Not looking good

7327531For the second game in a row, the Blackhawks were badly out-played and have left us fans questioning their desire and work ethic. In Boston on Thursday night, the Hawks were shutout 3-0 and never once looked like they wanted to be playing in that game. In tonight’s 5-2 loss, the Blackhawks looked even worse than Thursday for about 35 of the 60 minutes played against Ottawa, a team that won’t be making the playoffs, and a team that the Blackhawks need to be beating at this time of year.

I’m not quite sure where to even begin trying to explain how bad the Hawks were tonight, but here we go:

  • They came out looking OK through the first 5 minutes tonight, but then proceeded to lose all energy, all effort, and all competitiveness for the remainder of the first.
  • This may have been the worst game of the season for the Hawks’ defensemen. Ottawa torched them multiple times for odd-man rushes and breakaways. If it wasn’t for Raanta, this could have been a 7-2 final, at least…
  • How much longer are we going to watch guys like Versteeg, Sharp, Keith, etc., continue to pass up open looks at the net to try and force a pass through traffic? When you’re down 3-0, you need to shoot the puck as much as possible. This did not happen against the Senators.
  • I am beginning to wonder if Quenneville is losing his mind a little bit. At what point will he see that Bollig and Handzus are bigger liabilities to this team than they are assets? Yeah, Bollig will “fight” now and then (big help that was tonight….not), but he is terrible offensively and just average on defense. Handzus’ only upside is his work on the PK. The rest is flat out bad. Nothing a guy like Morin couldn’t do better.

Maybe it’s that time of year where the playoffs are so close, yet so far away and the Blackhawks are losing focus on the remainder of the regular season. I hope that’s the case, because this effort cannot continue. Multiple times over these last two games have I caught myself saying “they aren’t even trying,” or “this team has no desire to win.” It shouldn’t be that way, not with a team this talented, not with a team this experienced, and not with a team that represents a very proud organization. It’s on Quenneville now to get their heads back into place.

Joel QuennevilleSpeaking of Quenneville, like I mentioned above, his decision making is becoming extremely infuriating. Peter Regin has done nothing but play his butt off since he joined the team by crashing the net, winning board battles, and effectively backchecking the opponents. Yet, Q benches him seemingly every other game in favor of Handzus. Near the end of tonight’s game, it was Regin going hard to the net prior to Seabrook’s goal that may have thrown Anderson off, thus causing the goal. This is what the Hawks need more of, but Regin will probably sit in a sky-box Sunday in Pittsburgh instead. In the case of Brandon Bollig, why Bowman ever gave him a 3-year extension I will never understand. He is not very skilled, he’s a defensive liability, and he makes some bad decisions. In a playoff series, I’d MUCH rather take my chances with someone like Jeremy Morin who can create offense and hustles.

Teuvo Teravainen was not in the lineup tonight after playing in each of the team’s last two games. The Blackhawks still have not hinted one way or another as to what their plan is with Teravainen right now. My gut unfortunately tells me they’ll keep him under 10 games played to avoid using up the first year of his contract. I don’t agree with that move, but I can see that happening.

As a few side notes, Antti Raanta appeared to hurt himself during the first period tonight after falling awkwardly on his right leg. He played the rest of the game, but this is something to keep an eye on. Also, Niklas Hjalmarsson was blatantly kneed by Chris Neil near the end of the second period and looked to be in a lot of pain. He too continued playing, but then appeared to have been held off the ice for most of the third. Hopefully he doesn’t miss any time. Andrew Shaw was called for spearing late in the game and received a game misconduct. By rule, the NHL has to review the incident to determine 130107_gq_trout_awhether or not further penalty(s) are warranted. Lastly, Matt Carey made his NHL debut tonight. Unfortunately for him, it was not a memorable debut. Cody Ceci’s shot from the point in the first period deflected off of Carey’s stick before going into the net past Raanta for the Sens second goal. Then Carey took a bad delay of game/faceoff violation penalty early in the third that led to Ottawa’s fourth goal (a dagger).

With the way the Blackhawks are playing at the moment, I don’t see any reason why the Avalanche couldn’t put them away in just 5 games in the first round of the playoffs. Granted, the Hawks are without Patrick Kane right now, but still.

They better show up in Pittsburgh Sunday night.

Advertisements

Beginning of an era

130107_gq_trout_aTeuvo Teravainen, the Blackhawks’ number one prospect, made his NHL debut Tuesday night in a 4-2 victory over the Dallas Stars at the United Center. The hype surrounding his debut is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed before with the Blackhawks, which had me worried about how well Teravainen would handle the pressure. In his first shift just a few minutes into the game, he put all of those concerns to rest by winning a neutral zone faceoff and creating some offense with linemates Brandon Saad and Ben Smith. Right before this, he received a huge ovation from the UC faithful as he stepped over the boards and onto the ice.

Teuvo ended up winning all seven faceoffs that he took Tuesday night, while the Blackhawks as a team dominated at the faceoff dot by winning 49 of the 71 draws. It didn’t take long to realize just how much talent and potential Teravainen has in this league. Early in the game, he intercepted a centering pass by the Stars and instantly made a beautiful lead pass to Brandon Saad who was already streaking up the ice. This led to a quality opportunity at the other end for Ben Smith. Later in the game, Teuvo caught Saad completely off-guard with an incredible pass that only the elite passers can make. On the powerplay (yes, Quenneville already had him on the top PP unit), Teravainen basically took on the role that Patrick Kane fills. He did not look nervous at all and ended making some good passes that eventually led to Andrew Shaw’s unbelievable goal from his knees.

7327531After the game, Hawks players were very impressed with how Teravainen played and seemed to be quite excited about playing with him from here on out. Joel Quenneville, who rarely trusts any rookies in crucial points of the game, had Teravainen on the the ice with under five minutes left in regulation in a one-goal game. Afterwards, Quenneville stated, “I thought his awareness around the rink, both sides of the puck, and in the faceoff circle was very strong, very good. He did a nice job. Good start.” I don’t think we ever heard him say anything close to that about Brandon Pirri. If Teravainen is already gaining trust from Quenneville, especially on the defensive side of his game, I would think we’ll see a lot more Teuvo this spring. However, that raises a big question.

If Teravainen plays ten games or more this year, regular season and/or playoffs, it will count as a full season played under his contract. He is currently signed to a three-year deal, and many people are speculating as to whether or not the Blackhawks want to use up one of those three years right now. Chris Block, writer for The Third Man In, had this to say about Teravainen’s situation. Chris is a trusted writer and has a lot of inside information regarding the Blackhawks and Icehogs. In contrast to what Chris believes may happen with Teuvo, Stan Bowman came out last week and said “whether he plays two games, 10 games, 20 games, that’s not a factor,” meaning he’s not worried about burning up a year of Teravainen’s contract.

My belief is this: It is the job of a general manager to put the best possible team together in order to win a championship, which in this case is the Stanley Cup. If Teravainen shows that he can make this Blackhawks team better before reaching ten games played, then the Hawks should keep him in the lineup for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs. Use up the first year of his contract if he shows he can make this team better and help them try and win the Cup. I understand that Bowman may be concerned about losing a year of Teuvo’s contract in a situation like this, but if he makes this team better, let him keep playing. After watching him play Tuesday night, it’s hard to imagine him not making the Hawks a better team moving forward.

139990-330-0The Blackhawks will have Patrick Kane back for the playoffs, and I can only dream about what it would be like to have him and Teravainen on the same line together. That is, assuming the Hawks decide to keep Teuvo in the lineup. If you think about it, when was the last time the Blackhawks had a real number two center? When was the last time Kane had a real center not named Toews on his line? This will be a very interesting situation to watch play out, and I can only hope the Blackhawks brass makes the right decision with Teravainen.

Blackhawks gaining ground/ NHL update

Ryan-MillerSince their loss to the Predators on March 14th at the United Center, the Blackhawks have all of a sudden achieved seven points in their last four games and have taken a three point lead over the Avalanche for second place in the Central Division. With the Blues’ loss earlier today in Philadelphia, the Blackhawks now have a chance to bring the deficit between them and St. Louis down to just two points for the division lead if they can win tomorrow night against Nashville and if the Blues lose in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t long ago that the Blues had a nine point edge and the Avs a one point edge over the Hawks, but things can change quickly in the NHL as we are currently witnessing.

For the Blackhawks to hold onto second place in the Central or take the division lead, they are going to need a lot of guys to step up. With Patrick Kane now sidelined for the remainder of the regular season, they need to fill his shoes by committee. In last night’s win over Carolina, Sharp (who had been in a major scoring slump) and Versteeg both stepped up to the plate and delivered with big goals to help lead the Hawks to a 3-2 win. Toews added the third and game-winning goal in typical Jonathan Toews fashion. The Blackhawks will need guys like Sharp, Versteeg, Shaw, Bickell, and Saad to pick up their game down the final stretch here to help make up for Kane’s absence from the lineup.

7327531One positive that we can take away from Kane’s injury is the fact that it opened up a roster spot for Teuvo Teravainen, the number four prospect in the NHL who’s team in Finland was just eliminated from their playoffs last week. Teravainen was introduced to the media on Friday and is expected to see playing time within the next two games. How well he adapts to the NHL and ultimately how well he plays will determine whether or not he becomes an everyday starter for this team from here on out. The Blackhawks badly need a number two center, and Teuvo Teravainen appears to be that guy in the future. Can he be that guy right now is the real question, however. Only time will tell. If Teravainen does become an effective and dangerous player between now and the playoffs, then one would have to think the Blackhawks will make yet another strong push for the Stanley Cup, not that they couldn’t already.

130107_gq_trout_aThe Hawks also signed Matt Carey who just finished up his first collegiate season of hockey at St. Lawrence University. Carey, 22, is a center who tied for his team lead in goals this season and is said to be a solid two-way player. He will most likely see action in a few games before the end of the regular season, but he won’t be on the playoff roster. It’s a similar situation to the one we saw with Drew LeBlanc last season at this same time.

Looking ahead, I am very anxious to see just how well Teravainen adapts to the NHL and whether or not he becomes a guy the Hawks can trust as their number two center. Staying focused and not letting the pressure from the media and fans get to him will be key for Teravainen.

As for the rest of the NHL, the Bruins seem to be the biggest story at the moment. They have been near the top of the Eastern Conference all season, but now they have won eleven straight games, are tied for the league lead in points with the Blues, and are the first team in the league to have clinched a playoff berth. They are on a serious role right now and appear poised to make another deep run in the playoffs. Their defense and goaltending are just about as good as you’ll find in the NHL, and everyone knows you can’t win a Cup without those two things.

Out west, the Sharks have overtaken the Ducks in the Pacific Division for the division lead. San Jose is 8-1-1 over their last ten games while Anaheim is a weak 4-4-2. I mentioned in a previous blog post that the Ducks have been susceptible to late season collapses over the past few years, and it appears they are headed in that same direction again unless they can turn things around in the next couple games.

The Metropolitan Division still seems to be the most crowded division point-wise. The second place team in that division (Philadelphia) and the fifth place team (Washington) are separated by just six points, with New Jersey sitting in sixth just four points behind the Capitals. It’ll be fun watching these teams to see who gets hot and makes their way into the postseason.

As I previously mentioned, the top of the Central Division is now a lot closer than it was even just three days ago. The Blues lead the Blackhawks by four points for the division 940-couture-loganlead at the moment, and if the Blues lose tomorrow afternoon and the Hawks win tomorrow night, that gap will be down to just two points. Colorado lost last night to Boston while the Blackhawks won, stretching Chicago’s lead to three points over the Avs for second place in the Central. It will be huge for the two-seed in this division to get home-ice during the first round of the playoffs. As a Chicago fan, I know that having home-ice in a series against the Blues will be even bigger.

The season is quickly coming to an end, yet only one team has clinched a playoff spot. We are in for another good finish.

NHL trade deadline update

roberto_luongo.jpg.size.xxlarge.originalWell if you didn’t know any better, you would probably think that today was the NHL’s trade deadline based on the number of moves that have been made. However, the deadline isn’t until tomorrow afternoon. With so many teams currently in a possible or definite playoff spot, over half the league is looking to make themselves better heading into the home stretch of the season. At the same time, because so many teams are battling for a playoff spot, that lowers the number of “sellers” at this year’s deadline.

We all know by now that the Blues got Ryan Miller and Steve Ott from Buffalo in exchange for Christ Stewart and Jaroslav Halak. This trade basically lit the fuse for the rest of the NHL, and now that fuse is reaching, or has reached its end. Here are some of the more notable acquisitions that have been made in advance of tomorrow’s deadline:

  • St. Louis: Ryan Miller and Steve Ott
  • Buffalo: Chris Stewart and Jaroslav Halak
  • Minnesota: Ilya Bryzgalov
  • Washington: Dustin Penner
  • Anaheim: Stephane Robidas
  • Edmonton: Viktor Fasth
  • Philadelphia: Andrew MacDonald
  • Florida: Roberto Luongo
  • Vancouver: Jacob Markstrom
  • Chicago: David Rundblad

Lots of names already on the move, and some of them big names. One move that has me intrigued is Dustin Penner leaving the Ducks. In return from Washington, the Ducks got a 4th round pick that they in turn used to acquire Stephane Robidas. I am left wondering though if they are done making deals. Penner was a useful winger for Anaheim, and they dLxi8wStraded him essentially for a defenseman. Are they in the process of trading for a winger to replace Penner? The name Thomas Vanek has been linked to Anaheim quite often today, so it will be interesting to see if anything transpires there. If the Ducks do get Vanek, then that may put them above and beyond the rest of the NHL.

Mike Gillis, Vancouver’s general manager, may be the biggest idiot in any NHL front office. Last year at this time, he had Corey Schneider and Roberto Luongo as the two goalies for the Canucks. After today’s deal with Florida, Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom are Vancouver’s number one and two goalies. Essentially, Gillis traded Schneider and Luongo, two number one goalies, for a first round pick, Jacob Markstrom, and a prospect. What is he trying to do? Why trade Schneider last summer if you weren’t going to keep Luongo as your number one? Now all Gillis has done is weaken his team substantially without really gaining much of an asset in return.

All eyes are now on players such as Vanek, Marian Gaborik, and Canucks’ center, Ryan Kesler. If Mike Gillis trades Kesler, I think its safe to say the Canucks are attempting a “rebuild.” If he doesn’t trade Kesler, well then I don’t know what Gillis is trying to do up there. The Penguins and Flyers are being mentioned as the two teams heavily pursuing Ryan Kesler, although some reports are indicating that Philadelphia is involved only to raise Kesler’s price for Pittsburgh.

Blackhawks update

7327531The Blackhawks have also come up in rumors regarding Ryan Kesler. This one puzzles me. The Blackhawks have about $52,000 in cap space right now according to Capgeek. Ryan Kesler is getting paid $5 million/year all the way through the 2015-2016 season. Currently, the Blackhawks do not have anywhere near the amount of money they would need in order to get Kesler, unless they trade someone like Bryan Bickell and someone else with a smaller contract. Plus, you add in the fact that the Hawks will be looking to extend Kane and Toews this summer (those will be significant pay raises), and they simply will have very little money to play with. Unless of course they trade some of their bigger contracts, which I don’t see them doing. Everyone wants to say “Chicago is in on Kesler,” only because the Hawks could use a true number two center at the moment. People forget about the money situation and the fact that Teuvo Teravainen could very well enter the NHL next season and be that long-lost number two center for the Hawks.

As I began writing this, the Hawks traded this year’s second round pick to Phoenix for David Rundblad and Mathieu Brisebois. Both are defensemen. Rundblad (23 years old) will join the Blackhawks, giving them eight defensemen on the roster, and Brisebois will david_rundblad_phx_030512head to Rockford. David Rundblad was the Blues’ first round pick in 2009 before being dealt to Phoenix. He has only appeared in 50 NHL games. Rundblad is more of an offensive-defenseman and has some decent potential upside. The problem he has faced up to this point is lack of playing time. In Phoenix, Dave Tippett likes his d-men to be defensive-minded. That didn’t bode well for Rundblad. Also, he was never really given a good chance in the NHL. I don’t know what will happen now that Rundblad is in Chicago, but my guess is he will be given a better opportunity to prove himself. Just look at how the Hawks handled Nick Leddy.

A lot has happened over the last 12 hours or so, and a lot more may still happen. In fact, it was literally just announced that Thomas Vanek is not dressing for tonight’s game in Winnipeg. Clearly, the Islanders are trying to trade him. Whether or not a deal gets done, we shall see.

I’ll try to add more as it happens.

 

 

Blues acquire Miller, Ott; Pressure on West’s best

Philadelphia Flyers v Buffalo SabresYesterday the St. Louis Blue traded Jaroslav Halak and Chris Stewart to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. It had been rumored for quite a while that Miller was on the trade block and that St. Louis seemed to be his likely destination. Steve Ott and Chris Stewart appear to have been an “add-ons” during the trade discussions yesterday. Many believed that if the Blues could acquire Miller or any high-end goalie that they would put themselves in a great position to win the Cup. Well, now they have Miller and most analysts believe the Blues are the team to beat in the NHL. I’m not so sure that I agree 100 percent with that, but they definitely are one of the top 3 teams in the league.

With St. Louis trading for Miller, they also put the pressure on the rest of the top teams in the Western Conference to get better prior to the passing of the March 5th trade deadline. Teams like Chicago, Anaheim, L.A., and San Jose now need to take a good look at themselves and ask the question, “Are we good enough to come out of the West and reach the Stanley Cup Final?” St. Louis put themselves in a spot where they now believe they are good enough, and it’s up to the other top teams to respond.

Stan Bowman, Chicago’s GM, was asked last night while on the NHL Network if he is planning on making any moves at the deadline. To sum up his response, he said that he is confident in the team that the Blackhawks have, and brought up the facts that this is basically the same team that won last year’s Cup, and they already went out and traded for Kris Versteeg earlier this year and acquired Peter Regin and Pierre Marc-Bouchard right before the Olympic break.

Because I live in Chicago, I hear mostly everything that Bowman says regarding the Blackhawks. I cannot say the same for the teams out west, so I don’t know what those GM’s have said over the past few days regarding the trade deadline. However, let’s look at what those teams, along with the Blackhawks, may try and look for at the deadline.

L.A. Kings

Drew+Doughty+Jonathan+Quick+MJL-W9uwx26mThe Kings currently find themselves sitting in third place in the Pacific division. Many believed they would finish no lower than second in the division coming into this season. Unfortunately for them, they once again are putting together a somewhat disappointing season. They are second to last in the West in goals-scored this year, which has been a problem for this team over the past few seasons. Looking ahead to the trade deadline, the Kings may want to try and upgrade their depth at left wing, and they may want to add another top three center. Their defense is among the best in the league, as the Kings as a team have allowed the second fewest goals in the NHL. It goes without saying that they’re just fine in net.

San Jose Sharks

San Jose is second in the Pacific at the moment with a 12 point lead over L.A. They are 940-couture-logangetting a healthy Logan Couture back now that the Olympics are over with. He will most likely slide right back into one of the top two center positions, bumping Joe Pavelski back out to the wing where he has played much of this season and on and off throughout his career. Looking at the Sharks depth chart, it couldn’t hurt them to add a skilled winger to the team, but I believe their biggest need is another defenseman. They don’t have a bad defense right now by any means, but their age is what could hurt them if they get deep into the playoffs. They are one of the older blue lines in the west.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are the league’s leading team in points right now, so you wouldn’t really think they need to do a whole lot with their team moving forward. And truthfully, they don’t. If they can go out and somehow trade for a solid top 5 d-man, they would really have themselves img24461606set for a deep, deep playoff run. Jonas Hiller is having a great season so far. He was arguably the best goalie at the Olympics with 2 shutouts there, and he added a league-leading 5th shutout last night against the Blues.

Chicago Blackhawks

The never ending storyline in Chicago isn’t going to end anytime soon. Who can be their number two center? So far this year, Joel Quenneville has tried Michal Handzus, Brandon Pirri, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, and now Peter Regin 139990-330-0in that position. No one seems to be the right fit. It makes it hard for a guy like Patrick Kane who keeps having to adjust to a new center on his line. At the same time, however, this was the same issue facing the Hawks just a year ago, and we all know how last season turned out. I don’t think they will be trading for another center at the deadline. If they do make a trade, it will almost positively be for a depth defenseman. Right now Sheldon Brookbank is their 7th d-man, and the thought of him having to be the guy to step up if one of their top 6 defensmen goes down is scary. Adding a proven guy to their blue line depth would be quietly very important for this team.

You could even throw the Avalanche into this discussion if you wanted to, but I don’t think they will get a top two seed in the Central.

Looking at the West’s top teams right now with Miller and Ott now on the Blues, I think that they are the team to watch out for. Anaheim leads the league in points, but for whatever I’m just not sold on them. Maybe it’s because I don’t get to watch them as often as I do Chicago and St. Louis. The Blues are a rough, physical and big team that can also put the puck in the back of the net just as well as almost any team in the league. Not to mention that they are third in the NHL in fewest goals against.

I would not expect any of the other top teams in the West to make a huge move like the Blues did. For one, those are not easy trades to make. Secondly, I don’t think any top team wants to trade a significant piece of their NHL team (along with prospects) to land a big name player, which is what it would take to do so. Ryan Kesler’s name has come up in trade rumors, but I don’t think he’s going anywhere until this summer, and that’s if he even does get traded.

This should be an interesting deadline in seeing what moves certain teams do and/or don’t make.