BLACKHAWKS SEASON PREVIEW: The Round Table

So everyone went from wondering if there was even going to be a season to scrambling to get their season previews out. With the upcoming drop in salary cap, plus the impending amnesty buyouts, there is a new dynamic, as there will be a lot of conjecture about who will or won't be with their respective teams come this summer or next.

Anyway, we here at HOCKEENIGHT are going to bat some questions around among us. Not that you'd be wise to take any of our thoughts to heart, but at least you'll get a handle on what we're thinking...

1) This is the last season on Joel Quenneville's contract. What happens next? Does he have any Stanley Cup goodwill left?

FORK: The Hawks and Quenneville will get a very good test right off the bat, getting the Ice Show Trip after a couple home games. I'd be surprised if Scotty Bowman hasn't already told Barry Smith to keep his calendar clear - if the Hawks stumble out of the gate, Q gets the hook. In fact, I'm going to imagine Stan Bowman standing near Q every night with one of those cartoonish shepherd's crooks, ready to yank him out. As for what goodwill is left, QStache could miss the playoffs the next 10 years in a row, and there will always be some Stanley Cup goodwill.

SLAK: The way Quenneville is running lines in camp it's obvious there's still a gulf in thinking between him and Stan Bowman. Either he doesn't have the kind of players he wants to fill certain roles and is using what he has or he's just an idiot. I don't think he's an idiot. I do think he's going to get canned if the Hawks get off to a less than savory start. I've never been on the fire Q bandwagon but I may hitch a ride pretty shortly if his methods don't lead to success.

MORPH: I think Q's gone after this year, barring another Cup.  GMs tend to want to bring their own guys in, and any sort of shortfall will be used as an excuse to "shake things up" or "bring in some new blood" or "load up with a new bottle of Malört.

CT:  You know how you can tell that a front office likes a coach?  They extend him rather than make him play out the last year of his deal.  Q's basically got to take this thing wire to wire and make the Conference Finals to avoid being fired.  Stan Bowman's biggest moves this offseason were signing Michal Rozsival and letting Mike Haviland go, which tells me he thinks this team is good enough to win.  Another first round exit isn't going to cut it.

2) Dave Bolland as the number two center. Discuss.

SLAK: It's another way of telling us that Patrick Sharp is never going to play center and I have no idea who won't try: him or the coach. It'd be neat if our esteemed beat writers would ask the question but that's clearly not going to happen. I think it's fine but it doesn't really solve the issue of center depth at all. The Hawks still need another one.

MORPH:
Really, who else do the Hawks have to play center?  Cap'n ToewsPervFace, Marcus Kruger, Jamal Mayers?  I've even seen Andrew Shaw bandied about as a possible center... I love the GRIT factor with him but really, he's not a center.

FORK: The problem with Sharp at center is that he's not a setup guy, he's a shooter. Bolland can at least find guys who are open and in a position to score. His linemates always seem to see their goal totals tick up. Anyway, next year I'll be shocked if anyone other than Philip Danault is in this spot.

CT: Let's be clear: THERE IS NO FUCKING PROBLEM WITH SHARP AT CENTER.  Sharp was the second line center on a much deeper team than this that won a Stanley Cup.  He was hardly a band-aid at that point.  He's the best option on the team but for whatever the reason, be it Q or Sharp himself, the Hawks won't play him there.  I sincerely hope Bolland works out this time, but I feel like this has been tried before and the best argument for Bolland as an offensive center remains that he scored a bunch of points one season as an overage junior.  Look for this spot to be a revolving door, with Stan Bowman trying to shore it up by signing somebody bad (Scott Gomez!) off the street at some point.

3) How comfortable are you with the Blackhawks' current goaltending situation? If you don't like what you see, do you see any realistic fixes out there? Will the Canucks ever get hard-up enough to ship Luongo here?
Would it matter if they did?

SLAK: I'm uneasy with it at best. I would not be shocked if Corey Crawford proved serviceable this season since goalie performance is so unstable from year to year. That said with the cap where it is there's no real room for flexibility unless a team took Crawford and someone like Hjammer in a deal. It won't be for Luongo, as much as I'd love to get him. He's world class, period.

MORPH: I hear Cristobal Huet is available.

FORK: The goalie market will probably be wide open this summer, and late 2011 Crawford needs to reappear. We know that once he gets into a groove he can get the job done. If he can get into that groove in this compressed season, he'll be fun to watch. I don't see too much goalie movement this year, including Strombone. In fact, having two starting goalies will probably come in very handy during the regular season.

CT: Look at it this way, my first reaction when the schedule was released was that I was glad the Hawks would spend a good deal of the first few weeks on the road because it would give Crawford a chance to establish himself away from the meatballs.  So yeah, I'm so confident in the Hawks starting goalie that I feel he needs to be protected from his own fans.  It's very simple, Crawford's been good when he doesn't lose his net.  He needs to be good.  As for Luongo, well if Vancouver is willing to trade him in Conference, that'd be great, because it'll mean that things have gone seriously sideways for our friends in the Pacific Northwest.

4) In a shortened season, how important is it for Jonathan Toews to not have his customary slow start?

FORK: It would be great if he comes roaring out, since he's currently on a line with Dan Carcillo and Marian Hossa - two other guys who didn't play in game competition during the lockout. He'll do all the other things we've come to expect, winning faceoffs and playing exceptional defense, but he'll need to be on more scoresheets than he's not on.

SLAK: Are we saying he's hockey's Aramis Ramirez? I don't know - it'd be nice if he scored or contributed to a lot of goals consistently. So I'd say it's important that one of the best players scores a lot early and often.

MORPH: I think it's very important.  In a shortened season you have less time to make up for a crappy start, right?  Plus, as Fork points out, his linemates could be millstones for the Captain to overcome.

CT: Looking at Toews career splits, the thing that stands out about his slow starts is that it's a matter of shooting percentage.  He generates roughly the same amount of shots each month, but October is by far his lowest shooting percentage (8.5% - next lowest is 13.9% in February).  So Toews is either incredibly unlucky in October, or it takes him a month to find his accuracy each year.  Let's hope it's the former and he somehow turns that luck around this season.

5) Assuming one is Rotislav Olesz, who will be the Blackhawks' other amnesty buyout?

SLAK: I see people pointing to Oduya or Monty. If you ask me it's Montador. He's nowhere near healthy and I wonder if he'll ever get over his concussion issue. How pissed must he be that Q sent him back out as a forward and he was summarily elbowed in the dome? Poor (not monetarily speaking) bastard.

MORPH: Dark horse candidate, if not this year, then maybe the next: Marian Hossa.  The man's got a huge, long contract, and the new CBA has some interesting math around early retirement penalties.

FORK: Stan Bowman has been very effective at walking the tightrope between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. All bets are off for buyouts, since I think you might see some retirements or guys put on LTIR. As for Hossa, again we're at letter & spirit. Don't be surprised if Stan and Hossa's agent work out some quid pro quo where he takes the buyout and then gets a new deal at a lower Cap hit. His average annual salary after this season is under $4 million, so the Hawks can realistically buy him out, pay him $1.5 million or so per for 7 years (the remainder of his contract), and they have Marian Hossa and almost $4 million of Cap space.

CT: I think if Stan can swing it, he's going to stash both Olesz and Montador on LTIR this season and hold the buyouts for next year.  Then it'll depend on what Montador and Marian Hossa's brain statuses are.  Dark horse candidate if he slumps this year, Duncan Keith.

6) ______________ has the worst fans in the NHL.

SLAK: There are so many metrics here. Hygiene? Blues. Attendance? Coyotes. Literacy? Blues. Attractiveness? Blues. Alright fine it's the Blues. Fuck them.

MORPH: Slak makes a pretty strong case for the Blues there. Seeing Canuck-sweater-clad fans rioting in Vancouver makes me wonder, though...

FORK: If you could convert crazy into revenue, people would be lining up to buy the Coyotes.

CT:  I'm going with the Blues.  But let me tell you, Blackhawks fans booing Brian Campbell made this choice a lot tougher than it should have been.

7) Who do you expect to really step it up? Who to you expect the biggest fall-off from?

SLAK: I think stepping it up sort of requires coming off of a down year. Patrick Kane didn't have the numbers people expected of him last year so I'm going to say he's going to produce points at a better rate than he did last year. He should be in better shape than most players. I just hope his linemates can keep up early on. As for a falling off - you'd have to say Viktor Stalberg who has to prove he can do it again. I think he can but he seems most likely to fall off.

MORPH:
I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Bryan Bickell will step it up and remind us of his rookie season again. As for a falloff, I think the Bumslayer is a good candidate.

FORK: I'd say you can see Nick Leddy step it up, but after a 37 point season from a 20 year old defenseman, "up" is pretty relative. He'll continue being a young version of Phil Housley - passable on offense, and less-than-good on defense. I also expect that when he retires, his Hockey Reference Page will have at least 5 different jersey numbers and colors. But for now, he might be able to see his goal totals improve, if he shows less reluctance toward shooting the puck. Stalberg and Bickell are auditioningfor their UFA tour. Andrew Shaw will be a huge disappointment from anyone who expects his 23 points in 37 games last year to translate into something approaching 30 points this year. He's going to have a huge target on his back all season, and he can't count on that many pucks bouncing off his legs and ass into nets again.

CT: If Q is really committed to Dave Bolland playing on the second line and not just jerking around, then I expect Bolland's numbers to improve.  At least they better.  As for fall off, well, Marian Hossa led this team in points last year, and if his brain still isn't quite right I wouldn't expect to see a repeat of that.


8) Cam Barker got a contract from Vancouver. So did Jim Vandermeer. Discuss.

SLAK: They also have Andrew Ebbett. With Kesler out they will struggle at times but they're still a really good team. And those two mentioned above won't play too often unless the injury bug hits. Still, it's hilarious.

MORPH:
[laughter]

FORK: [high-fives everyone in sight]

CT:  WE SHOULDA NEVER TRADED DAT BARKER KID!

9) How long will Dan Carcillo actually skate in the top 6?

FORK: Every so often a guy comes along that fans love for no apparent reason. That man for this so and often is Dan Carcillo. This fuckstick has never scored more than 24 points in a season (57 games in 2007-08 with the Coyotes). He has no business skating top 6 minutes anywhere in the NHL, not even in Columbus. That being said, the more burn Q gives him, the more likely it is that he does something stupid enough to get suspended and/or injured and you can actually use somebody like Viktor Stalberg in that role. There you go. Carcillo is bad enough at hockey to make me pine for Stalberg.

SLAK: Hopefully, and I think today is Friday, he's already been demoted. If not and he's still on track to start the first game on the first line I'll say he'll make it through 25 minutes of clock before Quenneville shuffles them up in his Random Line Generator. 

CT:  Assuming he makes it to the opener in this spot, probably the 2nd period of the 2nd game.  Because that's how Q rolls.

10) Where do you see the Blackhawks' season ending up?

SLAK: Realistically they'll be battling for the division title but I don't think we're looking at a #1 seed here. If they can win the division, great. It'll be very close. If not, I think they'll end up in that 4/5 spot.

MORPH:
It's hard to argue with Slak.  Plenty of talent, but not a #1.

FORK: If they don't win the division, they get the 4 seed. Of course, this changes if they have as many concussions as power play goals. Wait, I used that joke already, didn't I? Oh well, nobody accuses me of being original anyway.

CT:  I think the Hawks win the division and end up with the 2nd or 3rd seed.  Chicago stood pat in the offseason, but both Detroit and Nashville lost talent, and I can't believe that St. Louis' goaltenders are going to collectively give up 1.78 goals per game again this year.  



 

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  • 1/18/2013 10:32 AM Brian wrote:
    The new CBA says you can't sign or trade for a player who you bought out, so buying out Hossa, then re-signing him isn't happening.
    Reply to this

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