Blackhawks lose Keith and the game in Minnesota

130107_gq_trout_aTuesday night’s Blackhawks – Wild game in St. Paul saw things quickly turn from ugly to really ugly for the Hawks. Not long before the game was set to begin, we learned that Brent Seabrook would be a scratch due to an illness. This was a decent blow to a defensive unit that had already been struggling. Then about halfway through the opening period, Duncan Keith was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct for an “intent to injure” Charlie Coyle of the Wild.

Keith’s ejection left Niklas Hjalmarsson as the only reliable defenseman in the lineup. At the time, the overwhelming thought was that the Hawks were absolutely screwed moving forward in that game given Seabrook and Keith would be out. Turns out, it wasn’t as bad as anticipated. The Blackhawks did lose the game, but it’s not like Minnesota torched the Hawks’ defensive corps the whole night. It could have been a lot worse than it actually was.

All of that is just the short-term effect of Keith’s penalty though. The long-term effect could be a lengthy suspension for the two-time Norris Trophy winner.

I’ll be the first one to try and defend a Hawks player when a questionable situation arises. In this instance, however, I cannot defend Keith’s actions against Coyle. You can’t, under any circumstances, intentionally slash a guy in the face with your stick. It does not matter how heated you might be in “the moment.” Doing what Keith did is just stupid, plain and simple, and he deserves a suspension.

The big question now is how many games Keith will have to miss.

If I had to make my best guess as to what kind of punishment the Department of Player Safety will hand down to Keith, I’d say he will probably be looking at a suspension of anywhere from 3-5 games. The possibility exists that he could get even more.

On the one hand, yes it was a bad move by Keith to do what he did, but there have been a lot worse actions by other players that have only warranted suspensions of 5 games or less. On the other hand, however, Keith was suspended during the 2013 Western Conference Final for a very similar reason when he slashed Jeff Carter in the face at center ice. Seeing as how he has done this more than once now, the NHL may look to send a stern message to the Hawks’ d-man and suspend him for 5 games or more. Any suspension of more than 5 games would mean Keith will miss at least one playoff game, seeing as how there are just 5 games left on the Blackhawks’ schedule.

Obviously, this is not an ideal situation for the Blackhawks. They are already all but eliminated from possibly ending up second in the Central Division, and they also have Nashville sitting just 4 points behind them in the top wild card spot. Losing Keith now is not what this team needs if they’re looking to lock up third place in the Central.

Guys like TVR, Rozsival, and maybe Ehrhoff are going to have to pick up more minutes now, which isn’t exactly a great thing. Luckily for the Blackhawks, 3 of their remaining 5 games are against non-playoff teams.

And as if this Keith stuff is not bad enough news, here’s some more for you.

It was reported on Tuesday by Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times that Corey Crawford’s “upper body” injury is in fact a head injury, and it could be that he’s dealing with vertigo symptoms much like Bryan Bickell was last spring and summer. The problem with vertigo is that there really isn’t a timetable for recovery. One person may see their symptoms disappear a lot quicker than others.

In Crawford’s case, no news is bad news, meaning that no updates to his condition likely mean he’s not improving. He has yet to skate since leaving the lineup, and Quenneville is still calling him day-to-day while hoping that he will be ready for Game 1 of the first round.

I, personally, am growing more and more concerned about this. The Blackhawks have, for the most part, been relatively quiet about the Crawford situation. Quenneville has repeatedly given the same quick answer when asked about Crawford’s condition (“he’s day-to-day, hopefully ready for Game 1”), and having listened to Q over the years, his quick answers usually mean he’s a little worried.

I guess time will tell with Crawford.

As for the Blackhawks as a team, their recent play is a bit bothersome, but I still can’t get overly concerned about them. Anyone who has watched the Hawks play over the last 8 years or so knows just how quickly this team can turn things around and go on to win multiple playoff series’ and even the Cup.

With just 5 games left in the regular season and Keith likely to miss at least a couple of those, winning 3 of those 5 would be big for the Hawks. They cannot afford to end up in a wild card spot.

Personnel changes aside,the Blackhawks remain the same

20131211_151215We all know that the Blackhawks are an incredible team with as much elite talent as any franchise in hockey. We have seen them win three Stanley Cups, all in rather remarkable fashion, and yet some things they do still never cease to amaze us. Friday afternoon’s comeback win in Anaheim is just the latest example.

Down 2-0 in the game with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, the Hawks struck twice in just over a minute to tie the game and send it to overtime. Once in OT, it took only one minute and fifty-three seconds to score again and earn that second point. With the win, their record on this Circus Trip improved to 3-1-1, with the sixth and last game slated for later tonight against the Kings.

Regardless of the amount of personnel changes on a year-to-year basis, the Blackhawks’ attitude and character remains unchanged. With guys such as Toews, Seabrook, Keith, Hossa, Kane, and Hjalmarsson leading the way, that winning mentality, visible confidence, and natural competitiveness will always be present throughout the team.

It means nothing to this group if they are trailing by a couple of goals in a game, regardless of the amount of time left on the clock. They have overcome that a countless number of times. It does not faze them if they are behind a game or two in a playoff series. We have seen them come back and win a number of series after trailing at one point or another.

The leaders of the Blackhawks have been through just about every imaginable situation under the sun, and they know better than any other group how to use that to their advantage and teach any “new guys” along the way.

This year’s Hawks may not be as deep or formidable as any of the three teams they had that won the Cup, but the overall team mentality and character remains the same. That is why with the right additions via call-ups, signings, and/or trades, the Blackhawks have and will continue to find themselves as serious Stanley Cup contenders.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks sit at 13-8-2 on the year and hold a three point lead for the top Wild Card spot in the West (yes, it is still very early in the season). This current six game road trip was bound to either put them in a very unfavorable spot in the standings, or give them a shot of adrenaline and some momentum as they enter the winter months of the season. With a win in L.A. tonight, they could come home with a 4-1-1 record on the trip looking like their old selves again. And even if they lose, it’s been a rather successful six games given how they started the season on the road.

The bottom line in all of this is that the Blackhawks we have come to know will remain unchanged in terms of character, drive, and competitiveness as long as their current core remains intact. All it takes is some correct tinkering of the roster here and there where the salary cap allows to turn them back into a serious Cup contender.

Blackhawks’ young guns helping team ease through some early setbacks

10-171460575-smallThe Blackhawks have been dealt a tough hand early on here in the 2015-16 season. After being forced to dump a lot of salary over the offseason, resulting in multiple new faces in the lineup on opening night, the Hawks are now having to deal with injuries to some key players. It was already going to take a while for the new guys and the mainstays to gel together, but throw in the injuries to Keith and Hossa, and that whole gelling process gets even tougher.

Duncan Keith is expected to be out of the lineup until at least early December after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Marian Hossa recently suffered an undisclosed injury that held him out of the lineup Monday night against the Kings. Michal Rozsival has been sidelined ever since Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals last May, and is still at least a week or two away from returning. In their spots, the Hawks’ youngsters have had to step up.

Monday night’s lineup against the Kings saw Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, and Marko Dano make up the Hawks’ so-called third line. Three rookies with very little previous NHL experience.

On the blue line, rookie Victor Svedberg has been asked to play a large role in Keith’s absence, as has Trevor van Riemsdyk, who including this season has 20 games of regular season NHL experience. The Hawks also recently recalled Erik Gustafsson to add depth to their defensive unit. All three d-men played in the Blackhawks’ last two games, with those being the first two career games for Gustafsson.

Add in that Artemi Panarin, another rookie, has been a regular in the Hawks’ lineup this year, and you start to realize just how challenging a first twelve games of the season this has been for the Blackhawks.

When you take a step back and look at how the team has performed so far though, you can’t really help but be pleasantly surprised given the circumstances. Monday night’s 4-2 win over L.A. was a perfect example.

The Blackhawks were going up against one of the NHL’s best teams, who oh by the way was on a 7-game win streak, and managed to mount a three-goal third period to come back and win the game by a pair. Granted, that late charge was led by Patrick Kane, but the rookies, specifically the ones on the blue line, hung in there quite nicely and played a big role in the win.

Guys like TVR and Svedberg have transitioned very nicely to their increased roles and more minutes of playing time, which has been huge for Quenneville and the rest of the Hawks. While Hartman, Kero, and Dano didn’t have much of an impact against the Kings, they held their own for the most part.

This is something we’ll likely continue seeing this year as the Hawks try and find the right pieces to fit in on their ever-changing third line. As for the defense, Gustafsson likely won’t stick around once Rozsival returns, and when Keith gets back, some minutes will be cut from Svedberg and TVR.

All in all, despite a record of 7-5-0, there have been some encouraging signs shown by the Hawks through the first twelve games. This may not be a team playing in June for the Stanley Cup right away next summer, but the youngsters are showing signs of promise for the long run.

Blackhawks Lose Keith for 4-6 Weeks

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game SixThe Blackhawks have announced that Duncan Keith will miss 4-6 weeks following surgery to repair “a right knee meniscal tear.” It is unknown when or how the injury occurred, as Keith didn’t miss a shift in the Hawks’ last game against Columbus. Keith is the one player this team could not afford to lose for any lengthy time.

Defense has been the Blackhawks’ biggest problem early on this season as expected. Their blue line was already thin with Keith in the lineup. Now with him gone, they’ll have to play van Riemskyk, Svedberg, AND Rundblad. They may choose to recall Ville Pokka in addition.

It had been reported that Stan Bowman was on the hunt for a defenseman to acquire via a trade over the last couple weeks. With news of Keith’s injury, one would have to believe that Bowman is now pursuing a trade much more aggressively.

With Keith likely headed to LTIR (Long Term Injured Reserve), that will open up over $5.5 million in cap space for the Hawks while he’s out. That’s more than enough space for them to add a contract to the roster in the form of a defenseman. The problem is that when Keith comes back, his contract will go back to counting towards the Hawks’ cap hit, which would make trading for someone now a future problem. They aren’t going to trade for a player who has any kind of hefty salary, as that would force them to dump salary yet again in another six weeks.

So, given that information and the situation the Hawks are now faced with, I’d be surprised if they pulled off any significant trade. I think it’s much more likely for them to go ahead and sign a free agent veteran defenseman, like Lubomir Visnovsky who was cut by the Hawks before the season began. He didn’t look bad at all in camp and would be a cheap addition.

All in all here, this is horrible news for the Hawks. Keith is the one guy they couldn’t lose, and now he’s gone for 4-6 weeks. Playing in the Western Conference was already going to be tough enough, and now the Hawks will have to do it without their top d-man.

Blackhawks are true champions

10-171460575-smallFor the third time in six seasons, the Blackhawks can call themselves Stanley Cup champions. With their impressive 2-0 shutout victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night, the Hawks have cemented themselves as the greatest NHL team of the salary cap era, and some people are choosing to use the word “dynasty.” Whether or not you agree with that label is a discussion for another day. For now, let’s just focus on how great, fun, exciting, legendary, etc., this team is.

The pursuit of this Stanley Cup victory really began as soon as the L.A. Kings knocked the Hawks out of the playoffs last season in overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. The Blackhawks were one shot, one goal away from advancing to the Stanley Cup where anything could have happened. Instead, they were sent packing far too early for their liking. A bad taste was left in their mouth, and an even stronger hunger left in their minds to get right back to that same spot and change the outcome. They did just that this go around by defeating the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of this year’s WCF.

Once they reached the Stanley Cup Final just a couple of weeks ago, this team knew that they would not walk away empty handed again. They had too much reason and too much desire to let that happen. Essentially, the Blackhawks knew that they would win the Cup this year, only they’ll never tell us that.

As if losing to the Kings last spring wasn’t enough motivation, the Hawks received plenty more of it this year that propelled them to winning a third Cup in six years. They endured one of the toughest regular seasons a team could possibly imagine. Just before Christmas, they lost their assistant equipment manager, Clint Reif, to an all too sudden death. The players and coaches all considered him to be just as much a part of that team as anyone else, and his loss hit the Hawks harder than any of us can imagine. Then not long after, former teammate Steve Montador suddenly passed away, again pushing the players’ emotional capacities to the limit.

This team was already on a mission to win the Cup this year to avenge their Game 7 loss last year. After the deaths of two people extremely close to the team, the Blackhawks were not going to be denied the Cup. They were going to win it for those who would not be there to experience it, and they did just that.

Looking back on this playoff run, it’s really amazing to think about how good this year’s Hawks really were. Take this series against the Lightning for example. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp combined for three goals in the series, yet they still won in six games. Contributions were made up and down the lineup to get the Hawks another Cup, whether it was Antoine Vermette, Teuvo Teravainen, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw, etc. This was a true team full of champions, and now, that’s just what they are.

130107_gq_trout_aDuncan Keith, the unanimous vote-getter for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, put together his best ever stretch of play. He finished the playoffs having played more minutes than anyone else, and it wasn’t even close. Keith finished the postseason with close to ninety more minutes than the next closest player, which is astounding. To add icing on the cake, he scored the game winning goal Monday night.

And how about Corey Crawford? The guy loses his starting job prior to Game 3 of Round 1, only to get it back for Game 6 and never relinquish it. He closed out the playoffs with a shutout to win the Stanley Cup. Had it not been for his early struggles in the first round, Crawford would have had a strong case to be the Conn Smythe winner.

10-171460575-smallAs the seconds ticked down to zero at the end of Game 6 Monday night, it was hard to believe what was happening. For the first time in most of our lifetimes, the Blackhawks were winning the Stanley Cup on home ice in front of their own fans. It was a surreal imagine that I’ll never forget. And although Stanley itself was a little late getting to the party due to sever weather earlier in the evening, it didn’t really matter. The party was on.

Watching Jonathan Toews accept the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman for the third time, but the first at the U.C., presumably sent chills down the spines of all of Chicago. USP NHL: STANLEY CUP FINAL-TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING AT S HKN USA ILAs Toews then passed the Cup onto Kimmo Timonen, it was tears that took over for the chills. A man who nearly lost his life just a year earlier, who had no clue if he’d ever put on another pair of hockey skates, was holding the greatest trophy in sports above his 40-year old head for the very first and last time. It was truly one of the great moments in Stanley Cup history.

Joel Quenneville solidified himself as one of the single greatest coaches the sport has ever witnessed, winning his third Stanley Cup as the Blackhawks coach. What’s truly remarkable about Quenneville in all of this is that he has now won the Cup here in Chicago with three different coaching staffs. That is a testament to him and to the men he chooses to stand beside him behind the bench.

This year’s Chicago Blackhawks may not have been the best of the three teams they’ve had win the Stanley Cup over the last six years, but they were the toughest. Regardless of what adversity they faced during the regular season and these playoffs, they found a way to overcome it and came out as champions. They started this run five years ago as a bunch of “kids” who were too young and too dumb to realize what they had just done. Now, they are legends who will be looked upon as a modern-day dynasty. For those who just won the Cup for a third time with the Blackhawks, they will forever be the faces of this great organization, and rightfully so. And for a few of them, they’ll be seeing their number hang high above the United Center ice one day, as well as a bronze statue placed outside the stadium for the rest of time.

Enjoy this one, as it may be a while until the Blackhawks ever get back to this point due to imminent salary cap casualties. For now though, the Blackhawks are Stanley Cup champions.

Blackhawks on the verge…again

10-171460575-smallWith Saturday night’s Game 5 victory over the Lightning in Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks have put themselves in position to do something they haven’t done since 1938: win the Stanley Cup on home ice. Saturday night marked the second time in three games that the Blackhawks have defeated Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena, and they did it by playing their best all around game of the series.

The first four games of this Stanley Cup Final saw the Lightning begin each game as the better team, only to have the Blackhawks get better as the game progressed. One could even argue that Tampa Bay was the better team over the course of the first four games. Saturday night’s game flipped the script, however, as the Hawks came out in the first period as the much better team. They dominated in Corsi, ending the period with a 26-14 15-_DSC2491-toresizeadvantage, and also led in shots 14-5. The first period ended with the Blackhawks also winning on the scoreboard by a score of 1-0 thanks to a major mishap between Ben Bishop and Victor Hedman.

Over the years, the Blackhawks have shown that they know how to take their game to that next level when they need to. They know when they have the chance to put their foot on their opponent’s neck, and they always seem to do so. Saturday night was no different. With the series tied 2-2, the winner moving to within one victory of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, the Hawks knew it was time to elevate their game and scratch out a win. Add in the fact that a win in Game 5 would mean a chance to lift the Cup on home ice in Game 6, and that team had more motivation to play their best than they probably knew what to do with.

So that’s where we’re at now. The series headed back to Chicago and the Blackhawks knowing that with a win Monday night, they’ll be celebrating a championship on home ice for the first time in 77 years.

Here’s what needs to happen in Game 6 to ensure that the aforementioned does take place:

  • Get another great start. For the first time in this series, the Hawks were the better team in the first period during Game 5. This needs to happen again in Game 6. The United Center is going to be absolutely insane with noise, and the Hawks players need to feed off of that right from the get go. Getting a quick one or two (can we dream?) goal lead would be huge and put the Lightning in a very tough spot.
  • Keep it up Crawford. Corey Crawford has arguably been the MVP of this series, and he turned in yet another fantastic performance Saturday night. He definitely seems to have a boat load of confidence right now and is playing his best hockey of the year. With Tampa Bay likely to come out in full desperation mode, Crawford should expect to be tested with some quality scoring chances. It will be on him to make the necessary saves and some “highlight reel” saves.
  • Solid PK. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been rather brilliant against the Lightning. They’ve killed off 12 of the 13 penalties that they have taken in this series, which is a huge reason they are now one win away from clinching. Maintaining a solid PK Monday night will once again be large if they can do so. The United Center crowd thrives on successful penalty kills, which lends some momentum to the home team.
  • Star time. The fact that the Blackhawks are one win away from lifting the Stanley Cup without Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa scoring a single goal in this series is remarkable. Heck, Jonathan Toews only has one goal, as does Patrick Sharp. This speaks volumes about the depth of the Blackhawks. However, maybe now is the time for the stars of this team to make their mark. It’s never too late for Showtime.
  • Zone exits. The Blackhawks have been having a really tough time clearing the puck out of their own zone against the Lightning. Tampa Bay does an exceptional job of clogging the boards and not allowing the Hawks to get the puck out of the zone that way. This has led to numerous defensive zone turnovers and subsequent scoring chances for the Lightning. It is imperative that the Blackhawks find a way to get the puck out of their zone successfully in Game 6. Whether it’s using the middle of the ice, flipping the puck high into the air and out of the zone, or literally anything that may work, the Hawks need to do it because using the boards as a way of clearing the zone is not working.
  • Lastly, the Big Four. The top four d-men of the Hawks (Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya) have all played very heavy minutes ever since the beginning of the Western Conference Final. This is well documented. Game 5 was possibly their best performance of this series, especially for Niklas Hjalmarsson. If these guys can put together just one more great game and leave it all on the ice, the Hawks should be in good shape. With the Stanley Cup on the line, I’m confident this will be the case.

The Hawks are 9-0 in Game 6’s under Joel Quenneville. That is absolutely remarkable, but also somewhat of a meaningless stat at this point as each game and each series is different. What that does say, however, is that this team knows how to close out a series when given the chance. This is a cold blooded team that does not often give their opponent second chances. Knowing full well that with a win they can celebrate the Cup on their home ice with their own fans, it would be silly to think the Blackhawks won’t be completely amped up and ready to go Monday night.

Having already won two Cups in the last six years, the Hawks know how to prepare for a potential Cup-clinching game like this. When you’ve got guys like Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, and so on, you know you’ll be prepared and solely focused on the task at hand.

I am expecting the Hawks’ best game of the series in Game 6. I don’t think they’ll let the an opportunity like this pass by without taking advantage of it.

*Also, WIN IT FOR KIMMO!

Cumiskey in, Rundblad out for Game 2

10-171460575-smallDuring today’s practice, Joel Quenneville had Kyle Cumiskey skating on the Blackhawks’ third defensive pairing with Johnny Oduya in place of David Rundblad. Rundblad made his playoff debut in Game 1, but it didn’t go so well for him as he was one the ice and partially responsible for two of the Ducks’ four goals.

This lineup change shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has followed the Blackhawks closely. Quenneville has been known to tweak his lineup when things aren’t going well. That’s not to say that things literally aren’t going well for the Hawks (they played a solid first game of the series), but David Rundblad had a tough time adjusting to the uptempo, playoff style of hockey in Game 1; his first career postseason game. Therefore he is being replaced.

While this will also be Cumiskey’s first playoff game of the spring, there is reason to be a little optimistic about his presence in the lineup.

What Cumiskey brings is speed. At five feet, eleven inches tall, he’s not the biggest or strongest guy on the ice, but he is one of the fastest. In a series like this against a quick team in Anaheim, the more speed on the back end, the better. One way to think of Cumiskey is by thinking of Nick Leddy. Remember him? Good. Nick Leddy is one of the fastest skating defenseman in the NHL. While with the Hawks, Leddy was a key component of the Blackhawks’ fast paced style of play. He would regularly carry the puck up the ice himself and get it into the offense zone where the forwards would take over. The Hawks have always been a better team when their d-men can be quick with the puck and skate it into the offensive end.

I’m not saying that Kyle Cumiskey is another Nick Leddy, because he’s not. But if Cumiskey can be that extra speed on the back end that the Hawks have somewhat lacked this season, then that’s a good thing. Duncan Keith has been the fastest blue liner on the ice for the Hawks, and he’s really the only one who can and will carry the puck up the ice and into the offensive zone. If Cumiskey can provide at least a little bit of the same, that should only play into the hands of the style of hockey that the Blackhawks like the most. They are most effective while playing a fast, north-south brand of hockey.

I guess the only big question with Cumiskey is his defensive responsibility. Can he be reliable in the Hawks’ defensive zone and not lose his man in front of the net or turn the puck over? Again, his quickness should only help him cover more ground in the Hawks’ own end, but his decision making will have to be on par. The problem with Rundblad that resulted in Cumiskey being inserted into the lineup is that Rundblad seems incapable of making quick decisions. He’ll hold the puck too long before passing, or he’ll decide to try and thread the needle with a pass instead of making the simple play and clearing the zone.

While it looks right now as though the Hawks’ defensive pairings will be Keith-Hjalmarsson, Timonen-Seabrook, Oduya-Cumiskey, I wouldn’t expect those to stick. Quenneville has continuously switched up the d-pairings mid-game this postseason, and I see no reason why that would change now. Cumiskey should see more ice time than Rundblad, but whether or not that ends up happening remains to be seen. If he does, then the Blackhawks will be back to using basically five and a half defenseman like they were before the Rozsival injury.

Game 2 is a big one for the Hawks. Coming home tied 1-1 in the series is much different than being down 2-0. Given how well the Blackhawks have played at home this postseason, heading home 1-1 could give them a big advantage.

Which current Hawks could see their number get retired?

SAYING THANKS TO NO. 18                         FANS WILL CHEER SAVARD ONCE MOREIt’s a question that I’ve often thought about over the last few years, especially since the Blackhawks won their second Cup in four years back in 2013: Which players currently on the Hawks’ roster could potentially have their number retired one day by the organization? There are a couple obvious guesses here, but then there are also a few names that seem to be on the bubble. So with that, let’s look at who may one day join numbers 1, 3, 9,18, 21, and 35.

Class A (most likely candidates)

Patrick KaneJonathan Toews (19): You name it, he’s pretty much won it. Two Stanley Cup titles, one Conn Smythe, one Selke Trophy, two Olympic gold medals, team captain, etc. And odds are that he’s not done adding to his trophy collection. It’s almost mind blowing to think about what Toews has accomplished in his seven and a half seasons with the Hawks. At twenty six years old, he’s regarded as one of the games top three players and has earned as much respect league-wide as anyone. Statistically, he has 208 goals and 270 assists in his career in 527 games played. After signing the big contract extension with the Hawks this past summer, it’s quite likely that he’ll finish his career in Chicago and go down as maybe the franchise’s best player of all time.

2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game FivePatrick Kane (88): Kane won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie player in the 2007-08 season to begin what has already been a remarkable career in Chicago. Since then, he’s earned two Stanley Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy to go along with an Olympic silver medal. In his seven and half seasons in the league, he has amassed 192 goals and 342 assists in 558 games. Many around the NHL consider Kane to be the best American born player currently in the league, which would be tough to argue. Like Toews, Kane signed an eight-year contract extension with the Blackhawks this past summer ensuring that he’ll also probably play his whole career as a Blackhawk. And, like Toews, Kane could very well end up as one of the franchise’s top two players of all time.

139990-330-0Duncan Keith (2): This one may surprise some people, but I don’t see how you let anyone wear number 2 after Keith retires. In his nine and a half year career with the Hawks and in the NHL, Keith has two Stanley Cups, two Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman, and two Olympic gold medals. He’s also been one of the team’s two assistant captains since 2008. Over his career, he has piled up 71 goals and 325 assists (396 points). To compare, Pierre Pilote, whose number 3 hangs from the United Center rafters, finished his career with 77 goals, 400 assists, and one Stanley Cup ring while winning three Norris Trophies. At 31 years old, Keith definitely still has some gas left in the tank and will quite likely pass Pilote in points. He already has more Cup rings, and he could win another Norris before it’s all said and done. Like I already said, I don’t know how you let another Blackhawk wear the number 2.

Class B (a slim chance)

20131211_151215Marian Hossa (81): Hossa is a future Hall of Famer, but spent the majority of his prime years with other teams. He has been a Blackhawk since the 2009-10 season and has earned 134 goals and 173 assists during that time. For his career, he has 473 goals and 553 assists putting him over the 1,000 point plateau. Since coming to the Hawks via free agency, Hossa has become a “core” member of the team and has won two Stanley Cups. He is one of the fan favorites for his style of play, talent, and respectability. You’ll have a tough time finding a player who works harder every shift he’s on the ice. He may be the game’s best two-way player, but he doesn’t get recognized for for it due to the fact that he’s not a center. Because of his incredible career, the fact that he’s won his only two Cups in Chicago, and the way he plays the game, Hossa could ultimately end up having his number retired by the Hawks.

10-171460575-smallPatrick Sharp (10): Sharp started his career with the Flyers before getting traded to the Hawks in the 2005-06 season. He has since won two Stanley Cups with the Hawks and one Olympic gold medal. While his stats aren’t jumping off the page (242G, 262A), he has been a huge piece the the Blackhawks success in recent years. Along with Keith, Sharp was named one of the team’s two assistant captains in 2008 and has become one of the faces of the organization. His playoff production in 2010 and 2013 was a huge reason for the team’s overall success, as he led the team in goals both postseasons. This is a case of a guy possibly warranting consideration for having his number retired more so based off of his importance to the team rather than his individual statistics.

Class C (long shot)

15-_DSC2491-toresizeBrent Seabrook (7): Seabrook has spent his entire career in Chicago. He entered the NHL along with Duncan Keith in the 2005-06 season and has been a fixture on the team since. Like the guys that have been mentioned before him, Seabrook was a member of both the 2010 and 2013 Stanley Cup-winning teams. He also won an Olympic gold medal in 2010. Seabrook and Keith have been the team’s top d-pairing for the past seven years or so, and have been widely regarded as the best defensive pairing in the league. For his career, Seabrook has 70 goals and 239 assists. Those numbers are respectable, but they haven’t led to any individual accolades. While Seabrook is a long shot to have his number retired, the fact that Chris Chelios also wore number 7 as a member of the Hawks does not increase his chances. Chelios put up much better numbers, won two Norris Trophies, and was selected to seven all star games all while a member of the Hawks. Because of what each player has done in their careers with the Blackhawks, one would figure they’d have to retire number 7 for both Chelios and Seabrook, or don’t retire it at all.

While this discussion is certainly up for debate, I feel pretty confident in my “Class A” selections. The fact that this topic is something that we can now talk about regarding the Blackhawks is truly amazing, given where the team and organization were not too long ago. We should all feel very fortunate to be witnessing the Golden Era of Blackhawks hockey.

Blackhawks advance, wait for next opponent

130107_gq_trout_aWell, prior to the Blackhawks-Blues series I had predicted that the Hawks would come away victorious in six games. Turns out I was dead on, but that’s not quite how I expected the series to go. I was thinking more along the lines of each team winning one road game over the first four games, then the Hawks winning games 5 and 6. The latter came true, but I really didn’t think the Hawks would win four straight after going down 0-2 after the first two games. It doesn’t really matter though, a win is a win and I’ll take it.

The first two games of the series were won by the Blues, not lost by the Hawks. The Blues outplayed the Blackhawks in each of the first two games in St. Louis and wound up winning both in overtime (Game 1 in triple OT). With Brent Seabrook beginning his three game suspension, the series shifted to Chicago for games three and four, both won by the Blackhawks. Game 3 saw the Hawks dominate the first ten minutes, and then proceed to get badly outplayed for the remaining fifty. If not for Corey Crawford playing out of his mind, the Blues would have won that game 5-1. Instead, the Hawks won 2-0. Game 4 was more evenly matched, as the Hawks tied the game 3-3 late in regulation and went on to win in overtime, thanks to another memorable Patrick Kane goal. Game 5 was the big one.

139990-330-0Up to this point in the season, Game 5 against St. Louis was the biggest win of the year for the Blackhawks. The really did not want to go down 3-2 in the series and have to win a Game 7 in St. Louis. The Hawks struck first on a Hossa’s first goal of the playoffs, and got their second goal from Ben Smith, also his first of the playoffs. St. Louis tied it early in the third and the game ended up going to overtime for the fourth time in the series. After a good save by Crawford on David Backes, Duncan Keith’s frantic clearing attempt wound up on the tape of Jonathan Toews’ stick, and all that he had in front of him was open ice. Toews’, the one guy the Blues didn’t want on a breakaway in OT, scored to win the game and send the Hawks home up 3-2 in the series.

Game 6 was tied 1-1 going into the third before the Hawks blew it open and won 5-1. There may not be a better team in the NHL at putting teams away when they smell blood in the water. Duncan Keith played what Joel Quenneville called the best game he’s seen him play and recorded four points. Today, Keith was nominated for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league’s best defenseman.

So now we wait. The Hawks will get the winner of the Avalanche-Wild series in the second round. That series is currently being led by the Avs, 3-2. Tonight is Game 6, and I think all Hawks fans are hoping for a Minnesota victory for two reasons. One, the Wild are a much more desirable second round opponent than Colorado. Two, if the Wild win then there will be a Game 7, meaning each team will have to play that much more hockey before facing the Hawks.

Here’s the problem with facing the Avalanche. They’re fast (maybe the fastest in the league), and they force the Hawks to play a chip-and-chase game whenever the two teams meet. This season especially, Colorado’s speed and quickness up and down the ice has really given the Blackhawks fits, not to mention their incredible skill. While the Hawks have proven at times that they can be a successful team playing the chip-and-chase game, they prefer not to. Add this to the fact that the Avs would have the home-ice advantage, meaning the Hawks would have to play in the high altitude potentially four times, and I see some possible problems. However, the Wild may still win the series. While I would prefer that, the second you wish to play a certain opponent, they beat you.

Quick Hits

  • Duncan Keith, Zdeno Chara, and Shea Weber were named this year’s Norris Trophy finalists today. I think Alex Pietrangelo got ripped off here, as he put together one hell of a season for St. Louis (8G, 43A, 20 +/-). He’s bound to win the Norris in the future.
  • Anaheim, Boston, Chicago, and Montreal have all punched their ticket to the second round. Anaheim’s comeback in Game 6 over Dallas was one for the ages. The Boston-Montreal second round matchup is one to keep a close eye on. I think the Habs have the best shot of anyone in the East at knocking out the Bruins, and that includes the Penguins.
  • St. Louis has now been booted from the postseason in the first round two years in a row by the defending Cup champs in 6 games. Both years they had home-ice advantage, both years they won the first two games, and both years they lost the last four. Talk about back-to-back demoralizing defeats…
  • 18 year-old rookie Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche leads the postseason in points with 10. He is already being compared to Sidney Crosby. Colorado’s top line of MacKinnon, Stastny, and Landeskog has been lethal at times during this first round. Matt Duchene could be back in the lineup any day now.
  • The Sharks, after taking a commanding 3-0 lead over the Kings, have dropped two straight games. Game 6 is tonight in LA. The Sharks are looking to avoid what would be a miraculous comeback by the Kings in that series.

The second round of the playoffs is right around the corner, and I can’t wait.

 

Message delivered

463371287_slideFriday night’s showdown between the Ducks and Blackhawks at the United Center was just that: a showdown of arguably the top two teams in the NHL. Anaheim came into the game with a record of 18-1-0 over their previous 19 games, while the Hawks entered Friday night’s contest struggling a bit lately with a record of 4-1-5 in their last 10. Prior to Friday’s game against Anaheim, the Blackhawks really looked like a team going through the dog days of the regular season. They had little energy in their game and they weren’t playing nearly as well as they are capable. Maybe it was the fact that they were playing the team with the league’s best record, or maybe they simply got back to their normal style of domination, but whatever it was, the Blackhawks were themselves again Friday night at the UC.

Marian Hossa started the scoring about halfway through the first period when he registered his 28th career shorthanded goal to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead. Incredibly, this was the first lead that the Blackhawks had in any game since January 3rd in New Jersey. Then near the end of the first, some great forechecking and hustle from Kris Versteeg led to the puck ending up in the back of Anaheim’s net. Versteeg was credited with his first goal in 10 games.

The second period saw no scoring, but a lot of domination by the team wearing red. The Hawks seemingly had possession of the puck for about 15 minutes of the 20 that were played in the second period, but just couldn’t find the back of the net.

In the third period, Bryan Bickell scored what appeared to be the put-away goal about ten minutes in. That wasn’t the case, however. Anaheim immediately stepped up their game and struck for two goals in a span of less than a minute to bring themselves within one with about 6 minutes left in regulation. They would continue pressuring the Hawks until they finally had to pull Jonas Hiller for the extra attacker. With 8 seconds left in the game, Marian Hossa scored on the empty net for the Hawks fourth and final goal.

So, here were my observations in this one:

  • This may have been the best all around game that the Hawks’ defensemen have played all season. I don’t think you can say that one of their d-men had a bad game. Keith was all over the ice as usual, Seabrook actually stayed on his feet the whole 463372659_slidegame, Oduya was good on the PK, Rozsival was really active in the offensive zone and saw some time on the powerplay, and Nick Leddy played one of his best games as a pro in my opinion, offensively and defensively. Hjalmarsson was his usual self until he committed a terrible turnover inside the Ducks’ blue line that resulted in Anaheim’s first goal. Aside from that mishap, however, the Blackhawks’ defense was outstanding and really dictated how this game would be played. 
  • Marian Hossa stayed red hot with two more goals against the Ducks. He now has 18 on the year and 4 in his last 4 games. Hossa continues to prove he is possibly the game’s best two-way player.
  • Corey Crawford was solid Friday night with the exception of Anaheim’s second goal. He made another highlight reel save in this game with Corey Perry being the victim this time. This was Corey’s first win since returning from injury, but not because of his play. He has been very, very good since coming back to the lineup, but the Hawks’ defense has not until Friday night.
  • Brandon Bollig. I continue to lay awake at night wondering why this guy is still in the NHL, let alone on a team with so much talent in its system. He is not good defensively, and he is basically a liability on offense. If you watch the Hawks on a regular basis, you’ll notice that his linemates try their best not to pass him the puck unless they have to. He has close to zero skill except for a hard wrist shot, and cannot be trusted in crucial points of the game. I honestly believe that if the Hawks were to put Jeremy Morin or Brandon Pirri on that fourth line in place of Bollig that it would become one of the top fourth lines in the league. Bollig drags the line down that much.
  • Somewhat similar to Bollig is Michael Handzus. What has this guy done for the team lately? Did you even notice him Friday night against Anaheim? I know he ended up being a big factor in the playoffs last season, but that was still last season. This is now, and he is an anchor in that lineup. He is too slow to be effective in the Hawks’ style of play, he isn’t even close being physical enough given his size, and when he’s not winning faceoffs he’s pretty much useless. Yes, he has had his good moments on the penalty kill this year, but you can’t tell me that there’s no one else in the organization with more skill who could do Zus’s job on the PK. Like Bollig, he’s more of a liability than an asset in my eyes.
  • 463381741_slideBryan Bickell finally scored against the Ducks. That was just his second tally since returning from injury. He also had one of his best hits of the season Friday night, only his teammate Kris Versteeg was the victim. Versteeg missed the entire third period as a result but was back on the ice today for practice.

Looking ahead, the Hawks play host to the Bruins tomorrow morning for what will be the first game between these two teams since Game 6 of last year’s SCF. Boston is one of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference again this year, so the Blackhawks will have to bring their A-game again in this one. You better believe the Bruins will be looking for revenge in this game.