Blackhawks

Blackhawks have to turn the page quickly

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Blackhawks have to turn the page quickly

The open place in the rafters, the one that’s sitting there among several Stanley Cup banners, was easy to spot. Blackhawks players saw it, for sure.

“Yeah, I noticed it,” Jonathan Toews said. “It didn’t slip by me.”

The Blackhawks will raise their third banner of the last five years on Wednesday night before they open their regular-season schedule against the New York Rangers. For the Blackhawks, opening night the past few years has been a balancing act: enjoy the banner raising for what it is, revel a few minutes more in what they accomplished last season and then move on. Pronto.

[MORE HAWKS: Five Questions heading into the Blackhawks season]

“They’re all special. It’s a very proud moment. The crowd gets into it, brings back some great memories,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a special year. That was definitely the toughest Cup we ever had to win, or try to win. It was a tough one. It seemed like it was never going to end. It was hard earned. It’ll be nice to reflect but then let’s turn the switch.”

As tough as winning the Cup last season was, it will be even tougher to repeat. It’s not completely about the Blackhawks coming off a short summer and adjusting to offseason changes. It’s also about the competition, which always gets a little better and a little more determined to knock the Blackhawks off the perch.

“You think of a team that feels like they have something to prove, they've been sitting around since April last year,” Toews said. “So it's not so much our shortcoming; I think it's more other teams that are trying to come flying out the gate. So we have to be ready for that as well.”

The pomp and circumstance will take up part of the evening. For the rest of the night, however, the Blackhawks will have to focus on the present. The latest Cup was a triumph and a tough one to attain. Trying to win the next one will be even tougher.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“We’ve been stressing to try to get off to a good start, not only tonight’s game but also the first couple of months of the season. We know how important that is,” Patrick Kane said. “We went through it in 2010-11 after our first Stanley Cup when we got behind the 8-ball, had to play catch-up and snuck into the playoffs in the eighth spot. Our division’s tough this year, our conference is tough, then you open with a couple tough games against the Eastern Conference, too. No game’s going to be an easy game this year. Teams are going to give us their best, and we have to be ready.”

BRIEFLY

-Ville Pokka did not participate in morning skate on Wednesday. Quenneville said Pokka’s call-up and Viktor Svedberg’s reassignment to Rockford were more procedural than anything, and that Svedberg will “likely” return soon.

-Defenseman Kyle Cumiskey signed a professional tryout (PTO) with the IceHogs.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Seth Gruen (Big Ten Unfiltered) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel. 

The Blackhawks drop their 8th straight. So should their “One Goal” be to tank?

Plus, Jon Lester isn’t a fan of the new pace of play proposals. Is he right?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

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With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

After losing their eighth straight game and falling 12 points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks' playoff chances have dipped to a season-low 0.2 percent. It would take a miracle for them to extend their postseason streak to 10 at this point, where getting just one win seems like a monumental task.

The Blackhawks were probably never really going to be buyers before the Feb. 26 trade deadline even if they were still in the hunt, but it's hard to imagine they had plans to be sellers. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has reiterated over and over again that he's confident in this group, one that's getting younger and faster.

But now they've reached a territory where they have to consider selling off spare parts simply to coup some draft picks or prospects that they could perhaps retain or use as sweeteners in the offseason.

So which players could the Blackhawks realistically sell?

Let's start with the two players getting rewarded with top-six ice time as of late: Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels.

These are two players that play with high energy and go to the greasy areas, something that's important in the playoffs when scoring goals becomes more difficult. They can clean up rebounds. Wingels, particularly, likely has more value and it's showing given his recent success on the power play as a net-front presence guy. He also isn't a stranger to the playoffs with 54 games under his belt compared to Bouma's five.

Both of them are pending unrestricted free agents and are making $1 million or fewer, which certainly works in the Blackhawks' favor considering they won't cost much and their cap hits are easy to fit in on any interested team.

Maybe a team would like to take a flyer on Tomas Jurco, who's a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but that would be a move somebody makes as more of a longer term project than strengthening your depth for a playoff run this spring.

On the back end, Michal Kempny and Jan Rutta could be in play for a contender looking to ensure some depth as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Again, each of them are making less than $1 million so it's a low-risk situation for clubs whose Plan A or B fall through and may be interested in at least getting something.

While they don't have much NHL experience, they're both 27 years old and have played the sport long enough to know what they can bring to the table.

Once Feb. 26 passes and potential roster spots open up, expect the Blackhawks to start calling up the kids. 

Matthew Highmore deserves a look after leading the Rockford IceHogs with 20 goals and 32 points. John Hayden has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 15 games since joining Rockford, and belongs in the NHL. Even Anthony Louis, who's taken a step forward, should get a taste of the action as he continues his development.

Carl Dahlstrom is getting his shot now. Erik Gustafsson is in that process as well. Gustav Forsling had another extended look during the first half of the season before the team decided it would be wise to continue his development in Rockford, where he can play top-pairing minutes.

All of this would give the Blackhawks a better indicator of how they can approach the upcoming offseason, and which young guys they can possibly add into the mix for 2018-19. But first, we have to see how the end of February plays out before making those calls.