Chicago Blackhawks: Andrew Brunette
In terms of roster turnover, the Blackhawks have been quiet this summer, and maybe that’s a good thing.
It could mean the Blackhawks’ young players are actually ready to take the next step. And considering the uninspiring group of veterans general manager Stan Bowman has added to augment his core group since the team won the Stanley Cup, the Hawks can’t do much worse.
Think about this list of names and what those players are doing now: Nick Boynton (out of hockey), Ryan Johnson (without a team/out of hockey), Fernando Pisani (out of hockey), Marty Turco (without a team/out of hockey), Sean O’Donnell (without a team), Andrew Brunette (without a team) and Sami Lepisto (in the KHL).
That’s a sampling and by no means the definitive word on every move Bowman has made. For example, Jamal Mayers turned out to be a solid addition, and he remains with the club.
Still juxtapose those additions with the players the Hawks were forced to trade or let walk away after winning the Stanley Cut in 2010. Andrew Ladd is a captain; Dustin Byfuglien an All-Star; Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg have been studs in Florida; and Antti Niemi got rich and made the conference finals the next season. Losing those players wasn’t necessarily Bowman’s fault, but he was charged with replacing them.
If the plan was to squeeze something out of veterans before they hung their skates up, it failed miserably. None lived up to relatively low expectations. Johnson played OK in 2010-11, but he hasn't parlayed that into much since then. Turco was on Boston’s roster for a few miserable games last season, but that was the extent of his NHL action since leaving the Hawks.
Some players -- in hindsight or even foresight—simply didn’t fit the Hawks’ mold. Brunette and O’Donnell are solid leaders but their feet couldn’t keep up with their heads and it slowed the team down. Both are looking for work and could end up retiring.
The list goes on. If Pisani didn’t kill penalties, he wouldn’t have been noticed at all; Boynton had a moment in the Cup run but nothing after that. Turco, as good a guy as he is, might go down as Bowman’s worst signing. Everyone knew the league was going bigger in goal, considering the amount of traffic netminders are now seeing. Everyone knew Turco’s last year in Dallas was not very good – and it wasn’t all because of the defense in front of him. With all that obvious knowledge, the Hawks replaced a Stanley Cup winning goaltender with one who had failed often in the playoffs, was undersized and lacking athleticism. Yet the Hawks signed him, not as a seventh defensemen, but to defend the Stanley Cup and play the most important position in sports. It was a bad move, one that was only bailed out by the emergence of Corey Crawford. Somewhat ironically Crawford has now become the maligned goalie in Chicago.
Sheldon Brookbank’s signing was the only move the Hawks made this summer so far – and the relative lack of activity might turn out to be for the best. They tried their hand at the biggest of names like Zach Parise and Martin Brodeur, but save those guys, no one needs to see more 40-year-old types on the roster. Brookbank is 31 and not necessarily on his last legs.
Sometimes the moves a GM doesn’t make are the ones that help a franchise. Furthermore, the Hawks’ decision to stand pat gives opportunities. Could it mean Andrew Shaw, Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Saad and Dylan Olsen—among others—are really ready to contribute in a bigger way? We’ve already seen a few do just that.
With Bowman’s track record of aging veterans, youth might be the best way to go.
He's not sure what the future holds, but he's doubtful it's in Chicago.
"I think they are going to go in a different direction, so I'm not holding my breath thinking they are going to call or hang around the phone," Brunette said. "Who knows what's going to happen."
Brunette played with an injured foot he hurt near the end of the regular season.
"It wasn't that much fun. No excuse, it was sore."
It was one of his least productive years producing just 12 goals, his lowest total since 1998-'99.
"It was a tough year. You don't want to leave this way. But there are times the game tells you when to leave."
CHICAGO -- A quick look at the Chicago Blackhawks' 3-2 overtime loss to the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 3 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series on Tuesday night at the United Center.
How it happened: Phoenix’s Mikkel Boedker scored 13:15 into overtime, the third straight extra period in the series, to give the Coyotes a 2-1 series lead. A late first-period goal by Andrew Brunette on a tip of a Patrick Kane shot held up until early in the third period when Rostislav Klesla tied it from the point. That opened the floodgates for two more goals over the next minute of play. The Hawks retook the lead on Michael Frolik's first tally since Dec. 14 as he banged home a rebound of a Brent Seabrook shot. But not long after that Ray Whitney put in a rebound of his own to tie the game at 2-2.
What it means: The Hawks trail 2-1 in the series despite scoring the first goal in all three contests. They led twice on Tuesday but couldn’t hold onto their second lead for more than 30 seconds. Neither team has led by more than a goal at any time in the series, but the Hawks have come up short twice in overtime out of three tries.
Hossa injury: Hossa was blown up near center ice and taken off on a stretcher, but the Blackhawks said he left an area hospital under his own power. It’s unknown if he’s available for Game 4.
What’s next: Game 4 is Thursday at the United Center after a practice day on Wednesday for both teams.
CHICAGO -- Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville deferred to his assistants on deciding who his fourth skater would be in the shootout on Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues. Mike Kitchen and Mike Haviland both said “Bolly” so Quenneville was “outvoted even if I didn’t want it,” he said afterwards. He went with Dave Bolland after the first three shooters all missed.
It was the right decision; Bolland faked Jaroslav Halak out and slid a forehand shot past him for the lone score in the shootout and a Hawks 4-3 win.
“You have 20,000 fans screaming and yelling, you’re thinking of so many moves in your head,” Bolland said. “For me going down, whatever came to my head, to try to do, to put it in.”
What came to his head was a beautiful deke move.
“Should I shoot or should I deke or should I bury my head and just try to run through him?” Bolland wondered.
Toews getting closer
Once again Jonathan Toews was able to practice with his teammates on Monday as he continues to recover from a concussion. He thinks he’s on the verge of being cleared for contact -- the final hurdle before playing again.
“I’m feeling pretty close to that, but before I tell you anything I have to discuss that with the training staff here,” Toews said Monday afternoon. “I think they’re trying to pull back the reins a little bit. These last few days I’ve been feeling good. When you get an inch you want to take a mile.”
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Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville does it more often than most and he believes it pays off come game days, while the players simply like the rest and freedom a day away from the rink brings.
“He understands the schedule is quite grueling,” veteran Jamal Mayers said. “It’s heavier at times than others. Especially for the guys that play big minutes. It’s good to maintain that practice level so when we do get out there as a group we’re practicing at a high tempo.”
Mayers was on the ice with his teammates on Tuesday at Johnny’s IceHouse West for the first full-team, non game-day practice session in 13 days. In between were seven games, three full off-days and two optional practices. Mayers and teammate Andrew Brunette agree, no coach in the league gives his players that much time off – but, of course, they’re not complaining.
“One of the most [days off] of any team in the league,” Brunette said with a smile. “It feels like he understands the player’s point of view. They are very welcome for it and they work hard. Not every coach sees that. It’s hard to see that in the course of the season. You have the blinders on. It’s one game means everything, every night.”
The Hawks went right to Las Vegas for some rest and relaxation in November after a brutal 9-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers and they responded with a great finish to their circus road trip. When they returned they played downright awful, losing their first game back, 4-1, to the Phoenix Coyotes, but yet again had the next day off. They went 7-0-1 over their next eight games.
“Everybody has their ways about doing things but I find when you save some of that energy for games, it helps,” Quenneville said.
There are plenty of coaches that view the 82-game regular season with the same intensity they do the playoffs. That’s a mistake, but more might be following Quenneville’s lead.
“It drains you mentally, but every coach adapts over the years and I think more are trending to ‘less is more,’ ” Mayers said. “And giving guys rest. The game is faster. It’s a lot more demanding.”
Having both played for Quenneville previously, Brunette and Mayers concur this is pretty much how he’s always operated. But the Hawks coach admits the Stanley Cup playoff run in 2010 taught him even more about getting proper rest for his team.
“I think we learn as you go along here,” Quenneville said. “I thought that playoff run helped us. When you hit the ice you can feel and see the difference by giving them a day off.”
And of course his players love him for it.
“No question, but I think it’s smart,” Mayers said with another grin.
Who gets the ice time?
With Daniel Carcillo now done with his suspension and on injured reserve after left knee surgery on Tuesday, the Hawks recalled Ben Smith, giving them 13 healthy forwards. The competition for playing time should be fierce.
“They’ve taken advantage of playing,” Quenneville said of his young players. “It’s internal competition but at the same time we want to max out our team and what it’s capable of doing.”
So who sits from night to night?
Obviously, how they play moving forward will determine it but Andrew Shaw, Jimmy Hayes and Marcus Kruger seem to have the upper hand right now. Shaw and Kruger lined up with Marian Hossa on Tuesday at practice as they did over the weekend. Hayes skated with Brunette and Dave Bolland while Mayers was between Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell. Smith was the extra forward and took line rushes with the defensemen.
Smith might be the most recent recall but Bickell, among others, is probably on notice yet again. He has three points in his last 16 games and just four goals in 40 games this season. For comparison, Shaw has four goals in seven games, Hayes has three in eight games and even Smith has two in nine games played. Frolik is also struggling to put up goals and points, but as a penalty killer he has value on the defensive end. Bickell isn’t playing on power play or penalty kill which makes him a prime candidate to be a healthy scratch as he was for five games in early December.
Then again, the rookies have to keep it up or they’ll find their way to the bench. Of course, barring new injures, when Patrick Sharp returns from his ailment the Hawks will have some more tough decisions to make. But as any coach, including Quenneville, would say… it’s a good problem to have.
Quenneville tried some new looks with his power-play units on Tuesday. He had forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Shaw on one unit with Brent Seabrook and Steve Montador on the point while Bolland, Hossa, Brunette, Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy made up the second group. The right-handed Montador is the new addition on the point. He was previously playing in the slot but he took Sharp’s spot on the left side of the blue line -- at least in practice.
“I think our power play has just gotten to the point where we just need to concentrate on getting shots,” Montador said. “For the most part, the bread and butter is going to be the simple plays.”
Hawks defensemen have just one power-play goal combined on the season from the point. Montador tallied twice from his previous spot in front of the net. Quenneville had Hossa on the point on the power play on Sunday against the San Jose Sharks. He leads the team with seven man-advantage tallies, of which several have come from the blue line.
“I’ve moved on,” Montador said. “I enjoyed my time there. The reality is I’m happy to be a Blackhawk and happy to be here and that’s that.”
The top two teams in the Western Conference have achieved their status in completely different ways. Chicago has done it with offense, the Wild with defense.
To consider: Minnesota ranks third in the league in goals-allowed-per-game (2.10) while the Hawks rank fourth in scoring (3.20). The Wild are 22nd in offense (2.50) but the Hawks are 20th in defense (2.97).
The styles are different but the records are similar. The Hawks are 18-8-4 while the Wild is 20-7-3. Something has to give.
“They have good balance it seems like,” Viktor Stalberg said after practice Tuesday. “Their coach seems to be having them work as one. A lot of time that’s stronger than individual stars, though they have some of those too.”
Not many though. Dany Heatley is a known name and Hawks fans should know Devin Setoguchi from his days with the San Jose Sharks. Maybe the Wild will be better known in Chicago when they join the Hawks in their new conference next season.
The game marks a return to the area for Andrew Brunette, who played for the Wild during two different stints totaling six seasons, including the previous three before joining the Hawks.
“It’s kind of back to where it was for the first eight or nine years of their existence,” Brunette said. “They’re going to play a very disciplined, strong defensive game. They’ll rely on their special teams, their goaltending and the other team to cheat a little bit and they’ll make you pay.”
It sounds like the type of game Patrick Kane wouldn’t like but he claims the opposite.
“I think sometimes with teams like that, they kind of sit back and give you a little bit more room in the neutral zone and sometimes you can skate through them and try to break the trap,” Kane said. “Sometimes it gets you into the game a little bit. But I feel like I’ve had some good games against a team like that, that’s played pretty much the same style for a while. So I’m hoping for another one.”
Bickell back in: The demotion of Ben Smith opened the door for Bickell’s return to the lineup as he ran drills with Brunette and Dave Bolland on the third line at practice on Tuesday.
Hearing Bickell and Quenneville talk about what he needs to do to be more of a factor in games gives a feeling of déjà vu. It’s all been said before.
“With his speed, size and presence he should be more of a factor,” Quenneville said. “We need to see that more consistently in his game. If he does that, he’s a player you can use in all situations.”
Bickell didn’t disagree. He already knows what he has to do but sometimes has trouble doing it. That includes being physical.
“Some nights they’re there, some nights they aren’t,” Bickell said of hits to be delivered.
Even in down times last year Bickell was putting the puck in the net with a devastating wrist shot. He had 17 goals. This year he has just three, none since Oct. 31.
“It’s still there,” Bickell said of his offense. “The shots aren’t going in like last year. We’re right at the top of the league [in the standings]. That’s the most important part.”
Smith sent down: There’s irony in Smith’s demotion to the minors.
"We want him playing more,” Quenneville said. “I think Benny, his upside offensively, he can give us something there. I think not playing the quantity or the quality [with the Blackhawks] that we would like or he would like, we want him playing. Having an extra guy around here, he's in position where we can get him back there and get that game back to where he finished the season with us [last year]."
Quenneville wants Smith to play a more offensive role, like he was doing at the end of last season, but the coach didn’t give him the Hawks’ top players to work with. Smith was stuck on the bottom two lines, and now he’ll have to produce in the minors before returning for a top 6 chance. No one associated with the team believes we’ve seen the last of Smith, but his trajectory this season is a little off-course right now.
Brunette’s return: Brunette is more anxious than excited to return to St. Paul, where he scored 119 goals in six seasons with the Wild.
“It’s always a little strange that first time,” he said. “It’s good to get that over with. Next time is always easier.”
Brunette can relate to the experience the Wild are going through. He played in smaller markets his entire career before signing with the Hawks this past summer. There’s a certain underdog mentality.
“I’m sure their M.O. is they haven’t been getting any respect,” Brunette said. “I’ve been there before. It’s a strong motivation factor for everyone involved.”
Kane on Versus: Before the Hawks take on the Wild (Wednesday, Versus, 6:30 CT), Kane will be featured in the debut episode of “NHL 36.” Recently, cameras followed Kane around for 36 straight hours leading up to a game at the United Center.
“I’ve never really done something like this with a camera following you around,” Kane said. “I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people watching. Hopefully it turns out good.”
The first airing will be Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. CT, but Kane planned on watching the final version, via DVD, on the Hawks charter to St. Paul Tuesday. He says he tried to ignore the camera.
“Maybe when you come to the rink a little bit [you don’t see the camera], but it’s hard not to notice it when you’re walking down the street. You have a camera right in your face,” Kane explained. “Once the game came along I kind of forgot about it a little bit.”
CHICAGO -- There were mixed reviews in the Blackhawks dressing room after practice on Wednesday regarding the planned realignment the NHL will put into effect starting next season.
Instead of six divisions there will be four, two with eight teams and two with seven. The Hawks will join central division holdovers St. Louis, Detroit, Columbus and Nashville while welcoming Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg to the newly formed conference.
“I’m on the fence a little bit on it,” veteran Andrew Brunette said. “The rivalries will be neat. I like that you’re going to play first round of the playoffs within your division. It’s going to almost create the old Norris division rivalries which as a kid growing up [I watched]. That will be the fun part about it.”
The first two rounds of the postseason will be between the four teams that make the playoffs in each new conference. Add the 5-6 regular season games the Hawks will play against conference opponents and rivalries are certain to intensify.
But it means those out of conference rivalries won’t have the same juice. Under the new system the Hawks will play Vancouver only twice in the regular season and only in the third round of the playoffs or later.
“Whatever we lose with them we’ll gain with Minnesota or St. Louis or Dallas,” Patrick Sharp said. “Get Detroit going again.”
Most were unanimous in their dislike of the unbalanced number of teams in the four conferences. The Hawks have to fight seven other teams to make the playoffs -- the top four get in -- while the two eastern conferences only have six others to battle. Joel Quenneville pointed out starting next year the Hawks will have a “50-50” chance of making the playoffs while under the current system they have better than that. Eight out of 15 teams currently make the playoffs.
The other western conference has eight teams as well.
“I don’t know how fair 16 teams in one conference and 14 in the other is,” Brunette said. “There could be some movement with Phoenix or some of those other teams.”
The other issue is the idea of a non-playoff team from one conference having more points than a playoff team from another.
“The hard part is one division is extremely strong and teams missing the playoffs could be getting 100 points or something and missing the playoffs,” Brunette said.
In the end it’s going to make conference games that much more meaningful.
“Would be really neat if they back-swung those games for the second half of the year,” Brunette stated. “I think that would be real exciting for hockey to be watching those games if you play your division all through February and March.”
The players believe going to each city every year is good for the league and less overall travel will be good for the Hawks. Brunette pointed out how badly the Minnesota fans wanted back in with Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit as they once were when they were the North Stars. Both the old Minnesota team (Stars) and the new one (Wild) will be part of the conference so new rivalries with old acquaintances are bound to be resurrected.
At practice on Thursday, Kane lined up with Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg. Marcus Kruger centered Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp while Ben Smith was between Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell. The fourth line had Jamal Mayers in the middle with Andrew Brunette and Daniel Carcillo next to him. Dave Bolland did not practice but is expected to take Smith’s spot on the third line.
Toy drive: The Blackhawks will host a toy drive at each of the next three home games at the United Center to support the Neighbor’s Development Network, Dreams for Kids and NorthShore University HealthSystem. Fans who bring an unwrapped toy to drop-off locations at Gates 2, 3, 6 and 7 of the United Center will be entered into a raffle to win autographed items by Kane and the Blackhawks team, or game tickets.
Business honors: For the second consecutive year the Blackhawks organization has been voted to have “shown the most innovation in its business practices” and Rocky Wirtz is among the “most effective team owners,” according to the Sports Business Journal’s 2011 National Hockey League Reader Survey.
The game featured four disallowed goals. All were reviewed by replay and upheld.
“I don’t think so,” Quenneville said, trying to remember. “Maybe three. I don’t know about four. I don’t know about three. It’s a fluke.”
Three of the four calls negated Hawks tallies, though all were the right calls.
Patrick Kane knocked a puck out of the air and into the Jackets net with his stick above the crossbar. Then Bryan Bickell was called for high-sticking just as Patrick Sharp was scoring. Those two almost-goals came on the man-advantage. At that point, Quenneville called the already struggling power play “snakebit.” For good measure, Dave Bolland kicked a puck in with his skate and that was immediately waved off too.
The final “no-goal” came in crunch time when Columbus kicked one in. It was a great call by the referee, who saw the kick through traffic. It preserved a two-goal lead for the Hawks.
“It’s not fun to get those called back,” Jonathan Toews said. “We’re lucky that they were pretty decisive in calling theirs back. To a certain extent, it went both ways.”
So the Hawks actually put eight pucks in the net, but only five counted, two of which came off Viktor Stalberg's stick.
“That’s something we don’t see every day,” Stalberg said of the waved-off goals. “Brunette’s been in the league for a long time and he said that’s the most goals he’s seen disallowed.”
“It’s one of those things … disallowed goals on the power play,” he said. “That’s usually a sign it’s trending in the right direction. I thought [watching] it was better too.”
Quenneville completely mixed up his units on Saturday and said he liked what he saw.
CHICAGO -- At the end of the day, Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is a defenseman at heart, having played the position for a decade in the NHL. So when his team’s defense plays poorly, it’s going to frustrate him.
Saturday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche was one of those moments.
Quenneville didn’t want to talk about missed shootout attempts or power-play chances in his postgame press conference. He wanted to talk about the shaky defense.
"All four goals are cardinal sins [of] how we defend or how we play situational plays,” he steamed. “All led to their goals."
Keith couldn’t break up the play, Brunette was caught wandering and Leddy was asleep at the wheel.
“The puck was coming across the blue line and I think it was Duncan and I don’t know who the other guy was,” Leddy said. “Duncan got it up. I don’t recall the whole play. Their player got it and missed it to the middle and he shot and scored.”
Leddy remembered his great rush up ice which led to a goal a lot better. At the time it looked like the Hawks would get a great comeback win.
“Every goal was directly our responsibility,” Quenneville kept on. “We can’t serve them up like we did tonight. All the plays we talk about daily … we played them all poorly.”
And if you’re looking for blame there was enough of it to go around.
On Paul Stastny's tally to open the scoring, Keith and Dave Bolland let him hang around the slot unencumbered. When David Jones scored from a bad angle from behind the Hawks net, it was Niklas Hjalmarsson and Bolland who had two bodies on one player leaving Jones with time and space. On Landeskog’s first goal, Steve Montador stood in the slot, letting Landeskog crash the net for an easy tap-in.
Then came the tying goal. Quenneville was asked if there was a bad
bounce on it.
“Bad bounce? No. Bad play by us,” he said.
With the shootout loss the Hawks have earned at least one point in six consecutive contests after an opening-night loss, but it’s the goals given up which will haunt the head coach, at least until the next game.
“You could say one was worse than other,” Quenneville said. “Progressively worse for me.”