Hawk Talk: Balancing acts for Cup defense

439576.jpg

Hawk Talk: Balancing acts for Cup defense

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted 4:51 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

The Hockey Gods giveth and taketh. In the end - unless a team's completely snake-bitten - the bounces, the calls, and the reviews even out.

All you have to do is look at what's happened with the Blackhawks the past ten days.

March 28: Detroit could've argued why a hooking call was made against Henrik Zetterberg in the closing seconds of regulation, leading to Marian Hossa's game-winning, overtime power play goal.

Tuesday in Montreal, the overtime call against Jonathan Toews seemed (to me) borderline at best, not to mention a couple of seconds after the Bell Centre crowd began screaming its disapproval.

An even bigger issue for me is, if there's an unwritten code for players who've gained the so-called benefit of the doubt on such calls, in those crucial situations, hasn't Toews earned it? Especially against a rookie?

Twenty-four hours later, the Hawks were smiled upon by the inconclusive video review of Hossa's goal, between the skate, the crawl across the goal line, and whether his stick glanced off the puck after contact with the skate. Once the puck completed its trek to the opposite post, it headed inside the net as Ty Conklin tried to cover it up.

By the time Toronto decided it couldn't overturn the on-ice call, the Zamboni could've supplied a completely clean sheet of ice.

Patrick Sharp assisted on that goal after forcing himself to return earlier than he probably should've. Based on his goal total and magazine-cover status, his toughness factor can be overlooked. But he doesn't wear an "A" without reason, and was probably as tired as the rest of us watching the offense limp as he limped around. After just two brief test skates Tuesday and Wednesday morning, he decided the most important game of the year was the time to bite the bullet, suit up, and then led the team with four hits in 19 12 minutes of action.

His return also allowed the rest of the lineup get closer to its comfort zone - where it hasn't been since Sharp joined Dave Bolland on the sideline. That's another thing that showed up on the stat sheet. Patrick Kane, Toews, Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook had combined for 10 goals and 28 points after Sharp was helped off the ice in Phoenix, and became the subject of increasing defensive awareness by opponents.

Hard, pressure-packed minutes became even harder as everyone else on the roster in that span had combined for four goals and 13 points. Once the Hossa ruling came, that secondary group finished the night with two goals and six points.

I wrote at the start of the season that by the time we got to this last week, the team's post-season success would depend on health and the newcomers adapting and fitting into roles the departed Cup-winners supplied. They'd started to do it in that eight-game winning streak, prior to the Bolland and Sharp injuries.

I didn't write anything about how difficult it would be to qualify. It's probably fitting that a team that's been one of the biggest thorns in the Hawks' side this season (Dallas) is the last one they're racing to the finish line.

It's a nice confidence boost heading to Detroit, where they should have a good feeling anyway. They've won in their last four trips to Joe Louis Arena, and grabbing three of a possible four points in their final back-to-back versus the Habs and Blues can only help a psyche that almost certainly was being tested.

Through 80 games, there's still work to be done. If the Blackhawks finish that job and get to defend their Stanley Cup, I'm curious to see how the group responds to being able to hit the "reset" button and fill up their tanks again mentally and, hopefully, physically.

And they'd only have to worry about one team they're playing in that round, and not the multiple teams they've been battling for the opportunity to play beyond Sunday.

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.”