2010 Stanley Cup finals: Don't expect the same 'Hawks next year

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Thumbnail image for 2-niemi.jpgBack in March, I took an in-depth look at the looming Chicago Blackhawks cap crisis. The actual cap commitments are the same, as you can see in this breakdown of the 2010-11 scenario. (Numbers from CapGeek.com)

Chicago’s 2010-11 cap commitments (some cap hits rounded up for simplicity):

Forwards (9 of 12 spots covered): Toews (6.3); Kane (6.3); Hossa (5.28); Sharp (3.9); Bolland (3.38); Versteeg (3.08); Byfuglien (3); Kopecky (1.2); Brouwer (1.03)

Defense (4 of 6): Campbell (7.14); Keith (5.54); Seabrook (3.5); Sopel (2.33)

Goalies (1 of 2): Huet (5.63)

With three forwards, 2 defensemen and 1 goalie needed, the Hawks would still be about $800,000 over next year’s cap … and the cap could go down next season.

Before we go further, here’s a list of the team’s restricted and unrestricted free agents. Significant players in bold.

Johnsson, Kim UFA
Madden, John UFA
Boynton, Nick UFA
Burish, Adam UFA
Greentree, Kyle UFA
Richmond, Danny UFA
Cullimore, Jassen UFA
Petiot, Richard UFA
Cullen, Mark UFA
Bois, Danny UFA
Ladd, Andrew RFA
Skille, Jack RFA
Eager, Ben RFA
Davis, Nathan RFA
Brophey, Evan RFA
Niemi, Antti RFA
Brennan, Mike RFA
Fraser, Colin RFA
Hjalmarsson, Niklas RFA
Hendry, Jordan RFA
Toivonen, Hannu RFA
Sawyer, Jean-Claude RFA
Hobson, Adam RFA
MacArthur, Peter RFA
Bickell, Bryan RFA

Antti Niemi’s ascent

Far and away, the free-agent-to-be whose stock rose the most is the Finnish goalie Niemi. After a very nice regular season, he’s making a name for himself as the Blackhawks’ clear No. 1. Niemi is 12-4 with a 2.33 GAA and 92.1 save percentage in the playoffs.

As I listed above, the Blackhawks are already over the current cap going into next season and have a staggering six roster spots to fill. Niemi doesn’t have much of a track record, but judging by the fact that Chicago splurged $5.62 million on Cristobal Huet, who’s to say a team won’t throw big money at Niemi?

It honestly might take paying Huet to go to the minors (or loaning him out to the KHL) to even consider keeping him around.

More analysis of what’s changed in Chicago after the jump.


The Byfuglien effect?

Before the playoffs, Dustin Byfuglien was often pointed to as trade bait. After all, he was the team’s most frustrating player, right?

Now he’s the talk of the town. The unexpected hero. He has four GWGs in the playoffs, so far, and even won the last two games for Chicago. He was also a big thorn in the side of the Vancouver Canucks in the second round.

Perhaps the Blackhawks could do what would be very painful, and use Byfuglien to get rid of an albatross like Cristobal Huet or Brian Campbell. It’s sort of like tricking your dog to take medicine by putting it in food. Or something.

On the verge of change

So what does this all mean? One of the biggest advantages the Blackhaws possess is their insane depth. While Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and now Byfuglien receive most of the acclaim, the team also counts on production from players such as Kris Versteeg and Patrick Sharp.

Chances are – unless the cap goes up a lot – the team will depend heavily upon their top dogs. While NHL teams can live off of firepower, my guess is that things will be a lot tougher for the Blackhawks going forward.

That’s why, despite being stocked with young talent, this might be Chicago’s best chance of winning a Cup.

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings

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PROJECTED LINES

BRUINS

Forwards

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciAnders Bjork

Danton HeinenRiley NashDavid Backes

Tim SchallerSean KuralyNoel Acciari

Defensemen

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy

Torey KrugBrandon Carlo

Matt GrzelcykPaul Postma

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask 

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins, Red Wings do battle in Atlantic Division clash

RED WINGS

Forwards

Anthony ManthaDylan LarkinTomas Tatar

Justin AbdelkaderHenrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist

Luke GlendeningFrans NielsenDarren Helm

Martin FrkAndreas AthanasiouLuke Witkowski

Defensemen

Danny DeKeyserMike Green

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Niklas KronwallNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

Senators keep saying just enough of the wrong things

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Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion addressed a wide variety of subjects today, and he mostly said what needed to be said, but also left the door open just enough to allow all sorts of sadness to slip through.

Shortly after Erik Karlsson described listing the 10 teams he’d accept a trade to as a “formality” and after he walked back/spun comments about free agency, Dorion came close to saying what he should about the mega-star defenseman.

The good: Dorion said he wants Karlsson “to be a Senator for life” (via NHL.com’s Chris Stevenson) or at least 10 years (via TSN’s Ian Mendes).

Not as good: The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch notes that Dorion did say that the team is listening in calls about all players.

Now, look, many GMs will say that they’re listening and may even actually scribble down offers, even if they have no intention of making a trade. And, as Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin shows us, a GM could say “I will not trade P.K. Subban (for example)” and then trade him days later.

Still, with the temperature rising in Ottawa … maybe an even more emphatic “No” would have been more effective here? Just saying.

Dorion also addressed this doozy of a Kyle Turris quote from Josh Clipperton of the Canadian Press. Here’s what Turris said first:

“It’s tough because I think management did want to sign me, but I think that the owner didn’t. And that was his decision,” Turris said.

Yeah, not good.

There are many rumor swirling around Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, whether he ends up retaining his ownership status or not. It’s no secret, really, that Ottawa has been a budget-conscious franchise at times, which certainly brings into question whether they can stomach paying Karlsson what he actually deserves. Especially if things don’t settle down.

Dorion did what he could to affirm his shot-calling strength to the media, as Mendes and others report:

“Everything in the hockey department goes through me, not Mr. Melnyk,” Dorion said.

Speaking of the hockey department, Dorion also noted that a coaching change won’t happen.

Personally speaking, this is the area where it’s easiest to see eye-to-eye with Dorion. While Guy Boucher’s leanings, from the 1-3-1 and on, frequently make for yawn-inducing hockey, it’s difficult to quibble with the results. In a way, Boucher might be so effective that he’s put himself in a pickle: by creating a mirage with such a strong run, many likely expected the Senators to keep pulling rabbits out of hats.

We’ve seen plenty of Jack Adams winners become victims of past successes. In some cases, they got there through sheer luck. With Boucher, it might be a mix of shrewdness and luck, and now that luck is fading away.

Long story short, firing Boucher would be foolish when he’s likely made Dorion and others look smart.

Amusingly enough, you could apply a similar logic to the dangers of trading Erik Karlsson. The superb Swede is the sort of talent who can camouflage a lot of issues; moving him would essentially be an admission of defeat, as you’re simply not going to get a fair return in any EK swap. The only sensible situation in which a Karlsson trade happens would be if you went into a rebuild, and it could be a grim one in that.

Speaking of grim, that remains the best way to describe the current state of affairs for the Senators, who are suffering from dealing with tough situations but also, in some cases, from self-inflicted wounds.

But hey, much like when Paul MacLean spoke of his kid’s use of Taylor Swift lyrics, at least Dorion’s kid is having a good time with all of this. Kind of:

That might not be so easy to shake off.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Celebrating Lundqvist’s remarkable career as he nears 20,000 saves

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When it comes to impressive milestones, some numbers register with players, fans, and media more than others.

With that in mind, it’s not overly shocking that Henrik Lundqvist essentially shrugged his shoulders when he was informed that he’s on the verge of 20,000 saves, which would make him the 15th goalie to do so. NHL.com’s Dan Rosen reports that Lundqvist admits he’s more interested in wins (and you can be certain more interested in a certain large, silver thing you can drink and eat out of.)

“It means a lot to me to be up there with those names,” Lundqvist said. “The amount of saves, I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about that number. I’m happy I’ve been able to play a lot of hockey throughout my 12 and a half seasons here. That’s pretty much the only thought I get when I hear 20,000 saves.”

Lundqvist needs four stops to reach that mark, in case you’re counting.

Rosen recently provided perspective that should really cement that Lundqvist isn’t merely accruing volume: “King Henrik” is slated to allow the lowest total of goals of any netminder who’s collected 20,000 saves. Lundqvist comes into tonight’s game with 1,748 goals allowed, while Jacques Plante is the current gold standard in that regarding, giving up 1,960.

Lundqvist notes that he’s happy to have played a lot of hockey, and that brings something else to mind: how remarkable a success story he really is.

It’s easy to forget that the Rangers drafted Lundqvist in the seventh round (205th overall) back in 2000. You don’t hear Lundqvist’s name mentioned all that often when people discuss all-time draft steals, perhaps because goalies are tough to project and possibly also because he took off almost the instant he hit the NHL.

In 2005-06, Lundqvist managed a sparkling .922 save percentage in 53 games as a rookie, helping the Rangers make the playoffs. He really never looked back, and Hank is really starting to pile up milestones, all while managing a fantastic .920 career save percentage.

Maybe that’s also part of the reason this is such a “meh” thing for Lundqvist: he’s probably getting bored when it comes to setting high marks.

Two other interesting goalie milestones

While Lundqvist has been the model for consistent brilliance for more than a decade, two other veteran goalies are reaching or have reached fairly significant milestones, even as their careers have been far more turbulent.

In each case, we’re talking about 300 career wins.

Carolina Hurricanes stalwart Cam Ward already accomplished that task, as his team’s 3-2 shootout win against the Vegas Golden Knights marked his 300th W.

It’s been an odd career for Ward, who started off hot as the 25th pick of the 2002 NHL Draft. As you almost certainly remember, Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie, taking over for the Hurricanes mid-playoff-run (after a weak regular season for Ward) and helping them to a shocking Stanley Cup. How bizarre is it to realize that both Ward and Lundqvist would diverge after sensational starts to their NHL careers? Considering where they were drafted, many probably would have tabbed Ward to be the guy with great year-in, year-out numbers, yet he’s instead floundered, sitting with backup-like career save percentage of .909.

Still, he has that championship ring, so there’s at least one area where he’d draw Lundqvist’s envy.

The third goalie of note was taken before Ward in the 2002 NHL Draft, as Kari Lehtonen‘s walked an odd path since going second overall that year.

There were flashes of genius during his early days, yet injuries and inconsistency marred his Atlanta Thrashers run with disappointment. His time with the Dallas Stars has been mixed, as he’s gone from a goalie who often carried an over-matched team to a netminder who, along with Antti Niemi, often held the Stars back.

(Many will, fairly, point out that Lehtonen’s play dipped noticeably after concussion issues, opening another “what if?” door for the occasionally star-crossed goalie.)

Either way, he aims for win 300 of his own tonight, as he’s getting back-to-back games as the Stars face the Islanders.

As an aside, one might find it interesting that Kari Lehtonen currently boasts the same average save percentage of .912 between his Stars and Thrashers years. Maybe he’s just been secretly consistent?

Ultimately, this could be quite the week for goalie milestones, even if certain marks might be met with a shrug by the netminders in question.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers, Sabres show personality in ‘Road to Winter Classic’ debut

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All apologies to Epix, but “The Road to the Winter Classic” series just feels right heading to NBCSN.

The documentary series that gave us memorable moments like Bruce Boudreau avowing his love for ice cream, Boudreau unleashing a fugue state of locker-room profanities, and also great moments not featuring Boudreau is set to debut at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN tonight, spotlighting the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres as they approach the outdoor extravaganza.

[2018 Winter Classic: Sabres vs. Rangers]

For fans who want to see more personality from hockey players, this is manna from heaven. The good stuff goes beyond that, really, as sports documentaries are almost always fun to watch, but it only gets better when the NHL is involved.

To whet your appetite for well-filmed and well-scored peeks behind the curtain, enjoy some teasers for the first episode.

In the video above this post’s headline, you’ll note Alain Vigneault and the Rangers discussing things getting back on track as the team adjusts to a different core, including the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk.

The best stuff, for me at least, comes when there’s humor, and that’s where the next couple of videos shine.

First, we have some nice self-effacing fun from Zach Bogosian, who provides much of the banter for the Sabres’ charity bowling event:

Next, here’s some fun-goofy footage of Rangers players taking the subway to practice:

Note: the NHL should mandate that players wear their uniforms in more inorganic situations, as that’s always fun. Plus it really would align with the advertising practice of having hockey players in their sweaters, even when they’re at restaurants or making toast.

Anyway, “Road to the Winter Classic” should be a good time, and should find a fitting home on NBCSN. It should pair well with tonight’s Bruins – Red Wings game, which you can read more about here.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.