Boden: What are you thinking behind that poker face?

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Boden: What are you thinking behind that poker face?

Monday, Nov. 22, 2010
1:38 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com
With the Blackhawks spending part of this three-day recess in the middle of their six-game trip in Las Vegas, it got me wondering whether it's time yet to reveal our hand on where this team's headed, long-term this season. Should we still be holding our chips in judging this team? All in? Folding?

Is this truly going to be a Jekyll-&-Hyde team all season long, forever finding a way to get in sync? Are they just toying with us -- playing the dangerous game of "flipping the switch" -- and playing hard and well when they need and want to? In an early-season "Hawk Talk," we praised the group for its ability to find ways to win games. Since then, they've gone through stretches of finding ways to lose. Disciplined, hard-working, all-around games tease us, only to be followed by a flat effort.

Their resume shows they've found ways to beat some of the top teams the first month and a half (Los Angeles, St. Louis, Vancouver, and ending Anaheim's six-game winning streak). They've also found ways to lose twice at home to Edmonton, and help scuffling teams like Columbus and Phoenix get on track when they came into the United Center. We'll see if Friday's Flame-out turns Calgary's fortunes, but they got temporarily put back in the loss column in Detroit on Sunday. Until the Hawks prove they can consistently string wins together, we'll have to get used to the concept that they've made their road much tougher. The points that've fallen by the wayside can't be retrieved. Making the playoffs, and seeding for it, is going to be a dogfight. The important thing is getting in. And with the way things have gone thus far, home versus road, home-ice advantage for this team might not be that important.

On the glass-half-full side you can say the last two weeks, as a whole, have been steps in the right direction towards getting this team where it needs to be, despite varying results, and that Friday was the aberration, and the blunt reminder.

There have been encouraging signs of late from some of the newcomers. Jack Skille has five points and is a plus-7 in his last seven games. Bryan Bickell's collected five points and is plus-4 over his last six after being benched. Viktor Stalberg, though scoreless in his last three games, showed signs of being able to hold down the left side lining up with Toews and Kane. Jake Dowell's been steady with his opportunities and has the willingness to try to make something happen physically when the rest of the team's sluggish.

In the end, the old adage goes, the Blackhawks' best players must be their best players. The plus-minus rating has its pros and cons, and I'm not even sure yet how big a fan I am of the statistic. Nevertheless, here are those numbers from members of the returning "core," along with their point production, in the team's wins and losses. Some may be telling, others perhaps not so much:

Wins
Losses
Duncan Keith
5, 7 pts.
-11, 6 pts.
Niklas Hjalmarsson
3, 1 pt.
-9, 0 pts.
(suspended for one win, one loss)
Brent Seabrook
6, 8 pts.
-4, 4 pts.
Patrick Sharp
11, 11 pts.
-11, 11 pts.
(missed one loss)
Jonathan Toews
12, 9 pts.
-6, 9 pts.
Troy Brouwer
2, 5 pts.
-2, 6 pts.
Dave Bolland
1, 3 pts.
1, 1 pt.
(missed 2 wins, 4 losses)
Brian Campbell
7, 2 pts.
1, 3 pts.
(missed 7 wins, 6 losses)
Marian Hossa
3, 13 pts.
-1, 4 pts.
(missed 2 wins, 3 losses)
Tomas Kopecky
4, 5 pts.
-15, 5 pts.
(missed one loss)
Patrick Kane
6, 17 pts.
-11, 5 pts.
(missed one win)

Every player's individual numbers are affected by the team's wins and losses. This is the group that Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff rely upon the most. In most cases, the numbers reflect the team's inconsistent start. Most of these guys have taken turns acknowledging how they need to be better. Check out Brian Campbell's consistency since he returned from his knee injury, leading the team at plus-8. Kopecky was reunited with Hossa and Sharp Saturday, and saying those two bring out the best in him is an understatement. He had an assist and was a plus-1. In the 11 games before Hossa's injury, Kopecky had a goal, seven assists, and was a plus-3.

The makeup, character, production, and accomplishment of last year's team has spoiled us all. Everyone's expectations vary in the wake of the offseason changes -- and what's realistic over if, when, and how well this roster clicks. As they tried to re-charge and bond in Vegas, The Hangover is one factor that should be kept in mind through all this. Yes, it's a tired phrase. But ask any previous Cup winner (especially in the salary cap era) about the after-effects everyone above is experiencing, and each player reacts differently to the physically-, mentally- and emotionally-draining run. Then the celebration. Then the short offseason. Toss in the busiest start of any team, and if you think about it, it's an imposing task. They're going through something they've never experienced before, unchartered individual territory. And while we all expect that when we ask these guys to play harder and dig deeper, who knows how deep that physical, mental, and emotional reservoir runs in each, compared to a year ago? The hope is the best is yet to come, if not just around the corner.

So are you holdin'? Foldin'? Or all in?

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Blackhawks re-sign defenseman Ville Pokka to one-year deal

Blackhawks re-sign defenseman Ville Pokka to one-year deal

The Blackhawks signed Ville Pokka to a one-year contract on Tuesday.

The 23-year-old Pokka played in all 76 regular-season games for the Rockford IceHogs last season, recording six goals and 24 assists.

The Blackhawks’ defensive depth has already taken a hit this offseason, with Niklas Hjalmarsson traded to Arizona – Connor Murphy came here in the deal – and Trevor van Riemsdyk, selected by the Vegas Golden Knights, then traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. While the Blackhawks will probably explore free-agent options this offseason, Pokka could vie for an opportunity at training camp.

Blackhawks don’t extend qualifying offer to Dennis Rasmussen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks don’t extend qualifying offer to Dennis Rasmussen

Dennis Rasmussen was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Blackhawks, a source confirmed on Tuesday. Rasmussen will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Rasmussen was coming off a one-year deal worth $575,000. He was expected to be among those the Blackhawks extended qualifying offers – the deadline was Monday afternoon – but he was not.

The 26-year-old played 68 games for the Blackhawks this past season, recording four goals and four assists. He gave the Blackhawks some options, as he also played some wing and was part of the penalty kill. But he was a surprise healthy scratch more often than not as the regular season continued.

The Blackhawks will enter this season without Rasmussen and, if Marcus Kruger is traded, the team will have some holes to fill at center.