Editor's Note - Hey all, Wamsley works with Robert over at Habs Eyes On The Prize and also runs Fantasy Sense Hockey. He's been kind enough to put together a look at the Blackhawks from a fantasy perspective. If you look around the other SBN sites or on Fantasy Sense Hockey, you can find out more information on the other teams. This is part of our kickoff of fantasy hockey here on Second City Hockey - expect a post about our leagues (plural?) later today
Was Dale Tallon fired because he bungled the qualifying offers of Cam Barker and Kris Versteeg? Or is it because he may have handcuffed the ascent of one of the most talented young rosters in the league?
The Hawks were poised to become a powerhouse when Tallon broke out the checkbook and blew his brains out. Why sign Brian Campbell to 7M+ per season when you have a young dynamic defensive trio in Barker, Seabrook and Keith? Why overpay for Huet, a goaltender who has only started 50+ games once, when you already have Khabibulin? Why sign Hossa to $5M+ 12-year deal when you still haven't locked up Kane, Toews and Keith to long-term deals? At $42M locked up on 12 players next season and a decreasing cap, where is the money for two of the most dynamic players in the game?
Tallon was fired because the Hawks are trying to undo the damage he has done and save the future of the next NHL power. Is Tallon going to remain in the NHL? Or will his resume of reckless spending on the Hawks qualify him for a job with Bear Stearns? The Hawks are stacked with fantasy talent and are poised to challenge the powerhouse Wings in 2010, but I am more interested in how Bowman removes the cement shoes that threaten to sink the Hawks brilliant return to the top of the NHL.
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Looking at Quenneville's history should put a smile on the face of Lil Jon and 20 cent fantasy owners.
In 11 NHL seasons, Quenneville's teams have finished in the top 10 in scoring 8 times with an average ranking of 7th, with 9 of his players managing to crack the 80 pt barrier.
Although he likes to employ an aggressive offensive attack, Quenneville does not sacrifice the defensive zone. The worst defensive seasons of his career revolve around Pronger's 2003 season in which he missed 77 games and the aging Avalanche squad who hung a jersey in the goal for three seasons.
The Hawks possesses the perfect compliment of young, tough puck moving defensemen to replicate the defensive success of last season. Huet will not be insulated like a Lemaire coached team, but his numbers should remain static in 2010.
Although Lil Jon's production curve is very similar to his 2008 season, Jonathan Toews blossomed in the second half and began to show the dominant goal scorer that begat the comparisons to Steve Yzerman. Over his final 29 games, Toews produced 29 points (17G/12A), including an 11 game stretch where he potted 11 goals. Toews continued his strong play throughout the playoffs where your space is removed and you are forced to fight for every inch. His competitive nature helped will the Hawks to the Conference Finals. When his sheer will is combined with his intelligence, explosiveness, vision and ridiculous finishing ability, it is time to send out the invitations for his 2010 coming out party.
After treating the rest of the NHL like a cab driver through Christmas, an ankle injury derailed Patrick Kane's breakout campaign. Heading into the Winter Classic, Kane was in the top 10 in NHL scoring, but his desire to play in the outdoor game instead of resting his ankle cost him and the Hawks as his production dropped from 1.2 PPG to 0.35 PPG (7 points in 20 games). Although undersized, Kane's elusiveness, hands, explosive skating and release make him difficult to contain one on one. He is a fantasy star right now, be he still has to mature physically and defensively before he becomes a true NHL superstar.
If the Marian Hossa signing results in the net loss of one of Toews, Kane or Keith, was it worth it? I still remain puzzled in the investment, but there is no doubt that he remains one of the most dominant wingers in hockey. Hossa has been a lock for a PPG over the last 5 seasons due to his ability to change pace, find the soft spot in defensive zone coverage's and surprise with his explosive release. When he is committed to the defensive zone he is one of the most complete players in the game. With new surroundings and the rust from shoulder surgery, Hossa may struggle out of the gate. When he begins to develop chemistry with Kane and Toews, he will return to his historical production in 2010.
Cam Barker finally began to fulfill his monster potential as he matched Campbell's 2009 production at 1/7th of the cost. Add in 29 PP points in 69 games and it begs the question "What was the point of Brian Campbell again?" His final point total is even more impressive when you take into account that he went scoreless in 10 games to finish the regular season. Barker has made the leap and his package of elite skills and size project him to be an All-Star. At 23 years old it is easy to forget that he is still a work in progress. Barker's defensive inadequacies were exposed in the playoffs. As he gains experience he will rely less on his ability to recover, and use positioning and size to his advantage. Conserving energy through efficiency will result in easier minutes and with it, a fantasy stud.
Cristobal Huet finally has the ball to himself. The question is will he run with it? Or fumble it like he did with Carey Price in 2008? Huet always produces solid fantasy numbers but over his 5-year career he has only started 50+ games once, and won more than 20 games only once. Huet has won less than half his career starts (103 of 207) and with zero fantasy value for ties and OT losses the statistic becomes alarming. The temptation remains to grab him because of his powerful team, but with durability concern I would be surprised if Crawford/Niemi did not eat into his minutes in 2010.
You have to wonder how much Brian Campbell was affected by the $56.8M contract he signed before the 2009 campaign. Campbell's inconsistency was frustrating, and when he fails to produce he can be exposed as a defensive liability. When he does raise his compete level, his ability to force a frenetic pace becomes a devastating weapon for the Hawks talented forwards. Campbell has dynamic skating ability and vision. When paired with his puck moving ability, he has the ability to dictate the pace. He is among the elite fantasy defensemen in the NHL; the question remains whether it will be in Chicago long-term.
Duncan Keith exploded for a career high in 2009. Not only did he break the magic 40 pt barrier, but he also led all defensemen with a +33. Over the last 2 seasons Keith has produced a +63, third best in the NHL. Keith is a workhorse and his tenacity belies his smaller frame. His puck moving is not as accomplished as teammates Campbell and Barker, but his mobility, toughness and positioning make him a more complete player at this point.
Kris Versteeg was one of the surprises of the 2009 fantasy season finishing second in rookie scoring and earning a Calder nomination. Tallon's unfortunate clerical error did not allow the Hawks the chance to further assess his upside in 2010; one glance at his production decline in 2009 should result in red flags. After a first quarter in which he averaged a PPG, his production steadily declined to less than half a point per game during the stretch drive. Versteeg's numbers experienced a bounce back in the playoffs, but the majority of his production took place on the PP. He is very elusive and possesses a non-stop engine and his creativity and playmaking ability making him a productive PP force. As long as he received PP time, he will be a viable fantasy player, but his red flags leave me unwilling to invest.
Patrick Sharp's production dipped slightly in the 2009 season as a knee injury cost him 16 games. With his quickness and agility compromised, Sharp struggled to replace that edge and his production suffered. Sharp's greatest value lies in the chemistry he has formed with Toews and Kane. Sharp's strong two-way ability, his ability to control the tempo and finish compliment the two young stars well. With their continued maturation, Sharp looks like a lock for 60+ if healthy.
After some prolific junior scoring seasons, David Bolland's offensive potential began to surface at the NHL level last season. I am hesitant to label 2009 a breakout year with the knowledge that Bolland may center Hossa and Ladd in 2010. With his solid two-way game earning Quenneville's trust and the only center competition being Kyle Beach and John Madden, Bolland has every opportunity to improve upon his 47 point high. Bolland is feisty, agile and anticipates the play well, with a friendly offensive coach and an elite defense core that will provide the puck in stride, the Hawks and Bolland could provide fantasy owners with a prolific offensive season.
The Blackhawks system does not possess any surefire NHLers, but they do have an abundance of players with high end potential. With two power forwards who make Todd Bertuzzi look stable and a couple of foreign players who lack North American exposure, the Chicago farm has plenty of Boom/Bust potential.
Is there a better representation of the Hawks prospects than Kyle Beach? Boom or Bust? All-Star potential or AHL washout? Beach has all the skills of a premier power forward in the league, but the possibility exists that he may never be able to reign in his Tysonesque temper. He has already intentionally fired a puck into the crowd and incited a brawl, and when people refer to him as a Bertuzzi level impact player, they fail to add "without the Steve Moore incident". It is not hard to overlook these sins when it is coupled with his fearless approach to the net and his elite finishing ability, an approach that led him to explode with Lethbridge for 33 points in his final 24 games (15G, 18A). Red flags abound, but his implosion may come after success, making him a low risk/high reward pick. Pick him up and if he has a big year deal him and avoid the likely meltdown (think of what Bertuzzi would have returned in 2002), and if he melts down in the next two years, dump him at little cost.
Akim Aliu is what you would get if Ron Artest had decided on CCM Tacks instead of Air Jordans. A tantalizing blend of size and skill, Aliu when inspired is a dominant power forward who can physically dominate as well as navigate the ice with the skill set of a much smaller man. Immaturity and a stubborn demeanour have frustrated his coaches at every level, but his unique skills will likely assure numerous opportunities at the NHL level. Toews leadership will be put to the test and Hawk fans can only hope that with maturity that Aliu surrenders the Alpha Dog attitude and falls in line.
Crawford or Niemi? Niemi or Crawford? I am going with Antti Niemi as he is just too talented and brings too much upside to the table not to give him the edge here. An intelligent, athletic butterfly goalie with sharp reflexes, Niemi enjoyed a tremendous North American debut posting a 2.43 GAA and a .913 save % in 38 games. With Khabibulin gone, an NHL roster spot available and Huet's spotty durability record, one of Crawford and Niemi will have an opportunity; I prefer the odds on Niemi.
At first glance I got excited and projected future greatness for the love child of Igor Larianov and Sergei Makarov. After seeing Vladamir Krutov eat his way out of the NHL, I came to the realization that he had played the role of the surrogate mother. KLM bloodlines meant a 60% chance he would be an NHL star, right? Makarov spent last season with St. Petersburg of the KHL racking up 17 points in 42 games. Don't let those low totals dissuade your from taking this up and coming Russian playmaker. Makarov is a solid 2-way player with above average speed, but he needs to bulk up if he's going to have any kind of impact at the next level. Another low risk/high reward bargain that can be had on the Hawks. Stash and grab and watch intently when he finally arrives in North America for good.
Back in 2006, Jack Skille was making an impact in the college ranks and was receiving universal praise throughout the hockey world even though his production left us wanting more. Skille remains one of the Blackhawks top prospects, but he is now in danger of losing that status if he doesn't raise his level this season. He has improved at the AHL level over the last 2 years but the Hawks want more from their investment. Arguably the fastest skater in the Blackhawk system, Skille possesses a cannonading shot. Always leaves me unsatisfied and should be further along at age 22. If Skille can maintain his aggression, use his size to engage in more physical activity and improve his anticipation he will be a top six forward. If not, his future will lie in the bottom six. Track his progress, and if his swagger returns, jump on him.