Blackhawks Breakdown, Torres-Seabrook, Rule Confusion, & The Elements Of A Championship Team.
Ok, back to me
I’m not even an official Chicago Blackhawks fan, but I hate seeing what’s happened to them.
To see last year’s Stanley Cup champions reduced to backing into the 8th seed playoff spot via hopes of others’ misfortune, and now having their asses handed to them by their archrivals is really quite stark in contrast to the Hawks club that celebrated curbing the greatly publicized Chicago Cup drought not so long ago.
There are two things that strike me about the situation. One is that it really speaks to the team aspect – how many “cogs” working in harmony it takes to win a championship. When you think about the Chicago Blackhawks, the names that come to mind most often are probably Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Obviously they have other strong players, but those two are largely painted as the poster boys for that franchise; and rightfully so. When the team’s “gutting” unfolded last season, the optimistic ones surely felt that as long as those two were on the roster, they’d be ok. It’s right about now that the (at times) overshadowed, and perhaps underappreciated necessity of now delinquent Adam Burish, Ben Eager, John Madden, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, and Anti Niemi (the latter few got their share of attention, mind you) would be welcomed in their lineup. Even with guys like Hossa, Keith, Seabrook, heck even coach Joel Quenneville, they just can’t pull it back together to what it was.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying those dealt away are the secret to success, because with four of those players on teams not even in the playoffs this year, clearly that’s not the case. The point I want to make is to show another example of how a team will not necessarily survive on talent alone – look at Montreal again in these playoffs for example – and how necessary it is for the “stars to align” to bring that just-right mix of guys together who can truly function as a working unit and accomplish an ultimate goal. It’s a lot easier said than done; just ask Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya about their conspiracy to both take less money to play together in Colorado to try and win a Cup in2003.
I really wanted good Canadian kid Jonathan Toews to come out on top, and prove everyone wrong by winning again. I sort of get the feeling Patrick Kane’s content with scoring the Cup winning goal last year (I would be too) and is more worried about looking cool while chewing on his mouthguard/negating it’s entire safety function in an era of hockey where the league is trying to reduce head injuries. Anyways, long point short, this year’s Blackhawks seem like a band that used to be really awesome, split up to do solo records, and never really recaptured the glory they once had; better together than apart. Unless there’s some miraculous 7-game comeback, we’re going to see a new Stanley Cup champion this year. I wonder if Dustin Byfuglien thinks now that taking less money to stay on a good team might have been a better idea now? They sure could use him in front of Luongo.
And since we’ve dipped into the head injury topic, my thoughts on Raffi Torres’ hit on Brent Seabrook are that the initial penalty called was correct – Seabrook did not have the puck. I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was a suspension, but I’m not upset there wasn’t. There were just so many intangibles to factor in to the result though; Seabrook has a concussion history (and it’s insane that he doesn’t wear a new-era memory foam concussion padded helmet), Torres has a suspension history, and the NHL gets eyeballed by the world every time a bodycheck is thrown. Torres is a role player that is, quite frankly, doing his job: blowing guys up with bodychecks and creating puck turnovers. The new NHL has been phasing out the fighter position for a while now, and the latest revelation seems to be the big-hitters are the next queued for extinction. You can see it right in Raffi’s facial expression to the referee after the call was made; while some would read it as a “I didn’t do anything ref!” look, I saw it as a guy who legitimately is unclear as to what he is and isn’t allowed to do anymore in terms of body checking anymore.
I really think that’s a huge notion to consider, especially in the playoffs. The quest for a championship requires such a level of focus and perfection that for a player to be second guessing his limitations on the ice will most certainly at some point be the difference of a player that would normally get hammered by Torres instead get around him, make him look ridiculous, and probably earn Raffi a spot on the pine, or worse, on the healthy scratch list next game.
It reminds me of one of my first games playing in France. Prior to playing there, I had largely defined my style of hockey as quite physical, because that’s what had brought me the most success at every other level. In fact, I had that style drilled into me since the age we were allowed to run into each other in minor hockey. We were playing a game on the road, and I went to finish my check on a guy into the boards who had just released the puck in enough of a time frame that I felt I was in the right to complete the hit, which I did; a pretty routine play back in North America. Whistles, a stoppage in play, and an escort to the penalty box later, I assumed I had done something wrong (though I couldn’t confirm it because everyone was talking in French). A teammate then joined me in the box. I asked him what was going on. He relayed to me that I had been assessed a 10-minute penalty for a “vicious” hit (I’ve hit guys a lot harder with worse results), and he was there to serve an extra two. When I finally got out of the box and back into the game, I played very tentative because I couldn’t understand what I was allowed to do (the language barrier didn’t help), and I was largely ineffective from there on in.
So that brings me to my next point – for the sake of the players, and everyone’s general understanding, the NHL needs to clearly define some rules. No more shades of grey; whatever the ruling is, just tell us and the players, so they can go about figuring out how to play correctly, and we can all stop squabbling about it. The North American style of hockey is largely physical, and that’s what we were all raised on. There’s already (nearly) non-contact hockey in Europe. That’s their style and that’s fine and dandy for them. Over here, players run into each other and get blown up (as well as scoring goals periodically). This monster that’s been created by the new rules is something the league needs to learn to manage better before the NHL decides to introduce touch-football rules. Whether the game is supposed to be full of clutching, grabbing, and fighting, or speed, finesse, and concussions, please someone just let us all know so we can keep up and eliminate all the second-guessing for the sake of the game we all love.