Keep Their Heads Ringin' - Continuing Our Preview of the 2010-2011 Chicago Blackhawks

As we're getting closer and closer to the season and at least pretend hockey games are being played, the outlook for the upcoming season is becoming ever clearer. One player that has put his best foot forward to this point has apparently been Igor Makarov, about whose chances of a roster spot Kelly Reardon wonders:

 

I’m completely on the Igor Makarov bandwagon after seeing him at camp. What are the odds he actually makes the big club?

 

Well, unfortunately, Kelly, I can't totally share your sentiment, as I didn't attend any of the weekend's festivities. But from all outward reports, Makarov has seriously impressed with both his skating ability and nose for the net. Of course, this has all been against rookie competition (Makarov just turned 23 Sunday), as well as only scrimmages against his fellow teammates. His performance against other teams during the preseason will dictate where he'll end up come October 7, but even to this point, he's at least merited serious playing time during those games to find out, which I think he'll certainly be given the opportunity to. Makarov's skill set is obviously more top-6 than elsewhere, but the Hawks are somewhat unique in how skilled their third line is, so if Makarov can crack the top-9, he'll more than likely stay with the big club. I know I sound like a broken record regarding some of these prospects, but having him play fourth line minutes doesn't serve him or the team much good. His speed, shiftyness, and scoring touch are far better suited either flanking Sharp or Bolland. Furthermore, Stan Bowman has positioned his team to have a fairly high number of modular parts to round out the bottom of the roster, both in role and in salary, so if Makarov continues to play at a level that forces Bowman and Quenneville to keep him here, they'll be able to do so, rather than the ridiculous Jack Skille and Cam Barker Rockford shuffles of years past. So, if you were looking for a quantifiable answer for this question, I'd say probably a little bit better than a coinflip at 55-60%, but there can't be any let-up in Makarov's game.

 

HawkVision has yet another solid question regarding Marty Turco:

How quickly will Turco’s puck-handling skillz (yeah, with a "z") paired with Dunc and Soupy’s breakout ability, become "a thing"?

 

While we definitely emphasized this as being a clear advantage Turco had over Antti Niemi when Turco was signed based on the style of game the Hawks played, I tried then and will continue to emphasize now that it won't be the series of 90-foot home run passes on every line change that it's being made out to be. Yes, Marty Turco is arguably the best puck-handling goalie in the league right now (and maybe ever, despite not having a goal to his credit), and that will certainly allow for smoother transitions on breakouts, and not to mention save the Hawks defensemen from the physical toll that can be exacted on them from having to retrieve pucks all game long from their own end boards. In the playoffs, the most effective counter to the Hawks' transition was free-beer-and-pussy-behind-the-Hawks-net forecheck from the opposition, employed most effectively by Nashville and Philly. Having Turco back there certainly dulls that down, as the defensemen will less frequently have to put themselves in a position to be pummeled. But perhaps thing we'll see most as a result of Turco's puck handling abilities as they contribute to this team will be how they act as a deterrent. Opposing forwards entering the zone will be far more reluctant to just dump the puck in deep, as Turco will be awaiting it to fire a pass back up ice with those forwards caught deep. This will lead to those same forwards attempting to carry the puck over the Hawk blue line, which due to the quality of the Hawks' top 4 defensemen, will frequently lead to the puck being knifed away, or the play resulting in an offside call due to an extra move or the forward being forced to slow up. The only consistent way I've seen to avoid the perils of a puck-moving goalie, especially after the lockout due to the trapezoid, is the cross-ice dump in, as Turco will not be able to retrieve it from the corner, and nor will he have the opportunity to stop it as it's wrung around. However, that takes quite a bit of hockey awareness on the puck carrier's part, as well as even a split second's worth of time longer than a standard chip in, as well as his far-side winger to be on the same page and busting his ass to get to that puck first before a Hawk defenseman does. If having Turco back there turns every dump in into a 50/50 puck at the very worst, the Hawks will be in fantastic shape. So, after all that bloviating,  the answer to your question is "very quickly, but not in as direct a way as it's being portrayed, even though those types of opportunities will be there".

 

If there's a topic out there that we haven't exhausted yet, let us know and we'll try to address it, but as the season draws ever nearer, we'll also need more questions should you have them. But the most important part of all of this? There will be an actual hockey game (whose results are admittedly 165% arbitrary) to discuss tomorrow.

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