Bandwagon Seats Available….. And Answers

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Collectively the Blackhawks are a very good hockey team. Individually they are not a group of battle tested veteran, all star caliber players…..yet. Now that they are 0-3 for the preseason there are some who may consider giving up their seats on the Hawks  bandwagon. Three preseason losses in a row doesn’t  mean very much, but if you are considering grabbing an available seat be cautious if your expectations are unrealistic.

This group with better than avaerage goal  keeping and some good luck can win the Stanley Cup. Without either it could be  a difficult task to even make the playoffs,  and the same can be said for almost every NHL team. Although the Hawks overcame a few serious injuries last year they were lucky to be almost completely healthy at the start of  the playoffs. They were able to beat the Flames and the Canucks because they were the deeper healthier team. They swarmed both oppononets with all four lines and  the goal tending was  decent, as everyone matters on this club.

Losing Marian Hossa for the first twenty five games or so will matter. Losing a fourth liner like Adam Burish will also matter. Burish could be at the bottom of the depth chart but he was a key factor in the playoffs. Actually the Hawks fourth line was very important all of last season. In my view they were the best set of grinders  in the NHL.  Burish is a strong penalty killer, his speed will be missed and can’t be replaced by any of the younger boys competing for a roster spot.

The path to the Stanley  Cup is not like getting on the escalator in the lower level at Macy’s and staying on until the top floor.  Before jumping off the bandwagaon, even if the Hawks start off this season slowly be careful. Until proven otherwise I won’t sell their chances of another very good year short. Last year this group responded better when they were under pressure, and they may have to show that strength in this campaign.  Don’t be too high or too low, as this is still somewhat a work in progress.

The Hawks should be loaded up for a victory on Friday night. If they don’t win again stay in line for your bandwagon seats, some could be opening up shortly.

 

Here are my answers to the questions presented a  few days ago.

   1. Would you rather have Marty Havlat under contract at $5 million per season for five years, or Marian Hossa at $5 million per, for each of the next 12 years?

Not meant to be a trick question but this isn’t an apple for apple issue. It isn’t even an apple for an orange issue.

I do believe the Hawks could have signed Marty Havlat to a five year contract, in the $4.5 -$5.0 million range. If Havlat stays healthy he could have comparable numbers to Hossa over the next five season. Although Havlat is a couple of years younger he has been injured more often. If we were comparing similar terms I would take Hossa over Havlat, even if Marian’s contract was 30% more per season over the same five year period.

The heart of the issue comes into play because Hossa is two years older and in essence the Hawks are going to pay an additional $35 million over the extender seven year term of his 12 year agreement. One must realize in so many instances the point production for all players, even superstar caliber snipers declines significantly past their early 30’s.  Havlat’s contract is a better value,  although he has not yet proven to be better player.

So to the question as stated, I would take Havlat. Although I would rather have Hossa on a five year $6.5 million contract compared to Havlat at $5 million for the same period. Front loaded contract or not, Hossa in his mid to late 30’s most likely will have significantly less point production  than today.

Lastly, the NHL investigation surrounding the Hossa, Pronger and Luongo contracts is a joke. There is no way to prove wrong doing unless the discussions were taped, or the parties involved actually said they were trying to circumvent the CBA. It is smart business to find a way to handle salary cap consequences in the most effective way, and no rules appear to have been broken. A question for the next CBA negotiations would be if there should be rules in place to restrict long term front loaded contracts, based on age and other considerations.

As I have written in the past, this investigation is more of a smoke screen.  The real focus should be about the continued sorry financial state of many franchises. Seven of the ten least profitable teams before the lockout were the same as in 2008. It is not like the CBA was thrown together over a long weekend, both sides had a season or longer to have difficult issues buttoned up, and they failed.

Don’t mistakenly compare parity with regards to the standings in the same way as financial well being throughout the league. In 2008 seven of the 10 least profitable franchises were the same as in the year preceding the lockout.

I am being nice when I say least profitable, because in the NHL being in the black is not within reach for many teams. In the NHL the bigger issue is how much red ink some franchises continually drown in.  Until more revenue sharing is created or different team locations are realized, little will change. Most of the weakest franchises will stay that way regardless if long term front loaded contracts are not allowed someday.

   2. What player will make the cut….Fraser, Skille, Dowell, Bickell or Beach?

It is put up time for Jack Skille. He does some good things on the ice, but watching him trying to stick check Havlat the other night shows his weaknesses. On Havlat’s first score he went right by Skille near center ice, way too easily. If Skille has a solid 20 game NHL audition he will be far more attractive on the trade front, if that is the end game. Either way it is his time, and if he doesn’t make it out of camp I doubt he will finish the year in the Hawk organization.

Now with the injuries, Skille, Dowell and Fraser may all stick around.

* Forwards Bryan Bickell and Rob Klinkhammer have been recalled from Rockford and could be back into the mix.

   3.  What goalie will start the season as a back-up….Crawford or Niemi?

Strictly a guess based on there being more urgency in finding out if Antti Niemi is the real deal. Corey Crawford is on a two year contract while Niemi is signed only through this season. Because of that Niemi could get the first sink or swim test. As far as trading either one, that is highly unlikely unless an NHL goalie is coming back in return. I did not speak to anyone who thought that the Hawks have another future NHL caliber goalie waiting in the wings besides this pair, and they are  aren’t a lock.

   4. What player will lead the Hawks in scoring?

Last season I was right and really wrong, as I picked Havlat and Dustin Byfuglien. I do think big Buff will be in the top group of scorers this season as well. My pick is Jonathan Toews, who as Joel Quenneville has commented, just keeps getting better. I think Toews will have more power play goals with the addition of Hossa.

  5.Will the Hawks make a trade to acquire a physical defenseman to replace Matt Walker before the season opener?

Walker being going gone is a problematic issue which I have spoken about with former NHL players and coaches. The conclusions reached by them is always the same, Walker’s toughness will be missed and somehow has to be replaced.

BD Gallof wrote a nice piece the other day following the Dion Phaneuf head shot to Kyle Okposo. BD’s comments pointed out the Islanders lack a player who will instill fear into the hearts of opponents. Hockey is about fear and intimidation and Walker was the one who had the veteran moxie to stop opponents from taking unnecessary liberties.

In total the Hawks are a tough bunch but even Coach Q. has made comments Walker’s prescence  will need to be replaced. If not, a player like Brent Seabrook will spend a lot more time in the penalty box, which will not be a good thing. In addition Cam Barker and Brent Sopel as a defensive pair means two slower footed players will be on the back end together….also not too good. I still think the Hawks will make a trade to acquire another defenseman either by the opener or before the first month of the season has ended.

Will the Adam Burish injury  open the door for a career minor league hard nose player like Danny Bois to make the roster and fill in for Walker’s toughness?   Unlikely…..until proven otherwise Bois still appears to be AHL material.

* Bois and  defenseman Richard Petiot have been put on waivers Thursday afternoon…..not a surprise.

    6. Do you think  Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker or Patrick Sharp are being shopped?

If Hossa wasn’t hurt there probably would have been a good chance Patrick Sharp or Kris Versteeg would have been dealt for a crease clearing defenseman. The trick would be to fill a current  need and  tie up less salary cap space in the future.

If this is the load up for the Stanley Cup year, which wouldn’t be my game plan, most likley none of the three can be dealt. It is more likley Skille and picks could be used for trade bait. That said, Barker, Sharp and Versteeg may not be held in the same high esteem as they were in the Dale Tallon administration, at least whispers have indicated as much.

Barker can not be traded unless a different type of defenseman is coming back in return. Which in essence means the Hawks would sacrifice Barker’s passing and power play ability for a big, tough, faster crease clearer, who is signed for less money and for a shorter term than Barker.

     7. What do you feel the Hawks are lacking?

Realistic  expectations for the future.

When the team was awful fans were fed the mantra  the franchises was building for the future. Dale Tallon said many times the Hawks wanted to make the playoffs for not just one season, but year after year. They wanted to become an elite franchise and in many ways they are on their way….But has the franchise over shifted gears? With the Hossa signing and the fact  the Hawks will have to create significant cap space after this season, this appears to be a Cup or bust year. Just maybe the exectations have swung too far.

There were comments last year that  it was a playoff or bust season, and for this season Patrick Kane said it is  Cup or bust. It is a natural progression for him to speak that way, after all the team was eliminated in the Western Conference championship series. So Kane has the right attitude….But does the franchise have the right plan for continued success?

The re-signing of Duncan Keith, Toews and Kane have to be a priority as well. In my view two out of three won’t do. That said at least $7 million dollars of cap space will have to be created for next season, if so it is prudent to believe the 2010-2011 group will not be as talented to begin with as this season’s club. That would indicate  a rush to succeed with not a strong likelihood for continued success.

   8.  Where will the Hawks power play rank at the end of the season?

They will finish ninth as Hossa won’t hit stride until the second half of the season.

    9.  Where will the Hawks penalty killing unit rank at the end of the season?

The penalty killing unit could have been top five, but the Burish loss will hurt. They will finish ninth, which is a solid  improvement over last year. 

   10. What will be the total amount of points the Hawks will accumulate for this season?

Last year the Hawks were one of the least injured teams, I have the feeling that won’t be the case this season.  I am afraid the Burish and Hossa injuries are a foreshadowing of the future. The Blackhawks will finish with fewer points than last season…. 99 points… although on paper the team is better. The key will be hitting the playoffs healthy and in full stride.

*Hawks press release  came out after blog was originally posted.

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  1. jt19 says:

    Great insight Al, as usual. I still think that goaltending will be our ultimate undoing (and I hope I’m wrong!!!).

    Dowell should get his chance on the fourth line.

    I like what I keep hearing about Kopetsky (sp?)

  2. Dave Morris says:

    Al, another excellent article from you, sir.

    Wow…we are almost exactly in agreement as regards PP, PK and PTS for the Hawks in 09/10. You had 9th, 9th and 99; I had 10th, 10th and 100.

    The Blackhawks’  unexpected success last year is both a positive, and a challenge. When these guys played with discipline and focus, they could beat anybody. Problem is, discipline and focus for a team with so many young–and some of them, exceptionally talented–players, is a constant challenge.

    Some fans seem to think hockey players just go and play as if they were machines…they forget that the emotional aspect of being a twentysomething, making lots of money in a violent sport, affects the mindset and performance of these kids.

    The Blackhawks, as Dale Tallon put it last year, were/are ‘ahead of the curve’ in terms of the plan for their development and progress.

    Pittsburgh is an apt comparison. Like the Penguins, they’ve risen very quickly from doormats to daunting opponents. Like the Penguins, they have the talent, once again this year, to be a Stanley Cup contender.

    There are a lot of parallels between the two teams, just as there are significant differences.

    The test for the Hawks this year is simply running with the pack…they don’t have to be runaway favorites for anything. Let’s not forget the current Stanley Cup Champions weren’t even assured of a playoff spot last March.  

    With an interminable season ahead, the objective should be to build the team strength step by step, and not get wrapped up in getting too high, or too low when the inevitable speedbumps appear. 

    I believe Pat Kane can raise his game, just as Jonathan Toews seems be able to. As you say, Byfuglien–and I would add Brouwer to this list–is a player who can score 20 goals, and timely ones.

    Pat Sharp and Kris Versteeg have been steals for Chicago…does anyone remember who they gave up to get them?

    There are many, many players on this team who can change a game…and those players constitute a competitive advantage for the Blackhawks.

    I disagree with you on Hossa Vs Havlat, because Marian Hossa is a player whose character (besides his skill) will show over the long haul why he is a perfect fit in Chicago. Havlat, for all his flash, is not a durable investment. 

    There are, in sum, many more positives than negatives about the Blackhawks.

    But some fans have conditioned themselves to expect the worst.

    If they do, they’re missing out on enjoying an exciting team worth cheering for.

  3. shruew says:

    I agree, except in the areas we disagree; in which case I am correct.

  4. Does this nigga have on a betsey johnson watch ?