Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Half-empty or half-full?

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Hawk Talk: Half-empty or half-full?

Thursday, June 3, 2010
9:21 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

PHILADELPHIA Riddle me this: Are the Chicago Blackhawks not the most criticized winner of the first two of three Stanley Cup Finals games in recent memory?

First, horror of horrors, the Blackhawks won the Game 1 slugfest over the Philadelphia Flyers because their goalie was just a bit better and puck possession a smidge stronger. Then in Game 2, the Philly hung in with Chicago, which apparently earns a tie point or somethingnot sure, it doesnt seem to show up in the series records. And with a loss in Game 3Chicagos first in eight playoff gamesits as if somehow a series of breakdowns and bounces earned the Flyers two or three victories instead of just one.

Yes, its all the rage to point out that the Flyers are back in it ad nauseam. Well, sure, in that theyre not down 3-0, the Flyers are back in it.

But its an opportune time to again mention picking the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup Finals in five games. Game 3 was the contest that the Hawks would most likely lose, and on the hush-hush in private correspondence your faithful hockey servant anticipated a Blackhawks blowout in either Game 3 or 4so you have a read on what I think is coming.

However, some folks prefer to see their cups half-empty, and giving them something to wring their hands over is arguably a public service. So, in the interest of fair play, as well as keeping Philadelphias pipe dream alive, here are three key weaknesses weve seen in the Blackhawks.

Cool Hand Qs Shufflin Crew
Its about time for Dustin Byfuglien to shuffle off to another line, yes? Its not so much hes played poorly or been baited by Flyers jokesterdefenseman Chris Prongeralthough those arguments could be made. But it is definitely time to stop the bullheadedness of keeping the first line that crushed the San Jose Sharks together for nostalgias sake. The Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane-Byfuglien line rallied the Blackhawks into the Finals, and it will be remembered forever fondly for that. But Coach Joel Quenneville, who has been notoriously flip (and in the playoffs, super savvy) about pulling the trigger on player substitutions and remade forward lines, has been strangely silent in terms of such moves so far. Hes overdue some changes come Game 4.

Get Soupy Out of the Doghouse
No one will argue that defenseman Brian Campbell had a strong Game 1, and it was understandable that Soupy saw very limited minutes during the Chicago leg of the Finals. But Campbell is much too valuable to Chicagos puck-possession play to continue to function as the fifth d-man on the depth chart. Brent Sopel has terrific value as a shot-blocker, but too much time for the Iron Giant is an indication the Quenneville is playing too defensively and conservatively. A contingent effect of Soupys reduced minutes is that far too often Sopel and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been paired, neither of whom can do much in terms of advancing the puck and tightening the screws on Philly with puck possession. Such a pairing allows the Flyers, already aggressive and wilding with the dressing the Carcillos of the world, to be that much more aggressivewithout consequence.

Matchmaking Nightmares
Of course the Finals are the consummate chess match, but thats no reason for Quenneville to get all Kasparov on Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who is pretty well known as confident bordering on brash. It wouldnt take too much to exploit Laviolettes confidence, but Cool Hand Q appears to need to not just beat the Flyers, but run a victory lap around them when it comes to line matching.

Nowhere in the series did it hurt the Blackhawks more than in overtime of Game 3, when Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky were both dashing off the ice when the opportunistic switching post-faceoff, turned fatal. In the defensive confusion, Dave Bolland was double-teaming Danny Briere, leaving Duncan Keith frozen and surrounded by three Flyers. The goal that tied the game, by Ville Leinocompletely nullifying Patrick Kanes stunner of a breakaway that gave the Blackhawks their first lead, for 20 secondsalso came as the result of a quick line yanking from Q.

While some Blackhawks admitted a bit of confusion over the frequency (and in some cases, sloppiness) of the line changes after Game 3, Quenneville was all too willing to issue a mea culpa. The bad news for Flyers fans is that the steely mentor is sure to be much more surgical with his bench moves come Friday.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

The Blackhawks had cap space to use this summer but elected to shore up their depth rather than make a splash when free agency opened up on July 1. Perhaps a large reason for that was because Marian Hossa's $5.275 million cap hit over the next three years complicated what they could do exactly in the short term without jeopardizing the long term.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted Tuesday that they had had discussions about moving Hossa's contract for a year now. But it finally reached a point where they simply needed to get it off their hands, even if it meant giving up Vinnie Hinostroza as a sweetener.

"We tried to make that deal work in every other way possible but they obviously said he had to be in it," Bowman said of including Hinostroza.

That's how important it was to free up even more cap space. By trading Hossa's contract in a nine-piece trade with the Arizona Coyotes, it created more options for the Blackhawks and financial flexibility going forward.

"It was a difficult trade from a sentimental perspective, because we'd love to not have to do that," Bowman said. "But on the practical matter, it was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here. It necessitated us trying to make the move that we did make. You don't know when those opportunities are going to come to try and make that type of a move. ... When this presented itself, we talked it through and got to the point where we thought it was something we had to take advantage of."

The problem for the short term is, it's mid-July and the big-name free agents are off the market. There's not much the Blackhawks can do to improve their roster externally unless they make a trade, which would require dipping into the pipeline.

And it's unfair to put a grade on the Hossa trade as a whole without seeing how they utilize that extra cap space. Could that be before the 2018-19 season starts?

"It's an option if we can find the right player or the right situation," Bowman said. "We certainly have more options now than we did before. I wouldn't say we have to do something. Having cap space is an asset in and of itself, so things will come along maybe in the summer or maybe in the beginning part of the year where teams have a couple players that make their team unexpectedly and that makes some other players more expendable. In the past we probably haven't really been a good match for those types of situations because we didn't have the cap room at that time, so now we're going to be in the mix for those types of things.

"Whether we use it right away or whether we use it during the season, I think the nice thing is we have the flexibility now going in to the coming years where we're going to need cap room, all that and more, to sign the young players."

It doesn't sound like there's much urgency to pull something off between now and when training camp rolls around in September. At least for now.

That doesn't mean there won't be once the market picks back up again. 

"Each year teams have surprises, good and bad, in camp," Bowman said. "Our team’s the same way. You have ideas on how your lines are going to look or how your players are going to be ready. Sometimes guys surprise you in a good way, sometimes it’s not what you think. There’ll be some adjustments around the league, but probably not a lot of activity.

"If you look back the last couple of seasons, late July and August are quieter as far as transactions. But there are some arbitration cases coming up around the league; those may get settled ahead of time. But if they do go to arbitration, if the number's not the way the team likes it, they may look to do something. There’s the possibility of moves, but probably closer to training camp is more when changes may happen."

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

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AP

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

The second wave of Blackhawks defensemen is on the way. That's exactly where all the attention was when prospect camp opened up Monday at MB Ice Arena.

Nicolas Beaudin. Adam Boqvist. Henri Jokiharju. Ian Mitchell. Call it the Big Four. Where are they all at in their development? When will they be ready to make an NHL impact? Who's the most pro ready? 

Lots of questions. Those will slowly start to get answered and it begins now.

While there may not necessarily be an open competition among the group right away, there's certainly a desire to make a strong first impression in front of the upper brass that included Stan Bowman, John McDonough and Joel Quenneville watching on Day 1.

"Every NHL team has a lot of good defensemen prospects, so I mean obviously when you want to go out there you want to showcase yourself as best as you can," Mitchell said. "Obviously you want to be the best defenseman here so that's my goal going into this, I want to prove to everyone that I'm a good defenseman, I deserve to play at the next level. Obviously there's lots of good players here, but you're trying to all succeed."

Said Beaudin: "There's a lot of competition. There's a lot of good, young defensemen. I think you just need to be different when you play when you show what you can do."

Said Boqvist: "I'm trying to be better every day. Of course I will play in the NHL one day and win Stanley Cups, so that's my mindset."

The theme? Focus on your own game, take what you learn out of this week and apply those tools in your game when advancing your development next season. The rest will take care of itself.

Mitchell will go back to Denver for his sophomore campaign to continue his development. Beaudin is expected to return to the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Boqvist signed with the OHL's London Knights, where he will look to get accustomed to the North American style of play.

For Jokiharju, the goal is different. This is his second development camp. He signed an entry-level contract in June. Making the big club is a real goal and a legitimate possibility for a Blackhawks team looking for young, impact defensemen immediately.

"I think if Henri has a really good summer of training, comes into camp, I certainly thinks he gets a good look," Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley told NBC Sports Chicago last month.

Jokiharju showed poise and confidence with and without the puck during drills, like someone who knows this is only the first step towards that ultimate goal.

"Yeah," Jokiharju responded when asked if the expectation is to make it to the NHL this season. "You want to set the bar high, you don't want to set the bar too low. I want to dream big and that's the dream."

That's the dream for everyone. When that happens, it's up to them. This week is a chance to set an early tone.