What another successful season from the Blackhawks Alternate Captain. Forward Patrick Sharp just finished a 71 point season (34G, 37A) including 5 playoff points. He proved to the Windy City that he was deserving of the $4.1 million. Sharp also won the 2011 NHL All Star Game MVP Award for his one goal and one assist effort for the Western All Stars. He still has one more year left on his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2012.
Remember it was just two seasons ago when the Blackhawks front office was timid on re-signing Sharp because they figured his cap hit would be too large if they wished to resign the franchise players. It looks like that was one of the most effective moves the Hawks have made – to lock up a super star role player.
Sure, you can point Sharp’s success to being on the top line along side Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but he proved to be one of the most consistent offensive options for the Blackhawks as the season progressed. Earlier in the season, he saw time on the ice with Dave Bolland on the power play unit and Sharp seems to shine when he skates with a playmaking center.
Many people don’t know that this past off-season when he celebrated winning the Stanley Cup, he also got married. That made quite a memorable summer for Sharp and he didn’t lose any momentum coming back to the 2010-2011 season. Three weeks before the playoffs started, Sharp sustained a left knee injury and it seemed unlikely that Sharp would return to the Blackhawks until the opening round of the playoff (that is if the team even made it that far). However, Sharp’s injury did allow Sweedish prospect Marcus Kruger to make a name for himself centering the third line.
Even though the Hawks eventually lost to Vancouver in overtime of Game 7 after being down 0-3, Hawks fans saw how important certain players are to help making another championship run next season. Kane and Toews can’t do it by themselves, you know? I can argue that Sharp is the headliner of that list with others like Bolland and Michael Frolik.
The question at hand now is whether or not the Hawks are looking to re-sign the left winger to a contract extension before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next year. He wants to stay with Chicago and GM Stan Bowman sounds optimistic about his chances of re-signing him.
“I suspect it will be like it was with those other guys,” Bowman said, referring to the other core players that have been locked up to long-term deals. “You start the negotiations, and hopefully it doesn’t carry on too long. We have a pretty good track record of being able to get those core guys to want to stay here. I’m sure Sharp is in that group as well.”
About one month ago, Blackhawks fans had no idea who this 22-year-old forward was. Now Ben Smith is known as the hero of Game 6 against Vancouver Canucks in the opening round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Smith’s overtime heroics forced a Game 7 in Vancouver and it quickly became the wrist shot heard ’round the NHL world. When a comeback seemed improbable, the unlikely rookie found the rebound trickle to his skates and he put it past Roberto Luongo.
So where did this kid come from? Smith was drafted as a college sophomore in the 6th round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He decided to return to Boston College to finish his collegiate career. His best campaign was in 2008 when he netted 25 goals and added another 25 assists for the Eagles. Over his four seasons, Smith accumulated 57 goals and 122 points and he wore an “A” on his jersey during his final season at Boston College. He proved this year that he can be a leader at a bigger level.
In his first season for AHL Rockford, Smith played in 63 games and recorded 31 points. Though he only played six games for the Blackhawks during the regular season since being recalled on April 6, he managed to find the stat sheet with one goal on the fourth line. The more shocking statistic is that he scored 3 goals in the Vancouver series despite the Blackhawks super stars failing to step up.
Smith is known as a playmaker and he has a knack for finding the back of the net. The one side of his game the Blackhawks need to exploit is his power play experience with the Eagles. I understand he is still very young, but he could be a weapon for the Hawks in the future. One thing that the Hawks like about his playing style is that Smith has a high hockey IQ and has also proven that he can play center for a lower line if he practices face-offs.
If you still have some doubts, Smith scored his first career NHL goal against Detroit’s Jimmy Howard two days after being recalled from the AHL. Smith will need to fight for a roster spot in the 2011-2012 season, but he has shown flashes of offensive dominance.
It’s hard to believe that given the caliber of talent that the Blackhawks unloaded last summer, one of the more missed players from the Stanley Cup-winning team of the 2009-10 season was Brent Sopel.
Sopel was sent to the Atlanta Thrashers last summer, along with Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager, as well as Andrew Ladd, eventually.
Now, Sopel did catch a lot of flack from Hawks fans for his tendency to make mistakes on the defensive end, but his presence was actually missed on the blue line this year. The fact is that Sopel is the type of gritty defenseman that the team lacked last year. While Stan Bowman appears to have made a solid acquisition in his trade for Chris Campoli, the Blackhawks needed a defenseman willing to do the shot blocking and that type of dirty work.
Of course, a return for Brent Sopel would depend on what the rest of the Blackhawks’ unit looks like heading into next season. Obviously, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will return without question. Nick Leddy is also a sure bet to return.
The Hawks do have a pair of possible trade candidates in Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brian Campbell. Hjalmarsson is on the high side of $3 million, and with the numbers he posted last year, he’s certainly not worth the price tag. There will certainly be teams interested in his services this summer.
Campbell’s contract has been a curious one since he signed during the Dale Tallon era. Even on a team with top level talents like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Campbell is, by far, the highest paid player on the team, making a shade over $7 million per.
Of the Blackhawks’ defenseman last year, Campbell posted the best overall numbers, finishing second among d-men in points, behind Seabrook, and a plus-28 on the season. But he’s not a top line defenseman, and given the fact that he’s being paid like one, Bowman might be tempted to try and unload his contract.
Then there’s Campoli. Despite his major gaffe at the end of Game 7 that led to an Alex Burrows goal, which ended Chicago’s season, Campoli was solid for the Hawks after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline. All indications are that he will be back, with a low price tag.
If Campoli is re-signed and Bowman stands pat on the trade market, the Blackhawks have a top six unit heading towards next season. This makes it more likely that they will bring back a guy like Jordan Hendry to provide depth as a seventh guy, than a guy like Sopel, who would surely prefer to be a top six member of a team.
But don’t overlook Sopel’s connections to Chicago. The fanbase certainly misses him, and the team could clearly use a defenseman in the mold of Sopel on that third unit. There’s also the fact that his family , with his wife just recently opening up her own business. There would surely be interest on both sides as far as Sopel returning to the Blackhawks, but it’s a matter of if Bowman and co. feel he would be the right fit, and would be able to see the ice time he wanted in Chicago.
There are some players that you want to like, and that most fans do like, they just don’t fit in with the team. That was the case of Marty Turco‘s one year with the Chicago Blackhawks.
We all know the story of how Turco came to be in the Windy City. After winning the Stanley Cup and heading to arbitration, Antti Niemi proved to be too expensive for the Blackhawks. After the negotiation and arbitration debacle, Niemi ended up in San Jose for a very similar amount of money as the Hawks were offering.
That’s something that ended up being a blessing in disguise for the Blackhawks, but it would take some major issues in net to do so.
Turco was brought in to hold down the fort in between the pipes and help groom Corey Crawford, who the Blackhawks were still hoping was the future of the crease for them. Most of what brought Turco to Chicago, despite higher paying offers from other teams, was his desire to help the team repeat as Cup champs.
The hopes were high for Chicago and Turco heading into the season. Turco brought a much different style to the goal than the Blackhawks had with Niemi, transforming their goaltender spot to a puck-moving guy, who did lack the size that Niemi had the previous year. Blackhawks defenseman were initially excited with the idea of Turco back there, claiming that he could serve almost as a third defenseman on the ice.
Those hopes didn’t translate into much success for Turco and the Blackhawks. The defense failed to adapt to his puck moving ways, and while much of the blame for Turco’s struggles fell on the veteran goaltender, his group of blueliners in front of him hung him out to dry on several occasions.
I”m sure when Turco signed with the club, he didn’t expect to make just 27 starts and 29 appearances for the Hawks. He posted a record of 11-11-3 on the season, with a disappointing .897 save percentage. Much of what his struggles came back to was his lack of size. Standing just 5’11”, Turco wasn’t exactly the rock in net that Niemi was. The defense that was able to jump into the offensive play with confidence that Niemi could hold down the net wasn’t able to use that strategy with the much smaller Turco.
By December, Turco’s starts began to dwindle and by January Corey Crawford had completely seized the starting job. A goaltender more in the mold of Niemi, given his size, Crawford fit the bill for this defense much better than Turco and he found much more success down the stretch for Chicago.
Always the classy veteran, though, Turco handled the benching well. He provided a great presence in the clubhouse and proved to be a solid mentor for Crawford, even if he didn’t see the time he would have liked.
It’s as close to a certainty as the Blackhawks have this summer that Turco will not be back with the club. Whether the Hawks go with the youngster Alexander Salak or seek an outside source like Michael Leighton isn’t clear, but Turco’s one year stint in the Windy City is over, and he will most likely seek a backup position elsewhere, on a club such as Phoenix that needs a reliable backup.
Say what you want about the seasons of Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa was easily the most frustrating member of this core to watch in the 2010-2011 season.
The start to the season gave us a glimpse of what Hossa is capable of, something that has been lost for the better part of his tenure as a Chicago Blackhawk. Hossa carried the Hawks’ offense in the first part of the season, scoring points in Chicago’s first seven games. Four of those were multi-point games, on the way to Hossa scoring seven goals and adding another four assists.
Then the concerns that have surrounded Hossa since the Blackhawks threw big money at him prior to the 2009-10 season reared their ugly head. He went his next four without scoring before a shoulder injury caused him to miss 10 days of the season.
He returned to play 10 games in November, notching just six points and only one goal. At November’s end, Hossa once again found himself on the wrong side of the injury report, but this one wasn’t so much his fault. Resident scapegoat Nick Boynton collided with Hossa during practice, and much to the chagrin of Hawk fans, it was Hossa that went on to miss a month with a lower body injury.
After the injury, Hossa wasn’t exactly the same player for the remainder of the season. He had a nice stretch when the Blackhawks rattled off eight straight wins when February turned into March. He scored points in eight straight, finishing with 12 points over that stretch, which included seven goals.
But Hossa’s overall numbers on the season can still be classified as a disappointment. A guy who many had hopes for 40-goal-type numbers, couldn’t even hit the 30-goal mark. He finished the season with 25 goals in addition to his 32 assists on the season. Serviceable numbers, to be sure, but not for a guy which the Blackhawks invested 12 years in when he signed before the ’09-’10 season.
As everyone knows, though, the true concern with Hossa is in his performance in the playoffs. After successful playoff stints with Pittsburgh and Detroit prior to signing with Chicago, even though he didn’t win a Cup with the two, Hossa has all but disappeared in two seasons with the Blackhawks in the playoffs.
This year was a bit better start than last year’s postseason, though obviously Chicago didn’t go nearly as far as they were able to in their Cup-winning year. Hossa tallied six points in seven games, with two goals, but both of those goals came in the same 5-0 thumping of the Canucks.
Some have indicated the possibility of trading Hossa. And while his contract doesn’t appear to include a no movement clause, a la Kane, it’s unlikely that they’d be able to unload such a hefty contract, with Hossa slated to make over $7 million over the next five years before his salary goes down.
Unless the right deal comes along, Hossa will be a Blackhawk in 2011-2012. A longer summer could do wonders for Hossa, who is still looking to complete his first full season of health as a member of the Blackhawks. However, don’t be surprised to see the Hawks explore trade options next summer if Hossa once again falls below the 30-goal mark in ’11-’12.
It wasn’t quite a tale of two seasons for young defenseman Nick Leddy, but it was close.
Heading into the season, Leddy wasn’t really expected to be anywhere near the Blackhawks’ roster, save maybe a callup as a fill-in here and there. But he surprised in training camp and made his way into the top six to start the season, with the injury that caused Brian Campbell to miss the first month of the season.
Leddy was acquired during the regular season in the 2009-10 campaign. A Minnesota kid, Leddy was traded by the Minnesota Wild to the Blackhawks, along with Kim Johnsson, for defenseman Cam Barker. Since the deal, Barker hasn’t done too much for Minny, and Johnsson hasn’t been heard from since.
But Leddy has turned out to be a steal for the Blackhawks after his first season with the team, in which he appeared in 46 games.
The start to the season wasn’t too kind for the 20-year-old d-man. He appeared in the first six games of the season for the Blackhawks, posting one goal and a minus-1 in those six. He was overmatched for the bulk of that time and constantly beaten.
He wouldn’t be called back up until January, given the struggles and nonsense of Nick Boynton. Leddy was paired with Jordan Hendry early on in that stretch, and the two actually performed pretty well with one another. But neither saw substantial minutes, and rather than getting Duncan Keith-like minutes in Rockford, Leddy was flirting with single digit totals as far as time with the big club.
Leddy did progress well as the season went on, and eventually earned time playing with Keith as the Hawks’ no. 1 pairing, during Joel Quenneville‘s line shuffle that saw Brent Seabrook drop a line. Even playing with Keith, Leddy’s minutes were still inconsistent, and one can’t help but wonder if he would have been better served spending a big chunk of time in Rockford, rather than Chicago.
But after his 46 games with the team, Leddy showed great promise in being a part of this Blackhawks defensive unit, which is among the highest paid in the league. He finished the season with seven points, including four goals, while displaying an impressive shot from the point. Though he gave up a great deal of breakaways and scoring chances in the regular season, he was able to limit those and recover much more quickly as the season progressed.
Heading into next season, Leddy is a sure bet to be among this top six with the Blackhawks, and could end up starting the season on the second defensive line if the Blackhawks deal one of Campbell or Niklas Hjalmarsson. One thing that is certain is that this kid has a bright future with these Blackhawks.
The story of Dave Bolland‘s 2010-11 season is certainly a curious one. After a regular season that can be classified as a major disappointment, and ended early thanks to Pavel Kubina‘s elbow, Bolland proved to be the x-factor in the Blackhawks’ first round series against the Vancouver Canucks.
It’s remarkable that a guy who had s cuh a poor regular season could make such a large impact against the NHL’s Presidents Trophy-winning squad.
Bolland had just 37 points in the regular season, in 61 games, and only scored one goal before December. Despite Joel Quenneville‘s best hopes that he’d play higher, Bolland spent the majority of his time on the third line, and that’s with the Hawks lacking a true second line center behind Jonathan Toews.
Yet despite the disappointment that was Dave Bolland’s regular season, it was all forgotten come playoff time. Down 3-0 to the Canucks in the series, things were looking bleak for the Blackhawks.
But with the return of Bolland, the Canucks’ top line fell silent and Chicago stormed back. They outscored Vancouver 12-2 in Games 4 and 5 combined, with four points coming from Bolland in the Game 4 rout, which the Blackhawks won 7-2.
Though the Blackhawks lost the series in Game 7, the importance of Bolland was made clear. He finished with six points in the four games he played and was outstanding defensively, stifling the Sedin twins and putting the hurt on Dan Hamhuis.
You can make every argument that Dave Bolland is one of the more overpaid players on the team (he makes just a touch over $3 million per), and in a way that’s correct. But there’s no way to overstate the importance of Bolland to this Hawks team, as we saw after he came back against Vancouver.
Beyond Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks really lack a center that can hold down the fort defensively against some of the leagues top lines, which is why Bolland becomes so important. He’s proven capable of stalling any sort of attack from some of the league’s best, like we saw against Vancouver and last year against Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks.
The big question with Bolland is whether or not he can take that next step and work on the Blackhawks’ second line. Last year, the Hawks went with a group behind Toews that included Tomas Kopecky, Michael Frolik, and Patrick Sharp at different times, with even a few appearances from Ryan Johnson.
Kopecky is gone, Sharp is serviceable in the circle, but so much better on a wing next to Toews, and the same goes for Frolik. And if Johnson is brought back, he will be back into his full time role on the fourth line. The fact is, that unless Bolland is able to find some sort of consistency on the stat sheet, he’s likely to stick on that third line.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however. If the Hawks are able to seek out a second line center on the free agent or trade market this offseason, or eventually groom Marcus Kruger into taking that spot, Bolland’s spot on the third line is a perfect home for him and he can still make an impact against the star-caliber lines like we’ve seen him do so much in the past.
For the better part of his tenure with the Blackhawks in 2011, there were mixed reviews about Michael Frolik. Some saw him as a dynamic two-way forward, while others were wondering why Stan Bowman acquired a guy who primarily plays wing, despite the Hawks’ glaring need at center at the time.
By most accounts, both of those statements would be correct. The fact is that Bowman brought in a guy that he hoped would see ample time in the faceoff circle, but spent the bulk of his time on the wing before Dave Bolland went down with his concussion. The “dynamic” piece of the puzzle with Frolik didn’t actually get solved until Chicago’s first round matchup with Vancouver.
Frolik’s offensive production with the Hawks during the regular season was minimal. Save a multi-point game against Calgary, and a few points scattered throughout the rest of the 28 he played with Chicago in the regular season, Frolik seemed like about as much of an offensive threat as the guy the Blackhawks traded to get him, Jack Skille.
Then came that first round matchup with the Canucks. Though the Hawks lost lost the series, Frolik was one of the many positives the Blackhawks were able to pull after falling in Game 7.
Frolik was outstanding at both ends of the ice for Chicago in the series. He made plays at the offensive end, while also impressing on the defensive side of things. He made life very difficult for a strong group of Vancouver forwards. His best overall performance, though, came in Game 6, in which he blocked four shots, tops on the team, and scored a penalty shot goal late to tie the game at three.
For the series, Frolik tallied five points in seven games, three of them coming in the Blackhawks’ Game 4 explosion and another coming on this penalty shot.
Many would call bowman’s acquisition of Frolik a steal. Given that the Blackhawks gave up Skille and the bottom of the Rockford barrel, while netting Frolik and next year’s likely candidate to be Corey Crawford‘s backup between the pipes, Alexander Salak, they would be right.
Frolik’s status with the team isn’t set in stone for 2011-12, though, given his status as a restricted free agent. Considering the versatility and skill Frolik brings, at a relatively low price, it’s hard to see him not back with the Blackhawks next year. There’s also the matter of Bowman’s praise in the year-end press conference, in which he stated that Frolik would be a great player for the Blackhawks for a “number of years”.
Seeing Frolik in anything besides a Blackhawks sweater next season would come as an extreme surprise.
Heading into the offseason, most of the moving that will be happening on the roster will be through free agency and guys making the team from Rockford that have already been in the organization.
There won’t be a dramatic turnover on the roster, but several guys could find their way out of a Blackhawks sweater due to money (Tomas Kopecky) or performance (Viktor Stalberg). There has been little mention of possible trades for this team, but the plain truth is that one of Brian Campbell or Niklas Hjalmarsson could be donning a new uniform next season.
While neither is officially expected to be shopped at this point, both of their salaries played a part in the reason behind the Blackhawks’ struggles with the salary cap this season.
Campbell is the highest paid player on the team, making over seven million dollars a year, and is signed through the 2015-16 season. While the inconsistencies of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook made Campbell Chicago’s top defenseman for much of the year, he’s still certainly not worth that figure.
Soupy finished the season with 27 points and a plus-28 on the stat sheet. Puck-moving defensemen like Campbell are rare, hence the heavy salary that Campbell found himself earning when he received that monster contract with Chicago.
Hjalmarsson’s high cap hit isn’t necessarily his fault. After the San Jose Sharks signed Hjalmarsson, a restricted free agent last summer, to their offer sheet, the Blackhawks decided to match, with Hjammer ending up signing a four-year, $14 million deal to remain with the Blackhawks.
In making over three million dollars per year, Hjalmarsson’s production didn’t come anywhere close to earning that type of money, registering just 10 points on the season, along with a decent plus-13. But he’s also been prone to stretches of inconsistency and mismanagement with the puck.
At this point, it’s pretty clear that one of these guys could be on their way out, though the Blackhawks have yet to actually mention anything. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Hawks being able to achieve their offseason goals of improving this roster to the best of their ability with over $10 million invested in two guys, neither of whom are in the top defensive unit.
The more likely of the two to be dealt is Hjalmarsson. His cap figure is over what half of what Campbell is making, and his play on the ice isn’t something that has been deemed irreplaceable by anyone to this point.
The Blackhawks also have a wealth of depth within their organization, with plenty of youngsters that could end up making the team out of the gate heading into next season. There’s also Chris Campoli, who is expected to be re-signed at a much lower figure than either two of these guys. Signing Campoli would give the Hawks six defensemen, but dealing one of Campbell or Hjalmarsson could open up Bowman’s wallet to do a bit more on a forward unit that had its lack of depth exposed throughout the season.
In the end, neither of these guys may end up getting dealt, but it would come as a big surprise to many, given the low amount of financial flexibility that the Blackhawks will still have this offseason.
Losing a Game 7 is hard to swallow. It’s especially hard to take when you’ve battled back from a 3-0 deficit and it’s almost impossible to deal with it having lost to your biggest playoff rivals, the Vancouver Canucks.
But in many ways, overcoming that 3-0 hole was representative of the entire season of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Having won the most coveted trophy in all of sports in the 2009-2010 season, the Hawks were forced to sell most of their roster last summer, thanks, in part, to some cavalier spending by former general manager Dale Tallon. Names like Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, both who enjoyed enormous success in Atlanta, were cut loose in the major salary dump.
Without many of their role players, the remaining Hawks players were forced to try and build chemistry with veterans and minor league callups alike. Guys like Fernando Pisani were brought in to fill roles that they never really filled, while longtime minor leaguers like Jack Skille, who was dealt to the Florida Panthers, and Jake Dowell enjoyed short-lived tenures in the Windy City.
There was also the slew of injuries that the Blackhawks had to deal with. Literally every major forward on the team missed some sort of gametime, a trend which eventually stretched to the defense. Both Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook appeared in all 82 games during the regular season, the only Hawks to do so, while Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa missed eight, nine, and 17 games, respectively.
Yet, despite these regular season struggles through inconsistency and injury, followed by an early exit, there still remains an excitement over this team heading into next season, which is similar to that of the attitude of fans that followed the 2008-09 season.
Yes, they snuck into the playoffs, but were also considered possibly the best eight seed of all time, pushing the President’s Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks to the brink of elimination even with a roster that was depleted by injury for pretty much all of the series in some capacity.
The core of this team is still intact, and will remain so even with the desire of some fans to trade Patrick Kane. The fire that should be instilled in this group, especially Jonathan Toews, should rival that of the determination that the team carried throughout the regular season in 2009-2010. Of all those on the team, Toews may have taken the loss the hardest, and if he plays a full regular season at anywhere near the level that he played during the second half of this season, he’s going to be firmly in the middle of the Hart Trophy discussion.
The dead weight of this roster will be trimmed. Pisani is, of course, gone. As are Dowell, Tomas Kopecky, and most likely Viktor Stalberg. Three of the four will be replaced with role players, whether free agent acquisitions or young guys, that can actually contribute, while Kopecky’s decent season will make him a cap casualty.
The defense will pretty much remain intact, as well. Unless the team decides to deal, if they can, one of Niklas Hjalmarsson or Brian Campbell, the Hawks have a top six d-unit that will all be returning, assuming the team re-ups Chris Campoli on the cheap side.
There’s also that guy in net, Corey Crawford, who seems to have developed into a franchise goaltender over the course of just one season. He was solid in net all year for the Hawks, but really broke out and showed how capable he is against Vancouver, almost single-handedly winning Game 6 and falling just short of stealing the entire series in Game 7.
The big thing that will help this team heading into next season is the financial flexibility that they will have. It won’t be a great deal of money, but the Hawks won’t be nearly as handicapped as they were financially last season, with playoff bonuses and other contracts coming off the books, as well as an expected increase in the salary cap. It will be that flexibility that allows the Hawks to re-sign Crawford, Campoli, and most likely Troy Brouwer and Michael Frolik, and then go after some physical talent out on the market.
Most Hawks fans were aware of the situation heading into the season after last year’s salary dump. It was going to be a long year with the Hawks struggling fiscally and icing guys, like Pisani, that really had no business being on the ice with the caliber of team that Chicago can be when completely healthy. With a long summer to mull over the loss, and a few new faces, this team is going to be right back in the thick of things, and could head right back for a Central Division title and high seed heading into next year’s postseason.