Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From worst to first: the Blackhawks' journey

Placed on YouTube by user ChooseChicago
(as far as I know, not created by Chicago Blackhawks)

Chicago Blackhawks - dates for the calendar

According to Stanley Cup rules, hockey's beloved silver chalice gets 100 days with the winning team. The first couple weeks are generally spent celebrating in and around the winning team's hometown - parades, etc. It'd be interesting to figure out how much mileage the Stanley Cup has logged since the Blackhawks first hoisted it on the ice at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia on June 9, 2010: travels since then have included multiple public sightings in Chicago, two parades, and trips to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Some time in early to mid-July, the players all get their "Day With the Cup": each player gets 24 hours to do whatever they like with the Stanley Cup (within reason). Many players, when interviewed, have stated they'd like to play street hockey back home with friends, family, or neighborhood kids. No doubt that the Cup will see several more parade routes along the way, too. As to what else the Cup might be up to - well, here's hoping that the guys who Tweet for the team (@NHLBlackhawks) or the team blog post some regular updates. (The Hockey Hall of Fame has a spot on their website for the 2010 Stanley Cup Journal, but it doesn't seem to be updated very quickly.) No doubt that local fans and bloggers from the players' hometowns will also provide updates!

The Cup is going to head to Europe for approximately 10 days, where it will make the rounds in Finland, Slovakia, Sweden, and France, although not necessarily in that order, before returning to North America to make the rounds in Canada and the U.S. The team's time with the Cup will end right around the day of the Training Camp Festival (September 18).

Here's a listing of some major dates on the Blackhawks calendar during the summer and into the beginning of the 2010-2011 season:

- Stanley Cup at Daley Plaza - Tuesday, June 29
The Stanley Cup will be at Daley Plaza (Washington between Clark & Dearborn) from 10am - 4pm. People will not be allowed to line up before 8am. Bring your own camera; no professional photographer available.

The Sun-Times reports that after Daley Plaza, the Cup will make the rounds to Coach's Corner and Jordan's Pub & Eatery, both in Orland Park; and Sam Buca's Restaurant & Bar in Palos Heights.

- Blackhawks booth at Taste of Chicago
June 25 - July 2, 11am - 6pm
July 3 & 4, 11am - 4pm

- Prospect Camp - Friday, July 9 - Monday, July 12
Johnny's Ice House West, 2550 W. Madison, Chicago. Complete roster and schedule to be released at a later date. Events at Johnny's are generally open to the public.

- 3rd Annual Blackhawks Convention - Friday, July 30 - Sunday, August 1
Chicago Hilton, 720 S. Michigan Ave. Tickets have been sold out for some time.

- 2010-2011 single-game tickets go on sale - some time in mid-August

- Blackhawks Training Camp Festival - Saturday, September 18

- Preseason begins - Wednesday, September 22
Tampa Bay Lightning will be "host" to the Chicago Blackhawks at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg for a preseason game. This game will be the first of seven preseason games, September 22 - October 3.

- Regular season begins - Thursday, October 7
The Blackhawks kick off their 2010-2011 season with an away game at the Colorado Avalanche.

- Regular season home opener & Stanley Cup banner raising - Saturday, October 9
The Chicago Blackhawks have their first home game of the 2010-2011 season against long-time rivals, the Detroit Red Wings. This game will also mark the raising of the 2009-2010 season banners to the rafters of the United Center, and the Stanley Cup will be in the house.

- All-Star Game, Raleigh, NC - January 29 & 30, 2011
Hosted by the Carolina Hurricanes, this season's All-Star Game will take place in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Brent Sopel rides with the Stanley Cup at the Pride parade

Stanley Cup in 2010 Chicago Pride Parade w/Brent Sopel

The Chicago Blackhawks made a lot of history this past season. Brent Sopel made a little bit more this weekend when he rode with the Stanley Cup in the 2010 Chicago Pride parade, held this afternoon. 

Mr. Sopel isn't gay; he's happily married, and has four kids. And although Sopel was traded just a couple days ago to the Atlanta Thrashers, he still rode in the parade as a representative of the Blackhawks. He did the parade to honor his friend, Toronto GM Brian Burke, and Burke's late son, Brendan - a young athlete who came out as gay, only to die in an automobile accident three months later. Sopel commented:

"When Brendan came out, Brian stood by him, and his whole family stood by him, like every family should," said Sopel. "We teach our kids about accepting everybody. Tolerate everybody, to understand where everyone is coming from."

Brian Burke was very touched by Sopel's choice, stated the Chicago Tribune/WGN:
"Our entire family is touched by the kindness of Brent and Kelly Sopel, and that of the Blackhawks," Burke said Thursday. "This is not a small step -- it's a bold and important one. We are grateful that a statement of this magnitude is being made by the Sopels, the Blackhawks and the National Hockey League."

In the highly machismo world of professional sports, it is nearly impossible to find athletes who have publicly outed themselves. If any do, it is generally after their professional sports career has ended; a few notable exceptions include Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Sheryl Swoopes, all of whom came out as lesbians at the peak of their career. 

It's hard to understand why people would be more understanding of female athletes behind lesbian than male athletes being gay. Perhaps it is because being a professional athlete is perceived as the pinnacle of manliness (yes, even sometimes for women), that the idea that a favorite male athlete might be gay seems difficult for some people to handle. 

By being willing to openly support equality for all athletes, Brent Sopel joins the few straight athletes who have publicly shown support for gay athletes. Scott Fujita, star linebacker for the NFL's New Orleans Saints, supported the National Equality March last October. Fellow NFL linebacker, Brendon Ayanbadejo of the Baltimore Ravens, asked "Same sex marriages: what's the big deal?" last spring.

Stanley Cup in 2010 Chicago Pride Parade w/Brent Sopel

The Chicago Gay Hockey Association had extended an invitation to the Blackhawks to ride in the parade, although they had not expected the team to accept the offer. Members of the CGHA and supporters of the CGHA marched and skated alongside the float.

Stanley Cup in 2010 Chicago Pride Parade w/Brent Sopel

By appearing in Chicago's Pride parade, this marked the first time in the Stanley Cup's history that it appeared in a gay-themed event.

Cubs float in Pride parade

The Chicago Cubs also sponsored a float in the parade, a first in their club history. Since the Cubs had an afternoon game, Cubs alumni and Hall of Fame member Ernie Banks rode on the Cubs' float. Mr. Banks knows something about breaking down barriers, as when he joined the Cubs in 1953, he was their first black player - and he was also the first player to have his number retired by the Cubs organization.

Brent Sopel is a man's man among hockey players, known for being a tough player. As a defenseman, he lays his body on the line nightly, and has racked up injuries to prove it. His face still currently bears the healing scar from a puck taken to the face late in the season. But his grit as a player is balanced out by a heart of gold. He and his family have welcomed military families into their home for the holidays through "Operation Homefront".

Fans have responded warmly to him, and he's found a solid fanbase. Unfortunately, he's been traded to the Thrashers, but he's stated that he loves Chicago, his family will remain here, that he hopes to become a Blackhawk again in the future, and that when the day comes, he'll retire here.

In the meantime, before he has to head off to Atlanta, he's embracing summer in Chicago, and still doing what he can to share the Cup with Blackhawks fans across the city. In addition to riding in the Pride parade, he then brought the Stanley Cup over to Casey Moran's in Wrigleyville for the afternoon, allowing a lot of happy fans to touch and take pictures with the Cup.

Sopel had a big smile on his face, too, not just as he carried the Cup in, but as he met a steady stream of a couple hundred fans, posing for pictures and signing items.

Stanley Cup at Casey Moran's 6/27/2010

Within fifteen minutes of arrival, Casey Moran's was packed. This picture was before more arrived!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Blackhawks 2010 Draft picks - interviews at the Draft

List of players drafted, by round, by Chicago:

1 - Kevin Hayes
2 - Ludvig Rensfeldt, Justin Holl, Kent Simpson, Stephen Johns
3 - Joakim Nordstrom
4 - Rob Flick
5 - (none)
6 - Mirko Hoefflin, Nick Mattson
7 - Mac Carruth

Videos from the Blackhawks site:

Kevin Hayes (First round)

GM Stan Bowman, interviewed about Kevin Hayes after the first round

Justin Holl (Second round)

Ludvig Rensfeldt (Second round)

Stephen Johns (Second round)

Kent Simpson (Second round)

* * *

Front office Draft interviews:

GM Stan Bowman, post-Draft

Mark Kelly, Director of Amateur Scouting

List of First Round / Top 30 NHL draft picks

1EDMTaylor HallLWOHL - Windsor
2BOSTyler SeguinCOHL - Plymouth
3FLAErik GudbransonDOHL - Kingston
4CBJRyan JohansenCWHL - Portland
5NYINino NiederreiterRWWHL - Portland
6TBLBrett ConnollyRWWHL - Prince George
7CARJeff SkinnerCOHL - Kitchener
8ATLAlexander BurmistrovCOHL - Barrie
9MINMikael GranlundC/WFINLAND - HIFK
11DALJack CampbellGUSHL - USA U-18
12ANACam FowlerDOHL - Windsor
13PHXBrandon GormleyDQMJHL - Moncton
14STLJaden SchwartzCUSHL - Tri-City
15LAKDerek ForbortDUSHL - USA U-18
16STLVladimir TarasenkoRWRUSSIA - Novosibirsk
17COLJoey HishonCOHL - Owen Sound
18NSHAustin WatsonLWOHL - Peterborough
19FLANick BjugstadCHIGH-MN - Blaine
20PITBeau BennettRWBCHL - Penticton
21DETRiley SheahanCCCHA - U of Notre Dame
22MTLJarred TinordiDUSHL - USA U-18
23BUFMark PysykDWHL - Edmonton
24CHIKevin HayesRWHIGH-MA - Nobles
25FLAQuinton HowdenCWHL - Moose Jaw
26WSHEvgeny KuznetsovCRUSSIA - Chelyabinsk
27PHXMark VisentinGOHL - Niagra
28SJSCharlie CoyleC/RWEJHL - South Shore
29ANAEmerson EtemRWWHL - Medicine Hat
30NYIBrock NelsonCHIGH-MN - Warroad

Further details/the rest of the picks, by round:
Round 1 | Round 2 | Round 3 | Round 4 | Round 5 | Round 6 | Round 7

Chicago Blackhawks picks, starting with #24, Kevin Hayes:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Atlanta may feel easily like home for the Blackhawks

Three Chicago Blackhawks will be making the transition to the Atlanta Thrashers in the fall. Here's a few reasons they might feel right at home:

1. Three teammates going together to another team. Certainly can help ease the transition for all of them, but they also carry years of experience playing together. Team chemistry is built, not made in a day.

2. They will be going to a team that is in the process of rebuilding. The team is young, and hungry to draw fans to their market. Hey, does this sound familiar...?

3. Chicago has hot spots like River North, Lincoln Park, and Lakeview. Atlanta's equivalents are Buckhead, Virginia-Highlands, and Little Five Points.

4. There's a Kane in Chicago, and a Kane in Atlanta. Patrick Kane (Chicago) has already established himself as a young star of the NHL at just 21. Evander Kane (Atlanta) is a fresh young face who just finished his rookie year in the NHL and is expected to have a stellar career. Patrick Kane had the infamous "cab incident". Evander Kane instantly won fans' hearts around the league when he knocked the Penguins' Matt Cooke out cold with one punch at the end of the season. This video will never get old:

Yeah, I tend to think that fights aren't necessary. Certainly European and Olympic games prove that fighting is not needed in games. But as the commentators on this video discuss, the Penguins had been trying to rile Kane all game. He waited, and picked his fight, taking out Cooke, who is known for a history of dirty play, when provoked by him.

One might think the Pens might've been a bit smarter about who to pick on. Kane's father was an amateur boxer, after all; Kane is even named for Evander Holyfield.

Evander Kane is an exciting young player for the Thrashers; expect to hear him about him for years to come.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes - time to shake things up

video source: CSN

It was inevitable: change was coming; and now it's here.

The players knew it; team management knew it; the fans knew it. In a club that desperately needed to carve several million off their salary in order to have enough room to fit a minimum roster once the key, multi-year, core players were tallied, there was no doubt that fan favorites would be traded away to other teams or allowed to walk as their contracts expired. Knowledge and reality finally came together in the past two days as the Blackhawks began work to shed salary, and the first trade was announced.

And that first cut hurt, because it meant the party was over, and it was time to get down to business and make the tough decisions that the post-salary-cap NHL dictates. 

Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Brent Sopel were traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for a pair of draft picks, as well as forwards Jeremy Morin, Marty Reasoner, and Joey Crabb. People across social networks ran the whole gamut of emotions about the trade, especially Byfuglien, who became a fan favorite for his work in the playoffs.

Byfuglien is a big guy - with his height and weight, he looks more like somebody you'd expect to see on the gridiron, not on skates. His regular season play left something to be desired - namely, consistency - which a lot of fans forgot about once he rolled into the playoffs and became a powerhouse, especially once he got shifted up to the first line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Oddly enough, despite all that was "on" for Byfuglien in the playoffs, he finished out the playoffs at -4 - not that much of a contrast to his -7 for the regular season. He racked up 11 goals including a hat trick during the playoffs; during the regular season, he had 17.

I certainly can't speak for him during the regular season, but I think once Byfuglien got a taste of playing on the top line and what he could do there, he really liked it - and his improved play backs that idea up. Sure, it doesn't hurt to be flanked by Toews and Kane; but most of the time, he was where he needed to be and got the job done - and done well.

After a powerful start to the playoffs, the surprise came in the Final series, when he all but disappeared against Chris Pronger for the first four games. Maybe it was playoff nerves. Who knows? In game 5, he clearly had given the first games a lot of thought, and decided he'd had enough. Less than seven minutes into the second period, Byfuglien flattened Chris Pronger to the boards, and everybody knew: Buff was back.

There is no doubt that Byfuglien was a huge presence in the playoffs, and I hope the past two months have firmly embedded in his head what kind of player he can be when he is consistent. He surely knows how important his play was to the Blackhawks and what a difference he made. So if he continues to play powerfully like that, and to step up to a consistent delivery game in, game out, then I expect him to become a very bright star for the Thrashers, and with his personality, I think he can help charm over a lot more people in Atlanta to the sport of hockey.

While Roberto Luongo is doubtless sighing with relief that his playoff nemesis is now in the Eastern Conference, Byfuglien will get a lot more chances to renew his rivalry with Pronger, as Atlanta plays the Flyers four times per season (vs. Chicago's once). The more physical Eastern Conference style should also challenge him to find yet another level of his play.

His salary was unfortunately something that had to come off the Chicago books; and that, ultimately, is why he was the centerpiece of this trade.

Defenseman Brent Sopel was also part of the trade package - again, because moving these three players and only getting one player expected to be on the roster immediately in return clears around $5M off the Blackhawks' salary cap. Sopel will be another player whose loss will be felt on the team next year, because he has selflessly, time after time, willingly thrown himself in front of the puck, doing what good D-men do best. While his play has not been perfect, he has certainly worked his butt off on the blue line.

His grit, hard work, and steady presence earned him a lot of fans this year. After one particularly spectacular stretch of saves during the playoffs, Chicago fans decided that Brent Sopel could stop anything, in a Chuck Norris sort of way.

At 33, he won't be the oldest guy on the team, but Sopel will bring a good share of experience to the Thrashers.

Despite being traded from the Blackhawks, Sopel will still be in this weekend's Pride Parade in Chicago, representing the team and riding with the Stanley Cup. Previously he was expected to ride with his wife and family, but now he will just be accompanied by his wife. This is a historic moment for hockey, as it is the first time that the Stanley Cup will be appearing at a gay-themed event. Sopel is doing the parade to honor his friend, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, and in memory and honor of Burke's late son, Brendan. Brendan Burke had raised awareness by coming out as a gay, young athlete; tragically, his life was cut short just a few months later in a car accident.

Brent Sopel and his family are also well known for their generous charitable work, including hosting "Operaton Homefront" at their home for the past two seasons.

Ben Eager was the third of the trade package. Eager's role on the Blackhawks has been one of physicality: fighting for the puck, making plays happen. He averaged a penalty per game during the regular season. He is a strong physical player, and in Atlanta, could easily move to the third or even second line. Like Byfuglien, and like Colin Fraser - also moved this week, to Edmonton - this move is likely to be of a great deal of benefit to him as a player, and probably allow him to see more ice time throughout the season. 

News of the second trade broke far more quietly in the wee hours of the morning, a Canadian sports reporter Tweeting that Colin Fraser was being traded to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a draft pick. Fraser had an interview with 630 CHED this afternoon and sounded highly optimistic about the trade, stating that it was an opportunity to be with a team that is in the starting process of rebuilding, much like the Chicago Blackhawks just a few years ago. He also hoped to step up and take a larger role with the Oilers than he has with the Blackhawks. Fraser has been with the Blackhawks for four years, but only played most of 2006-07 with the Norfolk Admirals and 2007-08 with the Rockford Icehogs. He stepped up to a full-time position with the start of the 2008-09 season, playing 81 regular season games last year, and 70 this year, as the center for the fourth line.

Personally, I have enjoyed Fraser as a player, but the sheer depth of the team kept him on the fourth line. Although we didn't see much of him in the playoffs, he was present on the ice for the majority of the past two years. I am hoping that with his move to Edmonton, it will help his play, much like Patrick Sharp's trade from the Flyers to the Blackhawks allowed Sharp to step up and prove himself, and take on a bigger role.

After having watched this team develop over the last few years since the lockout, it's hard to watch a lot of players that you really enjoy get traded away - especially after winning the Stanley Cup together. Inevitably, however, it comes down to business decisions - and in Chicago's case, there's a lot of difficult ones to be made.

Thank you to Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and Colin Fraser. It has been a pleasure to watch you all the past few years, and I certainly will be watching your careers around the league with interest. Wishing you the very best of luck with your new teams.

* * *

I don't know anything about the incoming players, so I'm not commenting on them myself. So - here's a video about Morin!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

NHL Awards!

List of this year's winners:

Adams -  Dave Tippett
Art Ross -  Henrik Sedin
Calder -  Tyler Myers
Hart -  Henrik Sedin
Jennings -  Martin Brodeur
King Clancy -  Shane Doan
Lady Byng -  Martin St. Louis
Masterton -  Jose Theodore
Messier Leadership -  Sidney Crosby
NHL Foundation Player Award -  Ryan Miller
Norris -  Duncan Keith
Rocket Richard -  Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby
Selke -  Pavel Datsyuk
Vezina -  Ryan Miller

Congratulations to all the winners!

HockeyBroad's favorite winner for the night, of course, is Duncan Keith!

They cut him off. :\ But he spoke backstage about those he wanted to thank:

Video from the awards show - proof that players are 1. allowed to have a personality and 2. are funny.

Geico Caveman at the NHL Awards was also amusing. (Videos on NHL.com)

And some off-the-cuff interviews with the Blackhawks, backstage:


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jonathan Toews, EA NHL 2011 gaming interview

Jonathan Toews, gamer nerd! YEAH!

Enjoy seeing more of these fun, more off-the-cuff interviews. (yeah lookin' at you, Cabbie!)

Blackhawks 2010-11 schedule by opponent

How often can you watch the Blackhawks play your (other) favorite team? The 2010-2011 schedule, sorted by number of games played:

(PS) = pre-season game
at = away/road game

Single games

Atlanta Thrashers - at November 6
Boston Bruins - at March 29 (Original Six)
Carolina Hurricanes - March 4
Montreal Canadiens - April 5 (Original Six)
NJ Devils - November 3
NY Islanders - January 9
NY Rangers - at November 1 (Original Six)
Ottawa Senators - January 7
Philadelphia Flyers - January 23
Toronto Maple Leafs - at March 5 (Original Six)
Washington Capitals - at March 13

Two games

Buffalo Sabres - at October 11, October 16
Florida Panthers - at March 8, March 23

Three games

Tampa Bay Lightning - at September 22 (PS/Winnepeg), at March 9, April 3
Pittsburg Penguins - at September 28 (PS), October 1 (PS), Feb 20

Four games

Anaheim Ducks - November 14, at November 26, at January 2, March 26
Calgary Flames - at November 19, December 5, at February 7, March 2
Colorado Avalanche - at October 7 (season opener), at December 13, December 15, January 12
Dallas Stars - December 8, January 5, at February 11, at March 17
Edmonton Oilers - October 29, November 7, at November 17, at February 9
Los Angeles Kings - October 27, at November 27, December 19, at January 3
Minnesota Wild - October 30, January 25, Feb 16, at February 28
Phoenix Coyotes - November 10, at February 12, February 27, at March 20
San Jose Sharks - at November 24, at December 11, December 30, March 14
Vancouver Canucks - October 20, at November 20, December 3, at February 4

Six games

Columbus Blue Jackets - at October 15, October 23, December 26, at February 1, Feb 18, at April 1
Nashville Predators - October 13, November 13, December 22, at January 15, January 16, at February 24

Eight games

Detroit Red Wings - at September 24 (PS), September 25 (PS); October 9 (home season opener), December 17, at January 22 , at March 28, at April 8, Apr. 10 (final game of season) (Original Six)

St Louis Blues - at September 30 (PS), October 3 (PS), October 18, at October 22, November 30, at December 28, at February 21, April 6

Blackhawks schedule for 2010-2011 season, just released

Oct. 7 - @ Colorado - 8:00 pm MT
Oct. 9 - Detroit - 7:30 pm CT -- HOME OPENER / Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony
Oct. 11 - @ Buffalo - 7:00 pm ET
Oct. 13 - Nashville - 7:30 pm CT
Oct. 15 - @ Columbus - 7:00 pm ET
Oct. 16 - Buffalo - 7:30 pm CT
Oct. 18 - St. Louis - 7:30 pm CT
Oct. 20 - Vancouver - 8:00 pm CT
Oct. 22 - @ St. Louis - 7:00 pm CT
Oct. 23 - Columbus - 7:30 pm CT
Oct. 27 - Los Angeles - 7:30 pm CT
Oct. 29 - Edmonton - 7:30 pm CT
Oct. 30 - @ Minnesota - 7:00 pm CT

Nov. 1 - @ N.Y. Rangers - 7:00 pm ET
Nov. 3 - New Jersey - 7:30 pm CT
Nov. 6 - @ Atlanta - 7:00 pm ET
Nov. 7 - Edmonton - 6:00 pm CT
Nov. 10 - Phoenix - 7:30 pm CT
Nov. 13 - @ Nashville - 7:00 pm CT
Nov. 14 - Anaheim - 6:00 pm CT
Nov. 17 - @ Edmonton - 7:30 pm MT
Nov. 19 - @ Calgary - 7:00 pm MT
Nov. 20 - @ Vancouver - 7:00 pm PT
Nov. 24 - @ San Jose - 7:30 pm PT
Nov. 26 - @ Anaheim - 1:00 pm PT
Nov. 27 - @ Los Angeles - 7:30 pm PT
Nov. 30 - St. Louis - 7:30 pm CT

Dec. 3 - Vancouver - 7:30 pm CT
Dec. 5 - Calgary - 6:00 pm CT
Dec. 8 - Dallas - 7:30 pm CT
Dec. 11 - @ San Jose - 7:30 pm PT
Dec. 13 - @ Colorado - 7:00 pm MT
Dec. 15 - Colorado - 7:30 pm CT
Dec. 17 - Detroit - 7:30 pm CT
Dec. 19 - Los Angeles - 6:00 pm CT
Dec. 22 - Nashville - 7:30 pm CT
Dec. 26 - Columbus - 6:00 pm CT
Dec. 28 - @ St. Louis - 7:00 pm CT
Dec. 30 - San Jose - 7:30 pm CT

Jan. 2 - @ Anaheim - 5:00 pm PT
Jan. 3 - @ Los Angeles - 7:30 pm PT
Jan. 5 - Dallas - 7:30 pm CT
Jan. 7 - Ottawa - 7:30 pm CT
Jan. 9 - N.Y. Islanders - 6:00 pm CT
Jan. 12 - Colorado - 7:30 pm CT
Jan. 15 - @ Nashville - 7:00 pm CT
Jan. 16 - Nashville - 6:00 pm CT
Jan. 22 - @ Detroit - 2:00 pm ET
Jan. 23 - Philadelphia - 3:00 pm CT
Jan. 25 - Minnesota - 7:30 pm CT

Feb. 1 - @ Columbus - 7:00 pm ET
Feb. 4 - @ Vancouver - 7:00 pm PT
Feb. 7 - @ Calgary - 7:00 pm MT
Feb. 9 - @ Edmonton - 7:30 pm MT
Feb. 11 - @ Dallas - 7:30 pm CT
Feb. 12 - @ Phoenix - 6:00 pm MT
Feb. 16 - Minnesota - 7:30 pm CT
Feb. 18 - Columbus - 7:30 pm CT
Feb. 20 - Pittsburgh - 3:00 pm CT
Feb. 21 - @ St. Louis - 1:00 pm CT
Feb. 24 - @ Nashville - 7:00 pm CT
Feb. 27 - Phoenix - 6:00 pm CT
Feb. 28 - @ Minnesota - 7:00 pm CT

Mar. 2 - Calgary - 8:00 pm CT
Mar. 4 - Carolina - 7:30 pm CT
Mar. 5 - @ Toronto - 7:00 pm ET
Mar. 8 - @ Florida - 7:30 pm ET
Mar. 9 - @ Tampa Bay - 7:30 pm ET
Mar. 13 - @ Washington - 3:00 pm ET
Mar. 14 - San Jose - 7:30 pm CT
Mar. 17 - @ Dallas - 7:30 pm CT
Mar. 20 - @ Phoenix - 5:00 pm PT
Mar. 23 - Florida - 7:30 pm CT
Mar. 26 - Anaheim - 7:30 pm CT
Mar. 28 - @ Detroit - 7:00 pm ET
Mar. 29 - @ Boston - 7:00 pm ET

Apr. 1 - @ Columbus - 7:00 pm ET
Apr. 3 - Tampa Bay - 6:00 pm CT
Apr. 5 - @ Montreal - 7:30 pm ET
Apr. 6 - St. Louis - 7:30 pm CT
Apr. 8 - @ Detroit - 7:00 pm ET
Apr. 10 - Detroit - 3:00 pm CT

View full season schedules:
- Schedule highlights
- Schedule by team

Monday, June 21, 2010

List of 2010-2011 season North American home openers for NHL

ANAHEIM – Wednesday, Oct. 13 - vs. Vancouver
ATLANTA – Friday, Oct. 8 - vs. Washington
BOSTON – Thursday, Oct. 21 - vs. Washington
BUFFALO – Saturday, Oct. 9 - vs. NY Rangers
CALGARY – Sunday, Oct. 10 - vs. Los Angeles

CAROLINA – Wednesday, Oct. 27 - vs. Washington
CHICAGO – Saturday, Oct. 9 - vs. Detroit - banner-raising day for the Blackhawks!
COLORADO – Thursday, Oct. 7 - vs. Chicago
COLUMBUS – Friday, Oct. 15 - vs. Chicago
DALLAS – Thursday, Oct. 14 - vs. Detroit

DETROIT – Friday, Oct. 8 - vs. Anaheim
EDMONTON – Thursday, Oct. 7 - vs. Calgary
FLORIDA – Saturday, Oct. 16 - vs. Tampa Bay
LOS ANGELES – Tuesday, Oct. 12 - vs. Atlanta
MINNESOTA – Thursday, Oct. 14 - vs. Edmonton

MONTREAL – Wednesday, Oct. 13 - vs. Tampa Bay
NASHVILLE – Saturday, Oct. 9 - vs. Anaheim
NEW JERSEY – Friday, Oct. 8 - vs. Dallas
NY ISLANDERS – Saturday, Oct. 9 - vs. Dallas
NY RANGERS – Friday, Oct. 15 - vs. Toronto

OTTAWA – Friday, Oct. 8 - vs. Buffalo
PHILADELPHIA – Monday, Oct. 11 - vs. Colorado
PHOENIX – Saturday, Oct. 16 - vs. Detroit
PITTSBURGH – Thursday, Oct. 7 - vs. Philadelphia
ST. LOUIS – Saturday, Oct. 9 - vs. Philadelphia

SAN JOSE – Saturday, Oct. 16 - vs. Atlanta
TAMPA BAY – Saturday, Oct. 9 - vs. Atlanta
TORONTO – Thursday, Oct. 7 - vs. Montreal
VANCOUVER – Saturday, Oct. 9 - vs. Los Angeles
WASHINGTON – Saturday, Oct. 9 - vs. New Jersey

* * *

Sorted by date:


COLORADO – vs. Chicago
EDMONTON – vs. Calgary
PITTSBURGH – vs. Philadelphia
TORONTO – vs. Montreal


ATLANTA – vs. Washington
DETROIT – vs. Anaheim
NEW JERSEY – vs. Dallas
OTTAWA – vs. Buffalo


BUFFALO – vs. NY Rangers
CHICAGO – vs. Detroit - banner-raising day for the Blackhawks!
NASHVILLE – vs. Anaheim
NY ISLANDERS – vs. Dallas
ST. LOUIS – vs. Philadelphia
TAMPA BAY – vs. Atlanta
VANCOUVER – vs. Los Angeles
WASHINGTON – vs. New Jersey

SUN. OCT. 10

CALGARY – vs. Los Angeles

MON. OCT. 11

PHILADELPHIA – vs. Colorado


LOS ANGELES – vs. Atlanta

WED. OCT. 13

ANAHEIM – vs. Vancouver
MONTREAL – vs. Tampa Bay


MINNESOTA – vs. Edmonton
DALLAS – vs. Detroit

FRI. OCT. 15

COLUMBUS – vs. Chicago
NY RANGERS – vs. Toronto

SAT. OCT. 16

FLORIDA – vs. Tampa Bay
PHOENIX – vs. Detroit
SAN JOSE – vs. Atlanta


BOSTON – vs. Washington

WED. OCT. 27

CAROLINA – vs. Washington

(source - NHL.com)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ice Cold Cash: The Business of Hockey

With the 2010-11 schedule just two days away, and the NHL Draft practically on our doorstep, the teams have begun the round-robin of trading players faster than NYSE brokers - the main reason, of course, being the salary cap.

The Chicago Blackhawks are already receiving the most attention for this, of course, and that was long before their success in bringing home the Stanley Cup. Everybody knows that for 2010-11, the Hawks are going to have to shed salary, so 2010 was viewed as the "it" year for this team to win the Stanley Cup.

Of course, you never know what "can", "could" or "might" happen. Nobody expected the Flyers to make it to the Final round after the season they had, either, but there they were.

The winning of the Stanley Cup is both good and bad for Chicago. Good for all the obvious reasons: it lifts the value of any players they might trade, since they're all now wearing Stanley Cup rings; it proves that yes, indeed, players like Toews and Kane and Keith have been worth every penny; and it brought in a lot of money for the team - and the NHL.

On the bad side, the same reason that is a "good" is also a "bad": it raises the value of any players looking to continue with the club or re-sign to the club. Clearly, you win a Cup, you get a raise. Or heck, if you just did good and improved in general, you get a raise; that's how good businesses operate.

The question is: how big of a raise?

If there's one thing that hockey players have learned over the years, it's this: Hockey is a business. From the early-90s lockout to the season-that-never-was (2004-05) due to lockout, it's all been about the money. Loyalty and love of the city you're in are all very good and heartwarming, but at the end of the day, everybody wants more money.

Now, of course, thanks to the historical issues with salary, and the prior lockout, players' salaries are very transparent. They are also directly tied into the fortunes of the NHL as a whole, because the salary cap (and salary floor) are determined by an interesting combination of rules that include revenue sharing and other factors. During the negotiations that took place during the last lockout, owners wanted to establish "cost certainty", that is, to be able to know at any given point in the season just how much money they were able to spend. The league used to spend approximately 76% of its revenues on player salaries alone.

In short, today, what has evolved that the creation of a salary cap has made the NHL into part of a giant, constantly-evolving, league-wide jigsaw puzzle of costs that has the added effect of preventing any one team from turning into a salary-laden (read: talent-hoarding) juggernaut. The most financially successful teams have to pay into a pool that helps the struggling teams survive; and the salary cap prevents any single team from basically buying themselves a Stanley Cup through player acquisition.

In its own weird way, it's sort of fitting, because hockey is the ultimate team sport. But on the other hand, some days you wonder if players sort of got shot in the foot by the league's current salary restrictions.

Back in the day, the stinginess of some of the owners was infamous. Back in the days when player salaries were unpublished and even the guys who played together didn't even know how much their teammates made, owners were happy to parlay that ignorance into profit. In 1968, Bob Baun got traded to the Detroit Red Wings; he was also the new President of the NHLPA. Gordie Howe and Baun ended up having a discussion about salaries, and Howe was shocked to discover that he was being underpaid in comparison to much lesser players than himself. Baun encouraged Howe to ask for a long-overdue raise. The Wings' owner, Bruce Norris, agreed to the raise immediately, and when the stunned Howe asked why now, after 22 seasons, he was finally getting such a raise, Norris replied, "Gordie, you never asked for anything more. I'm a businessman."¹

Norris's reply spoke on behalf of every owner in the league. After all, if you're still selling out every game, whether or not you're a winning team, what incentive does the head office have to improve the quality of the players on the ice or their salaries, if they're willingly playing for a certain amount of money? If they're paying players cheaply, and getting maximum profit, without being challenged by the players, clearly there is no motivation for the owners to change the status quo. But likewise, the players have the right to be paid well for their efforts, and get a raise when they do well, just like any job.

And although you'd never guess it by watching certain sports stations, there is more talent in the league than just a few name-brand players. There's lots of talent and skill, and a whole bunch of it is underrated - and occasionally, underpaid. But there's only so much money to go around.

Let's go back a few years to the lockout. As a hockey fan, it certainly made for a very empty winter to have no hockey. Ok, that's not totally true - we still had the AHL, of course, and other non-NHL leagues to help us through the season. But as a sports fan, it can often be, shall we say, challenging to find sympathy for people who are fighting over what number goes in front of the six zeroes that follow the first. Baseball went through it after the strike in 1994-95; hockey felt it in 2004-05.

Your average sports fan is making less than a tenth of what the worst-paid guys on their favorite teams get. (Start talking about those guys making into the millions, and it becomes more like 1/100th.) And no matter how much we love our teams or our players, there probably isn't a single one among us who wouldn't gladly warm the bench for a fraction of the pay. Most athletes get paid more than the President of the U.S., and they play a game for a living - so if you were a hockey fan back during the Season That Wasn't, you surely had to be wondering why it took the NHLPA and the owners almost a year to bang some figures out.

As a direct result of there being no NHL hockey, all the smaller leagues - AHL, KHL, ECHL, etc - absorbed a lot of NHL players who wanted to stay in the game while things got worked out. A bunch of players went to Europe and played there. And the fans didn't totally give up on hockey; they went instead to see all those other leagues play.

A couple months ago, a friend and I took a Chicago Wolves game. We got tickets just a few rows off the glass for $35 each - the same price as the "worst" seats at the UC cost. If we'd wanted to sit right on the glass? Just $50. Worst seats are $11, about what it costs for a movie these days. Obviously, if your budget is tight or you've got a whole family to bring along, a lot of people are going to opt for these less-expensive games - less than $45 for a family of four, vs $145... not a tough choice for people during a recession.

The guys who play in the AHL and other leagues of course hope to make it to the NHL, which is where they can make some really big money. But the guys playing at this level aren't exactly going broke - unlike their counterparts in say, baseball's minor leagues, players in the AHL may be making $1M or more while they bide out their time to be judged "ready" to be called up to the NHL.

Which brings us back to the salary cap, a finely tuned money machine which dictates everything practically down to which direction a player should spit.

Because the salary cap is based on how well the league does as a whole, it does not remain constant from year to year - however, since the NHL seems to have finally re-found its footing five years after the lockout, one should only expect the salary cap to rise, as attendance and merchandising revenue streams go up.

The one other number you should keep in mind is that the most a team can pay a player is 20% of the salary cap (currently around $11.3M/yr). Unlike baseball and football, it is still relatively rare to see NHL salaries in the $7-$10M/year range. And since a contract of that size given to a singular player greatly constricts a team's roster flexibility, you will not see many teams attempting to fit more than one player of that salary range on their roster.

And even if a player was gracious enough to want to offer to re-negotiate their salary in order to make things happen for the team, they can't - not under current NHL guidelines, anyway. Once you're locked into a contract, it's stay, get traded, or sent to the AHL.

That figure leads to another question: since there's always a risk that the salary can drop in any given year, if you're going to commit 12-20% of your roster allowance to a single player - while still needing to fit another 21 men into the equation - you better be absolutely sure they're worth every dollar - for example, players of the caliber of Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby that are out there. For every player who is taking home $4M or more in salary, the team is balancing those guys out with a couple "bargain" players being paid $500K-$1.75M each. While the "average worth" of each player - at least on paper - is around $2.6M, the reality is that there is a wide variety on any given team.

One has to wonder, for example, how the Vancouver Canucks are feeling right about now. Roberto Luongo's salary will be $10M in 2010-2011 and $6.7M for the next seven years to follow, but due to how salary caps are calculated, his cap hit is $5.3M/year. With a salary like that, you have to be expecting the very best out of your player, and gnashing your teeth if they're not performing up to expectations.

Hockey players got the message loud and clear over the past 20 years: Hockey is a business. The owners want to make as much money as they can; and the players want to make what they can, too. And while you will hear many players speak about how they would like to or would prefer to play for a specific club for the rest of their career, they will always be at the mercy of their own salaries: either their team thinks they're worth it and will fight to keep them on the roster (or will have taken steps and given the player a no-trade clause), or a team decides they can make the sacrifice of that player's salary in order to make room for less expensive players, so that they can fit a whole team under the salary cap.

So as the season ends, the draft approaches, and teams jockey to make room and plan for the future, there may be some players who price themselves out of a job - whether it is with their current team, or their capacity to be taken on by another club. Some teams will regret the need to trade players or let their contracts expire. Others, who have the cap space, will readily take on a player or two who may be a little overpaid with the hopes of having a better shot at the Stanley Cup next June.

Players may express a desire to stay with a particular team for their career, but the business of hockey may determine otherwise.

¹ source: Hockey: A People's History, by Michael McKinley

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fan created video, "History Has Been Made"

Despite the title, this video by cschalz from YouTube is not based on the "History Will Be Made" videos. Still, I enjoyed it, good choice of music, and it's a nice recap of the playoffs. I especially like the last few moments, a montage of the various Blackhawks players lifting the Cup.

It's been about 10 days, but man, it feels like a month. Still. Feels. Awesome!

Behind the scenes: Patrick Kane meeting top prospects

"Thank you, fans" - latest video from the NHL

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ever wondered what it'd be like the guard the Cup?

What job could possibly be cooler than being the Keeper of the Cup? Melissa Isaacson of ESPN interviewed Mike Bolt, who has held that honor for the past 11 years and seen it all.

He didn't even have to be prodded into raving about the reception the Cup has received in Chicago.  "Everywhere you go, whether it's New Jersey or wherever, teams say, 'You guys are the greatest fans ever,' and they should be thanking their fans," Bolt said. "But to be honest, in my 11 years I haven't experienced anything even close to Chicago. Detroit and Colorado were pretty wild, but Chicago has been unbelievable. We can't go anywhere without being mobbed." - ESPN

That's what happens when you go 49 years without seeing the most beautiful trophy in sports - and when your team is so thankful to their fans and their city that they have publicly stated that it's their way to give back to the fans by carrying the Cup all over town. 

Thank you, guys. 

Follow on Twitter where the Cup goes at @wheresthecup.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kris Versteeg & Jay Blunk stop in to talk to Comcast SportsNet Chicago

Coming soon to a tree near you

In case you can't get enough Blackhawks in your life, this year's Hallmark ornaments collection features Patrick Kane:

I'm a little disappointed that it doesn't look like his trademark mouthguard is hanging out of his mouth, but, still: Blackhawks Christmas ornament. Other hockey players who have been showcased by Hallmark include Wayne Gretzky (97), Mario Lemieux (98), Gordie Howe (99), Eric Lindros (2000), Jaromir Jagar (01), and Sidney Crosby (09). Suggested retail price for this year's ornament is $16.95.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Toews & Kane on SportsCenter

Numbers crunch time

In the harsh light in the week after the cheers and celebrations fade away, the Blackhawks wake up to the cold, sobering reality of the post-salary-cap NHL.

It was something that colored their entire season, especially the post-season: the awareness that this team, as so carefully constructed this year, would not remain intact next season. On a local radio station on Monday morning, Patrick Sharp acknowledged that the team has been fully aware of it, especially as the season wound down, and that the final flight back to Chicago from Philadelphia was special because they were all aware it was the last time the team would be fully together, in private, for one last time.

The Hawks are not alone in juggling salary issues, however, and the vultures were circling the Blackhawks long before the post-season even began. There isn't a single team in the league not aware that the Hawks will need to clear some space off the books, and also that the Hawks are deep, deep, deep with talent, so any talent they do shed will be valued by other teams. That's right, even the guys regarded as "inconsistent".

You almost never see athletes turn down more money, and you don't exactly see very many walking into the head office and volunteering, "I'll take less money if it means we don't have to trade guys X, Y and Z."

The fact that looms large for the Blackhawks is that it's a handful of guys that tie up a large chunk of the salary cap, and even with the ways that those salaries hit against the cap (for example, some of the salaries are front-loaded, but hit the cap by average amount instead) doesn't help. Money is tight, the team can only spend so much, and at the end of the day, somebody will have to go. And for the Blackhawks team, even some of the "worst" guys on the team are beloved by fans, which means that somebody popular and talented is likely going to have to go, either just for straight-out finance issues, or more likely, to be bundled with a player the team simply wants to move.

At the end of the day, however, unless a player has a contract clause that dictates otherwise (ie., Brian Campbell's says that he can tell the team up to 8 other teams that he'd be willing to be traded to), players still under contract don't have much say in what happens to them.

And if you think that there aren't players who are unhappy at being traded away, even if it means more money in their pocket, then I'd like you to take a look at Jeremy Roenick crying after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Roenick was a victim of Bill Wirtz's infamous cheapness: despite everything that he brought to the team, when Roenick's contract came around for renewal, he was traded away. Since he eventually went on to play a few seasons in Philadelphia, Roenick sat on the fence throughout the Final series when asked which team he was backing. But when the waterworks started after game 6, it was clear: in his heart of hearts, whether or not he ever got the chance to hoist a Cup with Chicago, Roenick ultimately would've liked to have stayed a career Blackhawk. And even despite some of his infamous mouthing off during the lockout, he still remains a fan favorite for those who were watching the Hawks back between 1988–1996.

I'm no mathematician (I leave that to my brother, the actuary), nor would you ever, even a long shot, consider me calling your handicapping. But everybody with a keyboard and an interest in the Hawks has already started chiming in, so why not me? I started out with a poll over the last 24 hours of what other fans thought the Blackhawks would do as their deadlines loom, and it came out with some interesting results.

First, let's look at the table, and then I'll explain how I sorted this. (As there is a possibility of re-signing RFAs and then doing something else with them, I chose to leave the 'trade' and 'AHL' columns for responses on those players, where people voted for those options, so there is a % of interesting responses on those lines.)

Niklas Hjalmarsson (R)100 ---
Antti Niemi (R)95.2 2.4 2.4 -
Marian Hossa (11/U)95.1 4.9 --
Tomas Kopecky (1/U)94.9 5.1 --
Patrick Sharp (2/U)92.9 7.1 --
Dave Bolland (3/U)89.7 10.3 --
Troy Brouwer (1/R)89.7 7.7 2.6 -
Dustin Byfuglien (1/R)82.5 17.5 --
Andrew Ladd (R)79.5 7.7 12.8 -
Brian Campbell (6/U)59.0 38.5 -2.6
Colin Fraser (R)52.6 23.7 23.7 -
Kris Versteeg (2/R)22.5 77.5 --
Brent Sopel (1/U)23.1 38.5 17.9 20.5
Kim Johnsson (U)--100.0-
John Madden (U)22.5 -77.5-
Nick Boynton (U)23.1 -77-
Adam Burish (U)45.2 -54.8-
Ben Eager (R)37.5 27.5 30 5
Jordan Hendry (R)36.8 28.9 21.1 13.2
Bryan Bickell (R)41 15.4 15.4 28.2
Cristobal Huet (2/U)4.7 32.6 7 55.8

(U) = Unrestricted Free Agent
(R) = Restricted Free Agent
Numbers before U or R means under contract, with # of years left on contract

Tops on the list: a full 100% of respondents said to re-sign Niklas Hjarlmarsson (RFA). The young Swede is talented and clearly poised on the cusp of becoming an outstanding defenseman. He was a bargain this past season, but look for the Blackhawks to want to tie him into multi-year but not cap-busting salary. We all love you, Hammer, so hope you stick around in Chicago for a while.

Next up in the "must keep" (re-sign) category is goalie Antti Niemi (RFA), clocking in at 95.2%. Blackhawks fans have watched the rotating door in the pipes for long enough, and they liked what they saw this year in the Finnish Fortress. He paid no mind to his naysayers, and just kept on doing his job. Obviously, the guy deserves a raise and is going to get it. His agent has been babbling on about maybe Niemi doesn't want to stay in Chicago, but I seriously doubt that. After all, Niemi chose Chicago over offers from teams like Detroit, the team showed unwavering faith in him throughout the season, and he won the Stanley Cup here his rookie year in the NHL. The fact is that he's still coming off his freshman year, and he did, at spots, show some inconsistencies; so nobody is going to commit him to a salary in the $4M+ range for multiple years at this stage in his career, unless they really desperately want to lure him away and have huge amounts of cap space. There's also a flood of goalies in the market this year - bigger names, higher salaries - looking to find a new team, so I would expect the Hawks to make him an offer around the $2.5-$3M mark and want to tie him in for somewhere between 2-4 years. Despite what his agent is yapping off about, I really hope to see Niemi around Chicago for the next few years, and clearly, so do a lot of other people.

The reason I say that (about Niemi not getting offered much over $3M) is due to Cristobal Huet (UFA/2 yrs still on contract), at the other end of the chart. The majority of folks (55.8%) think he should be sent down to the AHL for the last 2 years of his contract. That'd probably make him the most overpaid AHLer ever, but at least he would no longer impact the salary cap. However, his experience and mostly-decent goaltending (when he's not having a really, really off night) could make him attractive enough to a team that's got the room in the salary cap, and needs a decent goalie as a transition until one of their rookies is ready to take over full-time. There were 32.6% that suggested trading; he would likely be bundled with a tasty forward like Kris Versteeg. (more on that later)

Despite Marian Hossa's very large hit to the salary cap (over $5M/yr for the next 11 yrs), if there's one thing that Chicagoans admire, especially in sports, it's somebody who works their ass off for the team, and in the process, makes those around him better. Hossa may have been regarded as a bit of a mercenary coming into Chicago - after all, everybody knew his pursuit was one thing, the Stanley Cup, and he made a very calculated move choosing the Blackhawks. Hossa might not have had the scoring numbers he (or we) would've liked, but he scored when it mattered most (hello, game 5 vs Nashville) and his highly-talented play earned him a LOT of fans. Add to that his experience, and you will get a lot of bang for your buck out of Hossa for many years. Plus, I think that having won the Cup finally will take a lot of the emotional weight off his shoulders, and he is just going to keep getting better. And he's already an amazing player.

Fellow Slovakian Tomas Kopecky (UFA/1 yr left in contract) has also earned his share of respect in Chicago, and most (94.9%) think we need to keep him on the team. His current last year of contract is also not that expensive.

Patrick Sharp (UFA/2 yrs left in contact) has been a popular and solid member of the team for several years now, and while he may not be as award-winning as Jonathan Toews, he is without a doubt one of the stars of the team, and losing him would create a painful hole in the roster. He's been a good player for years, but has really shone this year. Most (92.9%) agree he needs to be kept.

Dave Bolland (UFA w/3 yrs left) and Troy Brower (RFA w/1 yr left) both come in at 89.7% for "keep"; both have been important parts of the team, especially late in the season and during the playoffs. Likewise, a lot of people (79.5%) would like to see Andrew Ladd (RFA) re-signed to the team; his skilled play has been noticeable, and he was certainly missed when his injured shoulder took him out of the lineup for a few games during the playoffs.

From here we venture into the "who can we afford to lose" category.

Dustin Byfuglien (RFA/1 yr left) redeemed his inconsistent regular season play with outstanding work during the playoffs. He gained a lot of popularity (82.5%), so it is not surprising to see a lot of people think we should hold onto him. The main question here is: which Buff will show up in next season - Big Buff that we saw in the playoffs, or will he revert to his previous regular-season play?

Kris Versteeg (RFA/2 yrs left) is the fans' choice for "player we should look to deal first", racking up a 77.5% tally for "trade" (more than twice the next closest choices, Brian Campbell and Brent Sopel). He was mostly-great in the playoffs, but he continued to show some of the same bad judgements that we saw from him during the regular season. And while his off-ice personality endears him with the fans, his on-ice play suggests otherwise.

Brian Campbell (UFA/6 yrs remaining) is another hard hit to the salary cap. Soupy has a lot of talent as a defenseman, and it was clear from the several weeks he was sidelined with an injury that the team can use his skill. Still, his $7+M salary cap is painful - especially considering players like Toews, Kane and Hossa are pulling down over $1M less - and that's probably why 38.5% suggested he might be more useful as a trade. Campbell's contract, however, restricts his trade usefulness; he can name up to 8 teams he'd be willing to trade to.

Colin Fraser (RFA) put in huge amounts of ice team last year for the team - 70 games - with respectable numbers. His lower salary would make him worth re-signing (52.6%).

Brent Sopel (UFA/1 yr left) put his body on the line - literally - for the team throughout the season, but it was his playoffs work that redeemed him in the eyes of many, selflessly throwing himself in front of the puck. However, he's also made some blunders, and he is regarded as one of the team's slower skaters - although a lot of players look slow in comparison to the fleet-footed Blackhawks, if you think about it. Fan feedback is nearly evenly split, with "trade" pulling out ahead at 38.5%.

Kim Johnsson's (UFA) time with the Hawks is done, period. We hardly knew ye.

Although John Madden (UFA) brought experience and talent to the team, 77.5% of people thought it was better to not re-sign him rather than take his salary into consideration. Even Madden himself said in post-season interviews that as much as he would like to return to the team next season, he didn't foresee it happening.

Veteran Nick Boynton (UFA) was acquired midseason from Anaheim. Although his salary isn't as bad a hit to the salary cap as some other D-men, the majority (77%) apparently think we can do better.

Adam Burish (UFA) has brought a lot of energy to the team, although ultimately, his numbers this season have dropped off a lot compared to his last two years with the team. Also in comparison, his 2008-09 playoff numbers were also better than his entire 2009-10 regular season stats, and his 2010 playoff stats were nearly flatlined. One would want to question what happened to his play this year, as he has has a consistently good record for most of his career. His change his stats, and some end-of-season mouth-offs might explain why 54.8% think it's time for Burish to move on to another team.

Rounding out the roster are the three RFAs, Ben Eager, Jordan Hendry and Bryan Bickell. Hendry (D) and Bickell have been bargain players for the team this year. Fan feedback suggests it might be better to keep them around than release or re-sign and regulate to the AHL. Eager has been solid, but since he would be getting a raise if re-signed, it might be reason enough for bring up somebody from Rockford instead (as in, hello, Kyle Beach).

At the end of the day, tough decisions will have to be made. Expect the Blackhawks to shed probably half a dozen, maybe more, from the current roster. Of those, I think they'll either bury Huet's salary in Rockford (they can certainly afford to, with the post-Stanley Cup-bounty) or if they're really lucky, trade him. Versteeg and/or Byfuglien probably won't be back next year; and chances are that most of the UFAs won't be either. Perhaps one of the higher-profile, higher-salary players may not be back, and if I had to guess, I would point to Campbell, simply because trading him would free up the greatest amount of salary with the least loss to the team - providing that any of the teams he would choose to name would be able to/interested in taking on his salary.

We know the team that won our hearts - and the Championship - won't be back intact in 2010-2011. But here's hoping the cuts aren't too painful.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fitting the puzzle together

I'm interested to hear from other hockey fans: fill out my poll about Blackhawks roster moves for the 2010-2011 season. If you were in the front office, how would you call it?

Hockey gamer glee

Ok, my not-so-inner hockey geek/gamer geek is grinning along with this EA NHL 11 preview, because it's fun that they put stuff like broken sticks into the game. My super-huge-inner-gamer nerd is waiting for the Wii hockey game.

And I think it's just impossible for me to think of hockey video games without thinking of the scene from Swingers:

omg, look how young Vince Vaughn looks in this.

Trent: I wish they still had fights in this game so I could bitch-slap Wayne.
Mike: What? They don't have fighting anymore?
Trent: Doesn't that suck?
Mike: Why'd they get rid of the fighting? It was the best part of the old version.
Sue: I think kids were hittin' each other or somethin', man.
Trent: Yeah but you know what, Mike? You can make their heads bleed in this one.
Mike: Make somebody's head bleed.
Sue: No man, we're in the playoffs.

Chicago celebrates Blackhawks pride (more photography)

Chicago lit up to honor the 2010 Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks!

View: looking north on Michigan Ave. The parade rally was held in this spot the next morning.

The city of joy - Chicago celebrates

Chicago woke up on Sunday with the mother of all party hangovers, but the city is not done partying yet - not by a long shot. In a city that has 475 years' worth of collective sports history, it only has 25 championships to its name, adding its most recent triumph to the record books last Wednesday night while on the road in Philadelphia.

The men who won the city its championship - the Stanley Cup - started their party on the ice at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday night, and they haven't stopped, nor have their fans. This victory has been cathartic for Chicago for many reasons: a 49-year trophy drought snapped; a young, talented team poised to lead their team to winning seasons for many years to come; and most importantly for this sports-mad city, the resurgance of hockey in a town that was hockey-starved for too many years.

This is a city where there is not just one but two major league baseball teams hold sway; their annual Crosstown Classic between the Cubs and the White Sox was invaded tonight by the Boys of Winter, and the stands were as full of hockey sweaters and t-shirts as they were baseball shirts. The new saying this spring in Chicago is that "baseball divides, but hockey unites this city."

Nowhere was this more evident than Friday morning in the Loop. Estimates for attendance at the Blackhawks' celebratory parade run as high as 2 million - roughly on par with the usual numbers that attend the city's July 4th celebrations. For blocks in many directions, it was a sea of red and white as the city turned out to cheer for and celebrate with the newest hometown heroes.

It's been four days now, and I still feel like I'm wrapping my head around some kind of hazy dream. As the Blackhawks rebuilt to this season, it seemed like all the pieces had fallen into place. The team's marketing slogan was "One goal" - the goal in question being the Stanley Cup - but after the previous season's oh-so-close run, the team knew it was faced with more pressure and higher expectations to go further this year.

As a fan, this past season has been a thrill ride. Only a few short years ago, I remember sitting in a far different United Center: one where the seats were usually half-empty and the play on the ice was lackluster. Players seemed to come and go like a rotating door. Every time that I decided I liked a player enough that I was willing to invest in a pricey jersey with their name on it, they got traded away, or left for greener pastures as their contracts expired.

After the lockout, the first few pieces fell into place as players like Sharp and Keith came to the team. And through Dale Tallon's careful cultivation of talent, the team we witnessed this year came into being, one piece at a time.

With the exception of just a few games this year (games against Columbus and the Wild come to mind), it has been a great season, a record-breaking one in several aspects. Even if this season did not end in the Cup, it has been the kind of season that any team could be proud of - especially considering that just a few years ago, this team was rated the worst in the league. The Blackhawks had fallen far from their storied history, but rose again like a blazing phoenix under the guiding hand of Rocky Wirtz for the past three years.

There are those who would cynically say that Wirtz did what he did for the money, for the business side of it. I think anybody would be foolish to deny that; what owner wants to lose money on their team? But I think Rocky genuinely cares about the game and wanted the team to be like the team he remembered from his youth.

Whatever his motivation, Wirtz has done everything right by the team. The players are treated well. They have great coaching and staff. Wirtz appears to subscribe to the theory that to become a winner, you must be treated like one, and his team is treated like one.

You could think that a team that is treated like princes, and has the celebrity of sports stardom would be different, but the fact is that hockey players recognize that what they do is a team effort. There is no room in hockey for prima donnas or singular glory-seekers; no matter how talented you are, you must rely upon your teammates to make the game happen.

And there isn't a fan in town who wouldn't tell you what nice guys these are. In talking with one of the senior security guys at the United Center a week ago, he had nothing but praise for the men of the team. "There isn't a single one of those boys that I would worry about if he took my daughter out," he told me. What more of a compliment could you want? These men have the city in the palms of their collective hands, but their words remain humble, and dare one even say it, grateful for all the praise and celebration that has been piled upon them.

On Wednesday night, I sat in a Lakeview bar among perhaps 30 other fans. All eyes were glued to the dozen TV sets around the place as the Blackhawks battled it out against the Flyers. Silence only fell when it was clear the game was going into OT, and nerves ratched up into the heavens. The Hawks had owned much of the past two games, but it was always anybody's guess what could happen next. And to be honest, I don't think many of us could've survived the heart attacks that would've accompanied game 7.

As play surged into the Flyers end, Kane faked out Timonen before making his run towards the net. "Just SHOOT, Kaner!" Somebody might've shouted it, maybe I did, maybe it was just in my head. And Kane shot - and continued to skate around the net - and we were going, "Where's the puck? Did it go in?"

And as Kane circled the end boards, and started ripping off and flinging away his gear, I leaned forward. "Is it in? Is he celebrating? What-- is it in?"

Then the Blackhawks were streaming off the bench, and there was the scream from the TV, "The Blackhawks have won!" and the entire bar was on their feet screaming, crying, jumping up and down. I leapt to my feet and I swear it felt like every single muscle in my body gave out; I keeled into the empty barstool in front of me for a few moments. And then I realized I was screaming for joy, over and over, like many in the bar were, and shaking and trembling so bad I had to sit down before I fell down, and put my head down on the table. I felt like I was going to cry a river in happiness, but nothing came out. (It would, later, when it all began to sink in.)

We could hear car horns blaring up and down the street, and the bar DJ cued up "Chelsea Dagger", and the crowd broke into the familiar "do do do" chorus, and we watched the Blackhawks piling up together on the ice - Toews accepting the Conn Smythe, and practically all but tossing it aside as the bigger and far more trophy awaited - Lord Stanley's gleaming silver Cup.

Chicago that night was a town released, high on the victory, and oozing excitement and happiness wherever you turned.

Hockey has been my sport of choice for most of my life. I've enjoyed baseball to a good extent - I was ecstatic when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 - but nothing ever prepared me for for that moment. And if I, a fan, felt this insane level of joy and ecstasy and rapture at this moment, what were the players feeling? They, whose every hockey moment of their lives led up to this very thing?

I think we know the answer, after four days of partying in Chicago. The team flew home triumphant, partying on the plane, then partying into the wee hours - and early working hours - of Thursday morning. The Cup made public appearances immediately after landing in Chicago, and a several dozen lucky fans even got the honor of partaking in drinks from the Cup that morning.

The Cup has been busy for the past few days, as the team has not only celebrated their own success, but shared themselves and the Cup constantly with their city and their fans.

On Thursday night, less than 24 hours after they won the Cup, I was heading home from work and I passed a street blocked off by police with a large crowd gathered. On a whim I stopped, and found out the Cup was at one of the restaurants on the street. I stopped, of course, hoping for even a glimpse of it, and was rewarded for it by being able to touch the Cup, albeit brief and fleeting. Later that night, I was out again, and thanks to the Twitter stream @wheresthecup, found out the Cup and some of the team was at the Underground, so I headed there and waited patiently among a lot of fans, old and new alike.

I've seen behavior in the past four days that has ranged from the respectful and reverent, with fans simply saying "Thank you, thank you" to the players and hoping for that brief moment of touching the Cup, to the - well, let's just say that some fans have been partying just as long and hard this weekend as the boys have been. There have been the long-time fans who hope for perhaps nothing more than the chance to shake a player's hand and that opportunity to say "thank you", to the people who are clearly bandwagon/party fans. I'm at a loss as to which fan I thought was worse to Dave Bolland: the drunk guy who complimented him using about half a dozen swears; or the 20-something chick falling out of her top who first asked him "Which player are you?" and then draped herself around him and shoved a camera into my hands to take a picture of them.

Putting up with those kinds of fans that night paid off, and I was rewarded with another touch of the Cup - this one a long caress of the beer-soaked silver. When a friend asked me the next day what I'd thought at that moment, I only had one word: "Happiness."

Friday, of course, was the parade, and I joined two million newfound friends in the city in patiently waiting for the parade. Unfortunately, I couldn't take off enough time away from work to join the actually rally itself, but I was able to be in Daley Plaza and to see the parade route, and then I watched the rally on TV during lunch. Habs fans, take note - it is possible to celebrate a win without burning your city down. Whether it was two million or just one or whatever number it was, more people were treated for heat stroke than arrested.

The players rode atop London-style double decker tour buses, a handful of players per bus, with family and friends riding in trolleys at the start of the parade. The players you would expect were camping it up - Versteeg, Burish, and oh, of course, Kane. I missed Hossa - I think he was on the other side of his bus when it passed me, so I missed him, but the look of sheer gratefulness on his face as his name was chanted during the rally was heartwarming.

And my favorite player, Antti Niemi - I think none of the players quite knew how many people had turned out for the parade until they'd passed under the L tracks at Wells, and into the heart of the Loop. At Daley Plaza, it was wall-to-wall people for blocks around, and as I first glimpsed Niemi's face as his bus came into view, he was looking up at the confetti falling from the sky, and around at the people, and his face was like a kid's at Christmas: full of surprise and awe.

If you've read the papers or seen the internet, surely you know by now that this parade turnout was like nothing Chicago had ever seen. It even amazes me when I look at pictures of Michigan Avenue, and see that area around the rally staging point packed full of red-clad people for blocks around. The Blackhawks shared their triumph and joy with the city eager to embrace them, and carried their partying through the weekend.

And as a long-time fan, I can't resent the bandwagoners and the here-for-the-party people. Not much, anyway, because I too want to party and celebrate this moment. If I get really lucky, maybe I too will get my chance to kiss or drink from the Cup; but for now, my team has won it, and by whatever graces, I got to touch it. Twice.

The greatness of the Stanley Cup is that it belongs almost as much to the fans as it does those who won it. And part of the greatness of this band of brothers known as the Blackhawks is that the first thing they did with their triumph was to carry it home, and share it with the city for days on end, letting the fans be as much of the celebration as possible.

It is quietly rolling into Monday morning now. Chicago has had four days to party and let this all sink in. Now we have to go back to work; the Cubs and White Sox t-shirts will come back out - it is summer, after all - and we shall patiently count the days for the new season to take us on the next roller coaster ride, and our year with the Stanley Cup.