Blackhawks down

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:53 PM ET

The Rangers, Wings and Canadiens have all won Stanley Cups in the last dozen seasons.

The Bruins, down-and-out now, only missed the playoffs three times in 37 years and might have had a mini-dynasty if not for the '88 and '90 Oilers.

Toronto hasn't won since 1967, but made the playoffs 10 of the last 12 seasons, advanced to the second round or better seven times in that span and sell out every night in a city where the Leafs are a religion.

And then there's Chicago. The last of the Original Six. And by last, we mean trailing their fellow pioneers in every conceivable category.

Fifty-five years removed from their last title, the Chi-Hawks had one winning season in the last 10, made the playoffs once since 1997, are playing to a half-empty United Centre and, in what was supposed to be a bounce-back year, with a handful of free agents and $6-million Nikolai Khabibulin in net, are already 17 points out of a playoff spot. They've just pulled out of a 10-game losing streak, their longest since 1951, and lost 13 of their last 16.

It's so bad that on their western road trip the Chicago newspapers didn't even bother sending beat writers. They're not kidding when they say it always blows in the Windy City.

"It's been real tough,'' said Hawks defenceman Todd Simpson. "No one's happy here. It's a really stressful situation and we can't quite put our finger on it.''

"It's up to us to turn it around,'' adds Matthew Barnaby. "Nobody feels sorry for us. We have to dig ourselves out of this hole.''

It's a deep one. With 16 wins in their first 47 games (in a division where they play St. Louis and Columbus 16 times), the Hawks are so far down they have to skate with mining lamps instead of helmets.

"A lot of people will look at our record and say it's the same old Blackhawks,'' said head coach Trent Yawney, part of an overhaul that saw Chicago start the season with a new coach, GM and 15 new players. "But I beg to differ because I've been in the organization a long time (coaching AHL Norfolk) and it's the first time in a long time that we've had young players who are playing roles on the big team. Organizationally we're stronger than we were a couple of years ago.''

Chicago, 15th in the West last season and 29th overall, does have a lot of bright young talent - Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Anton Babchuk, Pavol Vorobiev and Lac La Biche's Rene Bourque - but they're developing in a climate of failure that clings to them like skunk spray.

"It's humbling for them,'' admits Yawney. "The league is based on wins and losses and we've had a lot of losses.

"A lot of times, at the start of something good, you lose some games that you should win - that's where we're at.''

The Hawks have had their share of bad luck, losing Eric Daze (back) for the year, and a handful of key players for extended periods.

When their veterans have been healthy, they haven't been leading by example. (Adrian Aucoin, Martin Lapointe and Jassen Cullimore had a combined minus-46 before Thursday's games. Bourque, Seabrook and Vorobiev, when healthy and playing, were plus-2.) Khabibulin has an .883 save percentage and 3.30 GAA.

"We expect a little bit more out of our veterans and they're probably more frustrated and disappointed than anybody,'' said Yawney.

"I'm hoping in the second half, because some of them never played last year, that they're going to emerge into the players we thought they would be.

"If our young guys can play the same way and our veterans can step it up, we'll get closer and closer to .500.''

Instead of deeper and deeper in that hole.

"We have to fight it, stand up, because we're a much better team than this. We just have to show it,'' said Simpson.

"There's a lot of time to go, but we have to get going soon. This is miserable.''

- - -

THEY SAID IT

- "I think it's a pretty gutless call. He got what he deserved, they got another loss, so I'm pretty happy about that.''

- Sergei Samsonov after Ducks coach Randy Carlyle called him for an illegal curve.

- "Who knew you weren't supposed to eat chicken medium rare? I mean, it's OK to eat beef that way, so why not chicken.''

- Toronto's Wade Belak jokes around after recovering from food poisoning.

- "They should be booing. That's part of hockey. When you stink, you get booed.''

- Wayne Gretzky, after the fans in Phoenix let the Coyotes have it.

- - -

T'S TOP FIVE

On the heels of Making the Cut and Skating With Celebrities, here are the top five sports-based reality shows we'd like to see:

5 - Survivor Tyson: Contestants must survive 30 days on nothing but antidepressants and ear meat.

4 - The biggest loser: Contestants will actually play for the Blues and Penguins.

3 - Say what?: Reporters try to figure out what the hell the quotes are after interviewing Esa Tikkanen.

2 - Publicity stunt: Girls who've never won a pro tourney try making a PGA cut. Oops, Michelle Wie's already doing it.

1 - The Amazing Race: You. Keith Tkachuk. A plate of bacon. GO!

- - -

T'S TEAM OF THE WEEK

C - PAVEL DATSYUK (RED WINGS): Seven points and plus five in three games.

LW - PATRICK ELIAS (DEVILS): Returns from lengthy illness like he was never gone.

RW - ALEXANDER OVECHKIN (CAPITALS): For no other reason than his goal against Gretzky's Coyotes.

LD - MARC-ANDRE BERGERON (OILERS): Five goals and two assists in seven games.

RD - NOLAN BAUMGARTNER (CANUCKS): A minus player just three times in 26 games.

G - DAVID AEBISCHER (AVALANCHE): Rattles off seven straight wins (allowing just 12 goals).

- - -

T'S QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"A normal swede, I guess.''

-- Calgary's Kristian Huselius, when asked to pick five words to describe himself.


Videos

Photos