Hawk Talk: Let the Buildup Begin

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Hawk Talk: Let the Buildup Begin

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
5:51 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

One team, the Chicago Blackhawks, has its sights set on a Stanley Cup. Meanwhile the Vancouver Canucks have been pointing all season long toward upending Chicago in a postseason rematch.

Despite these differing goals, the second straight semifinals matchup between the Blackhawks and Canucksespecially when taking into account the regular-season hijinks between the teamsshapes up to be a high-flying, hard-hitting affair. Whichever club advances to the Western finals could well end up drained and dead on their skates.

And yet players on both sides are chomping at the bit for Hawks-Nucks, Mach II.

These are the rivalries you love, Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell said. Theres not a lot of love lost between us.

It was a lot of fun last year, said Hawks forward Patrick Sharp, without a single word spoken through gritted teeth. Whats that they say about familiarity, it breeds contempt? Thats about it.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews even allowed himself some rare levity when speculating about the Chicago-Vancouver rematch.

Were going to have a lot of fun with the series, Toews said. "We can put our experience last year to good use.

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa broke into a smile when talking about the rivalry between the two teams, even though hes yet to participate in a Hawks-Nucks playoff battle.

I watched the other playoff games last year when I wasnt playing for the Detroit Red Wings, Boss Hoss said. I could see how tough it was. It was that way in this regular season, too.

Last years playoff battle, won by the Blackhawks in six games after dropping two of the first three, certainly had interesting moments, including gilded Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo tearing up in the Vancouver locker room after the Blackhawks romp to clinch the series in Game 6. But the 2009-10 regular season is whats truly upped the ante.

Among a flurry of interesting statistics and trends, two violent episodes from this seasons Chicago-Vancouver matchups leap out.

The first and most infamous was Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchells crushing check on Toews after being sprung from the penalty box in the third period of two teams first tilt, at the United Center on Oct. 21. Mitchell decked the unaware Captain flat, leaving Toews dazed and barely able to skate back to the Chicago bench. The Blackhawks would lose the game late, and the Big Red Cheese would end up missing six games with a concussion due to Mitchells hit. Ironically, just three months later Mitchell himself suffered a violent concussion in a game vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins and has been sidelined since.

The other episode, a more sustained and humorous bit of controversy, is the Andrew Ladd-Ryan Kesler feud. Kesler had apparently been spoiling for a fight with Ladd since receiving a supposed cheap shot from the Chicago winger in the 2009 playoffs. But when the two squared off at the GM Place on Jan. 23, Ladd decked Kesler with a quick left cross, breaking his nose. Curiously, Kesler chose to advance the controversy by calling Ladd a coward after the game. Theories abounded that Kesler was more injured by Ladds tauntingquickly pointing to the welts he delivered to the centers facethan by the punch itself. In Marchs season series finale at the United Center, Ladd took a run at Kesler right away, but on advice of teammate counsel, Kesler demurred.

You media are probably going to have a lot to ask Kesler and Ladder this year, right? Toews asked, breaking into his version of a guffaw, a wry smile.

Kesler himself is trying to laugh at the controversy. You had to bring that one up, did you? he asked the Vancouver Sun on Monday. Im not too worried about Ladd. Im more worried about winning the series and trying to get even that way Its a team game, and were focused on the main goal here. There are no selfish guys on this team who are going to try to close up an individual battle and make the team suffer.

Kesler doesnt only claim no hard feelings, but over the past couple of months since last meeting the Blackhawks has developed a grudging admiration for Ladd. Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Ladd is a guy who plays hard, he told the Sun. I dont think there is any rivalry there. Whats done is done. We fought and thats the end of it.

Luongos heartfelt reaction to, in his words, letting my team down in a 7-5 Chicago romp in Game 6 last year is another famous moment in the Vancouver-Chicago rivalry. But the Olympic goal-winning netminder fueled the flames a bit back in February, after his Canadian club knocked off the U.S. in the gold medal game. In the handshake line, Luongo reminded Patrick Kane that hed be looking forward to exacting revenge in the playoffs.

Kanes first career hat trick came in that Game 6 clincher vs. Luongo, and the ace has had his share of troubles over the years vs. the Blackhawks.

Contrary to common conception, Luongo has a terrific track record against Chicago in the regular season. Over the past four years, the netminder is 10-5-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage against the Hawks. Of course, some persistent concerns may be in the goalies mind as he skates into the crease for Game 1 at the United Center: His poor performance in last years postseason (23 goals in six games), and getting shelled for five goals on 14 shots in the first period of the teams most recent meeting, a 6-3 Chicago win on March 5.

Even worse for the gold-medal winner is that Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has shifted his lineup in anticipation of the highly-skilled Canucks. Cool Hand Q has bumped the burly Dustin Byfuglien back to forward from the blue line, where he is expected to play the same pesky, physical role in front of Luongos blue ice he did, to raves, a season ago.

For a team not necessarily known for physical play, the Blackhawks did a marvelous job pestering Luongo last season.

I thought the Chicago series last year was the most Ive ever seen for guys going to the net and falling on the goalie, Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa told The Province.
I know its part of the Blackhawks game plan for sure, but Ive got to deal with it, Luongo added. I dont have a problem with that. Its a challenge for me, and I look forward to challenges like that.

And it wont just be Big Buff, who took in Tuesdays team practice not as a point on the power play but at long last back in front of goal, tangling Luongos long locks in the semis. Count on Adam Burish, Ladd, Tomas Kopecky, Bryan Bickell and Troy Brouwer all to buzz the goalie with drive-bys.

Heading into this titanic tilt, the bluster from both dressing rooms will be in full force. As Quenneville said, Im sure it wont take long to rekindle the animosity.

And once animosity has been raised to threatening levels, the reporting of every last deal stemming from the soap opera that is Blackhawks-Canucks will begin.

As soon as someone breaks their fingernail, it becomes a story, noted Toews, once again as jocular as youll find him. The players even talk to each other about that.

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

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade rumors abound

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade rumors abound

We interrupt this mid-January Blackhawks mailbag for an important announcement:

We are reaching that time of the season when trade rumors abound. There will be names galore, some that could make sense, some that will make absolutely no sense. Unfortunately, the latter will get as much attention in some circles as the former. That's the way this time of year goes.

One more note: On any name that's bandied about right now, check where his team is in the standings. If it's close to reaching a postseason spot, tap the brakes until things shake out a little more. I know, kids, I know: patience is not a virtue for many people, let alone Twitter. It'll all be OK.

With all that said onto the mailbag which, as you can imagine, asks a few trade-centric questions.

I agree on not trading the first-round draft pick. The Blackhawks have done that in the past but, with the draft in Chicago this summer, they’re going to want to hold onto that as well as a good amount of draft picks. This is their showcase.

I agreed with Jamal Mayers on CSN's latest podcast that the Blackhawks will likely look for someone with no term left on his contract past this season. I know there's been mention of guys with several years and big cap hits remaining on their deals, but how do the Blackhawks do that, especially with Artemi Panarin's new contract also kicking in next season? They'd have to get rid of a big contract and most of their big contracts also have no movement clauses.

Piggybacking off the last question, I do believe the Blackhawks have to do something to bolster their forward depth. They need someone who has some experience but won't cost them a lot (easy for me to say). Who that guy is right now, I'm not sure (don't worry, I'll be doing one of these in February, too). I wouldn't go for a Jarome Iginla or Shane Doan, as much as I like both of those guys. The Blackhawks don't have the forward depth to take a chance on a player who, while he may have been great several years ago, may not have much left now.

I've got three thoughts on this one.

First, the Dallas Stars fall into the above-mentioned category regarding potential playoffs. Despite a slew of injuries and inconsistent play, the Stars are 11th in the Western Conference but are just two points out of a playoff spot.

Second, Sharp has struggled with his health this season, as concussions have led to two lengthy absences.

Third, and this is my biggest question: Can you go home again? The Blackhawks have brought back Cup winners a few times, from Kris Versteeg to Andrew Ladd to Brian Campbell. Versteeg’s return here was up and down, Campbell's has been OK (there have been a few healthy scratches in there) and Ladd's didn’t work at all. Yes, six years passed from when Ladd left to when he returned; a lot changes over six years. But the bottom line is the attempt to rekindle line magic between Ladd and Jonathan Toews failed. Just wonder if this would go the same way.

We talked to Jonathan Toews on Tuesday morning and he said the back is not the issue. I don't believe it's another injury. The problem is, I don't know what the problem is. Toews has snapped out of these slumps before but this one seems to be lingering. I'm sure the confidence is shaken; how can it not be? We're all human, and even the best question themselves at times. I still think Toews will find the offense again but I don't think his current performances have anything to do with an injury.

Let's address Toews’ faceoff percentage first: it's fine. For the season, he's winning 57.5 percent of his faceoffs, good for sixth in the NHL. Outside of that awful Washington game, he's been around 50 percent or better in recent games.

Regarding Kruger, it's tough to say. The Blackhawks are looking for more balance and more scoring, and if those two categories don't improve the changes will continue regardless of who's in the lineup. Does coach Joel Quenneville go back to the third line that was working before Kruger was hurt (when he was with Dennis Rasmussen and Richard Panik)? He could. Just depends on how the Blackhawks are trending when Kruger does return.

[SHOP: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

They could. Whether or not they do, I'm not sure yet. The Blackhawks did that with Brandon Saad back in the spring of 2012 once the Saginaw Spirit’s season ended. He played in two postseason games. My opinion, if the Blackhawks did it with anyone it would be DeBrincat. Even if he doesn't play, it’s a good chance to be around and practice with the team.

I know what you're referring to and all that article said was Vanek could be a possibility. As of Wednesday, the Red Wings are 14th in the Eastern Conference with 46 points. Sounds like they’re out of it, until you see they’re only four points from eighth place. As I said above, some of these teams are going to want to see where they are in a few weeks. As for cost, I wouldn't give up much past a pick, maybe two, but not high ones.

As of now, according to Cap Friendly, Hartman is eligible for the expansion draft. As far as the likelihood that Las Vegas takes him, it’s possible. It depends on what Vegas wants and needs. The Blackhawks, like everyone else, will lose one (and only one) player. Will Vegas want defensemen? Will they want a two-way player? But absolutely, Hartman would be available.

I'm guessing I've had a few of those and, to my recollection, I didn't dislike them. Honestly, I'm not as much of a wine aficionado as I've led the Twitter world to believe. Pinot noirs aren't my favorite (pretty light), love Malbecs, most French and Italian wines and you really have to talk me into a Chardonnay (I do like the ones that are out of steel drums now; just not a fan of the oak taste). Cheers!

Which current Blackhawks would Jeremy Roenick like to play with?

Which current Blackhawks would Jeremy Roenick like to play with?

Is there anyone who wouldn't want to play with Patrick Kane?

Jeremy Roenick joined In The Loop on Wednesday to discuss which current Blackhawks he would like to play with, and naturally, the reigning MVP topped his list.

"He would be my No. 1 choice," Roenick said. "There's no question about it."

But Roenick said there are two more Blackhawks he would like to lace them up with.

"I wouldn't mind playing with (Artemi) Panarin also," he said. "I would love to play with Jonathan Toews. I think I'd play well with all three of them."

Roenick also gave high praise to coach Joel Quenneville, saying he is one of the best coaches in all of sports. Roenick even compared Quenneville to "the Bill Belichick of hockey."

See what else the Roenick had to say in the video above.