Once an Afterthought, Ray Emery Shining As Blackhawks Keep Winning

Coming into the 2011-12 season, the Chicago Blackhawks seemed like they finally had a guy they could count on in net. They inked Corey Crawford to a three-year extension over the off-season, and the only question was whether Ray Emery or Alexander Salak would back up the talented youngster. As has happened in previous years with Cristobal Huet, Nikolai Khabibulin, Antti Niemi, and Marty Turco, however, the Hawks’ crease was not as solidified as previously thought.

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Chicago Blackhawks Season Preview Defense and Goalies

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By Paul M. Banks

When the Chicago Blackhawks take to the ice this morning (which is evening where they currently are- Finland) they will do so with two guys recently promoted into key rules. One of the guys with new responsibilities is one the ice- Goalie Cristobal Huet. The other is in the front office- GM Stan Bowman.

We’ll begin with the man who has the most famous name in hockey, Stan Bowman. The man with a finance background and a superlative hockey pedigree came to power shortly after the contract offer mailing snafu. And regardless of how well, or how poorly, he performs in his new role as GM, he has to fight off the skeptics first. He’ll face even more pressure than a regular NHL GM would, because of three reasons: 1.) The man he replaced, Dale Tallon was extremely popular with fans 2.) He took over during an off-season that was tumultuous and inherits a team that has raised the expectations of an entire city desperately thirsting for championship glory 3.) He’s young, 36, and if he makes any glaring mistakes early, all the “youth is wasted on the young” type clichés will soon start surfacing. huet

Also throw in the fact that his father is Scotty Bowman, Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations for the team, and the man with more Stanley Cup coaching victories and all-time coaching wins, so Stan will certainly have very high expectations to live up to.

Hey Goaltender

The second guy in a newer and more responsible role is the Frenchman between the pipes, Cristobal Huet. Can he carry the load during the season and be a lights-out goalie come playoff time? It takes a special kind of personality to play goaltender, because so much of it is in the mind. And Huet’s performances are often very much tied to his personal psychology. Despite the huge contract he signed, he’s been known to have his confidence shaken, but hopefully not too stirred when things don’t go his way. His confidence seems to be at it’s best when he doesn’t have anyone looking over his shoulder, so it’s a good thing for him that last year’s co-starter Nikolai Khabibulin is now in Edmonton. Huet played his best in Washington when the job was all his, before arriving in Chicago. And he was at his best of the 2008-09 season when the Bulin Wall was out being repaired.

“Huet looks solid, we’re comfortable with his game and his ability to win games on his own, and consistency is a good measuring stick for any goalie, and we’re confident that he can do that for us this year,” Head Coach Joel Quenneville said.

One of the backup goalies, most likely Anti Niemmi will be jettisoned just up 1-90 to Rockford when the team returns from across the pond, meaning Corey Crawford, a guy the organ-i-zation has been high on for a long time will be the backup.

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The Blackhawks have some really good defensemen, they’re just overshadowed by the team’s well known forwards. And of course, in the video game that everyone’s been playing this off-season, they’re not rated as high as some of the top forwards. But at least in the top two pairings, you’ll find some great blue-liners. Michigan State alum Duncan Keith is the team’s MVP in my opinion. Look up Chicago’s record last year without him, as well as his team-leading plus/minus and you’ll see what I mean. Brent Seabrook is a big hitter, who’s coming close to fulfilling the high expectations that were thrust upon him. And of course Brian “Soupy” Campbell, had another All-Star season last year. Forget about his huge gaffe in game two if the Western Conference Finals, he has great speed and is good in transition. And Cam Barker is probably better than you think he is…but depth is lacking overall here and the talent level drops off a bit after him. I could foresee Bowman drafting out of need at this position for many years to come.

Chicago’s opening day roster will consist of

Defensemen: Cam Barker, Brian Campbell, Jordan Hendry, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Aaron Johnson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brent Sopel

Goalies: Corey Crawford, Cristobal Huet, Antti Niemi

In addition, the Blackhawks have assigned forwards Bryan Bickell, Evan Brophey, Jake Dowell, Rob Klinkhammer and Jack Skille to the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs.

Click here for the preview/list of forwards.

Great Hawks Players You haven’t heard of

By Paul M. Banks

Now that being a Chicago Blackhawks fan is as trendy now as it was in the 60s during the franchise’s glory days, the team’s marquee players: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and (to a lesser extent) Brian Campbell are all essentially local celebrities. But this team has some other All-Star level talent that you’ve never heard of. They’re currently fourth in the Western Conference despite having no one among the top 40 in the league in scoring- a testament to their depth. Beyond “Kaner,” “Taser,” and “Soupy,” (are you picking up the unofficial hockey player nickname generating formula yet?) these are the names you should know.

Patrick Sharp- “Sharpie,” the team’s leader in goals scored may be the most underrated player on the squad.

Duncan Keith- not to be confused with 90s one-hit wonder Duncan Sheik, he’s the Hawks other blue-liner with an All-Star appearance on his resume.

Kris Versteeg- Hawks bench boss Joel Quenneville described the NHL’s rookie scoring leader thusly: “He’s a competitive guy that doesn’t get distracted by any of the stuff that goes on during a game: got good quickness, good imagination without the puck.”

Martin Havlat- started slow, but came on in January, when the team badly needed an offensive lift and is now second on the team (behind Kane) in scoring.

Goalie tandem of Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin- Although they tried to shop Khabibulin earlier in the season, the fact that he’s playing solid hockey here now is a warm, fuzzy feeling. When the playoffs come, having both the Bulin Wall and Huet, another goalie the Hawks acquired via a big money free-agent contract, sharing the net will be advantageous over other teams that lack fresh goaltending.

In addition to hosting the NHL’s marquee regular season game (Winter Classic), the Hawks have the premier position in three key off-the-ice criteria. The Indian head was voted the most recognized logo in NHL and the Hawks currently lead the league in attendance and merchandise sales. This shows how much they’ve built the brand. If they go far in the ’09 Stanley Cup playoffs, and later make an annual habit of doing so, the names I mentioned above will be instantly recognizable in this city.

See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times and The Sports Bank

Inaugural Blackhawks Exchange

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