Scroll up about 10 lines. Look at those scores. Need I say more?
"Nope, that about says it all," you answer. But if I submit a
14-word team report, the publishers might get mad and take away my
booze-and-strippers expense account, so I'll forge ahead.
This latest Blackhawks debacle -- a six-game winless streak while
playing only one 1997 playoff team -- contained elements of the
strange and the familiar, bad breaks and bonehead plays, and
futility at both ends of the ice.
Strangely, the Hawks all of a sudden can't kill penalties. Even
more odd has been the subpar play of Jeff Hackett. But the lack of
consistent scoring and the anemic power play are all too familiar.
Early in the streak the Hawks saw a scoreless tie broken when an
attempt to ring the puck around the boards turned into a centering
pass courtesy of the experimental second referee and his limited
agility. Later in the streak, Eric Weinrich's perfect backhand
pass from behind his own net found Bill Lindsay for the game-winner
late in the third period. Lindsay, if you don't know, plays for
the Florida Panthers.
All-around lousy play has the Hawks near the bottom of the NHL in
offense (22nd in goals scored) and defense (25th in goals allowed).
It's only 13 games into the season, but Coach Dirk Graham has
already tried every tactic in the book to motivate his team. He
tried throwing some kids out there for added energy. That
experiment ended with the assignment of Ty Jones, Alain Nasreddine,
and Remi Royer to the minors. He tried benching veterans he felt
weren't leaving it on the ice, but with a roster depleted by trade
and injury, Graham can't afford to leave Weinrich or Kilger in the
press box. His post-game comments have run from "It's my fault,"
to "Look on the bright side," to "Hi, I'm Lorne Molleken -- Dirk
would love to talk to you but he's busy."
What's most worrisome about the Graham era so far is the team's lack
of spirit, energy, heart -- whatever you want to call it, it's the
thing Graham was brought in specifically to provide. In almost
every game there have been tantalizing stretches where the Hawks
forecheck aggressively, hit like they mean it, and generally take
control of the game. But they inevitably revert to running around
in their own end, making lazy passes, and getting beaten to loose
If Graham, hardly an expert tactician, can't properly motivate this
team, the question arises...
Is Dirk on the Hot Seat?
"Come on," you say, "it's 13 games into the season. Liz Taylor and
that construction dude had a longer honeymoon, fer Chrissakes!"
Well don't blame me for starting rumors; the salaried journalists in
this town have already run with one story alleging that assistant
Denis Savard is poised to replace his ex-teammate as coach.
Both parties pooh-poohed the notion, of course, but rumors persist.
Neither Graham nor Savard deny their differences of style and
opinion, but Graham points out that surrounding oneself with "yes men
. . . hurts the growth of any coach."
The Thursday night pickup league at Johnny's Ice House suffered a
major loss when tough, scrappy winger Jonene Shantz was shipped off
to Calgary, along with her husband Jeff and fellow Hawks' centerman
In return, the Hawks received Marty McInnis, Jamie Allison, and Erik
Andersson. McInnis, the only one of these bright lights with
appreciable NHL experience, was then shipped to Anaheim for an
undisclosed draft pick.
Now I might not be an NHL scout, and who knows what upside Allison
or Andersson might have, but what the hell kind of trade was that?
You take two guys from your own system who worked hard, did
everything the coaches asked, and eventually earned significant
playing time, and you toss them on the NHL scrap heap for no
When Brent Sutter retired, the Hawks had not one but two guys ready
to jump in as that faceoff-winning, puck-in-the-corner-freezing,
all-around steady and unspectacular* third-line center.
So what, you ask? Just try building an NHL team without one. Maybe
it's just a coincidence, but two nights after the trade I flipped on
ESPN to find Dubinsky drawing a penalty by hustling after a loose
puck while the Hawks were giving up three power-play goals to
Mark Janssens is fine as a fourth-line bruiser, and the vacancy at
center allows Chad Kilger to move back to his natural position, but
I'm convinced this trade made the Hawks a worse team.
In another deal right before the LCS Hockey issue deadline, the
Hawks traded Cam Russell to the injury-plagued Colorado Avalanche
for left wing Roman Vopat and a sixth-round pick.
"Mon Dieu, Comme Je Suis Grand!"
Apparently Eric Daze caught his reflection in a full-length mirror
sometime this past offseason, because he's started to play like a
6-foot-6-inch 220-pounder. His open-ice hits have flattened the
likes of this one big guy on the Canadiens and this other big guy
on this other team. A bit of a mean streak in a kid this big with
hands that soft could turn Daze into something special and make Bob
Murray look well-nigh crafty for locking the youngster up in a
Longtime Blackhawk irritant Dino Ciccarelli, now with the Florida
Panthers, accused Hawks' goalie Mark Fitzpatrick of deliberately
kicking him in the forehead after Ciccarelli scored a goal in the
teams' November 4th meeting.
"He kicked me twice," Dino said. "He knew what he was doing."
Relax, Dino, you're one of the lucky ones whose appearance would be
improved by a skate blade to the face.
Paul Coffey (he's actually a member of the Hawks, in case you'd
forgotten) announced last week that his back was fully healed, but
that he now suffered from "drop foot."
"Meaning I can't lift the foot up in the air," Coffey said. "I
haven't been able to skate. I've been going crazy for a month and
Yeah Paul, so have Hawk fans who are footing the bill (no pun
intended) for your paid vacation.
News and Notes
Chris Chelios reached two milestones this week when he played in his
1000th NHL game and overtook Keith Magnuson as the Blackhawks'
all-time leader in penalty minutes. "I'm going to call Maggie
today and apologize," said Chelios, "I did it with a hold." . . .
Tony Amonte continued his hot start to the season, finishing the
weekend tied for second in the NHL in goals with nine . . . Eric
Weinrich's tough night against Florida wasn't limited to his
tape-to-tape pass to Bill Lindsay for the Panthers' winning goal.
He also caught teammate Doug Gilmour in the face with a clearing
attempt. Gilmour ended up with stitches and a beauty of a shiner,
but only missed a couple of shifts . . . I'm going to have to find
a new whipping boy now that Remi Royer, the human turnover, has
finally been sent to the minors . . . Finally, is it just me or do
personnel decisions like the Shantz/Dubinsky trade and the signing
of Ed Olczyk indicate some communication breakdown between coach
and GM? Graham never had any intention of playing Olczyk (he's now
with the Chicago Wolves), and it seems like Shantz and Duber were
just the type of player Graham would want more of.
* My apologies to Jeff Shantz for calling him unspectacular. His
coast-to-coaster against the Sharks a couple years ago made every
highlight film that season.