Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tyler Arnason And The Mess In Chicago

The Chicago Blackhawks are not a very good team. Currently, they are 14th in the West Conference. There is not much to be hopeful about for Chicago fans. Their top scorer is Tyler Arnason. Arnason has 34 points in his 49 games so far. His +1 +/- rating is quite solid for a losing team such as the Hawks.

Arnason is a talented offensive player. He plays a finesse game. He is a streaky scorer. At age 26, he is young enough that he is likely still improving. His offensive totals have increased each year in his career and he is on pace to increase them again this year. He was my choice for a Blackhawk player in my hypothetical NHL all star game.

The problem with Arnason is that he is not a good enough player to build a team around. Yet, he has been thrust into that position as the number one center and top scorer on a weak team. He is a streaky finesse scorer who often shuns physical play. When he is scoring he looks great. As a streaky player, there are periods of time where he isn't scoring and he doesn't look so great. When he is not scoring and he is not contributing physically, he looks like he is not involved in the games. This is a common problem for people who play Arnason's style. It is especially common when he has the unrealistic expectations to lead a team as a number one centerman (Arnason for example has never scored more that 55 points in an NHL season. Thats not very good for a number one centerman). He is an easy whipping boy when things get tough. In Chicago right now, things are very tough. They have no realistic chance at making the playoffs this year. This will be the seventh season out of the last eight that Chicago will miss the playoffs.

It may get even worse in Chicago. Tyler Arnason was a healthy scratch for the Chicago Blackhawks in their January 22nd 3-2 loss against the Minnesota Wild. It is quite possible that this was done to "light a fire" under the Hawks team. Arnason had been in a cold streak and benching him showed that anyone was not safe from being scratched in Chicago if they were not playing well and it might have Arnason playing at a higher level after he returns. This is a tactic that has been used successfully in years past by other teams to motivate young stars such as Vincent LeCavalier and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Bob Foltman of the Chicago Tribune believes there is much more to this story. Arnason has been an obvious whipping boy with the Hawks for a few years. Previous Chicago coach Brian Sutter fought with Arnason. He believes that Arnason's benching may foreshadow his trading. If Chicago decided that Arnason is not in their future, now might be a time to move him. He is a restricted free agent this upcoming summer. Now might be a good time to trade Arnason.

However, it is hard to build a competitive team by trading away your top scorer. It is hard to build a competitive team by trading away a player who has improved his offensive numbers every year of his career. Barring an unlikely huge return, an Arnason trade would be an example of how Chicago is a team spinning its wheels but not running in any direction. Its a symptom of the problems that keep Chicago at the bottom of the NHL standings.

Of course, things may not be quite as bad as the Chicago Tribune reports. Len Ziehm of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Arnason has learned his lesson from the benching and hopes to play better in future games.

The real problem with Tyler Arnason is his situation in Chicago. He is not a good enough player to be the top star on their forward line. He could be a solid offensive player if he was surrounded by other good offensive players. The problem is Chicago lacks them. If Chicago and Tyler Arnason are beginning a "divorce", the problems in Chicago may get worse before they begin to get better.

I think you mean "Brian" Sutter. Darryl hasn't been there in years.
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