Mar 102011

–Our next radio show will be Tuesday night, March 15th @ 8pm central.  You can listen live here or at your convenience later in archive form on ITunes, here or at that same link.

Ben Smith is now riding a four-game goal streak, posting five goals in that span.  Rockford beat Hamilton 2-1 in a shootout on Wednesday night.  Brandon Pirri sealed the win in the shootout after Jeff Taffe and Smith also converted in the breakaway skills session.

Rockford will close out their 7-game road trip Friday night in Milwaukee.  They return home on Sunday afternoon to face the Chicago Wolves.  Its the Wolves final visit to MetroCentre this season.

The IceHogs have won five of their last eight games (4-3 on the road).  They’d gone three months without going to a shootout before having them in back-to-back games this week and splitting the outcomes.  Hannu Toivonen has a .948 save percentage over his last six appearances.

–I’ll be doing a Rockford Q&A in post-form here on the site this Monday.  For whatever reason I’ve been receiving a lot more IceHogs’ and prospect related emails than usual of late.  Typically I get those when the Hawks aren’t doing well or the IceHogs or individual prospects catch fire.  Anyway, I’ve responded to just about every one already person-to-person, but since so many were particularly thoughtful queries, I figured we’d put it up for everyone to read.  I’ve seen more IceHogs’ hockey this season than is probably good for my health, so I can help you with just about anything crossing your mind concerning that team.  So, if there’s any IceHogs’ topics or questions you would like discussed, email those to me by Sunday morning and I’ll include any that aren’t already covered.

–Speaking of Rockford, the Stadium Journey web site recently visited the MetroCentre for an IceHogs’ game.  That site’s review of the arena and an IceHogs’ game experience can be read here.  The author encourages everyone to share their thoughts, not only on his review, but also your experiences in visiting the Blackhawks’ minor league affiliate’s home rink.  I’d encourage everyone who can make the trip to check a game out.  There really isn’t a bad seat in the house.  Unless you get stuck behind the Chicago Wolves production cameras.

Shawn Lalonde turned 21 on Thursday.  So that now means Lalonde and Kyle Beach are free and legal to roam the Rockford nightlife should they please.  Beach and Lalonde are housemates in Rockford.  Dylan Olsen now lives in their basement.  Yeah.  If E! finds out about this, it could save the world from Kim and Courtney Take Poughkeepsie.

–Former Hawk and current LA Kings’ center Michal Handzus turns 34 on Friday.  Deron Quint will be 35 on Saturday.  Handzus came over from Philadelphia in the summer of ’06 in what was looking like another one of Dale Tallon’s better trades at the time.  Handzus swapped spots with Kyle Calder after Calder took the Hawks to arbitration.  An arbiter awarded Calder $2.9M and two days later he was dealt to the Flyers.  Calder is now playing in the KHL.  While Calder was a hard-working winger coming off a 26-goal season, no one believed he was worth almost $3M a season.  And the Hawks were thin at center and needed someone skate with the newly acquired Marty Havlat.   So, contrary to almost everything you’ve ever read about him, Tallon exercised fiscal responsibility, moved the Calder contract and Handzus was pegged to be Havlat’s center.  It worked brilliantly for 8 games before Handzus blew out his knee and reconstructive surgery ended his season.  Handzus was a UFA in July of 2007 and left Chicago behind for a 4-year $16 million contract with the Kings.  Chicago isn’t alone in overpaying in free agency.  Calder actually returned to the Blackhawks for a few hours later in that ’06-07 season but was sent to Detroit for Jason Williams, who Denis Savard loved for about two weeks.

2009 4th round draft pick Byron Froese turns 20 on Saturday.  If he signs with the Blackhawks, as is expected, Froese, a right-shooting center, should be a Rockford IceHog in the fall.  He’d probably join the team sooner, but his Red Deer Rebels currently have the second-best record in the WHL.  Their regular season ends on March 19th.  If for some reason they were to be upset in the first round, I suppose Froese could sign a PTO and join the Hogs for the last week of the season.  But it’s highly unlikely.  To date, Froese has 40 goals and 74 points in 65 games, which puts him 26th in league scoring and 3rd on Red Deer.  Froese is teammates with forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who is expected to go top-3 in this year’s NHL entry draft.  Nugent-Hopkins (24g-70a) leads the Rebels in scoring and ranks 4th overall in the WHL.

–Mentioning great Blackhawks trades, Friday is the 17th anniversary of the trade that brought defenseman Gary Suter to Chicago.  Suter was one of the flurry of deals the Hawks made that season.  Suter came to the Hawks along with grinding winger, and current Hamilton Bulldogs’ head coach, Randy Cunneyworth; with the Hawks sending blue liner Frantisek Kucera and Jocelyn Lemieux to the Hartford Whalers.

–On the other hand, 11 years ago today the Hawks traded Doug Gilmour and J.P. Dumont to the Buffalo Sabres for winger Michal Grosek.  The latter played all of 14 games with the Hawks, posting two goals and four assists.  Right before the 2000-01 season began, Mike Smith (who had just taken over the GM role, though he’d been actively performing the duties for months) packaged Grosek and defenseman Brad Brown and sent them to the Rangers, essentially a salary exchange, for Stephane Quintal, who the Hawks claimed off waivers from New York the day prior.

–Christian Ruuttu was traded to Vancouver for Murray Craven sixteen years ago this day.  Ruuttu is now a European scout in the Coyotes’ organization.  Ruuttu came to the Hawks during the summer of ’92 in what was a confusing series of trades that amounted into a four-way deal that sent Dominik Hasek to Buffalo, Ruuttu to the Hawks and goaltender Stephane Beauregard from Winnipeg to Buffalo, to Chicago and then back to Winnipeg before eventually landing in Philadelphia.  The entire process took four months.  Then, after the ’92-93 season, Philly sent Beauregard back to Winnipeg for the same pick they dealt him for plus another.  And the Hawks are the ones who always get chided for getting the raw end of that deal.  They still had a future Hall of Fame goaltender on their team and they got a respectable third line center in Ruuttu, who put up more than 50 points in ’92-93.

–Hall of Famer and Blackhawks’ ambassador Denis Savard had his name show up in the news of the weird this week.

Seems like all the wheels are already in motion for Winnipeg to get their NHL franchise back.  Expect the AHL to add (relocate) at least one more Canadian franchise in the next few years.

The Hockey News published its annual NHL Prospect Watch issue this week.  The Hawks’ report is written by Tim Sassone, THN’s long-time Chicago correspondent.  This THN piece and a February 14th Daily Herald article are virtually one in the same, thus there’s no need to go out of your way to find this.  So, the next time Sassone writes a column or blog denoting a lackluster Blackhawks’ effort or claiming a phoned-in performance, you can remind him of this one.

There are notable differences between rankings published in the Herald and THN.  I think one can assume safely that no one at the Herald would know enough to revise or edit Sassone’s submitted future’s rankings.  In the Herald, the Hawks’ supposed top-prospects are listed in this order: 1-Nick Leddy, 2-Jeremy Morin, 3-Kyle Beach, 4-Marcus Kruger, 5-Dylan Olsen, 6-Brandon Pirri, 7-Kevin Hayes, 8-Shawn Lalonde, 9-Igor Makarov, 10-Ivan Vishnevskiy and 11-Alexander Salak.

Listing eleven is weird.  I’m guessing that ordering came straight from the Hawks, or perhaps with the help of a team-related source of Sassone’s.  At least you’d figure so.

But it appears editors at The Hockey News disagreed with those rankings somewhat because they appear differently in their publication.  The top 3 go untouched but Kruger and Olsen get flipped in THN.  Vishnevskiy (and I don’t get this one at all) moves up to 6th, Lalonde-7th, Pirri-8th, Kevin Hayes-9th and Makarov is 10th.

I really should tackle this in more depth in the coming days.  Typically I hate rankings like these because the author(s) seemingly never identify its purpose.  If I was asked to order prospects by how many NHL games I’d foresee them appearing in, that’s one way to approach rankings.   Or it could be by expectation of arrival, or who projects out to have the most successful careers.  And there are other ways to approach it.  And I don’t know why you’d list a prospect the organization has already thrown a towel in over someone who may be further down the line, yet has more potential?

What is notable in THN’s 2011 rankings is Kyle Beach dropping out of the top-50.  Actually, Beach dropped so far he’s not in the top 75.  He was 39th last year.   Jeremy Morin moves up to 28th this year from 49th.  Nick Leddy is the only other Hawk in the top-50 at #21.  Leddy was still with the Wild at the time of publication last year and was the 2nd-highest ranked Minnesota prospect and 64th overall.

–An article on Hawks’ prospect and Notre Dame freshman Stephen Johns, a big defenseman.  We’ve seen Johns play a few times this year, and a couple times in person, he’s a name you’ll want to keep an eye on.  Johns and Joe Lavin, another Hawks’ property, are d-partners on the Irish’ squad.

–Here is the full list of AHL “clear day” rosters we wrote about the other day.

–Since they’re too extensive to do justice to in this update, I’ll cover the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty situation later in the day.  I must say however:  It’s hard for me to ignore the hypocrisy in some of the fan reaction online regarding head shots and actions on the ice that lead to concussions or worse.   Before you condemn the players for a lack of respect for each other, maybe you’re someone that should first take a look in the mirror?  If you’re so concerned for player safety, then you’d better be anti-fighting in hockey.  There is no in-between.   If you wanted the NHL to throw the book at Chara for forearming Pacioretty’s head into the stansion in Montreal, then by that reasoning you’ve probably sat stoic and silent this year each time John Scott’s dropped the gloves and pounded someone’s face.  I wonder.  Then, of course there are those who love to rant on players and how they should police themselves and have more respect for one another on the ice… Yet in a few days many of these same fans will retread their tired Kim Johnsson RIP jokes, conveniently ignoring the fact Johnsson’s career appears to be over due to post-concussion syndrome, for the sake of their despicable low-rent hah hah time.  Yes, this from some in the same group of Blackhawks fans who two years back mocked the image of Christ, and then patted themselves on the back for a job well done and went e-commerce with it.

–I’m currently reading Jon Wortheim’s new book about loss-aversion in sports.  As you can imagine, quite a bit of it focuses on coaching and the decisions made in games.  I couldn’t help but think about Joel Quenneville while reading.  The book really delves into how little individuality there is in coaching nowadays.  How coaches are interchangeable and how little effect they have on the game with the “buy the book” approach to coaching.  In regards to Quenneville, it made me laugh the other day after the Florida loss when he was so vociferous in his denial that a change in game-day routine resulted in a negative impact on their poor first period against the Panthers.  This coming from the coach who resists subtle changes to his lineup after a win.  In his mind, he probably realized he screwed up.  There he stood, face glossed over red in fresh sun, denying skipping the normal game day morning skate had anything to do with his team’s sluggish first period.  Of course he had to say it.  If the Hawks go on another stretch of losing more than they win over the next couple weeks and somehow miss the playoffs, he already knows some will point back to the Florida loss as the turning point.  At the end of the day, coaches like Quenneville are out to save their own hide more than anything else.  When its all said and done, its rare that a coach will stand there put the blame on themself.  It’s the “I did what I could, go ask them” approach.

Campoli getting more comfortable in new confines

Now former Hawks’ prospect David Pacan, sent to Florida in the Skille-Frolik deal, recently had a six-point night.

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