Hawk Talk: Summer history class, peek into future

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Hawk Talk: Summer history class, peek into future

Monday, Aug. 9, 2010
11:08 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

So how have I been giving myself a break over the summer from what turned into a nine-month hockey season (or was it 10-12, considering free agency, trades, and following the Cup)? Watching every one of the NHL Networks 35 years of Stanley Cup-clinching games, dating back to 1975, that theyve been airing each weeknight. Theyre all the way up to the 2000-2004 clinchers this week. The power of the DVR makes the games move even more quickly through the commercial breaks. But its been a good way to refresh the historical hockey memory bank of what the great teams were about, who was on them, and any common threads they shared (besides the postgame, Cup-hoisting emotions).

There is a lot of Scotty Bowman through the years, and even going back to his great Canadiens teams of the mid-to-late 70s, you can see the template that we saw in the Blackhawks championship. The handful of elite players. The one or two very good, if not great, defensive pairings. The third- and fourth-line guys who all contributed in their own ways. And while those traits are pretty common among every Cup winner, theres one quality the Bowman teams seemed to have that stood out above the rest: the puck possession style weve seen the Hawks employ the last couple of seasons. They looked a lot like the Red Wings and Penguins teams he won with. Yes, each of those teams also included a handful of highly-skilled offensive stars: Yzerman, Shanahan, Federov, and Lidstrom. Lemieux, Jagr, Coffey, Stevens, Tocchet and Mullen. Lafleur, Shutt, Robinson, and Lapointe. And thats not even getting into the leaders, grinders and unsung heroes any title team in any sport needs.

As great as the Drydens, Parents, and Fuhrs (and Espositos) were back in the day, these replays confirm how Patrick Roy took goaltending to the level and standard we see today. His athleticism and consistency in net raised the bar that the Belfours, Haseks, and Brodeurs had to pursue. But its interesting to also see how Bowman went from veteran Mike Vernon as his guy on Detroits97 Cup champs, to the relatively-untested Chris Osgood the next year. Its the opposite of what the Blackhawks will try to pull off now with the untested Antti Niemi gone after winning the Cup, and turning to the Cup-hungry veteran, Marty Turco.

The Blackhawks core that theyve wanted and needed to keep together remains, up front and on the blue line, and theyll have to take charge in carrying the momentum from the Cup out of the gate when they begin to defend in less than two months. As much as the kids who are replacing the departed depth guys may have earned the opportunity at Rockford, theres no doubt it will still be a learning process early on. Theyre capable of and certainly confident enough filling those spots, but a seamless transition for the likes of Skille, Dowell, Bickell, Stalberg, etc. might be a bit much to expect at the outset. They all have the upside, along with Kyle Beach, Shawn Lalonde, Marcus Kruger and others. This team will still be a force in the West, and the coaches are excited about the off-season moves creating new challenges that should keep the team hungry, with something to prove. The regular season ride will have a few more bumps, and the goal will be to have the newcomers continue to improve and hit their stride by next April, while at the same time having that Cup-winning core healthy and hungry.

There have been no repeat Cup winners since the lockout and the salary cap era began, and no champion the previous four years has gone through the level of turnover these Hawks have been forced to experience. That will be an incentive to the returning group, and with the moves Stan Bowman has been forced to make, hes added quality in restocking the farm. If some of his new and existing prospects reach or come close to - their upside, the franchise should keep contending for the Cup for several more seasons. Financial decisions will be a continuing process every year with the commitments theyve made to that core, and theyd at least want youthful, talented options. Whether its the guys getting opportunities this year cycling onto the roster, or a Morin, Leddy, Olsen, or Hayes being ready to step up down the road, they want and need to keep the minor league system strong, which it appears to be again. If you havent read some of the reviews of Jeremy Morins recent performance at the U-20 Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, look it up.

Stan Bowman recently revealed some additional maneuvers he was forced to make around last seasons salary cap to keep the roster as deep as it was, knowing it would make this off-seasons job more difficult. The call he made paid off in the end. His busy summer job is over. The curiosity about how good the defenders of the Cup will be, is only beginning.
Stay with CSNChicago.com and watch SportsNite on Friday and Saturday, as we travel to Buffalo and share Patrick Kanes day with the Stanley Cup

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.”