Blackhawks

Blackhawks mailbag: linemates, prospects and potential

Blackhawks mailbag: linemates, prospects and potential

Ah, summer is nearing its end. That can only mean one thing: hockey is about to begin soon.

Sure, it’ll be starting a little earlier this season with the World Cup of Hockey (preliminary games begin Sept. 17 in Toronto). But we’re going to leapfrog that event for the time being and talk Blackhawks.

What lies ahead for the Blackhawks this season? The team that had plenty of depth two seasons ago is now somewhat depleted, especially at forward. Of course, that’s where most of the questions lie entering this campaign. So let’s shake off the summer rust and open our first mailbag of the 2016-17 season.

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I won’t be surprised if Nick Schmaltz gets the first shot at that left wing spot. Schmaltz’s opportunity opened up when Teuvo Teravainen was traded (don’t forget he signed not long after that move). Schmaltz has mainly played center or right wing but hey, when you’re with the Blackhawks, you adjust quickly.

Hossa played most of the season with Toews but was on the Blackhawks’ shutdown line with Marcus Kruger late in the postseason. Coach Joel Quenneville liked what he saw and said at the convention that, “won’t say for sure they’ll start together this year, but I’d like to see it. Maybe he carves out a different niche.” I still wouldn’t be surprised if Hossa starts the season on the top line. Putting Toews with two unproven NHL forwards right off the bat is unlikely. And while Richard Panik got a shot there and probably will again, I think Quenneville’s going to want to bulk up that top line, at least to start.

The Blackhawks have a little salary-cap space left, according to generalfanager.com (about $2.4 million). I’ve been down this road too many times to completely deny the possibility of the Blackhawks doing something. That said, I’d be surprised if they do. General manager Stan Bowman has said several times that it’s time some prospects get an opportunity, so don’t be surprised if the Blackhawks stick with what they have right now.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Blackhawks fans!]

Yes, Mr. Versteeg is back on the NHL free agent list after his deal with Bern (Swiss League) didn’t work out — TSN’s Darren Dreger reported “insurance complications.” Versteeg will land somewhere, even if it’s just for a tryout. He’d certainly fit right in if he were to return to the Blackhawks, but I just don’t see it happening.

Scott Darling saved the day and helped save the series against the Nashville Predators in the 2015 postseason but he struggled last season. Hey, it happens. Let’s remember when Crawford had a tough sophomore season and half the fan base wanted him traded (OK some silly fools still do but whatever). Darling has the ability and he will keep learning. Eventually, yes, he could be No. 1 goalie material but he’s not there yet.

Now your second question: no, I never thought the Blackhawks would trade Crawford. When Crawford signed his six-year, $36-million deal in the 2013 offseason, he was coming off his first Stanley Cup victory and there were still a lot of questions about him. Now he’s got a second Cup and was damn good last season when the Blackhawks didn’t have their usual defensive depth. Here’s how his contract stacks up to other NHL goaltenders, according to spotrac.com. Not so bad, really. But long story short he’s a great goaltender; and when a team gets one of those it shouldn’t let go of him.

I want to see what Michal Kempny has to offer. Yeah, I saw him at prospect camp (same with Schmaltz and Tyler Motte) but it’s one thing to see those guys with fellow prospects and another to see them with established NHL players. As Artemi Panarin had a Russian teammate or two to help him get used to his new surroundings, Kempny will have the same with fellow Czech Michal Rozsival. Clearly, the Blackhawks’ brass already thinks highly of Kempny. Asked potential defensive pairings at the convention, assistant coach Mike Kitchen threw out these possible combinations: Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell-Brent Seabrook and Kempny-Trevor van Riemsdyk. So I’m curious to see how quickly he adapts and fits in with the Blackhawks defense.

OK, those are two very unrelated questions, so let’s go with the hockey one first.

As of now I’m guessing Marcus Kruger takes over the third-line center spot and Dennis Rasmussen goes on the fourth line. As much as that Kruger contract still makes you wince, there’s no doubt the Blackhawks missed him on face-offs and especially the penalty kill when he was injured last season. Rasmussen benefitted from staying here a while last season, so he should just pick up where he left off. He also centered about 25 players last season (give or take) so the numerous line changes won’t throw him off, either.

Now onto the wine. I need to stress I’m not a connoisseur by any means. Basically if it’s cheap and good — I’ve never believed that higher price automatically equals better taste — I’ll give it a try. The Blackstone cab is pretty nice. I’m more of a Malbec woman myself, or maybe a blend. In the latter department, I still recommend 19 Crimes.

I’ll listen to jazz or rock. When I’m writing my post-game stories I tap into the John Coltrane station on Pandora. Can’t explain why, but it keeps me focused. My favorite album is “Everybody Got Their Something” by Nikka Costa (didn’t see that one coming, I bet). I’m not a big concert goer but I’ve been fortunate enough to see Bruce Springsteen twice and the Rolling Stones once.

Please don’t make me choose...

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: