Chicago Blackhawks: Tomas Kopecky
CHICAGO -- Florida Panthers forward Kris Versteeg says he still gets treated like royalty when he comes back to Chicago as he is on Friday to take on his former team, the Blackhawks.
Versteeg joins current teammates Brian Campbell, John Madden and Tomas Kopecky in a return of former Stanley Cup champions to the building they had so much success in two seasons ago. Former Hawk Jack Skille is scheduled to play as well after being out with an injury.
“[It’s] the first time I’ve been back to the rink since Game 5 [of the Stanley Cup finals in 2010]. I remember we won Game 5 and I was looking around at the fans, and I said this is the last time we’re going to be here because we’re going to win it in Game 6,” Versteeg said after Panthers practice Friday morning at the United Center. “It’s nice to be back.”
The Hawks did win Game 6 and then the team was famously broken up due to salary cap restraints. But the bond between former teammates lives on -- and so does the friendly jabs. Jonathan Toews got together with Versteeg Thursday night after the Panthers arrived in town.
"I was willing to take him to the hair salon and get him a haircut last night, but he didn’t want to do that,” Toews joked after Hawks’ practice.
Versteeg has grown his blond hair out and says he hears it from players every night. Friday will be no exception.
“I already have Bolland telling me he’s going to be giving it to me all night about my hair,” Versteeg said. “If it takes the focus off the game, that’s a positive. As for Toews, he’s trying to get inside my head. I’m already inside his.”
Campbell is hoping for a better response from the fans in Chicago than he’s received from other former teams he’s played for. He’s been booed in Buffalo and San Jose but he didn’t help win those cities a Stanley Cup.
“It’ll be fun,” Campbell said. “These fans are the best. Hopefully we all get a nice response but then we have to get down to work.”
Though it is work, several players talked about how strange it is to face so many former teammates on one team.
“It’s almost like it’s not a real hockey game,” Kane said. “You’re out there laughing and joking around and having fun. But at the same time you want to beat them, too. It’s a little bit different but definitely fun.”
The joking and laughing around can extend to anything considering how well many of the players know each other. Kane was reminded of Versteeg’s infamous rap session during the Stanley Cup parade in June 2010.
“You call those skills?” Kane joked. “I don’t know if you can call it a skill. That was pretty embarrassing, so hopefully we don’t have to see that for a while.”
Ray Emery starts in net for the Hawks while Jose Theodore is expected to play for the Panthers.
Sharp update: Joel Quenneville said forward Patrick Sharp is making progress toward a return after the All-Star break. Sharp is out with a wrist injury.
“There are three games on that trip in four nights so hopefully he can begin it,” Quenneville said Friday morning. “We’re anticipating he’ll get started on that trip.”
It could be the biggest turnover of a championship roster in just over a year that the NHL has ever seen. The difference between this summer and the last one is general manager Stan Bowman isn’t being forced to make these moves, as he was a year ago. He’s doing them willingly.
The three latest players who left, Kopecky, Troy Brouwer and Brian Campbell, all conceivably would have been overpaid entering the 2011-12 campaign. Campbell’s situation is well documented and while Brouwer and Kopecky were nice players, they were due raises into the $2-million range and both could have ended up playing fourth-line minutes.
Bowman is simply setting up his roster so he can get close to full value throughout. As the saying goes, this is business, not personal.
Just like last offseason, the Blackhawks who were jettisoned are talented, but don’t fit the team's plans at the prices they were commanding. With the news that Jake Dowell might not return, since the Hawks did not extend a “qualifying” offer to him, the shedding might be complete.
It’s time to add, starting with the re-signing of Chris Campoli, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg. Expect quick and bloodless negotiations, though the restricted free agents don’t have to be signed by Friday when free agency begins. It’s doubtful any will be extended an offer sheet as Niklas Hjalmarsson was last July.
As for Dowell, the fourth-line center simply didn’t live up to the gritty two-way player the Hawks envisioned. He’s not expensive, but the Hawks don’t want to be tied to a one-way contract as they explore rebuilding that trio. A two-way contract could be in the cards for Dowell if he doesn’t find another team to offer better.
The relationship between the Hawks and their former front office employees has been interesting to watch, to say the least. Last summer, Bowman and Rick Dudley, then with Atlanta, pulled off the blockbusters. This time, it was Bowman and his predecessor, Tallon.
Tallon did the Hawks a huge favor by taking on Campbell’s contract. It’s doubtful anyone else would have. Listening to him at the NHL draft this past weekend, he sounded like a man still wanting to justify the money and years he gave Campbell in 2008 while he was the GM in Chicago and Campbell was a big-ticket free agent. But Joel Quenneville didn’t play him like a $7-million man, and maybe the Panthers will. Bowman and another former Hawks’ GM, Bob Murray, have also done business since the former took over the job in 2009.
For those pining for a return of some of the other championship pieces who exited, ironically, the Hawks now have money to afford some of them back if they desire. John Madden and Brent Sopel are available and both undoubtedly would love to return. Adam Burish is signed for one more year in Dallas and his cap hit is $1.15 million. That seemed like a king’s ransom a year ago, but it’s exactly in line with what the Hawks can -- and probably will -- spend to help rebuild their fourth line. Ben Eager is also available, and the Hawks already kicked the tires on reacquiring him last season before he was eventually moved to San Jose.
“Sometimes you target players, and we do have a little bit more room now to make sure we get guys that we value at that position,” Bowman said of the fourth line on Saturday at the NHL draft. “It’s an important thing.”
Reacquiring players who won the Cup just because they won the Cup is shortsighted and way too sentimental for an NHL general manager. But in the case of a few of these names, it might not be a bad thing.
Burish, Madden and Sopel are capable of providing some of what went missing last season, in terms of character in the dressing room. They also play a role which Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were weary of even before the latest trades: they’re all good interviews. Especially Burish.
Campbell, Brouwer and even Kopecky were all willing and able whenever a microphone was placed in front of them. Every interview they did was one less Kane and Toews had to do. And those stars appreciated it. Burish might talk too much for a coach’s liking, but if he takes pressure off other players, there is plenty of value in it. Of course, the Hawks would have to deal for him, but they have plenty of trading chips with the plethora of players they’ve acquired since last offseason..
Of course, there are plenty of other players that fit the Hawks’ needs and salary structure who will be available come Friday.
Zenon Konopka, Joel Ward, Mike Rupp, Jamal Mayers and Aaron Asham are some names that could fit the bill. Some might be too old, or not the right fit, but the point is the Hawks can pick and choose instead of being left with scraps. Maybe former Hawk Michael Handzus will get a look. Replacing one Slovak with another would make at least one Hawk happy.
A case could be made it was wrong for any of the players to be moved in the last three days, but the case for the trades is stronger. It starts and ends with the flexibility the trades provide the Hawks moving forward. The purge (part II) is over. Now starts the retooling.
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The Hawks have six unrestricted free agents and five restricted. Between now and July 1 they have exclusive negotiating rights with those players. After July 1, any team can talk to and sign an unrestricted free agent while teams are allowed to make offers to the restricted ones. The Hawks have the right to match any restricted offer -- as they did last summer with Niklas Hjalmarsson -- but if they choose not to, they get a compensation package in the form of draft picks in exchange for the player.
With unrestricted free agents, it’s a simple process. The Hawks and the player will either work out a deal before July 1 or the player will get to test the market after July 1 but still have the ability to re-sign with Chicago.
The first step in dealing with restricted free agents is to give them a qualifying offer. This offer gives the player a minimal raise, based on a formula, while locking them into a contract for one year if the two sides can’t negotiate a longer term deal. Those offers have to be submitted to the players by June 27.
If the Hawks do not qualify a player, like they did not with defenseman Jordan Hendry a year ago, then that player becomes an unrestricted free agent but can still sign back with Chicago as Hendry did. Most players get qualifying offers; Hendry was the one exception last offseason.
Here’s a look at the 11 free agent Blackhawks and their chances of being back with the team:
Corey Crawford, G, Restricted: Signed on Thursday
The Blackhawks locked up their 26-year-old goaltender with a three-year deal on Thursday. General manager Stan Bowman declared him a priority, something he never said about Antti Niemi.
Michael Frolik, C, Restricted: 90 percent
This number may have been lower before the playoffs, but Frolik proved his potential at both ends of the ice. Assumed to be only a top 6 forward when acquired from Florida, Frolik showed he can play the third line as well. Expect a short, multi-year deal for the winger/center.
Chris Campoli, D, Restricted: 80 percent
Campoli proved a solid pick-up at the trade deadline and fits the Hawks system like a glove. His negotiations could be tricky. The Hawks have loads of money tied up in their defense and anything more than a slight raise off his $1.4 million contract probably isn’t in the offing. He is arbitration eligible and a one-year deal based on an arbitrator’s decision is always a possibility if the sides can’t agree on a salary. He missed being an unrestricted free agent this year by 10 days. He will be next summer if he signs for only one year. If things don’t go right monetarily, the Hawks could always trade him.
Viktor Stalberg, LW, Restricted: 75 percent
Also a candidate to be traded but barring a move, he should be back while trying to find his complete game. He showed flashes but not enough to know for certain he’ll be a long-term contributor. His salary shouldn’t be a major stumbling block to what the Hawks want to accomplish this offseason.
Ryan Johnson, C, Unrestricted: 60 percent
At first thought this number might be too low considering how much Johnson helped out this season but his stock rose not just in Chicago but around the NHL. As an unrestricted veteran negotiating with a cap-strapped team, he will likely test the market. He might only get a few hundred thousand more but it might be enough for him to move on. Then again, he might be happy getting a deal sooner rather than later since he had to wait until this past season started before signing. It’s not known if he’s even in the Hawks’ plans, though considering their lack of depth at center, it would be a surprise if he wasn’t.
Troy Brouwer, RW, Restricted: 50 percent
The Hawks won’t let him walk but his percentage isn’t higher because he is one of the most likely players to be moved in a trade. His ability to play all four lines is an asset, but with the emergence of Ben Smith and prospects Jeremy Morin and Marcus Kruger, it could get crowded among the top forwards. And the Hawks won’t want to pay him bigger bucks to be a third- or even fourth-line player. His size also gives him a reason to stay but his overall quiet career to this point might say otherwise. Tough call.
Jordan Hendry, D, Unrestricted: 50 percent
Coming off knee surgery and entering free agency isn’t the way any player wants to deal with a new contract. The Hawks didn’t qualify him last season, but he signed back with the club so there isn’t anything to say they don’t bring him back at the minimum again. They’re still thin at the blue line after their top 6, so Hendry could be valuable as a player that knows the system.
Tomas Kopecky, C, Unrestricted: 35 percent
Remember, 35 percent means not likely but still leaves a lot of room for a return. It all comes down to salary. The Hawks will undoubtedly want to pay him like a bottom 6 forward though he put up career numbers. He is one guy that will play with an edge, but he is basically a 20- to 25-point player. If he’s willing to make less than the $1.2 million he made the last couple years the Hawks would probably be interested, especially considering his close friendship with Marian Hossa. He most likely will test the market before there is any thought of re-signing with the Hawks, if they want him back.
Jake Dowell, C, Restricted: 25 percent
This number would be lower if not for the fact he is their property and plays center. Dowell had a decent first half but never played with the edge the Hawks needed on the fourth line, and then he lost his scoring touch. His willingness to drop the gloves is an asset, but with the additions of Ryan Johnson and Kruger plus Frolik’s ability to play center, his usefulness dropped as the season went on. Like Hendry a year ago, there is a good chance the Hawks will not give Dowell a “qualifying offer,” making him an unrestricted free agent.
Fernando Pisani, RW, Unrestricted: 15 percent
He played for the minimum so it’s not like they have to give him a raise if they want to keep him. But he had a less than an impactful season, and there are players coming through the system who could easily take his place on the roster. The only scenario in which he returns is if the Hawks just need an extra veteran body.
Marty Turco, G, Unrestricted: 5 percent
A great teammate and mentor for Crawford is as good a reason as any to bring Turco back, but he would have to play for the minimum and know that he’s the back-up. The Hawks are probably moving on anyway as they will look for a bigger goalie, having had their troubles with smaller ones over the past two seasons.
Here are some other notes from Sunday morning’s practices:
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TORONTO -- You’ll have to pardon anyone who makes comparisons to last year’s Chicago Blackhawks championship team. Yes, this is a different roster, going about it in a different way, but after their eighth win in a row, 5-3 over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, it sure is starting to feel like a season ago.
“The more wins you get the more confidence as a team we’ve gotten,” Duncan Keith said. “We know going into games we have an expectation to win and get the two points. Its shows in the way we start games.”
Was that a quote pulled from November of 2009, when the Hawks also had a season high eight game streak or did that come from Saturday’s game after the Hawks jumped out to a 3-0 lead before 20 minutes was complete?
He said it after Saturday’s contest but you get the point. So much was made of the Hawks' depth a season ago, it’s starting to show in this team. It was yet another night where contributions came from more than the stars. Each line had at least a goal. All five tallies were scored even strength. That’s balance.
“We have four lines rolling right now and we’re spreading the ice time out better which helps them [the stars] out a lot and its keeping them fresher,” Viktor Stalberg said.
No forward played as much as 20 minutes and none played less than eight.
“We’ve been getting rewarded a lot lately,” Stalberg said of his line. “We’ve been getting about one goal a game in the last little stretch. It feels good and a as group we’re playing pretty well.”
Talk about a coach’s dream? Joel Quenneville doesn’t have to do much thinking when it comes to rolling his lines. They’re all playing well and producing.
“We put ourselves in a real good spot,” he said. “We liked the four lines and everyone contributing. Five in seven days was a good test for us. We’re happy with the win and excited about going to Florida.”
A day or two on the beach is much deserved. You won’t find many teams sweep a five-in-seven stretch including three sets of back-to- backs mixed in among the eight overall.
“Guys were excited to play here,” Toews said. “We wanted to keep the momentum going we’ve built this week.”
Mission accomplished. The beat (and win streak) goes on.
All three players have earned their points on the power play, but have they done enough during five-on-five? The scoring chances have been there, but the results haven’t been.
Hossa and Sharp combined for 13 shots on Friday against Vancouver, but some of those came via the power play. Both Hossa and Kopecky had near empty-net chances, as well, but couldn’t convert.
“I think we were way much better than [Tuesday’s] game in Columbus,” Kopecky said. “We had so many chances Friday night, we just didn’t bury them. It’s kind of frustrating, but you can’t let it get into your head. We’re staying patient and we know we’re going to score some goals. We just have to be really good defensively and the goals will come.”
If general manager Stan Bowman can find a centerman before the Feb. 28 trade deadline, which he is most assuredly looking for, it will free up Sharp to move back to wing -- where he plays his best hockey. Sharp is a team-worst minus-13, including minus-7 over his last four games.
“I really don’t care about it to be honest with you,” Sharp said. “I know I’m a reliable player in all zones. There’s been times I’ve led the team in plus/minus. To me that stat is telling in some areas, but I’m not really bothered by it. I’m more concerned with helping the team win and that’s the main thing.”
In Sharp’s defense, he’s been on the ice for no less than eight empty-net goals given up by the Hawks, which count against his plus/minus. The facts still tell a story, though. He and linemate Kopecky have the worst two plus/minus numbers on the team. Last year, Sharp scored a majority of his goals five-on-five and just four on the power play. It’s one reason why his plus/minus was a plus-24.
So take away its power-play numbers this year and the line’s production five-on-five isn’t very gaudy. Sharp has 15 goals and 10 assists. Hossa has nine goals and 11 helpers while Kopecky has seven goals and 13 assists. Decent, but not good enough if they’re getting scored upon.
“Last game was a step in the right direction,” Sharp said. “We were skating and coming up with some pucks and had far more scoring chances than against Columbus. It would have been nice to get a couple.”
In the bigger picture, the line probably shouldn’t be together. Sharp isn’t a true centerman -- which is exactly what Hossa needs -- and Kopecky might not be a true top-six forward. If Sharp is to go back to being a dangerous sniper, he’ll do it at wing.
One option is to move Dave Bolland back up to No. 2 center, which would solve those two problems. Bolland’s offensive game is coming around and he’s a smart enough player to feed Hossa the puck where he needs it. Coach Joel Quenneville has been reluctant to do that, most likely because the Hawks don’t have a shutdown guy on defense to take Bolland’s place. So Bowman could be looking for a second or third line center.
But for now, they’re together and maybe Friday’s performance was a step in the right direction.
“Maybe that’s a sign they are ready to cash in,” Quenneville said.
All three are hopeful their coach’s assertion is correct.
Dave Bolland had already tallied once in the game but his second score was a thing of beauty.
“It was fun,” Bolland said after the game. “It's fun to make those moves for the fans. It was a big goal for us at the time. I think he thought I was taking it to the net and I sort of toe-dragged around him.”
Known for a move or two in his day, teammate Jonathan Toews was mightily impressed.
“I don’t know if I ever can compare something like that,” Toews said smiling. “That was Lemieux-esque if I’ve ever seen anything like it. I thought he had the lane to go to the net and he kind of waited for the guy to dangle him or something. It’s like he sucked him in and tried to make him look bad and [then] finish it off. It’s pretty sweet to see a goal like that."
Amazingly, while the hockey world will watch that one over and over, Bolland says he won’t.
“Probably not. Probably just going to go home and hang out,” he stated.
“You’ll watch it once, right?” he was asked.
“Probably not,” Bolland said.
Troy Brouwer scored twice in 0:40 to tie the game and then give the Hawks the lead.
“I don’t think I’ve done it [scored twice] on the same shift in a very long time,” Brouwer said.
Browuer had a demonstrative celebration after the second goal.
“You’re still pretty hyped up from the first one and when that second one goes in it just adds to the excitement,” Brouwer said. “It was a little bit of a build-up and to have two quick ones like that [with] the electricity in the building, it was just fun.”
The Predators scored a go ahead goal in the third period off a faceoff win after Jake Dowell was kicked out of the circle because the Hawks were late on a line change. The linesmen have the prerogative to make such a move if they think a team is changing slow.
“That hasn’t happened all year so if I would have known they were going to do that I would have lined up at wing so whoever was coming on could have been kicked out and I would have taken it,” Dowell explained.
Tomas Kopecky took the draw instead and promptly lost it. Either way, Toews said it was a rough weekend in the circle.
“That’s another thing,” Toews said. “It was a little frustrating to see how many times our centermen were getting kicked out the last two games. They’re [Nashville] good on draws but I’ve never been kicked out of so many faceoffs all year. That’s a little frustrating when you can’t get an understanding of what you’re allowed to do when the other guys is cheating and you think he’s getting away with something. It goes to show you it’s a pretty big part of the game.”
Trotz ticked off
Toews wasn’t the only one unhappy with the zebras. Predators coach Barry Trotz thought the Hawks winning goal should have been a Hawks penalty instead.
“Really what changed it on our end was the fourth goal,” Trotz said. “Kane came over and picked [Ryan] Suter, and we were getting the penalty and we could have been on the power-play. Missed call. I looked at it and it was obvious that it was a missed call. I don’t know if we end up winning the game, but that definitely turned the game for the Hawks.”
Toews scored his 100th career goal with his 17th of the season in the third period. He was able to retrieve the puck.
Brian Campbell earned a plus-3 rating and his currently plus-23 for the season. That ranks third in the entire NHL.
Dave Bolland has a four game point streak earning six points over that span.
CHICAGO -- Some will say the Chicago Blackhawks played undisciplined hockey, giving up two power-play goals in their 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks. And while coach Joel Quenneville wasn’t happy about some of the penalties the Hawks took, he didn’t agree with all the calls.
“I’ll disagree with two calls tonight,” Quenneville said after the game. “I don’t even know where they came from. One put us down 5-on-3 and [then] the one that led to the winning goal.”
The first was a Brent Seabrook hooking penalty early in the second period with the Hawks already skating a man short.
“I didn’t see it live and after watching the replay, I’m really upset,” Quenneville said. “Now I know why I didn’t see it.”
The Sharks’ Benn Ferriero scored on the ensuing two-man advantage.
The second call to upset Quenneville was on Jassen Cullimore for holding, early in the third period, and killed any momentum the Hawks earned by scoring twice in the final 23 seconds of the second period. Though it looked like a poor call, Cullimore didn’t point at the refs, only at himself and his teammates.
“Our penalty killing hasn’t been great so far,” he said. “That four-game winning streak, we were keeping them down to two penalties-against per game. To do that today, it’s uncharacteristic.”
Over the last six games the Hawks have given up 0, 1, 2, 4, 4, and now 6 power-play-attempts against. Bad calls or not, they are trending the wrong way.
“You can’t take that many penalties against a team like this,” Tomas Kopecky said. “I’m frustrated with myself and I think everyone else in this room is frustrated. We have to battle through it.”
Kopecky got his stick up for the first of the two penalties which led to the 5-on-3 situation. He wasn’t alone in earning a bad infraction. There was a too-many-men on the ice call against the Hawks, plus a slashing infraction on Nick Boynton and a hooking call on John Scott. Then came the two questionable ones. Still, the Hawks were in the game, tied at three entering the final period.
“We knew we were in for a dogfight in the third period,” Brian Campbell said. “The effort was there but I don’t think sometimes the smarts were there.”
How it happened: After a first period which saw Detroit earn a multitude of scoring chances, the Hawks buckled down on defense. The Hawks offense netted an early power-play goal by Patrick Sharp and a delayed-penalty score by Tomas Kopecky. In between, Bryan Bickell flashed his ever-more-dangerous wrist shot for his fifth goal in six games. Kopecky added an empty netter at the end. Corey Crawford looked shaky early but settled down, stopping 29 shots for the win. There were few passengers on the Hawks’ side of the ice in a good victory.
What it means: The Hawks got a signature win, shutting down an explosive Red Wings team. They did it with discipline (no minor penalties) and defense. A new look on offense, with newcomer Ryan Johnson at center, allowed Sharp to flourish at wing with Jonathan Toews playing the middle on his line. Fernando Pisani looked good in his return to the lineup, setting up Bickell for his goal. Pisani left the game after getting hit in the face by Dave Bolland’s stick, but returned later. Jack Skille had a strong game as well, registering a team- and career-high nine shots.
What’s next: The Hawks continue a five-game homestand on Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings, a team they’ve beaten twice already. They’ve begun the stretch 1-1.
The Hawks extended their first-period, 2-1 lead with a Tomas Kopecky goal on a delayed high-sticking call against the Red Wings. Kopecky got behind Detroit’s defense, which was keeping an eye on Brian Campbell, who entered the offensive zone with the puck. Campbell found Kopecky in the slot for his fourth goal of the year.
The Hawks tightened up on defense, allowing many fewer scoring chances and shots than they did in the opening 20 minutes. Detroit had just eight shots on net in the second period, after earning 15 in the first.
Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell have the other Hawks’ goals, while Patrick Eaves has the lone Red Wing tally.