|Veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen, acquired from Philadelphia on Friday, will likely skate alongside Brent Seabrook on Monday against Carolina. (Chase Agnello-Dean)
As Kimmo Timonen exited the locker room for practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West on Sunday morning, Kris Versteeg was in his ear. This situation is commonplace because Versteeg believes that conversation makes everybody comfortable, even lodge brothers who have been around longer than he.
Besides, the listening experience was not a first for the Blackhawks’ newest defenseman. Timonen and Versteeg were once teammates with the Philadelphia Flyers.
“A great player,” offered Versteeg. “And a great guy.”
Indeed, to delve into dispatches from the City of Brotherly Love is to encounter civic angst. Did some vagabond desecrate the Rocky Balboa statue? Was another crack discovered in the Liberty Bell? No, the Flyers merely had traded a 39-year-old who hadn’t logged one shift this season to Chicago. Yet, from Chairman Ed Snider on down, the parting hurt. Even fans uttered regrets. And this is Philadelphia, where they boo Santa Claus.
Now, the next order of business. Can this prince of a man contribute as he once did? Timonen donned No. 44 and assumed his natural left-handed slot beside Brent Seabrook during drills, a pairing that is likely to be replicated Monday night when the Carolina Hurricanes visit the United Center. However, since last spring’s playoffs, practice ice is all that Timonen has been afforded. He did not look rusty, but now there are games, and it’s crunch time.
“You don’t have to worry about him,” Versteeg went on. “It’s not like he hasn’t been skating for a while. He was supposed to be in the Flyers lineup Saturday night, before the deal was made. Plus, a guy like Kimmo doesn’t lose his smarts. He’s strong on his feet, really good on the power play with the first pass, and thick. I know. Running into him is like running into a wall. But above all, he’s as smart a player as you’ll ever find.”
Timonen was watching 16-year-old Samuel, one of his three sons, play hockey on Friday night when he got the word. After a couple weeks of back and forth, the Blackhawks agreed to send draft choices in return for a grizzled blue-line presence. He contacted a fellow Finn, Teuvo Teravainen—who is young enough to be a fourth son—for a lift from O’Hare. Come Sunday, Head Coach Joel Quenneville expressed “excitement” about a veteran who had amassed 1,092 National Hockey League starts, not counting 87 in the playoffs, and was named to five All-Star Games.
“I feel like I’m ready,” offered a smiling Timonen. He retained a cheerful mood even upon confirming that yes, he was right there—near yet still too far—when Patrick Kane bagged that clinching goal from a sharp angle to bring the Blackhawks a 4-3 overtime victory and a Stanley Cup on June 10, 2010, in Game 6 at Wachovia Center. Timonen, the Flyers’ alternate captain, absorbed 27 minutes, 47 seconds that night. A tough memory, he conceded. But better than playing not at all.
“After last season, I felt a pain in my calf,” he said. “The doctors checked, and they found a blood clot. Then blood clots in my lungs too. I was back in Finland. Doctors told me I would have to wait six months or so to see what happened. They put me on blood thinners. I was in the hospital for a couple days, and it was scary. I thought, if there is any chance of returning to play, the one goal I wanted, the one thing I was missing in my career was a Stanley Cup.”
If the Blackhawks required any memorandum, despite the prolonged absence of Patrick Kane, that the front office retains similar lofty expectations, Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman confirmed the organization’s mantra by adding Timonen and Antoine Vermette, a much-coveted center throughout the league with the trade deadline approaching, from the Arizona Coyotes. It was expensive, but the Blackhawks have expensive tastes.
They also have the wherewithal. Bowman deftly has kept as many core assets as possible while gathering draft choices in return for players he was forced to move. By not taking on more financial obligations, Bowman has accumulated sufficient futures and/or prospects to secure reinforcements like he did this weekend. With cap relief for Kane’s injury, and no cap in effect for the playoffs, both he and Vermette will be Blackhawks when it most matters.
As will Timonen. He loved the Flyers as much as they loved him, but all things considered, he’d rather be here than in Philadelphia.