OK, maybe not in the best taste as far as a headline. But it is time to "clear the air" on a range of subjects and misperceptions surrounding the Blackhawks.
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"Tallon should be fired. He isn't acquiring the players we need to compete."
FACT: There are roughly 25 teams in both conferences "in the hunt" for playoff spots right now. Most of them, by the way, are more serious playoff contenders than the Hawks. Therefore, logic dictates that those teams are buyers, not sellers right now. They want to acquire talent, not shed it. So rule those teams out of the picture. That leaves you with 5-7 cellar dwellers who either don't have a lot of talent or are looking to shed problem players and problem contracts. Pass. Tallon's hands are tied right now.
Further, he has acquired talent. This team is dramatically better than it was last year because of his acquisitions. A lot of the same people calling for his head wanted the Hawks to draft Phil Kessel or James van Riemsdyk instead of Toews and Kane. While Denis Savard has taken (most likely) Martin Havlat and Robert Lang to task for not competing hard enough, they have clearly elevated the Hawks' overall competitiveness as a team. He also traded Matt Ellison (remember him?) for Patrick Sharp. And he brought in Sopel for peanuts, who has helped the team a great deal.
"It's better to wait 'til Brian Campbell becomes a free agent. That way he doesn't cost us young players."
FACT: Maybe not. If you really want Campbell, then dealing for him now, contingent on him signing an extension, is the way to go. If he becomes a free agent, then he goes where the market tells him, more importantly, at the price the market will bear. The point is, the salary cap will go up this off-season, maybe a lot. Free agency is going to be expensive. I'm certain Campbell or similar targets of the Hawks have agents that weren't born yesterday, and won't agree to "cheap" extensions now. But, the Hawks are a team on the rise in a great city, and that can work to their advantage in such a negotiation. So the issue becomes weighing the value of prospects/players you'd have to send to Buffalo vs. the certainty of acquiring Cambell now and the savings of not letting him hit the open market.
"Jack Skille is doing great."
FACT: Right now, Skille is a floater. For a supposed "power forward," he does almost no hitting. He also needs a lot of work on how to effectively break the puck out of his own end. In college, he did a lot of lurking and circling in the neutral zone, waiting for outlet passes, so he could use his speed to generate chances. He still has a little bit of that cherry-picker instinct. This guy was drafted 7th overall, and I have a feeling Savvy is not totally satisfied with his effort either. Right now, what I see is great speed and the occasional huge rebound finding his stick. To his credit, he is willing to go to the net. But he does not work hard without the puck. Nelson Emerson was fast, too.
Al Cimaglia is dead-on with his blog this morning. The Hawks do not have enough physicality up front. Which leads me to my next misperception/fact.
"Dustin Byfuglien should not be played at forward."
FACT: Byfuglien has played forward off and on his whole career, going back to junior. But he has had much more experience playing defense. That said, his ongoing (and seemingly endless) positioning gaffes and problems handling faster forwards are all the more reason that the Hawks should be considering moving him up front.
Playing defense is a lot more complicated than just having a big shot or occasionally delivering a punishing hit. Anyone who has ever played or coached hockey to some extent will tell you: some players have an instinct for defense and some don't. Some are instinctively better at center or wing. Jordan Hendry is instinctively a defenseman.
Byfuglien has the big shot, but he also has unusually good puck skills and offensive zone instincts. And his hitting can be devastating to opposing defensemen as a forward on the forecheck. And he is just the kind of road grader the Hawks need at forward right now. True, he needs some polish. The only way he's going to get it is by playing there.
"The Hawks need to acquire players right now to get in the playoffs."
FACT: Barring a miracle certified by the Catholic Church, the Hawks aren't going to the playoffs this year.
The Hawks are actually at a crossroads brought about by two things. Poorer than expected performance from veterans like Lang, Havlat, and Nikolai Khabibulin. And better than expected performance from Jonathan Toews, Pat Kane and Patrick Sharp. The Hawks expected to make decisions on the first three after their contracts were up at the end of next season, assuming the kids would be well along by then. But the quick maturation of the kids and serious leadership and performance issues with nearly $20 million worth of veterans makes it now a question of whether the Hawks should hold on to any of them, if a deal or even perhaps a buy-out or two can be had.
However, Lang and Havlat give the Hawks a second scoring line, in addition to Kane and Toews. The Hawks need that, as future scorers like Bill Sweatt, Petri Kontiola and Igor Makarov probably won't be ready to contribute on that level next season.
Can Tallon shed some or all of the aforementioned veterans and replace them through trades or free agency with less expensive players with more potential?
Between now and the trade deadline, and then after July 1, the answers await.
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