Heading into tomorrow's contest, I wanted to do a feature that I had meant to do with the St. Louis Blue but just flat out forgot to get it out in time. I had wanted to do a five question survey for each of the teams in the Central Division to give some of us Wings fans a little more insight into the other squads. I think it's a pretty good way to learn more about a team and what to watch for when the teams square off.
Anyway, this first segment is with Matthew Dirt, the "Head of Cyber Division" over at the SBNation Blackhawks' site Second City Hockey. Matt was kind enough to take time out of his schedule for us so hopefully you'll do the same and read what he has to say. Also, keep comments respectful.
1. Nikolai Khabibulin was a strong point for the Blackhawks last year. Will Cristobal Huet be able to fill that void or is the gameplan similar to the Red Wings last year of trying to just outmuscle a team offensively?
SCH: That's without a doubt the biggest question many Hawk fans are asking. As we've been trying to hammer home though, Huet's numbers (2.53, .909) weren't terribly far off from Khabby's (2.33, .919). Khabby had the better year but was far from phenomenal. Very similar, Huet had stretches where he was brilliant, but he can also be maddening. In the long run though, I think Huet should be able fill-in just fine. The Hawks have improved defensively with the addition of John Madden and players like Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd improving their defensive games. Of course, the true strength of this team are the forwards - so we'll try to just outscore you most nights too. Hopefully they can do a better job of that than they did last spring.
2. Everyone in Detroit knows about Marian Hossa leaving for Chicago but Tomas Kopecky's departure was substantially less "loud". How well has Kopecky fit in the offensive plans so far and what type of expectations do people have for him?
SCH: Kopecky hasn't really done much so far to make an overall impression with the Blackhawks other than being "that other Detroit guy". The biggest thing he add is the ability to fit in at center if needed since the Hawks are fairly thin in that spot. Right now Kopecky is skating on the 4th line, which along with Ben Eager, makes for a pretty damn good 4th line. So far with the Blackhawks though, Coach Q has changed up the lines about as often people make a Patrick Kane/Cabbie joke.. so we'll see how long he stays in that spot and what his overall role will be.
3. Who is the most underrated player on the Blackhawks? In the same thought process, who is the most overrated player?
SCH: There's a few players who might be a bit underrated but we'll see how long that lasts. I mentioned Ladd and Bolland earlier, partly because I think they're two huge pieces to this team. They both played on the same line last year with Havlat on the wing. Bolland had a great year, signed a big contract and now has to go about proving that he's a #2 Center behind Toews. So far he's a great shutdown player who can come up with a big goal when needed. Ladd is the same way on the left wing. This year I expect him to focus much more on his defensive role and really frustrate other teams' stars. With all the talk about the offensive firepower - these two don't get much credit but for the Hawks to win, these two really have to live up to our expectations.
As for the most overrated - I think that might be Kris Versteeg. He was certainly an amazing surprise last year but faded out once other teams started really paying attention to him. His performance in Game 4 of the Hawks/Wings series was just shameful and I'm not sold on him the way I was in the first half of last year. A lot is being made of Dustin Byfuglien too but ask any Hawk fan and they're probably still skeptical of him. He was crucial late last season and of course in the Playoffs (Luongo still isn't the same...) but all of us are keeping an eye out for him to revert to the lazy, sloppy and disinteresed player we saw for most of last year. If he's turned a corner and is actually going to play hard all year (and so far he has 3 points in 2 games)... you'll quickly learn to hate him.
4. Which player is under the most pressure to perform well this season? A lot of people from the outside would suggest Brian Campbell but insiders might see someone else.
SCH: Campbell certainly has a lot to prove to many Hawk fans who were unhappy with his play last year but plenty of others realize he filled his role pretty well (leading the defensemen in points, helping to greatly improve the power play and filling in the spin-o-rama we've all missed since Savvy left). As I said above, Buff certainly has to prove a lot but he's so oblivious I'm not sure he really feels any "pressure". Although Havlat didn't do much in his three years here, he became absolutely adored by many in his final year - so Hossa will have some pretty big skates to fill in a few fans' eyes. And of course you may have heard of all the fun Patrick Kane got into during his summer vacation.
5. How is the front office situation following the fiasco of the summer?
SCH: All quiet on the Western Madison Ave Front. With the fiasco with the RFA contracts, the sudden and poorly timed firing of GM Dale Tallon and the PR nightmare of one of their brightest young stars beating an older working man... there isn't much room for things to get worse. So far though, Tallon's replacement, Stan Bowman, has been pretty quiet since there hasn't been much to do for him yet. Of course there's plenty of fans already reading dreading the doomsday that will be the expiring entry contracts of Kane, Toews and Duncan Keith - so I'm sure we'll hear plenty from these clowns soon. Winning forgives just about anything in professional sports though, so hopefully they'll just focus on that.
BONUS! Do people in Chicago still hate Niklas Kronwall for the hit on Martin Havlat, even following Havlat's disgruntled departure?
SCH: Yup - Still hope that someone knocks him into next week. It was technically a clean hit, I know, but I still hate him.
Once again, thanks to Matt for taking part in this and hopefully it gave you some insight to the 'Hawks.