Oct 192010

This week we fly solo and focus on all the latest news and games in the world of the Chicago Blackhawks.

We also take a first look at the new Bob Probert auto-biography, due out at the end of the month.  In which, Probert admits to cheating on his league-mandated alcohol and drug tests during his days with the Blackhawks.

The Third Man In ~ Radio “Tough Talk”
Tuesday October 19, 2010 ~ e.57
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The show returns live next week, Tuesday October 26th at 8pm central. Guest TBD


Oct 132010

Head coach Joel Quenneville surprised some today when he informed the assembled media after this morning’s skate of his intentions to start Corey Crawford tonight when the Nashville Predators make their maiden 2010-11 season voyage to United Center.

This should come as little shock to anyone.  As we mentioned here last week, this is the same coach who sat Cristobal Huet, a year ago tonight (technically tomorrow, the 14th), when Nikolai Khabibulin made his return with his new team, the Edmonton Oilers.

The rest is history.  The Hawks played spectacularly in front of Antti Niemi, defeating the Oilers and Khabibulin 4-3.  Niemi was nothing special that evening.  But he was good enough.  Huet watched from the bench.  And a goaltending “controversy” was born.

Quenneville’s choice to start Crawford back-to-back after the team’s first win of the season in Buffalo does make sense if you think in logical terms. Continue reading »

Oct 122010

Buddy Oakes, of the Nashville Predators’ site PredsOnTheGlass.com joined us on this week’s TTMI~Radio.

We discuss all-things Predators as we preview Wednesday night’s game between the Predators and Chicago Blackhawks.  This will be the first of six matchups between these two division rivals.

The Third Man In ~ Radio ~ “Nashville Preview w/Preds On The Glass”
Tuesday October 12, 2010 ~ e.56
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Among the topics discussed on tonight’s show
– 2010 Conference Quarter-Finals – A Nashville Perspective
– Sergei Kostitsyn a Predator
– The greatness of Shea Weber
– Matt Lombardi a #1 center?
– “The Predator Way”
– Ex-Hawks J.P. Dumont and Steve Sullivan
– Fans discontent with Jason Arnott last season
– Barry Trotz’ iron-clad job security
– Acquisition of Shane O’Brien
– How, or if, Nashville franchise would benefit from having a true superstar on the ice
– Would the Preds & their fans accept Alexander Radulov back?
– The rocky career of David Legwand
All this and a bunch more with Buddy.

– Then, we discuss the Niklas Hjalmarsson blind side hit on Jason Pominville from Monday night’s game in Buffalo
– Was the 2-game suspension handed down by the NHL just?
– More on these kinds of hits and Ryan Miller’s reaction
– Impressions of the Hawks first three regular season games
– Including Nick Leddy, Viktor Stalberg, Jack Skille and Marty Turco

Our show returns next Tuesday night, October 19th @ 8pm.


Oct 122010

TheThirdManIn~Radio returns tonight as we take a look back at the Chicago Blackhawks first three games of the 2010-11 season.

Also, Buddy Oakes of PredsOnTheGlass.com, Inside Hockey and the Columbia Daily Herald will join us to talk Nashville Predators’ hockey and preview tomorrow night’s Blackhawks-Preds matchup at the United Center.

You can listen to tonight’s show live at 8pm central over at BlogTalk, or on ITunes, this site or in the archives later tonight.

We’ll also discuss Niklas Hjalmarsson’s violent, illegal check on Buffalo Sabres’ winger Jason Pominville from last night’s first period in Buffalo.

I’m sure most have either heard or seen the play, but if not ….


It’s extremely frustrating to read and hear people attempting to defend Hjalmarsson for this hit, or absolve Hjalmarsson because “Pominville saw him coming.”  And I’m having a hard time understanding how individuals, and some who I usually respect, can come away from that hit saying it was anything other than a hit from behind.  If you’re one of those people, you’re really embarrassing yourself.

I think Tim Sassone is pretty close to being on top of this.  And at least Hockeenight is one place that knows a hit from behind when it plays out blatantly before their eyes.

Sassone is right in regards to this hit on Pominville not being comparable, fairly, to the hit James Wisniewski (more on this goof later today) laid on Brent Seabrook last season.  There was clear intent to do damage to Seabrook where Wisniewski’s hit was concerned.  I don’t think anyone’s saying Hjalmarsson had similar intentions in mind at all.  He was simply careless.  And careless when it comes to another player’s well being should be taken very seriously.

Last night’s hit was reckless.  Considering Pominville’s positioning along the wall with his hands down, not in a position to be hit, vulnerable, with Hjalmarsson attacking from a blind spot, it is clearly too dangerous of a hit for the league to overlook.

Whether Pominville saw Hjalmarsson coming or not is irrelevant.  He’s not expecting to be hit before the puck gets to him, because that would be an illegal hit.  As this hit was illegal.

At the point before the collision that Pominville looks over his shoulder, he already sees the puck coming towards him.  With Hjalmarsson oncoming, he’s in no-man’s land.  He could surrender the puck because he suspects he’s about to be hit illegally and dangerously, or he can trust Hjalmarsson won’t act recklessly.

Ultimately the responsibility lies completely in Hjalmarsson’s hands.  I’ve been in his position before and I’ve done the same thing.  The idea is to time the contact at the exact moment the puck arrives because that’s when the puck carrier is at his most vulnerable (within the rules).  We see this attempted all the time.  Hjalmarsson’s looking for a big collision.  One that knocks Pominville off the puck and temporarily out of the play.  Because that’s the sexier play, and the easier one if you time it right and have the balance and strength to pull it off.

To suggest Hjalmarsson was looking to injure Pominville is absurd.  Hjalmarsson’s pulled this very maneuver off, probably 100 times as a Blackhawk, but he screwed up this time.  He was looking to put a big-time hit on Pominville. In playing a guessing-game with the timing of the collision, Hjalmarsson was playing a game of risk with Pominville’s well-being.

And that’s what is most-concerning and ultimately suspendable.  In the position Pominville is in, there along the wall; he’s at  Hjalmarsson’s mercy.  Niklas could have simply attempted to stick-check Pominville at the moment the puck arrived, or waited until the puck got to Pominville before committing to the hit.  It’s not as if running Pominville into the boards and glass was his only option there.  Instead, he saw Pominville on the train tracks and chose to run him down.

Joel Quenneville’s defense of Hjalmarsson post-game is predictable, still dumbfounding.  You can say “well, if Hjalmarsson gets there a half second later….” – But he didn’t.  And that’s Hjalmarsson’s responsibility.  Not Pominville’s.  If the shoe was on the other foot, you can guarantee Quenneville wouldn’t be suggesting that hit didn’t even warrant a minor penalty.

Further, Quenneville suggesting Hjalmarsson was playing the puck and didn’t see the stationary Pominville, is more ridiculous than someone insinuating Pominville share some culpability in the collision because he looked over his shoulder shortly before and noticed the Blackhawk defenseman’s presence.  Pominville is at least in Hjalmarsson’s field of vision, not bringing the impact from a blind area.  Plus, when you watch the replay, Hjalmarsson turns his shoulder into the 9 on the back of Pominville’s sweater before the moment of impact while Pominville is still waiting for the puck.

There’s an entire larger issue here as it pertains to the lack of respect players seem to have for one another at times.  As in the case of Wisniewski and Ovechkin’s hit on Brian Campbell.

But when it comes to head injuries, the league needs to do more than give lip service.

I wouldn’t argue there was intention on Hjalmarsson’s part to strike the head.  However, when you hit a player along the wall, who has his hands down and at that moment, isn’t expecting to be hit, and can’t see the hit coming, what do you think is going to happen?  The force of the hit will drive the vulnerable player into the boards and glass, with the head being at a high risk to strike one of those violently.

It’ll be interesting to see how the league handles this.  Because Hjalmarsson doesn’t have a record of this, you shouldn’t expect the league to be hard on him.  However, considering Pominville did sustain a concussion and will likely miss at least a few games, the league office will undoubtedly be hitting Hjalmarsson will some kind of discipline.

Two games would be fair and hopefully send a message that hits like these won’t be tolerated.

The good news is Pominville was well enough that the medical attendants did not transport him to hospital and treated him at the arena.

Any head injury, be it “slight” or “severe” is serious.  Head trauma is nothing to glance over, or treat as an understood hazard of the game.  There must be some accountability in situations such as these.  The next player who sees an opportunity like the one Hjalmarsson saw last night, must understand there will be ramifications if he doesn’t time that hit right.


Oct 112010

Blackhawks take their show out east tonight to take on the Buffalo Sabres (1-1-0) at HSBC Arena tonight at 6:00pm central time.

Patrick Kane will be suiting up in his hometown as a Blackhawk for the third time.  He’s posted a goal and an assist in two games there in his career.

Last December, the Hawks exhibited a lackluster effort in Buffalo during a 2-1 loss to the Sabres.  Patrick Sharp posted the lone Chicago tally.  Clarke MacArthur (now with Toronto) and Thomas Vanek scored the goals for Buffalo.

Ex-Blackhawk Patrick Lalime got the start that night and did have to make 39 saves in the win.  Cristobal Huet took the loss for the Hawks in a 31 save performance.

As for tonight’s game, Corey Crawford will make his season debut between the pipes for a Blackhawk team in the midst of four games in seven nights to start the ’10-11 season.

Chicago returns home Wednesday night to face division rival Nashville for the first time since knocking the Predators out of the playoffs in April.  Nashville will have played just one game before Wednesday’s tilt, an impressive 4-1 drubbing of Anaheim before a capacity crowd at Bridgestone Arena.

Patrick Sharp says he will return to the lineup tonight after missing Saturday’s home opener against the Wings with a slight concussion.

I’m not sure what the difference between a slight concussion and simply a concussion is?  Either you have one or you don’t.  Considering all the problems NHL players are having these days with head trauma and information we’re learning about the long-term effects of head injuries, I’m absolutely certain all parties concerned, including Sharp, could afford to sit out another game or two and rest his brain. Continue reading »

Oct 072010

The Chicago Blackhawks begin their 84th NHL regular season campaign and defense of the organization’s 4th Stanley Cup championship tonight at 9pm (central) at the Pepsi Center in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche.  The game will be televised nationwide by VERSUS.

With the turnover and cap-crunch all having been well-documented since the Hawks hoisted the Cup back on June 9th, all that’s left is to do is wait and see how the newcomers fit, and who picks up the slack.

Tonight is no more important to any Blackhawk than it is to Marty Turco.

Turco, 35, had a so-so preseason and his teammates have struggled to adjust to Turco’s eagerness to play the puck.  With Antti Niemi, Cristobal Huet and even Nikolai Khabibulin, the defense was solely responsible for retrieving the puck, clearing the zone and quarterbacking the offense.  Turco likes to audible and call plays himself.  The Hawks offense hasn’t been built that way and it will take time to find a happy medium.

Chicago should win this game easily.  Craig Anderson led the Avs with a phenomenal run last October and November, but he was a lot less his super-human self in the second half.  With the exception of Marian Hossa, the Hawk veterans mostly coasted through the preseason in cruise control and should be ready to hammer the gas tonight in Denver.

With all the talk of who the Blackhawks lost and the “damage” done to the 2010 Champs roster, veterans like Hossa, Sharp, Keith, Seabrook, Kane and captain Jonathan Toews will be looking to make a statement.

Marty Turco too can address Blackhawk fans and the rest of the league tonight himself.  Something along the lines of “Niemi Who?”

And he’d better make that kind of a statement, because waiting around the corner Saturday night for the Hawks’ home opener and Stanley Cup banner unveiling are the Detroit Red Wings.  A night of celebration and raising the banner in the faces of the hated Red Wings may sound poetic to some, but once the wheels on the pomp and circumstance hault, Saturday night has all the makings of a Red Wings express reminder that while Chicago’s celebration may only be four months old, a whole new season has arrived..

If Turco struggles tonight and the Wings emerge victorious Saturday, the UC will be uproarious, but not in a good way.  Gloom and doom will take flight and Turco will feel the heat. Continue reading »

Oct 072010

I wanted to get my full predictions up before the first puck drops on the 2010-11 NHL Season at 11am this morning in Helsinki, Finland (Hurricanes-Wild).  I’ll follow this up later on today after a nap, with team-by-team commentary and thorough explanations of these detailed predictions.

2010-11 Western Conference Prediction

    W L OL Pts
1 Vancouver Canucks 51 21 10 112
2 Detroit Red Wings 48 22 12 108
3 San Jose Sharks 47 24 11 105
4 Los Angeles Kings 47 25 10 104
5 Chicago Blackhawks 46 24 12 104
6 Nashville Predators 44 29 9 97
7 St. Louis Blues 44 30 8 96
8 Colorado Avalanche 42 31 9 93
9 Phoenix Coyotes 41 32 9 91
10 Anaheim Ducks 39 34 9 87
11 Calgary Flames 38 33 11 87
12 Minnesota Wild 37 36 9 83
13 Columbus Blue Jackets   36 37 9 81
14 Dallas Stars 34 37 11 79
15 Edmonton Oilers 33 38 11 77

2010-11 Eastern Conference Prediction

    W L OL Pts
1 Boston Bruins 51 23 8 110
2 Washington Capitals 48 24 10 106
3 Philadelphia Flyers 46 25 11 103
4 New Jersey Devils 45 27 10 100
5 Pittsburgh Penguins 43 27 12 98
6 Buffalo Sabres 43 31 8 94
7 Montreal Canadiens 42 30 10 94
8 Tampa Bay Lightning   40 32 10 90
9 Carolina Hurricanes 39 32 11 89
10 Atlanta Thrashers 38 32 12 88
11 Ottawa Senators 39 36 7 85
12 Toronto Maple Leafs 35 37 10 80
13 New York Rangers 33 40 9 75
14 Florida Panthers 32 39 11 75
15 New York Islanders 29 40 13 71

East Conference Quarter-Finals
Boston Bruins over Tampa Bay Lightning

Washington Caps over Montreal Canadiens

Philadelphia Flyers over Buffalo Sabres

Pittsburgh Penguins over New Jersey Devils

East Conference Semi-Finals
Boston Bruins over Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals over Philadelphia Flyers

Eastern Conference Final
Washington Capitals over Boston Bruins

West Conference Quarter-Finals
Vancouver Canucks over Colorado Avalanche

Detroit Red Wings over St. Louis Blues

San Jose Sharks over Nashville Predators

Los Angeles Kings over Chicago Blackhawks

West Conference Semi-Finals
Los Angeles Kings over Vancouver Canucks

Detroit Red Wings over San Jose Sharks

Western Conference Final
Los Angeles Kings over Detroit Red Wings

2011 Stanley Cup Finals
Washington Capitals over Los Angeles Kings

Quick notes:
As I mentioned way back on last month’s TTMI~Radio when we previewed training camp with Sam Fels, I expect Los Angeles to go for it all this year, and acquire Brad Richards from Dallas sometime in February if not earlier.  If the Stars are pinning their hopes on Kari Lehtonen, they will regret it.  Brad Richards will be a UFA next summer and the Kings are a 1st or high-end 2nd line center away from being serious Cup contenders.  The Kings will have Thomas Hickey and Colton Teubert, top defenseman prospects to package in a deal, and the Stars have a tremendous need for good young blue liners.

Where LA finishes mostly depends on when they get Richards, or another big gun.  But they will make that move.  They wanted Ilya Kovalchuk, but the price was too high and long-term implications would have potentially cost them key pieces down the line.  Richards is a big game performer as his Conn Smythe trophy from the 2004 Finals proves.  The Kings’ defense might be the deepest, most versatile in the West when its all said an done.  In the end, I believe they fall short.  But it will be a fun ride for Kings’ fans.

In regards to the Hawks, a lot of where they finish really depends heavily on what Detroit does.  If the Wings can stay healthy and receive competent goaltending, I can’t envision them not winning the Central.  But, it will go down to the wire.  I had the Hawks finishing with 106-107 points before the Campbell injury, and that dropped them one slot and cost them home ice against the Kings on my board.

If it were any other team but the Kings, I’d lean heavy on the Hawks to advance to the second round.  At some point though, the lack of depth, inexperience and downgrades in some key positions left behind by the departed will catch up with them.  And I can’t bet on Marty Turco.

Going into the season, its apparent to me each conference has clearly defined upper and lower tiers.  In the middle are a bunch of teams you could pick to win a round if the worlds align just right by April, but none are real Cup contenders.  So, the betting money is with the chalk.

I’m going back to my prediction of a year ago.  This will be the season it all clicks in Washington.  At some point they’ll get a goalie.  Varlamov won’t be that man.  George McPhee, in my mind, made a big mistake not making a move on Antti Niemi.  Unless he has a bigger fish (Ilya Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun) in mind.  I also agree, as Sam Fels predicted on our show in September, that Bruce Boudreau won’t be the guy behind the Caps’ bench when they make their run for the Cup in the spring.

I’ll have more later including season-ending trophy predictions.


Oct 052010

On Monday, the Blackhawks assigned Jeremy Morin to the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL.  The decision ends an apparent late pre-season competition between Morin and 24-year old Vitkor Stalberg for a spot on left wing.

In the off season, Morin, 19, was acquired from Atlanta in the deal that sent Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel to the Thrashers.  Viktor Stalberg was the key return in the trade in which the Hawks sent Kris Versteeg to Toronto.

In the final exhibition game Sunday versus the Blues, Stalberg skated just under 9 minutes for coach Joel Quenneville, while Morin played 13:18 including several shifts on the power play.  Both were credited with two hits.  Morin registered two shots to Stalberg’s one.  Each picked up an assist while Morin finished a minus-1 and Stalberg a plus-1.  Morin’s effort leading to Marian Hossa’s deflection-goal during a second-period power play was a highlight of the game.  Afterwards, Quenneville called Morin’s night “okay.”

The move of Morin to the AHL trims the Blackhawks roster down to the maximum of 23 with the injury to Brian Campbell and demotion of goaltender Hannu Toivonen having previously gone down over the weekend.

Here’s how the opening night roster stacks up: (lines speculative)

Troy Brouwer – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Tomas Kopecky – Patrick Sharp – Patrick Kane
Viktor Stalberg – Dave Bolland – Fernando Pisani
Bryan Bickell – Ryan Potulny – Jack Skille
Jake Dowell

Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Nick Leddy
Jordan Hendry – Nick Boynton
John Scott (W/D) – Jassen Cullimore

Marty Turco
Corey Crawford

Injured: Brian Campbell (sprained right knee; out 4-5 weeks)

Jack Skille (arm) is at this point still considered questionable for Thursday’s opener in Colorado.  Skille has said he thinks he’ll be ready.

Cullimore is still around in case the Hawks get cold feet with the Nick Leddy experiment or it simply doesn’t work out.  Cullimore had a better camp than most everyone is willing to give him credit for and while it may seem unfathomable to some, Cullimore is still a better option for Quenneville than rookies like Ivan Vishnevskiy or Brian Connelly.

If Skille can’t go Thursday, its very possible John Scott will dress as the 12th forward and Cullimore as the 6th-D against the Avalanche.  Remember, Nick Boynton will be serving a one-game suspension Thursday night for his throat-slashing gesture in the first exhibition game on September 22 in Winnipeg against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With Jake Dowell dressing the final two preseason games and Ryan Potulny watching those contests from the stands, it would stand to reason Dowell is getting the call to center the fourth line in Game 1 of 82.  Or, both Dowell and Potulny dress  (if Skille is out) in game one and Scott stands in as the 6th defenseman.

While Jordan Hendry didn’t do much this exhibition season to gain many’s confidence in his ability to anchor the third defensive pairing, the 5-6 duo needs the additional mobility neither Boynton or Scott can provide.  Thus, Hendry could have a longer rope.

In regards to the Morin demotion….

I think you’d be troubled to find a single person who felt Viktor Stalberg out-performed Jeremy Morin during the exhibition contests.  If this were a legitimate one vs one competition, Stalberg would be the player headed to the AHL.  But this obviously wasn’t.

There’s also not much to the notion Morin was a casualty of salary cap considerations.  While Morin’s 2010-11 potential performance bonuses total $170,000 more than Stalberg’s, those would be covered under the entry-level bonus cushion.  Also, Morin’s base salary and preliminary cap hit is $70,000 less than Stalberg’s.  So Morin’s preliminary hit is more favorable than Stalberg’s.  And if Morin were to stick all year at the NHL level and meet all his marks for those bonuses, I’m sure the Blackhawks wouldn’t mind.

More likely, if the cap figured into Morin’s case at all, is apparent inclusion of Nick Leddy on the opening night roster.  Leddy’s base salary according to numbers listed on CapGeek.com is $900,000.  Leddy also does not have attainable performance bonuses this season.  With Leddy in the mix on the Hawks’ blue line, the Hawks only have space for minimum sized contracts for the time being.  If Brian Campbell had not been injured Friday in the game with Pittsburgh, Leddy probably would not have made the team and Morin may have been rewarded with an early trial with the Hawks.

With Leddy in the picture, Morin had to beat out Stalberg since the contracts of Bickell, Skille, Potulny, Dowell, and even John Scott are all closer to the league minimum.  And ultimately, Morin doesn’t have to clear waivers while most of those players do, and that’s why Morin was never really in competition for a spot with anyone but Stalberg.  However, once Viktor Stalberg hits the 20 games played mark this season, he becomes waiver-eligible.  So you can see the pressure is on Stalberg to get going early or he could be headed to Rockford sooner than later after all.  Morin won’t become waiver-eligible until the 2014-15 season, or when he hits 160 NHL games played.

Stan Bowman, may also be looking to delay the passing of Jassen Cullimore through waivers until a few days after the season begins and teams set their initial rosters in case there would happen to be interest in him.  And there very well could be if you consider losing another veteran blue liner (Cullimore) would hurt the Hawks to a degree.  He hasn’t had a bad camp either.  While I’m pretty positive he’s not someone Bowman wants to see in any regularity in a Hawks uniform, Cullimore, who turns 38 in December, is still a veteran who could give the Hawks some minutes in a pinch and also has value skating with the young kids in Rockford.

While I don’t find the Morin cut as any great injustice, it is slightly disconcerting to see Bowman’s slight of Morin.  That said, Stalberg can erase those thoughts in a hurry if he gets off to a quick start this week.  And by all accounts, Morin is a determined, intelligent kid and this probably won’t set him back any.  He could also use the experience of a season in the AHL to learn the intricacies of the pro game and continued improvement on his skating.  He was only in the running for a spot this year to begin with because the Hawks’ depth up front so poor.

Stalberg posted 9 goals and 14 points in 40 games with the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs last season.  In Chicago, he’s greeted, yes, with more-accomplished teammates, but also with greater expectations.  The early returns simply won’t do.  Stalberg will find himself on the outs soon enough if he can’t find the net and help provide some offense on one of the top three lines.