Stanley Cup Final notes (cont.)
Many things contributed to the Flyers' defeat. For one, the Blackhawks' superior speed was a factor in virtually every game. A lot of teams have good speed, but the 'Hawks can not only skate at a tremendously fast pace, they can execute at that speed, and that is a difference. That talent gave the Flyers' defensive pairs and their overall team defense a problem.
The Flyers' offense could compete, but when it pressed the area around the net and didn't convert, the 'Hawks were able to turn the play out quickly as the Flyers' forwards struggled to get back in time. The Blackhawks' defense was also six deep. The Flyers pretty much could only play four with confidence (hence the tremendous number of minutes logged by Pronger) and that played into Chicago's favor. No accident that the winning goal was scored with Pronger and his usual running mate, Matt Carle, on the bench.
Laviolette will also have some long summer nights thinking about Game 5 in Chicago when his counterpart, Joel Quennville, broke up his big line of Jonathan Toews, Kane and Dustin Byfuglien, and moved them around and away from Pronger. One could argue that Game 5 was by far Leighton's worst (he was pulled after giving up three goals in the first period of a game the Flyers had to win), but it was Pronger's worst as well, and Laviolette didn't adjust to the changes in time. The Blackhawks pretty much cruised to that win even though it wasn't Niemi's best game.
Jeff Carter missing a largely open net for what could have been the winning goal for the Flyers in Game 6 epitomized his poor production in the final. Carter is thought to not be fully recovered from a foot injury, but he was in position to score a big goal and instead shot it straight into Niemi's facemask.
Mike Richards, the Flyers' captain, also didn't rise to the challenge, at least not in the same way that Chicago's stars did. Richards' statement that some players on the team seemed "too cocky" going into Game 5 in Chicago was taken as a veiled shot at Pronger, and an indication that the Flyers never did solve all the in-room problems that surfaced during the regular season. The rift between the young Richards and the veteran Pronger was real, and that "cocky" comment came at a time when Richards might have taken the Chicago Tribune to task for portraying Pronger in a figureskater's skirt and calling him "Chrissy." Such a thing called for a captain's response. Richards was noteworthy only in his silence.
The Blackhawks will surely enjoy a summer full of celebration, but there are also some well-known financial pressure points. The team has a multitude of stars, several of them coming off entry-level contracts, and is reported to have some $57 million committed to just 14 players for next season. There are contracts the team likely would love to unload -- Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet come immediately to mind -- but it will be difficult. One of the more burdensome is the 12-year, $62.8 million deal ($5.2333 per) that belongs to Marian Hossa, a quality player who has been living off a succession of one-year deals in an attempt to find a spot on a Cup-champion (mission accomplished). Look for the Hawks to shop his rights as soon as the parade is complete.
There's not much the Blackhawks haven't done right in their climb to respectability, and now comes a Stanley Cup championship for a city that has gone nearly half a century without one. But it was odd to see so many people taking a bow and kissing the Cup on Philadelphia ice and not have Dale Tallon among them.
Tallon, fired as general manager last summer, made some budget mistakes while he was with the Blackhawks, but he knew talent when he saw it and one could argue that he completed the playoff puzzle when he signed Hossa and defensive standout John Madden. Those moves sent the 'Hawks to the Western Conference Finals last season and showed them the way to the Cup this time around.
Tallon is now the newly-minted GM of the Florida Panthers, a better franchise for signing him, but if he couldn't find his way onto the ice Wednesday night, he should have at least have been a guest of the Blackhawks in a box somewhere in the building. It would have been hard to watch, especially when his replacements -- GM Stan Bowman and his consultant father, Scott -- were on the ice celebrating, but at least the cameras could have panned the box and announcers could have given credit where some was due.
I have no problem with the Bowmans being there along with the players, coaches, trainers, support people and, I suspect, the Blackhawks' Zamboni operator. Hey, it's a team victory and all those people had a hand in it, but this was, for better or worse, Tallon's team. He has a relationship with the players and the franchise that dates back to the early 1970s and he, more than even owner Rocky Wirtz and team President John McDonough (both of whom are deserving of major kudos) reignited hope in Chicago with a team that delivered in line with his vision.
Tallon deserved to be recognized for that. The Blackhawks as an organization, and McDonough as a person, should have made it happen.
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