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Blackhawks to Bust or Boom? – Dale Tallon Removed as GM

July 14th, 2009 Comments off

According to ESPN and TFP, the Chicago Blackhawks have fired General Manager Dale Tallon. A statement will be made later today to announce the fact, together with the promotion of Assistant GM Stan Bowman as the new GM.

Update! It is now being reported that Tallon has been reassigned to be a senior advisory of hockey operations instead.

Dale Tallon was appointed General Manager on the 21st of June 2005 and oversaw the drafting of young talents such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, whilst also making expensive plunges on the free agent market; acquiring players such as Nicholai Khabibulin, Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet.

He was also the one responsible for steering the Blackhawks away from the doldrums. When he arrived in town, Chicago only managed 65 points over the course of his first season in charge, whilst in his last campaign, the club totaled 104. Moreover, the team progressed as far as to the Western Conference finals; where the Hawks were finally stopped by rivals Detroit.

Tallon was then surrounded in controversy this summer, when making the high profile signing of Martin Havlat from Detroit and tying the star winger to a massive 12-year contract. Whilst this would normally be a reason for celebrations, Dale received criticism for placing the clubs future in jeopardy. The reason being that star players such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith are all to become restricted free agents next summer – and question is if the Hawks will have the Cap space to resign them all. That is, unless someone would be willing to take on the massive contracts of Cristobal Huet or Brian Campbell, which many analysts seriously question.

A second reason for controversy was the failure to notify pending restricted free agents of qualifying offers before the deadline. Dale sent the offers out in mail, which however is not the proper way to handle affairs. The players association filed grievances against the club, but everything was finally resolved as the Blackhawks re-signed all the players in question; including Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker.

According to TFP sources, this embarrassment was the "clinching blow". ESPN meanwhile doesn’t agree: "It may have had little to do with Tallon’s firing" they state and think an ulterior motive was to rid the franchise of a GM that was appointed prior to the current President John McDonough; and Dale simply wasn’t part of the plans for the revamped organization. If this latter explanation holds up, it is possible that Dale Tallons number has been up for some while and the saga of failing to notifying agents simply was the excuse to fire/reassign him from the GM position.

Last summer’s appointment of legendary coach Scotty Bowman, certainly was a sign of new things to come and speculation was rife back then that Dale would soon be shown the door, so that Scotty’s son, and long-time assistant GM – Stan Bowman, could take over the reins. It seems that today that scenario has finally come to fruition.

Stan Bowman has for the last 10 years been at the club as an Assistant GM and has primarily handled contract negotiations, collective bargaining agreement issues and free agency. Considering these are the areas of contention, currently within the franchise and in the media, questions must be raised as to the wisdom of this selection.

Certainly, Stan will have his hands full this coming season – one that could shape the long-time future and stability of the club. Success or failure – bust or boom – we shall soon see….

Stanley Cup ‘09 Predictions; Conference Semi Finals

April 30th, 2009 Comments off

In hindsight it seems I was not far off in my 1st Round predictions. A couple were spot on, whilst the ones I missed were tellingly the close series’, especially the 7 game ones were I picked the wrong game 7 winners on both occasions. Nonetheless, undeterred, perhaps even a bit encouraged, I shall here make my Conference Semi Final predictions too. So let’s start on the home front, in the East, where two Southeastern teams are holding the divisional flag high – despite its many critics (notably in the North)…

 

East

 

Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes have done very well to even be in this position, but question is: Can they do it again? Beating New Jersey in those closely fought seven game battles was impressive; I for one would have tipped the Devils to make it to another Stanley Cup Final, but the Carolinians obviously had other plans. Boston meanwhile made short shrift of the drunken centennial celebrators north of the border and swiftly disposed of its sorry corpse (can’t help but think the Panthers would have put up a sterner test for the Bruins than the Habs did).

Anyhow, Boston remains the Conference favorites and seems like a solid team without any real flaws, certainly none that has been obvious so far anyway, and the Canes will find it difficult to upset the buzzing B’s. It could still be a tight series, but I’m guessing most of the juice is gone from the sons of Raleigh and that the Bruins will be the main beneficiaries of that tight series against the Devils. It could even be a sweep, but the Carolinians are too good on home ice for that surely?

My Bet: Boston wins the series 4-1.

 

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

This should be a real dogfight and a series as close to impossible, as is possible(?), to predict. If however, as I think it will, this series goes all the way done the wire; the Penguins could have an edge in the fact that they played two games less that the Capitals in the opening round. Indeed, I think this may eventually tip the balance and present Pittsburgh with another crack at the not so coveted Conference Cup.

And in the name of consistency, (I didn’t, afterall, think the Caps would see off the Rangers in that seventh game), so I guess my hands are tied: The experience gained from last year, the superstars at their disposal and the extra rest from the first round will perhaps be enough to see the wobbly Penguins grab a spot in the Conference final. Yet, I have a feeling I might just be dreadfully wrong about this one… I guess we’ll see soon enough…

My Bet: Pittsburgh wins the series 4-3.

 

 

West

 

Detroit Red Wings vs. Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim really impressed when they saw off the President Trophy winners in the previous round and will now set their sights on the reigning Stanley Cup Champions from Detroit. Could it be another upset on the apple cart? Probably not…

The Detroit Red Wings showed their credentials when sweeping the floor of the Columbus New Jackets, and the players showed they have another level to reach in the playoffs, compared to regular season sludge; not least the experienced goalie Chris Osgood. There is plenty of pedigree in the Anaheim locker room also, but you need depth they don’t have to beat the Wings in a potential seven game series. It’s not enough with two superstar blueliners and a few other odds and ends to bypass Zetterberg, Datsyuk and C/O. It won’t be another sweep, but I’d be surprised if the Ducks pick up more than a couple of games from this battle.

My Bet: Detroit wins the series 4-1.

 

Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks

As I predicted the Canucks made short shrift with the young Blues team, but the youngster from Chicago will pose a sterner test. Having seen off the brutes from Calgary, the Blackhawks have shown themselves to be legitimate contenders in their own right. Both teams have exceptional goaltending to fall back on and this will likely be a thriller series all the way. Perhaps the slight edge in experience that players such as Mats Sundin bring to the table will be that crucial extra ingredient in the end?

Remains to be seen what wins this series for the victorious team, but if I have to pick one… it would have to be the Canucks. Home ice advantage and some added veteran leadership makes them seem like a slightly healthier contender than the Hawks of Chicago. It will be a much anticipated series however and one worth watching more closely as it evolves and progresses.

My Bet: Vancouver wins the series 4-3.

Stanley Cup ’09 Predictions, 1st Round of 16

April 15th, 2009 Comments off

A mere few minutes prior to the first puck dropping in anger, in the Stanley Cup 2009 Playoffs, I shall dare a preliminary prediction of what will unfold in the first Round of 16. Ready to eat my words in a week or two; here is my initial bet:

 

East

Boston vs. Montreal

What a match-up! Two rivals going head-to-head in the first round. Montreal celebrating 100 years; whilst Boston celebrates winning the Eastern Conference, this year. It will most likely be a tough series with sparks flying. However, Boston has, in my view, the upper hand both when it comes to physical strength and overall quality – and last but not least – goaltending.

My bet: Boston wins the series 4-1.

 

Washington vs. NY Rangers

Will the offensive prowess of the Capitals trump the gritty grinding Rangers down? I think that this will be a game that goes all the way down the wire, but the New Yorkers superior goaltending in the form of Henrik Lundqvist may very well be the difference in the end.

My bet: NY Rangers win series 4-3.

 

New Jersey vs. Carolina

Two teams similar in many ways and with plenty of tools to make a concerted run in the playoffs. However, one of them must be eliminated and odds are it will be fellow Southeasterners Carolina which is forced to fold in the end. Considering both sides have superb goaltending, it will be many close games, probably with a few overtime victories that will be decisive. My guess is that the Devils have the extra manpower and grit to grind down the Hurricanes.

My bet: New Jersey win series 4-3.

 

Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia

A resurgent Penguins side should have the quality to see of a Flyers side that lack either good goaltending or a solid defense. Too many penalties from their aggressive style brand of hockey – could also be costly if the Pittsburgh superstars are given too much room to operate in. Pittsburgh is a dark horse in this year’s Stanley Cup and will be a threat to anyone in the East anyway. Should be able to see off Philadelphia rather comfortably in the end – although it may hurt along the way…

My bet: Pittsburgh win series 4-1.

 

West

San Jose vs. Anaheim

Probably the one team the Sharks didn’t want to meet and the one they could have problems seeing off in the end. The power of a resurgent Ducks’ side is not to be underestimated. Although, I can’t quite see the President Trophy winners being eliminated in the first round, they could come too close for comfort.

My bet: San Jose win series 4-3.

 

Detroit vs. Columbus

So, Columbus finally made it to the postseason, aye? Well, hope they enjoyed the ride up until this point; because it’s likely to be a case of “here, but no further”. The reigning Stanley Cup champions should, despite a shaky penalty kill and goaltending, have enough juice to see off the Jackets. Might be a spill or two along the way, but this should be one for the bank.

My bet: Detroit win series 4-1.

 

Vancouver vs. St. Louis

Like their fellow Central Division foes Columbus, St. Louis will be thrilled to be in a playoff at all, but are unlikely to progress – despite an impressive end to the regular season. Could be a premature closing stage for the Blues, after a mere four games played, but that would be too cruel wouldn’t it?

My bet: Vancouver win series 4-0.

 

Chicago vs. Calgary

This is likely to be the most interesting game from a neutrals perspective. Chicago are a young up-and-coming side that have done exceptionally well to get this far and in the manner they have achieved their success. Calgary made the biggest splash on transfer deadline day by acquiring the old Panther captain Olli Jokinen. Whether he’ll be the Flames’ answer to playoff success I’ll leave unsaid, but at least the guy gets to play in the playoffs once… Would expect the grit and strength of Calgary to be the tipping point somewhere along the road in this series, question is if skill and style can overcome muscle hockey and cause what, despite ranking, must be seen as an upset. I don’t think so, but I hope I’m wrong…

My bet: Calgary win series 4-2.

The Playoff Race Tightens Up – Western Conference

February 5th, 2009 3 comments

The playoff race, both in the Eastern and Western Conferences, has been tightening up after the All Star break. Many teams are involved and have a realistic shot at making the post-regular season games.

Especially in the West. All teams in fact have a realistic shot at making the playoffs there!

It is no secret that the Western Conference is the stronger of the two half’s of the NHL; dominating inter-conference play since 2005/6. Only two western teams are below .500 versus eastern opposition (St. Louis and Anaheim). No surprise then that the Western Conferences’ teams have generally more points on the lower half of the table than its Eastern counterparts – and that the playoff race is much more congested.

Every point is pivotal for these clubs and one win could potentially catapult a team up the standings – while a loss could consequently set lose a freefall down the table.

Yesterday two games of playoff importance were played in the west. Phoenix went to Detroit to try and avoid a fifth straight loss, while the Red Wings were also digging deep to try and find some form. Propelled by another Marian Hossa show, the home team ended up on top (winning 5-4) after a late goal from Nicklas Lidstrom on the power-play. Former Panther Olli Jokinen has been called upon lately by the Coyotes to lead by example; but for a fifth game in a row he failed to come up with any goods to help the struggling franchises cause. Now why is it, that he has never played a playoff game in his career, I wonder?

A pitched battle was in the meantime being contested in Minnesota between the Wild and Ducks. While Anaheim has seen some much sought after wins of late, they came up with nothing against a defensively dogged home side. Niklas Backstrom came up big between the pipes, denying the swirling Ducks any goals from 34 shots. Minnesota meanwhile scored three to win the match three-nothing.

Vancouver Canucks snapped a long losing streak the day before yesterday when they made Florida a great favor by defeating Carolina 4-3 in a rare home-ice victory. Yesterday they also announced a trade with Anaheim; receiving D Nathan McIver while giving up RW Mike Brown.

So, Vancouver are back in playoff contention and Edmonton will hope to make a similar bounce back; after losing 2-10 at home to Buffalo immediately after the All-Star break then won one (against Minnesota 3-1) and now have another two consecutive defeats (vs. Nashville 1-2 and Chicago 1-3).

The in-form team of the moment is Dallas Stars; who now have racked up five straight triumphs. This impressive streak started before the All Star break, when the Stars visited Sunrise and beat the Panthers in an imposing 4-1 fashion. They followed up this with wins against Atlanta 2-0, Detroit 4-2, Columbus 7-3 and Calgary 3-1. Early season difficulties and off-ice controversy (Sean Avery) has been overcome and the Stars are looking sharp at the moment!

Otherwise the only teams with consecutive wins or defeats, outside the top four – which look set for playoff qualification, is Nashville with two wins (against Edmonton and Phoenix, both won 2-1) and Columbus – with two defeats (again Dallas 3-7 and St. Louis 2-4).

Here is the Western Conference Standings at this time, but expect changes to occur on a daily basis…

The Western Conference Update & News.
Western Conference Standings

Pos
Team
GP
W
L
OT
GF
GA
Pts
1
San Jose Sharks
48
36
7
5
167
112
77
2
Detroit Red Wings
51
33
11
7
188
151
73
3
Calgary Flames
50
30
16
4
158
148
64
4
Chicago Blackhawks
49
28
13
8
164
124
64
5
Anaheim Ducks
54
26
23
5
152
151
57
6
Dallas Stars
49
24
18
7
146
158
55
7
Minnesota Wild
50
26
21
3
131
114
55
8
Vancouver Canucks
51
23
20
8
147
149
54
9
Edmonton Oilers
50
25
22
3
139
154
53
10
Columbus Blue Jackets
51
24
22
5
138
146
53
11
Phoenix Coyotes
53
24
24
5
134
157
53
12
Los Angeles Kings
49
21
21
7
126
137
49
13
Nashville Predators
50
23
24
3
121
142
49
14
Colorado Avalanche
51
24
26
1
142
157
49
15
St. Louis Blues
50
21
24
5
145
158
47

Flames Extinguish Sharks California Blaze

January 16th, 2009 Comments off

San Jose Sharks-vs-Calgary Flames

The start to this season for Calgary was slow and bothersome. In San Jose the victories quickly piled up and the Sharks managed to pull together a wonderful home streak; by being undefeated in regular time for no less than 11 months. When the Flames visited on November the 13th they had no better luck than anyone else. Like Tampa Bay recently, they got a real spanking and lost 6-1. Revenge was on the cards as they met again yesterday.

Calgary coach Mike Keenan said of his team’s previous visit, that they had “improved so much since that game,” and they seemed very eager to show everyone just how much they had indeed improved. One man in particular had a point to make: Dion Phaneuf. The defenseman which was brought in to get some defensive scoring on the board – hadn’t in fact got a goal in the last 26 games for the Flames. It was time to get lopsided and step in to the breaches – to breach the waters of the shark pool.

San Jose, 20-0-2 on home ice this season, swiftly circled around its prey and drew first blood with less than a minute on the clock. Ryane Clowe beat Miikka Kiprusoff, nicely fed by former Lightning Dan Boyle in the slot; it was Clowe’s 19th goal of the season. The Flames, who had beaten the Sharks last week 5-2 in Calgary, didn’t get rattled and responded well to the added challenge. The equalizer came through Chris Conroy, early in the second period, but massive Shark center Joe Thornton restored order – later that same period.

Once again however, the Calgary players came back and it was a late goal in the second period by Langkow, on the power-play, that got the all-important leveler for the Flames, behind Nabokov in the net. When coming in to the third period it was a wide open game, between two hard working and very skilled teams, and it was anyone’s guess who’d come out on top.

Determined to break San Jose’s streak, and make a statement to the rest of the Western Conference, it was the visitors that would display the greatest indomitable attitude and take the spoils back to Calgary. And who got that momentous winning, 3-2 goal?

It was Dion Phanuef, breaking that 26 game streak without scoring, and handing his team a moral boost by shattering their rival’s impressive home stand. “I think it hit a stick. All I know is that it went in,” Phanuef said of goal. “I’d been getting a lot of chances. It feels good to get one.” Undoubtedly it did, and there is no discrimination in Hockey – they all count equally – the spectacular – and the ugly ones.

In this case it was worth more than just the two points, it could be argued. The confidence gained will probably help Calgary more than the points will: “We want to keep climbing, moving up,” said Flames captain Jarome Iginla. “We want to get to the next tier.” Indeed. And this is how that’s accomplished.

As for the San Jose Sharks they played a good game, despite losing, and will surely bounce right back again. But a warning shot has been fired and Calgary can’t be ignored any longer. They have quietly improved and now look ready to step out of the Sharks – considerable – shadow in the Western Conference. The Flames won this battle, but who wins the war – remains to be seen…

Columbus New Jackets

January 14th, 2009 2 comments

Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus Blue Jackets, infamously known among Hockey fans high and wide as the only team in the league to never have made the playoffs, are experiencing a resurgence of hope. Of course they have had much less chances than most, seeing as they were awarded the NHL franchise only in the year 2000, but this could be the season that this agonizing stigma is finally erased.

Columbus is currently holding on to that valuable 8th spot in the Western Conference, following yesterday’s 4-3 victory against the Colorado Avalanche. The win was the Jackets third win – in as many tries against the Avs. Three was obviously the lucky number of the night for the Union Blue, as they scored three goals in the third – in just under 3 minutes of play.

The Ohio based club has now managed to put together an excellent team, with both star quality and nice depth. Rick Nash is the Captain and face of the franchise; again nominated for the All Star game later this month, and tops the scoring chart with 39 points (17 goals + 22 assists). Former free agent and Panther, Kristian Huselius, was the game winner against Colorado and has 28 points on the season (13+15). Columbus has another seven players above or just below the 20 point mark, making for good secondary scoring.

The exclamation point in bold however, goes to rookie goalie Steve Mason – who has the Rookie of the Year award all but in his hands – after racking up impressive goalie stats and sitting proudly atop those number in the NHL so far. In addition to this comes a youngster like Nikita Filatov; who will have many productive NHL seasons in him, if all continues to go well. There is now – real hope – of a bright future for this team.

One thing that might be lacking to the mix is veteran leadership of the kind that brings success in a hard, tight, playoff series. It has therefore come as no surprise that the club is looking around the league for reinforcements. TFP reported last week that the Blue Jackets organization was willing to add to the player roster and salary; leading to some transfer rumors emerging. Most of them have so far centered on the struggling Canadian franchises Ottawa and Toronto. Whilst they are struggling in the Eastern Conference, they do have some decent players; whether, as speculation would have it, it is Jason Spezza, Nik Antropov or someone else they have in mind – there are some possible steals to be made here.

Acquiring some new, yet proven players, to fill out the Jackets in Colombus, may be a good way to try and take the club a further step forward. But, first things first, and that playoff spot must first be subjugated. The form is good, if not to say immense even, and next up is a two game road trip – including the New Jersey Devils. Panther fans will be hoping for a Blue Jacket triumph, and if the statistics are anything to go after, Columbus should have a pretty good chance to come out on top of proceedings. The Ohioans have a 7-1-1 record against teams from the Eastern Conference; the second best among Western Conference teams, only San Jose has done better 8-1-0 (and we remember very well where that lone loss came from don’t we…)

The Columbus club has also successfully turned their Nationwide Arena in to a fort, winning 12-6-1 and outscoring opponents 53-48. In their last road trip, the longest for the season, they also managed to win 4-2-0; outscoring the opposing teams 15-9. The reason why the Blue Jackets are not higher up the standing is the slow start to the season. Much of that could however be attributed to being a consequence of making numerous trades in the pre-season. Now that the team has had time to gel, they seem to be firing on all cylinders and the race up the standings seems to have just started for the New Jackets of the 08/09 season.

The Long Awaited Debut

January 7th, 2009 1 comment

The question is, will Sundin play tonight?

Since being signed as a free agent on December 18, 2008, there has been much speculation when the Swede would make his first appearance as a Canuck. That day seems to be near, as the coach has made room for Sundin to join the line up by sending Jannik Hansen to Manitoba of the AHL.

Being out of the game for 9 months must add some uncertainties as to when the ex-Toronto captain will be back on the ice. But Sundin is a professional, having been the second-longest active serving captain in the NHL, will certainly not dissapoint, as he has expressed on the team’s site: "I’m looking forward to getting back playing the game, but at the same time I want to make sure I’m ready physically so that I can stay in the lineup and not come back too quick and get hurt or anything like that."

Surely his new team mates are eager to find out just what Mats Sundin has to offer on the ice. We shall see, possibly tonight, how he will find his rhythm and what he will bring to Vancouver NHL Hockey.

 

Blackhawks Indian Winter

December 29th, 2008 Comments off

Chicago Blackhawks eye the upcoming Winter Classic with some confidence after, a franchise record, nine straight wins.

It may be chilly in Chicago and snow a possibility for the upcoming Winter Classic, but a sense of real expectation and returning pride are warming the hearts of Hockey fans in “the Windy City”. The young braves of Chicago have discovered winning ways and don’t want to let go of that sensation. Yesterday’s victory over the Minnesota Wild gives the Blackhawks nine straight scalps. The win at the Xcel Energy Center ended 4-1 to the visitors and after the game Chicago Coach Joel Quenneville said: “You have to commend the guys on how committed and how diligent they are”.

Indeed, the Chicago players have shown themselves being not only talented, but also hard to break down and free scoring. There is a strong sense of team spirit in the Blackhawks dressing room and it is showing both on the ice and in the result column. Chicago is now only four points behind archrivals, and reigning Stanley Cup Champions, Detroit. The Blackhawks also have two games in hand on the Red Wings. This will undoubtedly make the much talked about Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, yet more anticipated.

Polls show that Chicago fans and neutrals alike, believe Chicago have a real chance to break double digits against Detroit, when it comes to maintaining their straight victory spell intact. They also show a belief that Detroit will end up behind Chicago at year’s end. The optimism isn’t without grounds, but I’m sure the Red Wings won’t want to surrender the crown without a real fight for it. The first round of greater importance will be played on Thursday. The winner will take two important points, bragging rights and real confidence of success – in to the new year.

The Blackhawks had, previous to yesterday’s game, won eight straight victories two times before; in December 1971 and January 1981. The club’s latest taste of success was in the early 90’s, but the team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1961. Indeed, with the talents coming through the Blackhawk ranks, it seems quite possible that Chicago might again witness a trophy laden early decade; in the 2010s. That’s assuming the Blackhawks can keep their emerging stars together.

Of course there isn’t anything stopping the team from making Stanley Cup headway before that point, the youngsters enthusiasm can carry a team a long way down that stretch. More realistically though; the Blackhawks might need more experience before achieving such a Cinderella run in to the playoffs. After all, they haven’t made the playoffs since an early exit in 2002 and no one knows how the players will respond to the added pressure of the games.

There is however more than one way to get experience in to the lines: Adding one or two seasoned professionals with leadership qualities and familiarity with Lord Stanley, might be the right medicine.

It was therefore not surprising to find the Blackhawks sniffing around free agent Mats Sundin this autumn. In the end he chose Vancouver instead, but there are other fish in the sea. Fellow Swede and former Blackhawk, Michael Nylander of Washington Capitals, is one that there has been much talk about being traded to Chicago. While he perhaps is not in the Sundin category of players, his familiarity with the team might make him a more viable option. Other trades have been mooted, most notably goaltender Nikolai Khabilbulin and pending free agent Martin Havlat. The problem is; when you have a winning team you don’t want to break the flow, by making interruptive trades either.

It is a tightrope of present and future considerations that Chicago must balance perfectly if they are to fulfill their potential, now or in the upcoming years. At the moment the imminent prospect of mounting achievements are great and optimism will continue to follow the young Blackhawks. It is a step by step ladder to success, and the next step could be taken on Thursday – by rising to the Winter Classic challenge – that Detroit, no doubt, will provide.