Halfway through an electric Olympic Tournament in Vancouver, the rest of the NHL rests up for what will be an intense stretch run. What better time than to reflect on the season so far, and look forward to what will be? Here’s a less-than-abbreviated look at the Blackhawks 09-10 season as it breaks down.
What We’ve Learned
The Hawks come into the final stretch tied for most victories in the NHL at 41, just two points back of Western Conference leader San Jose and three back of President’s Trophy leader Washington, with a game in hand on each. They are unquestionably an elite team in this year’s NHL; at the break they are second in goals allowed, third in goals scored, first in shots on goal, shots allowed and shot differential (by a huge margin), and third in faceoff percentage. They do everything well, dominating opposition on most nights with a smothering puck possession game, which often requires an otherworldly performance from the opposition’s netminder to overcome.
The 3GR stands at 35-2-3 so far, meaning the Hawks have scored three or more in nearly two thirds of games played, and still continue to come out on top when they do. Only Washington has more 3 goal games, with a whopping 49 out of 62 games scoring 3+. The Hawks offense is everything it was purported to be, a good sign for games that some might consider out of reach. Case in point, the incredible comeback earlier this season against Calgary. Not even a five goal deficit is enough to hold this team back when it gets hot.
Bad periods continue to haunt the club, and some increased composure out of the Olympic Break is critical, because talent alone won’t dig you out of a hole in a playoff game.
Marian Hossa is better than advertised. Because of his quiet demeanor, he might be one of the most underrated players in all of hockey. He’s a force on defense, seemingly teleporting from place to place and taking pucks away (they never see him coming) or getting open for that head-man pass that springs him for a counterattack. His 5 shorthanded goals lead the league. Alex Burrows, in second with 4, has played 24 more games than Hossa.
Antti Niemi is 17-4-1 and tied with Ryan Miller for second in GAA at 2.16. Enough said.
The emergence of Troy Brouwer as an NHL scorer is a welcome relief for Blackhawk management. After posting 41 and 35 goal seasons in the AHL, many wondered why that booming shot and tenacious grit wasn’t translating into goals for the big club. This year, Brouws has become a net presence machine, providing great screens and redirecting shots better than anybody else on the team. He’s on pace for 25 goals, and gets better with every game. He’s also been solid on the penalty kill when called upon, and shares the team lead with 7 power play goals.
Your team’s five most important players are engaged in a high intensity two week tournament during which they could play up to seven games. Aside from the obvious injury risk, you’re talking about a lot of additional minutes and accumulated fatigue. Duncan Keith leads team Canada in time on ice, and is second in the NHL in the same category. I don’t care how fit you are, that kind of wear adds up when you’re playing 100 games. The good news is, Hossa’s additional games still leave him with fewer than the 61 total the non-Olympian Hawks have played. Look for him to be the freshest of the internationals going forward.
While I’m perfectly content with the American Gothic Tandem (Uncle Huey and Auntie Niemi) in goal, there are those who don’t feel as comfortable with the current situation. Too many soft goals could kill a team in a seven game series, and it might help to shore up some of that perceived weakness. Which leads me to…
Trade Possibilities: Goaltenders
Some of the names out there that I’ve heard:
-Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Price is an excellent handler of the puck, and passes exceptionally well for a goaltender. He played so well at just 20 years old that he displaced Cristobal Huet and prompted a trade to the Capitals. Could he do so again? Price to me is a longer term option, at just 22 and with loads of potential, and it’s uncertain whether he or Jaroslav Halak will be the one to go. Price was a high pick, and a minimum RFA qualifying offer in the offseason could net you some nice compensation from another team. But will he help this year?
-Jaroslav Halak, Montreal Candiens
Halak is still something of an unknown, having been a backup until this season, and never playing more than 40 games. A strong Olympics thus far might have also raised his cost, or perhaps removed him from the market entirely. Halak is also an RFA, so some compensation might be had there as well if he came over.
-Marty Turco, Dallas Stars
A name that’s been bandied about over the last month, especially with Dallas’ recent acquisition of Kari Lehtonen, making Turco all but expendable. Turco is the same age as Huet, with just two years more experience. He’s had some minor playoff success in the past, but none in recent history. He’s also a smaller goaltender, meaning he has to rely a lot more on athleticism, which dissipates with age. One consolation is that his price will not be extravagant—a pick and a player would get it done.
Verdict: Likely no better than status quo. No thanks.
-Alex Auld, Dallas Stars
Basically a career backup, made expendable by the same Lehtonen trade. If Turco stays, Auld will be the odd man out.
Verdict: Significant downgrade
-Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
A reach, since Thomas is under contract for three more years, through his 39th birthday. The same type of goalie as Turco, but older, and having a down year to boot. The Vezina trophy on his mantle is nice, but it remains to be seen whether he can ever regain that form. Any deal for Thomas would be predicated on moving Huet.
Verdict: Not a chance
-Tomas Vokoun, Florida Panthers
This has been the hot rumor this week, and it’s easy to see why. The Panthers are about ready to raise the white flag (and murder Mike Richards in his sleep), and Vokoun is a big time piece that can bring back a lot of assets. Like Thomas, Vokoun is under contract, but only for one more season. His cap number is negligibly higher than Huet’s, and he’s certainly an upgrade. He doesn’t like sharing time, but perhaps splitting with Niemi would keep him fresher, especially after the Olympics. A deal for Vokoun would almost certainly have to include Huet, a young player, and a prospect or pick, and would likely net you a Jordan Leopold or Dennis Seidenberg in return.
Verdict: A win-win for both clubs if a defenseman comes with him. The only loser is Antti Niemi.
Stay tuned for part 2, when I discuss the Olympics, the future, and the defenseman trade market.
About the Author
Written by Adam Seidman
Adam can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org