Blackhawks

Blackhawks mailbag: LTIR, looking for defense, libations and more

Blackhawks mailbag: LTIR, looking for defense, libations and more

It’s been a long summer, hasn’t it? This is what a brief postseason run will do to you: by July you’re feeling antsy, you’re missing hockey and you’re counting the days until the puck droppeths again. We feel your pain, people.

The offseason continues but, for the time being, it looks like the Blackhawks are done tinkering with their lineup. It’s been a jaw-dropping summer for the Blackhawks. General manager Stan Bowman said on April 22 that there would be changes, and he wasn’t kidding. Still, a lot of questions remain about this roster as the season nears.

As you can imagine, what happens with Marian Hossa’s cap hit is still a hot topic. We’ll take Sandra Muer’s question on that front.

I joked with an Arizona-based scribe that if the Coyotes didn’t take Hossa’s contract, who would? All kidding aside, I don’t think the Blackhawks are going to find any takers on this one. Arizona is looking to improve and not just be a place where bad contracts go to die. The most likely option is still the Blackhawks putting Hossa on long-term injured reserve soon after the season begins.

They absolutely have to address defense, as far as I’m concerned. That’s where they’re feeling the loss the most. My question is, who will they find at that point to help them? I wasn’t surprised they didn’t land any of the big free-agent fishes; they were all going to demand too high a price for the cash-strapped Blackhawks to pay. Come early October, maybe they find someone who didn’t fit into another team’s plans. If they decide to go with what they have in the system, giving some young players an opportunity, this could be a season of blue-line growing pains.

Now, onto the rest of the mailbag:

Artemi Panarin’s trade has nothing to do with Hossa or the relief his LTIR will likely provide. It has everything to do with the Blackhawks wanting and needing to get a power forward back in the lineup, especially one who can bring stability to that top line with Jonathan Toews. You want to acquire Brandon Saad? You have to give up something, so here we are. And on paper, I still say this deal is a smart one.

I’m not sure there’s much improvement anywhere. Just based on their recent history, the Blackhawks have done well in finding backup goaltenders the past few seasons, so if they think Anton Forsberg is ready, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt right now. They’ve added bodies at forward but let’s see who makes an impact.

The Blackhawks added to their goaltending depth this summer with Anton Forsberg and Jean-Sébastien Bérubé, so they’re set there. General manager Stan Bowman sees Forsberg as the backup right now. Going for a veteran doesn’t always yield great results. Look at the Blackhawks’ goaltending acquisitions since the summer of 2010. Unproven coming in: Antti Raanta and Scott Darling, and both did well. Veterans: Ray Emery (great), Marty Turco and Nikolai Khabibulin (neither worked).

If Alex DeBrincat makes the team he can play anywhere, but left wing is his natural position. As former Erie Otters coach Kris Knoblauch told me this summer DeBrincat, “was voted first all-star team right winger, and probably played five games on right wing.”

As of right now, I think the Blackhawks are a bubble team. Again, the biggest concern is at defense. The Central Division is going to be tough. We all saw what the Nashville Predators did. Is this the start of something for them or do they have a hiccup coming off that long postseason run? I’m very interested to see what the Dallas Stars do; this isn’t the first time they’ve done major offseason tinkering but they made a significant (and necessary) upgrade at goaltending. If they can stay healthy this season, they could be the Central’s team to beat. And while we’re on the subject of where the Blackhawks potentially end up in the standings…

Roster-wise, I’m not sure how full on a rebuild can be done with this team. No matter what happens this season, the Blackhawks have the same contract issues next summer as they do this one: a lot of full no-movement clauses. But if the Blackhawks miss the playoffs there will be changes. They would more likely be front office or coaching.

According to Capfriendly.com (again, a valuable resource that should be bookmarked by every hockey fan), the Blackhawks are approximately $35,000 over the $75 million salary cap. They can spend 10 percent over the cap as long as they’re at/under the cap by opening night.

No idea when it will happen but I would think Seattle would be a good possibility. Plus, it’s a selfish wish on my part: the only time I’ve been in Seattle is at the airport, connecting between Vancouver and Chicago.

Not that I know of, outside of YouTube of course. Although with rare exception I was never into watching full games from the past. Always felt if I did, I should probably play “Glory Days” faintly in the background.

The Blackhawks haven’t announced anything on that yet but yes, I expect them to be there at some point during training camp. Last year they scrubbed it due to half the team being at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.

No, I don’t. It was a worthwhile shot to take last season, especially with Campbell taking a significant pay cut to come back here. But it didn’t have the desired effect on the ice. The Blackhawks need to get younger on defense, so I don’t see him returning.

We addressed the last question above (either they find someone later this summer/early fall or go as is). I’d pick Nick Schmaltz as a guy who needs to take a big step forward. He did alright for a rookie, especially once he got back from a midseason stint in Rockford. But he should be stronger this season. With holes in the lineup, expectations will grow for everyone remaining, him included. As for the breakout player, it would be easy to say Alex DeBrincat because everyone wants it to be DeBrincat. But surprises usually come out of training camp. Alexandre Fortin had a good one last fall and was on the bubble. Does he take bigger strides this camp?

If you’ve been a fan for any amount of time you’ve had to adjust to watching the Blackhawks without Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Antti Niemi, Brian Campbell, Bryan Bickell, Teuvo Teravainen, Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp, among others. All former-player reunions aside, losing guys has been part of pretty much every Blackhawks season since they started winning Stanley Cups again. It is what it is. You’ll be OK.

I’m off to Paris again, for sure. Past that I haven’t decided yet. That’s the beauty of train travel in Europe: you can decide last minute and still probably find a good deal. 

Truth be told, I never liked that show. I always thought it was overrated. Watched the first season, got bored, and outside of the random times it’s on while I’m awaiting an appointment, I never watched it again. That’s a very long answer to your very short question, but there you go.

https://twitter.com/TJLynch6/status/884414249002573824

It’s probably faster to answer which wines I haven’t been sampling. It’s summer, so if I’m eating outdoors it’s rosé time. I highly recommend Cote des Roses, a wonderfully light rosé in a gorgeous bottle. I’ve been sampling Malbecs again because I never stray too far from them. Don Miguel Gascon is a favorite. I’ll still enjoy an Old Fashioned now and then but that seems more a fall/winter option.

Glad you brought that up. A huge thank you to all of you who gave recommendations when I asked earlier this summer. The ones I’ve read thus far have been outstanding. I highly recommend “Shadow of the Wind” and “Finding Jake.” Just finished reading “Proof of Heaven.”

Don’t make me choose.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night:
 
1. Nick Schmaltz returns but sizzle doesn’t.

You didn’t expect the fireworks of the season opener but you figured Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane would connect pretty quickly again. The speed was certainly there. The connections on passes were not. It wasn’t just that second line, though: it was another night on which the Blackhawks’ offense was sluggish. 
 
2. Tripping along.

I joked that tripping is the new slashing. Maybe that’s not the case league-wide but it was for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks took five tripping penalties overall, including three in the first period. It was a clear sign that the Blackhawks were trying to play catch-up all night, and they didn’t fare well at it.
 
3. Power play gets something but…

It took until late in the third period (when the Blackhawks’ offense seems to get going lately). The Blackhawks got two late power-play goals, a reminder of what they can do when they battle for the puck and show some spark.

“Our sense of urgency in the puck area, be it 5-on-5 or on the power play, that’s the differential of keeping the puck in the offensive zone and making plays off it is one of our strengths,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t do that very often and we haven’t won many battles.”
 
4. Starting slow.

Why these are happening is a mystery, and they’ve been most evident in the Blackhawks’ last three games, which have all come against division opponents. Too much relying on Corey Crawford again and not much in terms of shots, be it quality or quantity through the first two periods. The Blackhawks were outshot 17-8 through the first 40 minutes on Wednesday. While they created little they gave up way too much.
 
5. Patrick Sharp OK?

Sharp was injured late on Wednesday night when the Blackhawks-Blues game got chippy in the final five-plus minutes. Quenneville thought Sharp was fine but he wasn’t positive at the time of his postgame press conference.

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks’ first tripping came barely a minute into the game. Then came another one. And another. And another. And another. Despite welcoming one of their fastest players back into the lineup, the Blackhawks were overall flat-footed and playing catch-up all night, be it on the ice or on the scoreboard, to the St. Louis Blues.

Nick Schmaltz returned but the effect on the second line and the Blackhawks overall wasn’t immediate. Instead the Blackhawks looked sluggish. Their offensive opportunities were few – a one and done here and there but no sustained zone time or pressure on Blues goaltender Jake Allen – their passing was off and they were on the defensive all night.

And then there were the tripping penalties. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill held up through it, nullifying all five Blues power-play opportunities. But the Blues found other ways to inflict their damage.

“They played well and we were brutal,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That was a bad start, a bad middle and even [though] it was a little excited at the end it wasn’t very good. That’s as close to brutal as you can get.”

The Blackhawks’ last three games have common themes: they’re outshot for a good part of the game, they’re giving up a good amount of quality shots and then the urgency hits them midway through the third period. For the third consecutive contest the Blackhawks scored two goals late and in two of those three games it wasn’t nearly enough.

“Obviously it wasn’t good enough for two periods. If you take any positives out of this game, it’s the way we played in the third,” Patrick Kane said. “At least we know we can do it. Just gotta do it before our backs are against the wall.”

Why it’s taking the Blackhawks so long to get going, however, is the question. Obviously the Blackhawks’ late third-period pushes show how capable they are of producing when necessary. Said Alex DeBrincat, who assisted on Ryan Hartman’s goal late in regulation, “If we’re would’ve been crashing the net like that all game it may have been a different story.”

But they didn’t. The Blackhawks welcomed back a teammate that’s injected speed into their lineup but the team was once again stumbling out of the gate.

“We’re supposed to be out there, giving our all every minute we’re out there and every shift, go out there and take it a shift at a time and give it all you got every shift,” Hartman said. “We have four lines that can roll so there’s no excuse for not going out there and putting all your energy out there for a shift and getting ready for the next one.”