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


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.

Video: Dylan Larkin adds to his rookie goals lead

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So far, the 2015-16 crop of rookies is living up to the hype, if not exceeding it. Connor McDavid‘s unfortunate injury hasn’t even derailed this year’s crop.

The Detroit Red Wings are watching their own blue chip blossom, as Dylan Larkin is making an instant impact.

No. 71 scored his 10th goal of the season against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, fattening his rookie goals lead.

He still needs five points to match rookie points leader Artemi Panarin, though.

Latest report leaves Carey Price’s injury timeline fuzzy

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There’s one thing we seem to know about Carey Price‘s injury situation: he first got hurt stepping on a puck on Oct. 29, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Contrary to earlier reports about him missing about a month, it sounds like his window of recovery is still up in the air (which, to be fair, could mean that he’ll still miss about a month when it’s all said and done).

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that Price underwent testing with Montreal’s team doctor on Saturday and is expected to go through more; we may not know more about his expected injury timeline until early this coming week.

So, basically, Price’s situation is fuzzier than his mustache right now.

Leg injuries can be tricky anyway, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that there are mixed signals regarding Price, and this may remain a fluid situation for some time.

(But we’ll hopefully know more soon enough.)

Lightning lament life as a .500 team

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The Tampa Bay Lightning have plenty of time to rise above mediocrity, yet it still must be deserving to finish at .500 for two straight months.

After last night’s 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders, that’s exactly where they find themselves:

Record at the end of October: 5-5-2

Record at the end of November: 11-11-3

As of this writing, the Lightning found themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. It all stands as a pretty tough thing for the reigning Eastern Conference champs to swallow.

The uncomfortable-yet-vital question is: can the Lightning break out of this funk?

Looking at their schedule, it won’t be easy, at least not right away.

They crawl through California during a three-game road trip to start December, and they also face six of eight on the road from Dec. 2 – 18.

The Lightning soak up home dates to finish 2015 after that, but what damage will be done by then?

Frankly, the Bolts will need to dig deep to break this pattern. If nothing else, they’ve fought with their backs against the wall before.

Dubinsky won’t change, and he won’t go easy on Crosby


Sometimes a suspension will shame a player, or at least inspire him to change the way he plays.

That apparently won’t happen regarding Brandon Dubinsky‘s one-game timeout session for cross-checking Sidney Crosby.

Dubinsky told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch that he won’t alter his style, whether it’s against Crosby or someone else.

“Nope,” Dubinsky said. “You know, I’ve played the same way my whole career and I’m not going to change. The next time I have an opportunity to play (Crosby), I’m going to play him hard.”

In case you’re wondering, that next opportunity comes on Dec. 21 in Pittsburgh, assuming that both players are healthy and not suspended.

One can understand Dubinsky’s perspective, although such honesty would be that much more interesting if there’s another incident with Crosby. His initial reaction to the hit was interestingly candid, admitting that his “stick rode up” on his adversary.

Would that stance – which, from a harsher view, might seem flippant to Dubinsky’s critics – open the door for a bigger future bit of a discipline?

Maybe, maybe not … but at least his comments aren’t as inflammatory as what John Tortorella said (at least on the record).