I will lead with this fact: I love the Tampa Bay Lightning this year. If Dan Ellis can solve his million dollar problems, I honestly believe they have as good of a chance as anyone to come out of the Eastern Conference at the end of the season.
Yeah, I said it. I'm picking the Lightning to go to the Stanley Cup. And no, this isn't an opinion I came up with last night — though it might be an opinion I abandon come April. That's my right, this is America.
Steven Stamkos is one of the top-five players in the NHL. Yeah, I said that too.
Victor Hedman is going to be a blue-line stud, and not in due time. This year. And the fact that he was born in 1990 scares me.
Pavel Kubina? What a signing that was the most underrated free agent signing of the season in the Eastern Conference. (Raffi Torres and Manny Malhotra to the Canucks take the cake in the west.)
I really, really like this Lightning team. They singlehandedly make my GameCenter Live purchase worthwhile. So there's that.
But let's get on with the business of Chicago hockey.
There were a few things that I saw in preseason hockey that I feel deem writings.
1. Bryan Bickell will carry the Blackhawks for a few games this year, and I take great comfort in that fact.
2. Jonathan Toews could score 100 points at will. That snipe he had off a Jeremy Morin drop pass was sick-nasty. Both Toews and Kane have to up their scoring in 2010-11, and I have no doubts that Toews will do so.
3. As the leader of the Jeremy Morin bandwagon, I would like to announce that we should slow our roll. Yes, the kid has looked NHL ready at times. And while it's not cool to say that Morin is a Versteeg "replacement", we now all see it. His offensive skill is NHL ready, no doubt. His body and hockey mind, not so much. I would love to see Morin make the team out of camp — it would make me a soothsayer. But I'm going to hedge my bet, because Morin honestly needs to spend some time dominating in the AHL before being called up.
Morin is not a Patrick Kane, he can't make the leap from junior hockey to the NHL overnight. No, Morin has to go the way of a Byfuglien or Versteeg — he has to go to Rockford. It's best for his development to give him 20 minutes of icetime a night, letting him play on the first line, powerplay and the penalty kill. If there is a hockey situation, he needs to see it in Rockford. Five on three, he should be on the ice. Six on four? He needs to be out there. He's not a preternatural talent like a Toews or Kane, he needs the experiences. His offensive skills are going to put him on a top line when he makes the NHL, and if he's learning the pro game on the fly at the NHL level, he's going to become a liability. Put Morin back in the oven, send the kid to school, whatever cliche you want to use — then call him up at the new year. It's the best option for the Blackhawks.
4. There is little question that the theme of the 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks season is going to be hyperbole. The team found, overnight, 100,000 new fans and apparently 15 more bloggers. First off, welcome. Second, see point three — mainly the "slow your roll" part.
Are the Blackhawks a good team? Yes. Will they win the Stanley Cup in 2010-11? The chances are slimmer than last year, but nothing is out of the question. That said, the new kids on the block need to stop rushing to judgement on kids they have never heard or seen before puckdrop. The preseason is sloppy, painful and sloppy. It's double sloppy. I know a lot of the new Blackhawks fans haven't seen this before, but there's not much to be learned in exhibitions. When NHL players are playing against NHL players, you can make some judgements, until then stop claiming that 19-year-olds are "NHL ready" or that Evan Brophey is "John Madden's replacement." I haven't looked up foolhardy in the dictionary lately, but I have a feeling the definition would be something close to what's being said by the newbies.
5. I have a feeling that Nick Boynton could be the evil version of Brent Sopel, and I don't mind that. As long as he takes time between decapitation threats to block some shots on the PK.
6. The Jordan Hendry turnover machine was in midseason form last night, and not just when Stamkos was forechecking. While a lot of guys had stupid turnovers in the game (again, preseason is sloppy, painful and sloppy) Henry was near automatic in giving the puck away. I don't think we're going to get along this season.
I will give this to Hendry — the kid can fly. And while my prodding skates have no room to pass judgement, I would like to suggest — respectfully of course — that Hendry consider skating the puck out of the zone. At this juncture, the outcomes would have to be better than what we are seeing with his blind (or may as well be blind) outlet passes.
7. Jack Skille's last name is not ironic. In the third period he feathered a pass from the left wing boards through five sicks and to the backhand of Viktor Stalberg, who was unable to possess the puck. I liked what I saw out of Skillet on Wednesday, and I can't imagine that the Hawks coaching staff didn't agree with my assessment. I'll check with them.
The Warren Zevon song of the day is the classic "Excitable Boy". Let's not rub the pot roast all over our chests after one preseason, split squad game.