Coach Q custom building tough squad
July, 27, 2011
By Jesse Rogers | ESPNChicago.com
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesSteve Montador was a Game 7 scratch with Buffalo last season, but he's valued by the Hawks.If you're the learning type, then the 2011 Chicago Blackhawks offseason taught you a lot, starting with general manager Stan Bowman's current philosophy and ending with the type of player Joel Quenneville likes.
Bowman has made it clear: The Hawks are going to win with their core, helped out with add-ons until their prospects can be ready to be stars or role players themselves.
As for Quenneville, he quickly identified a need -- grit -- for the Hawks and then either suggested a few names or quickly signed off on the ones the Hawks brought in. Make no mistake, as in any organization there are "front office guys" and there are "coach's guys." There is always a healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) tug and pull between the suits and the sweatsuits.
So what's most important to know about this offseason of change? Its on the back end. Two names -- outside of the core -- have the potential to have the biggest impact: defensemen Steve Montador and Nick Leddy.
Montador is undoubtedly a "front office guy." And on the Hawks, that means he's a Stan/Scotty Bowman guy. The younger Bowman has talked glowingly of Montador since the day the Hawks traded for him. He admitted trying to acquire him at the trade deadline last season, and when he finally did, he spoke of his underrated game, from his offensive potential to his defensive prowess.
Who knew Montador would be the big acquisition this summer?
But did the Hawks invest too much? One front office executive from an opposing team said they had Montador slotted in the $1.6-$2 million range as an unrestricted free agent. The Hawks are paying him $2.75 million per year for four years. And right now he's penciled in as the Hawks No. 5 defenseman. That's a big commitment.
And then there is this from Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News:
"The issue on the ice is over consistency," Harrington told ESPNChicago.com. "In the first half of last season, everyone watching the Sabres was wondering why the team wasn't approaching him with the three-year extension right then and there. But his play tailed off dramatically in the second half and it seemed his confidence did too. There were big mistakes at bad times in his own end, bad decisions both with the puck and without. He got in a slump he never got out of.
"And when you're talking getting scratched in Game 7 of a playoff series, that was that, in terms of Montador coming back. No chance."
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastChicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville values tough players like Jamal Mayers.
From a healthy scratch in the biggest game of the season to a four-year multimillion dollar contract. In fairness, there are daily discrepancies between front office people within teams, let alone from team to team when it comes to scouting players. One team's refuse is another team's gold, but the point still stands: the Hawks value Montador more than most.
As for Leddy, he now takes on the role of No. 4 defenseman and will be counted on to move the puck in the style of Brian Campbell and Chris Campoli. Is it too much, too soon for the 20 year-old? Maybe. He faltered some down the stretch and now will begin his first full year in the league. There will undoubtedly be some dog days for the former first-round pick but he's essential in initiating secondary scoring when Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook aren't on the ice.
To understand the rest of the changes on the team is to understand Quenneville. He wants the chemistry his championship team displayed and is trying to get some of that back in the form of character (Jamal Mayers, Andrew Brunette, Sean O'Donnell) and mayhem (Dan Carcillo).
Those are Quenneville type guys, and Brunette and Mayers played for the Hawks coach previously. John Scott is a Quenneville guy as well but the front office spoke up when they signed players that put Scott's roster spot in jeopardy.
Still, it's Quenneville's voice that resonates the most with the changes. Their contracts may have helped move them out of town but it can't just be a coincidence that Brian Campbell, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Kopecky were not "Quenneville guys," and found their way out.
Quenneville wants tough players, either mentally or physically or both. Its why Viktor Stalberg is considered a "front office guy." He's in the mold of some that left town but he's tried to change his style. Is it enough for Quenneville? Time will tell. Ben Smith is a Quenneville guy because he is tough in all ways. Look for him to get a prime chance to play big minutes.
In the end, like a summer ago, Stan let a restricted free agent walk away and got nothing for him, but this time there was no Corey Crawford waiting in the wings. Chris Campoli might not be an All-Star but he's better than Sami Lepisto. He became more valuable when Campbell was shipped and Montador was signed but for whatever reason the Hawks drew a line in the sand with him, just as they did with Antti Niemi. With Niemi they were out of money. With Campoli, this was their choice. Why they didn't pay Montador a tad less and save some on Michael Frolik is probably a complicated answer but a savings here or there would have made Campoli easier to sign. It's about priorities and Campoli wasn't one.
So questions abound as the calendar inches to August, a notoriously quiet month around the league. Did the Hawks slow up too much or does the grit and sandpaper they added overcome the age and the lack of speed? And who will be the second line center come October and more importantly come April?
I'll need August off before tackling that last one.