Blackhawks’ roster taking shape

10-171460575-smallLast week, we learned that Patrick Sharp had been traded away to the Dallas Stars along with top d-prospect Stephen Johns. In return, the Hawks received one of the Stars’ top defensemen in Trevor Daley, as well as winger Ryan Garbutt. Today, Johnny Oduya announced that he would not be returning to Chicago and will sign elsewhere sometime soon. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for more inevitable moves to be made. All things considered, however, it’s a safe bet to assume that most of the transactions that Stan Bowman will make this summer have already been completed.

Let’s first start by talking a bit about the loss of Patrick Sharp. We all knew he wasn’t going to be back next season, but that didn’t ease the pain of losing him. He was one of just a few guys to have played on the Hawks during the so called “dark ages,” as well as on the three Cup-winning teams. He saw it all in Chicago and witnessed one of the biggest turnarounds a sports franchise can have.

Sharp was an obvious fan favorite here for his play on the ice, as well as for his personality off the ice. He is one of the classiest players in the game.

As for what he meant to the Blackhawks, he was a 30-goal scorer just two seasons ago and one of the team’s most clutch playoff performers over the last seven seasons. He could play in all situations and was one of the top leaders in the dressing room, thus leading to his title as Assistant Captain.

Moving Sharp’s $5.9 million dollar cap hit was absolutely necessary for the Blackhawks, but that doesn’t make this any easier. It will be tough watching him play against the Hawks in the coming years, but so it goes. He’ll forever be a fixture in the history of this franchise.

Now, on to the other stuff.

In return for Sharp, the Hawks got Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt. Daley figures to be a part of the team’s top four defensemen next season now that we know Oduya is gone. For those unaware, Daley is a step above Oduya in terms of his offense (16 goals last season), but he’s a step or two below Oduya defensively. Whereas Johnny Oduya saw heavy minutes on the Hawks’ penalty kill, Trevor Daley will most likely not. That’s not to say he can’t learn a thing or two from the Hawks’ coaching staff, but it’s a safe guess. He will, however, more than likely see lots of powerplay time.

Ryan Garbutt, when in the lineup, which may or may not be every night, will almost certainly see all of his time spent on the bottom two lines of the Blackhawks. He’s a gritty player somewhat like Desjardins and Shaw, although with less skill than Shaw. It’s possible that he will be battling it out with other players for a consistent role in the lineup.

As of right now, here’s how the Blackhawks lines may look:

Shaw-Toews-Hossa

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane

Bickell-Teravainen-Dano

Garbutt/Versteeg-*Kruger*-Desjardins

Keith-Seabrook

Hjalmarsson-Daley

TVR-Rundblad

A couple of things to mention here. First of all, Kruger has yet to re-sign with the Hawks. The odds of that happening increase by a ton if Bowman can figure out a way to trade Versteeg and/or Bickell to free up more cap space. Trading either one of those guys on their own may be next to impossible to accomplish, so another player off the current roster may have to be included just to move one of those guys. Needless to say, a lot could still possibly change regarding the Hawks’ forwards.

Defensively, I don’t see TVR and Rundblad being the fifth and sixth defensemen to start the season. I’ve got to believe that, again, Bowman is working to move someone and their contract to free up enough space to not only re-sign Kruger, but maybe sign a depth defensemen as well. Some names have floated around as being targets of the Hawks, but I won’t even mention those because a lot would have to happen before Bowman even begins negotiating a contract with one of them.

As for the lines themselves, I would think that Joel Qunneville would like to at least start the season by having Dano and Anisimov together on the same line as they are already familiar with each other from their time in Columbus. Placing them with Patrick Kane seems to make sense at the moment, but that would force Dano into moving over to the left wing where is hasn’t played much. This means we could see him end up skating on the right side of the Hawks’ third line.

If Dano does in fact begin on the third line, we’ll most likely see Artemi Panarin playing left wing alongside Anisimov and Kane. Panarin has an incredible skill set, which should blend nicely with Kane. He also speaks Russian, as does Anisimov. Whether that plays a factor into things, who knows… Of course, this is all assuming Panarin makes the NHL roster.

I’ve also got Teravainen starting as the team’s third line center. It’s no secret that the Hawks would like to see him evolve into an NHL centerman, so my best guess is that they’ll start the season with him there, or possibly even on the second line centering Kane. Marko Dano can also play center, but it’s doubtful that both he and Teravainen will be centers on this team at the same time.

Andrew Shaw seems like the best bet to begin the season at left wing with Toews and Hossa.

There’s still a lot that could potentially happen with the Hawks via trades, which makes predicting their lines a bit challenging. One thing is for sure though, and that’s that we’ll be seeing lots of new faces wearing the indian head next season.

NHL salary cap set: let the trades begin

1383642_616596775058148_1814435643_nThis morning, the NHL announced that the salary cap for the 2015-16 season will be $71.4 million; about $2.4 million higher than this past season. This is decent news for the Blackhawks because they need the cap to go up as much as possible if they want to retain players like Saad and Kruger, among others, for next season. Had the cap been any lower than $71 million for this upcoming season, it would have been a big disappointment for many teams like the Hawks.

What the announcement of next season’s cap means is that trades and other moves will begin to take place, and in a hurry. Odds are that not much will happen prior to Wednesday night’s NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas, but who knows? One thing is for sure, and that is that we are bound to see a flurry of trades before the start of the NHL Draft on Friday.

With regards to the Blackhawks, this implies that a big move or two could come between now and Friday. The Blackhawks traded away a number of draft pick for this year’s draft back at the trade deadline a few months ago, and odds are that they’ll be looking to acquire some picks heading into the draft of Friday. To get those picks, they will most likely be looking to dump at least one big salary.

Patrick Sharp’s name has come up more than just about any player in hockey in recent weeks when discussing possible trades. He is set to make $5.9 million per year over the next two seasons. It’s no secret that the Hawks will be looking to move Sharp in return for some high picks and a prospect, but whether or not they can strike a deal with a team over the next 72 hours remains to be seen. I don’t think any of us Hawks fans want to see Sharp go, but it is a move that has to be done. Brandon Saad is a huge part of this team’s future, and really the only way to give him a contract that he deserves is by moving a player with a big annual salary like Sharp.

Other candidates to be traded out of Chicago are Bryan Bickell, and possibly even (but not likely) Brent Seabrook and/or Corey Crawford. All three players have big annual salaries and would bring a lot back to the Hawks if traded. Odds are that both Seabrook and Crawford go nowhere, but their names have been mentioned in trade rumors.

The ideal scenario would be if Stan Bowman could find a buyer for Bryan Bickell. Bickell is set to make $4.5 million annually for the next two years, which is way too much money. Why Bowman ever inked Bickell to such a deal, I don’t know. It was probably a knee-jerk reaction to the way Bickell performed over the course of the 2013 playoffs. Trading away Bickell, who is definitely replaceable from within the organization, would free up a lot of cap space and go a long way in re-signing Saad and Kruger first and foremost. If this deal is made, it by no means implies that Sharp won’t be traded. If I had to bet on this, I’d say Sharp is dealt before any other Hawk. Being able to dump Bickell’s salary would just be a bonus to Stan Bowman.

So in summary, here’s what to look for in the next few days:

  • Patrick Sharp being traded away, and probably to an Eastern Conference team, in exchange for a first round pick in this year’s draft and a good prospect or two.
  • Maybe even a Bryan Bickell trade if Bowman can work magic. Bickell would likely bring in a couple 2nd-4th round draft picks and nothing more, especially if another team agrees to take on the majority of his contract.
  • We may see the names Seabrook and Crawford float around in the rumor mill, but I wouldn’t expect either one to go anywhere.
  • Once Sharp and anyone else are dealt, extensions for Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger should follow shortly thereafter.

Stay tuned.

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!

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.

Quick hits on the Hawks

15-_DSC2491-toresizeFriday night the Blackhawks earned a big two points with a shootout victory over the Edmonton Oilers in a game that turned out to be much closer than anticipated. The Oilers gave the Hawks all they could seemingly handle, but were never able to get a two-goal lead in the game. The Blackhawks ended up tying it late in the third before Antoine Vermette scored the shootout winner giving the Hawks a 2-1 victory.

It’s been two games now since the trade deadline has passed, and we have gotten a good look at the Blackhawks’ acquisitions in those games. Here’s what I have noticed from them, and the team, over the last two games.

  • Tuesday against the Hurricanes was the Blackhawks debut for both Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette. Each player looked a bit lost out there at times, which was to be expected, but the Hawks as a team looked excellent. All four lines played great. You could tell the team was energized by the trades Bowman made.
  • Friday night, in a much faster paced game than against the Hurricanes, Kimmo Timonen was noticeably struggling to keep up. I’m not too concerned with it. The guy hasn’t played in a year, and he’s almost 40 years old. Give him a few more games to get back into the swing of things before really making any judgments about him.
  • Antoine Vermette was one of the best players on the ice against Edmonton. He had easily 2-3 great scoring chances, but couldn’t find the net on any of them. He also set up his linemates for great chances a few times, but no one converted on those either. In the shootout, Vermette scored the game winning goal after misses from both Toews and Sharp. That had to be a huge moment for him. These are positive indications, and ones that hopefully continue.
  • Corey Crawford has bounced back very well after being pulled against the Bruins a couple weeks back. He made a career high 46 saves against the Oilers on a career high 47 shots against. Pretty impressive.
  • All four lines of the Blackhawks looked really good against Carolina on Tuesday. Against the Oilers, however, the Hawks didn’t get as much production from top to bottom. Andrew Shaw definitely makes the fourth line better now that he’s on the wing there, but I think Teravainen needs to be playing every night to really give the Hawks an advantage depth-wise over most other teams. He was scratched against the Oilers, and his vacancy on the ice was noticeable.
  • Speaking of Teravainen, it looks like he’ll be playing tomorrow night against the Rangers on the second line, as well as on the second powerplay unit.
  • In practice today, Patrick Sharp was skating with Richards and Carcillo on the third line. I have two problems with this. First of all, Carcillo looks like he might be playing tomorrow night in place of Bryan Bickell. Bickell has been underperforming, but I don’t think he should sit so that Carcillo can play. Car Bomb is not good. Secondly, I would move Sharp to the top line with Toews and Hossa to try and get him going offensively. He always seems to do well with 19 and 81, and the Hawks could really afford for his production to pick up.

With the win over Edmonton, the Hawks now find themselves just 2 points behind the Blues, who have a game in hand, and 6 points behind the Predators, who have lost 5 straight. The Hawks have a game in hand on Nashville. The Blackhawks also have Minnesota breathing down their neck now. The Wild have won 5 straight games and sit just 4 points behind the Hawks.

With about a month left to the regular season, a lot can still happen. Nashville’s once comfortable lead in the division is now not so comfortable, and the Hawks are now not that far off from being in a Wild Car position. Every game from here on out is a big one because you can expect the other top teams in the Central to win almost every night.

The Blackhawks need to ramp up their level of intensity starting Sunday against New York if they want to keep pace with the rest of their division.

Blackhawks’ new lines taking shape; Sharp addresses rumors

15-_DSC2491-toresizeNow that the dust has settled from the trades that brought in Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette, we can really begin to look into what lines we may see from the Blackhawks moving forward. Today was the team’s first practice since their loss in Tampa Bay Friday night, and it was also Timonen’s first with his new team. Vermette did not participate due to travel reasons.

The lines in today’s Hawks practice were Versteeg-Toews-Hossa, Sharp-Teravainen-Saad, Bickell-Richards-Shaw, Nordstrom-Kruger-Smith. After practice, Quenneville indicated that Vermette will center the second line, meaning we might see Teravainen on the third line, Shaw on the fourth, and either Nordstrom or Smith benched. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the Hawks bench Teravainen, even though I think that would be the wrong thing to do.

The defense pairings today were skewed because Keith did not practice. Timonen was paired with Seabrook, however I don’t think that will be the case tomorrow night. If I had to bet on the d-pairings, I’d say they’ll likely be Keith-Seabrook, Timonen-Hjalmarsson, Rozsival-Rundblad.

Kimmo Timonen was also taking reps with the Hawks’ number one powerplay unit today. That unit consisted of Shaw, Toews, and Hossa, with Seabrook and Timonen at the points. I am really looking forward to seeing just how big of a factor he might be on the team’s powerplay moving forward.

Both Timonen and Vermette will be in the Hawks’ lineup tomorrow night against Carolina. Since Vermette did not practice with the team today, it remains a bit of a question mark at this point in terms of how he will be used on the special teams. One would assume he’ll center the second powerplay unit, as well as take faceoffs on the penalty kill, but we won’t really know for sure until he plays.

Also, Timonen will be wearing number 44, while Vermette will wear 80. That makes it four players now wearing a number in the 80’s for the Hawks, in case you were wondering.

Patrick Sharp

15-_DSC2491-toresizeAccording to the local beat writers for the Blackhawks, Brent Seabrook addressed the media on his own today to put the Patrick Sharp and “fight” rumors to rest. He was never asked by the media to address the situations, but felt it was his job as one of the team leaders. To summarize, Seabrook made it clear that the locker room is “tight” and that there are no issues going on in there whatsoever. Jonathan Toews later backed up those statements.

Then Patrick Sharp addressed the reporters and said that the rumors surrounding him are “laughable,” yet have taken a big toll on him. He denied all the rumors and even went so far as to say he is looking into taking legal action against those who reported the rumors on the internet yesterday. Sharp said that these rumors have taken a toll on him and his family, and have even begun to affect his play on the ice. If you want to read more of what Sharp said today, I suggest scrolling through the Twitter timelines of Mark Lazerus, Chris Kuc, and/or Brian Hedger.

The fact that the Blackhawks took it upon themselves to bring these rumors up with the media today tells me that there probably isn’t anything bad going on in that locker room right now. Maybe, and quite possibly, something did happen last year as was first reported by the guys at The Committed Indian. Who knows what that may have been… As of right now though, it would appear all is good in the Hawks’ locker room despite what some morons on Facebook and Twitter are saying.

If in fact all of this crap surrounding Patrick Sharp is false, then I can’t help but feel terrible for him and his family. He has been absolutely degraded through social media over the last week. I don’t blame him for wanting to pursue legal action against those responsible for the rumors if everything really is false.

Hopefully all of this off-ice stuff gets put to rest once and for all very soon and we can begin to focus solely on the Blackhawks’ as a hockey team. There is a lot of reason to be optimistic even despite the Patrick Kane injury.

Blackhawks acquire Timonen, but may not be done

15-_DSC2491-toresizeFriday night the Blackhawks traded for 39 year old Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen in exchange for a couple of draft picks, including this year’s 2nd round pick. The Hawks badly needed to upgrade their blue line before the trade deadline came and went, and it appears that they have done so. It all depends on Timonen’s health, however.

Kimmo Timonen, a 5-time NHL All Star and 4-time Olympian (Finland), has yet to play in a game this season. Last summer, blood clots were discovered in his right leg and both lungs, which kept him off the ice for quite some time. Since being cleared to resume hockey activities, Timonen had been practicing with the Flyers and was apparently ready to start playing in games again as of Friday. He was supposed to be back in the Flyers’ lineup tonight as a matter of fact, and is likely to be in the Hawks’ lineup on Monday.

In a phone conference after learning that he had been traded to the Hawks, Timonen said that his one goal in returning to play hockey this season is to win the Stanley Cup. That’s it. He also made it clear that it may take him a few games to really get back into “game shape” and back to the level of playing that he is used to. That should come as no surprise.

While we were all anticipating Stan Bowman to acquire a defenseman before the trade deadline on Monday, Kimmo Timonen’s name was not often mentioned as a possible target of the Hawks. Now that the deal is done, let’s take a look at what the Hawks got:

  • I’m guessing most people’s first reaction to the trade was “He’s 39!?” Or something along those lines. The answer is yes, but don’t be discouraged by that. People close to him have commented that “he’s in the best shape of his life.”
  • Timonen was once one of the NHL’s elite defenseman with the Predators and Flyers. He is, as mentioned before, a 5-time All Star and 4-time Olympian. He had, and still has, incredible skating ability and great offensive and defensive awareness.
  • His game is more of an offensive style, which fits perfectly with the way that the Blackhawks play. They can easily use him on the second d-pairing if they want (or third when Oduya comes back), and the powerplay. He is another good left-handed shot from the point.
  • Despite being 39, age has not really caught up with Timonen the way it does with most aging players. He isn’t what he once was, but he’s not that far off either. He can still out-skate a lot of guys in the NHL.
  • He is a great presence in any locker room and is yet another leader we can add to the roster.
  • Timonen carries a 1-year, $2 million dollar contract with him and has already stated he is going to retire after this season.

To sum it all up, even though he has yet to play this season, Timonen was a great acquisition for this specific team. Obviously the ultimate decision on this move can’t be made until we see how he performs, but all signs look good at this point.

By getting Timonen, the Hawks now have at least four reliable defensemen on the roster. Maybe even five if Oduya can get back to the way he was playing the last two years. Adding Timonen now also allows Quenneville to reunite Seabrook and Keith on the team’s top d-pairing. That pair is often regarded as one of the best in hockey.

With Trevor van Riemsdyk getting set to return to the Hawks sometime very soon, the defense doesn’t look all that bad suddenly (it’s worth noting that the Hawks placed Tim Erixon on waivers today and sent Kyle Cumiskey back down to Rockford). If the Blackhawks can enter the playoffs with a trio of d-pairings that looks something like Keith-Seabrook, Hjalmarsson-Timonen, Oduya-TVR, I’d be quite happy. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be that way barring another injury.

In other news, it sounds as though Bowman isn’t done trading yet. He told reporters that he would still like to add another forward via trade by Monday. The team still has roughly 4-5 million dollars in cap space, and it appears they are intent on taking advantage of that.

Antoine Vermette and Curtis Glencross have both been heavily linked to the Hawks in trade rumors over the past few days. Vermette, a center, would be the better option of the two. He is a two-way player, is great at the faceoff dot, and would be a great add to a Blackhawks team that could use another center. I’m not so sure that the Blackhawks’ centers (aside from Toews) could truly compete with the centers of the Kings, Ducks, and even Blues as the roster stands right now. With Brad Richards’ decline in performance over the past couple months, it would be great to add a younger and bigger centerman to the Hawks’ second line. This would allow them to demote Richards to the third line and move Shaw his natural wing position, which happens to be where he is most valuable as well.

As for Glencross, he’s got a lot of talent and skill, but he’s a left winger, and the Hawks really don’t need another wing. Obviously the more scoring potential on the roster the better, but when it comes down to Vermette and Glencross, Vermette would be the better fit. Especially if/when Kane comes back in the playoffs.

There are also A LOT of Patrick Sharp rumors out there right now. And by rumors, I mean hockey rumors, and non-hockey rumors… Supposedly the Hawks have had trade discussions with Detroit, Montreal, and Washington regarding Sharp. That was reported by a number of NHL reporters and writers. At the same time, however, Sharp’s agent is claiming that the Hawks told him Sharp will not be dealt by the trade deadline. With Kane now out, I think it would be smart to hang onto Sharp unless they’re getting a top 6 forward in return.

As for the non-hockey rumors surrounding Patrick Sharp, they’ve actually been there since last year, but only now is the average fan finding out about them. If I can say one thing, it’s this: Be cautious with what you believe. There are a lot of rumors out there right now, leading me to think that something did in fact happen, but I’m also being real careful with what I choose to see as facts. Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, but just how big of a fire? Until that information is leaked and confirmed, take the rumors with a grain of salt. Don’t believe everything you read. If the situation inside the locker room is really as bad as some are making it sound, I think we see Sharp get traded by the deadline. Keep in mind though that this supposed “stuff” was already there before the season even started. It didn’t just happen in the last week.

That’s all for now. The next 48 hours should be fun.

Something needs to change for the Blackhawks

Patrick+Sharp+Colorado+Avalanche+v+Chicago+gEDAOBprw4qlToday’s loss to the Bruins at home and on national television was one of the more embarassing losses the Blackhawks have suffered in recent years. The penalty kill was bad, the powerplay was bad (the PP goal came 5 seconds into the man advantage, so I’m discounting that one), the goaltending was bad, and pretty much everything else was bad. Nothing good can be taken from this loss.

In somewhat of an odd way, maybe the only good thing that came out of this beat down by the Bruins is the fact that this loss and the way the team has played recently cannot be ignored by the Hawks’ management. There was already a ton of talk prior to today about the Blackhawks needing to trade for a defenseman, and possibly another forward as well. After today’s game, the talk is even louder, and rightfully so.

There is a glaring hole in the Hawks’ defensive corps. Michal Rozsival’s lack of defensive ability was yet again showcased today by the Bruins. It’s been a reoccuring theme throughout the year for him. The Blackhawks cannot enter the playoffs having to rely on him to give them quality minutes out of their third d-pairing, because he won’t be capable of doing so.

David Rundblad, while arguably slighty better, isn’t much different than Rozsival in terms of his defensive game. I believe we can throw out Cumiskey, as I don’t see him sticking on the roster once TVR returns.

The Blackhawks need to add another defenseman to the team, and a good one. They also need some sort of “shake up” to the lineup, because right now they are not producing on offense the way that they should be.

Now might be the time to pull the trigger on a Patrick Sharp trade. Sharp is in the midst of a bad season and isn’t contributing to the team in anyway right now. He really hasn’t done much all year. Due to his contract (see my last post for more on that) and his declining role on the team, moving him for a good defenseman might be the way to go. A “shake up” of that magnitude might be what this team needs. If they could acquire a good blue liner for Shaw instead, I’d do that. But you’re going to get more in return for Patrick Sharp most days.

Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune has reported the past couple days that the Blackhawks are interested in Flames forward Curtis Glencross and Hurricanes defenseman Andrej Sekera, who I talked about in my last write up. Both players are in the final years of their contacts, both are making less than $3 million, and both are very good at what they do. If I were Stan Bowman, I’d go for Sekera over Glencross and address the team’s defensive issues with a bang.

Whether it ends up being Sekera, Glencross, Jeff Petry, or some other name, the Blackhawks need to make a change. What they have right now is not working anymore, and probably won’t get them past the first round of the playoffs. I can’t believe I’m actually writing those words, but it’s becoming increasingly true. If they get a good d-man via a trade and Trevor van Riemsdyk returns to the lineup and plays the way he did early in the season, all of a sudden the Hawks’ defense is a lot better and much more prepared for the playoffs.

The trade deadline is 8 days away. A move needs to be made, and it’s all up to Stan Bowman to make it happen.

Blackhawks’ trade targets and pieces

15-_DSC2491-toresizeThe NHL trade deadline is fast approaching (March 2nd). Multiple teams around the league will be looking to somehow strengthen their rosters heading into the final month and a half of the regular season, and the Blackhawks may be no different. I say “may be” because I’m not one hundred percent sure that they are aggressively looking to make a move. “Kicking the tires” on a few players is different than actually trying to acquire somebody.

As I’ve said on here before, the Hawks, if they do make a move, would probably like to add another depth defensemen to the roster. I’m not so sure that they feel comfortable enough with the group of d-men currently on the team. I know I don’t feel too confident about this defensive corps, but that’s just me.

The two biggest names in terms of defensemen that are reportedly on the block are Edmonton’s Jeff Petry and Carolina’s Andrej Sekera.

15-_DSC2491-toresizeJeff Petry (6’3″, 198 lbs) has been buried in Edmonton since making his NHL debut in 2010, and therefore most people don’t know who he is. While the Oilers have consistently been an awful defensive team in recent years, Petry is arguably their best defenseman. This year, he has 4 goals to go with 11 assists, but that’s not really why you’d trade for this guy. He is an above average defender, he’s got a 6’3″ frame, and he is a right handed shot. This would be quite a nice fit for the Blackhawks, who are struggling to get any quality ice time from a guy like Michal Rozsival or whoever the sixth d-man happens to be. Petry won’t come at a very cheap price, but he should be cheaper than Cody Franson who went to Nashville.

139990-330-0Andrej Sekera is more of an offensive defenseman. He finished the 2013-2014 season with 11 goals and 33 assists, and currently has 2 goals and 17 assists this year on a bad Carolina team. At 28 years old, he is a nice puck-moving defenseman and gives you a good left handed shot from the point. His 6’0″, 200 pound body isn’t the biggest, but he’s no pushover. Like Petry, but for different reasons, Sekera would be a real nice fit for the Hawks. The Blackhawks are a fast team that likes their defensemen to skate the puck up the ice and be involved in the offensive game, and that’s exactly what you get with Sekera.

Adding either one of these two defensemen, or someone comparable, to the Hawks’ lineup would instantly make them a better team. The problem is trying to afford these guys.

Right now the Hawks are about as tight against the league salary cap as you can get. Acquiring anyone would mean they’d have to lose someone’s salary off their current NHL roster. Petry has a $3,075,000 cap hit this season, with his contract expiring this summer. Sekera is making $2,750,000 this year, and his contract also expires this summer. To trade for either player, or even an unmentioned player of equal salary, the Hawks would need to trade a “bigger name” in return.

Who might that be?

Well, Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell, Michal Rozsival, and Andrew Shaw would all qualify (Shaw and Rozsival are making $2 million and $2.2 million respectively). One of those guys would have to be headed the other way to acquire any solid defenseman who is not on an entry level contract.

While I’m sure no one wants to hear it, Patrick Sharp may be the best option in terms of who to trade. We all know what he’s capable of offensively, but he is on the down slope of his career, he’s in the middle of a sub-par individual season (he’s now on the team’s fourth line), and he is a $5.9 million dollar cap hit. Not only would trading him allow the Hawks to fit a solid d-man into their lineup in terms of salary, but it would also open up a lot of cap space for next season when they are going to have to re-sign guys like Saad, Kruger, and maybe Oduya. And, there aren’t many teams with cap space that would say no to acquiring Patrick Sharp.

Bryan Bickell and his $4 million dollar salary would also open up some cap space for the Hawks if they were to trade him, but dealing him would be a much harder sell than Sharp. I don’t see this scenario happening.

Then there’s Andrew Shaw. It’s no secret that he is one of Joel Quenneville’s “favorites,” but trading him would free up $2 million dollars. Shaw is definitely a replaceable kind of player, especially when you have someone like Ryan Hartman now on the team who is virtually Shaw’s clone in terms of playing style, and maybe even better. Hartman’s call-up raised some questions regarding Shaw’s future with the team, and maybe the Hawks are looking to move his salary.

The bottom line here is that the Blackhawks really do need to make a trade for a quality defenseman. It’s just going to have to come at a higher price. Add in the fact that other teams know the cap situation that the Hawks are in, and they have very little leeway in terms of trying to work out a favorable deal.

If it were up to me, I’d be in favor of moving a Sharp, Bickell, or Shaw if it meant getting a Petry or Sekera in return. You might be saying “Why would you trade Sharp!?” Well, this team has a ton of firepower on their first two lines without Sharp, and when you have guys like Teravainen and McNeill down in Rockford, it is definitely possible to fill Sharp’s absence on one of the bottom two lines. The question is whether or not the management would make a trade like this now as opposed to waiting until the summer. Either way, adding a good defenseman to this team is crucial. Could you imagine if Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, or even Oduya got hurt and the Hawks had to fill their spot with Rozsival or Rundblad? That would be a nightmare, which is why they need to make a move.

Hawks beat Penguins in a shootout; NHL trade deadline

15-_DSC2491-toresizeWe’re already 4 games into the Blackhawks’ 8-game homestand, and with today’s shootout win over Pittsburgh they have taken 6 of the possible 8 points so far. It may not feel like they have earned 6 points in the last 4 games, but they have, and every point is a big point at this time of year. So we’ll take it.

Today’s game really wasn’t much of an entertaining one, despite two of the league’s most exciting teams playing in it. Both teams did a really nice job of clogging up the neutral zone, forcing the other to chip-and-chase and then try and set up the offense. You might say that Pittsburgh was more successful at it than the Hawks, but they still couldn’t generate a ton of real good chances. They had a few, and Corey Crawford answered all but one of them with a save. He seems to have really found his stride again, but more on that in a bit.

Niklas Hjalmarsson was the Blackhawks’ lone goal scorer on the afternoon. A faceoff scrum in which Saad out-muscled his counterpart to get the puck back to Hjalmarsson before he bombed it at the net is what led to the goal. For Pittsburgh, it was Nick Spaling that knocked home a rebound given up by Crawford after a bad angle shot from Beau Bennett.

Each team traded powerplays, but no one could score with the man advantage. In overtime, the Blackhawks were the better team, but again, no goals were scored.

Then came the shootout. Now, I’ve always been a big critic of the “talent show” and have wanted the NHL to develop a new format for ending games. Whether it’s 3-on-3 hockey, a 10-minute overtime, etc., I don’t like shootouts. However, today’s shootout was one of the best I’ve seen. The first 4 shooters all scored, with Toews and Kane making Fleury look like a clown. Then Kris Letang went for Pittsburgh, and his bid was stopped by Crawford. It was Patrick Sharp who then had his name called to shoot for the Hawks, and he beat Fleury with a glove-side wrist shot. Game over.

Here’s a few things I took away from today’s contest:

  • The Blackhawks are still trying to find their way back to playing the way they were earlier in the season when they went on their annual Circus Trip out west. Today’s game was a better 60 (or 65) minutes than we saw against both Arizona and Vancouver, but it still wasn’t a pretty win to say the least.
  • Kyle Cumiskey logged 10:25 of ice time today, while Keith had over 28 minutes of playing time. Oduya, Hjalmarsson, and Seabrook were all over 20 minutes as well (Rozsival had 16:42 for what it’s worth). Duncan Keith, while he’s one guy who can handle loads of ice time, shouldn’t be on the ice that much. Come playoff time, you want to see your top defensemen logging minutes somewhere in the low to mid 20’s. You do that by getting quality minutes from all six d-men and by distributing somewhat equal playing time. Right now the Hawks’ fifth and sixth defensemen are generally not giving the Hawks quality minutes, thus lowering their TOI, and raising the other guys’ minutes. This needs to change for them to be successful in the postseason.
  • Corey Crawford appears to be back to his “per-concert incident” self. He made 37 saves on 38 shots today. A few of those saves were great ones that kept the game close. The Hawks will need him to stay on top of his game. You can’t win anything in the NHL without good goaltending.
  • The third and fourth lines of the Blackhawks have featured all kinds of names the last couple games now. We’ve seen line combos from Sharp, Kruger and Smith/Carcillo, to Versteeg, Kruger and Smith/Carcillo, and Bickell, Kruger and Smith/Carcillo. Shaw and Hartman are the only two from the bottom two lines that have consistently played together the last two games. Quenneville is trying to generate more offense from those lines, and until he sees something he likes, they’ll keep changing. They need to figure it out sometime soon though, or at least by April.
  • Ryan Hartman, who had a really good debut against the Devils, wasn’t too noticeable today. He had a team low 7:35 of ice time. Despite not being noticeable and not playing much, he didn’t do anything to warrant him getting scratched next game either. He seems to be really composed while on the ice and doesn’t try to force much. He just takes what he’s given and seems to have good hockey smarts. I’d like to see him continue to play while Carcillo sits in the press box.
  • Lastly, Brad Richards has kind of disappeared lately. Ever since Versteeg went down with his injury on New Year’s Day, Brad Richards has seen his game decline back to the way it was at the beginning of the season. I know he’s getting old and isn’t what he used to be, but the Hawks will need more from him come playoff time.

Today’s game resulted in 2 points for the Hawks, which ultimately is all that matters right now as they chase down the Blues for second in the division. Right now, they trail St. Louis by 2 points, but the Blues have 2 games in hand. Assuming the Hawks don’t bomb between now and April (same with the Blues), they should finish no worse than third in the Central Division, which means we’re looking at another Chicago-St. Louis first round series. While having home ice didn’t help the Blues last year in that matchup, it’s still something that both sides will want for that series. It’s not going to be easy, but if the Hawks can keep winning, they might just catch the Blues this time around.

NHL Trade Deadline

Cody FransonEarlier this morning, the Predators acquired defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli from the Maple Leafs in exchange for Olli Jokinen, a prospect, and a 2015 first round draft pick. Franson was arguably the best defensemen on the trade block, and now he’ll be joining what was already one of the league’s best d-corps on the Predators. He’s a big, right handed shot who likes to be involved offensively. This was a guy that the Blackhawks could have desperately used, but that’s off the table now. The move definitely makes the Predators a better team, and one that we can officially consider a Cup contender.

Because Franson was the best d-man available, teams will now use this trade as a bargaining point while trading for defensemen heading into the trade deadline. The price Nashville paid for Franson and Santorelli, who is a nice player in his own right, wasn’t all that high. This is a good thing for the rest of the league, as almost all contenders seem to be interested in upgrading their blue line. In terms of the Blackhawks, they would be smart to look for a reliable, puck-moving defenseman who can be paired up on the Hawks third d-pairing, or with Hjalmarsson. A combo of Rozsival and Rundblad/Cumiskey/Erixon won’t cut it, and who knows what TVR will be like when he returns…

Now that Franson is off the board, look for more trades to start taking place between now and March 2nd.