Recently I spent some time with Hall of Famer and former Blackhawks coach Denis Savard. One of the classiest guys to ever don a Hawk uniform, he was nice enough to give me a few minutes about the team he loves.
Marian Hossa makes his season debut on Wednesday in San Jose. For those who haven’t seen much of him, what are the one or two things that will be most apparent or impressive when a guy like that comes back?
Denis Savard: He’s a big body. A big player and he has proven to be a go-to guy throughout his whole career. It’s just his presence, his ability, and his size. One thing people will notice about Marian Hossa is he competes in tough areas. You have a lot of good players in this league, but the great ones compete in tough areas and that’s what he does. Unfortunately, he’s been on the wrong side of the Stanley Cup two years in a row so hopefully the third is going to be a good charm for all of us.
What has the team done that’s impressed you the most?
DS: To win a championship, you have to have depth. And that what’s most impressive to me through the first part of the season. All along I knew we had that. If you look at the [Troy] Brouwers or [Jack] Skille or even [Bryan] Bickell when he came up, those guys are as important as the stars on the team, so when you look at next year and you have to deal with the cap, here are some guys that can fill those roles. Hopefully we’ll be able to sign Duncan [Keith], Jonathan [Toews] and Patrick [Kane] and then you have enough depth to go on.
On the very first TV broadcast, you did some analysis and mentioned Troy Brouwer as an emerging guy. He’s come on over the last 10 games. Did a light go on for him?
DS: Not necessarily. It takes time for young kids. Once they get up here, it takes time to adjust to the speed of the game and for Troy, he’s a big body and has one of the top shots. And the other thing that goes well in his game, he’s very smart. How many guys stand in front of the net and are used for penalty killing? Not many
You know these guys well. How have they dealt with the pressure of high expectations?
DS: There is pressure. No doubt about it. But they have handled it. You look at what they did in Calgary the other night. The Flames are a good team. They’ve dominated them over the last 5 1/2 periods. It takes a pretty special team to do that versus a team like Calgary. Going through what they did last year has helped this team. No question about it.
For years as an assistant and a head coach, I watched you work on faceoffs with the players, and at times it wasn’t always a Hawk’s strength. This year they are up from 23rd in the league to second. How much of as difference does that make?
DS: It sets up one thing: puck possession. If you’re going to get the puck 60 percent of the time, and you might think that’s only 20 percent more than the other team, but that’s a lot, especially with a skilled team. If you’re able to win faceoffs like that, at the end of the day you’re going to end up on top. John Madden has been a great pick up. He’s pretty impressive.
You’re coaching again. Dave Bolland goes down. Barring a trade, do you think Patrick Sharp ends up back in the middle or do you go with Versteeg like Joel has done or something else?
DS: I don’t think Sharpie is a centerman any longer. One, he loves to play the wing, and two, the guy that is going to be down low shouldn’t be one of your best goal scorers. You want those guys to play higher. Sharpie has been snake-bit a little but it's still been a great season ... I know he’s missed a bunch of chances but it’s about luck. He hasn’t had any lately, but he’s playing great.
So what would you do at center? Mix and match and wait for Bolland to return? That’s months away.
DS: With [Jonathan Toews] and Madden, you’ll be able to rotate them and double shift them when you need to. I don’t think it’s going to matter. Having those two guys, you can cover up what you need to. Don’t get me wrong, centermen are important and we lost -- what I believe -- is one of the smartest players on the team in Bolland. Hopefully he’s back for the stretch drive because you will need him to get the ultimate prize.
Do you think they are looking for a center? You can tell me.
DS: I have no idea. I don’t ask or get involved in any of that stuff. I’m like you. I’m guessing.
Do you still miss the competitiveness or is it a bit out of your system, now that’s its been over a year?
DS: I’m very content where I am now. I’m so pleased at how well they are playing. At the end of the day, we look at the big picture. As I said when I was let go, its not about Denis Savard, it’s about the Chicago Blackhawks and our team and organization is doing well. The biggest thing -- and the thing that makes you the most happy -- is seeing that building sold out again. Our people in Chicago deserve it.
Does the building now remind you of the old stadium when you played?
DS: It’s hard to say because I’m not on the ice. Even behind the bench, it’s not the same as on the ice. Well, I was on the ice with Bobby [Hull] and Stan [Mikita] for that first game. That was fun. But I’d say it’s just as exciting, that’s for sure. You know how the fans are, and when we play that song when we score. People love it, and it’s exciting and I hope they go far.