First, may I welcome you to Sounding the Horn, the first installment of what I hope will be a regular installment of Blackhawks news, notes, recaps and analysis on Bleacher Report and soundingthehorn.blogspot.com.
If news reaches you slowly, the Blackhawks signed Brian Campbell to a lucrative eight-year contract on Tuesday—but not before signing veteran goaltender Crist Huet to contend for the starting spot in net with Nikolai Khabibulin this year, and to be the staring goaltender for the next three years after that.
On an active first day of signs and trades, the Blackhawks were the talk of the NHL, as a franchise recently considered dead made moves indicative of Stanley Cups dreams.
A year ago, those dreams would be considered to be of the pipe variety. What a difference a year makes.
But what exactly do the signings of Campbell and Huet mean for the Blackhawks? Surely they would not sign these players to long-term deals merely to make noise. And while league-wide notoriety was certainly not a deterrent, and possibly an intention of Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon, the main goal was to fill the missing pieces on a Blackhawks team looking to step into the playoffs—and possibly beyond.
The Hawks' play last season was exciting for the first time in many years. The infusion of youth and its speed (Kane), skill (Toews), and toughness (Byfuglien, Burish) created the first likable team the Blackhawks have had in years. Breakthrough years by Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith excited fans and earned them contract extensions during the season.
In the end, the team that had the most rookies in the NHL—by a wide margin—missed the playoffs by only three points. A team expected to wallow in itsown mediocrity for another season became the darlings of the NHL and truly a team on the rise.
I recall in November having a discussion with another hockey fan in regards to the Blackhawks and their future. It seemed a certainty that the Blackhawks would make a move for a puck-moving (offensive) defensemen to run the power play. It was something that the Blackhawks had lacked for years on end, and it frequently frustrated fans to the point that if the Blackhawks even shot the puck once on the advantage, it was considered a success.
Last season bode better for the 'Hawks compared to the monstrosities of years past, but they still finished in the bottom third of NHL teams in power-play efficiency. Knowing that James Wisnewski will never be the power-play quarterback of a playoff team, the 'Hawks knew they needed a top-notch blueline puck mover if they wanted to ever win a Stanley Cup.
Nic Lidstrom and Sergei Zubov were not available and the chances of trading for them in a long-term capacity would be impossible. Brian Campbell was the perfect fit and the Blackhawks had all the money in the world to lure him to Chicago.
In my eyes it was a foregone conclusion nearly a year in advance of the actual signing. The Blackhawks had to have Brian Campbell—and they went out and got him.
Looking at the tentative roster for next year's Blackhawks, Denny Savard should trot out Kane, Towes, Sharp, Byfuglien, and Campbell for the powerplay. That attack could be specatular—and certainly will be solid and formidable.
But although Campbell was foreseeable, the Cristobal Huet signing was truly the biggest surprise of the day. When I heard through the wire that the Blackhawks had made a splash on the free-agent market, I thought that just Campbell was coming.
I never even heard rumors regarding Huet and Chicago. So to hear that he had signed with the 'Hawks so early was surprising indeed. And to have Campbell sign later in the day was the icing on the cake—no pun intended.
Huet doesn't bring anything new to this team other than piece of mind. Over the course of Khabibulin's reign in Chicago, Nikolai has been peppered with injuries and inconsistent play. When he is on his game, he truly is one of the best goaltenders in the world.
The problem is, those times are few and far between.
His huge contract is up at the end of the year—and before yesterday, it was assumed that Corey Crawford would be handed the keys to the crease in 2009.
This was viewed with skepticism from fans. In my honest opinion, I don't believe that Crawford is a starting NHL goaltender. So to sign Huet to push Khabibulin this year, and Crawford for three years after that, is a great move by Dale Tallon.
Many are skeptical of wrapping up 12 million dollars in goaltending alone this year. And to that, I say—if you are going to wrap up six million dollars in Marty Havlat, I believe that having two playoff-ready goaltenders in certainly worth it.
Because three things win in the playoffs—a potent power play, a physical brand of hockey, and impeccable goaltending. On June 30, the Blackhawks had the physical brand of hockey locked up, and were less than questionable in the other two categories. A day later, the Blackhawks look like Stanley Cup contenders.
Indeed, what a difference a year makes.