Now that the last round of shit has finally hit the fan, it's time we check the pulse elsewhere in the Blackhawks Blogging Community - a community which desperately needs a soup kitchen and a rehab facility, mind you. So with that, we offer up the thoughts of HockeeNight's Forklift, the eminently handsome John of The Fifth Feather, Jeff Bartl from Blackhawk Up, the unironically mulleted Chris Block from The Third Man In, and our very own Matthew Killion. Strap in motherfuckers, because there's a lot to cover after the jump.
Let's Go Voltron Force!1) Now that we're in the immediate aftermath of the Capocalypseageddon, based on the moves we've seen so far, how would you grade Stan Bowman in this his first off-season at the helm under these hellacious salary cap circumstances?
Fork: I think he probably did the best he could to turn chicken shit into chicken salad. He was able to find teams that needed immediate help (Atlanta & Toronto) and take back some guys they could afford to wait on - DiDomenico & Morin both have the potential to be damn fine players in this league. In fact, you can even grade back to the Cam Barker for Nick Leddy & Dead Guy last spring as an example of being able to afford to wait for someone to mature.
Bartl: Bowman is in the unfortunate position of being viewed neutrally despite the fact his hands were pretty much tied. Either I'm giving too much credit to the Blackhawks' fan base by thinking the fans saw the cap-related moves coming, or I'm the naive one in the equation. The moves Bowman made needed to be made, or else the Blackhawks wouldn't be allowed to play hockey next season. Yet, the majority of people seem to be in wait-and-see mode pending the success of the 'Hawks next season. It's unfortunate because he did his best with what he was given. Not many first-year GMs would be able to pull off what he did while keeping the immediate core of a championship team intact.
John 5F: Well, as anyone with the internet and Cap Geek is well aware, Bowman needed to shed some salary to form any kind of competitive team. The three biggest criticisms he'll face going forward, in no particular order, are 1) saying Hjalmarsson and Niemi weren't going anywhere and offer sheets are extremely rare. 2) choosing to stick with a #3 center with a balky back over Byfuglien or Versteeg. 3) putting Nick Leddy on the fast track to the NHL. While he did get some value from all the salary dumps, he's had his share of hiccups so anything more than a C+ doesn't feel right.
Block: aside from allowing a 26-year old potential franchise goaltender to walk free, getting burned by Doug Wilson’s offer sheet and trading a 6’4" 260lbs game-changing power forward over a third line center with a weak spine, I’d say Stan did about as well as can be expected.
Killion: I'd have to say I'm pretty impressed so far. The Hawks were going to have a tough time fitting under the cap even before Toews had to go do something as selfish as winning the Conn Smythe. Bowman was put into an incredibly tough position - we knew salary needed to be dumped but so did everyone else in the league. A worse case scenario easily involved Bowman dumping pieces and getting trash in return. Instead he got rid of movable parts (plus Sopel) while getting a fair bit in return. The picks and prospects he received for Ladd, Buff, Steeg and the others could go a long way to keeping the team strong even as the main club continues to be successful (hopefully). You also have to give Bowman credit for making some moves that are insanely unpopular with a large part of the fanbase. It may just be the meatballs that don't understand why the Hawks couldn't keep guys like Niemi, Buff or Versteeg but they're every bit as loud as the other fans (if not more so) and their dollars count the same as everyone else's. Rather than make the popular move, he's made the move to make the teams stronger. They may not be as deep as they were last year but they shouldn't be too far off. I give Bowman fairly high marks so far and look forward to seeing what else he'll do.
2) What one move specifically do you feel will have the greatest impact, be it positive or negative, on the team as compared to last year's team?
Fork: Biggest impact, both positively and negatively, was the Hjalmarsson offer sheet match. Based upon the $3.25MM for one year that James Wisniewski just got, the $3.5MM/per for 4 years is just absolute highway fucking robbery. While this was the deal that meant the Hawks had to send Andrew Ladd to Atlanta - a negative impact, the Hawks blueline (once Seabrook is signed - and make no mistake, he will be) will be stacked for at least the next 4 years, meaning they can go the discount route on goaltending - a positive impact.
Bartl: I'm with Fork on this one. Doug Wilson's offer sheet to Hammer all but assured Niemi's exit because everyone knew Bowman would match it. At least I did, anyway. Bowman saying he's been looking at the possibility of signing Turco means it started pretty much around the time he committed to Hammer. The effect it had on the cap meant more players than he expected had to be moved. Keeping the top two pairings together for years to come was always more important than investing in a goaltender. Hammer's offer sheet simply expedited the process.
John 5F: Losing Byfuglien will hurt more than anyone cares to admit. But the greatest impact will be felt from Hjalmarsson's offer sheet. That extra million and a half really bit the Hawks, whether it was re-signing Niemi (you can openly question whether they had any motivation to do that now) or handcuffing them in being able to acquire some better players. It will be interesting going forward to see if there's any ill feelings between the Hawks front office and Hjalmarsson over this.
Block: While he’s getting he lessons in Hockey 101 from Sir Scotty Bowman, someone might want to clue John McDonough in that power forwards don’t reappear each season like vines on the Wrigley ivy. Since Al Secord, the Blackhawks have searched high and low, drafted busts and traded on a whim and a prayer to fill that void. Heck, even Bill Wirtz stepped out in 1995 and presented an offer sheet to a young Keith Tkachuk that, for one year, made the Winnipeg Jets winger the 2nd highest-paid player in the NHL behind Wayne Gretzky.
Remember these guys? Patrick Poulin, Ethan Moreau, Eric Lecompte, Jean-Yves Leroux, Chad Kilger, Chris Simon, Bob Probert, Wendel Clark, Martin Lapointe, Mark Bell, Michael Blunden and Ty Jones – All at some point drafted, or brought into the organization with idea they could be a deciding physical force in a playoff series and hopefully a championship team. Well, they finally got their man. And two weeks later, he was gone.
Killion: We're almost in the same place as we were last year - did Buff really find his calling in the post-season and will he learn to apply that to the 82 regular season game? If so, sending him away could hurt. Especially if Beach isn't ready to step up as a functioning member of society... and a power forward if we're really lucky. I think one of the biggest moves may be getting Turco to take such a huge pay cut. As I said above, he seems excited to be in Chicago but the contract is huge for a team that is going to be so close to the cap. It frees up space to allow the Hawks to be a little more flexible and could give players like Beach a chance to see if they're ready
3) Will Marty Turco and Corey Crawford be a serviceable replacement for Niemi and the obviously departing Cristobal Huet, and how much are you looking forward to the reaction of the meatball contingent the first time Turco lets in four?
Fork: Now playing the role of Meatball Hero - Corey Crawford! DEY GOTTA LET DAT CRAAAWWWFIRD PLAY! Hawks' backup goalie will loom large in Chicagoland legend along with Bears' clipboard holder and "scrappy" undersized white Cub. Last year the Hawks caught lightning in a bottle with Niemi - QStache took a goaltender who needs to work to stay sharp - Huet - and sat him for a month. He came back and was essentially useless. He can't make the same mistake with Turco and expect Crawford to bail him out. That being said, As long as they don't do anything crazy like give Turco #31, the meatballs should holster calling Turco a "sieve" for at least 2 bad outings. Which is at least 4 more than is rational.
Bartl: When you hear the boos for Turco the first time he's announced during starting lineups at the United Center, find the meatball closest to you and knock the living shit out of 'em. It's going to start from the beginning, and all us idiot bloggers will be writing the same shit next season about the meatballs, just replacing the names of the goaltenders. It's hilarious that the Blackhawks won a Cup dealing with goaltender bullshit all of last season, yet the meatballs will forget that championship so quickly so they have something to bitch about. Yes, Turco and Crawford will be more than serviceable replacements -- possibly even better than what the 'Hawks had last season. If a Huet/Niemi combo and back-stop a team to a Stanley Cup, there's no reason Turco/Crawford can't do it. I've already heard the argument regarding Turco's playoff struggles. Hm, doesn't that bullshit sound familiar?
John 5F: Where Niemi really shined last year, at least in the regular season, was in the shootout. There were countless times where he didn't have the greatest game but he came up big in the coin-tossing contest so everyone went home happy.
Walking away from Niemi, in my mind, says more about the organization’s belief in Crawford than anything else. If they didn’t have confidence that Crawford could give them 30 solid starts this season and possibly be their guy for the next 2-3 years, Niemi would still be here or Bowman would’ve locked Turco, or another goalie, down for a longer term.
As the Feather stated, no goalie did better in the shootout and Niemi’s willingness to battle between the pipes will be missed. This could get ugly in a hurry. Recenlty in Dallas, Turco didn’t get a ton of help, but he was bad a lot of nights. There will be a TON of pressure on Turco and the Hawks will truly need to win in spite of him frequently. Jersey buyers may want to wait until the trade deadline passes before they lay their plastic down for those Marty Turco sweaters.
Killion: Absolutely. There were times last year when Niemi was still unproven and Huet was still floundering when people were calling for the Hawks to trade for Turco. Our argument against it at the time wasn't so much that Turco wasn't that good (even though he wasn't that great last year) but that it didn't matter so much who the Hawks had in net as much as it did who the Hawks had playing in front of their goalie. Since the Hawks made the decision to keep Hammer, they've basically got the same defense and should be playing the same style. The Hawks aren't going to live and die by the way their goalies perform. Turco obviously is past his prime but he seems pretty excited to play here. We should obviously hope it adds a spark to his game and he has a bit of a resurgence but the season won't depend on it. Crawford has been the "goalie of the future" for far too long now. He's done alright in his few call ups so far but there should be a lot of pressure on him this year. Don't expect Turco to stick around past this year - Crawford will need to step up to show the Hawks can trust him with the starting role next season
4) Moving forward, what if any other moves would you like to see Stan Bowman make to round out the roster based on what's available within the system and in the remaining free agent pool?
Fork: Jordan Hendry's signing still hasn't been announced, but since he was at the Hawks' convention, I'm guessing he's part of the team. I'm not sure he & Scott fill me with confidence as a third pair, despite the entertainment the Murdersaurus (dammit, I'm going with this one until it catches on) can provide. I'm also curious to see if Kyle Beach earns a spot in the preseason, or if he spends some time in Rockford - the Turco signing means he'll fit under the Cap.
Bartl: I'm dying to see Kyle Beach in the Indian-head sweater. All the talk about him -- including from Bowman -- has me more than intrigued to see what he can do with the big club. A tough-ass with the ability to light up a score sheet? I wanna see it.
John 5F: We'd like to see a Lee Stempniak-type brought in, but Bowman has made it clear he wants a defensemen. The two guys who would seem to be the best fit would be Jay McKee and Andreas Lilja. Both are older, veteran defensemen with light cap hits. Either one would be suitable, just as long as Jassen Cullimore never touches a Blackhawks sweater ever again.
Block: The four sets of three up front are basically set now and that will take care of itself. Jack Skille could wind up sliding into Versteeg’s role in this group, or he could be back in Rockford for good by Thanksgiving. Stalberg will be useless when he isn’t scoring. You’ll know when that is. He’ll be the guy Quenneville is duck-taping to the bench. Beach shouldn’t be rushed just because the Hawks need size on the wing. Its best Stan allow this to naturally run its course and make the proper adjustments as the season runs along.
However, he needs another quality defensive-minded D-man to eat up the hard minutes Sopel leaves behind. Preferably a bigger body with a nasty side. The last thing Quenneville wants is Hendry or Campbell getting significant time on the PK and Keith and Seabrook cannot be asked to play more than they are already. When you already hear talk of John Scott’s versatility and history of pinch-hitting at forward, that tell you all you need to know about his abilities. Willie Mitchell is probably falls outside the Hawks’ budget. As fun as he’d be, Brendan Witt is a mess. Jay McKee fits the bill, but you can’t count on him to stay healthy. That said, Randy Jones would be the guy.
Killion: I'm sure everyone else is saying it - but the biggest hole in the roster is the spot left open by Sopel's trade. While Sopel sort of endeared himself to me during the playoffs he was obviously paid far too much and the Hawks desperately needed his cap space. They don't really have anyone that can fill in as that shot-blocking/PK machine but luckily those don't cost you an arm and a leg and with the Turco signing they should have the cap room they need to go pick up someone like Jay McKee. Beyond that, we'll probably see some shuffling of the roster sending guys back and forth to Rockford but the Hawks should be OK up until the trade deadline once they're able to see some weaknesses in the team as a whole.
5) Finally, what is Sam Fels doing during his month off?
Fork: He's touring the Midwest, telling the tale of post-Johnny Carson late-night television, where he celebrates the misunderstood genius of Jaywalking through interpretive dance.
Bartl: Pumping the neighbor's cat, wearing only a sleeveless flannel while holding a water pistol full of PBR in each hand singing "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" by Whitney Houston. Or something.
John 5F: Who knew that someone who runs a website and writes a publication two to three times a week for 7 months a year needs an entire month off? Our guess is he's scurrying the countryside in Ontario looking for Bob McGill to explain to him how he might be as awesome as him someday.
Block: 20 cities – 30 nights – Streaking home fields across the English Premier League.
Killion: If he's smart, he's certainly not watching the Cubs.
Thanks again to everyone who participated, and thanks to Sam Fels for not participating and allowing us to make him the butt of the joke.