Ricky O'Donnell, Bobby Loesch and Z.W. Martin debate whether both Chicago winter teams can win their respective titles, will Kane rebound and their favorite new Blackhawks in their weekly column, The Ballad of Ricky-Bobby and Z.W.
Every week we three kings of the SBN Chicago writing staff sit down and talk (email back-and-forth) sports. One of us will ask the other two some questions about the sports world around us. The other two will answer the best they can. We call it "The Ballad of Ricky-Bobby & Z.W." Yes, we stole the name from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. This week we discuss the the potential of the Bulls and Blackhawks winning it all in 2012, Kane and a bunch of other hockey things. Get some.
Ricky O'Donnell (@TUP_Ricky):
The Chicago Blackhawks kick-off the second half tonight* in Vancouver against the rival Canucks in the first of a nine-game road trip. Last we saw the 'Hawks, winger Patrick Sharp was out a few weeks with an upper body injury and star center Jonathan Toews missed a game and half with a wrist injury. Reports this morning are that Toews is expected back tonight, and Sharp should follow soon there after.
As a casual observer of the 'Hawks and the NHL in general, I was a bit surprised to see them in sixth place in the Western Conference when I checked the standings. It seems like they've been playing great hockey: Corey Crawford and Ray Emery are more than serviceable in net, they appear to have replenished some of the depth they lost due to salary cap restrictions following their 2010 Stanley Cup win, and Toews seems to have made a D. Rose-like leap from All-Star to superstar. Perhaps we shouldn't place too much emphasis on their current seed. At 64 points, Chicago has a six-point lead over the seventh place L.A. Kings and is only three points behind the top-seeded Red Wings. The West looks very top heavy. So, let's talk about expectations.
The Bulls and Blackhawks each made the finals in 1992, with the Bulls defeating the Trail Blazers and the 'Hawks falling to the Penguins. What are the chances both teams can get that far again? It at least isn't an unreasonable thought, yes? Also: do you believe the struggling Patrick Kane can turn it around? What's your favorite aspect of this year's 'Hawks team? Who's your favorite newcomer? You better say Andrew Shaw. He doesn't sleep, he waits.
*This was written on Tuesday night.
Z.W. Martin (@ZWMartin):
Hockey! We talk about the Bulls' depth and Derrick Rose's ability quite often, but neglect their Madhouse on Madison partners. The buck stops here (I was also thinking of doing a "Tear down that wall" move there, but eh.). Ricky, your take on the Blackhawks and the NHL Western Conference is pretty much spot on. It's extremely top heavy, particularly in the Central Division with four out of five teams making the playoffs if the season ended today. They would be seeded 1 (Red Wings), 4 (Blues), 5 (Predators) and 6 (Blackhawks). Not too shabby.
Also, your thoughts regarding 1992's awesomeness correlating to this season are not crazy. They are, in fact, very reasonable. Of course, luck and the Miami Heat are major factors here, but an all Chicago winter sports championship run is not a total pipe dream. Hockey playoffs are similar to baseball's -- just get in, grow a beard and play hard. Anything is possible. One seeds do not always beat eight seeds. It's truly a great time of the year. Playoff hockey, man.
The Blackhaws are good. Really good. Their offseason moves added things Chicago did not have last year: depth, veterans and toughness. The Blackhaws have shown they can play hurt, something they could not do a season ago. The loss of Sharp and Daniel Carcillo, while still finding ways to win, have shown that. Crawford and Emery seem to be in a constant battle of above average to good. I think we can expect B/B+ish level of play out of them and be totally content.
I don't think betting against Kane is a super idea. His assists are about where they are typically, it's his scoring that has been down... a lot. But I think people neglect the fact he changed positions at the beginning of the year and then, again, midway through the first half. He's just not in sync yet with the line. I think that will -- or at least it should -- change in the second half.
My favorite part of this team has to be how deep they are from one line to another offensively. They've currently scored 162 goals, tied for second in the entire NHL only behind the crazy good Bruins and their +69 goal differential (next closest is Detroit at 43). Every line is a wave of potential offense. It's a very fun team to watch. Plus, now they fight and stuff. Speaking of fighting...
Carcillo would have been my answer to favorite new player because he liked to, you know, fight and I am a sucker for a hockey fight, but a hockey player without an ACL isn't really a hockey player. Therefore, I will go with Twitter's favorite son, Andrew Shaw. I got a chance to watch him play against the Sharks a few weeks back and, boy, he is an annoying little shit out there. He's not particularly big or seriously gifted, but finds a way to throw his body at just about anything that moves. On one shift during the game, he tried to finish checks on the set of San Jose defensemen, both times being thrown to the ice. He's a lot like a hockey Tim Tebow, without that religion stuff.
Bobby Loesch (@bobbystompy):
I'm a goalie guy, so can I nominate Emery? Can you be a "newcomer" at age 29? I say yes, because it's only his first year on the team. Remember, this was supposed to be the year the Blackhawks finally had a no-questions-asked No. 1 goalie in Corey Crawford, but due to a mix of early struggles by the incumbent and decent numbers by the noob, Emery at least made it a discussion. So good on him for that, I say.
If the Hawks and Bulls were to both make the finals again, I feel like it'd be way bigger than it was in 1992. Granted, I was in grade school in '92, so maybe I've lost my perspective. Both teams just feel bigger than ever. The Bulls have the reigning MVP and are demolishing local TV ratings with Wednesday night games against the Pacers. The 'Hawks are still relatively fresh off their Cup win in 2010, half a dozen of those guys are household names in the Chicagoland area and the team itself probably hasn't been this popular since the 1960s. I probably could have saved some space and just written: the 'Hawks and Bulls are the exact opposite of the Cubs and White Sox.