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Can Havlat shoulder the load?
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Martin Havlat

 

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Published: 7/20/2008 12:13 AM

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If the season started today, the Blackhawks would be one of the many teams in the Western Conference on the bubble to make the playoffs.

Something that could make or break the Hawks' chances is Martin Havlat's health. The Hawks missed the playoffs by 3 points last season with Havlat appearing in only 35 games because of more shoulder problems and scoring just 10 goals.

Even when Havlat played he wasn't the same dangerous offensive threat because of the shoulder, playing most of the time on the perimeter and rarely going hard to the net.

"But a 60-percent Havlat or a 70-percent Havlat is better sometimes, but it's not what we want," Hawks coach Denis Savard said. "With the minutes he plays, it's not good enough. So hopefully he comes healthy and plays like he can when he's healthy. If he does, I'll be a great coach."

Havlat underwent shoulder surgery in March and has been rehabbing in the Czech Republic. The Hawks even sent assistant trainer Jeff Thomas to Havlat's homeland in Europe to make sure the rehab was being done properly.

Havlat expects to be 100 percent with training camp opens on Sept. 18.

"I feel pretty good, actually," said Havlat, who is in town for the Hawks' first fan convention. "We took it slower than after those two surgeries I had before. This time I didn't have to push it to come back and play some games so it's been a little different during rehab."

The Hawks haven't received much return on the $18 million investment they made in Havlat after acquiring him from the Ottawa Senators in 2006. He missed 26 games with injuries in 2006-07 and 42 more last season.

Havlat should have a few incentives to stay healthy and produce big this year. The Hawks could be contenders in the West and it's a contract year for the 27-year-old veteran whose deal expire next July 1 when he would become an unrestricted free agent.

So far with the Hawks, Havlat has shown only brief glimpses of the dynamic offensive force he can be.

"I've tried to do my best when I could," Havlat said. "I'm looking forward to staying healthy the whole year. I'm doing everything I can to be that way, doing the rehab the right way. Hopefully everything is going to be right this year because I want to play. I miss that. It's hasn't been fun for me, the team and or everyone else.

"I'm confident (the shoulder is fixed), but we'll see when the real games start."

A healthy Havlat would give the Hawks two premier scoring lines. Savard plans to play Havlat with Robert Lang on the second line, possibly with Andrew Ladd or a rookie such as No. 1 draft pick Kyle Beach.

"That would be an awesome thing for him to be healthy," Savard said. "He's a gamebreaker, but for him to be that gamebreaking player he needs to be healthy. He needs to really compete like he has in the past when he was healthy.

"He just hasn't been healthy. You could tell."