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A heated confrontation in a Nashville bar nearly a week ago did something for the Blackhawks that its miserable on-ice performance couldn't: It returned the sputtering franchise to the spotlight.
A published report on a confrontation between coach Brian Sutter and center Tyler Arnason in a Nashville country music bar Sunday night took center ice Friday night at the United Center before a 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
The report, alleging Sutter got in Arnason's face, pushed him against a wall and tried to goad him into a fight, had the team working in harmony not seen on the ice, at least from a public relations standpoint. At Friday's pregame skate, the Hawks issued a prepared statement with quotes from both Sutter and Arnason saying the matter was settled.
Overshadowed by the fracas was the impressive return of Eric Daze, the Hawks' top active goal-scorer who had missed 63 games because of back surgery. Skating on a line with Arnason and Tuomo Ruutu, Daze assisted on the Hawks' first goal and scored their second.
But after losing its early two-goal advantage, Anaheim went back ahead on Rob Niedermayer's goal late in the second period and a pair of goals by Steve Russhin padded the lead in the third period.
But the real action was before the game.
According to Arnason's statement, "It was an exchange of views between Brian and I that got a little heated. There's a mutual respect between us and we'll just move on from there."
Sutter also attempted to downplay the incident.
"This was a discussion that took place between a player and a coach," Sutter's statement read. "I care about Arnie like I care about all the players on our team. I believe Tyler Arnason is an important part of what we are trying to do with our team and the direction we are going."
Asked if he wanted to add anything, Sutter answered, "That's it."
He then was asked: "Are you and Arnason on good paper?"
"Yes, we are," Sutter replied. "I feel the same way about Arnie last week as this week."
The previous week Sutter expressed the opinion that Arnason had stopped playing up to the potential he displayed earlier in his second full season in the NHL. After getting 13 goals in his first 52 games he has one in the last 15, the goal coming the night after the incident in the 2-2 tie in Nashville.
"In the first half of the season, Arnason played extremely well," general manager Bob Pulford said. "He's a young player; he has to learn how hard he has to push himself to be that top player. I think he'll do that."
The episode in Nashville was the second in less than 14 months involving the 24-year-old son of former NHL player Chuck Arnason.
In January 2003, Arnason and Phil Housley took a beating when they tried to come to the assistance of Theo Fleury after he got into his infamous brawl with bouncers at a strip club in Columbus.
Later on the NHL suspended Fleury for violation of his substance abuse program requirements, and Housley was traded to Toronto.
Because of Arnason's potential, it's unlikely that Pulford will try to trade him before Tuesday's deadline.
Pulford said he had a talk with both Sutter and Arnason before the team issued their statements and "the thing is over as far as I'm concerned."
Because of the Hawks' fall to last place in the Western Conference, there has been speculation Sutter will lose his job when his contract expires at the end of the season, and the Nashville incident fueled more conjecture.
Pulford, however, says he believes injuries are responsible for the young team's decline.
"I think the team has played very hard and that's a reflection on the coach," Pulford said. "I think therefore he has done a decent job.
"Because of injuries from the start we were decimatedyou lose your goaltender (Jocelyn Thibault), two of your top scorers (Daze and Alex Zhamnov) and a good defenseman (Alexander Karpovtsev), but they've played hard through all of this."