The Blackhawks went into the Olympic break riding a four game win streak. They have reached 40 wins quicker than other team in franchise history. That’s the good news.
As far as the winning the last stretch of games; it was an unimpressive four game win streak. The Hawks played some of their worse hockey of the season recently. Without the benefit of successful shootouts they could easily have been 1-5 over the last six games. The Hawks only won one time in regulation during that span.
Coach Joel Quenneville appears to be testing the endurance of Antti Niemi, which makes sense. Once returning from hiatus it will be all business for Q.’s troops as he will have to determine who will be his playoff goal tender. Niemi hasn’t endured the rigors of a full NHL schedule not to mention the playoffs.
Quenneville has his work cut out because he still also needs to settle on set line combinations. Since the return of Dave Bolland, Q. has shuffled things around more than usual. One thing is certain some Hawk players have looked anything but great.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been the best Blackhawks….. Period.
After being reunited with Patrick Sharp, they have become a powerful trio. If I was coaching, those three would always stay together. Stan Bowman could be trying to find a way so that line can stay intact next season as well.
Except for those three, none of the top players have been consistently good.
It is difficult to criticize Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
But since being named to the Canadian Olympic team they have played their worse stretch of games in two years. On some nights they still have been very good but their consistency has fallen off. They have been guilty of many turnovers and missed assignments.
It is the dog days of the season, combined with the compressed schedule due to the Olympics and it is no wonder why some players look fatigued. Whichever franchise benefits by getting their Olympic players back in the best shape will have an edge. Right now it is anyone’s guess as to how the Olympics will affect the star players.
The top clubs find a way to win when they are not at their best and so far the same can be said about the Hawks.
Some believe Stan Bowman fleeced the Minnesota Wild in the Cam Barker trade. That’s a bit extreme. But if Nick Leddy can become a top four defender someday, Bowman was very successful.
Barker was not top four material here with the emergence Of Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Kim Johnsson is better defensively than Barker so the Hawks improved for this season. Depending on what the future holds they may have acquired a very good asset in young Leddy.
The Wild are happy they acquired a young defenseman and won’t have to worry about contract negotiations with Barker for a couple of years.
There was a Blackhawk trade rumor mentioned during Monday’s Afternoon Saloon radio show on AM 1000.
As the story goes Cristobal Huet and Corey Crawford would be included in a trade for a power forward and another goalie. No potential trade partners or particular players were specified, although it was thought serious negotiations were going on.
The rumor was bolstered because Huet did not start on Sunday as Niemi played in back to back games, actually his fourth start in a row. The thinking being the Hawks front office wanted to make sure Huet would not get injured.
Although it is unlikely the Hawks would be able to trade Huet before the deadline it isn’t impossible. But…..
When was the last time a team with the lowest GAA in their conference traded their starting goalie before the trade deadline?
If someone has an answer besides never, please let me know.
Even if Niemi is considered the starter at this point, it would be a gutsy move on the part of Bowman to tamper with his goal tending duo. If the move fails Bowman would be accused of trying to fix what wasn’t broken.
The Florida Panther ownership has finally come clean and informed season ticket holders they may have chosen the wrong players in the past. Ownership sent a letter out basically stating there would be changes. So all eyes are focused on the Panthers for potential trades before the deadline.
If Huet could be traded without taking back a big long term contract in return, Bowman would have to listen. He would be interested in hearing different scenarios. A trade of Huet is more likley in the summer but sometimes those deals are worked on far in advance.
Actually Florida’s goalie Tomas Vokoun and UFA defender Dennis Seidenberg would be great additions to the Hawks. Acquiring a power forward from Florida is more unlikely unless part of a much bigger trade. Their young forwards, like Nathan Horton, have larger contracts and have been inconsistent. Horton’s work ethic always seems to be in question.
The problem in trading Vokoun could involve his no trade clause as he could look for a contract extension before agreeing to a deal. Even without an extension Vokoun’s cap hit of $5.7 million is slightly larger than Huet’s although his contract runs only through next year.
Here’s what I believe to have been the case.
Stan Bowman was in negotiations with the Ducks to acquire James Wisniewski but Bob Murray wouldn’t agree to everything Bowman wanted. The Hawks would have dealt Barker but they needed another player back besides Wisniewski so the deal never happened. I heard the same story from two people who are in the know.
Bowman wound up with a player he could use now and possibly a valuable prospect. Besides Wisniewski, Bowman wanted a third or fouth line young energy type player from the Ducks. They said no and the deal never happened. Maybe the Ducks and Hawks will revisit some trade scenarios in the next couple of weeks.
It is my belief the Hawks will find someone to bolster their bottom six forwards and acquire a physical player with some skill. The reason Chicago defeated Vancouver in last year’s playoffs was because of their fourth line. Bowman will look to strengthen his group of bottom six forwards before the deadline.
Players like Ethan Moreau and Colby Armstrong have experience and the grit the Hawks could use. Both have expiring contracts and should be available.
Chicago still needs another defenseman.
Jordan Hendry has played really well, but if two defensemen were to get injured at the same time the Hawks would be in deep trouble. It could happen, just ask a Calgary Flames fan. There is no one in Rockford that can do the job of Hendry. So the Hawks would be vulnerable.
My thinking is Bowman will acquire a big defenseman that can skate. The Leafs Garnet Exleby has been mentioned here a few times and could provide a physical presence. The Panthers Seidenberg is a strong shot blocker and might be on Bowman’s radar.
Hawks fans want to dwell on the goal keeping as being the Hawks soft spot. Quenneville has done an outstanding job of not giving fans or the media any more reason to fuel a goal tending controversy. He has consistently implied Huet is number one.
That may have been the case, but March will be the time when all bets will be placed on the starter for the playoffs. Even if Huet is named the playoff starter Niemi will be waiting in the wings.
Quenneville won’t hesitate to make a change and by that time Niemi will be tested and as ready as he could be.
What has developed into a problem for the Blackhawks is certain players have fallen off and haven’t performed as well as was hoped. Not only recently but for the majority of the season.
Quenneville has shown a great deal of patience with some but it won’t be the case moving forward.
Kris Versteeg is looking like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. He is creative and skillful. But he still lacks the finish and strength to be a top goal scorer. Versteeg needs to play with skillful mates and he isn’t good enough to be a top six forward here.
Maybe Versteeg can become more responsible defensively and find a spot on the Bolland- Hossa line. There are reasons he hasn’t been used in that role as of yet, but maybe he will get a shot. Otherwise Versteeg like Barker might be better off elsewhere.
Tomas Kopecky hasn’t been an effective as a fourth line player. Quenneville has tried to jump start him by allowing him to play alongside Hossa. He doesn’t seem to fit in there either.
Kopecky hasn’t had more than a handful of quality efforts all season. His unsportsmanlike penalty for snow showering the goalie last week says it all about his time with the Hawks. He has been a real disappointment.
Another player that can’t string together quality efforts is Dustin Byfuglien. The big guy can be a force but has limited ability. He needs to go north and south and be physical for the entire game. He shows only flashes of dominance.
Byfuglien still has trouble setting screens, which should be his strength. I don’t think he will survive the whole summer as a Blackhawk by just having a good performance in the playoff. Byfuglien has to get it going now and prove he can bring a top effort each game for every shift. If he could the Hawks would have a stud, as of now he is expendable.
Top players like Kane and Toews have a handful of shifts in each contest when they aren’t very noticeable.
Byfuglien, Kopecky and Versteeg only have a few shifts each game when they appear to be playing at a high level.
This won’t be the last time I will write this…
By the end of the playoffs it will be obvious in most cases which Blackhawks will be traded over the summer to create salary cap space.
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