The Blackhawks regained some of their swagger last week, recording their first three victories of 2012. After taking three out of four possible points against Western Conference powerhouses Detroit and San Jose over the weekend, the team was rewarded with individual accolades for two forwards and a collective kudos for the defense.
The newest issue of The Hockey News includes their annual NHL defense rankings, measuring the bluelines of all 30 teams through on-ice performance, depth and financial manageability. After ranking sixth in 2010-11, the Blackhawks are the cream of the crop this season, thanks to the youth, skill and cap-friendly salaries of the top four defensemen.
“No team other than Chicago has all this: Arguably the best pairing in the league in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook; a top-four (including second pair Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy) whose average age is less than 25 years old; the kind of depth that has veteran Steve Montador on the third pairing along with a choice of veterans Sean O’Donnell, Sami Lepisto and John Scott to be the sixth defenseman on any given night; and the skill that could sustain the loss of minute-munching, offense-minded Brian Campbell and not miss a beat.”
Stan Bowman’s cap management has allotted $20.8 million of salary to the blue line (10th highest in the league), which occupies 35.5 percent of the team’s total payroll (tied for sixth). Neither too hot nor too cold, the Blackhawks have seemingly found the right balance of talent and value on the blueline.
Marian Hossa’s impressive level of play on both ends of the ice this season may lend his name to the Selke Trophy conversation before long, as his contributions have been reflected week after week through high placement in ESPN.com and Puck Prospectus’ Power Player Rankings. Hossa’s total Goals Versus Threshold value is 13.6 so far this season, and he has provided the best defensive value among all forwards with a 3.4 dGVT. Hossa last ranked first on Jan. 3, dropping to second behind Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux last week, but reclaimed the top spot in the Jan. 17 edition:
“Hossa is a true value player, not just scoring the easy points. He's third in the NHL with 34 even-strength points and fourth with three short-handed points. He's also a healthy plus-23, the best mark by any non-Bruin in the NHL.”
Viktor Stalberg picked the right time to jumpstart his scoring and was named the NHL’s No. 2 Star of the Week for his efforts:
“Stalberg tied for the league lead in goals (5) and added an assist as the Blackhawks (27-13-6) earned seven of eight points to take first place in the Western Conference standings. Stalberg began the week by recording the first hat trick of his NHL career, including the game-winning goal, in a 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 10. He recorded his second consecutive game-winner in a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 12 and finished the week with a one-goal, one-assist performance in a 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 15. The Gothenburg, Sweden, native, who turns 26 tomorrow, has already posted single-season career highs in goals (14), assists (14) and points (28).”