By Chris Block
First off, a quick note:
I don’t have any shows of my own planned at the moment, but I can announce that I will be joining the HockeeNight PuckCast this Sunday night, April 21st. We’ll be discussing the Blackhawks as they get primed for postseason; either a Rockford IceHogs post-mortem or playoff preview and if maybe even more 1960’s and 70’s northeast professional wrestling as we did last time I did the PuckCast.
–Nashville Predators’ winger Kevin Henderson will be making his NHL debut tonight against the Blackhawks at the UC. Back in 2007, Henderson was an invitee to the Blackhawks summer prospect camp. At that camp, Henderson skated on Jonathan Toews’ line. The summer ’07 camp was the one just prior to Toews and Patrick Kane’s rookie seasons.
DYLAN OLSEN UPDATE
The Blackhawks 2009 first round pick suffered a foot injury on April 7th in a game against the Peoria Rivermen in Rockford. Olsen blocked a shot off his left foot during the second period of that game and has not played since.
Olsen was back skating with the IceHogs this week and could possibly play in the regular season finale tomorrow night in Cedar Park, Texas. Olsen has been ruled out of tonight’s game in San Antonio, however.
Tonight, Rockford will go with the following defense pairs: Ryan Stanton-Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck-Steve Montador, Joe Lavin-Shawn Lalonde.
ROCKFORD ICEHOGS – It all comes down to this…
The Rockford IceHogs (40-31-2-1, .561, 83 points) wrap up their regular season this weekend with two games in the Lone Star State.
Tonight, Rockford will visit the San Antonio Rampage (29-36-2-7, .453). The Rampage (14th in the west) are the AHL affiliate to the Florida Panthers.
Tomorrow the IceHogs will be in suburban Austin, Texas to face off with the Texas Stars (43-20-5-6, .655) and complete their regular season schedule. Texas is the top seed in the AHL Western Conference and the Dallas Stars’ chief minor league affiliate. The Stars can clinch the first seed in the West with a victory over Houston at home tonight, or a Toronto Marlies (2nd place) loss.
Rockford enters the weekend in 9th place, tied with 8th place Milwaukee in points at 83. The Chicago Wolves (36-28-5-4, .555, 81 points) are the only other team in the hunt on these final three days of the AHL’s 2012-13 campaign.
The trouble facing Rockford this weekend is that because Milwaukee and Chicago will each play three games in three days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), while the IceHogs have just two games remaining. In plain terms, Rockford doesn’t completely control their own fate this weekend.
On the positive side, the Milwaukee Admirals’ roster has been decimated by callups to the Nashville Predators over the past month. And they lost another regular in the above-mentioned Kevin Henderson being recalled by the Preds. Still, the Admirals have managed to win 6 of their last 10 games. Three of those losses came against Rockford.
Milwaukee hosts the Charlotte Checkers (4th place) tonight. Charlotte has a playoff spot locked in already. The Admirals then visit the Wolves in Rosemont on Saturday. That’s a game the IceHogs would really love to see the Wolves win – and inside regulation as well. Milwaukee beat Chicago earlier this week. Milwaukee then closes its regular season on Sunday in Peoria (13th place) in what will undoubtedly be an emotional game on the Peoria Rivermen front, given it will be the final game in that franchise’s history. So, Milwaukee’s road won’t be easy.
The Wolves are in Cleveland tonight to meet the Lake Erie Monsters (11th place). Chicago has won all three meetings so far this season with the Monsters.
Then, as noted, Chicago Wolves return home Saturday to host Milwaukee. The Wolves then wrap up the season on Sunday afternoon with another home game when they host the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Wolves are 1-2-3-1 vs Grand Rapids this season. But Grand Rapids also has the Midwest Division locked up already and can’t finish any lower than 3rd in the conference. It’s possible, by Sunday, that the Griffins will have nothing to play for.
First and foremost, though, Rockford must take care of its business. If they were to lose tonight, while they wouldn’t be mathematically eliminated, the IceHogs would be all but eliminated from the playoffs. 3 out of 4 points probably won’t get it done either since both Milwaukee and Chicago have a possibly 6 points out there to grab.
Rockford needs to win both tonight in San Antonio and tomorrow at Texas to give themselves the best shot at earning that 8th spot. If they can pick up all four of those points inside of regulation or OT, and the Wolves can manage to beat Milwaukee in Rosemont tomorrow, then it won’t matter what Milwaukee or Chicago does the rest of the weekend – the IceHogs would qualify for the playoffs.
The AHL’s first qualifying tie-breaker is regulation or overtime (ROW) wins. Right now the IceHogs and Admirals tie in that category with each having won 35 games without the shootout this season. On the other hand, the Chicago Wolves have just 30 ROW’s. So, for the Wolves to make the playoffs, they’ll basically need to win out and get help in the IceHogs earning anything less than 4 points.
The second tie-breaker is points earned versus the other team. (In the event of a three-way tie, its combined percentage of points earned against the other two teams)
Rockford was 7-4-1-0 versus Milwaukee this season; 6-5-0-1 vs the Wolves. Thus, the IceHogs would hold the second tie-breaker over either Chicago or Milwaukee in a two team scenario. Rockford earned 13 of a possible 24 points in the season series with the Chicago Wolves this year. The Wolves earned 12 of 24 (6-6-0-0).
In a three-team scenario, the tie-breaker would go to Milwaukee right now as the Admirals have earned 63% of the possible points vs Chicago and Rockford this season as opposed to Rockford (59%) and the Wolves (40%). But that won’t matter because the Wolves would not survive the first tie-breaker, which is regulation/overtime (ROW) wins.
None of this has mentioned Oklahoma City, who also has three games left to finish up the season. But considering OKC will wrap up the season with 3 consecutive home games against Abbotsford (2) and Houston on Sunday, and OKC already has 85 points (two more than Milwaukee and Rockford) it’s a long shot to consider the IceHogs could leap frog the Edmonton Oilers farm club.
In the event Oklahoma City does drop into a tie with the IceHogs…. Rockford would own the first tie-breaker over the Barons. Right now the IceHogs have 35 ROW’s to Oklahoma City’s 33.
Because of the hockey invention of the 3-point game, there are so many different ways this weekend can shake out, but here are a few easy ones to process.
–If the Wolves win out (6 of 6 points) they’d finish with 87 points. IceHogs would need four of the possible four points then this weekend to finish with 87 points and eliminate the Wolves based on the (ROW) tie-breaker.
–If Milwaukee earns any more than 4 points (out of a possible 6) then Rockford is eliminated.
–If Rockford wins both Friday and Saturday, but needs a shootout in one of those victories, they’ll need Milwaukee to earn no more than 3 points this weekend. Again, if Rockford wins both games, it won’t matter what the Wolves do.
–Any scenario in which the Wolves and IceHogs finish tied in points would see the Wolves eliminated.
–If Milwaukee and Rockford wind up tied in points, but the Admirals get two ROW wins (meaning they would go 2-1-0-0), and the IceHogs just one ROW – then Milwaukee finishes above Rockford.
–If Milwaukee and Rockford wind up tied in points, Milwaukee needs to win the first tie-breaker (ROW) to finish above Rockford. For example, if Rockford goes 2-0-0-0 this weekend and Milwaukee goes 1-0-0-2, then the IceHogs would finish above Milwaukee.
Basically, if Chicago can beat Milwaukee in regulation on Saturday, and Rockford wins both of its games in regulation or overtime, then the IceHogs will make the playoffs.
This is what you get for being a .500 team on home ice well into late March.
NOTES ON BLACKHAWKS NEWEST SIGNING – DREW LEBLANC
The Blackhawks signed the 2013 NCAA Hobey Baker award winner Drew Leblanc (pronounced Le-BLAH) to a one-year entry level contract on April 12th.
The biggest reason Drew Leblanc was not sent to Rockford is that he missed the AHL’s player playoff eligibility by two days.
The AHL trade deadline was April 10th, which is also the cutoff for playoff eligibility. Since Leblanc was still playing for St. Cloud State on April 11th at the Frozen Four Championship in Pittsburgh, he missed that deadline. Leblanc’s team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament on the 11th and he signed with the Blackhawks the next day.
Due to NCAA eligibility rules, had Leblanc even signed an Amateur Try-Out (ATO) contract with the IceHogs on or before April 10th (with the hypothetical being that he’d join Rockford once the Frozen Four was over), he would have been ruled ineligible to play for St. Cloud State at the Frozen Four championship.
Since the IceHogs have been in a must-win situation essentially every night out, and thus top prospects like Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault are already regular healthy scratches because of that, it would be almost pointless to place Leblanc into Rockford’s lineup considering, even if he could contribute and help get Rockford into the postseason, he wouldn’t be eligible to play there past this weekend anyhow.
St. Cloud State’s run to collegiate hockey’s Final Four has paid huge dividends for Leblanc. It is highly likely Leblanc would have wound up in Rockford had St. Cloud State bowed out before it did. Because Leblanc missed the AHL playoff eligibility deadline, and is now essentially a practice player with the Blackhawks, he is getting paid at his NHL rate of pay.
According to numbers acquired by the CapGeek.com staff, Leblanc received a $92,500 signing bonus check on April 12th. Signing bonuses are handed out, in full, at the time of signing (or on July 1st of each subsequent agreed upon year in SPCs).
Leblanc’s NHL contract is valued at $925,000 for the 2012-13 season. Obviously that salary is pro-rated in this lockout shortened season to begin with. Leblanc will be under contract for 17 days during this regular season (as the NHL regular season schedule ends on April 28th). Leblanc will make nearly $5,000 per day (before escrows) as compared to the $370 per day he would be paid if he were in the AHL right now.
Because Leblanc was not on the Blackhawks ‘Reserve List’ at the NHL Trade Deadline on April 3rd, he cannot play for the Blackhawks in the NHL playoffs either.
Leblanc was an undrafted player who Stan Bowman said in an interview on ChicagoBlackhawks.com this week that the organization has been working to sign for a couple of years. However, Leblanc wanted to finish his full collegiate career before turning pro.
“There were probably 20 teams who wanted to sign him,” said Bowman when talking about getting Leblanc under contract for the remainder of this season.
Bowman also said he has talked to Joel Quenneville about getting Leblanc into a Blackhawks game before the end of the season.
Considering how much the Blackhawks are spending – roughly $175,000 to essentially just grab the rights on prospect so late in the season who can’t contribute to the team in any real way under this contract, there’s probably more than a little pressure on Quenneville to get Leblanc in at least a game over these last six games.
Bowman’s eagerness to get Leblanc under contract also doesn’t say much about their true confidence in Brandon Pirri moving forward.
Leblanc and Pirri are essentially the same type of player. Their individual scouting reports mirror one another and thus there’s really only one position either could fill on the Blackhawks roster next year, and that is second line center.
More on #WheresBollig
One of the interesting points glossed over in the saga of Brandon Bollig’s mysterious whereabouts earlier this month (April 1st and 2nd) is that had the Blackhawks waited until after 2pm on April 3rd to recall Bollig, he would have been eligible to play for the IceHogs in the postseason, should they qualify. But because Bollig’s whereabouts had become something of an internet sensation, the Blackhawks may have jumped the gun on his recall. There were many “paper transactions” across the NHL on April 3rd – moves that were made to get prospects, at the time, filling spots on NHL rosters back into the AHL for a few hours on paper until the NHL trade deadline had passed, so those players would thus be eligible for the AHL playoffs in the event they would be returned to their AHL clubs. However, those players were sent back to the AHL for just a few hours. Not two days.
Update on Stephen Johns
There isn’t much to report on Stephen Johns other than what we already know – that he has yet to officially commit to leaving Notre Dame, or sign with the Blackhawks, the team that drafted him.
Johns, who turned 21 on Thursday, just completed his junior season at Notre Dame and is considered by many to be a top blue line prospect of the Blackhawks, right behind Adam Clendening. Ryan Stanton, Dylan Olsen and Klas Dahlbeck are also in that conversation too, but Johns is thought to be more of a complete-package than any of those three.
This one has a lot of people talking.
The Blackhawks believe the time is right for Johns to leave Notre Dame and continue his development at the AHL level. He’s not NHL ready, but scouts believe there isn’t much more for him in the college game.
Johns is 6-4 and 230 pounds. With questions now rumbling about Dylan Olsen’s long-term projections and future with the organization, Johns is the bruising defenseman the Blackhawks are now counting on to slide into the NHL depth chart 2 to 3 years down the road.
Stephen Johns spoke to Chris Bradford of the Beaver-County Times in an article published on April 10th.
It’s an interesting article.
Early in the article, the author states that Johns hasn’t indicated his plans for next season as of now.
“If Johns does return to (Notre Dame) for his senior year — officially, he’s not saying,” wrote Chris Bradford.
Yet, at the end of the article, Johns is quoted, by Bradford, saying his plan is to return to South Bend for his senior year and compete again for a national championship (Johns was a freshman when Notre Dame lost in the Frozen Four semi-finals to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth, the team Dylan Olsen left mid-season when he was about to be ruled academically ineligible for the second semester).
“It’s the dream of anyone playing college hockey,” Johns told Bradford as quoted in the article. “I plan on going back there next year. That’s my motivation.”
Johns says that he shares he’s parent’s vision of him getting his marketing degree at the University of Notre Dame.
As we wrote here last month, there are those in the Blackhawks organization who have been expecting that Johns would be leaving Notre Dame and turning pro after this season. Whether that plan has changed; if there’s a bit of contract negotiating posturing going on, or it’s never been Johns’ intention to begin with, time will tell.
Stephen Johns is a product of suburban Pittsburgh. Because some recent top college prospects have shunned the teams that drafted them (most recently Justin Schultz did this to the Anaheim Ducks after he left Wisconsin following the 2011-12 season), it’s caused some to wonder if Johns is angling himself away from the Blackhawks, possibly to sign with his hometown Pittsburgh Penguins after he completes his collegiate career.
Johns was a no-show at last summer’s Blackhawks prospect camp. The Blackhawks drafted him 60th overall, in the second round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
If Johns does declare his intention to turn pro in the next few weeks, the clock is ticking on the Blackhawks ability to sign the player who most believe is one of the team’s top three blue line prospects currently tied to the organization.
Last year, Justin Schultz waited until May 25th to officially de-commit from Wisconsin and declare his intention to turn pro, leaving the Anaheim Ducks with 30 days to sign the player before he would become an unrestricted free agent. The window of exclusivity passed without an agreement and after Schultz signed with Edmonton he was quoted saying it was always his focus to play for a Canadian team. Ducks GM Bob Murray was furious of course, explaining that had he known Schultz had no intention of signing with the Ducks, Murray could have tried traded his rights to the team that he wanted to sign with.