(Photo: Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
“‘Go to the mattresses.’ You’re at war. ‘It’s not personal, it’s business. It’s not personal it’s business.’ Recite that to yourself every time you feel you’re losing your nerve. I know you worry about being brave, this is your chance. Fight. Fight to the death.”
Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), owner of a thriving book conglomerate, gives this “Godfatherly” advice to his e-crush Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), unaware that she’s the owner of a small bookstore battling his chain to stay open in one of my favorite RomCom’s, “You’ve Got Mail.”
The Chicago Blackhawks, like every other NHL team, are at war. (Coincidentally, the team was named after original team owner Major Frederic McLaughlin’s World War I division, the Black Hawks–honoring the namesake Sauk Indian Chief.) They fight to the near death through a grueling, physical sport each year in hopes of hoisting the sporting world’s most glorious trophy.
So, though we may look at our team as family, we must also remember it’s a business. They play for their livelihood. And, a team is working within the parameters of a salary cap.
That means, sometimes, good people have to go. It’s not personal. It’s business.
The Blackhawks needed to extend contracts for Captain Jonathan Toews and forward Patrick Kane. Their $10.5 million, eight-year extensions were more than fair considering their combined accolades. There could be worse problems than having too many talented players on the roster.
So long, ‘Zus
For the Blackhawks, though, it’s meant saying goodbye to Michal Handzus, who was pivotal in last season’s playoff run, even if the team fell in Game Seven of the Western Conference Final to the eventual Stanley Cup winning Los Angeles Kings. At 37, a seasoned veteran in the league, Handzus isn’t ready to retire, and was hoping to stay in Chicago.
He had a big hand the Blackhawks’ 2013 Cup win, but had just four goals and 12 assists in 59 games with the Hawks last season. His second-line center spot was covered by Andrew Shaw as the season came to an end. He told Chicago media that being let go was “sad, but not a surprise.” “I want to play,” Handzus said. “I still have fun. It left a bad taste the way we lost in the playoffs and I didn’t play well. I still feel that I’m a better player than I showed. “Now I’m healthy for the offseason and I can work and get into shape and do what I need to do. I feel I can still help a team. We’ll see if the teams think that too. I know I’m an older guy and I don’t know what’s out there, but we’ll see.”
I would’ve liked to see ‘Zus retire a Blackhawk, but he didn’t fit in the pocketbook. With a $2.5 million cap hit, Hawks’ brass decided to part ways with the player. Though he was let go in June, he’s yet to be picked up by another team.
Someone has to want that flow, though.
Bye, Bye, Bollie
Budgeting also meant saying goodbye to Brandon Bollig.
‘‘It’s always tough when you trade a player who has been a regular player for you,’’ General Manager Stan Bowman said. ‘‘You have to make tough decisions these days. We’re not the only team that will go through that.’’
The 2013-2014 season was statistically his best, with seven goals and seven assists, in the 82 regular season games, and one assist in 15 playoff games. He showed he could be more than an enforcer compared to his previous seasons.
I must confess I wasn’t devastated by this move. I like Bollig, but have been disappointed in his recent play. His dedicated progress toward a skilled all-around player (versus hockeyfights.com star) seemed to dwindle after a March 30 hit from the Penguins’ Brooks Orpik left Toews with a shoulder injury.
Many questioned the smart choice not to retaliate in a game where the team needed to focus on a win. Apparently, he didn’t take kindly to the criticism.
He racked up 203 hits, went to fisticuffs six times, and served 92 penalty minutes last season. He was a healthy scratch for four playoff games.
The Blackhawks extended his contract, $1.25 million for three years, in March and Bollig purchased a condo in Chicago’s upscale River North neighborhood. Then, June 28, he was dealt to Calgary for the 83rd-overall draft pick.
Flames General Manager Brad Treliving said he liked the idea of adding Bollig’s toughness and Stanley Cup experience to his young roster.
Bollig is expected to get more than his approximately 10 minutes of ice time per game with the move to the Flames.
“The more you play, the better you feel, I think,” Bollig told media when his trade was announced late June. “I loved my role here in Chicago, but when you change teams, you get the new look and new coaches think different things about certain roles and certain players.
“I’m excited to see where this takes me, and, hopefully expand my role and have a good, exciting season up in Calgary. My time here in Chicago was amazing and I’ll never forget it; but it’s going to be fun to help rebuild that organization.”
I think the St. Charles, Missouri, native’s time in Chicago helped make him a better player and he will be able to utilize that on the ice with the Flames.
Yes, the Blackhawks are lacking in the brute department. But, I prefer finesse to physicality on the ice–something that has paid off in the form of Stanley Cups in 2010 and 2013. Chicago is left with the size of Bryan Bickell and the scrappy nature of Andrew Shaw if they need someone to stand up to bullies.
Bowman said Rockford IceHogs center Brandon Mashinter, at 6-feet, 4-inches and 220 pounds and with 23 NHL games experience, may be able to step in.
What fans will miss are his character, like when he used this:
as an answer to this:
And, of course, images like this one:
Down with the Wall
Goaltender Nickolai Khabibulin won’t be returning, either, but that’s to be expected. I was astonished the Blackhawks even signed him last season to his one-year $2 million contract. He was an excellent goaltender in his prime, but as a backup to Corey Crawford, and at 40 years old, the “‘Bulin Wall” showed signs of crumbling early in the season. After a groin injury Nov. 16, Khabibulin didn’t return to the roster. He was replaced by Antti Raanta, who was pretty solid as Crawford’s backup. Raanta had a .897 save percentage and 2.71 goals against average with 13 wins and five losses in 25 games played.
Khabibulin had a .811 save percentage and 5.00 goals against average in four games–11 seasons after taking the Vezina and Hart trophies and serving as an All-Star goalie with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Yet to sign?
The Blackhawks are yet to re-sign Sheldon Brookbank, a young and strong defenseman I would love to keep in the red sweater next year. He was a plus-two with two goals and five assists in 48 games with the Blackhawks last year. Brookbank meant a $1.25 million cap hit, according to capgeek.com, last season.
With talent like this, I’d like to see his return:
While players like Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp have been publicly addressed as protected parts of the team (both for good reason, including their talent on the ice and Sharp’s marketability), Brookbank’s status hasn’t been addressed.
What would Carly do?
Why? Well, he’s coming off a great year stats-wise, so he looks great on paper for trade-bait. In 98 games last season, he had 10 goals and 46 assists. He was a plus-23 for the regular season. (Sure, this is also a reason to keep him on the team. He’s one of the few guys who will take a shot from the blue line instead of playing hot potato with the puck.) But, he also carries a $5.8 million cap hit according to capgeek.com, and has a tendency for taking misguided penalties (and suspensions) like the one against David Backes at a pivotal point of the postseason. Seabrook is signed through next year.
It should also be noted, though, that without two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith in his defensive pairing, Seabrook, in my humble opinion, would not be quite the esteemed player he is. Keith will take shots from the blue line as well, and in 98 games had 10 goals and 62 assists. He was a plus-22 in the regular season and plus-7 in the playoffs. Keith, fortunately, is signed at $5.5 million until 2023.
Keith and Hjalmarsson were the go-to duo when Seabrook seemed to lack passion against the Kings at crunch time in the Western Conference Final and, even without a voice (Hjalmarsson stops pucks with his throat and stays in the playoffs) the pair meshed pretty well.
Even Nick Leddy will shoot from the blue line and put his body in front of shot pucks, at half the cap hit of Seabrook.
This doesn’t account for all of the prospects in the mix.
As for what will happen… only time will tell.