Blackhawks Confidential

"Tommy Boy" Kopecky needs to make much higher grade for Blackhawks

Tomas Kopecky has won the Stanley Cup two of the last three years. Outside of his immediate family and his close friends in the Czech Republic, that information is not widely disseminated, recognized, given import or considered meaningful, much as it puts him in a very distinct class of recent repeat champions.

The winger still gives off the ghostly cast of a shadowy figure, even after some sunny playoff exposure sharpened his Blackhawks' portrait. He can still turn out at any restaurant in Chicago tonight and be forced to pay the bill, unless there are a few Czech hotspots where he is a poor man's Patrick Kane, such as the Klas restaurant in Cicero where goulash, sauerkraut, dumplings, sweet-sour cabbage, a cream chesse kolacky and Slivovitz are some of your cholesterol combatants.

But I don't see him getting comped at Gibson's, where Kane would be wined, dined and divinely defined as a sophisticated man about town with a blond on left wing and brunette on right wing and a redhead in the middle of the mayhem. Kopecky? I think he'd be lucky to get squeezed into a table by the bar, right next to me. I know if Kane is all steak and sizzle, Kopecky is a dish that can look tasty, but also runs the risk of serious and frequent heartburn.

Kopecky remains a man of mystery after experiencing all his team success, winning a title initially with Detroit in 2008. Alas, a torn ACL in April, 2008, kept his participation in the championship to a less than joyous, defining occasion, where his stock could have shot up another notch in people's estimation by being in the midst of the action and appropriately battle scarred.

So the first Cup rang a bit hollow for Kopecky. On to the second.

And this time he had plenty of personal achievements to trumpet from last season when all was said and done. However, truth be told, his full report card turned out as spotty as a Dalmatian with as much incisive bite as a Chihuahua.

The anonymous asset scored his career-best 21 points in 74 games by finishing the regular season with a flourish. For his final 11 games, he had 6 goals, 3 assists and went out a plus-7 in this whirlwind windup. He was a Hull of a Blackhawk when he was needed most.

He followed that with a playoff peformance for the ages, even if he didn't play a full postseason. Nonetheless, 6 goals and 3 assists in 17 games were a staggering output for someone deemed by coach Joel Quenneville as not worthy to face the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference finals.

Matchups R Us and apparently Kopecky had met his match against the Sharks. Since the Hawks steamrolled San Jose, Kopecky wasn't even missed. No one really cared. He was back to being beside the point.

Despite having been an effective force against Vancouver in the semifinals, which included a goal in Game 2 against the Canucks, Kopecky was suddenly benched while healthy enough to contribute. But that wasn't the last roller-coaster jolt in his head-scratching season, beginning with an awkward start that was bad in many ways unstatistical and yet reflected in 1 goal, 3 assists for his first three months.

He struggled at the outset to fit himself into the picture, scrambling hither and yon and seldom forward with a purpose, and sometimes found himself odd man out on a club burgeoning with talent and choices.

Kopecky was returned to the lineup for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, and what did he do but score the game winner against Philadelphia in a 6-5 decision. Q was forced to use him due to an Andrew Ladd injury, but even when Ladd returned for a Game 2, Kopecky had wormed his way back into the mix--and played all six games to hoist the trophy with more inner satisfaction than if he had watched from afar.

And while his 2 points in the Flyers' opener was the sum total of his scoring and Kopecky personally was a minus-3 in the last two games of the series, his pair of goals and 4 points overall in his final 11 playoff efforts showed again that here was a Tommy Boy like Chris Farley's dimwitted Tommy Boy in that 1995 classic look at the doomed life of underachievement and skating on the edges of fame.

Farley, too, moved on after seven anonymous years at Marquette. "D-plus?....Oh my God....I passed. I passed. Oh, man. I got a D-plus. I'm gonna graduate."

After three full NHL seasons, Kopecky has two championship rings and perhaps no better than a solid C-rating. "C?....Oh my God....I passed, I passed. I won the Cup again."

Believe me, early last season, our Tommy Boy was pulling down a solid F for much of the semester. For somebody who has experienced the ultimate prize over two of the last three years in strong environments, he remains a puzzle in progress.

You would think that golden resume would have Kopecky penned in indelible ink into some clear lineup spot. Instead, he is presently ranked among the top six forwards only until Viktor Stalberg or Bryan Bickell play well enough to relegate Kopecky to a lower significance or some other lesser light outshines him.

The worst of all worlds would be if Kopecky, Stalberg and Bickell all came up just a little short. And we might as well toss Troy Brouwer and his top six credentials in the boiling pot, too? Is Brouwer a certain top 6?

Questions abound and the answers are uncertain. The top 6 looks skewed right now, in need of a left-wing buttress.

But we won't go there for now. Preseason is for high hopes and what might be's and what damn well better be's, not what won't be's. So we look glowingly for Kopecky to cop a top 6 role and see how the ax falls over time and upon whom.

Perhaps Kopecky can be puckish and pick up where he left off and create a new dymamic for himself and become a staple on the Blackhawks, rather than a man of mystery who shows up on occasion (even big occasions), but also wavers, falters and disappears in between times.

Perhaps he and Brouwer can cement the weak side on lines that have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa as a regular pattern night after night in some fashion.

Perhaps he is a missing puzzle piece, after all, not simply puzzling.

Perhaps he can win a third Cup in four years for a rare feat, and this time start to receive a little recognition at the age of 29 (his birthday next February) for being more than an anonymous asset.

Perhaps he can convince the Hawks to re-sign him after completing his two-year contract at $1.2 million a year.

Perhaps he can be considered a money guy, someone to rely on at crunch time.

Perhaps even at a lanky 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, he can instigate and antagonize and be a thorn in plenty of sides, an irritant that makes himself welcome in Chicago and an enormous crowd favorite at last by being booed everywhere else he plays.

With the preseason upon us, starting Wednesday night in Winnipeg against Tampa Bay, veterans such as Kopecky won't be expected to jump out right away. These times belong to Igor Makarov, Jake Dowell, Corey Crawford, Jack Skille and a perpetual list of wannabes that makes up the current Hawks' depth chart.

But it's never a bad idea for a veteran anonymous asset to make himself known at the earliest possible moment. Tommy Boy certainly took his own sweet time last season in thrusting himself forward and getting some overdue notice.

Kopecky has earned two championships. But he hasn't earned the luxury of taking the preseason off or even starting the regular season on a trudging pace. Once this season begins, Kopecky is back to square one: man of mystery who must be willing to provide us with a lot of clues as to where he fits.

Kopecky has a chance this season with a roster shorn by financial necessity to step to the head of the class and excel. He needs to go from a C to a B at the very least. A B-plus would be quite nice.

Then he can safely pass from anonymous to acknowledged asset. In a contract year for him, he needs to show us the money player he is and not the nickel-and-dimer who too often frequents the fringes and can't get comped at Gibson's.

All this will not be answered Wednesday. Fow now, Kopecky has to eat at Klas and be happy with a free Slivovitz.

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11 Comments

borg said:

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I don't like Kopecky on the top 2 lines because he doesn't have scoring instincts. He does have a great shot, perhaps the best on the team, but that doesn't translate enough for a scoring assignment.

The dream scenario over the next couple of years, imo, is for Beach, Morin and perhaps Makarov to complete the wings of the first three lines. But the way things are now, I think Brouwer has to have a leg up for one of those spots this year. I've never seen him look so fast as he did in Saturday's scrimmage. Maybe Versteeg and Buff's departures will force Brouwer to take that next step and challenge the 30-goal marker.

It really will be mix-and-match this season, even more than usual for a Quenneville team.

Mike Kiley said:

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I see where Sassone in The Daily Herald is going with Bickell as a likely candidate to crack the top 6. Sounds like it's more wide open than the Chicago mayoral race.

borg said:

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I don't think the Hawks have any idea of what they want to do right now. Is Dowell the 4th line center, or has his poor showing in scrimmages opened the door for Potulny?

Is Pisani a 3rd or 4th liner? What about Skille?

Can Stalberg show enough other than pure speed to play on line 2?

Does Bickell have enough skill to play on one of the top lines, or is it better for him to be a grinder on the 4th?

And then there's the wild card Makarov, who might be talented enough to play on a top line himself if he can make the team.

Hell, they don't even know if they want Kane and Toews playing together.

Anyway you slice it, it looks like there will be either a defensive player or banger on Bolland's line. I had wanted Bolland to play with offensive wings this year, but it seems unlikely.

Jerry Kayne said:

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Drop the puck and let's see what's under the hood!

beaverwarrior said:

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Tomas is so far under the radar that people think he's from the Czech Republic. Both he and Hossa are Slovakian....

Mike Kiley said:

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Got a F myself in geography all the way down the line, be it blue or any other color. But if it shows he was born in Czechoslovakia, he'll always be a Czech to me. You can't cancel any Czech you want.

Jerry Kayne said:

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He he you said "F myself" he he.

VegasHawksFan said:

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This comment should be predictable. On a team that was as loaded with talent as the Hawks were last year, I don't think it's such a negative mark on Kopecky that he could not crack the top six from the start. My spin from last year that I will stick to now is that I believe Kopecky becomes more important when you need to work harder as a team. Early on last year, I thought the team was given a lot of space by other teams and they made very good use of it. Once opposing defenses started to tighten up later in the season, I personally think a guy like Kopecky was more useful and he seemed to have an enormous confidence boost after the olympics. I like his feistiness on the ice and I like seeing him head toward the net. I'm not sure he's top six talent, but I don't see any reason he shouldn't have a full time job this year and be one of the guys who gets to see top line time when the coach Q random line generator is in use.

Hostile Hawk said:

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I agree with nkldh, Kopecky showed some grit last year. Much of the time, he was getting such limited ice, and with lesser talents, it was hard to make an impact. When he was played more consistently with players who were grinding, he scored some goals. And, he showed how well he can get in players faces and knock some bodies around. Ladd will be missed, maybe someone like Kopecky can fill some of those shoes. It was a mistake for him not to play in San Jose, the type of mistakes that Q might not get saved from this year. Luckily, Niemi was extremely brilliant when it was needed most.

Toews and Kane should not be on a line together, and if the coaching staff is unsure about that, then there might be some problems.
I still say throw Kopecky on Hossa's line and see what happens.
Makarov is something to watch, and might throw a curveball at the coaching staff, which is great. Having options is not a problem. Maybe some of the other question marks play great and someone like Kopecky falls back a tad, but he still needed for the experience and physical aspect. He is a great player to have on the team.

Jerry Kayne said:

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My 2ยข. My observations of Kopecky are he's got energy, wild abandon, and can score on the 3rd line. But when he's on a line with Hossa he's passive and only looks for Hossa to pass to. I've seen him skate up to Hossa and hand him the puck last year. He needs to be on lines 3 or 4 so he can use his NHL calibre talents.

Forklift said:

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Nice shout-out to Klas...love their svickova.

Kopecky should be on the 4th line - it's really where he belongs. Besides, he can fill the instigator void left by Burish.

And while his name is on the Cup twice, the first time he was in the press box when the Cup was raised. At least this time he was in uniform.

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