Mixed Reviews on Blackhawks Moves


By Paul M. Banks

It’s the 4th of July, ready for some hockey? It’s time to celebrate America’s Birthday by vivisecting the roster decisions made by one of the premier franchises in Canada’s national game. On July 1st, “Canada Day” or their version of Independence Day the Hawks made the biggest headlines in the NHL as the league officially opened its free agency period. I wanted to see what they did the rest of the week before analyzing their personnel moves- because nothing in life happens in a vacuum.

The Losses:

Leaving the Chicago Blackawks were winger Martin Havlat, who collected a six-year, $30 million deal from the Minnesota Wild. Havlat, who led the Hawks in scoring last season with 29 goals and 48 assists and was one of the most crucial players in the long playoff run, left on (possibly) somewhat bitter terms, as evidenced by his tweets on Wednesday night:
“Excited to be in Minny where I was welcomed and appreciated by management,” Havlat

“The real story about what happened in Chicago [will] come out.”

“There’s something to be said for loyalty and honor.”

Stay tuned. Havlat has one of the best “following to followers ratio” I’ve ever seen: 12 to 7,832. Also among the departed were veteran goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (Edmonton, four years and $15 million), center Sammy Pahlsson (Columbus, 3 years $7.95 million) and defenceman Matt Walker (Tampa Bay, 4 years $6.8 million).

The departing of the Bulin Wall was probably inevitable ever since the Cristobal Huet signing. However, Khabi played his best hockey by far this winter once he had somebody solid competing with him for playing time. ’08-’09 was his best season by far in a Hawks uniform, and despite the many outstanding performances he gave in the postseason this spring, he never really lived up to expectations in Chicago. He wasn’t bad, it’s just that he had the richest goalie contract in NHL history, therefore he had a lot to live up to. khabibulin2
Pahlsson is a decent role player who will be replaced through the farm system or perhaps a free agent signing. Matt Walker, no he’s not the drummer from Filter who later joined the Smashing Pumpkins, is a serviceable but not spectacular blue-liner who may find more minutes in Tampa.

The Additions:

The Hawks signed two-time Stanley Cup Champion and 10-year National Hockey League center John Madden to a one-year contract. No, this isn’t the fat, annoying, loud, still-wondering-why-he-has-a-job-on-television football broadcaster who loves Mexican food and only travels by bus.

Madden, 36, has spent his entire career with the New Jersey Devils, helping the organization reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the last nine seasons.  He has recorded 297 points (140G, 157A) in 712 career regular-season games and 41 points (20G, 21A) in 112 playoff contests which includes capturing the Stanley Cup in 2000 and 2003.

“John is a proven winner and one of the premier defensive forwards in the game who also has the talent to contribute with timely offense as well,” Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon said. “Adding his experience to our team is an important piece to the puzzle.” Madden holds New Jersey’s franchise record with 17 shorthanded goals.

The Barrie, Ontario native captured the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2001, given annually to the National Hockey League’s best defensive forward, and was the runner-up for the award in 2003, 2004, and 2008.  At the University of Michigan, he won a National Championship in 1996

But the big prize was right wing Marian Hossa, even though I find the 12 year contract to be more than a bit extravagant. redwings2

“To add Marian, an elite and world-class player, and Tomas, a Stanley Cup Champion, to our exciting young core reinforces our commitment to try to win the Stanley Cup,” Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon said. Last season, Hossa, 30, led the Red Wings in goals (40) and finished third in points (71) during the regular season before chipping in 15 points (6G, 9A) while appearing in all 23 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Following the regular season, he was named to the 2008-09 NHL Second All-Star Team. The Trencin, Slovakia native is also a four-time NHL All-Star.

Hossa is (somewhat dubiously) known as the guy who played on the Stanley Cup runner-up team the past two seasons. This “feat” is newsworthy when you consider you had the same two teams (Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins) playing each other both years, and a different team one each time.

The Hawks also snatched away from Detroit center Tomas Kopecky (TAW-mahsh, koh-PEHTS-kee) He finished second on the team with 109 hits while posting career highs with six goals, 13 assists and 19 points in 79 regular season games.

I can’t approve of the 12 year deal for Hossa, even though it’s really cool that they signed the top scorer away from their hated rivals.  Like Jerry Seinfeld said “in sports, you’re rooting for clothes.” In the shell game and zero sum game that is the NHL roster under the salary cap I have a feeling that this deal could lead to the departure of someone in the young nucleus Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith down the line. That would be just plain awful. Still signing Hossa is “kind of a big deal.” Losing Havlat is too. As for Khabi, the question of whether or not it was right or not to let him go, can only be answered by one man- Cristobal Huet. And how he performs…well, it’s all in his head.

But I don’t think the Hawks are done dealing yet- And I have a feeling the next signing will be a defenseman. The same position they focused their draft on. So don’t judge the +/- of this offseason just yet.