The Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators do battle for the first of five times this season, meaning that Blackhawks’ fans will get to see Viktor Stalberg and Carter Hutton in yellow for the first time since they were shipped off in the summer. Nashville, Stalberg, and Hutton have all had a rough start to the season, and the two might just wish they were back in Chi-town.
Stalberg was a Blackhawk ever since a trade from Toronto in June 2010 that sent Kris Versteeg the other way. Now, everything has come full circle, and Versteeg will play for the Blackhawks for the first time in three years on Saturday, after a trade sent him back to Chicago on Thursday night.
In 203 career games in a Blackhawks’ sweater, Stalberg potted 43 goals and had 90 points in total. His time in Chicago saw many highs and lows, once playing on the top line alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and ending up in Head Coach Joel Quenneville‘s doghouse for the high-flying 2013 season, relegated to third-line duty. Now, Stalberg is off to the worst start of his career, scoring a lone goal and adding one assist for a pair of points in 13 games played. He has been a healthy scratch more than once already in the season, on a Nashville team that has only won 8 of their 17 games, and currently sit last in the Central Division. At 210 pounds, Stalberg could be a devastatingly physical forward, but only has 8 hits (Blackhawks’ forward Brad Mills has 9 in three games). His speed, usually his #1 asset, hasn’t been there, and he has under-skated passes time after time.
Stalberg is making $3 million dollars this year. Currently, 1 point for the 27-year old costs the Predators $1.5 million. The worst part about Stalberg’s contract: He has a modified No Trade Clause, and would need to be approached before the Predators could consider moving him.
Hutton, a Blackhawks prospect that played for their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, was picked up as a free-agent and signed to a one-year deal. Hutton joined the Predators organization, ready to fill the role of back-up to starting goaltender Pekka Rinne. All was going according to plan, until Rinne was diagnosed with an infection in his hip and required an emergency hip scope that would cause him to miss 6-8 weeks. The struggle isn’t even at its half-way point yet, as reports suggest that Rinne could be sidelined until after Christmas break.
Hutton has started 10 games for the Predators, averaging a dismal 3.39 GAA and .891 Save Percentage in that time. Nashville sits in 27th league-wide in Goals Against Average as a team, with a number that is slightly better at 3.10.
It is no secret what has caused the train wreck of the former hot prospect: too much pressure, way too fast. Rinne, a very dependable goalie, was not expected to miss this much time all year, and Hutton’s role in the back-up position seemed like an easy gamble for Predators’ GM David Poile.
Stalberg and Hutton definitely don’t have the greatest supporting cast alongside them, but these players were brought in to strengthen the organization, as they geared up for a return to the playoffs. With that goal slipping farther and farther away each day, the future doesn’t look bright for these two former ‘Hawks. Chicago doesn’t miss them at all, with first-year pro goalie Antti Raanta doing great down in Rockford, and Kris Versteeg expected to make a splash in his second chance with the team.
The Predators won’t have any great opportunities to turn the tide in the short-term, as they face two of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference after their meeting with the Blackhawks, in Detroit and Toronto.
You can catch tonight’s Chicago/Nashville game on CSN Chicago, and listen on WGN Radio 720. The puck drops at the Bridgestone Arena at 7 PM Central Time.
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