Jan 3rd news & notes: Classic rating, Olsen, Buff, Bollig and rumors

A reminder that tonight’s Blackhawks-Kings game in LA is an exclusive VERSUS telecast and will start at 8pm central/6pm pacific.  So that puck drop will be an hour and a half earlier than Kings’ fans are accustomed to.  And for Chicago fans hearing “Hawks-Kings at Staples Center” and figuring the game won’t start until late, be advised.

– Also tonight on NHL Network is the IIHF World U20 Championship tournament semi-final between Canada and the United States.  That game starts at 6:30pm central.  Winner plays for the Gold Medal on Wednesday night against the winner of Russia-Sweden (airs live 2:30 central today on NHL Network).

– The Penguins-Capitals Winter Classic Alumni game, which happened on New Years Eve at Heinz Field and Mario Lemieux participated in, will air on NHL Network from 5:30 to 6:30, leading into the live CAN-USA game.

– New Years Day’s Winter Classic rating is in.  In the ratings demographic most-coveted by advertisers, ages 18-49, meaning also the most-important to television executives, Saturday’s Penguins-Captials game drew a 1.8 rating in the 18-49 demo and 4.56 million viewers overall (2.3 rating).  The 1.8 (5.0 share) at 18-49 is more than any other show on basic television did that night.

For a little clarity in what that rating means in the grand scheme of things, last night’s NFL game on NBC did an overall rating of 5.1 (13.0 share) in adults 18-49 and an average of 14.28M viewers overall from 7-10:30.  Last night’s Rams-Seahawks game peaked in the second quarter quarter with 16.7M viewers and a 6.0 rating in adults 18-49.  The Winter Classic started with 4.46M viewers, then dropped to 4.35M in the 8-9 hour, and back up to 4.57M during the second intermission and third period.

Overall, CBS won Saturday night in overall viewers airing repeats of CSI:Miami and 48 Hours Mystery.  While everyone will claim the 18-49 rating a huge victory for the NHL and NBC, it just barely beat out reruns of Cops on the Fox network in the same demo.  The first hour of the Pens-Caps game drew 4.46M viewers and a 1.8 rating in the 18-49 demo.  The 7pm Cops re-run drew a 1.4 rating in 18-49 and just 140,000 fewer overall viewers.  But the 8:30 Cops re-run saw a sharp increase and beat the NHL in overall viewers 5.49M to 4.46M and nearly matched NBC’s 18-49 rating at a 1.7 for that half hour.  America’s Most Wanted at 8pm (central) also beat the NHL in overall viewers in that timeslot (4.82M to 4.35) but the NHL held the slight 1.8 to 1.7 rating advantage in the 18-49 demo.

Considering the Fiesta Bowl was this game’s only real competition in the demo and no other real competition on New Years’ night, the rating could also be seen as a disappointment.

Last year’s Winter Classic (Flyers-Bruins at Fenway Park) drew a 2.6 overnight rating, down from 2.9 the network earned the year before for the Blackhawks-Red Wings game at Wrigley Field.  Its important to note that the initial overnights usually come in high.  The Wrigley Field game, which was the highest-rated of the three Winter Classics coming into this year’s, came down to a 2.5 final rating and 4.4 million overall viewers once a final accounting of total viewership could be made.  So in the end, the Wrigley game could still wind up remaining the most-watched Winter Classic.

NBC averaged 6.1M viewers for the four games the network televised of the Flyers-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final.  Game 6 of that series peaked at a 4.7 rating and 8.28M viewers.

Its important to note, for all those guessing on what next year’s Winter Classic might be, there are a few issues facing the NHL before that game can even become reality.

First, the league’s contract with NBC ends after this spring’s Stanley Cup Final.

Secondly, New Years Day falls on a Sunday next year.  The NHL would be insane to run head up against NFL football in the afternoon when they assuredly would get slaughtered.  Sunday night isn’t even an option since NBC runs Football Night in America in that time slot.  They could move the game to New Years Eve, which is probably what will happen once the NHL and NBC work out a new deal.  However, running New Years Eve night isn’t a good plan given the demo they covet will be out partying or in transit to a party from 7-10pm.  Dec 31, 2011 at noon would be their best bet given its still a Saturday and people would be willing to travel to a cities like Chicago or New York for New Years.  Although, should inhospitable weather repeat itself, a forced pushback of puck drop to New Years Eve night would be an unfortunate disaster.

– Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com reported yesterday that Jonathan Toews (shoulder) might return as early as tonight against the Kings.  Toews skated with his teammates Saturday morning at Johnnys West before the team chartered a plane to Southern California.  Toews, who was injured six days ago in St. Louis on a check by Matt D’Agostini, was originally set to be out of action for two weeks.  Toews did not take any contact during Saturday’s skate.

– Adam Jahns of the Sun-Times reported on Twitter late last night that the Hawks will hold a team meeting this morning in LA.  I think he meant a ‘players meeting’ by that because otherwise it would be nothing out of the custom game day routine.

– Our next TTMI~Radio show is tomorrow night, 8pm central.  For those wondering what happened to last week’s show, the answer is I slept through the planned recording time.  Don’t ask.  Tomorrow, if I don’t oversleep, we’ll track the progress of our pre-season Hawks predictions, talk about the past week and give the state of the mid-season Blackhawks address.  We’ll also be doing a little decade review and name our Hawks all-decade team.

– Here’s the video of that Brandon Bollig – Matt Kassian fight from last Thursday.  You’ve gotta give that one to Kassian, but Bollig gets the decision in this fight with Jordan Bendfeld on New Years night in Oklahoma City Saturday.

– A little more on Dylan Olsen leaving Minnesota-Duluth and signing his 3-year entry-level with the Blackhawks on Friday.  Our original report from Friday is here, if you missed it.

The Blackhawks really had little choice here, their hands were tied.  Since Olsen wasn’t going to be academically eligible to play the second semester, the Hawks could have either allowed Olsen to be inactive at a critical period of his development, or give him the option of making the jump to pros where they could oversee him first-hand.  For Olsen, his only other option would have been to leave school and play junior hockey.  Odds are he was going to leave school and sign a pro contract after this season anyway.  Its disappointing irregardless.  Minnesota-Duluth has a chance to win a national championship and Olsen would have been front and center in that pursuit as a fixture on the team’s #1 defense pairing with Justin Faulk.

Dylan Olsen’s turns 20 today.  His Canadian junior rights are held by the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. 

Olsen is leaving the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs as currently ranked 3rd in the country, also having spent numerous weeks at #1 earlier in the season.  It was always very unlikely Olsen would be a 4-year college player anyway.  Olsen’s first choice of schools was North Dakota, but his grades prevented him from getting into that school.  He has participated in both Blackhawks summer prospects camps since his draft and stood out as one of the top players each time.

As we noted Friday, the Olsen signing also now means the Hawks have reached the 50 contract maximum.  Any move made to bring another player into the organization now must also involve eliminating at least the same number of player contracts from the 50-man roster.

– Hawks’ 2010 1st round (#24 overall) draft pick Kevin Hayes returned to action late last week for Boston College.  Hayes had a goal and an assist in two games.  He was returning from a posterior cruciate ligament (knee) injury he suffered in a practice on November 7th.  Hayes centers BC’s second line and his older brother Jimmy (who the Hawks acquired from Toronto for a 2nd round draft pick at the 2010 draft on June 26th) skates on his right wing.  Kevin assisted on Jimmy’s 8th of the year in a 6-5 win at Colgate on Thursday.  The next night, New Years Eve, B.C. defeated Mercyhurst 4-1 to take the non-conference Ledyard Bank National Cup Classic championship in Hanover, New Hampshire.  The younger Hayes kicked off the scoring early with his 2nd of the season, a power play tally, five minutes in.  Had Hayes not injured his knee, there would have been a good chance he’d been given a shot to earn a spot on the U20 U.S. team competing now in Buffalo.

– On Hockey Night in Canada this weekend, Pierre Lebrun reported that Toronto has received a “hard offer” for Kris Versteeg.  More on this in yesterday’s Toronto Sun.

This season, in 36 games, Versteeg has 10 goals and 15 assists.  He’s a minus-12 with 25 penalty minutes, 5 power play goals, 0 gwg’s and 92 shots in averaging 20 minutes of ice time per game.

Through his first 36 games a season ago with the Hawks, Versteeg posted 10 goals, 11 assists and a +8 plus/minus ranking and had totaled 95 shots while averaging 16:57 of ice time.

James Wisniewski is off to a hot start with the Montreal Canadiens.  Wisniewski was dealt from the Islanders last week in exchange for a 2011 second-round pick and a conditional 5th rounder.  In three games with the Habs, Wisniewski has two goals (both scored at Florida on NYE) and five points and is playing over twenty-two minutes a game.  Note that Montreal is the latest organization to think they can compensate for Wisniewski’s erradicacies.

Hot starts are nothing new for Wisniewski.  Before his 33-game stint with the Isles ended, the former Blackhawk began his stay on Long Island with a 7-game point streak (2g, 9a, -3).  Up until he was traded to Montreal, Wisniewski had a 6-game point streak going with the Isles (1g, 5a, +3).  The trouble for the Islanders and Wisniewski were those 25 games in between streaks that saw the ‘Wiz’ get 1 goal and 9 assists while posting a minus-18 rating.  You may also recall Wisniewski scoring a goal in his Anaheim Ducks’ debut on March 6, 2009 as he was also named the game’s first star in a 3-2 loss to Marty Turco and the Dallas Stars at Honda Center.  Unless Wisniewski has some miraculous turning of the corner defensively, Montreal will soon realize they acquired a specialist in an era that teams can’t afford specialists.

Dustin Byfuglien had his hero-meter running on high again yesterday afternoon.  Byfuglien’s slap shot on a Thrashers’ overtime power play was the difference in a 4-3 win over the Canadiens in Montreal.  It was Byfuglien’s 6th game-winner of the season, most in the NHL.  His 41 points (16g, 25a) ranks first over all NHL defenseman and 11th overall in league scoring.  Through 42 games last season in Chicago, Byfuglien had 11 goals and 8 assists.  His plus-8 rating is third best on Atlanta behind Brent Sopel (+11) and Bryan Little (+12).

– The Fourth Period web site posted a rumor report on Friday stating its been “widely reported” that the Blackhawks are shopping both Jack Skille and Dave Bolland.  I hesitate to even post this because I’m always skeptical when web sites such as TFP suddenly jump on the rumor bandwagon to facilitate hits.  I’ll say this.  Skille without question is up for whoever wants him and can give the Hawks something they need.  I still wish Joel Quenneville would give Skille 10 games on the left side just to see if he can dent the net a few more times from a more advantageous shooting position, but the reality is we’ve seen Skille’s act in the organization over four years now; he’s no more than what he’s shown.  I would like to know where all these supposed reports of Bolland being on the block have been.  Not that I’d be against it for the right price.  Without having knowledge of what Stan Bowman is thinking obviously, I’d say Skille, Stalberg and Brouwer are the guys Bowman would be most-willing to move to improve his team down the middle and at that 5th and 6th defense spot.  In Skille, Stalberg, Brouwer, Bickell, Pisani, Kopecky, Johnson, Dowell, Bolland and Scott, the Hawks have an over-abundance of 3rd and 4th line players. You could say he’d want to get rid of Kopecky, but realistically what are you going to get in return for him?  Kopecky had a good postseason.  He’s not as bad as some people want to make him out to be.  If Bowman can acquire another top six forward, or if the light for someone like Brouwer or Bickell suddenly goes on and they become that guy, Kopecky can drop down to where he belongs and the Hawks can move Pisani out.

– Two disappointing crowds, announced at roughly 3,500 each day, turned out for this past weekend’s Shillelagh tournament at Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.  Tournament host Notre Dame (12-7-3) finished 3rd after beating a roster-depleted Boston University (8-5-6) team 4-3 in a shootout last night.  (Since there are no shootouts in college, the game goes into the record books as a tie, but for the sake of determining a winner, they did a shootout)  Minnesota State (8-8-4, 4-8-2 in WCHA) took the tournament, defeating Brown (4-5-4) earlier in the day.  Minn State survived a brutal second period onslaught by the Fighting Irish on Saturday night to come from behind and score with 23 seconds left in regulation to pull off the 4-3 upset of tournament.  Notre Dame has two Blackhawks prospects, both defenseman, Joe Lavin and Stephen Johns.  Lavin is a bit undersized and in the Brian Connelly mold.  Johns (6-3, 220) is someone to keep an eye out for in the future as an NHL-level prospect.  The two have been paired together for just about the entire season.

Pat Stapleton has the Sweet Life down pat  [London Free Press]

Let’s see how fast this site gets taken down – I only know of one “official” Hawks site. 

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com

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