Setting the stage, plus Toews and the Hart

You can put your pencils and notepads down.  The only thing left to learn about these 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks is how bad the “core” wants to win at this point. Too, how far they can drag the dead weight Stan Bowman has anchored to what remains of the 2010 Stanley Cup champs.

One look at Cpt. Scowl-face and the ever-present expression tells the story.  This team can’t accomplish much if 50, 19, 10, 88, 2 and 7 aren’t hovering near perfection.  Throw Marian Hossa into the mix and you might have something, but those who remember last spring and have paid close attention this season should know better than to count on him.

Brian Campbell has sacrificed some offense to be a little more dependable in his own end.  He’s needed to.  His partner for most of the season, Niklas Hjalmarsson, has been a mess for the most part.  Good luck out East next year Nik.  Campbell’s plus-28 rating is second best in the NHL right now.  It’s a little misleading since his pairing draws the opposition’s secondary scoring line, but that’s no different than last year and Campbell’s offensive production has remained steady and his defense has improved, while Duncan Keith has gone backwards in both cases.

It’s about time we call a spade for what it is.  Outside of the aforementioned, adding Dave Bolland and maybe Troy Brouwer, there’s a bunch of guys in this locker room who should consider themselves lucky to be Blackhawks for the time being.

Fans, observers and beat reporters alike so far have afforded this team the benefit of the doubt.  And for the most part, so have I.   Put up or shut up has been knocking for some time.  Tonight would be a good night to skate like champions again.

Brouwer hasn’t scored a goal in 12 games and has just two in his last 19, all while averaging fifteen minutes a night.  You can cut him a little slack considering his current center isn’t of NHL-caliber.  Maybe on Long Island or Florida there’s a place for Jake Dowell, but there shouldn’t be one for him in Chicago next season.  Though, Brouwer is getting just as much power play time as he was last season and his production hasn’t improved.  Through 69 games in ’09-10, Brouwer had 19 goals.  This year he has 17.  His overall ice time has dropped slightly and that is solely due to not being used on the PK as much.  Brouwer’s hitting more but that’s primarily because the Hawks have the puck less.  He’s shooting more, but getting his shot to the net less and his defense has taken a stride back.

The Hawks need a big finish from Brouwer and he’ll need one too if he wants to stick around and seek a nice pay increase to boot.

Michael Frolik is about the worst Blackhawks center I’ve seen since, well, Jake Dowell or Tomas Kopecky.  I’ve been very critical of Hossa for the past year, with good reason but I really felt bad for the guy on Sunday.   Stuck on a line with two dunce caps like Frolik and Bryan Bickell is no way to spend an afternoon.  The Hawks may have to get by with those two as bottom-sixers next season, for cap purposes, but Bowman will need to find a great passer with a ton of patience to pivot between them.

Bickell thinks he’s Mike Bossy when the reality is he’s not even Adam Creighton.  Frolik has never seen a weak angle he didn’t release a soft wrister from.  Outside of Sharp, no one on the team attempts more shots per shift than Frolik.  In that sense he’s no change from Jack Skille.  The trade off was Skille’s physicality for Frolik’s defense and versatility.  Actually, scratch the latter.

Chris Campoli was a pathetic swing and miss deadline acquisition from a GM who explicitly stated his needs in the weeks leading up to Feb 28th.  Bowman said he needed help on the penalty kill; a forward (at different points he expressed a plain PK forward, then specifically a center) and a defensive-defenseman to help seal those holes.  Campoli didn’t address any of that.  Some have been fooled into taking Campoli as an upgrade for the injured Jordan Hendry.  Of course ignoring the fact Hendry was the 7th defenseman Quenneville wasn’t going to play anyway.  Campoli was brought in to do everything Nick Leddy can’t at this point.  That’s the reality.  Campoli is the upgrade from Leddy while the gaping hole still exists.

Look for a lot of the top-six up front and top-four defenseman the rest of the way, because that’s the only way. 

Leddy’s poise is great.  Yet, he’s mesmerized by the puck and doesn’t touch the ice during with either of the special teams and you see less and less of him in important situations and tight games.  Since last summer, we’ve been force-fed the hype, but it remains to be seen how good Leddy can be.  There have been far worse charity roster spots given away in this town, but Bowman insistence on rushing Leddy has been a part of the problem, not the solution.  When the defensive pairings were juggled, Leddy and Keith were paired to protect the youngster and ground Keith.  Don’t kid yourself.  Brian Campbell skated 7:05 in yesterday’s game at Washington, nearly half of which was regulated to the power play.  Is Nick Leddy really that useless or untrustworthy in the coaches’ eyes that Campbell on one leg is still better than Leddy, even with a man advantage?  Obviously so.

Chicago enters tonight in a playoff spot (7th) by just two points.  They’re fortunate in a sense with the three teams directly underneath them, they have just one game remaining; being with Anaheim at the UC on March 26th.  They’re done with Nashville and Calgary and still have single road games coming up this week with the two teams directly above them, Dallas and Phoenix.

At this point, the Hawks can still say they control their own destiny.  Scoreboard watching is for losers.  Don’t be that guy.

However, the terrain gets tougher from here.  In nine of their final thirteen games, they’ll face playoff contenders and favorites.  They have three left with Detroit and face Boston, Tampa and visit the always tough Molson Centre in Montreal.  Even divisional matchups with the Blues and Jackets won’t be easy and the lone “gimme” opponent, Florida, just killed the Hawks 8-game victory road.

With a heavy reliance on the top dogs this year, there’s a legitimate concern as to how much those guys have left.   The recent surge was led by Toews, Crawford and a refocused Keith.   Sprinkle some timely scoring in there against middle of the road opponents and you came out with 8-straight wins.  On outside of that now, the Hawks have dropped three straight.  Yeah they got two points, but they lost two of the three outright.  Who are these Hawks and what are they capable of?  No one knows for sure.

Think back to last year, it was at this very point last season when the team hit the skids.

Actually, after a Sunday afternoon 4-3, overtime loss to the Caps also put the Hawks down for the third consecutive outing.  From there, the Hawks, without Brian Campbell, went on to lose 4 of their next 6 and overall, 8 of 11.

A repeat of that and they’re won’t be a postseason… All-you young hockey players out there.

The Hawks will excel as far as the “core” takes them.  They’ll need a healthy Bolland, Campbell and Hjalmarsson too.

The reality is if this team can regain that confidence they captured in late February, anything’s possible.  But missing the postseason is just as… too.   This is nothing like last year.  And, in a way, it’s more fun that way.

Hart of the Matter

With Sidney Crosby down for the count apparently and Toews looking unstoppable recently, it’s become popular to hype Toews for the Hart Trophy.  Never one to run with the in-crowd, we’ll take a step back first to give this a thorough-over.

Right now, you could make just as strong of a case for Corey Crawford for team MVP, but no one with clue is stating a case for him over Thomas, Price or Luongo for the Vezina, let alone the Hart.  There’s no debating Toews is the force driving the Blackhawks.  Being said, that responsibility doesn’t come and go conveniently.  

Toews has posted 12 goals and 31 points in his last 20 games, numbers that date back to the Minnesota game right before the All-Star break.  Toews has 69 points in 67 games overall.  So, 45 percent of his points have come in the last twenty games.  When he scores, the Hawks are 16-5-1-1.

The Hawks started the season 9-9-1-1.  Toews also started slow, collecting just five goals and nine assists in the team’s first twenty games.  This span included the two home losses to Edmonton and, at the time, a pitiful Devils’ team, all inside regulation.  Speaking of which, if the Hawks had those six points they’d be two points behind the Red Wings for the top spot in the Central division.  But, what’s done is done.  The team wasn’t ready to play on those three consecutive home games in a ten day span and it’s a principle reason they are where they are today.   (Not giving a damn for a Dec 3rd home date with rival Vancouver looked awful then and now too)  The captain had two points and was a minus-4 in those games.  He should share in the culpability of today’s uncertainty, no?

In the games Toews has played the most, the Hawks are 4-10-2-4.  In the same scenario (top 20 ice times) at this point last season, that record was 11-6-0-3.  The average of those top-20, this season as compared to last year sees only a slight jump, surprisingly, 23:11 from 22:41.  We know it’s unpopular to question the Chosen-One, but that stat is a difficult one to ignore.

Let’s be clear, if Crosby were healthy Toews wouldn’t sniff the Hart conversation.  Crosby hasn’t played in two months and he’s still 11th in league scoring.  Toews has played in twenty-six more games than Sid and still has three goals to go before he matches Crosby’s 32.  And both Sedin twins, Stamkos, Brad Richards and Jarome Iginla will figure into this equation too.

If Toews can continue the pace he’s set in the past two months, there may be no denying him that award.  More importantly, it’s a prerequisite to right the wrongs of the first quarter just to get his cavalry into the postseason.

ChrisBlock@TheThirdManIn.com
BlogTalkRadio.com/TheThirdManIn

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11 Responses to Setting the stage, plus Toews and the Hart

  1. rich lindbloom

    Thanks, (I think), for the reality check. i’m attempting to slash my wrists right now, but fortunately the butter knife won’t penetrate my skin. i question, with reservation and the realizaton that you actually know what you’re talking about, your assessment of Campoli. Interesting observation on Leddy and the PP.
    how about putting Brouwer with Hossa? obviously he’s been ineffective with the third line – although I wonder what the +/- is of that line – are they stopping the opposition.
    In my eyes, Campoli has been one of the best acquisitions the Hawks have made – I say this realizing I’ve always been a advocate of the puck moving defenseman – probably why I think Leddy’s been adequate also.

    tough schedule ahead as you point out – we’ll know soon enough what were made of – I had been holding my breath about the injury spectre – it’s obvious we’re not very deep.

  2. I think someone has been reading the Hockey Buzz way to much…The sky is not falling….Man this was way to negative. Ying and Yang this was the dark side for sure.

  3. I agree with you Andy H…this was pretty negative. All for a team that climbed from 11th place to 4th in a couple weeks and barring a huge collapse, will make the playoffs again. Does anyone REALLY expect them to win it all again? C’mon…hasn’t happened in 13 years. Chris, you make many, many good points…I’ll give you that. Especially Leddy, who I think is being hindered now instead of learning more in the minors. I think Campoli was a good pick-up, but yes, not what Bowman kept saying he wanted. The guy can skate for sure, but sometimes he thinks he’s Phil Housley on the rush! I wouldn’t have minded seeing Mike Commodore here, though. The intricate criticism of this team was nonexistent as recently as 2007. They came back to relevancy a couple years ago, won a cup, and now we all act like they suck if they don’t win every game. Does Crawford need a rest? Yes. Could Frolik have 30 goals/year if he knew where to shoot? Yes. Is it alarming how mediocre Keith has played for most of the year? Yes. Is Dowell an upgrade over Colin Fraser? No. Will we ever see Hammer bring the puck into the zone? Doubt it. Again, paraphrasing Andy H (sorry, bud) but there’s the yin and the yang. And ya know what? That’s hockey. Just ask Montreal, New Jersey, and Calgary this year. No matter what happens, I expect a strong playoff run.
    Bowman doesn’t have a clue as to what he’s doing. I’m gonna go hunt down Tie Domi for fun then start lobbying to be the next GM. Go Hawks.

  4. Stu,

    I feel with the cap going up and new TV deal, we will obviously have more room in years to come, with our Studs paid and paid well we can sprinkle in from Rockford and the UFA Market what we need.

    Our record with Soup speaks for itself, and yes the contract sucks, but we have a Cup and his name is on it.

    Now on to my rant….25 needs to go, he is not good and can easily be replaced. 22, If he takes somewhere between 500-850k he is a keeper, he fills many roles and is not a player who hurts you as long has he is on on lines 3 and 4 with a roll on in the top 6 if injury etc.

    Yes Frolik takes weak shots, but he plays smarter than Skille and quite frankly that trade was one sided because we got Halak. I think Frolik has a lot of upside and playing with countrymen can only help. He plays defense and does not take shifts off. His role right now is up in the air, he can lock himself on the 2nd line, but can easily slide to 3rd…..He is not a centre IMO.

    2nd line centre…Bolly is not the player that Hossa needs, and Bowman knows that, he is the gritty 3rd line centre, and that is a compliment. He is a rat and lets not make him out to be anything more than a rat who knaws at you from all angles until you are cooked….Just ask Joe Thorton and the Sedin sisters. We will need to dip in to the UFA market,,,Will Richards take a cut to win a cup? He would fit nicely, but yes there is concern with injuries……Either way we need to get Hossa a true Centre.

    4, he drives me nuts…..Has been playing better, but his shot is weak, and consistently blocked….. Olsen (Further away than most think) and Lalonde will get consideration next year. Lets see hwo this year goes and how the playoffs turn out.

    14..I see more positives than negatives, I like what he brings, and as long as his cap number stays the same, he is just fine…..

    Rockford is stocked with forward talent, but nobody ready IMO.

    Playoff predictions, when you have players like 2, 19, and 10…..plus a big game player like 88…anything is possible, and I guarantee nobody wants to play us. We are used to the grand stage, and that means so much in the playoffs…..Which 29 shows up is the ultimate key….Bickell is learning consistency, but the motivation issues to me are BULLSHIT……..And I hate head cases….29 you are on notice

    • Andy, you say Rockford is stocked with forward talent. That’s fine if you see it that way. But define “stocked.” I see some potential role players; anyone’s guess what Kyle Beach turns out to be and Brandon Pirri is a long-shot to me at this point. But its tough to say on him because he turned pro a year too early.

      And you guys go on about me being negative, then post rants which run pretty much parallel to mine.

      • I said stocked, but nobody is ready…..They are very young, I want to see who steps up next year. Stocked meaning they should take a huge step forward, I am disappointed with most of the showings this year.

  5. To be honest, I go to every Blackhawks home game and am a subscriber to the CI. I cringe whenever I see Block, or Blockhead as I like to refer to him as, has written an article. He is the most negative guy in the program and it’s not even close. After reading the above article before the game the other night, I vowed to the guy that sits in front of me at the games to NEVER read another article by Blockhead. I just don’t understand the guy. He makes very little sense. You would think after reading what he wrote that the contributions of Jonathan Toews have been meaningless, or that Michael Frolik is the worst acquisition the Hawks have ever made, followed by Campoli. What a joke. Any observer of hockey can see with little difficulty that Frolik is a marked improvement over Jack Skille. A fine trade by Stan Bowman, in my opinion.
    I understand what he is comparing in Crosby and Toews, but Crosby hasn’t played in two months, meaning he’s not really contributing much of anything lately to the Penguins cause, while Toews is raking for the Blackhawks.
    As far as Campoli, I haven’t seen him doing much of anything that would warrant a lot of criticism. Is he the most skilled guy ever? No, but he wasn’t brought here to be that.
    I don’t get this Blockhead guy and his hatred for the Hawks, or even why he is writing in the CI, for that matter. I just won’t be reading his mindless drivel anymore.

  6. hahahaha dont joke around, frolik is 100 times better then skille. Can you be more negative the hawks are the 5th power ranked team and just handed san jose a beat down. Not sure why you feel that campoli is also a bad trade… who did u want bowmen to get? Also teams break up get over the 2010 team, this is 2011 and the hawks are pretty dam good and instead of spewing negativity you should post the picture a picture of kanes 100 goal. now if the hawks dont win a game for the rest of the season be my guest and spew some more but until then give them what they deserve. respect.

    • Ian, thanks for the comments. I’d like you to expand on this thought though “frolik is 100 times better than skille”

      Really? Monday night Frolik saw his 2nd lowest ice time total since becoming a Hawk, 10:50. Only the fourth line saw less. He was on Hossa’s line, then suddenly he wasn’t. Skille averaged 10:44 as a Hawk. Frolik is better defensively, compared to Skille. few wouldn’t be, yet Frolik doesn’t touch the ice on the PK. So he doesn’t help there. I was not a Skille fan, but you do miss his energy on that fourth line. Stalberg’s done a decent job assuming some of it, I’ll give him that.

      Let’s compare the numbers. Frolik has 2 goals and 3 assists in 16 games as a Hawk. Jack Skille, in 49 games with CHI this year: 7 goals, 10 assists. If you rate Frolik’s numbers out over 49 games, what do they amount to?… 6 goals and 9 assists. Like 100x better.

      It’ll be years before you can definitely say who got the better of the deal overall. It was two guys who needed a change of scenery. With Tallon taking over in Florida, I found myself watching more Panthers games this year. At the start of the season, Frolik was the Panthers’ top line right winger. He was the fourth liner when the trade went down. Maybe he turns things around? But watching him this year, I just don’t see your view of him at all.

      • Chris,

        Skille was a cancer….I still can not believe we got anything for him, let alone Rockford starting goalie next year in Halak.

        Skille ran his mouth and made for issues in the locker room, and late shenanigans…..Addition by subtraction.

        Skille was Tallon’s worst pick ever, he was projected as a 4th rounder at best……

  7. rich lindbloom

    FYI – “Blockhead” and I have almost always been at opposite ends of the spectrum. I follow the team with my heart on my sleeve. Chris takes a much more analytical approach – probably torturing himself in the process. I’ve found over the last three years when ever I questioned one of his “informative” pieces, that my hockey IQ grew. (it’s up to about 47% currently.”

    After his last piece I questioned his criticism of Stan’s acquisition of Campoli. His reply, as is most often the case, went a lot deeper than I had ever cared to venture. I’m a big supporter of the Campoli pick up, yet what Chris pointed out to me was that it did nothing to address the Hawks PK issues. He also had a great point about our best players having to kill penalties. The PK will no doubt prove to be critical to our fortunes in the playoffs.

    In short there is ussually a reason for what he writes – he doesn’t just spew forth venom for the hell of it. I’ve been fortunate in that when I read one of his diatribes and e-mailed him, he spent the time to edify me. Most of the time I walked away thinking, “He’s got a point there.”

    Probaly the thing that irritates me most about “Blockhead” is his refusal to pin a loss on the referee’s!

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