It may be 96 degrees at 10 in the morning here deep in the heart of Texas, but that's no reason not to sit on the front porch and start scattershootin'...
A dearth of depth is supposed to signal the death knell for the defending Stanley Cup champs, but the Blackhawks continue to add affordable, if less proven, bodies to their stable of options to back up stars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. Consider the latest signing: former Oiler Ryan Potulny, who chipped in 15 goals in his first full NHL season and established himself as a solid penalty killer.
At just $500,000 on a two-way deal, Potulny was another no-risk move for GM Stan Bowman, whose burgeoning cast of forwards is starting to look like rows of shark's teeth. If one falters in an assigned role, another will pop right into place. Fans might be hoping to see youngsters like Jack Skille, Jake Dowell or Igor Makarov grab a spot, but in the win-now business, Chicago is better served having experienced vets like Potulny, Fernando Pisani and Jeff Taffe on hand to buy the kids some time, or to pick up the slack if they struggle early on.
I continue to hear good things about another Hawks hopeful: forward Kyle Beach. The rambunctious winger dropped in the 2008 draft due to concerns about his off-ice behavior -- and a few questionable decisions on it --and he raised eyebrows with a rookie camp skirmish back in July that sidelined fellow prospect Mathis Olimb for up to four months. Still, Beach has supporters who believe that he's both ready to make the jump to the NHL and make a significant contribution on the third line.
"I think he's still got some maturing to do [emotionally]," said a Western Conference scout, "but he's done some growing up in the past two years. The Olimb incident was misread by a lot of people. That's his game. The Hawks will want him to be someone who holds the other team accountable, and if he's a little loose now and then, fine. Nothing wrong with a guy who makes you keep your head up."
The Hawks have to be pleased with hands that scored 52 goals in 68 junior games last season, as well. "He's got a hell of a lot more upside than guys like [Adam] Burish and [Ben] Eager, that's for sure," the scout continued. "And honestly, he's a funny guy. He's likable. I think he'll be a good addition in that room."
It says here that there is a spot for Beach to lose on Chicago's opening night roster.
Another name to watch in Chicago: Troy Brouwer. The 22-year-old left winger set a career-high with 22 goals and 40 points in 2009-10 and finished a surprising fifth in the league with a shooting percentage of 19. Hard to believe he can keep up that pace this season, but with a chance to fatten his 16 minutes of ice time, he might be able to improve on those offensive numbers.
The Dallas Cowboys took some grief for being the only NFL club to not sign a free agent over the summer. It was less surprising, but perhaps more disappointing, that the equally cash-strapped Dallas Stars took the same path. Granted, the Stars did bring on Adam Burish along with Severin Blindenbacher, but unless the 27-year-old Swiss vet surprises, neither player will do much to address the team's glaring need for a stabilizing blueline presence. The Stars did make inquiries into several, including Tomas Kaberle and Sheldon Souray, but lacked either the personnel assets or financial wherewithal to seal the deal.
There's been little, if any, progress to find a buyer to remove the team from the penurious clutches of Tom Hicks and now local media is reporting that the Stars could wait to make a move to shore up the backline until closer to the deadline...which can be translated to mean "don't hold your breath." By that point, it's hard to imagine the Stars will have any motivation to improve a roster that likely is heading for a second straight early tee time.
The NHL supports player use of Twitter as a way of bringing fans closer to their favorite players. That's the kind of stance you'd expect from a league that has been aggressive in its application of new media. It might be nice, then, to see a little support for Dan Ellis in the wake of the kerfuffle over his microblogging last week.
The newly-signed Tampa Bay goalie used Twitter to express his frustration over the CBA's 18 percent escrow clawback he is facing, and offered that he was more stressed about money now than he was in college. Not surprisingly, there was plenty of outrage over his series of posts, most folks suggesting that Ellis was out of touch or insensitive to those suffering through a tough economy.
But, hey, anyone in Ellis's shoes would probably feel the exact same way about facing the loss of nearly a fifth of their income. And the fact that Ellis was honest enough to put some genuine feelings out in public, rather than the usual claptrap -- "excited about the game tonight" or "it sure is a thrill to play for these fans" -- suggests that he's someone with maybe a bit more to say than the average player. Maybe something was simply lost due to the 140-character limit on the site. Maybe we'll never know. Ellis closed the account on Wednesday.
If the NHL was really savvy, maybe they'd offer Ellis a regular spot blogging on their site and give him carte blanche to speak his mind. The hockey world could use a few more players with something to offer beyond Crash Davis platitudes.
Just noticed that 19 players have had seasons of 50 or more goals since 2000-01. Only three were over 30 at the time, with the most recent being Jarome Iginla back in 2007-08. Another sign that this is a young man's game...