Hawk Talk: Are these the gifts we've been asking for?

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Hawk Talk: Are these the gifts we've been asking for?

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010
1:35 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Since our planet's much-more-brilliant minds are still working on perfecting the Time Machine, there's unfortunately no way we can fast-forward a few months to find out what impact the Circus Trip will have had on the Blackhawks' season. There are definite signs to point to if they maintain a higher level of consistency and take off from here.

It's only two games, and just the second time in six-and-a-half weeks they've put back-to-back wins together. They also beat a couple of slumping teams missing a key player or two. Yet, there was reason to like the fact there was no letdown at the end of a long trip, finishing on consecutive nights. In Anaheim, when they controlled most of the first period, they didn't let a late power play goal throw them off their game. As much as Nick Boynton may have disappointed a couple of nights earlier with turnovers in San Jose, you had to love him once again coming to a teammate's defense. Same goes for Jonathan Toews Saturday night, captain-versus-captain, going after Dustin Brown as the Kings continued targeting linemate Viktor Stalberg all game. Maybe there is something about that road trip bonding.

In the final five minutes of the trip, they were forced to dig real deep, and while they couldn't kill a 5-on-3, they burned off the second penalty in what was an encouraging night for a PK which has still allowed seven goals the last five games and has sunk towards the bottom of the NHL. The power play will also need a little sprucing up after connecting just twice on the entire trip. The last couple of wins overcame those two trends with a willingness to forecheck, crash the net and the defense doing a better job of jumping on rebounds around their house.

In my last entry, I wrote about the best players being the best players. While there are still some individual head-scratchers along the way, those victories over the Ducks and Kings had a scoresheet filled with returning Cup-winners. Patrick Sharp? Yeah, I guess it was good Stan Bowman deemed him an untouchable. I wonder if he comes home still the hotel room wrestling champ, too.

Then there's Corey Crawford. Joel Quenneville leans toward going with a good thing when it's working, so it's easy to imagine him sticking with the Big 5-0, who's gone a big 4-0 in his last four starts. The only three shots that've gotten past him in his last three starts have been on the opponent's power play.

Marty Turco shouldn't be labeled as a scapegoat by any means. He'll still get a ton of time. It just so happens that after opening the trip with his first Hawks shutout, the games in Calgary and San Jose weren't his sharpest nights, compounded by the fact everyone around him played poorly, as well. As we discussed with Ed Olczyk during the second intermission Saturday night, teams go through stretches where they just play better in front of one goalie over another. Niemi over Huet here last year. Niittymaki over Niemi now in San Jose. Earlier in the season, Johnson over Fleury in Pittsburgh. Sure, the goalie has something to do with inspiring that confidence. Some of Turco's first-month efforts saved his new team a handful of points. At this point, Crawford seems to bump up the feel-good factor. Turco's time will come around again. He's a great teammate but he's also more accomplished, experienced and psychologically stronger than Huet a year ago if this turns into a competition.

It would be a great time for this potential springboard to be real. They Hawks are also as healthy as they've been all season. Their place in the standings continues to get a big assist by the games they have in hand. Until the others catch up, the next item to check on the "to-do" list is making their home ice nasty again for visitors. Ten of their next 13 games are back in their barn. Check out the teams they face. All from the Western Conference. All jockeying for what counts come April. It starts Tuesday against a St. Louis team feeling the losses of Oshie, Perron and Polak. Better for the Hawks to keep adding to their point total and deny these other teams when they have the head-to-head opportunity before the schedule evens out and they're potentially passed.

Each season is a process that must unfold at its own pace. Some teams riding high the first month are learning it's a difficult pace to keep up. But still, when's that Time Machine supposed to be ready again?

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

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”