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.

Chicago Blackhawks Hold Blood and Bone Marrow Drive

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By Paul M. Banks

On Wednesday at the United Center, in conjunction with LifeSource, Chicagoland’s Blood Center, the Blackhawks organization held a very successful blood and bone marrow drive. The turnout was good, especially when considering the fact it was held on a workday morning. Lifesource officials said over the phone that 94 new units of blood were donated, with 47 new people entered into the bone marrow registry. A volunteer on-site told me that about half were donating for the first time.

Those who donated also got to take in a Blackhawks practice at the United Center; with training camp running concurrently with the drive. The need for blood and bone marrow is a cause that hits close to home with Blackhawks General Manage Stan Bowman.  bowman
“My wife Sue and I feel that it’s our responsibility to educate others on the ease of joining the National Bone Marrow Registry and donating blood,” the Hawks GM said. Bowman was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February 2007 at the age of 33 before having a reoccurrence of the disease 10 months later. He underwent a stem-cell transplant, which required doctors to take blood from his bone marrow and separate the cells, before replenishing the blood. Since that treatment, Bowman has been cancer free.

“I realize how fragile life is and am fortunate to be in remission, but I certainly don’t take it for granted,” Bowman added. “There are a great deal of people fighting cancer and other illnesses each day that so desperately need a bone marrow transplant or blood transfusion. I would like to encourage our passionate and supportive Blackhawks fans to participate in this great event,” Bowman stated before the drive. He was also on hand for the event, and his wife donated blood. Towards the end of the drive, he appeared on the UC Jumbotron to thank those attended.

This reporter registered to donate, but was rejected due to a prior condition. Bowman and I share more than just a keen interest in hockey. Like Stan, I have fought and conquered Hodgkin’s disease- twice. And in a remarkable instance of coincidence, I received my own stem cell transplant, 6 years to the exact date of Bowman’s. Since 2003 I have been in remission, and living a life healthy enough that I was even able to swim in the Triathlon last month. I wholeheartedly agree with Bowman’s statements and I am very pleased his organization held this event.

For more information, or to give blood and/or bone marrow in the future please visit lifesource.org or click here.

Hawks’ Fan Convention to Feature New GM

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By Paul M. Banks

This weekend, the Blackhawks will host their second annual fan convention. And they’ll do so with a just newly minted General Manager in Stan Bowman. Around this time last year, they hosted the first annual convention in NHL History. Preceding the ’08 convention, I had an exclusive in Bowman’s office when he held the title of Assistant General Manager, Hockey Operations.

In my exclusive interview, Stan Bowman described this weekend’s convention thusly: “In hockey no team has ever done it before and just the reception we’ve gotten from it in that it sold out so quickly and lots of people wanting tickets and people wanting to come see it. It’s going to a good setup for everybody. It’s similar in style and format to the Cubs convention; obviously John McDonough is the one who pioneered the concept back in the early 80s, and it’s taken off to the point where it’s a big event and that’s where the hockey one is going too,” Bowman said.

His father Scotty Bowman is the all-time winningest head coach in NHL history. The Convention will be held at the Hilton Chicago (720 S. Michigan Ave) from Friday, July 17 to Sunday, July 19, with over 10,000 fans expected to attend.

The event, which is the first of its kind in the National Hockey League, will feature over 25 players and coaches from the current roster, more than 25 members of the Blackhawks Alumni along with team broadcasters and team executives. The weekend includes 20 Q&A panels with players and front office staff, several autograph and photo opportunities, an area dedicated to interactive games and over 60 vendors.
Other highlights of the weekend include:

•         The “Blackhawks Bash,” in the International Ballroom on Saturday from 7:00 to 10:00 P.M., which includes music, singing and dancing.

•         The “Locker Room Sale” in the Northeast Hall throughout the weekend, featuring live and silent auctions of Blackhawks memorabilia.

•         Five generations of Blackhawks captains, including Jonathan Toews, Stan Mikita, Denis Savard, Tony Amonte and Pierre Pilote compare eras and share stories in the Grand Ballroom on Saturday at 9:00 A.M.

•         Newly acquired forwards Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky will be introduced to the fans at a panel on Saturday in the Grand Ballroom at 10:15 A.M.

•         2009 NHL All-Stars Brian Campbell, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews discuss their time at the league’s mid-season classic this past January in the International Ballroom on Saturday at 11:30 A.M.

•         Play-By-Play Announcer Pat Foley shares his experiences from 27 years of broadcasting in the Grand Ballroom on Saturday at 12:45 P.M.

•        Newly appointed Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman and his father Scotty discuss the family “business” in the Continental Ballroom on Sunday at 9:00 A.M.

Conspiracy Runs Deep as Blackhawks Fire GM

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By: David Kay

Dale Tallon blamed the United States mail system.  Since the Blackhawks can’t fire the post office, they instead have reportedly given Tallon the boot as general manager.

In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Tallon was quoted as saying he “can take the heat” for the mistake he made by not notifying the Hawks’ restricted free agents that the team would be offering them qualifying offers before the league deadline.  Instead, eight players including key contributors like defenseman Cam Barker and right winger Kris Versteeg did not receive the offers, and the Hawks had to rush in re-signing them before they were possibly ruled unrestricted free agents, meaning other teams would have been able to sign them.

chicago-blackhawksThat boneheaded goof forced Chicago to re-sign Barker and Versteeg to three year, $9.25 million deals, paying them market value rather than saving some cap space and bringing them back for the minimal restricted free agent amount.  The organization suffered major embarrassment due to this error and now Tallon is truly feeling the heat.

Barker and Versteeg’s contracts combined with the recent, massive 12-year, $62.8 million deal the Blackhawks gave Marian Hossa earlier this off-season, now limits what Chicago can do with their young talent like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Duncan Keith when it’s time to re-sign them to long-term deals.  It also reduces any flexibility the Hawks have in making a trade deadline-type acquisition during the season.

While the Blackhawks have struck gold in recent years through the draft, Tallon has been criticized for some costly mistakes involving free agency.  He grossly overpaid for defenseman Brian Campbell last off-season and also signed goalie Cristobal Huet to a four-year, $22.5 million deal when Chicago already had Nikolai Khabibulin on the books for around seven-million dollars last season.  (Although the Huet signing doesn’t look terrible now that Khabi signed with Edmonton earlier this month.)

But let the conspiracy theory begin… Was Tallon really fired because of these blunders or does the reason run deeper?

bowman_1Tallon was a Bill Wirtz guy, hired as GM in 2005 after previously serving as the team’s assistant GM and director of player personnel.  It is being reported that current assistant general manager Stan Bowman, the son of legendary NHL head coach Scotty Bowman, will replace Tallon.  With that being said, it is not crazy to think that this move was made coming off the heels of Tallon’s mess-up as a way to give more control to Bowman, a John McDonough/Rocky Wirtz guy, without admitting that they just wanted to hand the keys over to their guy, Bowman.

Am I just stirring the pot?  Maybe, but don’t forget the Hawks fired head coach Dennis Savard just four games into the 2008-2009 season, the day after the team just picked up a win.  Plus, Bill Wirtz’s body was barely cold when his son decided to put all Hawks’ home games on TV in Chicago, something his father stubbornly refused to do when he was in charge of the team.

I am sure the younger Wirtz and McDonough will site Tallon’s free agency gaffes with the latest restricted free agents fiasco as the straw that broke Tallon’s back.  Can you really believe that when the team Tallon put together just ended a revived season of Chicago hockey in the Western Conference Finals?  With the sticky salary cap situation the Blackhawks will face in the up-coming seasons, maybe you can… or maybe you’re convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone in assassinating JFK.  Conspiracists, spin your web…