Before we get to having the normal types of conversations about hockey, I have this one last rant:
Even though the price was wrong, the NHLPA eventually caved to playing for terms that didn't seem too much like a compromise. Sure, there was some negotiating at the end to find a middle ground, but on a whole, the powerful owners (not the owners who needed a break) and more importantly, Bettman, got exactly what he wanted. And, after reading articles around the net that suggest Bettman wouldn't even talk until the lockout was about 5 months in only add to this fan's frustration with the Bettman and his NHL. This is of course, my last rant on the subject as hockey is about to finally get going here, but Bettman should get shown the door sooner than later, and that is without talking about his need to feed his pockets with expansion money at the risk of the league.
Enough about that, how about them Hawks?
Almost all of the players have returned to skating with the team as camp begins to open up. In the very, very near future, the puck will drop for the Hawks in Los Angeles of all places on January 19th. It seems a bit too soon, but we all knew it would hit the ground running. As we have mentioned a few times here, the Hawks might be a team that gained more than lost from the lockout as compared to others around the league. Most notably in the extra healing time for certain concussed players, and seeing Kane play in Sweden wasn't all that bad either.
Kane has already stated how great and ready he feels for the fast approaching season. “I think it’s going to be big for me,” Kane said. “Before I came back, I played eight games in 10 days, or something like that. At one point, it was five in five nights. It was really good for my conditioning and skating and everything, and you’re playing on a bigger ice. I’m glad I did it. It was a good experience, and hopefully it’ll help during the season.” Good, with the shortened season, a good start is almost necessary.
We can add a few other names to that list of readiness, especially Viktor Stalberg who also played some puck in the Swedish Elite. There was also Frolik, who played in the Czech league. All 3 of these players are on my radar to be the difference makers this year. If they have big seasons, so will the Hawks. Something that is not a secret on this blog is my appreciation for the size and skills within Stalberg, and my expectations about his inevitable explosion, not that he didn't have a successful season last year.
Maybe the largest questions coming into this mad rush for the playoffs is the Blackhawks goaltending. No changes from the end of last season does not sit very well with the bulk of the fanbase, and for good reason. Do I still have faith in Crawford, sure, but it is more of a hope, and not much more. I do believe this to be the biggest concern for the Hawks as they enter game 1.
The other, still looming question is that of the 2nd line center, although I don't feel it to be as pressing as others. It is still my opinion that the Hawks have everything they need to be very successful (goaltending excluded). A 2nd line pairing of Stalberg and Hossa has been thrown around, and the most featured player between them has been Kruger. Personally, I disagree with that whole grouping. Although Stalberg and Hossa have both been guilty of confusing other teammates who play on their lines, I do not see these guys as good fits. Apparently my love for Stalberg is somewhat balanced by my views of Kruger. Not that I think he is a bad player, I would be fine with him on a 4th line and PK, but he is absolutely not a 2nd line center. From what I have seen, he works hard, but lacks the skills. He doesn't win faceoffs, is no playmaker, and just seems a little uncomfortable with the puck if you ask me, not that he would ever get the puck playing with those 2.
Nope, my money is on Brandon Pirri for the time being. More than anything however, I would like to see this current team thought of outside the barriers of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd line. When the lines were kept intact for more than 1 game, and ice-time kept more even across these lines, the Hawks played better as a unit. How Q has not found a healthy balance and pairing of his players yet is something that aches my brain with every game's passing, but the Hawks have a full roster in hand. How Q chooses to use it will be as interesting as always.
The next big topic of discussion is in regards to the defensive lineup. As has been mentioned just about everywhere, Hjalmer might be crowding the locker room. Again, I disagree, though not entirely. When I look at the promise of his play, and Oduya's as well, I see the possibility of a very balanced and strong defensive effort from the Hawks. Again, the whole coaching aspect is a place to be discouraged about, but playing Oduya and Hjalmer on separate lines with Keith and Seabs on each of their sides offers a great sense of intrigue to a fan like me. More than a missing sense of aggression with our defense, is a sense of a balanced approach. Oduya and Hjalmer are very balanced and by the book defenders as seen in their play. The aggression aspect has been added in your #5 and #6 guys, as Leddy would be the 7th man out for me right now. I would rather see where his development goes in the AHL, as it wasn't abundantly great from what I saw. The big issue here is going to be salary cap limitations, and there just might not be any solution besides moving Hjalmer's contract elsewhere here, since the cap will be much more conservative moving into future seasons.
Anywho, not much is being said that hasn't already been said. We just have to wait and see how it all pans out, and then dissect those actions. Luckily, our waiting is almost over.
Filed under: View from the Bench