Garnet Exelby now officially Blackhawk, Hawks Vegas details emerge, IceHogs, Mora story and more

[Update] Corey Crawford is starting in goal for the Hawks today at Anaheim. (Twitter.com/ChrisKuc)

Defenseman Garnet Exelby agreed to a two-way (NHL/AHL) contract with the Blackhawks yesterday.  As a necessary procedural thing, the Blackhawks then had to place Exelby on 24-hour waivers.  Once Exelby passes through his contract then becomes official.  If another team were to claim Exelby by 11am today, that team would then assume his new contract.

According to a CapGeek.com report this morning, Exelby’s contract is valued at the league-minimum $500,000 at the NHL level, and $105,000 in the AHL.

Exelby, 29, signed a professional tryout contract with the Rockford IceHogs on October 8th and was named team captain twenty-eight days later.

While a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization last season, Exelby appeared in 51 games with the Leafs, registering 1 goal and 3 assists.  He was then in the final year of a three-year contract that paid him $1.725M.

This season, Exelby has appeared in 18 of the IceHogs 19 games (only missing the team’s opener the day after he signed).  So far Exelby has no points and owns a minus-4 overall plus/minus rating.

Exelby is a physical, stay-at-home defenseman.  He’s not the fleetest of foot but he gets to where he needs to be and typically plays within his known limitations.  Exelby is a part of Rockford’s go-to crew of penalty killers and is almost never used on the power play.

If you’re wondering what this means for the parent club, Exelby can give the Hawks some minutes if necessary but he’s not the answer to their current blue line issues.  To be clear, Exelby traveled with his Rockford teammates to Grand Rapids where the IceHogs will play tonight.  This signing is only to get him locked in as property of the Blackhawks.  If both sides (Exelby/IceHogs) chose to, they could have waited until his PTO ran out in a couple weeks and then signed him to a new PTO or let him go.  Exelby being named captain in the first place was a clear indicator the parent organization had interest in signing him, since Mark Bernard, Rockford’s general manager, works for the Blackhawks.

Exelby could handle 10-12 minutes a game if asked, but the Hawks’ need is for someone who can shoulder a broader role.  We talked about this coming into the season and it has proven true, the Hawks have too many guys already (Boynton, Cullimore, Hendry, Scott) who are lower-level to borderline NHL defenders.  In all due respect to Exelby, adding or swapping him into that mix wouldn’t change anything.  He’s a poor man’s Brent Sopel.  If Quenneville were seeking a new look, Exelby could jump in for a few games. He’s physical and always looking to throw his weight around, but that is also what has gotten him in trouble defensively in the NHL, finding himself out of position on the hunt for a big kill.

Exelby is eating the dirty minutes in Rockford but he’s largely done so with prospects Ryan Stanton, Simon Danis-Pepin and Shawn Lalonde.  He’s not been paired much with Nick Leddy, who is the IceHogs ice time leader through the team’s first 19 games.

– A few notes on today’s Blackhawks-Ducks game (3pm central/1 pacific) at Honda Center in Anaheim.  This will be the third straight year Chicago has played at Anaheim the afternoon after Thanksgiving.  They’re 0-2 in those games and have been outscored 4-0.  Overall, in Anaheim since the lockout, the Hawk are 2-8-0 and have been outscored 33-17.  Chicago’s last win at Honda Center was January 28, 2009 (3-2) and prior to that November 17, 2006 (4-3, shootout).

Teemu Selanne is questionable with a sore groin.  Kyle Chipchura is expected back in the lineup after clearing his post-concussion exam.

The Ducks have gotten just 3 goals this season from forwards not named Selanne (8), Ryan Getzlaf (7), Corey Perry (10), Bobby Ryan (9), Saku Koivu (9) or Jason Blake (3).  Those six represent the team’s top two lines.  One of those other three goals came from Ryan Carter, who was dealt away to Carolina this week.

With or without Selanne, Anaheim’s bottom-six up front includes Todd Marchant, Dan Sexton, George Parros, Brandon McMillan, Dan Bonino and either Jason Jaffray or Aaron Voros.  Joffrey Lupul is on the roster and will soon return from the blood infections that were complications resulting from back surgery a year ago, (update) but considering he went for a five-mile run an hour ago, I doubt he’s playing this afternoon.

The Ducks defense is led by veterans Lubomir Vishnovsky and Toni Lydman, who came over in free agency from Buffalo.  Cam Fowler, who turns 19 next Sunday, is a minus-6 in 17 games which ties him with Sheldon Brookbank for worst among the regular blue liners here.  Lucas Sbisa is a minus-7 in 9 appearances.  Former Detroit Red Wing Andreas Lilja, Paul Mara and 6-6 Andy Sutton round out the defensive corps on the Ducks.  Sutton just returned from a broken thumb suffered in the Ducks season opener.  Mara and Brookbank were scratches in the Ducks last game, a 4-2 home loss to Edmonton on Sunday.

Anaheim will unveil their new third game sweaters when they take to the ice for today’s game.  Those jerseys will then be made available for sale immediately at the Ducks store inside Honda Center.  Today will be the first of fifteen games in which the Ducks will wear these new alternative-look sweaters, thirteen times at home and also in visits to Toronto and Boston.

On Tuesday the Ducks acquired defenseman, and Chicagoan, Nigel Williams from the Rangers.

– Mathis Olimb made his IceHogs’ debut in Rockford’s 4-2 loss at home to Lake Erie on Wednesday night.  Olimb was largely impressive in his first outing.  He did take two penalties in the third (though a late hooking call was on the questionable side, it wasn’t outlandish) that helped subdue what has a solid late push to pull the IceHogs back into the game after falling down 4-1 after forty minutes.  Olimb centered a line with Brandon Bollig and Igor Makarov.  Understandably considering his first game, some of Olimb’s passes were off the mark or behind his linemates.  But no reported torn groins at last word.

Jeff Taffe and Ben Smith were Rockford’s goal scorers.  Rockford’s careless puck handling led to some quick prime scoring opportunities for the Monsters, though Hannu Toivonen was sharp early.  Toivonen stopped 26 of 30 shots on the night and was not to blame on two of the goals for sure.  Head coach was not pleased with his team’s effort.  The IceHogs did turn in a solid final twenty minutes, but it was too little too late and three 3rd period penalties derailed any chance of a comeback.

Bill Peters rolled his four lines near equally throughout the game.  Wednesday’s lines looked like this:

Jeff Taffe – Ryan Potulny – Jack Skille
Kyle Hagel – Evan Brophey – Hugh Jessiman
Kyle Beach – Brandon Pirri – Ben Smith
Brandon Bollig – Mathis Olimb – Igor Makarov

Ryan Stanton – Nick Leddy
Wade Brookbank – Brian Connelly
Garnet Exelby – Simon Danis-Pepin

Notes on Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Lake Erie:

- Rob Klinkhammer and Ivan Vishnevskiy both missed the game with nagging lower-body injuries.

- Shawn Lalonde and Chris DiDomenico were healthy scratches.  Lalonde in particular was interesting. DiDomenico is in danger of being dropped to ECHL affiliate Toledo if Rockford stays healthy.  DiDomenico has been the odd man out up to now when the team has had a full boat.  Now with Olimb added to the mix, there figures to be no place for DiDomenico, who has no goals, one assist and is a minus-7 in 13 games this season.  Ice time in Toledo wouldn’t hurt him any.

- With Lalonde and Vishnevskiy out, Bill Peters was forced to make some changes to his power play units.  He went with balance as you really can’t call either unit the first or secondary unit.  One: Connelly and Leddy with Pirri, Jessiman and Makarov.  That unit itself has collectively scored 11 goals over 83 man-games this season.  Peters’ other unit was a mess, and understandably.  Peters used five forwards instead of asking Brookbank (who has skated the wing 90% of this season to date), Danis-Pepin or Exelby to man at least one point.  It appeared Jeremy Morin and Jeff Taffe were intended to work the points, but it didn’t always work out that way.  Kyle Beach, Mathis Olimb and Ryan Potulny were the forwards.

- Rockford’s power play pulled another 0-for-4 on the night.  They had some chances, most notably Jeremy Morin and Nick Leddy point-shots.

- Olimb when asked to describe his playing style/ability during a pre-taped first intermission interview with Mike Peck: “I’m (an) offensive player, I think.  Very skilled.  I like to pass the puck.”  He’s not afraid to use his body and is very energetic.  Olimb could be the Hogs top offensive line center in another week or two.

- Brandon Pirri had another rough night with the puck, mishandling and poor decisions resulting to turnovers.  His decision to drop-pass a puck to Brian Connelly aside Alec Richards’ net with 15 seconds left in the first period nearly put Rockford in a 3-0 whole heading into intermission.  As it was, that came 2:37 into the 2nd when Ben Smith tried to force a neutral zone pass through a Lake Erie back check to Pirri, and the puck deflected to the Monsters’ Patrick Bordeleau who quickly connected with Curtis Fraser and Ryan Stoa, who potted his second of the night on the play.

- The “top” line of Taffe-Potulny-Morin has potential off a first-run look.  Morin is Rockford’s top offensive threat at the moment and he connected with Taffe a minute and nineteen seconds after the second Stoa goal to trim Lake Erie’s lead back to two.  Taffe accepted Morin’s pass up the left wing and quickly snapped his attempt far-side top corner over Jason Bacashihua’s glove.  Feed from Morin came as Morin drew two defenders close and slipped a pass behind the right defenseman to Taffe, who had been streaking with Morin up the left side.  Goal was Taffe’s 5th.

- Leddy at least twice tried to lead the rush coast to coast, exhibiting his speed.  Leddy’s settling in now as he’s more and more assertive carrying the puck as each game passes.

– Rockford plays tonight, 6pm central time in Grand Rapids.  That’s where Garnet Exelby is in case you’re wondering.

Tomorrow the IceHogs return home to face Peoria for the fifth time this season.  Puck drop is 7:05 tomorrow night at MetroCentre.  I’ll be there tweeting occasional updates and will have a full recap of the game up late tomorrow night at well.

Rockford began what will be a heavy dose of home games on Wednesday.  9 of their next 12 games will be at MetroCentre and 10 of 14 (including Wednesday’s loss) through the end of December will be contested in Rockford.  Further, through the end of January, 17 of the IceHogs next 26 games will he held on home ice.

IceHogs enter play today in last place, 8th in the AHL West Division with a record of 7-10-0-2 (16pts) and three points behind 7th place Chicago, who the IceHogs have two games in hand on.  The Wolves used 11 power plays to defeat Lake Erie 6-3 Tuesday at AllState Arena.

Tonight’s opponent Grand Rapids have a record of 8-8-0-3.  The Griffins sit 6th (of 7) in the North Division.  Peoria (12-7-0-1) are currently in third place in Rockford’s division, four points behind 1st place San Antonio.  Rockford has dropped three of four games vs Peoria so far (1-2-0-1). 

– Chris Chelios told TSN reporter Darren Dreger he’s “sniffing out” the possibility of skating over in Russia’s KHL this season.  Dreger later added Chelios noted that playing in the KHL this season isnot likely to happen.”  This after a report in Russia’s SovSport today that the Vityaz Chekhov Knights would invite Chelios to play for their team.  Yahoo!’s Dimitry Chesnokov tweeted yesterday that Vityaz GM Alexei Zhamnov (of Blackhawks’ fame) confirmed Chelios’ agent called offering Chelios’ services and the two sides were negotiating.

Chelios retired from hockey, or so we thought, at the age of 48, after 26 years in the NHL on August 31, 2010.  At the same time, Red Wings VP/GM Ken Holland hired Chelios as a roving instructor and prospect advisor to Holland.  The position was openly admitted to be barometer to Chelios’ post-playing hockey aspirations.  He spends most of his time mentoring the Wings’ young defensemen in Grand Rapids and largely sets his own schedule.  His duties are to also see him visit Wings’ prospects in college and the northeast junior ranks.  Chelios’ official title is Executive Advisor to General Manager.

This would probably be a good place to list results of our latest poll:

Best Blackhawks Defenseman of this group?

61.1% – Chris Chelios
24.1% – Doug Wilson
11.1% – Duncan Keith
3.7% – Brent Seabrook
0.0% – Brian Campbell
0.0% – Gary Suter

Keith probably gets more support here if he wasn’t off to bad start but the right guy won here.  Voting this round consisted of 59 votes.

– Long-time Las Vegas gossip columnist Norm Clarke has some details on the Blackhawks shenanigans in Las VegasApparently last Sunday the Hawks were at the night club Lavo at the Palazzo resort and casino.  There, according to Clarke’s sources, a $35,000 6-liter bottle of champagne was charged to the Hawks’ party and an unknown team member wore a replica Iron Man suit of armor during an apparent “rookie party.”  If that’s correct, this would be Lavo’s French Bordeaux collection wine Saint Emilion and is by far the most expensive drink on Lavo’s menu.  Also, Clarke reports the team’s Monday morning 11am workout was mysteriously cancelled.  My guess on the Iron Man suit would be Skille but that’s pure speculation.

– Bob Murray, former and long-time Blackhawks defenseman who would be the late-70’s to 80’s equivalent of Brian Campbell, celebrates his 56th birthday today.  Expect to hear of this again on today’s Hawks-Ducks broadcast as Murray is the current Anaheim general manager.  Chicago drafted Murray 52th overall (3rd round) in the 1974 amateur draft and he became a permanent fixture on the Hawks’ blue line the following year after spending a season with the team’s minor league affiliate in Dallas.  Murray posted 514 points in 1008 career games, all with Chicago.  Much like with Campbell, some Blackhawk fans had a love-hate relationship with the 5’10” 180 pound Murray who was gifted offensively, but at times lacked stability in his own zone and wasn’t the most physical defenseman though he was known for having a hot temper.

– Another one-time Hawk blue liner, Christian Laflamme, celebrated his 34th birthday on Wednesday.  A St. Charles, Quebec native (near Quebec City) Laflamme was the Hawks 2nd round pick in 1995 (45th overall) and played in 138 games in Chicago (2g, 23a, 131pim) before being traded to Edmonton.  On March 20, 2009 – Laflamme, along with Dan Cleary, Ethan Moreau and Chad Kilger, was traded to the Oilers in exchange for Dean McAmmond and defenseman Boris Mironov.  Cleary had off-ice issues at the time, Kilger was soft and never amounted to anything, though he stuck around for awhile.  Moreau, while he’d never turn out to be the power forward the Hawks hoped he’s be when they drafted Moreau 14th overall out of Niagara Falls in 1994, would go on become a key checking line left wing and eventual Oilers’ team captain (07-10).  After a calendar year in Edmonton, Laflamme was moved to Montreal and eventually St. Louis where his NHL career would end.  Laflamme spent four seasons (04-08) in Germany.  He skated last two seasons in a minor-pro league in provincial Quebec.  As his stats would indicate, Laflamme was a marginal NHL defender who lacked on the offensive side, but was nothing better than average in any area. 

– Current Blackhawks television analyst Steve Konroyd came to the organization originally in a trade 22 years ago yesterday.  Konroyd and center Bob Bassen were acquired from the New York Islanders in a deal that sent perennial underachieving blue liner Gary Nylund and defenseman Marc Bergevin to Long Island.  Konroyd played in 251 regular season games with the Hawks (88-92) scoring 10 goals and 57 points.  Though a solid two-way defender, Konroyd fell out of favor with head coach Mike Keenan and was traded to Hartford on January 24, 1992, in the deal which the Hawks picked up Rob BrownBergevin was brought back to the Blackhawks organization after his retirement in 2004 and is currently serves as Director of Player Personnel under Stan Bowman.  There’s a great picture in the new team-released book One Goal Achieved, chronicling the 2009-10 Blackhawks journey to the Stanley Cup, of Bergevin in tears hugging John McDonough.

– While that book was officially released in book stores this past Tuesday, it was available at the Blackhawks Store on Michigan Avenue last weekend.

– Josh Mora posted a long blog about the facts, timeline and his interpretation of his final months at Comcast which included being taken off the station’s Blackhawks’ beat after breaking the Dale Tallon firing story and subsequently being told the station would not be renewing his contract.  This went up Wednesday.  His original and unedited blog post that caused all of this is hereMora absolves the Blackhawks’ front office, John McDonough et. al. of any perceived involvement in his undoing and in doing so places all responsibility (or blame) on his boss at Comcast.  Its still clear from his blog, however, that individuals, though who those were are unknown, in the Hawks’ front office were hot about that original post-Tallon firing blog that included Mora’s soft opinion and analysis of the decision and were quick to make Mora’s superiors aware of it.  Rocky Wirtz, in taking over the team when his father passed away, inherited 20% of Comcast SportsNet Chicago.  Mora is pursuing a publisher for a book he’s authored, in which hockey and this topic are addressed but only briefly focused on.

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com

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