Blackhawks

In Duncan Keith's absence, 'everyone can do a little more'

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In Duncan Keith's absence, 'everyone can do a little more'

The Blackhawks went 10 games without Duncan Keith earlier this season when the defenseman underwent knee surgery.

They’ll be going without him again now. They just don’t know for how many games.

Keith, who was offered an in-person hearing, will instead have his hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety over the phone on Friday afternoon. Keith was given a match penalty for intent to injure for his reckless high-stick on Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle in Tuesday night’s game. Whatever Keith gets, it will mark his third NHL suspension — he was suspended five games for elbowing Daniel Sedin in March 2012 and suspended one game for high-sticking Jeff Carter in the face in June 2013.

On Thursday the Blackhawks were preparing for games without Keith, including Friday night’s outing in Winnipeg.

“No one can do the things he does, but everyone can do a little bit more. I think that’s the mindset,” Marcus Kruger said. “We all want him on the ice, but the situation is what it is. It’s up to the guys playing to fill that hole.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Marcus Kruger brings balance, PK help to Blackhawks]

It’s never a good time to lose a player, especially one who does as much as Keith. But the timing right now is that much worse: The Blackhawks have struggled the last few weeks and are fighting to stay in good position in the Central Division. Keith’s poor choice could really be costly.

“We always talk about discipline, as a team we feel we’re pretty strong in that area. We deal with it the right way, and we feel going forward that we have to be smart about how we play on the ice, how we react to different situations and don’t hurt the team,” Quenneville said. “We were fortunate to come out of (that five-minute penalty kill) we outscored them in that stretch, but we missed him the whole game.”

Keith practiced on Thursday but declined to speak afterward.

“His competitiveness is what makes him a great player,” Quenneville continued on Keith. “And I just think being smart and knowing your limitations, or I guess the limit, is what we have to do.”

Keith’s absence means another defenseman gets an opportunity. On Thursday the pairings were as follows: Trevor van Riemsdyk-Niklas Hjalmarsson, Viktor Svedberg-Brent Seabrook and Erik Gustafsson-Michal Rozsival. Gustafsson was one of the Blackhawks’ call-ups when Keith was injured earlier this season.

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“He’s not the whole team, but he’s a big part of it,” Gustafsson said. “He’s one of our best defensemen and one of the best in the league. We just have to keep moving and just get on a winning track here, start winning some games in a row. We just have to go out and play hockey.”

The Blackhawks were already struggling to find answers and victories down the regular-season stretch. They were already without Corey Crawford, who still isn’t skating. Now they’ll have to make do without Keith.

“I think every year ... you’re dealing with all kinds of situations. Certain guys, are they going to be ready for the playoffs? And in the playoffs things happen,” Quenneville said. “Being adaptable as a team, a line, a group we feel we (have to) find ways, find solutions. That’s where we’re at: No matter what hand we’re dealt here, we’ll find a way to do everything we can to rectify every situation we have in front of us and be the best we can be.”

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

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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.