Hawk Talk: Half-empty or half-full?

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Hawk Talk: Half-empty or half-full?

Thursday, June 3, 2010
9:21 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

PHILADELPHIA Riddle me this: Are the Chicago Blackhawks not the most criticized winner of the first two of three Stanley Cup Finals games in recent memory?

First, horror of horrors, the Blackhawks won the Game 1 slugfest over the Philadelphia Flyers because their goalie was just a bit better and puck possession a smidge stronger. Then in Game 2, the Philly hung in with Chicago, which apparently earns a tie point or somethingnot sure, it doesnt seem to show up in the series records. And with a loss in Game 3Chicagos first in eight playoff gamesits as if somehow a series of breakdowns and bounces earned the Flyers two or three victories instead of just one.

Yes, its all the rage to point out that the Flyers are back in it ad nauseam. Well, sure, in that theyre not down 3-0, the Flyers are back in it.

But its an opportune time to again mention picking the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup Finals in five games. Game 3 was the contest that the Hawks would most likely lose, and on the hush-hush in private correspondence your faithful hockey servant anticipated a Blackhawks blowout in either Game 3 or 4so you have a read on what I think is coming.

However, some folks prefer to see their cups half-empty, and giving them something to wring their hands over is arguably a public service. So, in the interest of fair play, as well as keeping Philadelphias pipe dream alive, here are three key weaknesses weve seen in the Blackhawks.

Cool Hand Qs Shufflin Crew
Its about time for Dustin Byfuglien to shuffle off to another line, yes? Its not so much hes played poorly or been baited by Flyers jokesterdefenseman Chris Prongeralthough those arguments could be made. But it is definitely time to stop the bullheadedness of keeping the first line that crushed the San Jose Sharks together for nostalgias sake. The Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane-Byfuglien line rallied the Blackhawks into the Finals, and it will be remembered forever fondly for that. But Coach Joel Quenneville, who has been notoriously flip (and in the playoffs, super savvy) about pulling the trigger on player substitutions and remade forward lines, has been strangely silent in terms of such moves so far. Hes overdue some changes come Game 4.

Get Soupy Out of the Doghouse
No one will argue that defenseman Brian Campbell had a strong Game 1, and it was understandable that Soupy saw very limited minutes during the Chicago leg of the Finals. But Campbell is much too valuable to Chicagos puck-possession play to continue to function as the fifth d-man on the depth chart. Brent Sopel has terrific value as a shot-blocker, but too much time for the Iron Giant is an indication the Quenneville is playing too defensively and conservatively. A contingent effect of Soupys reduced minutes is that far too often Sopel and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been paired, neither of whom can do much in terms of advancing the puck and tightening the screws on Philly with puck possession. Such a pairing allows the Flyers, already aggressive and wilding with the dressing the Carcillos of the world, to be that much more aggressivewithout consequence.

Matchmaking Nightmares
Of course the Finals are the consummate chess match, but thats no reason for Quenneville to get all Kasparov on Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who is pretty well known as confident bordering on brash. It wouldnt take too much to exploit Laviolettes confidence, but Cool Hand Q appears to need to not just beat the Flyers, but run a victory lap around them when it comes to line matching.

Nowhere in the series did it hurt the Blackhawks more than in overtime of Game 3, when Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky were both dashing off the ice when the opportunistic switching post-faceoff, turned fatal. In the defensive confusion, Dave Bolland was double-teaming Danny Briere, leaving Duncan Keith frozen and surrounded by three Flyers. The goal that tied the game, by Ville Leinocompletely nullifying Patrick Kanes stunner of a breakaway that gave the Blackhawks their first lead, for 20 secondsalso came as the result of a quick line yanking from Q.

While some Blackhawks admitted a bit of confusion over the frequency (and in some cases, sloppiness) of the line changes after Game 3, Quenneville was all too willing to issue a mea culpa. The bad news for Flyers fans is that the steely mentor is sure to be much more surgical with his bench moves come Friday.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Why Blackhawks fans might want to tap the brakes on Alex DeBrincat

Why Blackhawks fans might want to tap the brakes on Alex DeBrincat

This is public service announcement regarding Alex DeBrincat and his potential this season with the Blackhawks:

Tap the brakes.

We’ve relayed this address a few times the past few seasons, most notably with Teuvo Teravainen as people eagerly anticipated his professional debut. We’re pretty sure when he was recalled for the first time, exultant trumpets played faintly in the background. But it bears repeating now with DeBrincat, who might or might not do fantastic things right out of training camp.

This warning, however, comes not only because DeBrincat might not be ready for the grand stage play-wise. It’s also because the Blackhawks might not have room for him.

Take a look at CapFriendly.com for the Blackhawks’ current situation: As they enter the fall they’re roughly $35,000 over the $75 million salary cap, but it’s not so much about money as it is the roster setup. There are 22 players currently listed on the Blackhawk’s CapFriendly roster, but only five defensemen. Also, of the 14 forwards listed, only one could be sent to Rockford without going through waivers (Nick Schmaltz).

So if there’s no room for DeBrincat, don’t be surprised.

Still, it’s going to be interesting to see what DeBrincat does at training camp this fall. You understand why the hype is there. DeBrincat is coming off three stellar seasons with the Erie Otters, with whom he had 127 points (65 goals, 62 assists) last season. DeBrincat is hopeful that a strong training camp could lead to opportunity, but he understands it might not be right away.

“I’m confident in my abilities,” DeBrincat said. “But they have a plan for me and I’ll do whatever they want me to do. I’ll stick with their plan.”

But the Blackhawks will take the slow-and steady approach with him as they did with past younger players. He’s only 19 years old, so there’s no need to rush his development. Playing time in the American Hockey League could be very beneficial for him as he makes the jump from the OHL to the pros. As former Otters coach Kris Knoblauch said earlier this summer, dealing with bigger and stronger players at this level is going to be the toughest hurdle for DeBrincat.

“It’s not that he’s afraid; he’s very good at battles. But just playing against the opposition, against five strong, fast players and just finding out how much time he has, where the room is,” Knoblauch said in early June. “One-on-one battles in our league, there are strong guys and he does fairly well. But when you have a unit of guys, it makes the game a little more difficult.”

DeBrincat will have his time with the Blackhawks. It just might not be right away, and for several reasons, including the current roster setup. So let’s tap the brakes. For now, anyway.

Boston University coach predicts breakout year for Blackhawks prospect Chad Krys

Boston University coach predicts breakout year for Blackhawks prospect Chad Krys

Chad Krys was like any other freshman college hockey player last season. He had his ups and downs and improved as the season continued. In a few months the Blackhawks prospect will be heading to Boston University for his sophomore year, and his coach believes he can be one of college’s best defensemen next season.

“Now that he’s comfortable and knows what’s expected of him, I don’t want to put too much pressure on him but I think he can have a breakout year,” said Boston Terriers coach David Quinn. “He’s played a lot of hockey, and I really think he has the elite talent, the work ethic continues to improve and his conditioning really improved.”

Krys, the Blackhawks’ second-round selection (45th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft, is working toward that at this week’s Blackhawks prospect camp. Krys was part of what Quinn said was the youngest team in the country last season. The Terriers, who had nine freshmen in their lineup, fell to Minnesota-Duluth in the West Regional last March.

Even through the ups and downs, the lessons were valuable.

“Like coach Quinn said, our biggest problem was our immaturity but we couldn’t help that. We were all 18 and 19 years old. But I think it’ll be good for us having a lot of guys coming back and being returning players,” said Krys, who added the accelerated learning curve should help, too. “Going through that with everyone, especially in my class, there were a lot of us in a similar situation, trying to get to the next level. So I think we experienced a lot of team things.”

As a freshman, Krys had five goals and six assists in 39 games for the Terriers. He said he focused on trying to improve his overall defense last season, and Quinn said he took steps forward in that department.

“He’s always been a really good, gifted player and had the puck an awful lot. But most kids as they climb the hockey ladder, they haven’t had to defend a lot because they’ve had the puck a lot. At the higher level you have to play both ends of the rink,” Quinn said. “He had better defense, particularly off the rush and he did a better job down low defending. He also did a better job getting involved offensively.”

Considering Quinn’s outlook of Krys, it’s no surprise he’s pegging the young defenseman to be one of the Terriers’ leaders next season and beyond. Krys has an affable personality — at the 2016 NHL Draft he brought his GoPro and interviewed Alex DeBrincat, who was selected six picks prior to Krys. That, combined with his play make him a strong potential leader. Krys is fine with being that guy.

“That first year you’re a freshman and you’re just trying to find your way,” he said. “The second year I want to be more dynamic and more of a go-to guy for the team.”

All the potential is there for Krys to have a strong future with the Blackhawks – “I’d be more surprised if he didn’t play than he did. He’s a legit prospect,” Quinn said. Until then, his coach feels Krys is on the cusp of having a big season with Boston.

“The jump to college hockey’s big, and he’s feeling his way through it. He had a good first half but a better second half,” Quinn said. “There’s no reason he shouldn’t be one of the better defensemen in all of college hockey.”