Hawks have lineup issues, injury concerns, in house tension - KMSP-TV

Hawks have lineup issues, injury concerns, in house tension

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

At long last the NHL hockey season is about to begin as the puck will drop on January 19 with the Blackhawks traveling to play the Los Angeles Kings.

Seemingly, like others over the last few years the players were forced to change their salary structure to be more favorable toward management. Actually there were no clear winners in this lockout. Certainly not NHL fans who supported the sport more than ever, but had no choice but to endure a prolonged work stoppage.

Debating who the bigger villain was, Gary Bettman or NHLPA leader Donald Fehr, is like arguing over favorite colors. The most striking point was how divided NHL owners appeared to be.

My thinking was much of the Lockout was about owners needing to protect themselves from each other. That appears to be true although it is obvious there has been a shift in power concerning decision making. To my surprise big market franchises, including the Blackhawks could be effected down the road.

Owners who spent to the hilt and signed free agents to long term front loaded contracts could have big issues in years to come. We will have time to look into specifics once the ink dries on the CBA agreement but some owners can't be too happy. In the end the players made sacrifices, as they always do, but at least this process won't happen again for another eight to ten years.

Let's recap how the Blackhawks ended last season.

The Hawks were a first round playoff casualty for the second time in as many seasons. It would be easy to point a finger at an injury to Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews still being hampered by concussion symptoms. Fans can also look toward a couple of bad goals by Corey Crawford as the difference. In reality, not the more talented club, but the one who could play their system with the best goal tending advanced.

It also should be remembered when the Blackhawks were flying high in the first few months of the season the injury bug had not bitten at all. Then injuries came in bunches later, but true Stanley Cup contenders are able to overcome adversity. Look no further than Cup Finalists, the New Jersey Devils. Their star forward Ilya Kovalchuk battled through a herniated disc issue ever since the second round of the playoffs. All in all the Blackhawks had far fewer injuries to contend with throughout the season than many teams.

What appears to be the case is the Hawks are a club searching for a style of play, or an identity. Certainly the fast paced, puck possession style doesn't fit this squad as well as it did the 2010 Cup winners. Actually the Hawks were not able to average scoring more than two goals per game in last year's playoffs.

The same can be said when they tightened things up defensively in the last couple of months of the regular season. It should be noted after February 1, 2012 the Blackhawks scored on average, only two goals per game in regulation. Unless Corey Crawford turns into a standout goal keeper, capturing points by scoring two goals per game will be a difficult challenge

To make matters worse, dysfunction on the Blackhawks coaching staff as well as some head butting between GM Stan Bowman and Head Coach Joel Quenneville surfaced. To get called out in the spring as a "dysfunctional organization" on a Hockey Night in a Canada telecast must have made club President John McDonough and owner Rocky Wirtz cringe. To think all will be well and everyone will be on the same page because Assistant Coach Mike Haviland was fired is probably wishful.

So the Blackhawks are caught between a head coach that hasn't been able to utilize his roster properly and a GM that hasn't provided the necessary talent for a long playoff run. Place blame where you like, but this team has a high priced core in place and they should be able to survive past the first round of the playoffs.

This season will also present new challenges for the Hawks. The schedule will be compressed, with not much time to practice. All games will be played against Western Conference foes and a four game losing streak could feel like the end of the world. Parlay all of those factors, along with injuries as well as concussion concerns with star players and the 2013 campaign should be well worth watching.

Al's Shots

Last season the trade deadline was basically a non-event. This time, with a shorter compacted schedule one could conclude more teams will be battling for the final playoff spot in each Conference. A tightly bunched race will make it more difficult to construct 11th hour deals.

I'm not saying Bowman didn't try to pull off a trade last year but I think it is safe to say he was late to the party. Bowman loved his guys and sat on close to $5 million in salary cap space.

Being fiscally responsible has value but last year was wide open. I wrote from December on this would be the time to take a big swing and Bowman never appeared urgent. The result was a #6 and #8 seed battled in the Cup Finals.

This season the Hawks have many of the same holes which were apparent in April. Bowman will probably have to add more than two depth defensemen to make a difference.

If you are looking for trade possibilities off the current roster, consider Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy and Dave Bolland. Trading any of those players would create a hole, but the Hawks may take a chance if a true second line center is available or possibly a highly thought of goalie. The bigger trade acquisitions may have to include one or two of Bowman's highly thought of prospects. Up until now he has resisted that temptation.

My whispers indicate, Ted Dent, Rockford Ice Hog Head Coach has been getting a great deal of "input" from Quenneville and the Hawk front office. Too many hands in the pot can spoil the soup. To Dent's credit he has been very open about the apparent interference from Chicago.

My sources indicate the Chicago influence isn't modest. It involves dictating line combination a well as power play time for certain players. The same type of micro managing is not the common course for many franchises.

Here is quote from Dent in a December 19 article by Chris Block of the Third Man In.com. Block is involved in a conversation concerning coaching decisions with Dent as he does a diligent job of covering the Ice Hogs.

"That's just different positions from Chicago," said Ted Dent when asked about sudden lineup changes over the weekend.

Says Block…..Over the course of the season, Dent had to shift line combinations and defense pairings based on recommendations, or instructions, he's received in conversations with upper management and the Chicago Blackhawks coaching staff.

Hawks brass has been desperately looking to find another center in Rockford. Winger Jimmy Hayes was tried at center and the results were not good. The experiment may have cost Hayes an opportunity to make the big club out of camp. He has stained the score sheet with only two assists in his last 16 games.

I'm back and looking forward to writing about the Hawks trials and tribulations this season. They have a group of veteran stars so maybe they will thrive in a shortened season.

Follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia, and tell your friends as the columns will keep coming.

You probably won't always agree but I will give you some different angles to think about.

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