Bolland’s Bad Back Is A Real Concern

What Blackhawks fans should be concerned with are not the last two losses. What should matter is how much better this team could get this season. Taking into account the injuries their record is good, although the schedule has been slanted with home games and the tougher competition is coming. But to those who think this club is underachieving… wipe the fairy dust from your eyes. 

Patrick Kane is the most talented offensive player. Duncan Keith could be the best Blackhawk player period. But the life blood of the team is Jonathan Toews, and it is no wonder the power play has gone south since he has been out. 

Toews gives the team another option down low because he can draw the defense and distribute the puck. He is also not afraid to get dirty in front of the net and can pot a rebound or two now and then. Lastly, the captain can win faceoffs against the opposition’s best. All in all Toews can’t be replaced. 

On Friday night in Colorado the Hawks played well enough for most of the time to win the game, as was the case in Phoenix. The Hawks did not put away the Av’s although they were badly outplaying them.  When the losing team stays within two goals they can come back and mount a challenge and that is what Colorado did. 

The Chicago power play is looking desperate. 

The second Colorado goal was a trifecta of mistakes. First a player can’t be allowed to skate 170 feet and then go wide and still be able to get a shot on goal. Dustin Byfuglien may have been tired but he can’t allow a shot to be taken even if he has to take a penalty. Antti Niemi was frozen back in his net and really needed to make that stop, he was tentative. Cam Barker was covering the slot area which is correct, except there wasn’t another Avalanche player pictured in the Hawk zone even after the puck went into the net.  Barker could have helped a tired Byfuglien seal off David Jones. 

Brian Campbell chasing a puck below the faceoff circle in the Av’s zone in a deadlocked contest while on a man advantage is a tell tale sign of some urgency. What isn’t very smart is when every other Hawk player is below the faceoff circles at the same time and the remaining defenseman pinches in and doesn’t control the puck. Duncan Keith makes mistakes too, and that is why the Av’s took the lead. 

The Hawks scorers are not looking like snipers of late as they continue to miss prime chances. In reality the Hawk sharp shooters are not in the elite category of NHL goal scorers to begin with. Their number one goal scorer, Marian Hossa was watching the Colorado contest in street clothes.  I keep dwelling on it but the Hawks have not replaced their leading scorer of lat year, Marty Havlat, until Hossa returns. 

It appeared the officiating on Friday night was circa 1990’s. 

As written about a few weeks ago, interference penalties appear to have gone the way of dial up internet. That’s fine with me as long as every referee is on the same page. 

On Friday night it went beyond anything seen this season and it was very similar to before the lockout. The refs swallowed their whistles for the entire third period. Once nothing was whistled in regulation time it was not surprising no infractions were called in OT. 

The problem with putting the whistles away is it takes a lot of guts to take them back out if something flagrant happens late in the game or in OT. Patrick Sharp was tackled on an obvious goal scoring opportunity with about 2:00 left in OT and there was no call. That makes a mockery of the game. 

Maybe the league is going to revamp their on ice decision making once again. The NHL rule book seldom changes but the interpretation of infraction is constantly switching gears ….like no other major sport. 

One last word about the OT loss, Niemi made some very good saves and was also solid in the shootout. The problem is still with his lack of rebound control and he won’t be a positive difference until he fixes that flaw. The Colorado first score was an example. By the way, after the first four shooters have gone the shootout is even more of a crap shoot…or a mockery of the game. Last time mockery will be used. It still makes little sense a game decided by the contrived shootout method is worth as many points as a regulation win. 

This week and beyond…. 

The Hawks come home to play four games in seven days.  That’s better than playing every other day for a week straight on the road, but it’s still a tough schedule. The main problem is there is no time to get good practices in as the off days have to be used primarily for rest and recovery. So if they get on a roll great and if not…. Well if the Hawks don’t capture at least six of the next eight points they will add more pressure for  the upcoming circus road trip. 

Then again it could be better to get out of town for an extended period as expectations for this team are out of whack. I can’t wait to hear the reaction if the first powerplay fails tonight. Fans have the right to voice their disapproval but remember this is a young team and there is no need to constantly add more pressure. 

This week the Hawks will play the Kings and Av’s who always give them problems, followed by the desperate Maple Leafs and the best team in the Western Conference the Sharks. It won’t be easy especially considering the injuries. Although Jonathan Toews and Ben Eager will be back sometime this week, if not by Monday, Dave Bolland could be out for awhile. 

From what I heard a few weeks ago Bolland’s back problem is sort of a mystery. There didn’t appear to be anything wrong as to require immediate surgery but in the same regard he was in a lot of pain. There was no mention of a possible back problem last year as the Hawks inked Bolland to a generous contract this summer. 

Bolland has only played a few games thus far when he hasn’t looked bothered. It is very hard to tell on TV but in person it is really noticeable. He doesn’t stop, start and turn as quickly and overall is slower. 

A back injury for a hockey player can be very serious and they tend to linger.  

Unless there is an automatic fix indicated, surgery is the last resort. Your local orthopedic surgeon may not make a huge point of the fact most back operations leave the patient no better off than before the surgery. Also a good percentage of those having back surgery require another operation within five to seven years. 

If Bolland’s back condition could have been treated with rest and therapy it would seem the Hawks would have already implemented that process. Maybe Bolland will be able to come back without surgery and return to normal. If not…there are no promises made on back operations. Former Blackhawk winger Eric Daze comes to mind and hopefully Bolland doesn’t face the same fate. Not many hockey players return to their prior form after back surgery. 

Rumors, overstatements and poppycock… 

The three most desperate teams in the NHL are the Leafs, Thrashers and Hurricanes. The Blackhawks are a natural target when trying to create a trade story these days and the internet helps fuel the rumor process. 

Brian Burke has been very defensive since the summer in shielding his best player, Tomas Kaberle from trade rumors. There are a couple of reasons why in my opinion. 

First, Kaberle has a no trade clause and Burke needs to keep him happy and in the loop. Secondly and most important, Kaberle gives Burke his only real chance of replacing some of the draft picks he coughed up for Phil Kessel. He may trade his star before next season but it would have to be a perfect deal for Burke. 

I have not checked this for accuracy but it I was told the majority of Kessel’s goals have come against non- playoff teams. According to the story I heard that was a big reason why the Bruins didn’t re-sign him as well as his reluctance to go into high traffic areas. Now we will see how Kessel fares on a team which does not look playoff bound. 

The Thrashers are in a corner, they have one elite player and often a half empty arena.  If Ilya Kovalchuk chooses to not re-sign there they will have to start a rebuilding project. They have had injuries and need to choose a course.  If Kovalchuk loses interest in their chances for success he could opt to leave.  They are caught.  Atlanta has to either shuffle the deck to try to make the playoffs this season and draw some fans back, or start looking toward the draft and next year possibly without their star player. 

The Hurricanes are in a pickle as they have just re-signed their head coach to a multi year extension. They have had major injury concerns and are also bleeding red ink. Their attendance is not too good and they can’t afford to trade Eric  Staal as fans will lose more interest. 

The best long term plan for the Thrashers and Canes could be to re-build and not think about the playoffs for awhile. The problem which faces them and others is a longer range plan doesn’t equate into more ticket sales in the near future.

The Leafs have all the money in the world to spend and are only limited by the salary cap. Burke seems to have led with his chin in some ways, like Dale Tallon did after the lock out. The huge difference is although Tallon overpaid and picked the wrong free agents he never gave up draft picks.  Burke has pushed the time table up for the Leafs to make the playoffs to this year and so far that looks like a big mistake 

As far as trade gossip goes I’m not hearing anything worth writing about, but if Bolland is going to be out there could be a move made sooner than later. 

If the Kris Versteeg at center experiment works that could solve a lot of problems. I have my doubts. Versteeg has the offensive tools, but faceoffs and defensive coverage could stop him from being an NHL center. Patrick Sharp is much better at wing than center.  Although he plays there if asked, I have heard Sharp would rather stay a winger. Maybe the Hawks would have to make a trade to get a more offensive pivot if Bolland is out for a long time. 

Bryan Little of the Thrashers could fill a need and add some offense. He is signed only through this season and is a $900,000 salary cap hit. 

As far as Kaberle to the Hawks for Campbell or others I doubt it.  That possibility doesn’t work on many levels. An interesting video clip posted the other day on Kukla’s Korner talks how Kaberle is not on the market and the Hawks haven’t expressed an interest. 

The clip also references the topic written about here the other day concerning players backing off on hits.  htttp://www.kuklaskorner.com/index.php/hockey/comments/hotstove_hockey_talk/   

Al’s Shots  

Fortunately Andrew Ladd only suffered a broken nose when kicked the other night. Too close…..Another inch or two and Ladd ‘s face could have been split wide open. 

The Hawks have not been able to sustain the swarming attack they had last year but they have been missing Adam Burish and Ben Eager. 

Eager could be back tonight and combined with Colin Fraser, who has been playing really well, could provide the Hawks with a lot of sustained energy. 

Even with injuries the Hawks have controlled most of the play in their games. This is illustrated by the fact they have allowed the least amount shots against in the NHL. 

The Hawks have allowed 22.7 shots against, 4.5 shots less than the next closest team. 

That is an amazing stat and also indicates an issue with the suspect goal tending.

The Hawks have given up the least amount of goals in the Western Conference but….. 

Neither Cristobal Huet nor Antti Niemi has a save percentage over .900, which isn’t great. 

It is time for one to take the net in three of the next four games and make a statement. 

blackhawkswin@comcast.net

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  1. steve from chicago says:

    I hope you are getting paid by the word.

    The biggest story here in my opinion is the lofty expectations for a franchise that is in the middle of a 40 year rebuilding program.

    Until you came around a couple of season’s ago there was nobody blogging about this team anywhere unaffiliated with the Hawks. Hockey Buzz, Hockey’s Future etc.

    Now everyone sees that Huet is weak up high, Kane floats a bit, Campbell hit the lotto, Keith is underpaid and there is a big bad salary cap that tears apart teams that through years of tanking end up with lots of NHL quality guys on a roster all at the same time.

    Expectations are sky high which is great but this is the Chicago Blackhawks not the Detroit Redwings. They were above .500 for October for what? The second time in 10 years? With as you have accurately pointed out, both of last year’s top performers gone and not replaced.

    I heard Darren Millard rave about how dominant the Hawks D was last week in Phoenix in the lost but I read on the Daily Herald blog about how Sopel, Hendry, Barker and Campbell don’t have any hockey IQ and should be dealt for Kaberle, Volchenkov and add the rumor of the day.

    Huet is the most hated Hawk now. His sin? Signing a deal on the table. Is he playing great? No, he’s never been great. 

    Watch any Pittsburgh lately? Without Malkin and Gonchar that team lokos like they  may not win a game. The Hawks without Toews and Hossa, still above .500.

    It’s possible with continued injuries and shaky goaltending that this team misses the playoffs in the brutal West where last year’s bad teams are tough and last year’s good teams are tougher.

    I’m 45 and I have been watching this team closely from the time I could see and with the exception of that brief time in the early 80′s and a bit in the early 90′s this current edition is far and away the best. Legit Cup contenders if they get a couple of bounces.

    Keep up the fine analysis and I will see you on the other end of this when the team settles back to earth and the Johnny Come Latelys are back with the Bulls and Wolves.
      

  2. Al Cimaglia says:

    Steve,

    Thanks for keeping things in perspective…I will have to work on a by the word deal.