Hogs, Hawks & Buff notes, All-timers and HHOF, Circus part one, Brightest prospect

TTMI~Radio returns tonight at 8pm (central).  We’ll try to make sense of these Blackhawks, and the Rockford IceHogs inconsistencies, part one of the ‘Circus Trip’ and look ahead to this week’s games with the three California teams.  We may have a special guest but it isn’t confirmed.

– Dustin Byfuglien is acquitting himself quite well so far in Atlanta.

Byfuglien ranks 3rd among NHL defenseman in scoring with 19 points (7 goals, 12 assists) in 21 games.  Nicklas Lidstrom and John-Michael Liles are tied for first, each with 20 points.  Byfuglien (E), Ron Hainsey (E) and Brent Sopel (+3) are the only three Thrasher defenseman not in the negative in the plus/minus category.  Byfuglien is currently paired with Tobias Enstrom.  Byfuglien is tied with Steven Stamkos and Rick Nash for most game-winning goals (4).  And he’s tied with Ilya Kovalchuk at the top of the board in overtime goals with two.

For comparison’s sake:

Dustin Byfuglien: 21gp, 7g, 12a, 19pts, E +/-, $3,000,000
Dave Bolland:  17gp, 1g, 3a,  4pts, +2 +/-, $3,375,000

Rockford IceHogs notes:

– Following the impressive 1-0, Hannu Toivonen-led victory on Thursday in Winnipeg, the IceHogs dropped Friday’s rematch with Manitoba 3-1 before 14,134 fans at MTS Centre.  After flying back to Chicago on Saturday and busing back to Rockford for the night, the IceHogs traveled to Peoria on Sunday where they battled hard but lost a 3-2 shootout decision to the Rivermen.  I did a combined recap of these two games Sunday night, which I’ll post on the site once I figure out how to undo the laptop.

Jeremy Morin scored the lone Rockford goal in Friday loss at Manitoba.  Morin’s one-timer off a feed from Kyle Beach with 55 seconds left in the third period slipped past Tyler Weiman and ruined his bid for a shutout.  The goal came while the Hogs were operating a 6-on-3 power play with goaltender Hannu Toivonen pulled for an extra attacker.

Toivonen followed Thursday’s 1-0, 29-save shutout performance with another solid game Friday.  Toivonen stopped another 38 Moose shots Friday.  The third Manitoba goal, by Jeff Tambellini, was scored also while Toivonen was on the bench for an extra attacker 58 seconds prior to Morin’s tally.

Morin also scored on Sunday, notching his 6th of the season, on a wrister through traffic that eluded Peoria goalie Jake Allen.  Morin also was caught for a couple bad penalties Sunday, including one with 31 seconds left in overtime.

Sunday was a very well played, back and forth hockey game.  Nick Leddy (2 assists) and Brian Connelly (1g, 1a) led the ‘Hogs each with two point nights.  Brian Connelly, who leads Rockford in scoring (13 points) posted his first goal of the season to tie the game 2-2 midway through the second period.

With their best shootout-gamers out of the lineup or injured (Pirri, Vishnevskiy and Beach) head coach Bill Peters sent out Morin (off Allen’s arm & post), Taffe (right pad save), Potulny (deked to forehand, right pad stop), Brandon Bollig (nothing but left post stick-side) and Hugh Jessiman (GOAL, under the right pad) who did force sudden death with the lone Hogs shooting contest tally.  Former Chicago Wolves’ blue liner Nathan Oystrick ended the game with a slap shot, sending a puck past Alec Richards’s stick and blocker.  Richards was good in his only appearance of the week.

Kyle Beach left Sunday’s game with an apparent lower-body injury late in the first period after a collision just inside the offensive blue line with Peoria center Brett Sonne.  Beach gingerly rejoined the play for a few seconds but retreated to the bench after Peoria cleared the zone.  Beach never returned.

Jeff Taffe (upper-body) returned Sunday after missing five games.  Evan Brophey sat out Sunday with a lower-body injury he originally suffered in the Nov 18th game in Winnipeg.  Ivan Vishnevskiy also sat out for the second time in a week, resting a nagging lower-body injury.

– Norwegian center Mathis Olimb, as hinted by Mike Peck on TTMI~Radio last Tuesday, is expected to make his season and North American pro hockey debut Wednesday night when Rockford hosts the Lake Erie Monsters.  Olimb has been out of action with a shoulder injury suffered during an on-ice fight with Kyle Beach in July’s prospect camp.  Olimb injured the shoulder when he fell to the ice in his second fight of that day with Beach.

In an interview with Norwegian newspaper Aftenposen earlier this month, Olimb claimed no hard feelings toward Beach and that he considered the two now as friends.  Olimb told the paper he believed Beach was only after him because [Beach] only wanted to show the Blackhawks he was a tough guy.  The story also made note of the large difference in Olimb’s payrate (67,500 vs 600,000) AHL vs NHL.

As Mike Peck noted in the interview with us, Olimb’s brother is a personal trainer back home and helped Mathis with his rehabilitation.  Olimb, who turns 25 on February 1st, is an offensive centerman and thus will be contending for Brandon Pirri and Evan Brophey’s minutes.

– Rockford begins a stretch of three games in four nights Wednesday.  On Friday they’ll travel to Grand Rapids.  Saturday, the IceHogs return home to face the Peoria Rivermen for the fifth time already this season.  Jack Skille bobbleheads to the first 2,500 fans this Saturday at the MetroCentre.

– One-time Chicago Blackhawk left wing Gaye Stewart passed away on Thursday at the age of 87 in a hospital in Burlington, Ontario.  Stewart came to the Blackhawks from Toronto, where he had won two Stanley Cups previously, in what would become one of the most lopsided traded in NHL history.  The trade, made on November 4, 1947, had the Blackhawks sending superstar Max Bentley (with Cy Thomas) to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Stewart, Gus Bodnar, Bud Poile, Bob Goldham and Ernie Dickens.  Max Bentley was coming off back-to-back Art Ross Trophy seasons and a league MVP Hart Trophy in 1946.

As legend goes, Blackhawks general manager Bill Tobin felt his team needed more depth and would be better off with the fivesome than a singular superstar.  Well, Max Bentley never did win a Cup in Chicago, but it didn’t take long for him to win elsewhere.  He won Stanley Cups with the Leafs in ’48, ’49 and ’51.

The Toronto Maple Leafs paid tribute to Stewart, as well as Pat Burns (who died on Friday) before their home game Monday night vs Dallas.

Gaye Stewart appeared in 178 games as a Blackhawk over three seasons scoring 70 goals and 66 assists for Blackhawk teams that finished 6th, 5th and 6th (out of 6) respectively. 

Stewart went to Detroit in the summer of 1950 in the deal that brought goaltender Harry Lumley and 24-year old defenseman Al Dewsbury.  That trade’s a notable piece of 1950’s history.  In Chicago, Lumley bridged a gap to Al Rollins, who bridged the gap until Glenn Hall took over on October 8th, 1957.  Al Dewsbury, who was a huge defenseman for his era (6’2″) and stuck around Chicago for six seasons before washing out of the league and finishing his career in the minors.  An aspect of this can be used as a ‘for instance” in regards to a modern-day goaltender who wins a Cup but isn’t brought to his team the following season.  Lumley, who backstopped the Wings to the Cup in 1950, was moved out of Detroit as the Wings had a guy named Terry Sawchuk ready to take the reigns.  Lumley, who had great numbers as a Wing, saw his goals against balloon in two years with Chicago before moving on to Toronto where Lumley suddenly was good again.

– Recent web site poll results:

How many wins will the Blackhawks score on the 6-game ‘Circus Trip’?

44.7% – 4 wins
23.4% – 3 wins
17.0% – 5 wins
8.5% – 2 wins
4.3% – 6-0-0
2.1% – 1 win
nobody predicted a winless road trip

I don’t think we can discern too much from those three games in Canada.  The Hawks simply didn’t give a professional effort Friday in Calgary.  Wednesday and Saturday showed what they’re capable of when an opponent is willing to comply to with the kind of game those Hawks top forwards prefer to play and the proverbial bounces go the Hawks way.  This week, games in San Jose, Anaheim and LA should be more telling.  Antti Niemi will get the nod and be out to prove something on Wednesday in San Jose.  Niemi couldn’t close a late 2-goal lead in Dallas his last time out on Thursday ( a lead his Shark mates gave him off four unanswered goals despite getting down 2-0  seven minutes into the first) and lost in overtime when Brendan Morrow fleeced Dan Boyle behind Niemi.  Morrow then dished to Mike Ribiero, who absolutely pantsed Marc Eduoard Vlasic before he roofed one over Niemi on the backhand.

LA will be returning home after a four-game, six-day jaunt through the Northeast division which concludes Wednesday in Montreal.  The Kings are 1-2 on this swing so far, winning in a shootout Saturday in Boston.  It started Friday in Buffalo (2-4) and stopped in Ottawa last night (2-3).  The Hawks never seem to play well at Honda Center.  Chicago last won there January 28, 2009.  In franchise history at the Honda/Arrowhead Center/Pond place, the Blackhawks record is 9-20-3-0.  Overall, since 2000, the Hawks record vs. the Ducks is 11-23-2.  Chicago is 6-14-0 vs. Anaheim since the lockout.  Three of those wins came during the 2008-09 season.

Which current Rockford IceHogs player has the brightest NHL future?

38.3% – Jeremy Morin
32.1% – Nick Leddy
9.9% – Kyle Beach
8.6% – Igor Makarov
3.7% – Alec Richards
2.5% – Other
2.5% – Ben Smith
1.2% – Brandon Pirri
1.2% – Brian Connelly

Thoughts:  Nothing surprising here.  Morin’s the sexy pick right now based on a few exhibition games and sparse minutes in two appearances on recall even though Leddy’s proving to be more polished and dependable at this stage.  Although I’d still say the Hawks should afford Leddy at least a full season to develop his talents before they look to him in Chicago.  No one on this list should be counted on for anything more than brief injury fill-in duty this season anyway unless the Hawks completely fall out of playoff contention, which isn’t happening.  If not for the concerns in his on-ice focus and composure, Beach should top this list.  I wouldn’t argue with the ten percent who do say that.  There’s a lot of possibility in that body; at least as much as Morin.  Its far too early to determine what grade of prospect Alec Richards is.  He’s been okay to good thus far on the scale of indeterminate vagueness.  Its a shame Connelly didn’t get more votes.  Size is always working against him but he’s a slick puck mover.  He’s not a top prospect but he is one of Rockford’s better skaters.  Ben Smith gets a ton of ice time on the IceHogs and he’s been called up to the Hawks once already, but with that ice time comes responsibility in chipping in more on offense than he is currently.  Pirri has his moments and he’s great in the shootout, but he’s still very raw.  Pirri’s ice time could take a hit if Mathis Olimb is what he’s cracked up to be.  Maybe those “other” voters had Olimb in mind?  To me, Igor Makarov is the interesting guy.  You can tell he’s one the organization has high interest in.  Makarov skates on both special teams units and a lot on a line with Pirri and Morin.  Ultimately, I don’t see Makarov as anything more than a third-liner.  He’s got some moves but has had trouble handling the puck when putting those moves into motion or finding the net and finishing once he’s there.  Yet, it appears as though he’s having fun, working hard and interested in learning everything that comes with the North American game.  He could wind up being a solid pro on determination alone.  With a full season in Rockford and a strong off season I could see him as a top contender for a roster spot next fall which he realistically wasn’t this year.

– Currently on newsstands is a collector’s edition issue of The Hockey News: Top 100 Players of All-Time by Position.  #1’s by position are: (G) Terry Sawchuk; (D) Bobby Orr; (C) Wayne Gretzky; (LW) Bobby Hull; (RW) Gordie Howe

As for the all-time Blackhawks by position, THN rates Chris Chelios as the franchises’ all-time best defenseman.  Chelios is ranked 10th overall at the position. The defense position in particular can be most-scrutinized.  Pierre Pilote is 19th, one spot ahead of Chris Pronger.  Nicklas Lidstrom’s position is interesting considering he’s slotted behind Doug Harvey and in particular Eddie Shore, who no one writing for THN would have ever seen play.

The four best Blackhawks by position according to this THN issue are Glenn Hall, Chris Chelios, Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Bill Mosienko (1941-55).  Mosienko went into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1965.  THN 2nd group of all-time Hawks are: Tony Esposito, Pierre Pilote, Denis Savard, Doug Bentley and Steve Larmer.  They also list a 3rd group: Ed Belfour (who ranks 18th overall among goalies), Earl Seibert (D), Jeremy Roenick, Dennis Hull (LW) and Harold “Mush” March (1928-45).

Mush March was a fixture on the 1934 and 1938 Stanley Cup teams.  Seibert and March were apart of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup in ’38, which is the worst team in history to have won the Stanley Cup; 14-25-9 regular season. In those years, six of eight teams qualified for playoffs (which would be like 22 today, instead of 16) before the league whittle down to its “original” six team form four years later.  As much as I must admit to being a Jeremy Roenick fan, its difficult for me to say Roenick deserves to be ranked ahead of Max Bentley strictly in terms of accolades achieved over their respective careers.

Of those fifteen Blackhawks listed, March, Dennis Hull and Steve Larmer have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Ed Belfour is almost a sure-bet to go as a first-ballot HOF next year.  Jeremy Roenick won’t be eligible until 2012, and while a tougher sell, figures to get in based on his impact on USA hockey.  The best argument for Larmer is his durability and the 884 consecutive games played streak he voluntarily abandoned when he sat out on his contract and demanded a trade in the fall of 1993.  The biggest argument against Larmer is that he was never a 1st or 2nd team All-Star in his playing days; which would indicate he wasn’t one of the best right wings of his era.  That’s not to say he doesn’t belong in the HOF, only that its a fair argument if you’re arguing against induction.  If he never makes it in, ultimately its longevity that most-works against him.  Larmer called it quits at age 34, feeling his back couldn’t hold up and he wouldn’t be able to compete at the level he expected of himself.  Had he played another two years and managed 59 goals over those seasons (not a stretch, but based on his body wearing down, no guarantee either) Larmer would’ve hit the magic number 500.  Which, packaged with the consecutive games streak and Stanley Cup won with the Rangers in 1994, most-certainly would have cemented his place at Yonge and Front Streets.  Being a huge Larmer fan growing up, I’d love to see it, but I’m not sure we ever will.  If there ever were a chance to sneak him in, next year would be the time.  Belfour, as mentioned before, is eligible, and essentially a lock since he’s a part of such a weak class.  Trevor Linden, Derian Hatcher and Glen Wesley are the other mentionable first-ballot eligibles in the player category (apologies to Stu Barnes and Dallas Drake).  2011 is a tough year to call.  If the Hawks wanted to get cute, they’d start a campaign for Larmer.  I’d expect a lot of those to pop up as this hockey season winds down and HOF talk picks up again.  Among others already eligible and passed over at least once in the balloting, and who it would be expected to receive some lobbying are Phil Housley, Eric Lindros, Doug Gilmour, Adam Oates, Theo Fleury, Tom Barrasso, Peter Bondra, Alexander Mogilny, Pavel Bure and Joe Nieuwendyk.

Only four players can be inducted per year.  In the builder category, Pat Burns will undoubtedly get a lot of support.  The trouble though with putting Burns is, based on resumes, you’d immediately be making a strong-case for Mike Keenan, Ken Hitchcock, Jacques Lemaire (as a coach, he’s already in as a player) and even to an extent Marc Crawford.  Joel Quenneville, currently, rates favorably alongside everyone in that group.  Are all of these coaches Hall of Fame worthy?  If Roger Nielsen is in (2002), its a crime Fred Shero isn’t.  Perhaps Shero finally gets in next year.  Also, at some point Don Cherry has to be inducted.  Its about impact in, on and around the game.  Like him or not, Cherry should be enshrined.

– Congratulations to Sam Fels, writer and editor of The Committed Indian and SecondCityHockey.com who announced yesterday on his Facebook page that he’s been hired to be the Blackhawks blogger at NBCChicago.com.

– It was a year ago this past Sunday when Andrew Ebbett was claimed off waivers from the Blackhawks by Minnesota.  Ebbett appeared in 10 games with the Hawks after being claimed from Anaheim on Oct 17, 2009.  Ebbett scored one goal as a Hawk.  He signed with the Phoenix organization this season and is currently with their AHL affiliate San Antonio.

– Yesterday would’ve been the 88th birthday of one-time Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Harry Dick.  The Port Colborne, Ontario native passed away in 2002.  Dick dressed in 12 games with the Hawks in the 1946-47 season and never skated in the NHL again though he did hang around professional hockey according to statistical record for at least another eight years.

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com

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