Sep 082011
photo credit

By Brad Gardner

Niklas Hjalmarsson will have the third-highest cap hit on the Blackhawks’ blue line during the 2011-12 season, meaning increased expectations for the Swedish defender. Chicago GM Stan Bowman opted to match the offer sheet submitted by San Jose during the summer of 2010, so Hjalmarsson is owed 3.5 million dollars this season and two more seasons.

Originally selected in the 4th round, 108th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Hjalmarsson spent parts of two seasons in Chicago before sticking with the big club full time for the 2009-10 season. He was one of the club’s most dependable blueliners throughout the 2010 Stanley Cup run, finishing third among defensemen with 21 minutes of ice time per night and ranking second with a plus-nine rating in 22 playoff games. Hjalmarsson also finished fourth on the blue line with eight points during the 2010 playoffs, giving a glimpse of the potential two-way defender the organization believes he could be. Continue reading »

Sep 072011

Looking to improve depth and add long sought-after grit to the blue line mix, the Blackhawks acquired veteran utility defenseman Steve Montador over the summer.

Stan Bowman traded for Montador on June 29th and signed him less than 24 hours later.

Acquired prior to free agency from Buffalo for the seventh-round pick Bowman received from the Panthers in exchange for Tomas Kopecky’s negotiating rights, Montador inked a deal with Chicago sixteen hours before he was set to hit the open market.

Chicago will mark the defenseman’s sixth team in the last seven seasons.

Set to earn a whopping $4.6 million this season, Montador is the league’s 28th highest-paid defenseman next to Calgary’s Mark Giordano.  Since his contract is frontloaded, Montador’s cap hit over the next four years sits at a more manageable $2.75M. Continue reading »

Sep 072011
photo: Chicago Tribune

By Jon Fromi

Brent Seabrook enters the 2011-12 campaign with a five-year, $29 million contract in hand. The physical half of the Blackhawks’ top defensive pairing can live up to the terms simply enough. Seabrook just needs to play the game that earned him those big bucks.

Seabrook’s ability to hold up in the long term under the physical play took a hit, literally and figuratively, in the playoffs via the shoulder of Raffi Torres. The Hawks hope Seabrook will erase any lingering doubt as the season gets underway. Continue reading »

Oct 072010

I wanted to get my full predictions up before the first puck drops on the 2010-11 NHL Season at 11am this morning in Helsinki, Finland (Hurricanes-Wild).  I’ll follow this up later on today after a nap, with team-by-team commentary and thorough explanations of these detailed predictions.

2010-11 Western Conference Prediction

    W L OL Pts
1 Vancouver Canucks 51 21 10 112
2 Detroit Red Wings 48 22 12 108
3 San Jose Sharks 47 24 11 105
4 Los Angeles Kings 47 25 10 104
5 Chicago Blackhawks 46 24 12 104
6 Nashville Predators 44 29 9 97
7 St. Louis Blues 44 30 8 96
8 Colorado Avalanche 42 31 9 93
9 Phoenix Coyotes 41 32 9 91
10 Anaheim Ducks 39 34 9 87
11 Calgary Flames 38 33 11 87
12 Minnesota Wild 37 36 9 83
13 Columbus Blue Jackets   36 37 9 81
14 Dallas Stars 34 37 11 79
15 Edmonton Oilers 33 38 11 77

2010-11 Eastern Conference Prediction

    W L OL Pts
1 Boston Bruins 51 23 8 110
2 Washington Capitals 48 24 10 106
3 Philadelphia Flyers 46 25 11 103
4 New Jersey Devils 45 27 10 100
5 Pittsburgh Penguins 43 27 12 98
6 Buffalo Sabres 43 31 8 94
7 Montreal Canadiens 42 30 10 94
8 Tampa Bay Lightning   40 32 10 90
9 Carolina Hurricanes 39 32 11 89
10 Atlanta Thrashers 38 32 12 88
11 Ottawa Senators 39 36 7 85
12 Toronto Maple Leafs 35 37 10 80
13 New York Rangers 33 40 9 75
14 Florida Panthers 32 39 11 75
15 New York Islanders 29 40 13 71

East Conference Quarter-Finals
Boston Bruins over Tampa Bay Lightning

Washington Caps over Montreal Canadiens

Philadelphia Flyers over Buffalo Sabres

Pittsburgh Penguins over New Jersey Devils

East Conference Semi-Finals
Boston Bruins over Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals over Philadelphia Flyers

Eastern Conference Final
Washington Capitals over Boston Bruins

West Conference Quarter-Finals
Vancouver Canucks over Colorado Avalanche

Detroit Red Wings over St. Louis Blues

San Jose Sharks over Nashville Predators

Los Angeles Kings over Chicago Blackhawks

West Conference Semi-Finals
Los Angeles Kings over Vancouver Canucks

Detroit Red Wings over San Jose Sharks

Western Conference Final
Los Angeles Kings over Detroit Red Wings

2011 Stanley Cup Finals
Washington Capitals over Los Angeles Kings

Quick notes:
As I mentioned way back on last month’s TTMI~Radio when we previewed training camp with Sam Fels, I expect Los Angeles to go for it all this year, and acquire Brad Richards from Dallas sometime in February if not earlier.  If the Stars are pinning their hopes on Kari Lehtonen, they will regret it.  Brad Richards will be a UFA next summer and the Kings are a 1st or high-end 2nd line center away from being serious Cup contenders.  The Kings will have Thomas Hickey and Colton Teubert, top defenseman prospects to package in a deal, and the Stars have a tremendous need for good young blue liners.

Where LA finishes mostly depends on when they get Richards, or another big gun.  But they will make that move.  They wanted Ilya Kovalchuk, but the price was too high and long-term implications would have potentially cost them key pieces down the line.  Richards is a big game performer as his Conn Smythe trophy from the 2004 Finals proves.  The Kings’ defense might be the deepest, most versatile in the West when its all said an done.  In the end, I believe they fall short.  But it will be a fun ride for Kings’ fans.

In regards to the Hawks, a lot of where they finish really depends heavily on what Detroit does.  If the Wings can stay healthy and receive competent goaltending, I can’t envision them not winning the Central.  But, it will go down to the wire.  I had the Hawks finishing with 106-107 points before the Campbell injury, and that dropped them one slot and cost them home ice against the Kings on my board.

If it were any other team but the Kings, I’d lean heavy on the Hawks to advance to the second round.  At some point though, the lack of depth, inexperience and downgrades in some key positions left behind by the departed will catch up with them.  And I can’t bet on Marty Turco.

Going into the season, its apparent to me each conference has clearly defined upper and lower tiers.  In the middle are a bunch of teams you could pick to win a round if the worlds align just right by April, but none are real Cup contenders.  So, the betting money is with the chalk.

I’m going back to my prediction of a year ago.  This will be the season it all clicks in Washington.  At some point they’ll get a goalie.  Varlamov won’t be that man.  George McPhee, in my mind, made a big mistake not making a move on Antti Niemi.  Unless he has a bigger fish (Ilya Bryzgalov or Tomas Vokoun) in mind.  I also agree, as Sam Fels predicted on our show in September, that Bruce Boudreau won’t be the guy behind the Caps’ bench when they make their run for the Cup in the spring.

I’ll have more later including season-ending trophy predictions.