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Monday, November 18

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Pucks in Five

The Trading Post
by Jeremy Piniak

One: Thanks for the Memories, Martin.
Oh, wait, were there any? Last Tuesday, unofficial team captain Martin LaPointe was traded to the Ottawa Senators for a 6th round draft pick. The move had little motive for the Hawks other than clearing some salary for a player who was not going to be re-signed next season, and in doing so, GM Dale Tallon was able to honor LaPointe's request to be traded to a Cup contender in a classy move. LaPointe was a typical grinder who always played hard and almost never missed a game, and his professionalism and experience was a big asset to the team when they sorely needed veteran leadership and a strong locker room presence. But with ice time decreasing and some of the younger stars maturing, room for LaPointe in the organization was becoming tight. LaPointe's well-respected in the league, and for good reason, and it's honorable the Hawks were able to do right by him while getting something small in return.

Two: A closer look
On the surface, last week's trade of Tuomo Ruutu to Carolina for Andrew Ladd could be considered a move of two prospects that were struggling to reach expectations and could benefit from a change in scenery. While that is essentially true, by digging deeper into the deal, it's obvious both teams were hoping to fill a critical need with a young player who has a high upside. The Blackhawks needed a true left-winger who has the size and desire to park himself in front of the net and screen the goaltender, and the Hurricanes were struggling with injuries and needed a player who could be physical and score while covering multiple forward slots. Ladd scored two goals in his first three games as a Hawk, and has taken advantage of increased ice time in a system that plays to his ability. Likewise, Ruutu has gotten top line minutes in a more aggressive offensive system and netted three points in three games, while laying hits out across the ice. At this point, both teams should be pleased with a trade that looks to be win-win.

Three: Looking at the List
In the midst of the trade deadline, reports stated GM Dale Tallon sent an e-mail to all teams stating the following eight players were available:
• Martin Havlat
• Robert Lang
• Tuomo Ruutu
• Martin Lapointe
• Rene Bourque
• Yanic Perrault
• Andrei Zyuzin
• Nicolai Khabibulin

None of the names on the list were a complete shock, with the minor exception of Bourque, as all on the list have either not reached potential or are high-contract, underperforming players. It's still a bit surprising to see it spelled out in clear daylight rather than in the rumor mill, and with only two players from the list moving, it will be curious to see how the other six respond the rest of this season in what can be considered an extended audition for the rest of the league.

Havlat hurt his shoulder in the first game after the trade deadline, and will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery, and Lang, Perrault and Khabibulin are all nursing injuries as well and currently not playing. The injuries and poor play are the reasons these players were on the block in the first place, and at this point, the Hawks are not counting on contributions from any of them. While Bourque has played with some passion after the news, it remains to be seen what impact any of the other individuals will have the rest of this season.

Four: Perfect Play
Sunday's game against Vancouver is exactly the type of game the Blackhawks can point to as a sign of positive growth, and exactly the type of game the team needs to keep playing if they hope to have a prayer at the postseason. Behind an efficient offense, the team's lockdown defense permitted the Canucks only 10 shots on net, and the Hawks dominated all aspects of the game. It was a total, singular, rout. The win pulled the Hawks to within six points of the final playoff spot, but with five teams still in between them and the eighth seed. It's been said more than once, but the upcoming week is make-or-break for the team. The Blackhawks travel to the Northwest-division leading Minnesota Wild tonight, before hosting the defending Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks and current fifth seed San Jose Sharks Wednesday and Friday. The three teams are some of the cream of the Western Conference crop, and the Hawks have struggled with each this season. Chicago needs to find a way to earn some Ws this week, as any slip in the postseason race could be too difficult to battle back from this late.

Five: Wolves Rewind
Despite a .500 week, the Wolves are still in command in the Western division, opening up an 11-point lead over the Rockford IceHogs. Chicago split a pair of games in San Antonio to the Rampage, and then dropped a home game to Milwaukee Saturday before rebounding with a 4-1 victory over the Providence Bruins, tying Chicago with Providence for the best record in the AHL at 42-14-2-1.

Although the team stumbled a bit this week, Chicago has still set a franchise record with 42 wins and 87 points in just 59 games, and would need a prolonged slump to lose the division lead. This weekend the team welcomes the Iowa Stars and Quad City Flames to the Allstate Arena, where the Wolves have a league-leading .750 winning percentage. Sunday, Chicago travels to Peoria to battle the Rivermen.

Bulls in Five

Embarrassed
by Dan & Patrick O'Neil

One: Recapping the Wreaking
The Bulls lost three of four this week. They were mauled by the Mavericks and Jason Kidd, beat the no-big-deal Pacers on Wednesday, embarrassed the entire population of the third-largest city in the most powerful country in the world on Leap Day, and showed up for an extended LeBron James poster photo shoot on Sunday. These people have no pride, no sense of self. They collect paychecks. These are the same people we supported and loved on the way up — Hinrich, Gordon, Deng — because they tried every game. They were scrappy; never gave up. Something happened, but collectively I think they bought their own bullshit without ever having won a single thing that mattered.

Two: All Apologies
Nascent head coach Jim Boylan is not very good at his job. He has thus far been ineffective at convincing a set of professional athletes to try hard while they are at work. This sort of motivation and leadership is at the center of what coaches do. He is, however, pretty good at telling the truth. After being outscored 22-1 in the third quarter on the way to a loss against the middling Wizards, he said, ''We thought we had the game won at halftime. We played one half and thought that was enough. We are embarrassed; we embarrassed the organization and the city of Chicago. I apologize for that.'' That's a city full of 2.8 million people he just explicitly apologized to. It reminds me of when former Coach Skiles said earlier this year that "we've got to find a way to make pro layups." Stunning text that should make players wince, make them want to beat the snot out of somebody. The Bulls responded by blowing their nose and going to bed.

Three: Mistake by the Lake
Michael Jordan made no secret of hating Cleveland and everything associated with it. His earliest and most vociferously celebrated series-ending basket, "The Shot", was over Craig Ehlo at Cleveland, where he screams and throws fists at the crowd after he drained it. He did everything in his considerable powers to mentally and emotionally destroy anyone from there. That's what makes Sunday's collapse at Cleveland even harder to take. Have some sense of team history, people! He even tormented Brent Price just because he was Mark's little brother. Check out this clip at 5:13 — he waves the ball over Brent Prices' head like he's on the Washington Generals.

Four: Who Writes This Shit?
I'm getting pretty sick of the copy that comes out of the internal writers for the Bulls on their website. Here's their blurb on Sunday's game: "Luol Deng was one of six players in double figures, but the Bulls fell to the Cavaliers, 95-86, on Sunday. Despite the loss, two former Cavaliers played well in their return to Cleveland: Larry Hughes led the way with 23 points and Drew Gooden finished with a double-double." Double-double? I don't want to hear one word about stats. Let's hear about the lack of heart, about zero fire, about no desire. Let's hear about how Deng must be kicking himself in the ass for turning down $57.5 million. Quit with the empty silver linings.

Five: Blame
As far as I'm concerned, the blame for this unexpectedly disastrous season lays directly with General Manager John Paxson. This article makes a pretty good case for it, outlining in painful detail where every major decision went wrong. A lot of the people he let go end up kicking ass elsewhere (Tyson Chandler with the Hornets) and the people he got in exchange are not working out (Eddie Curry isn't exactly kicking ass for the Knicks, but first-round pick Tyrus Thomas isn't anywhere). Then, of course, there's the matter of $60 million for the Ben Wallace Experiment. Thanks, John!

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About the Author(s)

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium, is committed to the Indian. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, whenever possible, the minor-league Wolves.) Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

Patrick O'Neil is a Chicago designer and software developer. His second Bull's championship celebration was marred by a cordon of riot police at North, Milwaukee and Damen. Daniel X. O'Neil is Chicago writer and old skool Bulls fan. See more of him here. Send comments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

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