Blackhawks

Evaluating Saturday's depth signings, and where Blackhawks stand after Day 1 of free agency

Evaluating Saturday's depth signings, and where Blackhawks stand after Day 1 of free agency

The Blackhawks are in what’s become a typical offseason situation for them: a few needs to fill, not a lot of cash with which to fill them. With four more signings on Saturday, however, the Blackhawks hope to give themselves some depth and options this season.

Wilmette native Tommy Wingels signed a one-year deal on Saturday, as did fellow forward Lance Bouma. The Blackhawks also signed goaltender Jean-François Bérubé and defenseman Jordan Oesterle to two-year contracts. The moves give the Blackhawks more options and all four players are in their 20s – Bérubé and Oesterle are both 25, Bouma is 27 and Wingels is 29.

Wingels brings that drive-to-the-net element that the Blackhawks had for most of the regular season but were sorely lacking in the playoffs. He said he talked with general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville about his role. Whatever that may be, outside of going to the dirty areas, getting the chance to play for the hometown team is a thrill.

“Hearing from those guys meant a lot to me. When the offer did come, I spoke with my family and it was just a no-brainer. Such an unbelievable organization and what the Blackhawks mean to the city, I’m such a big fan of it,” Wingels said. “I’m a good bottom-six player, expected to bring energy, [play] a straight-line game and get into the dirty areas. Watching the team, watching how the team fared in the playoffs, that’s a piece that was missing. I’m sure they’re adding others but I think that’s an area I can help out and get to the net, score some dirty goals and be a difficult player to play against.”

Wingels can play either center or wing, and being a right-handed shot was also an asset.

[MORE: Blackhawks bolster depth with flurry of moves]

“Whether he’s full time in the middle, I’m not sure. That’s something Joel [Quenneville] will figure out. We definitely like having a right-handed shot to take faceoffs and [Patrick Sharp] is the same way. He played center long ago, but we see him more on the wing here. But Patrick certainly has the ability to take faceoffs, too,” Bowman said. “We don’t have a lot of right-handed centers here and we wanted to add to that area. It’s probably more on the wing for Tommy but he has experience in the middle and I think as things go along, he could end up there.”

Bouma, meanwhile, should bring a gritty element the Blackhawks have been lacking. This is also a welcomed fresh start for Bouma; the Calgary Flames bought out the final year of his previous contract on Friday.

“Anytime you end like that it’s tough… because you’re signed to a deal and you want to prove them right on what they signed you to. But I had a great run there, made a lot of great friends in the city and on the team,” Bouma said. “I’m just looking forward and obviously winning here and having fun here and meeting new teammates. It’s going to be a fun time for sure.”

With Bérubé the Blackhawks gain some depth at goaltending. Anton Forsberg is likely the Blackhawks’ backup goaltender but Bowman wanted another option. Last year when Corey Crawford was out with appendicitis, Scott Darling started all 11 games in his absence.

Bowman wouldn’t say what else the Blackhawks could add during this free-agency period. They’re currently a few million over the $75 million salary cap – teams are allowed to be 10 percent over it until the regular-season begins – and are expected to make another move. They’ll still also see what happens regarding Marian Hossa’s long-term injured reserve possibility; Bowman didn’t foresee that being a problem, and it’s likely to be applied early in the regular season.

The Blackhawks still have concerns at defense, where replacing Niklas Hjalmarsson will be difficult. Again, as said above, we’ll see if the Blackhawks make any more moves or, once Hossa’s LTIR can be applied, look at options then. Right now there’s a lot of youth there, from guys who have gotten some work with the Blackhawks (Michal Kempny, Gustav Forsling, Erik Gustaffson) to those who haven’t Jan Rutta, Ville Pokka and Oesterle).

“The opportunity will be there for the young guys to show which one belongs or if a few belong, that would be great,” Bowman said. “That’s what we’ll figure out in camp. It’ll be a competitive time for these guys to put their best foot forward and see who’s ready for the job.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

11-22_nhl-matchup_hawks-at-lightning_blank.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?