Hawks trade Bickell at the cost of Teravainen

PicMonkey CollageOn Wednesday afternoon the Blackhawks traded Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for two draft picks. It was the type of deal that had been whispered about for some time, but no one really wanted to acknowledge or accept the fact that it could actually happen. By that, I mean packaging Teravainen with Bickell.

Following the Blackhawks’ 2013 Stanley Cup victory, Stan Bowman gave Bryan Bickell a four-year contract extension that will be paying Bickell $4.5 million this season, the last of the contract. Unfortunately for Bickell and the Hawks, Bickell has only regressed in terms of his production since signing that contract, making it one of the worst in hockey. For a team with so many stars and young players needing new contracts, the Hawks could not afford to have a guy like Bickell making that much money per season. It put them about as tight against the salary cap as they could get.

Going back to last summer, it had been Stan Bowman’s number one goal to somehow find a place to trade Bickell to rid the team of his contract. The problem was that no team in their right mind was going to take on Bickell and the remainder of his contract without the Blackhawks sweetening the pot in some fashion.

Enter Teuvo Teravainen.

Teravainen, who is just 21 years of age, has an extremely high ceiling for potential and is still on his entry-level contract. He was once the Blackhawks’ top prospect (you can still technically call him a prospect due to his age) and helped the team win the 2015 Stanley Cup.

Despite his elite skill level, Teravainen was never able to take his game up to the next level in his two/two and a half years with the Blackhawks. Joel Quenneville tried him out in just about every spot in the lineup hoping to strike gold, but it never happened. Teuvo had stretches here and there where he looked like he might finally be turning the corner, but ultimately he landed as the team’s number three center this past season; a role that he is not built for.

While the Blackhawks absolutely had to get rid of Bickell’s contract, that doesn’t make losing Teravainen any easier. He is still young enough to where he could easily turn into one of the NHL’s better wingers (Carolina will almost certainly try to play him on the wing).

So with that, here are my takeaways from this trade:

  • Like I said, trading Bickell was priority number one this summer for the Hawks, and unfortunately it came at the expense of Teravainen. While it is easy to get upset with Bowman for dealing Teravainen away, he basically had to if he wanted to dump Bickell and his contract.
  • The other side to all of this is that the Blackhawks basically decided they would rather re-sign Andrew Shaw than hang onto Bickell’s contract for one more year. In other words, they chose Shaw over Teravainen. This is the most perplexing part of the whole situation. Andrew Shaw likely won’t be getting any better. He has reached his potential. Teravainen, however, could still become ten times the player he is right now. He is so young and so skilled that you can’t help but wonder why the Hawks chose to give up on him so soon. Yes, they wanted to lose Bickell’s contract, but they could have opted to let Shaw go via free agency and held onto Teravainen instead.
  • Going along with that point, Andrew Shaw is a much easier type of player to replace than Teravainen. Shaw is a gritty forward who can play wing or center, and he has some skill as well. Off the top of my head, I can name two guys in Rockford who play Shaw’s style of hockey: Ryan Hartman and Mark McNeill. There really isn’t anyone in the system who is NHL-ready that plays the game like Teravainen. Forwards like Teuvo are a hot commodity in today’s NHL.
  • When you take a step back and really look at what Stan Bowman has done with the Blackhawks’ roster over the course of the last year or so, it isn’t good. He has traded away, most notably, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Stephen Johns, Kris Versteeg, Joakim Nordstrom, Phillip Danault, Marko Dano, Trevor Daley, and Rob Scuderi. Some of those were forced by the salary cap, others were not. Of all those players traded away, do you know how many guys they got in return that are currently on the Hawks’ roster? One. Artem Anisimov. In sports you win some trades and you lose some, but that’s not an ideal track record over the last year for Stan Bowman. Despite other teams knowing that the Hawks didn’t/don’t have much leverage in trade talks, the fact that only one player who came to the Hawks in exchange for the previously mentioned names is still on the roster, is bad.

Looking ahead to next season, the Hawks are going to have numerous holes to fill in their lineup. Following the trade on Wednesday, they did re-sign Richard Panik on a one-year deal, but that still leaves them with many open roster spots. Guys like Hartman, McNeill, Vince Hinostroza, Kyle Baun, and others will likely be called upon to fill those gaps. And we haven’t even gotten into the defense of this team, which is a serious problem right now.

Needless to say, the 2016-17 season may be a long one in Chicago. The team simply doesn’t have the salary cap space to add good players via free agency. Instead, they’ll have to rely on their own homegrown products to turn into decent NHL players, which is still a big hit-or-miss situation to be in.

Keep your eyes on the Hawks as we head towards the NHL Draft and free agency. More moves, albeit relatively small ones, are surely on their way.

Chapman or Miller: Who the Cubs should target

andrew-millerIt is becoming increasingly difficult to find any real weaknesses of the Cubs. They sit atop the MLB standings with a 43-19 record, and they lead the league in a number of different offensive and pitching categories. Not a whole lot to complain about at this point. If we were to complain, however, there is one area in which we’d have the right to do so:

Their bullpen.

Guys like Travis Wood, Pedro Strop, Trevor Cahill, and Hector Rondon have all pitched well out of the pen so far this season, all things considered. You could even argue that Rondon has been one of baseball’s best relievers up to this point. But then you have Justin Grimm, Clayton Richard, and Adam Warren who have looked good at times, but just haven’t shown that consistency that we would like to see. For instance, if the playoffs started tonight, I would have next to zero confidence in Justin Grimm coming in during the 7th inning and escaping a jam.

If the Cubs want to put themselves in the absolute best possible position to win through October, they need to acquire a rather dominant, back-end reliever at or before the trade deadline.

I am by no means the first or only person talking about this “problem.” Anyone who watches the Cubs on a consistent basis sees the same thing. The only question is who might the Cubs’ front office target via a trade?

There are two high profile relievers that have been linked to the Cubs for a few weeks now: Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller; both late-inning relievers for the Yankees.

Us Cubs fans know exactly who Chapman is thanks to his time with the Reds. He owns a rocket-launcher for an arm, but can also let go of a nasty slider that catches hitters completely off balance and on their front foot.

This season, Chapman has a 1.93 earned run average to go along with 21 strikeouts in 14 innings, and 11 saves. His downside is the fact that he was suspended for the first month of the season due to a domestic violence incident that he was involved in over the offseason.

On the other hand, you have Andrew Miller. Miller owns a 1.01 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 26.2 innings pitched. And this season isn’t some fluke year for him either. Since 2013, the worst his ERA has been at the end of a season is 2.64.

So if it came down to Chapman or Miller for the Cubs, which should they more aggressively pursue?

The answer is Andrew Miller. Not only has he evolved into one of baseball’s most dominant relief pitchers, but he has always shown a willingness to pitch in whatever inning or situation he is asked to. Certain relievers only like pitching in the ninth, or in close games, or in no-pressure situations. With Miller, you get a guy who will do whatever is asked of him.

Also, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are familiar with Miller from his time in Boston, and vice versa. Believe it or not, that can be a big factor when making trades.

So with Andrew Miller, Joe Maddon could then theoretically use him in the 8th inning as the setup man and keep Rondon in the closer role. Pedro Strop becomes the new 7th inning guy. Just like that, you have three rather dominant relievers at the back of the bullpen to help you finish off games. One of the biggest reasons why the Kansas City Royals won last year’s World Series was due to the fact that they were able to shorten games by having three great, shutdown relievers pitch late in ballgames. When you have a luxury like that in your bullpen, games in which you are winning all of a sudden become 6 or 7 inning games for the opponent.

Of course, to get an Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees will demand a substantial return. They will likely ask for Baez, or Schwarber, or Wilson Contreras, or Gleyber Torres. The Cubs will likely not give up any of those players for a possible rental bullpen pitcher. Instead, they may be forced to trade away one of their second-tier prospects, a draft pick, and a player off their Major League roster. Maybe even a little more than that. What I don’t want to see, however, is the Cubs overpay for a relief pitcher that may not re-sign with the team after this season if his contract is up.

The trade deadline is still over a month away, but that doesn’t mean a deal can’t get done before then. The sooner the Cubs can strengthen their bullpen, the better.

Pro Sports Jersey Rankings

  1. Washington Wizards

2015-11-07 13.59.52 NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards

It wasn’t until within the past few years that the Wizards returned to their original “Bullets” colors, and it was the right decision to do so. The red, white, and blue are appropriate colors for a D.C. team, and the way they are patterned on the Wizards’ jerseys is unlike any other uniform in the NBA.

  1. New Orleans Saints

2015-11-07 13.59.52 NFL: New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions

The gold and black go together really well, making their helmets one of the best in the NFL. That just tops off what is already a solid jersey-pant combination. Oh, the logo is great too.

  1. Edmonton Oilers

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Like the Wizards, the Oilers recently went back to their original colors. The blue and orange are a great look, and their logo is one of my personal favorites in the NHL. Even their new orange alternates are fantastic.

  1. San Antonio Spurs

2015-11-07 13.59.52 San Antonio Spurs v Toronto Raptors

Uniforms that never or rarely change are the best uniforms. The Spurs have just that. Their jerseys are classics that will forever represent an era of dominance.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers

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You’ll notice a common theme developing here: Uniforms that don’t change. The Steelers have had that same black and yellow, bruising look to them forever. And their helmets are the only ones in the NFL to have the logo on just one side.

  1. Atlanta Braves

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The Braves’ logo is phenomenal with the cursive lettering underlined by a hatchet. That, coupled with the red outlining on their jerseys, makes for one of  baseball’s best. (They could do away with these)

  1. Chicago Cubs

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Pin stripes, if done the right way, often lead to a great look in Major League Baseball. The Cubs have had their pinstripes for decades now, and it never gets old. The blue and red pop-out at you on these uniforms. They wear these blue tops quite regularly on the road.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers

2015-11-07 13.59.52 Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors

Many of the NBA’s all-time greats have worn this look, making it an instant classic. The yellow home jerseys are unlike any other uniform in basketball. Their white ones are too bad either.

  1. Detroit Red Wings

Carolina Hurricanes v Detroit Red Wings 2015-11-07 13.59.52

Another total classic here. The Winged-wheel is one of sports’ most recognizable logos, and the uniform itself has gone unchanged for years and years. There’s also more history to this franchise than most in all of professional sports.

  1. New England Patriots

2015-11-07 13.59.52 Tom Brady

We’ll call it the “Brady-era look.” It wasn’t long before Brady took over under center that New England opted for a new look, going with the navy blue, red, and silver. Needless to say, it’s worked out quite well for them.

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nazem Kadri 2015-11-07 13.59.52

It’s the uniform of Canada, although Montreal might have something to say about that. The Maple Leaf logo is so simple, yet great all at once. It was announced this year that the Leafs will be going to a new look starting next year, however. The exact look of the uniforms has not been released.

  1. Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers 2015-11-07 13.59.52

The green and yellow combination is one of the more underrated color combos in sports (the Oakland A’s nearly made this list). The Packers have used it for the majority of their existence, and they will likely use it until football disappears. It’s hard to find a mistake with this uniform set.

  1. Detroit Tigers

Minnesota Twins v Detroit Tigers Detroit Tigers v New York Mets

Here is another absolute timeless look. That old “D” on the chest just speaks “Detroit.” The navy blue outlining on their home whites looks incredibly good, and their road jerseys might be the best in baseball.

  1. Chicago Bulls

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Excluding the relatively newer NBA teams, the Bulls are the only team in the league to have used the same logo for their entire existence. And why change it? It’s perfectly intimidating. They also use the red and black color scheme better than most other teams in pro sports.

  1. St. Louis Cardinals

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This was very close to being the top MLB uniform on this list. The Cardinals’ logo is perfect and hasn’t been touched since at least the mid 1960’s. The red outlining makes their home whites really stand out at you. Also, their recent throwback additions are better than most other MLB uniforms.

  1. Chicago Bears

2015-11-07 13.59.52 NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

Quite possibly the most classic look in the NFL. The Bears haven’t changed their look since the 1950’s, and there is absolutely no reason to do so.

  1. Boston Celtics

2015-11-07 13.59.52 NBA: Boston Celtics at Detroit Pistons

Like many of its predecessors (and those soon to follow), the Celtics have owned the same appearance forever. From players like Bird, Russell, Havlicek, Cousy, to more recent players like Pierce, Allen, and Garnett, they’ve all worn the same thing. This uniform just looks like a winner.

  1. New York Yankees

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This one doesn’t need much of an explanation. When you look up the word “greatness” in the dictionary, you just might find a picture of this team. They’ve looked the same since Ruth and Gehrig were taking the field.

  1. Boston Bruins

2015-11-07 13.59.52 Patrice+Bergeron+Brad+Marchand+UlWAS12Gzhxm

The colors are perfect, and the way the sweater was assembled is perfect as well. These are incredibly tough to beat…

  1. Chicago Blackhawks

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Chicago Blackhawks 169379568_slide

 

You won’t find a better logo in sports, or a better secondary logo for that matter. The indianhead is unmistakable, and the tomahawks crossing over the “C” are a perfect second logo for this Chicago team. Their red sweaters jump out at you unlike any other uniform at any level of sports, and their whites allow the colors within the indianhead to look even brighter.
You may call me a homer for having four Chicago teams on this list, but the fact of the matter is that they deserve to be where they are. Teams that have a rich history and virtually unchanged uniforms are what make the best uniforms, and that’s a lot of what you get with these rankings. You’ll also notice that cities such as Boston, Chicago, and Detroit are very prevalent here. That is because they are old, historic cities with just as old and historic pro-sports franchises.

Cubs living up to the hype

2015-11-07 13.59.52For the first time in a long time, we were expecting big things from the Cubs coming out of Spring Training this year. Talks of a division title and even, dare I say it, a World Series became common throughout the baseball world. Finally, us Cubs fans were seeing everything seem to perfectly align with their roster.

Here’s the thing: saying that the Cubs have the best lineup in baseball, (arguably) the best pitcher in baseball, and that they are likely the best overall team in baseball is easy. For the Cubs to then go out and perform well and live up to those expectations, however, is a completely different animal.

Not only do this year’s Cubs have the weight of a 108-year World Series title drought resting on their shoulders, but now they have the biggest expectations in franchise history joining that drought on their shoulders. Dealing with that kind of pressure directly out of Spring Training is no easy task, yet this Cubs team has embraced it.

Expectations for this year’s Cubs were/are incredibly high, and somehow they have met those expectations through the first full month of the season.

We knew the offense would be good, and possibly historically good with the additions of Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist, as well as the re-signing of Dexter Fowler. So far, we’re seeing pretty much what we had expected.

Through 25 games the Cubs have scored 153 runs, which is good for a tie atop the entire league with St. Louis, and they lead the league with a 6.12 runs per game average. They rank second in the Majors with a .362 on-base percentage. Their 134 walks are 18 more than any other team in baseball. And how about their run differential of +89. The next closest team in that category is +40. In fact, the Cubs current run differential is the best baseball has seen through 25 games since 1905. Let that sink in.

Let’s not only focus on the offense though. The Cubs’ pitching is more than deserving of recognition.

The 2.29 team ERA of the Cubs is the best in baseball, as is their grand total of 57 earned runs allowed (64 runs including unearned). Also the best in the Major Leagues is their .195 batting average against. The next closest in that department is Washington at .215. And just for kicks, they have allowed the fewest hits in baseball (153), and the fewest total bases against (239). They are tied with Cleveland for the fourth fewest walks allowed.

So not only has the offense performed well, but the Cubs’ pitching has been just as good, if not better.

As for individual performances thus far, Dexter Fowler leads all of baseball in on-base percentage at a .473 clip and is tied for fourth with a 1.8 WAR. On the mound, Jake Arrieta is second in the MLB among starters with a 0.84 earned run average, and is tied for the league lead with 6 victories. His .142 batting average against is second best in baseball, and he was the first pitcher this year to throw a no-hitter; his second since last August. In the big picture, Arrieta is in the midst of one of the greatest stretches of starting pitching in Major League history.

The scary thing about this Cubs team is the fact that offensively, they haven’t hit their peak yet. Only two “everyday” players, Fowler and Bryant, have a batting average over .300, and only one other everyday player, Zobrist, has an average over .250. Jason Heyward, the prized free agent signing, has yet to hit a home run and has just a .211 average. When the weather in Chicago turns to summer and the temperature warms up, this offense has the potential to explode.

Expectations are one thing. Going out and meeting those expectations is another, and that is exactly what the Cubs, as a team, are doing. With a 5-game lead in the Central Division (7-game lead over St. Louis), the Cubs are in the best spot of any division-leading team in the game heading into the warmer months.

Sure there is still lots of time left in the season and virtually anything can still happen. However, there is no denying that the Cubs are scary-good this year with still lots of room to improve on the offensive side. This is shaping up to be an unforgettable summer and, hopefully, fall as well.

Quit the Arrieta accusations

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Arizona DiamondbacksIt has unfortunately become the “norm” for any breakout star in Major League Baseball to be accused of taking performance enhancing drugs. Whether the accusations are warranted or not, this has turned into a common trend in the MLB. The latest such instance involves Cubs pitcher, and reigning Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta is in the midst of one of the greatest stretches of starting pitching the game has ever seen. In fact, if he does not allow an earned run in his next start, he will break Bob Gibson’s MLB record for the lowest earned run average over a 20 game period. This season, Jake Arrieta has picked up right where he left off last season. He is 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA and has already thrown one no-hitter; his second no-hitter since last August.

In recent days, however, people have begun questioning if Arrieta has cheated his way to such dominance. Stephen A. Smith of ESPN even brought up this speculation on “First Take” with Skip Bayless Wednesday afternoon.

Not that I have any proof that Jake Arrieta is telling the truth when he denies these claims, but I firmly believe him when he says he has never taken a PED. Anyone who has knowledge of his workout routine or diets knows quite well that this guy takes care of his body and works to achieve his physical figure and baseball statistics.

It is sad that no great baseball player can be left alone without being accused of cheating his way to greatness. And the blame for this falls squarely on the shoulders of past and even present MLB stars who have aggressively denied ever using PED’s, only to later test positive for using them. Players like Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, and Ryan Braun immediately come to mind as such players.

Jake Arrieta was one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball while coming up through the Orioles’ farm system. He has always had good stuff and great potential, but only since joining the Cubs has he lived up to those expectations. People like Stephen A. Smith look at Arrieta’s lack of production with Baltimore and sudden dominance with the Cubs and automatically assume that this guy is cheating. My question is why?

Sure, the recent history of top baseball players being found guilty of using PED’s has created a culture of speculation in Major League Baseball. But do some thinking before jumping to conclusions.

Like I said, Arrieta was regarded as a top pitching prospect while coming up with Baltimore. He struggled in his first couple of years in the big leagues and was eventually demoted back to Triple A. Then he was dealt to the Cubs where he began working with new pitching coach Chris Bosio, who is one of the best in the game at what he does, and the success started. Arrieta has always had good stuff, but now he has finally figured out how to put it all together. It’s not as though he was some no name player with minimal potential who went from below average to dominant. The potential has always been there.

The bottom line here is that it is sad that no player can go from mediocre to great in baseball anymore without being questioned about the use of performance enhancing drugs. And the ones to blame are the guys that have been caught already, as well as the other players, coaches, and management that let guys like Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds get away with cheating for as long as they did.

Again, I have no way of knowing for sure whether or not Jake Arrieta or any other player is using PED’s, but to see professional sports journalists go on national TV and make accusations against a guy, with nothing to base them on other than statistics, makes me sick.

Arrieta has always had incredible stuff, but finally figured out how to use it all effectively once joining the Cubs. So let’s please stop this PED nonsense and just enjoy arguably the best stretch of starting pitching in the history of the game.

Blackhawks finally run out of gas in Game 7

2015-11-07 13.59.52It didn’t end the way the Blackhawks or any of us fans had hoped. Despite an incredible comeback to tie this first round series at three games apiece, the Hawks ran out of gas in Game 7 and lost to the Blues by a final score of 3-2. This year’s better team won, whether we want to accept that or not.

As much as it pains me to admit it, St. Louis turned out to be the deeper and better team in their opening round series against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Blackhawks had the upper-hand in elite talent, but it was the depth-talent of the Blues that ultimately won them the series, and for just the second time since 2002, St. Louis will play in the second round of the playoffs.

Looking back on this incredible series that really could have gone either way, it was the Blackhawks’ lack of depth on the blue line that one could argue was the major difference between these two evenly matched teams. Joel Quenneville was forced to rely on rookies Trevor van Riemsdyk, Erik Gustafsson, and Viktor Svedberg throughout the series, which at times went just as poorly as you could imagine. And near the end of the series, David Rundblad was thrown into the fire. Here’s a guy that started the year with the Hawks, was allowed to go play in Europe due to his ineffectiveness in North American hockey, and was then brought back to the Blackhawks and relied upon to perform well in the most important games of the season. Needless to say, the Hawks badly needed another top four defenseman in this series, and they didn’t have one.

On top of that, their best players weren’t always their best players. Jonathan Toews was held off the scoresheet in all seven games, his first postseason in which he did not score. Patrick Kane only registered one goal (granted, it was a double overtime winner). Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were beaten more often than usual and turned the puck over too many times, and Corey Crawford had a few moments of mediocrity.

All of that, coupled with the team’s lack of defensive depth, was the right recipe for early elimination. Yet they still almost won out of sheer willpower.

No team in the NHL has played more playoff games since the 2009 postseason than the Blackhawks. Couple that with the fact that the Hawks are loaded with Olympians who have played in multiple Olympic games, and it’s fair to argue that these guys may be exhausted. They looked like it at times against the Blues. And in reality, this first round exit may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

For the first time since 2012, the Blackhawks will have a long summer by their standards. They will finally have time to rest and recover prior to next season. Also, losing this early should only ignite a fire within that locker room. For a team that may be the most competitive in the league, a first round exit like this should only motivate them more to reach their ultimate goal in the coming seasons.

Looking ahead, this should be a very interesting summer for the Hawks. They will once again be tight against the salary cap while trying to find a way to re-sign big pieces. Andrew Shaw, for instance, will be a restricted free agent this summer and will no doubt receive interest from multiple teams around the league. The Hawks will have to either find a way to pay him, or Shaw will be wearing different colors next season. They’ll also have to fill the spots currently occupied by Ladd, Rozsival, Weise, Fleischmann, and Panik. Panik, however, is the best bet of that bunch to return next year.

Then you have the Bryan Bickell situation. Bickell is still owed $4 million for one more year, which is a major killer in terms of the Hawks’ cap space. Stan Bowman worked really hard last summer and this season to trade Bickell and his contract, but there were no takers. Bowman will likely be tasked with the same challenge this summer, and whether or not he can execute it could play a huge role in the make-up of next season’s Blackhawks.

This first round exit hurts, a lot, but it’s not the end of the world. As maddening as it is to watch the Blues eliminate the Hawks, it’s important to look at the big picture.

Three times since 2010 we have watched massive parades fill the streets of Chicago thanks to the Blackhawks. They were one goal away from playing in three straight Stanley Cup Finals when they lost in overtime of Game 7 to the Kings in 2014. Despite some inevitable roster turnover again this summer, we are still living in the Golden Era of Blackhawks hockey. The fact that expectations in Chicago have become “Stanley Cup or bust” is a good thing, and something that not many teams or cities can compare to.

Dwelling on this loss for a few days, weeks, or even the summer is fine. The Hawks, had they won Game 7, may have gone on to do something special again. Who knows… But don’t get too down on this team. What they’ve done in recent years is nothing short of remarkable, and that cannot be overlooked.

Stan Bowman and the front office will again do what they can to make the Hawks as much of a contender as they can in the coming months. And given the core that is in place with this team, virtually anything is always possible.

Lack of depth has Hawks down 3-1; Shaw goes overboard

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-St. Louis Blues at Chicago BlackhawksTuesday night’s Game 4 between the Blackhawks and Blues at the United Center was about as close to a must-win game for the Blackhawks as a game can get without it technically being a must-win. And given the Hawks’ history in crucial games (43-14 record in games 4-7 under Joel Quenneville), there was some reason for optimism. Unfortunately for the Hawks, history meant nothing as they lost the game 4-3 and now trail St. Louis in the series 3-1.

The frustrating thing about this series is that the Blackhawks haven’t played bad. They certainly have not been playing at the elite level we’ve become used to seeing them reach in recent years, but each of the four games in this series really could have gone either way. A better bounce here or there, and the Hawks could be the ones up 3-1.

Despite all of that, it has become quite evident over the last four games that the Blackhawks’ depth is nowhere close to what we thought it might be following the trade deadline. The additions of Ladd, Fleischmann, and Weise looked like solid upgrades at the time. The Hawks badly needed to add forward depth, and they did just that. Unfortunately for them though, Fleischmann and Weise (and to an extent, Ladd) have not performed the way Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville had hoped. As a result, Dale Weise has only seen action in one playoff game thus far, while Tomas Fleischmann has played in each game but has nothing to show for it. In fact, he only got 5:13 of ice time in Game 4 and never touched the ice in the third period.

You can also credit the lack of depth on the Blackhawks’ blue line for this 3-1 series deficit. Christian Ehrhoff was acquire at the trade deadline along with the aforementioned three players, but he quickly wound up in Q’s doghouse and has yet to play in this first round series. Instead, it’s been a couple of rookies getting minutes as the team’s sixth defenseman, and that hasn’t exactly worked out too well.

And as if that wasn’t enough, maybe the biggest reason the Hawks find themselves in this hole is due to the fact that their top forwards have yet to score a goal. Kane, Toews, Hossa, and Ladd are all scoreless through the first four games. Each of them has had some golden chances to strike, but no one has yet. In a series this tight, the fact that the Hawks’ best scorers have been held scoreless is as big a reason as any as to why they are now facing elimination. The Blues on the other hand are getting goals from at least their top player.

I’m not ready to write off the Blackhawks in this series. I think anyone to do so would be a fool no matter how low your hopes may be. In the Joel Qunneville/Toews and Kane era, the Hawks have found themselves in a 3-1 series hole four separate times. Three of those times they battled back to force a seventh game, and won one of those Game 7’s. Heck even last year, the Hawks trailed Anaheim 2-1 and 3-2 only to come back and win the series. In the Stanley Cup Final they fell behind Tampa Bay 2-1 and won three straight games to clinch the Cup.

This team won’t go quietly. They are led by winners and world class competitors. I’m not saying that they’ll for sure force a seventh game or that they will even win Game 5. But don’t write them off until they are officially eliminated.

I don’t want to talk too much about the specifics of Game 4 because I’ll get too upset again, but the actions of Andrew Shaw need to be mentioned here.

First of all, with your team trailing by one goal with just over two minutes left in regulation, the absolute last thing you can do is take a penalty and put your team shorthanded. Not only did Shaw take a penalty, but it was about as dumb of a penalty as you’ll see. You can’t just level a guy after the whistle in a game in which the referees already made it clear they weren’t going to put up with anymore extracurricular stupidity. As a result, the Hawks had to play out the final two minutes shorthanded and weren’t able to get the crucial 6-on-5 advantage with the goalie pulled. I’m not saying this is what lost them the game, but it sure as heck did not help.

Secondly, there is video showing Shaw allegedly using a gay slur towards a referee while sitting in the penalty box following the previously mentioned stupid penalty. After the game, Shaw was asked if he used the slur and his response neither admitted to it nor denied it. He answered by saying “I don’t know what I said.” If he did in fact use a gay slur, which it sure looks like he did based on the video, then the Blackhawks need to send a message before Game 5. This cannot be tolerated. You can argue that Shaw said it “in the heat of the moment,” but that’s no excuse. If it’s those words coming out of your mouth in a tense moment, then odds are those “words” are a regular part of your vocabulary.

I’ve played sports my whole life and have been so angry to the point where all I wanted to do was punch or throw something. Cuss words come out here and there, but to start throwing out slurs is not common or acceptable.

The Blackhawks have already messed up a couple of times this season with regards to how they handled the Patrick Kane and Garrett Ross situations. They have yet to own up to those. Now is their chance to finally do the right thing and suspend Shaw for at least the next game. Don’t wait for the NHL to conclude its investigation as they announced Wednesday morning. Do this on your own. Send a stern message that this organization won’t tolerate such behavior. For a team that has made it a point to reach out to the local gay community by bringing the Stanley Cup to the Pride Parade in recent years, they need to show that they will not accept something like this. My gut says that the Blackhawks front office won’t do a thing to Shaw, but who knows? Maybe the third time is the charm.

Aside from that, Shaw went on to further embarrass the Blackhawks by trying to start a fight after the final horn blew. Yes he took a shot to the mid-section from Alex Steen while lined up for the faceoff, but don’t lose your mind and go crazy trying to fight anything and everything that moves.

The Hawks’ image was severely hurt in the final minutes of Game 4, and mostly due to Shaw’s actions. He is set to be a restricted free agent this summer, and it was already being widely speculated that the Blackhawks would not re-sign him. After Tuesday night’s actions, Shaw may have made the Hawks’ decision for them.

Again, this series isn’t over. It does not look good for the Blackhawks, to say the least, but you can’t rule this team out until they are officially eliminated.