20 April 2014
Good day hockey enthusiasts. Today, Chiller Instinct chats with the proprietor of the website, www.hockeyanalysis.com, generally about the fortunes of the Blackhawks, and in specific, how he thinks that the line of Troy Brouwer, John Madden, and Andrew Ladd have contributed to the early season success.
Robin @ Chiller Instinct - To commence, introduce yourself to the readers and provide a look at what Hockey Analysis brings to the table for the community. I know myself, I was turned on to your site from a radio show (Team1040 AM in Vancouver), in which ex-NHL All-Star and current broadcaster Ray Ferraro mentioned it as an impressive site, one of his favourites, and I have been a regular ever since. Can you elaborate on how you got started as well?
David @ Hockey Analysis - My name is David Johnson and I have been running HockeyAnalysis since 2005, shortly after the lockout ended. I have been a hockey fan for as long as I can remember and HockeyAnalysis.com started out as a way for me to share my hockey thoughts and opinions with the hockey world, or at least to any of those who were interested.
In my work life I have done a fair bit data and statistical analysis (though I am certainly not a statistician) so I have always tried to utilize hockey statistics to formulate my opinions and I try to express that in my hockey writings. Part of this is because I often get frustrated when the main stream media and fans will see a player make a mistake or two and conclude that the player is a bad player because of it. A large part of what I do at HockeyAnalysis is to try to evaluate hockey players based on everything they do on the ice, not just certain events, good or bad, that might bias ones opinion one way or another.
More recently I have expanded HockeyAnalysis.com by inviting other writers, including yourself, to have their own blog on a team or subject of their choice. Right now HockeyAnalysis has several really good and well respected hockey bloggers, though I must admit, I it hasn’t grown as fast as I would have liked largely due to me not being able to put enough time into it to really promote the site and grow its blogger base - but I hope this changes in the not too distant future.
Robin @ CI - I have quite enjoyed my time taking a look at what used to be my favourite club as a kid, the Phoenix Coyotes (formerly the Winnipeg Jets).
Let's shift our attention to current events in the National Hockey League David. As most, I have been entranced by the meteoric rise of the Chicago Blackhawks and further, impressed by the roster of players they have formed in such a relatively short span of time (just a couple of seasons). What stands out most for you David?
David @ HA - Chicago has built their team in much the same way that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals did. In short, they got good by being really bad for a number of years allowing them to pick up some really quality players with high draft picks like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Cam Barker - all drafted 3rd overall or higher.
Add to that Brent Seabrook drafted 14th overall and quality second round picks in Duncan Keith the core of a very good team. Picking up Patrick Sharp in a steal of a trade with the Flyers was huge as well. Once that young core developed enough they went out and added some free agents in Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa and the development of late round picks Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien and you get a very good team.
In all honestly, the way the Penguins, Capitals and Blackhawks have built their teams is probably the easiest/laziest way to rebuilding a franchise into a cup contender but you need a lot of luck too and you need to be able to survive the backlash from your fan base for being one of the worst 3 or 4 teams in the NHL for 3 or 4 years. The Penguins franchise nearly went belly up going through that process, and the Capitals and Blackhawks had their issues too.
Robin @ CI - I certainly agree that the 'Hawks got a beauty in the Sharp trade. Speaking of dynamics, I'd like to focus in on one particular line on the Blackhawks. While many are enamoured with the young guns like Toews, Kane, and Barker - and for good cause - I feel the real reason for success in Chicago is the way coach Joel Quenneville has instituted, and stuck with, the checking line of Madden, Brouwer, and Ladd. Without singling one player out just yet, what are your thoughts generally on the dynamics of the line?
David @ HA - In general, to win a Stanley Cup you need production from your depth players. Clearly Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were the key components to the Penguins cup win last year but where would they have been without Max Talbot (eight goals) or Tyler Kennedy (five), not even mentioning the defensive aspects of the game that those guys contribute to. The Chicago trio that you refer to will play a similar role with the Blackhawks and I’ll toss in the names of Byfuglien and Dave Bolland (currently injured though) as well. Both Madden (2, New Jersey) and Ladd (1, Carolina) have won Stanley Cup rings and that will be a big asset for the Blackhawks next spring as well.
You look at the San Jose Sharks, who are stacked with more top end talent than Chicago, but have also had several playoff disappointments. I have, and still do, question whether they have the type of third liners, like Talbot and Kennedy or Madden, Ladd, and Brouwer - that are needed to win a cup.
Robin @ CI - This line provides the 'Hawks with superb value under the salary cap, bankrolling just $5.325 against the cap. It is strategy like this that gives the Blackhawks as much chance to win with this roster as does bringing in valuable star free agents, such as Hossa and Campbell. Obviously ex-GM Dale Tallon made a highly publisized mistake during the off-season that seems to have cost him his job. We will get back to the players in a moment, but what are your specific thoughts on the way Tallon left the franchise and some of the things at work/play there?
David @ HA - Tallon made some mistakes but much of the Blackhawks team was formed under him, so we shouldn’t be too hard on him. He overpaid for Campbell and especially Huet, but it isn’t really hurting them this year with Toews and Kane being on rookie contracts and they still had room to sign Hossa and Madden. The problem is the way the post-lockout NHL works in that they may only have a one year window to win the Stanley Cup because they will face significant cap issues next season (not all Tallon’s fault) and will have to shed some quality players and will also likely mean that Madden and Ladd cannot be brought back.
If the Blackhawks are forced to trade or not re-sign Sharp, Madden, Ladd, and maybe Barker as well, will they be a great team once again or will they go through a transition year like the Red Wings are this season. Washington is going to face a similar situation with Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom both needing new contracts. Can they keep both? Maybe not. But that is life under the new CBA. Great teams can’t be kept together. On one hand it is good for parity but on the other hand it often makes for very short windows of opportunity to win a Stanley Cup and dynasties might be a thing of the past.
Robin @ CI - I am glad you brought up the expiring contracts of Madden and Ladd. With the aforementioned youngsters that also need new paycheques and the trio of Kane, Toews, and Keith receiving their big contracts last week, things are only going to get tighter. How do think the new regime should approach this tricky and enviable problem?
David @ HA - Well, I am not sure it will be an enviable problem, because it won’t necessarily be easy to solve as there may not be many GMs very eager to do them any favours by taking contracts off their hands. The question we don’t know is whether ownership will allow the hockey management to ditch salaries in the minors. In particular, will ownership be willing to eat Cristobal Huet's large contract by demoting him, as I doubt anyone will be willing to take on his salary?
If the answer is yes, then that will go a long way to solving their problems and they might not have to get rid of Sharp or Barker or both. Failing that, they would probably love to get out of Campbell’s contract but like Huet, I don’t think they can do that. Likely what will happen is Madden, Ladd and others will not be re-signed and one or two of Sharp, Barker and Versteeg will be traded.
Robin @ CI - Right, and there are a number of RFAs that will need to be shored up including young component players Jack Skille, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, and goalie Antti Niemi - who is one of the netminders CI will examine in our feature later this week. Versteeg is a very valuable, clutch secondary scorer at this point, and his ascent throught the depth chart of a very close-knit and prospect-rich pool of players last season was inspirational. It would have to be a team that could insert a defenseman like Campbell onto the roster while taking on his immense salary ($7.14M). Not many takers for sure, considering the length of term.
Back to the gameplay side of things David...the eldest by far on the line is Madden, and like you commented before, has won two Stanley Cups previous with New Jersey. I thought at first that the 'Hawks may have made a mistake when they let Samuel Pahlsson slide over to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Madden is arguably a finer choice for a shut-down type centre. He does not take ill-advised penalties, is a keen faceoff man (54.6%), so reliable defensively, can contribute with all-around ability, and his leadership is outstanding. A lot to admire there.
Certainly the smallest of the three forwards, many thought that his career may not take a nice turn after the Devils let him walk. What can he bring to the forefront on a team stacked with 'young bucks' all trying to impress and establish themselves as a vital component to Quenneville's winning formula?
David @ HA - I think Madden fits in a little better with the Blackhawks' style of play in that he is speedier and more skilled than Pahlsson and will contribute a bit more secondary scoring and the Blackhawks are an offense first team. Two seasons ago, Madden scored 20 goals and last year, broke a stretch of 8 consecutive seasons with 12 or more goals in New Jersey where they aren’t exactly known for playing an offensive system. Pahlsson on the other hand has never topped 11 goals.
Though he does lack size he has the speed to offset that and when he is playing with a couple guys like Brouwer and Ladd, who can play physical, it isn't really a detriment to the Blackhawks. When all is said and done, Madden is arguably one of the best third line centers in hockey and most important to Chicago he was willing to sign a one year deal where Pahlsson signed a 3-year deal in Columbus.
Speaking of John Madden, he was a part of one of the funniest plays I have ever witnessed attending an NHL hockey game. It was sometime during the 2005-06 season when the Devils were visiting the Ottawa Senators, and the Senators were on the power play. Madden was watching Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson (both playing the point at the time) pass back and forth and he broke his stick blocking a Heatley slap shot. Instead of playing without a stick, he quickly skated back to the Devils bench, picked up a new stick, and just as Alfredsson was winding up for a slap shot, Madden came back into the play and (from behind) stole the puck from Alfredsson - turned around and scored a breakaway goal on Ray Emery. It was quite a play to witness in person, but you can watch the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzBKBn1kWMo.
Robin @ CI - Great little bit of personal anecdote there David. Ladd and Brouwer both hail from British Columbia and have the size to compliment Madden nicely. Brouwer played on the top line paired up with Toews quite nicely at times last season while cutting his teeth, and Ladd brings a really solid two-way package over from his brief career in Carolina.
David @ HA - Every good NHL line needs someone who will go in the corners, mess it up a little, and retrieve the puck and Brouwer will do that. It is hard to say if Brouwer will develop 25+ goal potential to play regularly on the top 2 lines, but he did show some offensive ability at both the Junior and AHL levels. Time will tell but in the mean time his other attributes that you outlined makes him an ideal third line player who in a pinch can play a fill in role on the top two lines. Like I pointed out earlier, he is one of those guys that every team needs if they want to make a serious run at the Cup and Chicago is lucky to have him. He’ll play an important role for them, especially if he can continue to provide good secondary scoring.
Robin @ CI - Incredibly, Ladd is the youngest player on the line. It seems like we have been hearing about him forever and maybe that is because I am a BC native myself. Carolina made a bit of a splash in front of their home-crowd at the RBC Center during the 2004 Entry Draft, trading up from #8 in the First Round to take Andrew at #4 and surrendering a second-rounder in the process. Do you think that the 'Canes fell into the 'hype hole' on that one and were frustrated later on with his slow development?
David @ HA - Clearly Ladd has not lived up to what you would expect for a 4th overall pick and probably never will but he is settling into an established role at the NHL level now playing a solid all round game perfectly suited for a third line role, but like Brouwer, can jump up and fill in on the top two lines if necessary.
I am sure Carolina wishes it did something differently that draft day but we have to give Ladd some credit because there are a lot of high draft picks that completely fall off the radar where as Ladd was at least able to work hard and find himself a role in the league despite not become the big impact player the Hurricanes hoped for when they drafted him.
Robin @ CI - Do not get me wrong, I think Tuomo Ruutu, whom Carolina received in the trade, is a pretty valuable player himself. Ladd is sure rounding into a complete player, while still quite young at 23. Apart from being an incredibly gifted and all-around hockey player, what stands out for you about the Maple Ridge-born Ladd?
David @ HA - I think the Hurricanes are generally quite happy with Ruutu and the trade has worked out fine for both teams. Ruutu seems to have more offensive ability but Ladd may have the better all round game and consistency. As I mentioned in my previous answer, Ladd has found his niche in the NHL which cannot be said for all high first round picks that fail to live up fully to expectations.
Robin @ CI - That is a good point about expectations, they fracture reality askew. Everyone seems to be rattling on about how goaltending is the key issue, but the lack of defensive depth is my biggest concern. Huet has a long-leash because of the big contract (this year anyway) and his experience. But Niemi has been superb in his appearances for the most part, Corey Crawford will be afforded his shot, and even Joe Fallon has stood tall in tandem with Crawford in Rockford (AHL). If that depth is spent or has an apparent weakness, which can happen with so much unproven youth, a trade is possible with a little over $1M to play with and perhaps one of the guys you mentioned earlier. They are here to win now.
I know, the 'defensive depth issue' seems laughable at first. The stretch-run and playoffs are such a grind and to use a cliche, a 'war of attrition'. Once you get past the big three and then see Hjalmarsson and Barker, who have played really well and have bright futures, the number six guy is Jordan Hendry and Brent Sopel. Now, the farm really drops off, with prospects leading the way over a guy like Jassens Cullimore, who is on a try-out contract with Rockford. Conversely, I believe the forward corps is much deeper in comparision.
David @ HA - The thing with goaltending is, very few teams can win, especially during playoff time, with questionable or inconsistent goaltending. Huet has shown that he can provide a team with excellent goaltending but he just can’t seem to do it all the time. He has those stretches where he just plays poorly. Nikolai Khabibulin was similar, though maybe even more inconstant. If Huet can get hot at the right time next April and May, the Blackhawks could go a long way in the playoffs but I am not certain that he can remain hot for the full 2 months necessary. We’ll see because I think Huet is the guy they are going to have to depend on.
As for the defense, there are very few teams, if any, in the NHL that are 100% satisfied with their depth on defense. Everyone wishes they had one or two more experienced defensemen to call on if necessary. Chicago may not be any different but as far as a group goes, they are still among the best in the league and they have enough big minute guys that the third pairing really doesn’t need to play a lot so they are in relatively good shape.
Robin @ CI - The point about the third pairing not being exposed is a very valid one. Thanks a lot for your insight and input here David, we appreciate it a great deal. Hopefully we can get together again to chat like this down the road. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours and a happy and safe holiday season.
David @ HA - Thanks for the interview. It was fun.
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