Hitting the wall

Hitting the wall

Friday, June 18, 2010
3:20 PM

By Frankie O

I cant help but feel a void now that the NHL playoffs are over. Honestly, how could I feel any other way? Two months of every other day action featuring the two teams that I root for the most. For an emotionally vested fan, thats a lot. It takes over and wears on you. The payoff is if your team wins, and we both know that wasnt the case for me. Everyones asking how Im doing and I tell them that other than living every Flyers fans worst nightmare, Im great! Nothing like serving up beers to the celebrating masses during both the clincher and the parade, how lucky can one guy get? (I swear I didnt charge any one extra! Well, okay, maybe one or two!) It was definitely the strangest time Ive had behind the bar. At least I have a little time to regroup before they hoist the banner to the rafters at the United Center. Ill only have to look at that every time I go to a game there for the rest of my life. And every Hawks radio or TV broadcast will start with Your 2009-10 Stanley Cup Champions! Thats all right. Im not a hater. They earned it and every one of their fans should enjoy it, even if they joined the party a little late. In the big-picture view, an Original Six power is good for hockey and for me, its good for business. With the core together for the foreseeable future, Im guessing this wont be the only title that they win. This team is going to be good for a while and being a hockey fan in this town is going to be exciting.

But, for now, I need to decompress. Sports-wise, I guess watching a Game 7 in an NBA Finals is supposed to be exciting, but Im just not feeling it. I know I have to watch, but as a Philly guy, there is no way Im rooting for Boston, and L.A. isnt too far behind on that list. Of course now that L.A. has won, its time for the Kobe is the best love fest. I just want to say, Stop the Kobe is as good as Michael talk! No way! Stop smoking whatever it is that youre smoking. Kobe can win more than Michael, but he isnt Michael. Jordan is the best ever, end of story! And Mark Jackson? Kobe is a better Laker than Magic? Really? One other thing: I seem to remember when Pau Gasol was available two years ago, the local media saying for the Bulls not to go after him, that he was too soft. That dude is anything but soft. He also has two rings now.

And this is a perfect time for the U.S. Open, especially at Pebble Beach. I love watching golf, always have. The best thing is that there are any number of guys who can win and Ill be happy. Theres no emotional baggage with golf. Well all right, Watson losing in the British last year was like a kick in the groin, but how often does that happen? Golf always has a story, no matter who wins and thats part of what I like. Having the Open on scenic Pebble only makes it better. Im guessing Woods-Mickelson will be too much to ask for, but I always enjoy watching the final round on Fathers Day.

But the rest of my summer will focus on one thing: Baseball, or, more importantly, my roto baseball team. Not that I havent been following, (how are the Cubs and Sox doing by the way? LOL!) but now that the distractions are out of the way, its time to get focused. Ive missed out on a few waiver wire wonders because of my hockey preoccupation and that makes me a little hot! My boy Jonny Gomes though, is tearing it up! If Chase Utley ever hits again I could be dangerous. Will he hit? Should I trade him? These are the types of question that will be taking over my brain for the next three months. And unlike rooting for my hockey team, I wont get sucked in. I dont expect to do well in fantasy sports because of the luck involved. Just as easy to lose as it is to win. You can recite every lineup and stat, but when your 1 pick Utley is hitting .250, theres little you can do.

Baseball will be the soundtrack of my summer, along with the occasional NFL training camp update, and the LeBron saga. Im a box-score geek and love to read them every morning. And since I have the baseball package on DirecTv at work and home, the sweet sound of Vin Scully calling a Dodger game will be a highlight whenever I get a chance. Other than that, its a down-time in the sporting calendar, at least for those of us with rooting disorders. One comforting thought though, at least I wont have to worry about the Cubs or Sox playing the Phillies in the playoffs, it couldnt happen to me again could it?

Steve Larmer reflects on Blackhawks days prior to 'One More Shift'

Steve Larmer reflects on Blackhawks days prior to 'One More Shift'

Steve Larmer took the pregame spin, part of the Blackhawks’ “One More Shift” series on Friday night. High above him at the United Center hang several retired Blackhawks numbers.

As of now, Larmer’s No. 28 isn’t among them, but he’s OK with that.

“I think that really is reserved for very special people,” Larmer said.

OK, but isn’t he one of those in the Blackhawks’ history?

“Thank you, but I think that Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito and Denis Savard and Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote are kind of in a league of their own,” he said.

Many would say the same about Larmer, who ranks fourth in Blackhawks history with 923 points, third in goals (406) and fifth in assists (517). Over his entire NHL career Larmer played in 1,006 regular-season games, recording 1,012 points. But whether or not his number is retired by the Blackhawks, coming back for events, including Friday’s, is a treat.

“It’s nerve-wracking and it’s going to be fun,” Larmer said prior to his spin on the ice. “It’s really quite an honor and a surprise to me to be able to do this and I just, it’s a great organization and they’ve always been great to me. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Larmer put together a stellar career. Many believe it deserves a retired number here – and maybe more. Blackhawks play-by-play man Pat Foley, when accepting the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Memorial Award in November of 2014, spoke immediately on how Larmer should be in the hall, too.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“I’ve been fortunate enough to call Blackhawks hockey for over a third of the games they’ve ever played and I’ve never seen a better two-way player come through here,” Foley said that day about Larmer. “When Steve Larmer left Chicago and went to New York, it’s no coincidence that shortly thereafter, they won the Stanley Cup.”

Larmer laughed when reminded of Foley’s speech.

“Well, Pat’s a good friend,” Larmer said with a smile. “He’s always been a good friend. For the last 35 years, since the early 1980s when he was doing radio and TV back then and we all traveled together and hung out together and it was one good group. It’s fun. I mean, Pat’s always been a big supporter and a really good friend.”

Larmer would’ve loved to have hoisted the Stanley Cup during his time with the Blackhawks. Coming as close as they did in 1992 stayed with him for a bit – and it hurt.

“That stung deeply. Because you’re starting to get older and you’re thinking, ‘oh my God, that was it, that was the chance and it’s freaking gone,’ right? It’s never going to happen again,” Larmer recalled. “I’m not one of those guys who happened along and all of a sudden you’re on a team and you win like the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. We lost out to the team that always won, right? It was disappointing that way. But when you get to that point and you have that run, then we lost to Pittsburgh, that stuck with me for a year in a half. I couldn’t let it go. It was always in the back of my mind. You’re out there playing and you’re sitting on the bench and still thinking about that.”

So when Larmer got another chance with the New York Rangers – he was dealt there in a three-way deal involving the Rangers, Blackhawks and Hartford Whalers – it meant everything.

“The neat thing about going to New York is it gave me another chance to play with some great players and have that opportunity to win and finally get over that hump,” he said. “It was a neat city to win in and to be able to play with guys like Mark Messier and Leach and all those players was a lot of fun.”

Larmer put up fantastic numbers in his career. He got to hoist a Cup near the end of his career. His number should be in the rafters to commemorate that great career.

What a flat salary cap in 2017-18 could mean for Blackhawks

What a flat salary cap in 2017-18 could mean for Blackhawks

For the first time since the 2009-10 season, the NHL's salary cap could stay flat next year, reports ESPN's Craig Custance.

Commissioner Gary Bettman revealed at the latest NHL's Board of Governors meeting that the projected ceiling for the 2017-18 campaign could be an increase between zero and $2 million, which isn't exactly encouraging considering the projection at this time of year is normally an optimistic one.

That means the salary cap may be closer to — or at — the $73 million it's at right now.

In the last four years, the cap has increased by $4.3 million in 2013-14, $4.7 million in 2014-15, $2.4 million in 2015-16 and $1.6 million in 2016-17. The number continues to descend, and it affects big-budget teams like the Blackhawks the most.

It makes it especially difficult for the Blackhawks to navigate because they own two of the highest paid players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, both of whom carry a $10.5 million cap hit through 2022-23. It's a great problem to have, though.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

According to capfriendly.com, Chicago currently has $60.6 million tied up to 14 players — eight forwards, five defensemen and one goaltender — next season. If the cap stays the same, that means the Blackhawks must fill out the rest of their roster with fewer than $13 million to work with and still have to sign Artemi Panarin to a long-term extension.

And they may need to move salary to do it, with the potential cap overages crunching things even more.

On the open market, Panarin would probably be able to earn Vladimir Tarasenko money — a seven-year deal that carries a $7.5 million cap hit — but if he prefers to remain in Chicago, the contract would likely be in the range of Johnny Gaudreau's six-year deal with an annual average value of $6.75 million.

With the expansion draft looming, the Blackhawks know they're going to lose a player to Las Vegas in the offseason. The two likely candidates, as it stands, are Marcus Kruger and Trevor van Riemsdyk, and the former would free up $3 million in cap space while the latter $825,000.

If that won't get the job done, the Blackhawks may be forced to part ways with a core player such as Brent Seabrook and his eight-year, $55 million contract, although he has a full no-movement clause until 2021-22 and it would be very hard to imagine since you're trying to maximize your current championship window.

Anything is possible, however, after seeing promising young guys like Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw shipped out of Chicago due to a tight budget.

It's a challenge general manager Stan Bowman has certainly already been thinking about, and a stagnant salary cap doesn't make things any easier.