The Good,The Bad…Who Stays and Who Goes

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. 

Trade Chatter 

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.

Concerns 

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. 

Al’s Shots

The link below is for anyone wishing to donate for breast cancer research. For additional info please visit the HockeeNight.com website.

http://chicagoland.info-komen.org/site/TR/Events/HIL_ChicagolandAreaAffiliate?pxfid=124650&fr_id=1750&pg=fund

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  1. Trent Kondo says:

    I agree with you on the Hawks lackluster play, and it has been going on since the Detroit game, like you said we are very lucky to get a lot of those wins. They have not been good for  a month.
    As for your statement about the last time a team with the lowest GAA traded for a goalie, well there is a first time for everything. If Vokoun came here that is a major upgrade. Huet is tough to deal because of his contract but if I had the choice of being stuck with either goaltender for approx the same salary it is not even close who I would chose. Vokoun without a doubt.
    Exelby…tough blah, the guy will be a minor leaguer sooner then later. I have seen him play enough to say he is not impressive. IMO. Sure he has made improvements, going from a goon to a bit better then a good.
    I have always liked Moreau but being from Edmonton and seeing almost all of the Oilers games he has simply lost a step..or two.
    As to the Barker deal, nothing but high fives for Mr. Bowman.

  2. Al Cimaglia says:

    Thanks for reading.

    An Exelby type would never play in the playoffs unless an emergency, but could be used in the last  20 games as a number 6 sometimes.

    I would take him but wouldn’t pay up.

    There are others out there and depending on who else comes here toughness might not be an issue.

    The old Hawk regime loved Colby Armstrong…that’s who I would shoot for.

  3. shruew says:

    Hawks sign Cullimore to an NHL contract (he was only AHL to the Hogs before).
    I made the comment in a previous post when (I think it was Dave) listed a bunch of possible defense targets….”Who really all adds all the much more than Cullimore” — and I wasn’t implying Cullimore brings a lot.  But, in a pinch, he can at least be called up now.
    I agree that trading Huet is risky.  Who would they get in return that we be so solid?  A second string goalie on another team?  A starter who it is unknown how they would react being a backup or at best splitting time?

  4. Al Cimaglia says:

    Cullimore was signed to try out contract and now they re-did the paper work.

    If they are looking to win a Cup….. counting on him…someone every other team could have signed… is a real stretch.

  5. shruew says:

    The only reason they would give him an NHL contract is they want to be able to call him up in a pinch.  I never meant to imply he would be an impact player.  But, he is a veteran that can eat minutes in meaningless games.

  6. Al Cimaglia says:

    I would like to debate you on a meaningful topic…not this one.

    Cullimore is not an NHL player until proven otherwise.

    He was on a try out contract and now he will play there the rest of the year in Rockford. They need players there also.

    In a real emergency… sure he can play but they need NHL quality defenders if they fall into the same pinch  the Flames were in.

    To play someone who hasn’t been at NHL speed for quite awhile wouldn’t be good for the playoffs or in any meaningful games.

  7. shruew says:

    I’m not even sure what we’re debating.  I never said he could play meaningful minutes.
    But, the fact that the Hawks took one of their 50 reserve slots to sign him to an NHL contract would seem to indicate they aren’t completely opposed to give him minutes during late March / early April games.
    There’s no restrictions to renewing PTO’s (Chelios) is doing it.  So nothing forced the Hawks to sign him to an NHL contract.

  8. Al Cimaglia says:

    I am teasing…no debate.

    Cullimore was very slow two years ago.

    We don’t know why he was signed although imo opinion he is well past his usefullness as a NHL player. Not even sure he would be the first call-up.

    Also my opinion…they wouldn’t want to use anyone from the IceHogs blueline unless it was an extreme emergency.

    Maybe they made a promise to Cullimore when he agreed to go to Rockford and now he got a bump in salary….who knows… they may want to keep him in the organization past this season.

    We don’t know..what I do know is there is a lot better available than him.

    The organization needs players in the AHL and many times they are there to earn a living rather then someday play in the NHL.

  9. shruew says:

    Hmm, I’ll build on some of your thoughts and add one more theory:
    Buy signing an NHL contract the Hawks will pay his salary instead of the Icehogs.  Perhaps there’s some minor financial behind the scenes things going on.

  10. Al Cimaglia says:

    Anyone who tells you specifics on theHawks salary cap doings and isn’t sitting at Stan Bowman’s desk…well I wouldn’t believe them.

    You might have a good point.

  11. vito says:

    Al you got me sweating here, you make a lot of good points about how the hawks have played lately but do you think the hawks might be taking it easy because to me thats what it looks like as far as Buff a little fire in his rear from scotty and you’ll see the big buff with his stuff in the playoffs. i cant believe how bad bowman wants to trade huet. i dont believe in the stats in the game like the save percentage its the timely saves that mean more in the game and huet has not had that test yet in the playoffs with the hawks. great post BTW Al

  12. Dave Morris says:

    Al, outstanding article. Kudos to you, sir.

    I am finishing up a piece that goes into detail regarding possible trade scenarios involving Hawks goaltending. It will be posted soon here at Hockey Independent, and I invite your thoughts and those of our colleagues and posters.

    You are absolutely right, that to trade the starting goaltender on the team with the best GAA in the league would be a shocker. 

    But there are those who believe Huet is no longer the starter.

    And as we’ve already seen this year, some trades have already happened that shocked more than a few in the hockey world.

  13. Al Cimaglia says:

    Yep… you can never say never especially here.

  14. shruew says:

    “Never.”  (Waits for lightning to strike)

  15. Frank Stallone says:

    There are very few players whom I would imagine are not expendable if it would mean acquiring a top-flight keeper like Vokoun.  Basically, while I would be sad to see just about any ‘Hawk go (aside from Kopecky, who is worthless), I wouldn’t complain about anyone other than Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Seabrook, Kieth, or Hjalmarsson being included in a deal that ended up with the ‘Hawks acquiring Vokoun

  16. Al Cimaglia says:

    The probelems in floida have little to do with Vokoun…if he goes to the Hawks they would have to pay up…..

    • Al Cimaglia says:

      My internet is cutting in and out…I will try to write in English.

      The problems in Florida have little to do with Vokoun… If he goes to the Hawks they would have to pay up…..

  17. Josh says:

    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.”
     
    Not surprised by this at all, there was a reason the wings let him go away.  He was just never very good and quite often scratched during his time in Detroit

  18. Dave Morris says:

    Al, you have mentioned on a number of occasions that Stan Bowman doesn’t have to make cost-cutting moves until June.

    This speaks to the fact that several teams are facing cap issues looking ahead to 2010.

    This could alter the trade landscape significantly.

    Bowman has some excellent bargaining chips, as he has several young players priced in the $3-4 million range  (Versteeg, Byfuglien, Sharp) signed for a few years. They could be very attractive for teams who want to make acquisitions without getting into the free agent bidding wars.

    Even Huet, with his $5.6 million hit, has just two years left. Top 10 netminders fetch from $5-7 million nowadays. Right now, there are 12 goalies with cap hits of  $5 million or more as of 2010; and another three with cap hits of over $4.25 MM.

    Who knows what Nabokov, and Chris Mason,  the two top UFA goalies, will be asking for?

    While there are a significant number of free agents who hit the market, as we have seen in the past, the very good ones command big money and long term contracts.

    There are currently 72 players with cap hits of $5 million or more for 2010-11. (These figures are available from NHLNumbers.com. )

    So a player with a cap hit of $3-4 million is now ‘mid-priced’. 

    We also don’t know yet what the real salary cap will be. The 09-10 cap was supposedly $56.8 million, but with the bonus cushion, it was actually $62 million.

    If it goes up–and indications from the NHL is that league revenues overall have increased–by even a few million dollars, Bowman might have a ceiling of $64 million to work with.

    Should that prove to be the case, how much trimming does he really have to do?

  19. Al Cimaglia says:

    Exactly right on Dave….

    $3-$4 million players with three year contracts can be traded without a lot of trouble these days….Bowman has a few players in that category.

  20. Hawks2010 says:

    I heard a very strange rumour, one that sends Seabrook to Ottawa for Michalek and a draft pick.  And I was told it came right from Bryan Murrarys mouth before the Ottawa/Detroit game.
    Dont want to believe it, it doesnt make sense for the Hawks, but it comes from a few media guys I know.

    PLEASE tell me its wrong.

  21. Fashion Diva says:

    haha I totally adore Justin Beiber!!