On Monday, the Blackhawks assigned Jeremy Morin to the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL. The decision ends an apparent late pre-season competition between Morin and 24-year old Vitkor Stalberg for a spot on left wing.
In the off season, Morin, 19, was acquired from Atlanta in the deal that sent Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel to the Thrashers. Viktor Stalberg was the key return in the trade in which the Hawks sent Kris Versteeg to Toronto.
In the final exhibition game Sunday versus the Blues, Stalberg skated just under 9 minutes for coach Joel Quenneville, while Morin played 13:18 including several shifts on the power play. Both were credited with two hits. Morin registered two shots to Stalberg’s one. Each picked up an assist while Morin finished a minus-1 and Stalberg a plus-1. Morin’s effort leading to Marian Hossa’s deflection-goal during a second-period power play was a highlight of the game. Afterwards, Quenneville called Morin’s night “okay.”
The move of Morin to the AHL trims the Blackhawks roster down to the maximum of 23 with the injury to Brian Campbell and demotion of goaltender Hannu Toivonen having previously gone down over the weekend.
Here’s how the opening night roster stacks up: (lines speculative)
Troy Brouwer – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Tomas Kopecky – Patrick Sharp – Patrick Kane
Viktor Stalberg – Dave Bolland – Fernando Pisani
Bryan Bickell – Ryan Potulny – Jack Skille
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Nick Leddy
Jordan Hendry – Nick Boynton
John Scott (W/D) – Jassen Cullimore
Injured: Brian Campbell (sprained right knee; out 4-5 weeks)
Jack Skille (arm) is at this point still considered questionable for Thursday’s opener in Colorado. Skille has said he thinks he’ll be ready.
Cullimore is still around in case the Hawks get cold feet with the Nick Leddy experiment or it simply doesn’t work out. Cullimore had a better camp than most everyone is willing to give him credit for and while it may seem unfathomable to some, Cullimore is still a better option for Quenneville than rookies like Ivan Vishnevskiy or Brian Connelly.
If Skille can’t go Thursday, its very possible John Scott will dress as the 12th forward and Cullimore as the 6th-D against the Avalanche. Remember, Nick Boynton will be serving a one-game suspension Thursday night for his throat-slashing gesture in the first exhibition game on September 22 in Winnipeg against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With Jake Dowell dressing the final two preseason games and Ryan Potulny watching those contests from the stands, it would stand to reason Dowell is getting the call to center the fourth line in Game 1 of 82. Or, both Dowell and Potulny dress (if Skille is out) in game one and Scott stands in as the 6th defenseman.
While Jordan Hendry didn’t do much this exhibition season to gain many’s confidence in his ability to anchor the third defensive pairing, the 5-6 duo needs the additional mobility neither Boynton or Scott can provide. Thus, Hendry could have a longer rope.
In regards to the Morin demotion….
I think you’d be troubled to find a single person who felt Viktor Stalberg out-performed Jeremy Morin during the exhibition contests. If this were a legitimate one vs one competition, Stalberg would be the player headed to the AHL. But this obviously wasn’t.
There’s also not much to the notion Morin was a casualty of salary cap considerations. While Morin’s 2010-11 potential performance bonuses total $170,000 more than Stalberg’s, those would be covered under the entry-level bonus cushion. Also, Morin’s base salary and preliminary cap hit is $70,000 less than Stalberg’s. So Morin’s preliminary hit is more favorable than Stalberg’s. And if Morin were to stick all year at the NHL level and meet all his marks for those bonuses, I’m sure the Blackhawks wouldn’t mind.
More likely, if the cap figured into Morin’s case at all, is apparent inclusion of Nick Leddy on the opening night roster. Leddy’s base salary according to numbers listed on CapGeek.com is $900,000. Leddy also does not have attainable performance bonuses this season. With Leddy in the mix on the Hawks’ blue line, the Hawks only have space for minimum sized contracts for the time being. If Brian Campbell had not been injured Friday in the game with Pittsburgh, Leddy probably would not have made the team and Morin may have been rewarded with an early trial with the Hawks.
With Leddy in the picture, Morin had to beat out Stalberg since the contracts of Bickell, Skille, Potulny, Dowell, and even John Scott are all closer to the league minimum. And ultimately, Morin doesn’t have to clear waivers while most of those players do, and that’s why Morin was never really in competition for a spot with anyone but Stalberg. However, once Viktor Stalberg hits the 20 games played mark this season, he becomes waiver-eligible. So you can see the pressure is on Stalberg to get going early or he could be headed to Rockford sooner than later after all. Morin won’t become waiver-eligible until the 2014-15 season, or when he hits 160 NHL games played.
Stan Bowman, may also be looking to delay the passing of Jassen Cullimore through waivers until a few days after the season begins and teams set their initial rosters in case there would happen to be interest in him. And there very well could be if you consider losing another veteran blue liner (Cullimore) would hurt the Hawks to a degree. He hasn’t had a bad camp either. While I’m pretty positive he’s not someone Bowman wants to see in any regularity in a Hawks uniform, Cullimore, who turns 38 in December, is still a veteran who could give the Hawks some minutes in a pinch and also has value skating with the young kids in Rockford.
While I don’t find the Morin cut as any great injustice, it is slightly disconcerting to see Bowman’s slight of Morin. That said, Stalberg can erase those thoughts in a hurry if he gets off to a quick start this week. And by all accounts, Morin is a determined, intelligent kid and this probably won’t set him back any. He could also use the experience of a season in the AHL to learn the intricacies of the pro game and continued improvement on his skating. He was only in the running for a spot this year to begin with because the Hawks’ depth up front so poor.
Stalberg posted 9 goals and 14 points in 40 games with the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs last season. In Chicago, he’s greeted, yes, with more-accomplished teammates, but also with greater expectations. The early returns simply won’t do. Stalberg will find himself on the outs soon enough if he can’t find the net and help provide some offense on one of the top three lines.