About Me

My Photo
SportstownChicago.com Tuesday 3-5pm CT

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Scott Franz (formerly Scottsdale) Sees the future 3: The Central


I'm going to try and be swift in my analysis of the final 4 divisions, as the season has started and me premonitions will get less believable as the games are played.

So here we have the Central. I won't ramble on about the prospects of a repeat for the Blackhawks, warn of the predictable nature of the Predators, or rip into the sad experiment that is the Blue Jackets. I'll try to tell you straight and with no chaser. K? K.

Chicago Blackhawks

Yes, their roster has changed more than just about any team in the league. Yes, their third and fourth lines are made up of unproven veterans and kids. Yes, they let Stanley Cup winning goalie Antii Niemi walk in favor of cheaper veteran Marty Turco. Yes, the list of buts, what abouts, and how could they's could go on and on. However the key to this teams success depends on none of these things.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa represent an all star quality core that will return to defend the Stanley Cup. Throw in guys like Patrick Sharp, Tomas Kopecky, and a returning blue line that features Norris winner Duncan Keith, his partner in crime Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, and Lidstrom like prodigy Niklas Hjalmarrson, and you've got no excuses. Pretty much everyone on this team has earned their spot and you won't see much in the way of position battles. So it's up to Coach Quenneville and the training staff to keep these guys healthy and focused.

If the new arrivals can't gel quickly with the Hawks resident franchise players, it could be a long, slow start for the new throng of Chicago Blackhawks fans. But anything is possible, and no matter what they are still a top 6 team in the NHL.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Rick Nash. Rick Nash. Rick Nash. Steve Mason. Rick Nash.

I know, not exactly an in depth look, but seriously, this team was built for Nash, and he needs to lead by example, score goals, and make his teammates better. Brassard, Huselius, Umberger, and Vermette are good and capable supporting players for him to work with. The defense is all question marks, and the plan is, well, I'm not sure what kind of a team the Blue Jackets are. I hope they do.

Steve Mason has to remind us why he won the Calder trophy two years ago. So there.

And it'd be nice if people showed up to watch this team play. Fans are nice, you know, for support, energy, home ice advantage. So basically, they're hoping for a lot, expecting a little.

Detroit Red Wings

With the addition of Mike Modano, the Wings aren't exactly following the youth movement that the majority of the league is at the moment. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are apparently starting the season healthy with their psychic scoring bond intact. Franzen, Flippula, and the return of Jiri Hudler give them strength, speed, and toughness on all four lines. Lidstrom still anchoring the blue line will leading Stuart, Rafalski, and kid Kindl. I put the most focus on Jimmy Howard. He played very well to earn the starting spot in net for the Wings, and well enough in the playoffs to raise expectations for this season.

Joking aside, age can be a factor if injuries attack early for the Wings. The success of Detroit relies on consistency and speed. Coach Mike Babcock will keep them working hard throughout the 10-11 campaign in an attempt to regain their usual top spot in the division. But perhaps, their time has passed. Perhaps.

Nashville Predators

Perhaps the most intriguing team in the NHL, the Preds made minor adjustments in the free agent market by adding Sergei Kostitsyn and Shane O'Brien. With an already solid defensive strategy and staff, they looked to toughen up and possibly fill out the third and fourth lines with some secondary scoring/skill guys. Barry Trotz has some exciting talent to manage on the ice, especially in that of surging young star Patric Hornqvist. He had 51 points in 80 games last season, so Nashville will be looking for a repeat or improvement from this young man.

Pekka Rinne has a strange name, but that shouldn't effect the teams chances this year.

Like Columbus, filling the seats may be an issue for much of the regular season, but regardless of the amount of support, this team will be fun to watch and very dangerous.

St. Louis Blues

Every Game Counts. That's what the Blues marketing department has drawn up as their plan to draw fans to the games this year. Well, let me be the first to say, "Duh." Of course every game counts. Did you have a hard time being taken seriously last year guys? Did the fans think you took a few games off? I can only imagine. This year, lets try a different approach.

Hope.

Erik Johnson's shoulders are wide, and he can be the beginning of a great future for St. Louis, as he will lead from the blue line with capable help from Eric Brewer, Carlo Colaiacovo, and youngster Alex Pietrangelo. Offensively they possess 6 potential 20+ goal scorers led by David Backes, David Perron, and TJ Oshie, among others. So what? So, discipline being the key here, they could make great progress, and even be contenders at some point this season. They're young enough, and have a lot of speed and skill. If the coaches can develop a team style and identity to harness this, they'll move fast up the ranks of the NHL.

By the way, last years playoff legend, Jaroslav Halak is their starting goaltender. If he can produce half of the effort he put forth in the Canadiens playoff run last season, the Blues chances are greatly increased.

In summation, there are no two teams alike in the Central. There 5 different styles of play, and 5 different keys to each teams success. Development, Health, Coaching, Leadership, and Support.

So here it is:

1. Detroit Red Wings
2. Chicago Blackhawks
3. Nashville Predators
4. St. Louis Blues
5. Columbus Blue Jackets

Even if Chicago ends up being the better team, they're going to need the first half of the season to get to that point, as a lot of their players will be getting used to their roles, and each other. The Wings, barring injuries, will be consistent and productive. The only worry for them is whether or not they can make it last through the playoffs. The top three will be tight. As we know, thanks to the St. Louis Blues marketing team, every game counts. So early losses for some will give way to winning streaks later in the season, and the opposite for some. The Preds will hang tough all year and threaten often, but once the Wings and Hawks find their stride, they will be nearly unbeatable. They just have too much talent. St. Louis has a fighting chance, but look for them to build momentum into next year. And the Blue Jackets? No one really cares.

Scott Franz
Blue Line Hockey Chicago
Tuesdays
3-5 pm CT
SportstownChicago.Com

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Scottsdale Sees the Future 2: The Northwest Division



So, last time I was a bit wordy and perhaps too in depth in my analysis of the future of the Pacific division. The last thing I want is to come off as one of those boring biology teachers that you'd rather he put on a movie than listen to him talk. You know what I'm talking about. So going forward I'll keep it simple. I'll give you a blast of what works and what doesn't work for each team, and then spend the bulk of the time on my final thoughts and prediction. Ok? Lets go then.

Calgary Flames

Jarome Iginlas time is now or never. Approaching his mid thirties, his skills may not be diminished, but there are only so many times you can rebuild a team around your captain. With a proven goalie in Mikka Kiprusoff they can beat any team in the NHL, if the defense shows up. That defense will rely mostly on Jay Bouwmeester and Ian White to anchor the blue line, while the rest of the veterans and perhaps a prospect in T.J. Brodie will have to play more disciplined and consistent two way hockey. Offensively, Jokinen, Tanguay, and Hagman will all have to prove their aged and experienced worth while staying healthy. This team toes the line between being very dangerous and very disposable. Keep an eye on Curtis Glencross. If he playes a full season he could be the key supplement to the Flames top lines of offense.

Colorado Avalanche

They look better than they did last year, well a bit better. They squeezed into the playoffs only to fall to an eventually dominant San Jose Sharks team. But they showed promise in taking two games. Now they have two kids in Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene poised to have dominant sophomore years. Two 19 year olds leading a team of veterans with a stellar goalie in Craig Anderson playing in his prime is exciting to the Colorado fan faithfuls. Shades of 96' anyone. Perhaps a few, but not enough to convince this puck head they're a shoe in for the playoffs. Their blue line is the big questing mark. Foote needs to survive the season, Quincy and Hannan need to find a shred more discipline, and Cumisky and Liles need to excel and improve upon the good enough years they had in 09-10. Bottom line, they have a good chance of outscoring their opponents, but not winning unless the Defense can limit the shots Anderson sees. He's been great, but he's not Patrick Roy.

Edmonton Oilers

Anything is possible. In the real world this is true, while analysts and beat writers would like to bury them from the get go, promise and prospects not being enough, I say be wary. Anyone who loves hockey will love to watch Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall play for this team. If Head Coach Tom Renney can find a way to harness the energy of these kids and let it gel with second year star Sam Gagner, and proven vet scorer Shawn Horcoff, this team could be on an expedited path to the playoffs. I'm calling them my sleeper pick right now to make the 8th spot in the west. Next year that is. Why? Because I want it for them. They have role players in all the right places, veterans and youth mixed throughout, and only one serious unknown. Which Nikolai Khabibulin will you get this year, and for how long? Legal troubles aside, he's had health problems, and consistency issues playing for a losing team of late. But if he shows up, this could be the most surprising team in the NHL. So say we all.

Minnesota Wild

I don't understand this team. The state of Hockey has a team full of potential stars. This is simple to me. There are only three things that will put the Wild in the playoffs this year, and they need all three, not a combination of them. 1. Niklas Backstrom needs to stay healthy. He's 32, played 60 games last year, but there are no guarantees with an aging goaltender. 2. Cam Barker needs to have the breakout season of his career. I'm talking 75+ hits and 25+ points that he's very capable of, if the coaching staff finds a way to put him in position to do so. 3. Martin Havlat needs to have the season they signed him to have. Minor injuries set him back a few games and otherwise he had a disappointing output for a top line winger. He needs to play the perfect complement to Koivu's team leader to get them back into the playoffs. Don't hold your breath.

Vancouver Canucks.

Paper champions. A term thrown around all of sports about the ideal winners that are stacked with statistical talent but somehow can't get it done when it matter most. (i.e. Washington Capitals) So what's it gonna be this year boys? Another scoring title for a Sedin twin. An interchangeably tough and productive blue line that's depth is apparent. Roberto Luongo? They will make the playoffs. Print the tickets now. It will come down to coaching and training. Keep these guys healthy and focused and they will again go far. How far? Ask me in a few months.

So, in summation, this isn't an overly competitive division. I see a few teams fighting for the second spot under Vancouver and perhaps the 8th spot in the conference, but also providing perhaps one of the worst performances by default. In the end it will look like this:

Vancouver
Colorado
Calgary
Edmonton
Minnesota

I fear the Canucks for the first time in two years. They stayed as good, and if healthy will look better than last year.

So there. And if you should have the means or the time or the opportunity, please catch an Oiler game or two. You won't regret it.

Scott "Scottsdale" Amstadt
Blue Line Hockey Chicago
SportstownChicago.Com
7-9pm CT Tuesdays

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Really Ovi???



Thanks to Puck Daddy I found this picture.
Ovi and one of those idiots from Jersey Shore. Look I'm cool with hockey players being celebritys and all but come on Ovi use your head. This pic by itself puts you in Shawn Avery territory. More of this rant will be heard on the show Tuesday from 7-9 on sportstownchicago.com
Have a good day:
Randall

Friday, September 17, 2010

Avery!!!!!!




While I'd rather be discussing the opening of camp and the excitement of having position battles for the final Hawks roster spot, a usual suspect has stolen the show.

I know that the unveiling of an NHL franchises third jersey doesn't exactly rank as high in anticipation as Farve or Lebrons "decisions", but to the sweater wearing faithful it's symbolizes the beginning of a new season and another excuse to blow $120.

So, thank you Sean Avery, fashionista, Vogue intern for making the self important post of you in the new Rangers third sweater. Thank you for once again thinking Sean first. Thanks for being the personality that this league could use to help market itself. Though his personality is grating and easily dismissed as douchey, he's an entertaining insight into another self centered sports ego. Bottom line, he's annoying, but marketable.

I doubt Anyone is concerned about the spoiled surprise, as the sweater design is quite basic. But hey, I've never interned at vogue.

Scottsdale
Blue Line Hockey Chicago
Sportstownchicago.com


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stache' to the Future, part 1

So, some quick thoughts on the extension announcement the Chicago Blackhawks made this afternoon. Simply put, I feel it's a very classy and timely move to secure coach Q's future before the start of camp. With a good deal of work ahead for him to finalize the starting roster, it seems appropriate that he gets to do so withe the confidence of the organization behind him.

As I've written before here, his ability to react in game to opposing teams strategies, coupled with his clear direction for the team and proven record will only benefit this still growing team. As a Blackhawks fan, one should be very excited about Joel being the right guy for the job, and the guy most likely to be able to facilitate a repeat.

Once training camp starts, I look forward to reporting on his managing of the young talent vs. The veteran signings as they battle for a roster spot. Stay tuned. Welcome back Qstache'

Scottsdale
Blue Line Hockey Chicago
Sportstownchicago.com


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Scottsdale Sees the Future Part 1: The Pacific Division


In the first installment of my pre-season predictions, I set my focus to the West. The warm weather hockey division that boasts three of the best offensive and defensive teams in the entire league. I speak of the Pacific Division that encompasses California, Texas, and Arizona. In my opinion, a fairly obvious division that while providing entertaining hockey, I fear will be all too predictable this season. Let's head over to San Jose California to check in on Joe Thorton and the Sharks.

Perhaps the biggest, if not only news in San Jose, is the switcheroo that took place at the Goalie position through Evgeni Nabokovs departure and Antti Niemi's not so surprising arrival. Niemi's arrival comes when the fans were just coming to terms with the likelihood that they would have to rely on Antero Niitymaki to carry the team. Now, with the Stanley Cup winning goalie on staff, there may be some debate, but little doubt that the ex-Blackhawk will get the start on opening day, and as long after as he can hold it. There in lays the question. How long can Antti Niemi carry a team that isn't the Defensively proficient Chicago Blackhawks. With all due respect to Dan Boyle and Kent Huskins, the San Jose blue line doesn't closely resemble the top 4 of Chicago's Cup run. They're going to need a breakout year from Jason Demers, and solid healthy play from Niclas Wallin to make Niemi feel at home.

Offensively, the Sharks will score. It's what they do. Thorton, Pavelski, Heatly, Marleau, Clowe, and Coutoure are still in town and working well together. They will put up another great goals for average, but the key will be their developing blue line and an everything to prove performance from Niemi. Injuries withstanding, there isn't much chance for developing youth on a proven and productive roster like this. They are who we think they are.

Now lets hop on over to Anaheim, where "Dedication" is the theme going into this year. Perhaps another "D" word should be the main concern here though. Forgive me for being redundant, but with the likes of Getzlaf, Ryan, and Perry in place (RFA negotiations willing), the Ducks have the offense they need to put them in the playoffs. What I need is for someone to tell me who is going to be their top line defensive pairing. Their blue line core is made up of a lot of third pairing candidates and healthy scratch opportunists. With Scott Niedermayer retiring in the off season, the once mighty Ducks of Anaheim are looking to fill pretty big shoes. Couple that with the move that shipped tough guy James Wisniewski off to the New York Islanders, (making that team even less relevant), and hockey fans in Disneyland need to consider putting an add in Craigslist for a solid skating, puck possesion defensemen. With the best option on the market being former Wild D Shane Hnidy, Ducks GM Bob Murray better work on youth and development if he expects to relieve any of the stress already mounting at the back of Goalie Jonas Hillers mind.

I'll call both Brendan Mikkelson and Brett Festerling out on this occasion on needing to have breakout years before they fall into a regular holding pattern on the third pairing or worse. Look for limited but inspired play from 40 year old veteran Teemu Selanne and a diamond in the rough performance from Matt Beleskey to be the potential difference maker.

I love L.A., well in moderation. As far as the Kings of Los Angeles go though, I have a hard time even liking them right now. They have arguably the second best defensive pairing on all of the NHL with Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson. Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown can create consistently on offense. However they missed the boat on Kovypalooza, and they let 51 point scorer Alexander Frolov go in Free Agency. Their answer? Sign veteran, post concussion syndrome, Willie Mitchell. Really guys, really? Sure, it solidifies an already tight defensive core, but where's the offense? Where are the goals going to come from? Ryan Smyth and Wayne Simmonds will have to step up and give an effort that will earn them the second line scoring status the Kings need.

In net, Jonathan Quick had a solid and impressive year between the pipes. He carried the team long enough when they weren't scoring in January, and will be expected to carry the majority of the load again this year. Based on last years performance and coupled with their off season inaction, this team lacks two solid scoring lines. If they younger staff in place doesn't produce, it could be a very big disappointment in the city of Angels this year.

Heading east, this bus must stop in Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona. The Coyotes weren't expected to be dominant, or even as a shoe in for a seed in the playoffs. What they did was simply play hard and desperate hockey in the stretch run, winning 9 in a row in March, securing the number 4 spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with standout performances from veterans Shane Doan and Wojtek Wolski, as well as a respectable showing by 23 year old Martin Hanzal. With these members in place for the upcoming season joined by veteran Ray Whitney and Andrew Ebbett, they added the extra scoring and checking forward with experience that could help Phoenix deliver a more complete season.

With youth and experience well balanced on the blue line, this Coyotes team threatens to be relevant right out of the gate. I am more excited about this teams prospects than any other in this division, but it still relies on the performance of the youth and the guidance of the coaching staff to point them in the necessary direction. With depth, a well seasoned staff of role players, and a solid enough goalie tandem of Ilya Bryzgalov and Jason LaBarbera, I give them no excuses for not making the top 8 in the conference this season.

Finally, we make a quick pit stop in Dallas Texas. The Stars have parted ways with two of the pillars of Dallas hockey with Mike Modano signing in Detroit and Marty Turco getting picked up in Chicago. Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson may have great showings again, but they'll need immediate help. Brendan Morrow needs to play a full healthy season. Mike Ribeiro needs to jump up in status to a full time points player. Newcomer Adam Burish, while a great locker room presence and agitator on the ice will do little to elevate the play of the scoring or checking lines. 24 year old D Mark Fistric will have to play like he wants to keep his job and set himself up for a consistant top line job this year.

I fear injury is in the future, or at least less minutes for veterans Brad Lukowich and Karlis Skrastins. Honestly, looking at the roster, I just don't see a stand out set of leaders and dominant defensive players to convince me they can be consistent and beat the better teams in the league. I might seem down on Dallas, but what I see is simply wrong time, wrong place. There will be post Modano expectations, and a lot of questions to answer. While there are a lot of unproven players on the Stars roster, I don't think this is the year they will start setting examples.

So, those are my thoughts on the Pacific. When all is said and done I see the division falling in the order as follows: San Jose, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Dallas, exactly like last season. The only difference that will come will be in Anaheim and Dallas falling behind sooner, and Phoenix and L.A. improving slightly on their point performance from last year.

What do you think? Let me know by emailing me at bluelinehockeychicago@gmail.com. Or just comment to this post. You can also find me on twitter @bluelinehockey or on facebook: bluelinehockeychicago. If all else fails, give me a call during our show Tuesday nights 7-9CT on sportstownchicago.com.

-Scottsdale

Friday, August 6, 2010

Coach Q Keeps Stache', Cup?


There are 47 days until the Chicago Blackhawks take the ice for their first pre-season game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Winninpeg. Players are preparing themselves individually to join training camp, which is right around the corner. Some Hawks prospects are playing amongst the most promising hockey talent in the world at the World Junior Evaluation Camp contests. It's 90 degrees outside in Chicago, but the smell of cold steel on ice is in the air.

How do you top a Stanley Cup winning season? The obvious answer is to say that they should repeat. This task however, is no walk in the park. Only twice in the last twenty-one years have the same team won in back to back seasons, with the Mario Lemieux's Pittsburgh Penguins doing so from 1990-91 and 91-92 seasons. Then the Scotty Bowman helmed Detroit Red Wings followed suit in the 96-97 to 97-98 seasons. In addition to that, in that time only three other teams have even made a return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to lose. So it's safe to say that odds are not in the Blackhawks favor in this high player salary, short term contract cultured, and cap driven National Hockey Leaugue. So where does hope lay?

It doesn't lay in the departed hands of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Colin Fraser, Brent Sopel, Adam Burish, Ben Eager, Antti Niemi, or John Madden. All of these players have found new homes thanks to trades or free agency. It doesn't lay in the acquisition of 3-time All Star veteran goalie Marty Turco. It doesn't even lay in the hands of the young and consistently impressive team captain Jonathan Toews. It lay in the steady leadership, quiet cool, and proven plans of coach Joel Quenneville.

Watching the young Chicago Blackhawks evolve from the leagues worst team to the Stanley Cup champions is in no small way due to his leadership and hockey intellect. With the proven core of players still in place from the championship season, and a young cast of enthusiastic newcomers, he has an opportunity to do what only his colleague Scotty Bowman has done in the last two decades. Through his style of discipline, emphasis on a strong forecheck, and ability to develop forwards into strong two way players, the Chicago Blackhawks have their hope.

They'll find strength in toughness in young winger Brian Bickell, and even younger future star Kyle Beach. Both possess the ability to fill the role left open by Dustin Byfuglien's post season trade. Bickell played well in spot starts during the season and even in the post season when "Big Buff" was moved to the blue line. Beach, at 6'3", 202lbs as of now is the picture of a strong power forward with no fear when it comes to planting himself in front of the net, or facing off against another teams tough. Either one represents a potentially stronger replacement for Byfuglien's sporadic output in the regular season.

Other forwards like resigned Jack Skille and newly acquired Viktor Stalberg will likely fill out the roster, providing the youth, skill, and enthusiasm to replace Versteeg and Ladd's departure. The top 4 on defense remain, with a great addition of a much needed giant in John Scott, and a likely return of Jordan Hendry on the third pair.

The Chicago Blackhawks are in great shape. Even more important to a hockey fan is the fact that a great team has made some changes, but still has an ability to play great hockey, maybe better hockey. If this core can continue to grow together while inspiring their youth and new faces in the process, they have to be considered contenders for three more years. Rest assured Chicago, the cup doesn't have to leave.

-Scottsdale
The Blue Line
SportstownChicago.Com
Tuesday
7-9pm CT