First, may I welcome you to Sounding the Horn, and the first installment of what I hope will be a regular installment of Blackhawks news, notes, recaps and analysis on soundingthehorn.blogspot.com
If news reaches you slowly, the Blackhawks signed Brian Campbell to a lucrative, 8 year contract on Tuesday. But not before signing veteran goaltender Crist Huet to contend for the starting spot in net with Nik Khabibulin this year, and is foreseen as the staring goaltender for three years after that. On an active first day of signs and trades, the Blackhawks were the talk of the NHL, as the franchise recently considered dead has made moves indicative of Stanley Cups dreams.
A year ago, those dreams would be considered to be of the pipe variety. Indeed, 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 players long term to merely make noise. And while making some noise 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 make the next step towards the playoffs and possibly beyond.
Watching the 'Hawks play last season was exciting for the first time in many years. The infusion of youth and it's forms of speed (Kane), skill (Toews), and toughness (Byfuglien, Burish) made for the first likable team the Blackhawks have had in years. The breakthrough years of Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith excited fans and earned them contracts 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. For a team expected to wallow in their own 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 powerplay. It was something that the Blackhawks had lacked for years on end, and it frequently invigorated fans to become so enraged with the powerplay that if the Blackhawks even shot the puck once, it was a success. Last season bode better for the 'Hawks in comparison to the monstrosities of years past, but they still finished in the last third of NHL teams in power play efficiency. Knowing that James Wisnewski will never be the powerplay quarterback of a playoff team, if the 'Hawks wanted to ever win a Stanley Cup they would need a top notch blue line puck mover. Nic Lidstrom and Sergei Zubov were not available and the chances of trading for one in a long term capacity would be impossible, my friend and I looked to the Free Agent market of the upcoming year. Brian Campbell was the perfect fit and the Blackhawks had all the money in the world to lure him to wonderful 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. The Denny Savard should trot out Kane, Towes, Sharp, Byfuglien and Campbell for the powerplay. That attack could be specatular, but certainly will be solid and formidable.
But if Campbell was foreseeable, then the Crist 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 honestly thought that Campbell was coming to Chicago. I never heard rumors in regards to 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 reign of Khabibulin in Chicago, he 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 09-10. 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 powerplay, a physical brand of hockey, and impeccable goaltending. On June 30th 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.