Chicago Blackhawks: Viktor Stalberg
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Stalberg, who spent three seasons in Chicago but saw his ice time dwindle as the team closed in on its second Stanley Cup in four years, signed a four-year, $12 million deal with the Predators in the offseason but he missed the first four games of the season with a shoulder injury and has struggled to mesh with the offense since returning to action, tallying only two points in 13 games so far.
“Coming off the (Stanley Cup) win and the short summer and all that, you sort of thought it was going to be easier, maybe,” Stalberg said. “But obviously, I got kind of a rude awakening there, and getting hurt didn’t really help either because you wanted those exhibition games to get those legs from the short summer out of you, and I really didn’t have a chance to do that.”
Nashville head coach Barry Trotz pointed to the organizations’ contrasting styles as a potential reason for Stalberg’s adjustment period.
“We don’t play like the Chicago Blackhawks,” Trotz said. “We don’t have the personnel up front to play like they do, so a lot of things that we have to do to be successful, they don’t do in Chicago just because of the way they play. But he’s played better. Probably on the road trip, he’s been one of our more effective forwards.”
“I think he was a good player when he was here,” Chicago right wing Patrick Kane said of Stalberg. “He contributed a lot to the Blackhawks organization and to our team, and it’s always sad to see guys like that go, but sometimes change is good and it’s time to move on, and I wish him all the best.”
The change in scenery has done wonders for Bolland. He’s quickly become an impact player for the Maple Leafs on both sides of the ice and has helped them to a 9-4-0 record. He has six goals and four assists in 13 games and has averaged 16:46 of ice time. He failed to produce a point in his Oct. 16 return to the United Center, but he’s since had three goals and one assist in the last four games. He also helped contain Sidney Crosby in the Maple Leafs’ recent 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Viktor Stalberg, Nashville Predators, free-agent signing
Stalberg was unhappy with his role with the Blackhawks by the end of last season. He was looking to move on and get a fresh start somewhere else. The Predators saw a lot of upside in Stalberg and signed him to a four-year, $12 million contract. It’s been downhill since then. Stalberg began the season injured. He entered the lineup in mid-October and has since struggled. He has zero points in six games and has been scratched the last two games.
Ray Emery's decision to leave the Hawks for a chance to start with the Flyers has backfired early, as he's struggled in his first couple of games.
Emery chose to leave the Blackhawks -- not because of money, but because he saw an opportunity to start for the Flyers. The Blackhawks are actually paying Nikolai Khabibulin more than what Emery received from the Flyers. Emery’s plan hasn’t worked out for him. He struggled in two early-season starts, allowing four goals in each game. Steve Mason was given an opportunity to start for the Flyers, and he’s running with it. He’s started the Flyers’ last five games and hasn’t allowed more than three goals in any of them. Emery was always a team player with the Blackhawks and appears to be saying the right things again in Philadelphia.
Michael Frolik, Winnipeg Jets, traded for draft picks
While the Blackhawks still search for someone to replace Frolik on the penalty kill, Frolik is looking for consistency with the Jets. Frolik began the season with a bang, as he scored two goals in the first game and had an assist in the second game. Since then, he’s had zero goals and three assists in the last 11 games. He’s averaged 14:07 of ice time, but he’s not often utilized on the penalty kill. He was second among forwards in short-handed ice time for the Blackhawks last season and is just averaging 52 seconds a game on the penalty kill this season. The Blackhawks will face Frolik for the first time this season on Saturday.
Daniel Carcillo, Los Angeles Kings, traded for conditional draft pick
Carcillo was in and out of the Blackhawks’ lineup throughout his stay in Chicago, and it was no surprise he was traded to the Kings. He’s had one goal and one assist and averaged 10:07 of ice time in nine games this season. He’s been in two fights and has 16 penalty minutes and 16 hits. It’s about what’s expected from him.
Carter Hutton, Nashville Predators, free-agent signing
Hutton wasn’t given much of a shot with the Blackhawks. He played just one game with them. He signed a one-year deal with the Predators in the offseason and has already played in four games this season, because Pekka Rinne has been out of the lineup. Hutton has a 2-1-0 record with a 2.42 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. He struggled in the Predators’ last game and was pulled in the third period during a 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.
Ryan Stanton, Vancouver Canucks, waiver claim
Stanton was put on waivers when the Blackhawks decided to keep Michael Kostka as the team’s eighth defensemen. The Canucks claimed Stanton and have put him to use. Stanton has averaged 14:10 of ice time and has had one goal, four assists and a plus-4 rating in 14 games. He had signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks in the offseason.
Bickell took his time Saturday maneuvering the puck around the Toronto Maple Leafs' defensemen and goaltender Jonathan Bernier before knocking it home into the corner of net during the second period Saturday for his first goal of the season.
“I was wondering why he didn’t put it in, but at the end, it was a nice finish,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said while laughing after the Blackhawks’ 3-1 home win.
Bickell remarked, “I didn’t know how I had that in me.”
What Bickell did know was he is capable of scoring goals. He had done so throughout his career, but after his playoff heroics last season, which led to a sizeable offseason contract, Bickell was feeling the weight of being goalless after the first seven games of this campaign.
“That’s kind of tough,” said Bickell, who had nine goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. “It was a big summer coming into this year. I felt there was a lot of pressure on my shoulders to produce. I think I was getting away from my game what I did before that works. Now, we switched it up. Hopefully, I can get my confidence back and just figure out my game and just play it every night.”
Bickell was moved from the top line and reunited with Andrew Shaw on the third line against the Maple Leafs. Bickell, Shaw and Viktor Stalberg comprised the third line most of last season. Marcus Kruger was the other winger on Saturday.
Quenneville believed the change in lines helped get Bickell jump-started on Saturday. He finished with three shots on goal.
“I think he was more comfortable playing in that position he was accustomed to the last few years,” Quenneville said. “But good patience on the play as well. Nice to see him get that off his back, and I’m sure he’ll be more comfortable in the scoring area going forward.”
Bickell was hopeful of the same occurrence. He had recently compared scoring to a ketchup bottle in that ketchup normally pours freely once it gets going.
“That’s a nice one,” Bickell said of the goal. “I gave the comment a couple days ago about the ketchup bottle. Nice to get that first one.”
1. The Blackhawks won't discuss a Stanley Cup repeat, but they have constantly emphasized getting off to a positive start to the season. The previous time the Blackhawks tried to defend the Cup, their season was derailed by some early woes. They aren't likely to match last season's 24-game points streak to begin the season, but they would like to do better than the 9-9-2 record they had after 20 games in the 2010-11 season. The Blackhawks do have the advantage this time around of returning nearly everyone from last season's team.
2. The Blackhawks found magic in a top line of Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane in the playoffs last season, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville will be rolling that out again to start this season. The major change that occurred since the trio last played in a real game together is that Bickell is now making about $3.4 million more than he was last season. With that money comes higher expectations, and Bickell understands that. The line only played together once in the preseason, but it looked dangerous.
3. The other Blackhawks' lines likely will be Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Marian Hossa; Brandon Saad-Andrew Shaw-Jimmy Hayes; and Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Joakim Nordstrom. Ben Smith likely will rotate in on the third and fourth lines.
Just some quick notes on the lines: Sharp stood out in the preseason. Playing on the third line should take some pressure off Saad. Hayes was impressive offensively with his size and quickness at times. Bollig had a solid preseason, but he needs to be more than an enforcer to keep his spot.
4. The defensive pairings likely will be Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook; Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson; and Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival. Michael Kostka and Sheldon Brookbank likely will rotate with Rozsival throughout the season. Having an eighth defenseman will allow Quenneville to sit players when they need some time off or are consistently struggling.
5. You can always hold a special place in your heart for Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg because they helped win last season's Stanley Cup, but they were role players and replaceable. Hayes, Nordstrom and Smith should have no trouble filling in those spots. Nordstrom is expected to replace Frolik on the penalty kill.
6. The Blackhawks didn't really answer the second-line center issue in the preseason. The plan to use Saad barely got off the ground. Brandon Pirri was the second option, but an injury set him back, and he never got a chance to show off his game. That brought Quenneville to his backup option, Handzus. Handzus was recovering from his offseason surgeries during training camp and was held out of all six preseason games. It will be interesting to see how his body holds up over 82 games, especially in such a vital role. As a side note, the Blackhawks' power play didn't look any better in the preseason, either.
7. Hossa also didn't play in any preseason games, and there has to be some concern about his health. Hossa looked great while at Notre Dame to start training camp, but he apparently aggravated his back injury sometime in that first week and has been dealing with some issues again. Hossa missed a Stanley Cup finals game due a back problem and wasn't the same player in the last three games of the season. If he's affected again by it early, it might be in the Blackhawks' best interests to sit him for an extended period to get him healthy. As of now, he said he's fine and will play in the season opener.
8. The NHL has re-aligned its conferences and is back to two divisions per conference. That means the Blackhawks are now joined in the Central Division by the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets are now in the Eastern Conference. The new playoff format will include the top three teams from each division receiving spots and then two wild cards. The first two rounds will be within the division, but with the possibility of the final wild-card team having to cross over divisions to play.
9. Nikolai Khabibulin is back with the Blackhawks and has looked reliable enough in the preseason. If Khabibulin's age (40) catches up to him, the Blackhawks will probably turn to Antti Raanta to be Corey Crawford's backup. Raanta, who is from Finland, is getting accustomed to the smaller North American rink in AHL Rockford to start the season. Either way, Crawford will see a bulk of the workload.
10. Oddsmakers have made the Blackhawks the favorites to win the 2014 Stanley Cup. Most have them at 5-1 or 6-1. They're followed by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Blues, Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks. The Penguins were favored by most to win the Cup last season.
ESPNChicago.com's Blackhawks reporter Scott Powers will count down this season's top 50 storylines over the next week leading into training camp.
Here's the first installment:
50. Bollig, the enforcer
The Blackhawks will likely be auditioning for five roster spots during training camp. One of those positions will likely go to Brandon Bollig. Some may argue enforcers aren't really needed on a team, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has often liked to have someone who isn't afraid to drop his gloves and step up for his teammates. With Jamal Mayers and Daniel Carcillo gone, there aren't many of those type of players remaining on the roster. Bollig led the Blackhawks with five fights last season. He will be looking for his first career point this season. He has zero points in 43 career NHL games.
49. Sellout and attendance streak
The Blackhawks are aiming to lead the NHL in attendance for the sixth consecutive season. They have sold out the United Center for 187 consecutive regular-season games dating back to the 2008-09 season. They averaged a paid attendance of 21,775 during their 24 home games last season.
During Obama’s visit to Sweden on Wednesday, Obama couldn’t help but thank the country for providing a number of its home-grown players to the 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
“I should mention on behalf of hockey fans back home in Chicago, I have to say how grateful our championship Blackhawks are for their several teammates who hail from Sweden,” said Obama during a joint press conference with Sweden prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, according to a White House press release. “So that’s been an excellent export that we gladly accept.”
The Blackhawks benefited from having four Swedish players last season. Swedish-born forwards Marcus Kruger and Viktor Stalberg and defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya assisted in the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup season. Swedish-born backup goaltender Henrik Karlsson was also on the team’s playoff roster, but did not appear in any games.
Hjalmarsson, Kruger, Oduya and Stalberg all spent a day with the Stanley Cup in Sweden in August.
The Blackhawks will return Kruger, Hjalmarsson and Oduya to their 2013-14 roster and also have five other Swedish players in their system. The Blackhawks selected three players from Sweden in the 2013 draft.
Bowman’s lone moves Friday were signing Nikolai Khabibulin to be a backup goaltender and re-signing forward Michal Handzus and defenseman Michal Rozsival. He also previously re-signed forward Bryan Bickell and defenseman Nick Leddy.
“I’ve always had the philosophy if you’re relying on the free-agent period in July to save your team, it’s probably not the prescription we’re looking for,” Bowman said on Friday night. “Adding a player here and there is certainly understandable. Bryan Bickell, I guess, could fall into that category. We got him signed a week ago leading into this. He’s the only guy you can put into that category for us, the frenzy.
“I think the way to build success and sustain it is through the draft and develop your players and add in the occasional player through free agency. If I had my choice, I would do it the way we’ve done it recently which is develop from within, have your young players emerge over time, don’t rush them to the NHL and really use the draft and the development of your young players as a way to find really good players. Fortunately, we’ve been able to do that. When we find a group that has had success, we can keep it together like we have this summer. That’s the preferred method for us. I think it’s the most prudent way in the salary cap world to sustain success.”
"I have had some discussion with [Blackhawks general manager] Stan [Bowman] regarding Vik's status with the Blackhawks," Stalberg's agent Wade Arnott wrote in an email on Monday night. "While I would not rule out having further discussion with the Blackhawks this week, it is highly likely Vik will be exploring the free agent marketplace when his contract expires. I would think the market would be vibrant for a player of Vik's stature and ability, never mind his upside."
Stalberg will become an unrestricted free agent next week after spending the last three seasons with the Blackhawks.
The Hawks found offensive success by attacking the net more no matter who was on the ice for the Bruins. Jonathan Toews expressed as much in the days after Game 4. Sustaining that at home should be easier to accomplish with the right work ethic considering any match-up concerns now favor the Hawks.
Did they really figure something out against Zdeno Chara or was that a fluke?
“It's not going to be like last game,” Dave Bolland predicted Saturday morning. “He's going to be looking to play a different game, change things around. We're going to have to be aware of him.”
Another key was the Hawks blue-line activating the offense and more importantly being a part of it. Michal Rozsival may have been one of the most important players on the ice as his shots led to two goals, establishing the Hawks lead for most of the night. Skating with the puck and pinching at the right time while helping on offense is a Hawks strength from the back-end. Expect it to continue.
Everyone’s eye will be on Corey Crawford’s glove on his left hand. Were his issues a one game aberration or something that might crop up again? If the worst case scenario happens, and Crawford gives up some early goals, there’s nothing to say Quenneville can’t go to Ray Emery. It’s not as likely of an option for Boston if the same struggles occur to Tuukka Rask because they don’t have a back-up who went 17-1. It’s doubtful Emery gets in there but it’s not a stretch to believe Crawford’s leash became a little shorter after Game 4.
Winning in the circle
Face-offs became an issue after the Hawks lost 71 percent of them in Game 3, but they reversed that trend in Game 4 coming out on top of about half of them. It had a big impact.
“I think it played a part early on in the game,” Quenneville said Saturday morning. “I thought we were much more effective than in the prior game. They got better as the game went on. I just think starting with the puck is key. I think having it against this team is important.”
The proof is in the results. The Hawks played a life-less Game 3 on offense when wining just 29 percent of the draws – and got shutout. Winning 38 of 77 face-offs made a big difference and it’s not a coincidence the Hawks scored more in Game 4, partly because of that improvement.
An X-factor line for Hawks
For a 6-5 final score in Game 3, the Hawks third line of Andrew Shaw, Viktor Stalberg and Brandon Saad had a quiet night. They combined for an even, plus/minus game, with their lone point coming on Saad’s short-handed assist to open the scoring. Collectively, they say they were happy with their defense in an open game but would like to be more noticeable on the offensive end. They combined for three shots on net.
“I like to get those chances,” Stalberg said of a bull rush around a slower defenseman. “The way they play, they play pretty structured. They come back five guys hard. The way to beat them is to keep longer cycles in their end, they have bigger guys that get tired, maybe. Longer puck possessions are key.”
Added Shaw: “Defensively we’ve been pretty good but we do need to create a few more offensive chances going into Game 5 here.”
Most observers felt the playing surface in Game 4 in Boston was better than in Game 3. Coincidentally, or not, the Hawks went from being shutout to scoring six goals. There’s little doubt a smoother surface benefits the speedy Hawks against most opponents – including the Bruins.
“I thought the ice was fine today,” Quenneville said. “It's kind of one of those days with the humidity and it will be a little warmer out there today. But the building and the playoffs have been fine, the ice has been fine. We talked about that going into that game against Detroit with the Stones (Rolling Stones), and I think everybody had no problem with the ice. I think sometimes late in periods you've got to know that it gets a little bit worn out in both buildings, and you've got to be smart in those areas.”
Still, things could be different at game time and a fast surface can only help the Hawks – not hurt them.
Marian Hossa will play and can only be feeling better after two days off the ice. He didn’t take the morning practice on Saturday so he hasn’t been on skates since the end of Game 4 late on Wednesday. Quenneville says he’ll be better in Game 5 as any boost from Hossa is a huge boost for the Hawks.
Stalberg, who is known for his speed and offensive game, was replaced by forward Brandon Bollig in the series’ first two games. Quenneville said prior to Game 1 he wanted to utilize Bollig’s physical play against the Bruins.
Stalberg has zero goals, three assists and a minus-one rating in 15 playoff games this season. He had nine goals and 14 assists in the regular season.
“He could play [in Game 3],” Quenneville said of Stalberg at TD Garden on Sunday.
Bollig played on the fourth line and had 25 shifts and 14:24 of ice time in Game 1 of the finals. He had three shots on goal, nine hits and a zero plus/minus rating in the Blackhawks’ 4-3 triple-overtime win. In Game 2 on Saturday, Bollig played 14 shifts and logged 8:42 of ice time. He had zero shots on goal, zero hits, two giveaways and a minus-one rating.
On the Bruins’ game-winning goal in Game 2, Bollig was unable to corral a pass from teammate Brent Seabrook along the boards, and the Bruins retrieved the puck and scored moments later.
Quenneville spoke positively of Bollig after Game 2.
“I thought he was fine,” Quenneville said on Saturday. “I thought he had two good games. That [fourth] line, didn't get them out there much in overtime. Every time they were out there, they were a threat to score. Had a lot of offensive zone time. They got the one shift, around the wall, we didn't get there in time. Bang, bang.”
Quenneville also benched Stalberg for two games against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals. Daniel Carcillo replaced Stalberg in the two games against the Red Wings. Stalberg returned for Game 3 against the Red Wings and played 10 consecutive games leading up to the Stanley Cup finals.
Stalberg’s playing time in the playoffs has often been less than what he was given in the regular season. He averaged 14:07 of ice time in 47 regular-season games and has played more than 12 minutes just twice in the playoffs. He has played less than 10 minutes in seven of those games.
“I don't know what to do," Stalberg said prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. "You can't get too down, too upset or too frustrated about it. There's two weeks left in the year. We're going to try to win it. It's simple as that. If I'm playing, I'm playing. If I'm not, I'm not. I can't do much about that right now. When I was playing, it felt like I wasn't playing at times when [there's] so little ice time. It is what it is. Obviously, it's frustrating. At the end of the day, it's two more weeks and hopefully [we] have a Cup here. That's all that matters.”
Although he appeared in just 19 regular-season games this year and none so far in the postseason, it might be time for Chicago Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers to make his playoff debut in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins on Monday.
Conventional thinking in the aftermath of the Hawks' 2-1 loss in Game 2 was that Viktor Stalberg might return to the lineup in place of fourth-liner Brandon Bollig.
Bollig wasn’t able to corral a pass from Brent Seabrook in overtime Saturday, and the Bruins pounced for the winning goal in the ensuing sequence. While Bollig wasn’t around to talk about it after the game, his confidence must have taken a hit, though coach Joel Quenneville’s assessment that it was a bang-bang play was spot on.
No one should be beating Bollig up over it, but it would be understandable if he was a little gun-shy the next time he takes the ice -- so maybe he shouldn’t.
Should Chicago Blackhawks brawny forward Brandon Bollig be playing in the Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins instead of speedy -- and more experienced -- winger Viktor Stalberg?
After being unable to handle a pass around the boards in overtime, which led to the winning goal by Daniel Paille in Game 2, Bollig is a candidate to sit out Monday's Game 3. Though coach Joel Quenneville didn't indicate anything of the sort after the game Saturday.
"I thought he was fine," he said. "I thought he had two good games. That line, didn't get them out there much in overtime. Every time they were out there, they were a threat to score. Had a lot of offensive zone time. They got the one shift, around the wall, we didn't get there in time. Bang, bang."
Quenneville isn't wrong about any of that. The fourth line has been decent, but that mostly has been because of Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger. And the pass around the boards was a "bang, bang" play, but would a more skillful winger have grabbed it? No one can know the answer, but Quenneville likes to make changes after a loss. And with just one goal on the board in Game 2, he might make the same move he made in Game 3 against Detroit: play Stalberg.
Bollig replaced forward Viktor Stalberg in the Blackhawks' lineup on Wednesday. Bollig hadn't played since Game 3 of the Western Conference quarterfinals on May 5.
Bollig played 25 shifts and 14:24 in the Blackhawks' triple-overtime 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 1 on Wednesday. He tied Andrew Shaw for a team-high nine hits. Bollig also had three shots on goal and a 0-plus/minus rating.
"I thought he had a real strong game for us," Quenneville said of Bollig. "I liked what he brought to the team. I thought defensively responsible. I thought he ended up in the offensive zone a lot. Defensively, you're comfortable with him. I thought he was physical. I thought he had a purpose behind his game. He brought what we were looking for."
Quenneville said prior to Game 1 he was replacing Stalberg with Bollig because the 6-foot-2, 223-pound Bollig provided the team with a more physical player against the Bruins. Bollig played in 25 regular-season games, averaged 8:01 of ice time, had a minus-1 rating and had 41 hits.
Bollig played on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Michal Frolik on Wednesday. Dave Bolland, who was on the fourth line previously, was moved to the third line and assisted on the winning goal.
Stalberg, who was a healthy scratch on Wednesday, was also benched for the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings. He has three assists in 15 playoff games.
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