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.

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Gustav Forsling showing improvement in his second season with Blackhawks

On two consecutive Saturday evenings the Blackhawks were looking for a little more offense. On two consecutive Saturday evenings they got some from Gustav Forsling, whose shots got through to either tie a game (vs. Carolina) or take a lead (vs. Pittsburgh).

Forsling isn’t the big go-to guy when it comes to points but he’s nevertheless getting them for a Blackhawks team that’s starting to find its offense again. But this is more about Forsling’s overall game which, not long after he made the Blackhawks roster last fall, plateaued. This season he’s been more consistent and more confident from the start, and he and Jan Rutta have formed a pair that coach Joel Quenneville trusts and has kept together for most of this season. The 21-year-old defenseman talked of working on the mental side of his game entering this season and said he feels the difference.

“I’ve been working on it this summer and I feel a little bit better,” he said. “[Just] more confident with the puck and confident in myself and pretty much everywhere.”

Quenneville has seen the difference.

“I think he’s getting better with his reads,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a better gap. [Being] quicker all over the ice is part of that and nice to see him pound one that goes through because his shot can be a lot heavier than it’s been and we want him to use it a little bit more, too.”

Forsling says he feels comfortable playing with any of the Blackhawks’ defensemen but there’s no doubt he and Rutta have been good together. The two clicked immediately, and at times they’ve been the Blackhawks’ second pair.

“I think we’re thinking the same way out there on the ice. We have a great conversation out there and everything’s worked out fine,” Forsling said. “He’s a funny guy and we get along well.”

Forsling’s offensive contributions are welcomed but so is his defense. When the Rangers were looking for the game-tying goal late in the third period on Wednesday, Forsling was on Corey Crawford’s left side to prevent David Desharnais from scoring it. Seventy-six seconds later, Artem Anisimov’s goal gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead.

“Great play by him,” Crawford said. “For us, we want to cover the short side there and it’s great or him to get over quick and get his stick there. Definitely a great stop by him.”

Forsling’s playing with more confidence. He’s added a little early offense. The Blackhawks wanted Forsling to reach another level this season and so far, he’s doing that.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night:
 
1. That's how you start a game.

The Blackhawks haven't had the best of starts over the last couple weeks or so — aside from their recent four-goal first period against New Jersey. But they flew out of the gates in Pittsburgh.

Chicago recorded 27 shot attempts (11 on goal) in the opening frame compared to Pittsburgh's 13 attempts (nine on goal), and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 11-2.

Two of those chances were breakaways from Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, but both were denied by Matt Murray. The Blackhawks cashed in on one of two power play opportunities, however, and took a 1-0 lead into the second.

2. Power play strikes again.

Speaking of power plays, the Blackhawks came up empty on their first one of the game, but they were handed another one 44 seconds later at the midway mark of the first and capitalized when Gustav Forsling slipped one five-hole past Murray. 

It's the third consecutive game the Blackhawks have scored on the man advantage, something they hadn't done since Oct. 7-12 when they scored in four straight. It's also the second consecutive game the power play unit netted the game winner.

The Blackhawks are 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) on the power play in their last three games after going 5-for-53 (9.4 percent) in their previous 12. 

3. Should Blackhawks have pushed back immediately following Corey Crawford injury?

A scary moment occurred in the second period when Evgeni Malkin swiped Crawford in the mask while racing for a loose puck, forcing the Blackhawks netminder to exit before returning a few minutes later.

Malkin was given a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, but should the Blackhawks have stood up for Crawford at the expense of getting tagged with a penalty themselves?

No question a power play opportunity with a chance to make it a two-goal game at that stage of the game — and against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who hadn't lost in regulation at home this season going into the matchup —  is important, but the Blackhawks' lack of retaliation was a bit surpising. 

It wasn't a dirty play by Malkin by any means, but there's a principle involved when your goaltender gets hit like that. Those are the kinds of penalties you shouldn't mind taking, and at the very worst it would've been 4-on-4 hockey with one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the box.

4. Artem Anisimov stays hot.

The goals keep coming for No. 15.

After the Penguins tied it up at 1-1 in the third period with a shorthanded goal, Anisimov scored 21 seconds later on the power play to put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1.

Anisimov now has nine goals in his last 10 games after scoring just one goal in his first 10 to start the season. He also has four game-winning goals on the season, all of which have come this month. Brandon Saad leads the NHL with five.

5. Alex DeBrincat extends point streak.

Lost in the shuffle was the Blackhawks' top rookie getting on the scoresheet once again.

With an assist on Forsling's power play goal in the first period, DeBrincat extended his point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists in that span, and is averaging a point per game over his last nine (six goals and three assists).

DeBrincat also moved into a three-way tie with Richard Panik and Toews for second on the team with 13 points.