Another Blackhawks Stanley Cup will require a trade

NHL: JAN 03 Senators at BlackhawksTuesday night’s game between the Blackhawks and Hurricanes in Raleigh will be the last game that the Hawks play in advance of this upcoming weekend’s All Star Game. With a win, the Blackhawks would head into the break with a record of 34-15-4 (72 points), which is a lot better than I would have predicted back in October. While their record and recent 12-game winning streak indicate this is one of the NHL’s top teams, I’m here to dampen the mood just a bit.

To better understand where I am coming from, here is a look at the current line combinations for the Blackhawks:

Shaw-Toews-Hossa

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane

Desjardins-Dannault-Teravainen

Panik-Rasmussen-Sekac/Mashinter/McNeill

As things stand right now, the top two lines are good, with the second line being arguably the best in the NHL. The problem lies within the third and fourth lines.

Depth is one of the single biggest keys to winning a Stanley Cup. Look at any team in recent years who has hoisted the Cup at season’s end and you will notice that they all got quality production from all four lines. When it gets to be mid-May and the playoff matchups get tougher and tougher, teams need their bottom two lines to contribute. Relying on your top six forwards to do all or most of the scoring simply will not work. Look no further than the 2014 Blackhawks who saw their season end in overtime of Game 7 in the Western Conference Final at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings. That team had three quality lines, and that was it. Had they had a fourth line, they would have defeated L.A.

Getting back to this year’s Blackhawks, they are getting sporadic and limited production from their bottom six forwards. They traded for Richard Panik and, more recently, Jiri Sekac to try and help with this problem, but that won’t be enough.

If the Blackhawks really want to become a serious Stanley Cup contender this season, it would be in their best interest to trade for a left winger that can play on the top line with Toews and Hossa.

Andrew Shaw has done a nice job since being promoted to the “Lottery Line,” but he’s not your long-term solution. Acquiring a more skilled left winger who compliments the games of Toews and Hossa would allow Quenneville to move Shaw down to the third line with Dannault (who will likely stick as the third line center from here on out) and Teravainen, creating a much more threatening line in terms of offense.

Shifting Shaw to the third line would then move Desjardins down to the fourth line, where he belongs, alongside Panik and Marcus Kruger. Kruger should be back for the playoffs assuming he does not suffer any setbacks. Getting Kruger back under these circumstances would give the Hawks four lines that possess the potential to do damage to their opponents. Again, that is crucial come playoff time.

As for who exactly Stan Bowman should target to play with Toews and Hossa, I am not really sure due to the fact that I don’t have inside information that lets me know which players are being dangled as trade bait by which teams. But, I can say with certainty that this hypothetical player must be skilled offensively, yet responsible and trustworthy defensively. If he is not the latter two, Quenneville will not play him.

Keep in mind that any trade that takes place would require some salary cap maneuvering by Stan Bowman, which may or may not include trading away someone from the NHL roster.

So while the Blackhawks are definitely a good team, they are simply too top-heavy at the moment. Adding a left wing who can play on the top line would instantly give the Blackhawks some much needed scoring depth. And heck, while Bowman’s at it he may as well try and upgrade the defense as well. That’s a whole other conversation, however.

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.

Disappointing loss in Game 3 for the Blackhawks

15-_DSC2491-toresizeI, for one, felt pretty good about this series after the first two games. The Blackhawks went down to Tampa Bay and took Game 1 thus giving them home ice advantage in the series. They lost the second game, a game which they could have won, but it wasn’t the end of the world. They met their goal by getting at least one victory in Tampa. With the series then headed back here to Chicago where the Hawks have been rather dominant this postseason, I thought it was very possible they could win both games at home to go up 3-1 in the series. Well after last night, that is no longer possible.

Game 3 was a game that the Blackhawks really should have never lost, but they did by a score of 3-2. After Ryan Callahan opened up the scoring early in the first period, the Hawks absolutely dominated the remainder of the period and ended it with 19 shots on goal compared to the Lightning’s 7. In terms of Corsi, the Hawks had a 33-11 advantage after the first period (33 shot attempts to 11). Those are some pretty staggering numbers, yet only Brad Richards was able to find the back of the net for the Hawks through the first 20 minutes and the game was tied at 1 apiece.

It seemed logical to think that the Blackhawks would come out in the second and try to pick up right where they left off in the first, but that didn’t happen. Tampa Bay owned the second period and out-shot the Hawks 17-7. The Lightning did have an extended 5 on 3, which partially led to that shot disparity between the two teams, but they still dominated the whole period. The puck seemingly never left their offensive zone for more than a few seconds at a time, and the Hawks were completely unable to get any sort of momentum going. However, despite their shot advantage and the fact that they had a lengthy 5 on 3 powerplay, Tampa Bay did not score in the period, and it remained 1-1 heading into the third.

Just over four minutes into the third period, Marian Hossa found Brandon Saad wide open in the slot and hit him with a perfect pass to set up a one-timer. Saad made no mistake on the shot and blew it by the glove side of Bishop to put the Hawks in front 2-1.

Then, just 13 seconds after Saad’s goal, Ondrej Palat scored a pretty soft goal at the other end to tie it right back up. Talk about a momentum swing…

For roughly the next 12 minutes, things went back and forth with Tampa Bay getting mostly better chances than the Hawks. Nothing would go in, though, until just over 3 minutes were left in regulation. Victor Hedman carried the puck up the ice and into the offensive zone, weaved through the Hawks’ defenders, then centered a pass from the goal line to Crawford’s right and found the stick of Cedric Paquette who simply redirected it into the empty net. Just like that, 3-2. There would be no “miracle on Madison” in the final minutes of regulation, and the Hawks now find themselves down 2-1 in the series with the Lightning regaining home ice advantage.

This was a game that the Blackhawks had no business losing, making it that much more frustrating. Here’s what I took away from Game 3:

  • After a first period in which the Hawks dominated once allowing Ryan Callahan to score, they only found themselves tied at 1 on the scoreboard. Both Marian Hossa and Teuvo Teravainen had point blank, empty net scoring chances in the period, but neither one hit the net. Granted, Marian Hossa was tripped while attempting the shot, but that’s not a good enough excuse in my mind. Had the Hawks buried either one or both of those chances, there’s a real possibility that we’re talking about a victory right now rather than a loss.
  • Staying with the “dominating first period” theme, the fact that the Hawks came out as flat as they did in the second was mind blowing to me. They had Tampa Bay on the ropes after the opening 20, and then let them back in it in the second frame.
  • What in the world is going on with Ben Bishop? He and Jon Cooper insist that he’s fine and that he’s capable of playing, but the eye test would say otherwise. Yes, Bishop did end up with a 36-save victory, but the Blackhawks never really tested him as much as they should have. Joel Quenneville said so following the game Monday night. It’s pretty evident that Bishop is having some serious trouble moving side to side, specifically right to left, yet the Blackhawks never were able to establish enough offensive zone time to test him with those movements. If Bishop plays again in Game 4, it would be wise of the Blackhawks to test him early and often.
  • 15-_DSC2491-toresizeThe star players of the Hawks need to start showing up on the score sheet. Last night, the first line of Saad, Toews, and Hossa was extremely good and even registered a goal (Saad). Having said that, guys like Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Sharp have got to start finding the back of the net or at least begin creating goals for other linemates. The Blackhawks will not win this series without those guys producing. I also believe that if those guys do begin scoring, the Hawks will not lose this series. If you recall, Toews and Kane did a whole lot of nothing in games 1-3 in each of their previous two Stanley Cup Final appearances. Then in games 4-6, they dominated. Hopefully history repeats itself.
  • Monday night’s loss marked the TENTH time this postseason that the Blackhawks have allowed a goal less than two minutes after scoring one themselves. Instead of letting up after scoring, it’s about time they do the opposite and go for the kill.
  • Corey Crawford, while not horrible, has not been his best the last two games. He’s got to find a way to keep the goals scored by Callahan and Palat out of the net.
  • Byan Bickell played one of his worst games of the year in Game 3, and that’s saying something. I am all for Quenneville benching him and reinserting Kris Versteeg for Game 4. Versteeg brings speed and energy, both of which fit nicely in this series.
  • Lastly, TVR. I thought van Riemsdyk had and “okay” game Monday night, as Quenneville would say. He made some real nice passes and plays to get out of his own end, but he also turned the puck over a couple times in the defensive zone. Instead of forcing the puck up the boards in an attempt to clear the zone, try looking towards the middle of the ice where there’s less traffic.

While there is no question that Game 3 stung, this is only a 2-1 series right now. The Hawks can still even this thing up Wednesday night. There is no denying that they cannot afford to lose Game 4, so I would expect to see the Hawks’ best effort of the series so far. Jonathan Toews has said a couple of times recently that the Hawks seem to play their best hockey when they are backed up against a wall. Well, I’d consider their backs to be against the wall now.

If the Hawks can pull out a win in Game 4, they’ll head back to Tampa Bay where the Lightning have been very disappointing this postseason. They are a weak 6-6 at home during the playoffs. This series is far from over, but a Hawks victory is imperative Wednesday night.

Epic win for the Blackhawks in Game 2

10-171460575-smallIt ended up being the longest game in Chicago Blackhawks franchise history, and it will no doubt go down as one of the most memorable. Game 2 of the Western Conference Final between the Ducks and Blackhawks started at roughly 8:20pm Central time on Tuesday, lasted nearly six whole periods, and finally ended around 1:15am Wednesday thanks to Marcus Kruger. A game that extends to a third overtime and finishes the day after it began would normally exhaust its viewers, with many of them opting to go to sleep instead. Not this game, however. From start to finish, Game 2 featured non-stop action and heart-stopping moments making it basically impossible to turn away from.

After getting two quick powerplay goals to begin the first period, the Blackhawks saw their 2-0 lead evaporate by the end of the second frame. From the time that Marian Hossa knocked home the Hawks’ second goal all the way to the end of the second period, Anaheim pretty much dominated the game. They were hitting anything that moved wearing a white sweater and continuously pinned the Blackhawks in their defensive zone for long stretches. Fortunately, the Hawks got out of the first 40 minutes tied.

The third period was a bit slower in pace with each team seemingly playing a more conservative game. Chances were had by each side, but both Frederik Andersen and Corey Crawford answered all shots directed their way. Overtime would ensue.

In the three overtimes that were played, both the Ducks and Blackhawks created numerous incredible scoring chances. Anaheim hit the post three, maybe even four times. The Hawks had a good three point-blank shots on goal. Each side was dealt a powerplay, but almost nothing was getting by the goalies.

I say almost because the Blackhawks had a goal taken away from them during their powerplay in the second overtime period. After a shot from Patrick Kane deflected up high into the air off the shoulder of Andersen, Andrew Shaw proceeded to jump and headbutt the puck into the net. It was one of the most incredible things you will ever see in a hockey game, simply because it never happens. The Blackhawks players spilled off the bench and mobbed Shaw thinking that they had won the game, only to have the goal reviewed and overturned. By rule, intentionally hitting the puck into the net with anything other than your stick shall result in the goal being disallowed. Having said that, not many people including current and ex-players were fully aware that a “headbutt goal” is illegal.

From there, the Ducks killed off the remainder of the Hawks’ powerplay and the game headed to a third overtime.

10-171460575-smallIn the third OT, both teams traded more chances only to be denied by the two netminders. Then finally, with 3:48 left on the clock, a point shot from Brent Seabrook hit Marcus Kruger to the right of Frederik Andersen, the puck dropped to the ice, and Kruger tapped it home for the game winner. Roughly five hours after the opening puck drop, the game was over.

Due to the endless scoring chances and near-death moments for each team, this game was as exciting as they get and will go down in history as one of the greats.

So with that, here’s what us Hawks fans should take away from this epic Game 2:

  • Corey Crawford was phenomenal. He had a couple of sequences in the overtime periods of two or three consecutive Grade A saves. In total, he stopped 60 of the 62 Anaheim shots. Those 60 saves are his new career high. Maybe no save was bigger or better than his glove save on Corey Perry with about eight minutes left in the second overtime. It won’t, but his Game 2 performance coupled with the way he played against Minnesota should silence any of his doubters. If he keeps this up, he and the Hawks will be a tough out.
  • The Blackhawks top four defensemen all logged at least 46 minutes of ice time through the three overtimes, with Keith playing the most (49:51). To compare, Francois Beauchemin recorded the most minutes for the Ducks at 46:29. Analysts are already trying to make a huge deal out of this by saying that there’s no way the Hawks can survive with their top four d-men being asked to play so much each night while the bottom two defensemen receive much less time. While that may be true to a certain extent, if you look at the total minutes that the Blackhawks have played this postseason and then compare the total minutes played by their top four d-men, their average playing times are really not that abnormal. Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya have been playing great, and they need that to continue.
  • The bottom two lines for each team in this series have been great. All the talk has been about Anaheim’s third and fourth lines, but the Blackhawks’ bottom two lines have been just as good. The third line of Sharp, Vermette, and Teravainen was outstanding in Game 2 and generated the best scoring chances of any of the Hawks’ lines. That line also saw a lot of the Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry line and did a great job of keeping them in check. The fourth line of Desjardins, Kruger, and Shaw has arguably been the Blackhawks’ best line through these first two games and netted the overtime goal to take Game 2. Heading home, Joel Quenneville will now be able to decide which line plays against which of the Ducks, and this should only lead to added success for the Hawks’ forwards.
  • Patrick Kane needs to be put into a position where he can be more dangerous. Being on a line with Bryan Bickell is not working for him. As the guys at The Committed Indian pointed out, it looks like Bickell could be hurt and is therefore not as effective while along the boards. Kane needs a guy on his line who can win board battles, maintain puck possession in the offensive end, and ultimately get him the puck. Switching Saad and Bickell may do the trick as Toews and Hossa could compensate for whatever Bickell is unable to do. The same can’t be said of Kane and Richards. Bottom line here is that Kane needs to be more involved offensively than he has been in either of the first two games of this series.
  • Going along similar lines, the Blackhawks could use more production from the top line of Saad, Toews, and Hossa. With the series shifting to Chicago, Quenneville can now opt to get that line away from Ryan Kesler’s line which may lead to more offensive production. Having the last change at home is big, and even bigger when discussing a Joel Quenneville team.
  • Lastly, the Blackhawks’ special teams showed up big time in Game 2. Their first two goals came via the poweplay, and their penalty kill was 5/5, including a big kill in overtime. Having said that, the Hawks did have an extended five on three in the third period and a five on four in overtime, but failed to score either time. Nonetheless, getting two powerplay goals and a perfect penalty kill is a welcomed sight for the Blackhawks. If they are starting to get the PK figured out again, that should only increase their chances of success moving forward.

Taking the series back to Chicago tied 1-1 rather than down 2-0 is HUGE for the Blackhawks. They have played great hockey at home this postseason and are fully capable of winning the next two games. That being said, they are still going to be required to play some of their best hockey of the year if they want to beat the Ducks. Winning these next two won’t be easy, but it’s doable.

Game 3 is Thursday night at 7:00pm Central time. A win would be huge for the Hawks, and that’s just what I expect.

Blackhawks stay hot

15-_DSC2491-toresizeWith last night’s 4-1 victory over the 90 point New York Islanders, the Blackhawks improved to 5-0-1 in March, and 6-1-1 without Patrick Kane. They now have 90 points on the season and sit just 4 back of the Nashville Predators with three games in hand, and 5 back of the Blues with one game in hand.

When Kane suffered his broken clavicle, putting him out for 12 weeks, most people were left with the feeling that the Blackhawks wouldn’t be able to survive without him. Then Stan Bowman made a series of trades bringing in Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette most notably. Those trades seem to have re-energized the Hawks and reassured them that the front office has confidence in this group even without Kane.

Despite the trades, the Hawks still needed guys to step up their games in Kane’s absence, and they have. The team’s last three games against the Coyotes, Sharks, and Islanders (all victories) are all perfect examples.

Against Arizona, the Hawks won 2-1. Their two goals came from Andrew Shaw and Brad Richards, neither of whom had scored in over a dozen games.

In San Jose, the Hawks received goals from Sharp (hadn’t scored since late January), Keith, Saad, Bickell, Sharp again, and Hossa.

Last night against the Islanders and with Sharp reunited with Toews and Hossa on the top line, the Hawks scored 4 goals in the game. All of them came from that first line.

The Blackhawks needed to make up for Kane’s absence by getting more production from all 12 forwards in the lineup. So far, they have. This doesn’t mean that the third and fourth lines need to average a goal per game from here on out, but if they can contribute with strong efforts each night even without scoring, that will help. We can expect goals to continue coming from the Toews line, and the Vermette line with Saad and Teravainen is bound to find the back of the net with regularity sooner or later with they way they’re playing.

So with that, here are some quick thoughts:

  • Corey Crawford is back to playing like he was prior to his concert injury. He has only allowed 8 goals this month and looks as good as ever. The team will need this trend to continue heading into April and May.
  • I was calling for a Sharp-Toews-Hossa reunion a few games ago in an attempt to get Sharp back on the score sheet, and last night Q finally listened. Granted Sharp scored twice already in San Jose, but him on the top line makes him and his linemates that much more dangerous. We saw just that against the Islanders when the Toews line scored all 4 of the Hawks’ goals.
  • The second line of Brandon Saad, Antoine Vermette, and Teuvo Teravainen continues to look really good. They just aren’t scoring as much as they probably should be given their recent play. I’d expect this line to start piling up the goals sometime soon.
  • Defensively the Hawks have been better lately. They are still allowing more shots against than they’d like, but they aren’t surrendering many great scoring chances anymore.
  • Last night against the Islanders, Johnny Oduya looked like his old self again. If he can turn the corner in his game and get back to the Oduya we saw last year or the year before, that will be very good news. Also, Kimmo Timonen is slowly returning to full strength. His passing and decision making are fantastic, and if he can get his legs fully back under himself, his acquisition will really pay off.
  • Lastly, Kris Versteeg has been bad ever since returning from his injury suffered in the Winter Classic. He’s trying to do too much by himself and ends up coughing up the puck to the other team too often. Somehow, some way, he needs to get back to the way he was playing in November and December, just without Kane to his right.

Tonight is a huge game in New York against the Rangers, who will be without Martin St. Louis. When these two teams met a couple of weeks ago, the Rangers won 1-0 in OT. If they Hawks can figure out Cam Talbot early on, I like their chances in this one.

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.

Another disappointing outing for the Hawks

461252916_slideThe Blackhawks had been rolling along for the past month and half up until the Winter Classic came along. Over their past five games, including the Classic, the Hawks are just 2-3-0 and seem to be struggling to find the same energy that they had been playing with since late November. Call it the “dog days” of the season or whatever you wish, but the fact of the matter is that you cannot afford to lose many games right now as a member of the Central Division or Western Conference. The competition is too good, and the standings are too close.

Over this recent stretch of games for the Hawks, they have looked out of sync. Take last night’s game in Edmonton for example. I’d say that for about two thirds of that game, it was a legitimate challenge for them to complete two passes in a row. Getting through the neutral zone with the puck proved to be as big a challenge for the Hawks, if not even a bigger one. On more than one occasion, the puck carrier for the Hawks and one of their linemates collided at center ice, causing either a turnover or a broken rush.

Maybe even more troubling, and what may very well be responsible for the way they’ve been playing lately, is the fact that the Blackhawks focus doesn’t seem to be all there at the moment. In Minnesota on Thursday night and last night against the Oilers, it appeared as though the Hawks were simply going through the motions (unless their name was Brandon Saad or Marian Hossa). Granted they found a way to beat the Wild, but they couldn’t expect to have that same luck for a second straight game. As a result of their lack of focus and energy in Edmonton, they made the league’s worst team look like an above average defensive team. There is no way that the Oilers should have held the Hawks to just 21 shots in the game. No way. Yes the Blackhawks were playing in their second game of a back-to-back, but that’s still no excuse. A team with this much talent, this much experience, and this much leadership should not continue to turn in weak efforts like this, especially when they know that they can’t afford to lose many games while playing in the Central Division.

Aside from their effort, or lack thereof, the goaltending has not been as good during this recent stretch as it was for most of the first half of the season. Corey Crawford was having an outstanding year up until he decided to take in a concert and *trip* on the steps, leading to a broken foot. Since returning from that injury, he’s let in some uncharacteristically weak goals and has struggled to allow fewer than two per game. In his defense, he did just turn in an outstanding performance against the Wild the other night in a win that Joel Quenneville labeled a “goalie win.” Crawford got the night off against the Oilers last night, so hopefully he’ll build off his last outing moving forward.

Antti Raanta has had better days too. We’ve seen him go from having a great season to something reminiscent of what we saw from him last spring. His rebound control has been bad, and he’s beginning to let in some soft goals. He even said himself that his performance against the Oilers last night was “one of the worst games of [his] NHL career.” Credit him for recognizing and acknowledging the fact that he needs to be better, but the fact remains that he does need to be better.

Despite this disappointing stretch for the Blackhawks, there’s no need to get too concerned right now. As I’ve said before, this team is too experienced and has great leaders and great coaches that won’t let this trend of weak play continue. I’m not saying they’ll turn it around next game or even the next, but they know just as we do that they need to win on almost a nightly basis to keep pace with the teams in their own division. When the going gets tough and the importance of the games increase, the Blackhawks have almost always risen to the challenge. I expect nothing different from this year’s team.

Jannik Hansen gets 1-game suspension

After a hearing with the NHL’s disciplinary office this afternoon, Canucks forward Jannik Hansen and head coach Alain Vigneault both seemed optimistic about the hearing. Vigneault even stated, “I don’t know why we had that conference.”

Well, apparently Brendan Shanahan saw things differently and as a result handed Hansen a 1-game suspension for his elbow to Marian Hossa’s head. Shanahan pointed out that once Hansen realized Hossa had the inside position on the play, Hansen clenched his fist and “carelessly” extended his forearm to the back of Hossa’s head with no intention of playing the puck. The fact the Hossa was injured and did not return to the game, along with Hansen’s clean history in the league, led to the 1-game ban. Had Hansen been previously penalized by the league, he may have been looking at a 2-3 game suspension.

I said it earlier this week in my blog that it wouldn’t take much of a spark to re-ignite the rivalry and hatred between the Hawks and Canucks. After what happened in Tuesday night’s game, it is safe to say that the rivalry and hatred between the two sides is back in full swing.

Blackhawks tie record; Canucks and their fans never change

162159760_slideThe Blackhawks’ win on Tuesday night over their rival Vancouver Canucks marked their 16th straight game to start the season with at least one point. That ties the all time NHL record set by the Anaheim Ducks in the ’06-’07 season. While most people would assume that the Blackhawks would be celebrating this accomplishment, the general attitude of the Hawks and their fans following last night’s game was pretty subdued. This was due to the fact that not only did the Hawks blow a 2-goal lead in the last 4 minutes of regulation, but Marian Hossa had to be helped off the ice after a blow to the back of his head.

The game started off with a very fast pace. Within the first 10 minutes of play, a total of 5 breakaways had already taken place; 3 for the Hawks and 2 for the Canucks. Incredibly, no goals were scored. Then with just over 13 minutes gone in the first, Daniel Sedin lit the lamp with a soft backhander that somehow found its way through Ray Emery’s legs, giving Vancouver a 1-0 lead. The score would stay that way heading into the second period.

Again, the second period started off with a fast pace just like the first, but with no breakaways for either side. After generating a few good scoring chances, the Hawks finally beat Corey Schneider to tie the game. Patrick Sharp scored his 4th goal of the season after a nice feed by Kane left Sharp open to Schneider’s right for a wide open slap shot. The puck found its way right through the five-hole and into the back of the net.

About 7 minutes later and on the powerplay, Marian Hossa scored on another slapshot from the opposite side of the zone to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead.

Then, only about 4 minutes after Hossa scored, he scored again for his second of the game. In typical Marian Hossa fashion, he won the puck battle along the boards in the corner to Schneider’s right, fought his way to the front of the net, and somehow was able to sneak the puck into the net between Schenider and the post. He literally had maybe only 3-4 inches between Schneider and the post, but he was able to get the goal. This increased the Hawks’ lead to 3-1. It would stay that score until late in the third.

With a little under 3 minutes remaining in regulation and the Canucks on the powerplay, Alex Edler beat Ray Emery with a slap shot from just inside the blue line to bring Vancouver within 1 goal. Then, a little over a minute and a half later and with Canucks’ net empty, Kevin Bieksa’s slap shot beat Emery again to tie the game and send it to overtime.

No one was able to score in OT, even though the Hawks outshot the Canucks 5-1.

In the shootout, Patrick Kane and Andrew Shaw (yes, Andrew Shaw) both scored for the Hawks, and only Chris Higgins scored for the Canucks giving the Blackhawks the W.

However, aside from the Blackhawks record-tying start to the season, the biggest story from last night’s victory was Jannik Hansen’s hit on Marian Hossa. With only 1:10 gone in the third period, the puck was deflected high into the air around center ice, and both Marian Hossa and Jannik Hansen went to try and “grab” it.

620-hossa-blog-thumb-620xauto-275678Hossa, with his head looking up at the puck and his hand ready to catch it, was elbowed in the back of the head by Hansen and fell face first to the ice. He would remain on his stomach for a good 2-3 minutes before getting helped to the dressing room. He would not return. After seeing the replay, it is clear that Hansen was not going for the puck and that he intentionally hit Hossa in the back of the head (he has a hearing with the NHL at 2:30 CT today). Whether or not he actually tried to injure him, we’ll never know. But it is clear that Hansen was not going for the puck. I happened to be at the game last night, and when the replay of this was shown on the scoreboard, there was not a fan in that stadium who didn’t want to personally “greet” Hansen after the game.

Following the game, Joel Quenneville stated that Hossa seemed “okay,” and that they’ll know more today on his condition. Coach Q also declined to comment in any detail about Hansen’s elbow to Hossa’s head.

As for the Vancouver side, their head coach, Alain Vigneault, tried to argue that the play did not deserve a penalty (Hansen was assessed a 2-minute minor for roughing) and that only when Toews went out to talk to the refs did they call the penalty. When asked if he thought Hansen would receive any discipline from the NHL, Vigneault answered “No chance.” Hansen told reporters after the game that “it was a hockey play,” and that he didn’t even realize he hit Hossa until the refs told him. He also said that he was “just going for the puck.” Yeah right…

Over the past 4 years, I along with every Hawks fan, has grown to hate the Canucks for their non-stop, cheap-hitting, dirty play. Whether it is Burrows pulling Keith’s hair, Daniel Sedin elbowing Duncan Keith in the head, Torres launching himself at Seabrook’s head, or now Hansen elbowing Hossa in the head, it is always something else with those low-lifes. Their head coach might be the biggest reason for it, too.

Alain Vigneault doesn’t seem to think that anything his players do warrants a penalty or any discipline. Whether it was Torres’ hit on Seabrook, Sedin’s elbow to Keith, or Hansen’s elbow to Hossa, every time he says that his players did nothing wrong. There is a theory in the sports world that states “a team plays the way they are coached.” That might not be anymore evident than in the case of the Canucks.

It is extremely hard for me to not let my emotions fly on here when talking about the Canucks. I absolutely despise everything about that team and their coach, and I feel that I am being polite when saying that. Even their fans are some of the worst in sports.

1297188843628_ORIGINALRemember when the Bruins won the Cup 2 years ago, in Game 7, in Vanvouver, and the Canucks’ fans lit the city on fire? Remember when Zdeno Chara was handed the Stanley Cup by Gary Bettman and Canucks’ fans proceeded to throw cups of beer in Chara’s direction? After Hansen’s hit on Hossa last night, the Vancouver fans used Twitter to express their pleasure with the hit, calling Hossa a “wimp,” an “actor,” and saying that they were “glad” Hossa got hurt on the play. It’s a good thing those people live 2,000 miles away from Chicago and in a different country, because I don’t think I could handle it if they lived any closer, and I would be embarrassed to call myself an American along with them.

I could go on for hours about the Canucks and their fans, but I won’t.

All in all, the Blackhawks again blew a late lead and ended up in overtime. They have got to  step up their late-game play and win these games in regulation. At the same time, I won’t complain about their historic start.

Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that Hossa is okay. Here’s the replay of Hansen’s hit:

Blackhawks Continue to Roll

160789774_slideWe are exactly a quarter of the way through the Blackhawks’ season already, and they still haven’t lost a game in regulation. The Blackhawks, 10-0-2, lead the NHL in wins, road wins, and points (22). Most people expected a few losses on this recent 6-game road trip (myself included), but the Hawks earned at least a point in each game.

The road trip started off with the Hawks losing in a shootout to the Wild, followed by another shootout loss to the Canucks. It seemed as though the offense of the Hawks was beginning to come back to reality after a torrid start to the season.

Their next game in Calgary can only be considered a miraculous win. Ray Emery played one of the single greatest games that any NHL goalie has played over the last 5 years or so by stopping 45 of the 47 shots that he faced; many of which were high quality chances. After allowing the go-ahead goal to the Flames with about 35 seconds left in the third period, the Hawks pulled Emery for the extra attacker. Following a perfect cross-ice pass by Kane to Oduya, the puck eventually found its way to the stick of Marian Hossa, who shot it in past a distraught Mikka Kiprusoff with 4 seconds left to tie the game. The Blackhawks would go on to win the game in a shootout. This was the turning point of their road trip, as the Hawks went 3-0 in their final 3 games of the trip.

Following their victory over Calgary, the Blackhawks went into San Jose to take on a then “hot” Sharks team. The Sharks made it 2-0 early in the first period, but the Hawks battled back and ended up getting a 5-3 victory. This win made it very clear who the best team in the West was.

160915312_stdFrom San Jose, it was on to Phoenix. This game was over after the first period. The Blackhawks scored twice on 5 on 3 powerplays, and ended the first leading 4-0. Many of the players credited Jamal Mayer’s early fight with Raffi Torres for their boost in energy and play. The Hawks would end up winning this one 6-2, and Joel Quenneville has called this their best game of the season so far.

Last night, the long road trip finally came to an end in Nashville. The Blackhawks again dominated this game from start to finish, often making it seem like they were playing with a man-advantage when they really weren’t. The final score ended up being 3-0, giving Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks their first shutout since April of 2011. Every other team in the NHL had at least 2 shutouts last year.

So now the Hawks come home for a 7-game home-stand, which isn’t exactly favorable for the home team. Playing at home for 7 straight games doesn’t allow the players to be around each other and bond as much as they do on the road. One can only hope that they don’t fall out of sync and turn this long home-stretch (every game against a good team, by the way) into a losing streak.

Some people, myself included, are almost scared by the Hawks’ fast start. We all know that there is no way that they can keep up this type of play for the whole season, but is this just an incredibly hot start, or is this a sign of things to come from here on out?

tumblr_mhmtvotRbX1rhgqu4o1_500While I am staying very cautious and not jumping the gun on this team, I do believe that the Hawks are as good as they have been playing thus far. This team is absolutely loaded with offensive skill, their defense is playing fantastic, and the goaltending has been just what the doctor ordered. People forget that Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson all had “off” years the past 2 seasons. This year each of those guys, along with Oduya and Leddy, are playing great and up to their potential (Leddy can still be better). Offensively, the line of Hossa, Toews, and Saad has been nearly unstoppable. Brandon Saad has been a very nice addition to the team this year and seems to be getting better each game.

And how about Patrick Kane? He is playing out of his mind right now and was just named the number 1 star of the NHL for this past week. He has at least one goal in 5 straight games and is second in the NHL in points with 19. If he keeps this up, he will without a doubt be a Hart Trophy candidate at the end of the season.

Looking forward, this 7-game home-stand is going to be a major test for the Hawks, and it all starts tomorrow night against the streaking Ducks. After the Ducks, the Hawks will play the Sharks, Kings, Canucks, Sharks, Blue Jackets, and Oilers. All of those games, with the exception of the Columbus game, are going to be tough tests for the Hawks on their home ice. Normally a long stretch of home games bodes well for most teams, but this one for the Hawks could be a bit of a trap given the fact that they are going to play some top teams and haven’t lost yet in regulation.

While we all thought we would know a lot more about this team after their 6-game road trip (and we do), I think that we will know even more following this long home-stand.