contracts and somehow hypnotize stud defenseman Keith to a $4 million per year deal. They’d then have to find a way to fill out a roster with abysmal half-million dollar players and rookies.

Future collector’s item?

The only option we could see is trading to make space, but even THAT will be costly.

Brian Campbell‘s enormous* Gomez-esque contract makes a trade pretty damn hard to imagine (before Bob Gainey traded for Gomez, we would have called it unthinkable). They’re paying contract year wonder Cristobal Huet $5.62 million (more than Tim Thomas, Marc Andre Fleury and Martin Brodeur) to be a questionable #1 goalie.

They can move Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel and a couple other guys to clear up space but they’ll either have to take 1) next to nothing like the New York Islanders received when trading Bill Guerin to the Penguins or 2) a player who’s making barely less money.

Most likely, the Blackhawks are going to have to trade a very nice asset (Seabrook, Sharp, maybe even Bolland) to clear up space and they STILL might lose 1-2 of Keith, Kane and Toews. Either way, the honeymoon is almost certainly over after next season.

What will happen next July when the sky is falling for everyone, but the hardest for the Blackhawks? Do they get expelled from Puck Daddy school? Do they bury Huet with Jimmy Hoffa? Bribe Bob Gainey with whores and liquor to get rid of Campbell’s uber-albatross? Stop showing home games again, this time out of shame?

Ugh.

Sometimes we feel surrounded by insanity.

(* – Here’s the list of SUPERSTAR defensemen making less money than Campbell this season: Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Dan Boyle and Jay Bouwmeester. Hell, here’s some FAR SUPERIOR defenseman making at least $1.5 million less per year: Sergei Gonchar, Shea Weber, Mike Green, Andrei Markov and more. Tallon is … not a great general manager.)

CT from Hockee Night on Chicago Blackhawks free agency

July 1, 2009


Hockee Night is a blog devoted to the Chicago Blackhawks and their weekly podcasts (each Tuesday). Make sure to follow their work and enjoy their very funny Puck Casts. Thanks guys.

Let me preface this by saying I honestly don’t expect to see much out of the Blackhawks in free agency this year. Their biggest concerns are internal, what with guys like Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg being RFA’s. The biggest issue for the Hawks will be whether or not Martin Havlat will agree to come back on a one year deal. If he does, they’ll pretty much return the same team as last year. If he doesn’t, they’ll have a bit of money to play with, in which case I’d like to see them make a run at Mike Cammalleri or maybe John Madden. The Hawks biggest challenge will be trying to improve on a team that reached the Western Conference Finals while keeping enough cap space to sign Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith to extensions.

This is exactly our luck in Chicago. We finally have ownership in place that would be willing to spend money like the Red Wings used to, and we’re stuck laboring under this goddamned salary cap.

1. Which player, for the love of God, do you NOT want to see in your team’s sweater in the 09-10 season?

Looking at the list, I’m not really afraid of any particular player as much as their potential contract. The Hawks pressing issue will be signing role players to contracts that don’t impact their cap situation in such a way that it costs them guys like Toews, Kane, Keith or Brent Seabrook down the line. While that seems like a no-brainer, keep in mind that GM Dale Tallon has a history of giving role players like Brent Sopel (3 years, $2.3M per) and Dustin Byfuglien (3 years, $3.5M per) oversized extensions. This tendancy, along with Joel Quenneville’s affection for defenseman like Matt Walker who are known for “toughness” and nothing else puts a bit of a scare into me. Walker wasn’t good, but at least he only made $500K last year. My nightmare is that the Hawks for some reason decide to go after a “marquee” physical (read: big stiff) defenseman who just won the Stanley Cup: Hal Gill.

Let me tell you something about Hal Gill: he sucks. He’s terrible. He’s so bad that I incorporated his ineptitude into a drinking game. He’s big and probably strong, but so are the concrete pillars in a parking garage, and they’ve got similar range. Also, even though they aren’t related(that I can tell), Hal’s last name immediately brings to my mind Todd “No Skill” Gill who played the bulk of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs (back in their Norris days) and also made stops in St. Louis and Detroit (honestly, the only thing that could make me hate Todd Gill more was if he’d done some freelancing for the Nazis) before showing up in Chicago in 2002 where the Hawks mercifully euthanized his career. He was so bad, he could only get into 5 games with the 02-03 Hawks. I mean, look at this roster for cripes sake. LOOK AT IT!

Anyway, I don’t want any part of Hal Gill, and the thought of the Hawks possibly signing him makes me wake up with night sweats.

2. Conversely, pick a potential move by another team that would just crush your soul/favorite team’s chances.

I gotta be honest, this already happened. I was sure the Detroit Red Wings wouldn’t be able to Zetterberg, Datsyuk AND Johan Franzen, but they already did. So I guess my biggest fear is that Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson and Jiri Hudler all sign on with Detroit for a combined salary of $650,000 for 10 years.

I’d also hate to see the Sedin twins stay in the Western Conference. I would highly recommend that those two freaks go play in the Eastern Conference with its easy travel schedule and tolerance of people who are genetic copies of each other. Here in the Western Conference, we still believe that identical twins are the product of the union between a she-wolf and the Olmec god Xt’Tapalatakettle, and we god-fearing Western Conferencites want nothing to do with that.

Unless they want to sign in Chicago at a rock-bottom price. That I’m okay with.

HockeeNight’s Forklift provides Chicago Blackhawks draft thoughts

June 25, 2009

Unlike bloggers who must hide their identity because they have “jobs” and “reputations” I’ve decided to go by my name. Why? Well, because I’m vain. Oh and also because simply googling “James O’Brien” won’t get you anywhere near my blog … apparently there’s about a million more successful people with my name.

Still, it’s rare that people get to know me beyond snarky blog posts but the guys at Hockee Night invited me over for a podcast a few months ago. We had quite a time, discussing the Blackhawks and more important issues like Big Van Vader’s man boobs.

ANYWAY, we’ve enjoyed Hockee Night thoroughly since then. Their weekly podcasts are a great way to follow the Blackhawks without all that tedious “reading” although they do provide plenty of good stuff on that front too. Make sure to check it out.

Thanks, guys!

1. What direction do you expect Chicago to go in with this year’s draft? What’s your preference?

The Hawks are drafting 28th in the first round – the latest they’ve ever gone in the first. When you pick this late, you’re not going to find any sure-fire studs – the best you can hope for is someone who has a missing component that can attain. If there’s a goal scorer available, chances are he’s either lazy or chickenshit. If there’s a “character” player out there, he probably can’t shoot the puck into the ocean off a pier. There’s no easy answers. All that is certain is, at the 28th pick, there’s going to be some kid sitting in a very empty players’ section, and he’ll look like a guy strapped into an electric chair when the Governor calls.

Can you draft to need at 28? I guess you can – the Blackhawks’ organization is pretty thin at defenseman, so a decent blueliner in the pipeline wouldn’t be the worst thing inthe world. The Hawks are ass-deep in forwards, both in Junior and the minors. That would indicate where GM Dale Tallon (a former defenseman himself) would like to go.

However, the most sound strategy (and the Hawks have been decent at drafting lately) would be to just have a ranking of players who might be available, and take the best one who is left at 28. Whoever it is won’t be able to help the Hawks immediately anyway, and who knows what a year or two can bring, as far as injuries, trades, and free agency goes.

2. Looking back, discuss some of the highest and lowest draft moments in Blackhawks history. What are some of the “steals” and groan-inducing moments that Chicago fans will never forget?

High moments? Probably the back-to-back drafting of Jonathan Toews (#3 overall in 2006) and Patrick Kane (#1 in 2007). These two will be the backbone of the organization for (hopefully) the next decade. As far as the biggest steals, two that are fairly ancient history spring to mind…in 1980 the Hawks took a sixth-rounder (120th overall) that may very well be my favorite Hawk not named Mikita…Steve Larmer. The man is still just the balls. Three years later, they took a goalie in the 10th round (199th overall) who had a far more distinguished career elsewhere than he ever did as a Blackhawk – Dominik Hasek. As far as groan inducing? Maybe The Great Adam Bennett (6th overall in 1989) – who went 4 spots before Bobby Holik or The Great Jimmy Waite (8th overall in 1978, 7 spots before Joe Sakic), although this is a shit-or-get-off-the-pot year for the 7th overall in 2005, Jack Skille.

Overall, this shouldn’t be too compelling, since Tallon doesn’t figure to trade up or down.

As much fun as it is to have a top 3 pick, and wonder which wunderkind will pose in a Hawks’ sweater and cap, I prefer winning hockey and going out with my wife on draft night.

Staal vs. Staal vs. tired storylines (and other Conference Finals nuggets)

May 18, 2009

  • The Staal brothers clash being a generic storyline has … become a generic storyline. You’ve got to love the way the Internet deep fries cliches. Lazy throwaway crutches get trotted out and then everyone makes fun of those crutches. When calling something a cliche jumps the shark*, then we’ve officially gone a little bit insane.

That being said, the interesting thing is that Staal vs. Staal might be a more “legitimate” matchup than Ovechkin-Crosby for a simple reason: there’s the fairly solid chance that Jordan will actually be given the task of shutting down his big brother’s line. After all, Staal-Matt CookeTyler Kennedy was the forward combination thrown out against Alex Ovechkin.

Could it be that the mainstream media’s cliched headline act might actually decide the series? My head hurts now.

  • Will it even matter who wins Canes-Penguins?

It’s the opinion of myself (and many others) that the team with the best chance of knocking off the defending champions was the Anaheim Ducks. The Blackhawks are a team with a nice combination for a playoff run: young legs, a couple veterans and key contract year performers. But after Sunday’s game, it’s pretty obvious they’ll need more than a couple lucky bounces to make the Red Wings worry.

The only place the remaining three teams can look to for hope is the Red Wings’ penalty kill. The Ducks’ PP outscored the Wings’ PP despite having less chances. The Blackhawks went 1/1 on Sunday, one of the few bright spots in a game Chicago was fortunate to have tied going into the third period.

  • Many people (rightly) complained that Evgeni Malkin has often been unfairly overlooked in all the Crosby-Ovechkin hoopla, but despite a nice 10-point effort, Geno was rightly overshadowed in the second round.

Could Geno have a big round three? The odds are in his favor: home ice, a nice break between rounds and another Southeast Division opponent. That being said, the Carolina Hurricanes seem to be quite a bit scrappier than their division neighbors.

While the Capitals seemed quite sleepy at home, the Canes fed off their rabid fans (and … Bill Cowher) to take some upset victories. Few were impressed by Washington’s unconvincing win against the Rangers in game 7; we don’t need to tell you about their performance against the Pens. Yet on the opposite end of the spectrum, Carolina shocked the Devils in the last minute in Newark, NJ and then managed to out-hustle the Bruins to an OT win.

  • It’s hard to imagine the Penguins taking a playoff foe lightly.

Just look at last year’s playoffs: they finished their Eastern rivals off in 5 games or less, never taking a game off. This year’s edition has had to battle quite a bit more (about to enter their 14th game of the playoffs, which was all they – amazingly – needed to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals last year), but they are lead by the relentlessness of Sidney Crosby and a nice group of character players.

That being said, it also wouldn’t be outrageous if there is a BIT of letdown after the super-hyped second round matchup.

Of course, the Hurricanes might end up being flat-out better than the Penguins …

  • There’s a simple reason that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane saw only about 15 minutes of ice time in Game 1: they were awful. Kane, in particular, produced very little beyond turnovers.

Perhaps this comes from missing most of their games, but my impression is that the Hawks’ dynamic duo tends to feed off of advantageous matchups at home. Don’t be surprised if they struggle in Game 2 and then “magically” find their fire** back in the Windy City.

But please don’t make this just about experience. The Red Wings have Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Johan Franzen and a soul crushingly deep group of quality players to torment any team young, old, hairy or whatever.

It’s fun to make something “the factor” in a playoff series, but sometimes one team just grossly out-classes another.

* – I actually prefer using “Jump the Cheeseburger,” an ode to the seminal Canadian TV comedy “Trailer Park Boys” but feel the reference will be too obscure. Sadly.

** “Find the fire” = “Get a more favorable matchup.”

Round 2: Who’s under pressure?

April 30, 2009

With the second round set to begin in Vancouver tonight, the stakes are rising for the remaining 8 teams. Still, expectations and future outlooks play a huge role in how a team’s playoff run is evaluated. Taking that into account, which teams have the most to lose (and gain)? Are there any teams “playing with house money”? Let’s take a look.

1. Boston vs. 6. Carolina

Both teams defied expectations this season. For the Bruins, that came early, as Boston went from being a nice little 8th seed last year to a squad good enough to make people wonder if they could go toe-to-toe with San Jose and Detroit. In Carolina, the Hurricanes went through most of the regular season looking like their typical selves (limping through stretches, remaining thoroughly mediocre … the ultimate bubble team) and then all of a sudden became arguably the hottest team in the NHL.

Hockey fans will probably remember the Canes stunning two goals in 1:20 to shock the Devils for years to come. At this point, Carolina is the perfect foil for a number one seed: they’re playing their best hockey of the year and just seem to have everything falling in place. If they lose, no sweat, really. Right?

One thing that stands out for Boston is that they have some tough salary cap decisions to make. David Krejci and Phil Kessel are RFAs this summer. Marc Savard only has one year left on his contract and will certainly command a bigger cap hit than his current $5 million.

The B’s are a nice story, but the startling depth that made them such a juggernaut won’t last forever.

Bruins have way, way WAY more to lose than the Hurricanes.

2. Detroit vs. 8. Anaheim

The second of two “behemoth vs. Cinderella” match-ups, although the Ducks have more to lose than the Hurricanes (and the Red Wings are probably yawning at the pressure of being heavy favorites).

Anaheim will have a lot of questions to answer this off-season, particularly when it comes to Scott Niedermayer. Could this be the last year of the Norris brothers?

Still, the Ducks can’t sweat it too much when they look at their young forward trifecta: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan make up quite the nice group of sub-25 threats. With Getzlaf and Perry wrapped up for a long time at a low cap hit, Anaheim isn’t crazy to wonder if the sky is the limit.

And if they get bounced, it will at least make Jonas Hiller easier to re-sign.

It’s difficult, however, to muster much fervor for the Red Wings. Yes, it would be a letdown if Detroit blows this series but they won the Cup last year. They have a mountain of talent wrapped up for below market value prices. If they screw up this year, they’ll be a top-3 seed for the next decade anyway.

Ugh.

Detroit has more to lose than Anaheim, but they both have bright futures.

2. Washington vs. 4. Pittsburgh

No doubt about it, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have a lot to lose in this series. They are the two faces of the league and will suffer from harsh Photoshops, mouth-breathers in comments and a predictable “I TOLD YOU SO!!!!!11” mentality. Evgeni Malkin can obviously swoop in and show that perhaps he should be the Hart trophy winner instead of Ovechkin.

Hell, even Alex Semin has plenty to prove after his “Kane over Crosby” comments from earlier this year.

If you had to choose, the slight edge in pressure might go to the Capitals. They are the higher seed with home ice advantage. After barely beating the Rangers in a 7-game series – and getting, honestly, severely out-played at times in that decisive game – the Capitals need to show that they’re not just a weak willed collection of gorgeously talented Europeans.

The Penguins have “been there” before, putting up a cute little fight against the Red Wings in the SCF last year. In some ways, that means that they have quite a bit to lose, as they don’t have the excuse of inexperience.

The Capitals and Penguins face extreme pressure to deliver on all the media hype, with a slight bit more on the Caps’ shoulders. Either way, someone’s getting flamed in a message board before this one is done.

3. Vancouver vs. 4. Chicago

The Canucks are an odd story this season. On one hand, you have disappointments like Mats Sundin and the hot button issue of re-signing the Sedin twins. There’s also the oddness of Roberto Luongo being the first goalie to be a team captain since the railroad industry was thriving.

That being said, there’s the “aha!” season of Alex Burrows and the assorted flavors of hard scrabble two-way forwards this team provides. Will Kyle Wellwood make you pay for that fat joke? Shall Ryan Kesler show us why he’s a Selke finalist? Lots of sneaky good guys on this team.

One story I promise to beat to the ground is that the Chicago Blackhawks shouldn’t be so loosey goosey this year. Everyone seems to think that the BLACKHAWKS ARE A TEAM OF THE FUTURE. While that would be great, it might not be so easy.

Martin Havlat and Nik Bulin are all but gone, barring some crazy hypnosis-based contract signings. As I wrote before, the team might have a devil of a time re-signing its talented trio of Kane-Toews-Keith between now and the 2010 summer.

Yes, the Hawks are still in their cliched “losing to learn how to win” season, but they might want to think about skipping that process altogether. Things might get a lot tougher for this team in the future.

The Canucks are under more pressure, but the Blackhawks are under more pressure than you’d think.

Five Questions: Chicago vs. Calgary

April 16, 2009

Some really great stuff for the Flames vs. the Blackhawks at the satellite blog.

For the Flames, we enlisted our tenured scholar of Calgary, Kent of Five Hole Fanatics and Matchsticks and Gasoline fame. He provided us with yet another great contribution. Here’s a bite:

“The organization spent a lot of money this season and expectations were elevated by the club’s high budget and relatively good results in the middle of the year. If Calgary once again flames out in the first round, there’s going to be a lot of hard questions asked and I’d guess at least one head is going to roll.”

Once again, the Blackhawks bloggers gave us not one, but TWO great contributions. The first comes from Clare from All Hawks – who, by the way – might just edit our Calgary/Chicago mini-blog. Check out this excerpt:

“The Blackhawks web crew has really out-done themselves this year, and Burish has been a main part in many of the videos on the website. Between the Prankster Parts 1, 2 and 3 and the Ladies Man video it is hard to miss Burish. He can always provide a laugh and his overall likeability is what make him so endearing to Hawks fans.”

Finally, our buddy CT from Hockeenight wrote his responses, too. We had an absolute ball sharing our reflections on the Hawks (but more so on man boobs) with CT and forklift during the Hockee Night podcast if you haven’t heard it yet. Here’s a piece of CT’s post:

“For some reason, Joel Quenneville has got it into his head that journeyman defenseman Matt Walker is a top 4 guy. He’s been playing big minutes this season, often while paired with Brian Campbell, and he’s awful. His only tangible asset is his size, but he’s too slow to catch anybody and hit them. He’s pretty bad covering in his own zone, and even worse, as of late he’s gotten it in his head that he’s Phil Housely, making crazy cross ice passes to no one in particular.”

Just a great trio of posts. Read them all here.