No need for a clever lead-in this week. All we need is a single image:
Let’s rip the Band-Aid off right away: Patrick Kane will be out for 12 weeks, and the Blackhawks are in deep trouble. Any team who loses a league-leading scorer is going to take a hit. And while it’s unlikely that Chicago misses the playoffs, they suddenly look at lot less dangerous come playoff time. The first two rounds of the playoff will be against teams from the league’s toughest division — Nashville is obscene, St. Louis is a gritty rival, Winnipeg has been Chicago’s Achilles’ heel this season.
The truth is that Chicago can’t replace Kane. Even if they could somehow get someone like Phil Kessel, he’s still not Patrick Kane. Nobody is. But we do have Teuvo. He’s not Kane, either, but this is the perfect type of scenario for him to prove himself during a crisis.
Teuvo will have to be the answer, because if Chicago makes a trade, they need it to be on the blue line, not the forward corps.
Broken Blue Line
Kane’s injury is big news around the league, but he’s only one player. One dangerous, creative player who’s a face of the NHL and U.S. hockey, but still one player. He’s not a pair of defensemen at a time when Chicago traded away it’s best young blue liner.
Nick Leddy is gone, has been gone since the pre-season. He’s anchoring the top defensive pair for the Islanders, who just signed Leddy to a long-term deal. But the Blackhawks seemed okay — Trevor van Riemsdyk was pretty solid for a sixth defenseman, and Michal Rozsival was still getting only bottom-pair minutes. With Ville Pokka in the wings, Chicago might be okay. It might’ve worked out…
But then TvR suffered a long-term injury. The replacements from Rockford were uneven, and Coach Q started leaning more heavily on the top two pairs, or giving Rozsival more ice time. The former risks fatigue, the latter risks any semblance of good defense. Since the start of the year, we’ve seen both scenarios, and Chicago has treaded water.
Now Johnny Oduya is injured, which means that we risk seeing Rozsival playing 20+ minutes a game. The nightmare scenario is upon us, but what are the Blackhawks going to offer up for a top-four defenseman? Almost all their top prospects from recent years are now on Eastern Conference teams. The last such prospect was traded for a defenseman that Coach Q has no interest in playing.
UPDATE: Well, look at that. The Blackhawks traded their top-scoring defenseman in the AHL, in exchange for a high-potential winger who’s having an off year in the AHL. Not sure why, though maybe Chicago’s GM thinks that Brennan would fall into the Morin/Clendening/etc trap — that he’s near-ready for the NHL, but he’s buried behind Johns, Pokka, Rundblad, and TvR? Or maybe Abbott is trade bait for another deal? I guess we’ll see.
Thing is, the ‘Hawks aren’t the only team facing injures and mediocre play. One of the joys of sports fandom is the schadenfreude spectating, reveling in the joy of watching a team you can’t stand as it loses. I’m not talking about cheering against teams whose loss would improve your team’s standings — no, this is reserved for the teams that make you feel good when they play bad.
My antipathy towards the Dallas Stars is a good example. The rivalry between St. Louis and Chicago transcends a single sport, so you know the Blues fans enjoy that mid-to-late part of every season when the Blackhawks sputter along in mediocrity. (Likewise, Chicago fans delight in the fact that, despite the sputtering, the Blues still can’t seem to beat the ‘Hawks of late.) Why, even the editor of this very site is a Minnesota Wild fan solely because of schadenfreude: the joy of watching friend’s beloved Avalanche falter against the underdog Wild. (Editor’s Note: Damn skippy, suck it Avs, I’m in perpetual motion because I’m perpetually WILD FOR THE WILD. – Travis)
It is with this feeling in mind that I’m watching the final wild card spot in the East. Back at the beginning of the year, I picked the Maple Leafs to hold on against the Bruins for this spot because:
- I thought it was hilarious for an archenemy to get in ahead of the big, bad Bruins, and
- I thought Luongo and the Panthers actually sneaking in ahead of Boston was just too far-fetched.
Instead, the Maple Leafs have imploded, and are now being sold off for spare parts. But somehow the Florida Panthers are only two points behind Boston with only ¼ of the season to go. Last week, I was watching Bruins-Oilers updates with popcorn and beer, because it was better than a damn movie. Boston salvaged a point, but the shootout was ridiculous. Watching Chara take his turn was riveting — not because he scored, but because I’m glad in that moment I wasn’t the Oilers’ goalie.
Boston lost the shootout to the woeful Oilers, extending the Bruins losing streak to five. Their lambasting of Chicago a few days later was only their second win of February. Things do not look good for Homestar Runner– er, Boston. It’s still true that Florida isn’t a playoff-calibre team, but watching them try to overtake Boston will hopefully entertain me through the next 22 games. It may even get me over the loss of Patrick Kane. Maybe. Probably not.
The Deadline Approacheth
Something needs to keep me entertained, be it hate-cheering or the ascendance of Teuvo carrying the ‘Hawks into the playoffs on the wings of his dragon steed. I’m pretty sure this season’s trade deadline, however, will not be very entertaining.
We’ve already seen a big trade, wherein the Jets traded an injured and frustrated Evander Kane to the tanking Sabres. That same day, Buffalo also traded their goalie for the Stars’ backup. With another forward succumbing to injury, the Jets also recently traded picks to the Hurricanes for Jiri Tlusty. Not bad.
What else… the Maple Leafs traded away a defensive forward (Winnik) to the Penguins, and a couple of defensemen (Franson, Santorelli) to the Predators (huh?). The Canadiens and Ducks swapped young wingers. The Wild sent a draft pick to Florida for a journeyman winger. The L.A. Kings traded a first-round pick for young defensemen (Andrej Sekera) from the Hurricanes. UPDATE: Hey, Jagr just went to Florida for draft picks. Huh.
With the exception of
that last one those last two, the excitement has been lacking. And there’s reason to believe that the ho-hum nature will continue through next week’s trade deadline. I could really use SOMETHING exciting right now.
Hey, now, what’s this happening in Ottawa?
Andrew Hammond Ascendant
The Ottawa Senators suffered not only the loss of their starting goalie, but then their backup suffered a concussion. The Sens turned to their third-string (AHL) goalie, a BGSU alum named Andrew Hammond. In his first start last Wednesday, Hammond made 42 saves in the win against Montreal. He then out-played Luongo and the Panthers for his second straight win. Last night Hammond shut out the mighty (though slipping) Ducks, 3-0.
As a fellow BGSU alum, this is a spot of happiness for me. It’s been a rollercoaster year for fans of my alma mater. After the BGSU Falcon team this year shot up to being ranked in the top ten of NCAA, they’ve dropped — losing three straight to fall in the rankings, and guaranteeing no better than a 3rd-place finish in the WCHA. Still better than expected at the beginning of the season, but…
In the NHL, the few BGSU alumni have been out of sight. Kevin Bieksa is on injured reserve, Dan Bylsma still isn’t coaching, and I think someone abducted George McPhee. Sure, I can see Mike Johnson on the NHL Network, or Doc Emrick on NBC, and Brian MacLellan seems to be ably filling the McPhee’s former role… but what about on the ice?
Enter Andrew Hammond, who’s had one helluva first week as a starting NHL goalie. Against two first-place teams and a young team fighting for a playoff spot, he’s given the Senators their first winning streak in 2015. Whatever happens elsewhere, I’ll be watching Ottawa in the hope Hammond continues to shine, and maybe gets the chance to backup or start in the NHL next year.