Posted by sportsmaven on September 16, 2009
At the beginning of the week, the Chicago Blackhawks opened their fall training camp with some new faces in key places. The most prominent new face is that of newly installed General Manager Stan Bowman. Behind the scenes, lurking in the shadows is the true architect and face of the organization, the stature of William Scott Bowman, or “Scotty” as he’s affectionately known. The senior Bowman was hired in July, 2008 as Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations for the Chicago Blackhawks. Since that day, owner Rocky Wirtz and team president John McDonough have wisely, but not always smoothly, turned the reins of the hockey operations over to the 9-time Stanley Cup champion coach.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America
The first big move was a somewhat awkward firing of then-Coach Denis Savard and subsequential hiring of current Coach Joel Quenneville just four games into the 2008-2009 season. It was a move that had to be made, but it certainly wasn’t made with grace nor good timing. The last move? The “re-assignment” of former GM Dale Tallon coupled with the promotion of Stan to General Manager on July 14th, another move that was a correct move to make, but another plagued with awkwardness and questionable timing. Bowman has molded this young Blackhawks team much in the same mold as his Stanley Cup winning teams in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Montreal. In his brief tenure in Chicago, the elder Bowman has displayed his biggest asset — being able to adapt to the needs of the game today and fit personnel and coaching to those needs.
With his replacement of Tallon with his son, Stan, Bowman has again brought in new wave thinking to an organization that is desperately trying to escape it’s tractor beam-like grip of the glory days of it’s past. The younger Bowman ushers in a new, modern era in Blackhawks lore, a man whose off-ice managmement, negotiating, and analytic skills more than make up for lack of hockey playing experience. Tallon’s apparent administrative miscues were the final nails in his coffin, closing his tenure as Blackhawks GM.
The elder Bowman has filled in the hockey part of the equation, engineering the signing of RW Marian Hossa to a 12-year free agent deal, as well as the signings of C Tomas Kopecky from the Detroit Red Wings and C John Madden from the New Jersey Devils. Bowman has worked to install his winning philosophy of big, skilled two-way players that can stretch the ice and play his aggressive, pounding style of play and infusing the talent base with Stanley Cup winning players to round out the up and coming Blackhawks team.
As the Blackhawks finish day 3 of training camp, the team carries the stamp and personal marks of Scotty Bowman, from top to bottom. Wirtz, McDonough and Bowman have shown that throughout the awkwardness of their moves, they are indeed dedicated and focused on bringing a Stanley Cup Championship to Chicago as soon as humanly possible. By hiring a 9-time Stanley Cup winning coach to architect that championship, the Blackhawks mean business. If Bowman is half as good an architect as he is a coach, the Chicago Blackhawks are in for a Stanley Cup type treat.
Posted in Chicago Blackhawks | Tagged: Chicago, Chicago Blackhawks, Dale Tallon, Denis Savard, Detroit, Detroit Red Wings, Joel Quenneville, John Madden, John McDonough, Marian Hossa, Montreal, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh, Rocky Wirtz, Scotty Bowman, Stan Bowman, Stanley Cup, Tomas Kopecky | 5 Comments »
Posted by sportsmaven on February 9, 2009
The most pressing question that the Chicago Blackhawks face in the near short term is whether to keep a pair of goalies, mainly Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet. The goalie position for the Blackhawks has been an ongoing sticky issue since Huet was signed as a free agent in the off-season. Many thought the signing was the end of the line for Khabibulin in Chicago. The Blackhawks were close to the salary cap and had over 20% of their budget wrapped up in goaltenders.
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
I believe the Blackhawks intention was to trade Khabibulin before the season began, but there were no takers and the Hawks were not going to give Khabibulin away just to get rid of him. The pre-season and early regular season was a showcase for Khabibulin and he did not disappoint. Khabibulin was incredible in comparison to the last 3 previous lackluster seasons , starting out hot, mixing in the occasional cool game. He had a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. He was not going to go down without a fight.
Huet, on the other hand, started out a bit slower, with the team winning only 3 of his 10 games in goal. Huet gave up 6 goals to the San Jose Sharks on 11/26 in a loss. Huet spent the bulk of the early season on the bench watching Khabibulin. In December, Huet made the most of his playing time, at one stretch, winning 7 of 9 games to close the calendar year on a hot streak, but that ended abruptly in the Blackhawks 6-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the New Year’s Day 2009 NHL Winter Classic.
Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville has been playing the hot hand in goal and that strategy seems to be working well for a very young team that is navigating it’s way through the unfamiliar waters of competing for a playoff spot in a tough NHL Western Conference.
The questions of late have focused on the possible trade intentions of Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon and the rapidly approaching March 4th NHL trade deadline. Tallon wanted to move Khabibulin since the pre-season, but at this point, does he look to move Khabibulin again? With the way the Blackhawks have been playing, the last thing Tallon wants to do is upset the delicate balance of a team that is steaming towards what could be the second post-season appearance since 1997-98 season. Khabibulin can ride a playoff hot streak about as good as anyone out there and veteran goaltending is a huge plus for going deep in the playoffs.
Look for Tallon to make a trade elsewhere, maybe picking up a veteran scorer or a second line center, as the Blackhawks start focusing in on moving to the third seed in the NHL Western Conference playoff race.
Posted in Chicago Blackhawks | Tagged: 2009 NHL Winter Classic, Chicago Blackhawks, Cristobal Huet, Dale Tallon, Detroit Red Wings, Joel Quenneville, NHL, Nikolai Jhabibulin, San Jose Sharks, Western Conference | 1 Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on January 4, 2009
Indications from the last 3 games (the two Detroit games and tonight’s 5-2 victory against the Calgary Flames) appear that teams are now trying to take the Chicago Blackhawks out of their game by muscling them around on the ice. Coming off their recent 9 game winning streak, the Detroit Red Wings were unbelievably physical in blanking the Hawks 4-0 on Tuesday. The Wings came hard at young Hawks RW Patrick Kane and C Jonathan Toews, injuring Kane and clearly disturbing Toews on many occasions. The Hawks enforcers were silent in protecting their stars, something that will need to change for the Hawks to keep moving forward.
Calgary Flames' Mark Giordano, left, fights with Chicago Blackhawks' Colin Fraser during the first period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
The Red Wings continually sent ex-Hawk and RW Daniel Cleary after Kane, eventually forcing Kane out of the game. This will become the new strategy of teams taking on the Blackhawks, as teams used to be able to beat the Hawks on talent alone, but now the times have changed.
With the emergence of RW Patrick Sharp and D Duncan Keith, along with the rapid development of youngsters Toews and Kane, the steady play of a surprising healthy RW Martin Havlat and the addition of now three time All-Star D Brian Campbell, the level of talent on the Hawks has shot through the roof of the United Center. The addition of Calder Trophy contender LW Pat Versteeg has made the Hawks the youngest, most dynamic new team and propelling them into the top non-division leader in the Western Conference with 49 points, but 8 points behind the Central Division leading Red Wings but 9 points ahead of the team directly below them, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The good news for the Blackhawks are that teams can no longer just show up and beat them any longer. The gap of talent that has existed over the last few seasons has been closed, virtually eliminated through very shrewd work by Hawks GM Dale Tallon, assisted by assistant GM Stan Bowman and new special advisor Scotty Bowman, as well as the addition of veteran coach Joel Quenneville. When the gap of talent is non-existent, teams like the Red Wings often resort to physical intimidation, imposing their will on their opponents. For a young team such as the Blackhawks, this tactic is quite effective, displayed by home and home victories and the 0-4 record against the Red Wings for which the Blackhawks are proud owners.
The next step for the Blackhawks is to begin learining how to match physical play with physical play without taking themselves out of their game plan. Tonight’s victory over the Calgary Flames was a start. Hawks D Colin Fraser, RW Ben Eager, D Matt Walker, and RW Dustin Byfuglien set the tone tonight with 5:00 fighting penalties (Byfuglien with a 10:00 game misconduct penalty at the end of the game). With the success of the 2009 NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s day, the 3 Hawks starters on the All-Star team, and the overall rise of an Original Six team deep in the ashes of despair, the young Hawks are now a target for teams to take their shots. How the Hawks respond to that challenge is what will determine if their success will continue.
Posted in Chicago Blackhawks | Tagged: 2009 NHL Winter Classic, Ben Eager, Brian Campbell, Calder Trophy, Calgary Flames, Central Division, Chicago Blackhawks, Colin Fraser, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dale Tallon, Daniel Cleary, Detroit Red Wings, Duncan Keith, Dustin Byfuglien, Joel Quenneville, Jonathan Toews, Mark Giordano, Martin Havlat, Matt Walker, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Versteeg, Scotty Bowman, Stan Bowman, Western Conference | Leave a Comment »
Posted by sportsmaven on January 1, 2009
It can be very easy to say that the star of this afternoon’s NHL 2009 Winter Classic is Wrigley Field, and even easier to say the game is a showcase for NHL power, defending Stanley Cup Champions, and this year’s Stanley Cup favorite, the Detroit Red Wings. But lets not be mistaken any longer than needed. The NHL Winter Classic is the coming out party for Rocky Wirtz/John McDonough led, new, improved, and revived Chicago Blackhawks team. And it’s exactly what the NHL needs for an Original Six team that has been down on it’s own luck.
(Tribune photo by Charles Cherney / December 31, 2008)
Of course, the young Chicago Blackhawks team has been doing it’s part, especially of late, winning a franchise record 9 games in a row. That streak was broken yesterday in Detroit, with the Red Wings pitching a shutout, adding to the already incredible hype of today’s game, making it into a nationally televised grudge match.
At least two generations of Hawks fans have been disenfranchised by the draconian methods of management under long time owner Bill Wirtz. When the older Wirtz died in September of 2007, his son Rocky was tapped to run the team, and it seemed that Rocky learned all the “lessons” of his father’s mismanagement. In 188 sweeping days, Rocky has reversed all the negativity of past mismanagement, with his first move, stealing the marketing genius McDonough away from the Chicago Cubs. That move alone signaled to Hawks fans that Wirtz was committed to reviving the sagging fortunes of the once-proud Blackhawks franchise.
The rest is marketing history. As we ring in what we hope to be a better year in 2009, hope springs eternal in the City of Chicago, for the Chicago Blackhawks, and their fans. Regardless of the outcome of today’s game, the Winter Classic marks the coming out of a young Chicago Blackhawks team, the unveiling of a new, historic direction for a historic Original Six team. For those not fortunate enough to secure tickets for the Classic, the game will be brodcast on television, as will every single game the Blackhawks will play this season. This is a first in the 82-year history of the team.
So let the celebrations begin, hopefully the first of many celebrations for the new, improved Chicago Blackhawks.
ESPN has extensive coverage of today’s NHL Winter Classic:
On the local front, the popular stories of the week on the Winter Classic:
Posted in Chicago Blackhawks | Tagged: 2009 NHL Winter Classic, Bill Wirtz, Carol Slexak, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Cubs, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chris Chelios, Chris Kuc, Daily Herald, Detroit Red Wings, EJ Hradek, ESPN, Gene Wojciechowski, John McDonough, NHL, Original Six, Rocky Wirtz, Scott Burnside, Stanley Cup, Tim Sassone, Wrigley Field | Leave a Comment »