Blackhawk fans deal with reasons for hope and concern - FOX 35 News Orlando

Blackhawk fans deal with reasons for hope and concern

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The news floating around concerning a possible NHL lockout as well as the uncertainties surrounding the Blackhawks won't inspire much enthusiasm amongst Chicago hockey fans. That said Hawk loyalists shouldn't get down concerning the outlook for next season just yet. Although, the Draft and July 1 are quickly approaching - and if nothing worthwhile is accomplished soon - it will be difficult to believe better days will be coming.

With looming changes to the collective bargaining agreement on the horizon it isn't an easy time for NHL general managers. The same can be said for owners and upcoming July 1 free agents. Franchises which deal with the uncertainties the best will be in a position to succeed. Those who sit back and wait for the dust to settle could likely be left behind.

The best plan for the Blackhawks is to not be too comfortable no matter how long the current waiting list for season tickets. Another first round exit playoff exit or not qualifying for post season play at all would greatly dull the buzz. GM Stan Bowman should make some key additions, and hopefully he will feel a need to do so.

The Hawks will have to be aggressive if looking to acquire big name free agents and so far, Bowman hasn't been a big spender. There are trade possibilities but Bowman may have to part with some prospects and in the past he hasn't done so. Many Blackhawk fans are hopeful he may break out of his mold. The Hawks don't necessarily need to make headlines with mega contract signings in coming weeks but some meaningful change is a must.

Possible Lockout

Unfortunately the outlook for starting the 2012-2013 season on time is looking bleak, if current rumblings are correct. There has been persistent chatter the NHL is likely headed for a work stoppage. Maybe the owners are just tipping off salaried employees to expect a lockout as a way of posturing to the NHLPA. Any type of delay in starting the season wouldn't be good.

One story going around is the season won't begin until around mid to late November, and in that case the Winter Classic could still be played. The Classic is scheduled for January 2 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The Red Wings and Maple Leafs will square off in front of an expected crowd of over 100,000.

It seems foolish for owners and the NHLPA to think fans will simply flock back despite another work stoppage and the sport won't lose any traction in the states. Remarkably, that appears to be the case.

Maybe both owners and players are feeling too lofty about the status of the NHL. In many ways, popularity has never been higher in the United States but some perspective is needed.

Game 1 of the Cup Finals drew a weak 2.4 overnight TV rating which was the lowest for any Stanley Cup telecast since Game 4 of the 2007 series between the Ducks and Senators. NBC evidently doesn't have the confidence to carry all the Cup games on their flagship station and that isn't helping ratings. NBC made a decision which is curious considering their summer lineup of shows isn't very strong, but maybe they realize TV ratings for the Finals are hit or miss.

Players and owners should realize great strides have been taken but the popularity of the NHL is still well behind the NBA. A work stoppage won't help and as it is, the TV ratings for the NBA Draft Lottery show were higher (2.7 percent vs. 2.4 percent) than Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. There is no way to sugarcoat that ratings comparison. So before damage is done and growth slows due to a lockout maybe both sides need a reality check.


Jon Cooper is the name mentioned recently as being a candidate to join Joel Quenneville's staff. Cooper is 44-years-old and is currently coaching the Norfolk Admirals who are up 2-0 on the Toronto Marlies in the AHL Calder Cup Finals.

Cooper was recently named coach of the year in the AHL and has an impressive resume. When the Calder Cup series is decided we will see if Cooper is really a Quenneville finalist. There also have been rumblings the Admirals may change their affiliation from Tampa Bay to Anaheim next season so maybe Cooper is ready to move on.

Quenneville will not only have to find an assistant who is a talented coach but also someone that can be a good sounding board for players. According to sources, Bowman has fielded quite a few calls from players who were upset with the firing of Mike Haviland. The Hawks will move on and players will get over the Haviland dismissal but it is important Quenneville makes a good choice.


The bidding for UFA defenseman Ryan Suter could get very interesting. The Predators are supposedly throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Suter to keep him. There is a notion going around if Nashville can't resign Suter they would also lose number one defenseman Shea Weber when his contract is up after next season.

Crunch time no doubt for the Predators who have a great goalkeeper and a nice club but can't seem to make a deep playoff run. As far as the Blackhawks are concerned if they were going on a spending spree, my choice would be New Jersey forward Zach Parise. If Parise hits the open market he will be the most sought after free agent this summer.

The Hawks may not break the bank on one player although Parise would help make them a tougher to team to play against. It has been obvious in the current post season and in the last couple of years as well, being a "pretty" team doesn't lead to success. The talented Parise skates like the wind and can provide a physical forecheck, something the Hawks need to be better at doing.

The thought of Dave Bolland being used as trade bait may never happen since Quenneville appears to have been given more of a say so. Coach Q. is a Bolland supporter so that would leave two feasible trade chips from last season's roster, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Viktor Stalberg.

It was mentioned this week on TSN in Canada that if available, Quenneville would have been the first choice to become the new Canadiens head coach. It wouldn't be far-fetched to think Quenneville had a sit down with Rocky Wirtz while he had some leverage. It will be interesting to see if Coach Q. has more input on the roster and dictates playing time differently for some players. We already know he was given the opportunity to fire the well-liked Haviland.

Bowman has had the most success in putting trades together with GM's he has worked with in the past. One has to wonder if there is a trade coming with Montreal and former Blackhawk assistant GM Marc Bergevin. Maybe so, but my guess is there could be a beneficial deal for both sides with another Canadian club, the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers will be picking first in the Entry Draft for the third time in a row and will likely choose a forward once again. There should be a lot of pressure on their front office to make a strong bid for the playoffs this season and they need help on defense. There is also a Chicago connection as Rick Olczyk, Oilers assistant GM is the brother of Blackhawks color man Ed Olczyk.

The Oilers have to shore up their defense and with a bevy of talented offensive players, they may be willing to deal center Sam Gagner. There was a lot of trade chatter back in February concerning Gagner and he could fill a second line pivot role in Chicago. Gagner played on the same line with Patrick Kane in Juniors and the duo was very productive. Gagner isn't a lefty, which would be better, and isn't a big body but he has skill.

Gagner will be a restricted free agent soon and last season was a $2.275 million cap hit. Even with a raise, Gagner won't be any more expensive than Hjalmarsson and the Oilers may be forced to trade offense for defensive help. If a deal involving those two teams were to come about it could happen at the Draft on June 22-23.

Blackhawk fans will be looking for encouraging news in the next few weeks but not only concerning trades or free agent signings. Shortly after the Stanley Cup Finals conclude the upcoming CBA negotiations should officially start.

Follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia

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