Today, in anticipation of the Red Wings and Blackhawks game, we're talking with Sam Fels of Second City Hockey. Sam is one of the writers over at Second City Hockey and the editor of The Committed Indian, SCH's game guide. Sam was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer some questions for us and well, here they are.
WIM: It feels good, doesn't it?
Sam: Gets better every day. All those years I spent in the Stadium standing room, all the dreck I watched, all those stinging playoff defeats (why aren't you covering Mario F'n Lemieux, Larmer?), they now have context.
WIM: What was the defining REGULAR season moment for the Blackhawks last year? What was the moment that as a fanbase made you go "this is our year"?
Sam: I'm sure everyone has a different for one, for me it was the night before Thanksgiving and the mauling of San Jose in San Jose. It was Hossa's first game, there had been build-up for a week about how this was our first true test, and how this is when the Sharks would also prove they were different. And the Hawks just rolled them over. That's when I knew this team was going all the way.
WIM: The biggest story this offseason for the Blackhawks has to be the mass exodus. Which player loss stings the most?
Sam: Sadly, there's a lot of options for this answer. However, I'd like to dispel a popular myth going around by saying it most certainly will not be Dustin Byfuglien. While he seems like a swell guy, Buff spent 82 games wandering around the ice like some dude people-watching in a public park, and then had maybe five to six good games, most of which coming against the basketcase that is Roberto Luongo. When he saw a real d-man in the playoffs, say Shea Weber or Chris Pronger, he was nowhere to be found. As for who it will be? Sopel was an ace Pk-er, Ladd just had all around smarts, but I'll go with Kris Versteeg. It's rare you can have someone that skilled outside your Top-6, though someone that dumb outside your Top 6 isn't so rare. But he really ramped up his defensive game and was excellent on the kill, and scored some big goals. That's hard to replace.
The rest of Sam's answers are after the jump.
WIM: Where do the Blackhawks stand in net? Huet's off eating Toblerones and Niemi joined the Sharks. Turco will see the bulk of the time in net I'm assuming but is there a goalie the Hawks have waiting in the wings for the opportunity to push through?
Sam: Yeah, Corey Crawford. They've been waiting for him for like four years. He's always looked reasonably solid in his few outings up at the top level, this will be his first real look. We'll all find out together. Hopefully, he at least proves he can take 25-30 starts to keep an aging Turco fresh. As far as Turco over Niemi, most everyone around here thinks it's a push, as I do. But Turco's puck handling ability could be really wonderful combined with the speed of Keith and Campbell (when he's healthy again).
WIM: Is this a big year for Coach Q? He's got a lot tougher coaching job this year than last year in terms of the talent on the roster so how does he follow up last season?
Sam: By being elected mayor? He certainly has a tougher job this year, but what Q has done best in his time here is show a young team how to play a total game, and he'll get to do that even more so now with Stalberg, Morin, Leddy, Makarov, and Beach all going to see some time, as well as Jack Skille. The man turned Kris Versteeg into a real player, anything's possible.
WIM: I don't mean to beat a dead horse but the roster changes have been huge. Who's one guy that the Hawks have brought up/added that is going to be a player to watch this season?
Hard to say, but the one who's turning heads right now is Jeremy Morin. He came in the Buff deal, and was the Thrash's #1 prospect. He's gotten time with Sharp and Kane in the preseason, and has shown a real nose for the net and the ability to create his own shot. He's only 19, but it looks like he's going to start the year here. Back up candidate is Jack Skille, our first round pick who's time needs to be now. He'll at least by a good third-liner.
WIM: Who will produce more points: Toews or Kane?
Sam: Kane (assuming he's in the neighborhood of sober) will produce more points but Toews will be more important.
WIM: Can we have Duncan Keith? We'll give you Jonathan Ericsson.
Sam: I'll get right on that.
WIM: I know that you are a long time Blackhawk fan. Do you hate the stigma that a lot of the newer fans give the team as a "bandwagon fanbase"?
Sam: Considering how they increase my profit margin, not at all! In all honesty, it's part of the package, isn't it? How many people accuse Penguins fans of the same thing? And frankly, I think it's hard for anyone outside Chicago to understand just how much fans were turned away under Old Man Wirtz. You just can't fathom a worse run franchise. So a lot of these people are jumping on the bandwagon so much as coming back to a team that actively shunned them. But any winning team garners it's share of people just wanting to be around "what's hot", so getting upset about it amounts to shouting at the rain.
WIM: Where do you think the Blackhawks will finish this year?
Sam: Honestly, I don't think too far off from last year. Toews and Kane are 22 and 21, so they still have a lot of room to grow. Keith and Seabrook and Hjalmarsson aren't exactly old either, along with Bolland and Sharp and Brouwer. Oh, and then there's that guy who wears #81. They'll have an up and down start while they figure out some lineup issues and deal with Campbell's injury. Once things shakeout I expect a neck and neck battle with you lot for the division. landing either the #3 or #4 seed. From there, it's dependent on health and who you draw in the playoffs, but I'm certainly not going to say another parade in June is an impossibility.
WIM: BONUS: Do you hate Detroit less? I know sometimes that hatred diminishes after a championship because the fans think more about the "glory" of their team than the hated rival.
Sam: Personally, yes, I do. But Hawks fans in general? I doubt it. That inferiority complex is a very strong one and won't be knocked down in one season. The "Detroit Sucks!" chants will be in full throat on Banner Raising Night. But yeah, I think the Cup has dimmed it ever so slightly.
Thanks again to Sam for taking time out to answer us, even if I did ask some stupid questions.