“Even if the lockout ends quickly, there’s still no guarantees that I’m going to find work this year,” O’Donnell told ESPN.com Wednesday. “And if I don’t, I think I had a pretty good career. But you can say 100 percent sure that if this goes long or we miss the whole year, then my career is done. But it’s one of those things where you have to think what’s best for the union.”
We’ve heard from guys like Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne worry that time marching on will ruin their shot at playing one more year as well. For guys like O’Donnell though, they’re in an even tougher spot because they’re not stars who can still fill the score sheet.
Missing out on the chance to end your career on your own terms is something that would only strengthen O’Donnell’s resolve to help the players’ union get the best deal.
If there was an upside to Chicago’s disappointing season it’s that they could score goals plenty. They finished sixth in the league in goals for and had five players score 20 or more with a sixth player (Dave Bolland) end the year with 19. Patrick Sharp topped the team with 33 and survived a season that saw captain Jonathan Toews miss 23 games with injury. While Patrick Kane went through the motions, Marian Hossa had a huge year up until Raffi Torres took his head off in the playoffs.
Chicago’s main problems came in goal, however, thanks to a season filled with regression for starter Corey Crawford. His goals against average jumped by almost half a goal and his save percentage fell off 14 points compared to last season. Ray Emery was perfectly mediocre as his backup. While both guys saw spurts where they looked like they’d seize control of the starting job, they both turned out to be just average.
The Blackhawks bring back virtually the same team as last year. A fully healthy Toews and a more focused Kane can help pick up the offense even more. If Hossa can return to full speed after his massive concussion in the playoffs would be huge. Chicago still hasn’t figured out what to do about a No. 2 center, however. Even the Capitals found a way to address that issue finally.
On defense, things are strong as ever. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are studs while Nick Leddy brings hope he can become their permanent second pairing fixture. Chicago could use a bounce back season from Niklas Hjalmarsson, however, as the remainder of the blue line corps shapes up to be a slew of third-pairing guys. Maybe rookie Dylan Olsen can rise to the challenge.
Goal remains a major question mark with both Crawford and Emery returning. No wonder why the Blackhawks have been sniffing around at Roberto Luongo’s availability. The thought of him donning the black and red has been haunting Hawks fans all summer. On the upside, the rest of the Central Division saw big losses and have lots of questions. Staying pat might’ve been GM Stan Bowman’s best move.
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O’Donnell, the NHL’s third-oldest player, likely done in Chicago
“There are no hard feelings, but I think it’s one and done,” O’Donnell said of tenure in Chicago. “I saw a situation where I thought I could help the Blackhawks. It didn’t quite work.”
O’Donnell signed a one-year, $825,000 deal with the ‘Hawks last summer in the hopes of adding depth to the blueline as a third-pairing guy. Then plan never came to fruition — he played just 51 regular season games and two playoff contests — but the 19-year veteran figures he can still play in the league.
“I would like to play; I think I showed I can still play in the right circumstance,” O’Donnell said. “Maybe I’m not even an 82-game guy or a 20-minute guy. But the right fit, a good system…hopefully I can play.”
It’ll be interesting to see if O’Donnell has any takers. In 2010-11, he was a key contributor to the Flyers, appearing in all 82 games (and all 11 in the playoffs) while recording 18 points — the second-highest total of his career.
O’Donnell “proud” of whatever influence he had over Doughty
After drafting Drew Doughty in 2008, the Los Angeles Kings acquired Sean O’Donnell from Anaheim to provide their young investment with a veteran presence. O’Donnell went on to worked with Doughty during his rookie and sophomore campaigns.
“He’s a very smart player,” O’Donnell said. “He was a little bit raw when he came in and I would try to tell him, ‘This is what this guy likes to do,’ or, ‘On a 3 on 2, let’s play it this way.’ And he just got it. He understood why. You explained it, he got it and he stuck with it.”
All the same, O’Donnell downplayed his role in Doughty’s success.
“It’s almost like a teacher who gets a kid in Grade 5 or 6 and they go on to great things. You watch with admiration and you’re proud, and you’re happy you were able to help. But he was going to be a great player no matter who played with him,” said O’Donnell. “He’s doing things I could never imagine on the ice. Just to see that raw player when he came to L.A.; if I had a one percent influence, it makes you proud.”
O’Donnell is scheduled be an unrestricted free agent this summer and, at the age of 40, it’s not clear what the future holds. Still, he’s won a Stanley Cup, played in 1,224 regular season games, and one of the young defensemen he helped along the way has a bright future ahead of him.
“Norm has proven to be a valuable asset to our hockey operations over the past five years, so we are excited to be able to elevate him to this role,” Bowman said in a statement posted on the team website. “He has an excellent handle on the players within our organization, from recent draft picks to veterans, and a great eye for talent evaluating.”
A journeyman NHL blueliner (stops in New York, Hartford, Edmonton, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg and Phoenix), Maciver promises to have his hands full this summer.
The draft is just over a month away and the ‘Hawks have a number of free agent decisions to make. A number of veteran UFAs — Andrew Brunette, Brendan Morrison, Jamal Mayers, Sean O’Donnell, Sami Lepisto and Johnny Oduya — could be retained on the cheap or be jettisoned in favor of younger players on entry-level deals.