Thursday, Jan. 27, 2010
Posted: 12:30 PM
By Chris Boden
In 28 years of covering teams here in Chicago (yeah, go ahead...do the math...), I can't begin to tell you how many hundreds of times I've heard the player and coach refrain after a loss:
"We didn't play 60 minutes."
"We didn't play 48 minutes."
That first one's become an unfortunate Blackhawks motto into the All-Star break in the 24 times they've come up short over the first 50 games. That should be enough of a sample size for personnel and personality adjustments to have been made on a roster that lost about half of its players from the Stanley Cup championship team.
The frustrating part for the coaching staff, fans, and even some of the players themselves (most notably an increasingly-irritated Jonathan Toews), is they've shown in stretches within many of the games they've lost that if they just maintained the same approach and intensity throughout, they'd have come away with two points. Not to mention the "pace" that my colleague Tracey Myers examined in her Hawk Talk Wednesday.
Finding ways to dictate that pace, now more than ever, must come from within. As our old friend Norm Van Lier might say as we come up on the one-year anniversary of his passing, "Give me 60 minutes of INTENSI-TAAAY!" in lieu of the 48 he'd ask every game of his Bulls.
If you watch any of our pregame shows on Comcast SportNet, in features that also air on the United Center scoreboard before home games, virtually every time, one of the three keys to victory given by either Assistant Coach - Mike Haviland or Mike Kitchen - involves playing 60 minutes.
Now without going all SaferWallaceReasoner on you, "60 Minutes" involves discipline, recognition, and effort in seizing and maintaining a game's momentum. That ebbs and flows within every NHL game, but every guy putting those elements together over these final 32 games will go a long way in determining whether this team doesn't supplant the 2007 Carolina Hurricanes as the latest unable to defend its Cup the following post-season.
Here's a scary note: The '06 'Canes finished with a 52-22-8 record, the exact record the Hawks had when they went on to win the Cup last season. They weren't bad in '07 under (drumroll, please..) Peter Laviolette, but a 40-34-8 record (88 points) wasn't enough to make the playoffs. Right now, the Blackhawks are projected to reach 92 points, and you can debate whether that'll be enough in this Western Conference where contenders are beating themselves up nightly.
That returning Carolina team lost just four key players to free agency in the off-season: Matt Cullen, Doug Weight, Mark Recchi, and Aaron Ward. These Blackhawks have lost so much more. So there's also a temptation to give this team and coaching staff credit, because they've hung right in there, and remain within striking distance of a fourth seed. Meanwhile the rest of the field they're fighting hasn't had to make those personnel adjustments, other than key injuries - which the Blackhawks have also had to battle.
Roughly a month away from the trade deadline, it's tough to see any big splashes made within this cash-strapped team. Only Pittsburgh and Vancouver have less cap space right now, according to www.capgeek.com. The Hawks have under 1 million at this point, which is why Nick Leddy's doing the Rockford Shuttle. Calgary, San Jose, and Minnesota own the 5th-, 7th-, and 10th-smallest Cap room. But the likes of Anaheim and Los Angeles have 9-to-11 million in projected cap space by the deadline.
Dallas, Phoenix, Nashville, St. Louis and Colorado have the most flexibility. Unless Stan Bowman would want to move one of his bigger-salaried tickets (and find a taker with a match), he'd be limited to moving a combination of smaller pieces to get a more significant "rental" they wouldn't be tied to next season. Your higher-priced unrestricted free agents this summer, on teams who'd be willing to deal with the Hawks, would require significant personnel sacrifices in return (Toronto defensman Tomas Kaberle earns 4.2 million and if Florida's Dale Tallon would want to do business, defenseman Bryan McCabe and his 5.7 million tag and winger Cory Stillman's 3-12 million price, seem steep).
The list of UFAs salaried below 1.7 million on Eastern Conference teams slipping out of contention right now include Radek Dvorak and Marty Reasoner of Florida, Steve Montador, Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer of Buffalo, and Andy Greene of New Jersey.
The Hawks would need to counter with a younger player or two in return off the current roster just to make those moves and not disrupt the long-term core. But the longer any teams remain on the cusp of the Top 8, the less likely they are to hold a sale. So look East if there's any movement involving the Blackhawks.
So it looks more and more as if what we see is what we'll get. That might not be a bad thing if all the guys making the big numbers start putting up better numbers more consistently. And everyone gives "60" over the next 32. They'll enter the second half completely healthy, barring some tragedy over the weekend in Raleigh (the home of those 'Canes).
After Tuesday's loss to Minnesota, the Hawks aren't back home for three weeks, when the Wild will be there to greet them again. How much better or worse will they be for that rematch, with six roadies in-between?
With the exception of a game against an improving Edmonton team they've already lost to twice, every other game will be against a team fighting with them for the Top 8, a team they're chasing, or one with something to prove against them (Columbus, Vancouver, Calgary, Phoenix and Dallas).
They enter the break in 7th place, by virtue of having one more win than 8th-place San Jose. They're four points out of 4th, two points from 12th, and five points from 14th.
Get your rest, boys.
Be sure to follow Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers' coverage of the four Blackhawks and coaches Joel Quenneville and Mike Haviland at All-Star Weekend in Raleigh, beginning Friday, here on CSNChicago.com
Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.