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How can Hawks repeat? Kulemin stays; Armstrong now a well paid mucker for Toronto; free-agent musings

To win a Cup, so many factors come into play. Think of all the clichés we use when talking about building a team- clichés that are rooted in truth.

A team needs solid goaltending; “strength up the middle”; a mobile, physical defense; elite forwards and high-end grinders who accept and excel at their limited roles.

This past season, the Hawks had all of the above.

Going forward, no one really knows if Niemi will go on to be a standout in goal, but he was good enough, enough of the time, to help the Hawks win a championship this past season. They are still strong at the back end, with three superb defensemen, though they will miss Sopel’s grit and shot-blocking ability.

But it’s up front where I wonder if they can compete the same way. They have the top-end superstars and superior second-line strength up the middle with someone like Bolland, but in the last week or so they’ve had to move several forwards, key "role-players”, that were a significant part of their success: Byfuglien, Versteeg, Burish and Ladd.

That’s a lot of quality to lose. We all knew the Hawks would have to move pieces to stare down salary cap realities, and they have done what they had to do. But I don’t see them repeating with all those missing ingredients that helped them be so good. Those players can be replaced, but the chemistry -and results- likely won’t be the same.

That said, management (Bowman and Tallon before him) knew exactly what they were doing. They loaded up, took their shot, and won. Now they’re paying their bills, as it were. They still have Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp and the Big three on defense, and should be competitive for years to come.

They’re still a team many clubs would envy. But maybe not quite good enough to be Cup champions next year.

I’ve posted for weeks that the Kulemin signing would get done and was simply a matter of time. I wrote at the end of May that Burke would probably offer three years at between 2 and 2.5 million a year. Kulemin gets two years at 2.35 million a year.  I missed on term.

Regardless, it’s good news for Leaf fans. His return bolsters a now less-thin forward contingent, and makes the other recent acquisitions that much more impactful than if they had lost Kulemin to the KHL or restricted free agency. He will be making his next big steps in a Leaf uniform.


Many Leaf fans long for another Gary Roberts, a guy who could hit, win corner battles and also play the game. So Colby Armstrong should be a nice fit, if a somewhat highly-paid third-liner.

I’m among those who like the additions of Versteeg and Armstrong (how can you not?) but there is obviously a lot more to do to get the team where it needs to be just to compete for a playoff spot.

I will say it again: the sooner they deal with the Kaberle situation, the better. You can say “we’re not shopping him”, but everyone in the hockey world knows the Leafs want to move Kaberle.

My point all along has been: the guy will never play his best hockey knowing he’s not wanted here and hasn’t been since Burke arrived. If you really want someone, you don’t make them so publicly “available”. Professional athletes know they are subject to trades, but this has been going on for far, far too long.


As I posted on Twitter on Canada day, I’m among those stunned at the Flames’ decision-making progress. It’s conceivable that bringing back Tanguay and Jokinen, both seemingly years past their best hockey, will turn out well for Sutter and the Flames. But it fails the forward-thinking test and the “change the culture of the team” test. There is more support in Calgary for the return of Tanguay than Jokinen. and hopefully it will work out for the Flames.  Even if Tanguay recaptures his chemistry with Iginla, will this be another low-scoring year waiting for Jarome to score every night?

This just seems to amplify the horrid decision to trade Phaneuf and a solid penalty-killer, Sjostrom, for essentially one solid asset in Ian White. Even if you think Phaneuf is a problem or over-rated, he’s a top-four defenseman on most any NHL team.  Don’t you have to obtain an elite prospect, a number one pick and/or a top-six forward for him?


Ottawa fans are understandably happy about Gonchar’s signing (though it wasn’t that many years ago that he was derided in many quarters as a no-defense defenseman). But doesn’t losing the younger, in-his-prime Volchenkov at the same time just plug part of a big hole?  Gonchar's a fine offensive talent, but he's more Kaberle (with a shot) than shut-down defenseman.


Canuck fans should be pleased with the early events of free agency. Hamhuis will provide stability and steady play, at a “reasonable” (for this day and age) cost on the back end, though six years is a long time in hockey. He’s certainly been a big part of Nashville’s development in recent years.


The Sabres seem caught in an awkward position. They tried to build by being loyal to their own guys, like Roy, Vanek, Connelly and Pominville. Now fans are frustrated that every summer seems to bring key personnel subtractions and not enough coming in to stay level, much less forge ahead in the Eastern conference standings. They have wonderful young players like Tyler Myers and a great goalie, but it’s so hard to break out of the middle of the pack, which is where they seemed destined to be, when you lose key guys every summer. Every few years guys will have career years, Ruff will do a great coaching job, Miller will have a big season and they make a nice run, but they’re stuck in neutral.

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