Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: The Turc arrives, Antti gone

Hawk Talk: The Turc arrives, Antti gone

Monday, Aug. 2, 2010
5:01 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The last big question hanging over the Blackhawks' roster this off-season has been answered. If that answer was Antti Niemi returning, we'd know who be in the nets for their Cup defense. Stan Bowman said after signing Marty Turco that the 35-year-old, three-time All-Star is that answer now, with Corey Crawford designated for backup duty.

What we do know about Turco is this: He's a wonderful guy, great in the locker room and the community, and he wants to help the city of Chicago and the Hawks defend the Cup, and the jewel to top what's been a solid career. It says a lot that he'd pass up more money and more security playing for a pretty decent team in Philadelphia to accept a one-year deal at a pay cut of about 4 million.

We talked with Darren Pang at Denis Savard's Celebrity Golf Outing for his Foundation Monday about Turco, and he called him among the top three puck-handling goalies in history, alongside Marty Brodeur and Ron Hextall. That'll work well with the Hawks' skating, stick-handling, active defensive corps, and maybe that's just what Turco needs at this stage after playing the last couple of seasons with a Dallas team that ranked 25th defensively in '08-'09, and 23rd last season. How much did the lack of stars on that Stars blueline have to do with Turco's career-high goals-against averages of 2.81 and 2.72? His save percentage was a Niemi-like .913 this past season, which was his best since four stellar pre-lockout years, when his highest goals-against was 2.09.

All signs point to Turco's career already having peaked, but for a guy who took such a hit in the wallet, he sure sounded rejuvenated when talking with the media from a golf vacation at St. Andrews, Scotland. Hawks fans (and most hockey fans, for that matter) are all too familiar with The Goalie Debate - their post-lockout importance now in the world of the Cap, not to mention the inexperience we saw in the Cup Finals, while the Brodeurs, Millers and Bryzgalovs went home quickly. As recently as coming out of the Olympic break, there were still arguments over whether Niemi or Huet should be the guy for the playoffs.

Niemi won that battle, then went out and helped them win a Cup, and that's something doubters of this decision have a tough time grasping in seeing him go. In the end, no matter the impression we got from his shy, reserved demeanor as he'd occasionally struggle with understanding or responding to our questions, Niemi's gone through the unique journey of being a Cup-winning goalie. And there weren't many who expected that from a guy with 42 games of NHL experience heading into the playoffs, which also raised his value.

The debate now becomes not only if TurcoCrawford will be better than Niemi, but how much more upside there is to the Finn. And how much is that worth with the team the Hawks have, considering he'd be a seemingly more expensive unrestricted free agent a year from now? Stan and Scotty Bowman and the rest of the Hawks' decision-makers believe this alternative gives them a better shot right now, providing more flexibility and balance for the rest of the roster. It'll be interesting to watch where Niemi goes, and how much he'll receive. Stan certainly did his due diligence checking out interest for Niemi in case he accepted the arbitration award while seeking to trade him for at least some draft picks. Whomever might've been interested wasn't about to do him any favors if they could get Niemi without sacrificing anything.

We're now a month into free agency, and there are still plenty of solid veterans still out there without a job, having to accept a lower salary than they may have originally envisioned. Maybe the Hawks go out and get one or two of them, especially another veteran for the blueline in front of Turco. Guys like John Madden are still out there, looking (though represented by Bill Zito, who also happens to be Niemi's agent).

The dust appears to have now settled, and there were plenty of pieces to that Cup-winning team scattered about. You look around the West, and see Vancouver made two nice moves to bolster their defense. You see a talented new goalie in St. Louis, Lombardi in Nashville, Ponikarovsky in L.A., San Jose exchanging Nabokov for Niittymaki and still seeking a replacement for Rob Blake. Calgary went back to its recent, unproductive past with its roster. No noteworthy improvements in Phoenix or Colorado, either. A healthy Detroit still seems like the biggest obstacle. There's been a lot of standing pat, or hoping for improvement from within, as the Blackhawks now will with the replacements they'll rely upon. I get the sense after all the heavy lifting Hawks management had to do the past five or six weeks, they look around and see the same. There is no question the quest to repeat will be loads more difficult. The recent history of Cup winners doesn't bode well. But if they remain healthy and hungry enough with their fresh young faces, after all this, they'll be a strong force in the West again.

Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

Lack of energy comes at wrong time for Blackhawks: 'Makes you angry'

Effort has not been a major concern for the Blackhawks this season. For the most part it's been there, and you could see it over the last two months when they started to string together a run.

But Wednesday, it was.

The Blackhawks didn't have a great first period. They had a decent second. Things went off the rails in the third. 

The Blackhawks lost focus, and the compete level wasn't nearly where it needed to be in their first home game in exactly two weeks after giving up five third-period goals, four of which came in a span of 7:08.

"Makes you angry," head coach Jeremy Colliton said following a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers. "Because it's a game that you're looking for like, we needed this game. We didn't do the things right from the start to put ourselves in the best position to win. We just didn't have enough guys ready to play."

The Blackhawks picked up two out of a possible 10 points on their five-game road trip in Western Canada, but that wasn't necessarily indicative of how they played. All five games were there for the taking but they squandered opportunities to do so. A power-play goal here or there could've been the difference, but instead their drought is now up to 0-for-17 in their past six games.

It was a tough road trip for the Blackhawks, not just because they didn't get the desired results, but because it was a demanding travel schedule that started and ended in Winnipeg. But they wouldn't use that as an excuse even though it's a valid one at this time of year.

"To me, the story of the game tonight is, you're going to have games throughout the year where you don't have energy, where it's hard to find," Jonathan Toews said. "You've got to find the motivation to go out there and play your best game. It's just a mental thing that you have to do and that's just the name of the game, playing NHL hockey. That's one of the challenging things that if you want to make the playoffs and you want to be a winning team you're not going to feel at your best every night.

"There's going to be tough travel, tough schedule, a lot of adversity, things that pile up in your way and you've got to find a way to overcome it. So we didn't do that tonight." 

With Wednesday's loss, the Blackhawks fell to 1-5-2 in their past eight games after going 12-5-0 in their previous 17. They remain eight points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference but have four teams to jump, two of which have a game in hand.

Playoffs seem like a pipedream at this point, and you have to wonder how this latest spiral could impact the Blackhawks' plans ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline. It's always a challenging time of year for players, especially on teams on the outside looking in, but that doesn't mean it's time to wave the white flag.

"We have to think really short-term," Colliton said. "And that's tomorrow, how are we going to prepare? Because we didn't prepare well enough. The coaches have to do a better job of preparing the team, the team needs to do a better job of preparing each other, and individually they've got to do a better job of preparing themselves to play."

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Are the Blackhawks buyers or sellers?

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Are the Blackhawks buyers or sellers?

Charlie Roumeliotis, Scott King, and Ben Pope join Leila on the panel.

0:00- The Blackhawks return home after two weeks on the road. Did they return to Chicago as trade deadline sellers? And what are the chances both goalies could be dealt by Monday?

12:00- Pat Boyle joins the panel. He gives his thoughts on the Blackhawks trade deadline plans.

14:30- David Ross says the Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo could hit 1-2 in the Cubs lineup in 2020. Will that solve their leadoff woes?

19:00- The Astros controversy just won't go away. The panel discusses.

21:00- The NFL reportedly wants to expand the playoffs to 14 teams and go to a 17 game regular season. Is this a good idea?

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