Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: How Cap Increase Affects Hawks

Hawk Talk: How Cap Increase Affects Hawks

Wednesday, April 7, 2010
9:57 AMBy Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.comThis is the latest update of a series of articles written over the course of this season that anticipate the changes the Chicago Blackhawks will make in the coming offseason with regard to the salary cap.Last Saturday came the news from Glenn Healy of CBCs Hockey Night in Canada that based on the strength of the Canadian dollar, the NHL salary cap will increase by approximately one percent, to 57.7 million, for the 2010-11 season. Healy cautioned that the increase will depend on current postseason revenue estimates holding up.This is a pretty huge development for Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and his charges. For much of the year the assumption has been that per commissioner Gary Bettman himself, the salary cap would remain steady in 2010-11, not topping the 57 million mark.That additional wiggle room will be the difference between keeping one more core player and having to let him go. Heres an educated guess at how the summer shuffle will wrangle out, with an assist from the cap hit chart at CapGeek.com:The Core (4)
There are four incomparable Blackhawks cogs. Under no circumstances will they leave Chicago anytime soon.RW Marian Hossa: 5.3 million
C Jonathan Toews: 6.3 million
LW Patrick Kane: 6.3 million
D Duncan Keith: 5.5 million
Total: 23.4 millionThe Essentials (5)
With more than a third of the cap tabbed for the core four, the next area of concern is the essential players. These five players arent necessarily better than the remainder of the teamthey are simply the most logical pieces for the Blackhawks to keep, no-brainers nearly on the level of the Core Four.With rookie Antti Niemi stealing the starters role from veteran Cristobal Huet, the Blackhawks goalie tandem should look different come fall, after Bowman packages Huets hefty contract along with a promising player or two. Plausibly, the Blackhawks can aim to extend Niemi at a modest rate and either rely on a young goaltender like Corey Crawford for 20 games or go shopping for one of many veteran netminders on the market at a discount price tag as well.Niemi makes 826,875 this season and is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent, so the Blackhawks wont lose himit will simply be a matter of how much at least one more season of the wunderkind will cost. This long-range (summer) estimate presumes Niemi not only establishes himself as a stopper and has a good playoff run. Niemis price tag will jump, so lets figure on a four-year deal at 10 million, which would triple the rooks 2009-10 salary to 2.5 million per season.Kris Versteeg also falls off the list of essentials given his unpredictable play. A team this close to Cup contention, with cap issues, may not be able to afford to carry such an elusive talent as Versteeg. His focus and temperament can vary wildly. On the other hand, Patrick Sharp has shown terrific flexibility in sliding over to center during Dave Bollands absence, and in the process has made himself much more indispensible with solid playmaking and disciplined two-way play. Sharps cap hit is steep at 3.9 million, but hes proving worth it with his best all-around Blackhawks season yet.With the Blackhawks locking up Keith long-term, it only makes sense to consider his blue line mate, Brent Seabrook, an untouchable. His 3.5 million contract seems just about right. Hell be due for an extension in 2011-12.Two other essential players make the list, primarily due to value per dollar. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and right wing Troy Brouwer are outperforming their contracts. Hjalmarsson is barely 100 games into his NHL career but shows signs of being a star defender. The Babyfaced Gangster makes a mere 643,333, and as a restricted free agent after the season, it would make sense to lock Hjalmarsson uplets say 2 million per.Brouwer is signed for next season at a shade more than 1 million, which also makes him one of the biggest bargains on the team. Hes just moved to the first line alongside Toews and Kane, and the Wild Mans role should only increase as veterans are purged this summer.G Antti Niemi (2.5 million)
D Brent Seabrook (3.5 million)
D Niklas Hjalmarsson (1.7 million)
RW Patrick Sharp (3.9 million)
RW Troy Brouwer (1 million)
Total: 12.6 million

The Keepers (2)
Two players who perhaps arent the best bargains on the team will nonetheless be Blackhawks for years to come: defenseman Brian Campbell (7.1 million) and center Bolland (3.4 million). Both players are big contributors to Chicagos success, just at a cost thats more prohibitive than practical for a club wrestling with the salary cap the way the Blackhawks are. Soupys blue-chipper deal makes him untradeable, while coach Joel Quenneville is so enamored of Bollands ice awareness that it seems hell be in Chicago at least as long as the mentor is.D Brian Campbell (7.1 million)
C Dave Bolland (3.4 million)
Total: 10.5 million

The Bubble Players (12)
With 46.5 million on the books for 2010-11 and 10 players still needed to fill out the roster, this is where the squeeze begins. At an estimated cap of 57.7 million, that means those 10 players will basically have an average salary of a million dollars apiece.If you look at the five players youd consider filling out the 2010-11 team with who are currently on the roster and under contract: G Cristobal Huet (5.6 million)
D Dustin Byfuglien (3 million)
RW Kris Versteeg (3.1 million)
RW Tomas Kopecky (1.2 million)
D Brent Sopel (2.3 million)
Total: 15.2 millionand add the seven free agent players youd round out the roster with today with rough estimates of the costs of new contracts: C John Madden (2 million)
C Colin Fraser (800,000)
RW Adam Burish (800,000)
LW Andrew Ladd (1.8 million)
LW Ben Eager (1 million)
D Kim Johnsson (2 million)
D Jordan Hendry (700,000)
Total: 9.1 millionadd 24.3 to the overall estimate for keeping the team intact, pushing the total team salary to a mind-boggling 70.8 million.With 13.1 million that will need to be trimmed away, the ugly truth is that the Blackhawks cannot afford to bring all 12 bubble players back.Some snap decisions can be made to winnow the cuts down: Johnsson even at this return price of less than half of his 2009-10 salary is unlikely to return, Sopel is too pricey as a third-pair player, Huet has played his way out of Chicago, and the relatively low cost of Crawford (800,000), Fraser, Burish and Hendry make them safe bets to be on the roster. That puts the Blackhawks at 15 players making 49.6 million, leaving 8.1 million to be divided to fill out the roster. Six possibilities to come back in 2010-11, with the list to pick from looks like:D Dustin Byfuglien (3 million)
RW Kris Versteeg (3.1 million)
RW Tomas Kopecky (1.2 million)
C John Madden (2 million)
LW Andrew Ladd (1.8 million)
LW Ben Eager (1 million)
Total: 12.1 millionIt looks from here that Madden and Byfuglien are most on the bubbleVersteeg is in some jeopardy and will be coveted by many teams, but both he and Ladd have better efficiency from a points or a rating-per-dollar standpoint.Trimming Mad Dog and Big Buff would leave an empty space on the third pairing and at center. Those gaps could be filled out by Rockford call-ups like Bryan Bickell (re-signed at 600,000), Jake Dowell (500,000), or Kyle Beach (1,200,000) on offense and Richard Petiot (re-signed at 500,000) or Simon Danis-Pepin (85,000) on the blue line. Youd then have a depth chart along the lines of:Center: Toews, Bolland, Fraser, Dowell
Left Wing: Kane, Ladd, Eager
Right Wing: Hossa, Sharp, Brouwer, Burish, Versteeg, Kopecky
Defense: Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Campbell, Hendry, Petiot
Goalie: Niemi, CrawfordThats 21 players at a cost of 57.7 million.See, the dirty work is already done, Stan

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

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USA TODAY

Are Blackhawks starting to find their early season form again?

The goals came in bunches for the Blackhawks in their Oct. 5 season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the Blackhawks, it was a nice memory, albeit one that seems far away given they went from scoring at will through their first two games to not being able to buy a goal for a sizeable stretch.

As for the Penguins, well, you figure their memoires of that game means they’ll be more than a little ticked off when the Blackhawks arrive on Saturday night.

“We’ve been on the wrong side of a few losses like that,” Patrick Sharp said. “You certainly remember them more than other losses.”

This is kind of/sort of about the Penguins, who in the first meeting were clearly tired not only from two Stanley Cup runs but also from their season opener/banner raising the prior night. But it’s more about the Blackhawks who, after a lengthy scoring drought, are starting to get their offense going again (15 goals in their last three games).

And while they’d like to shore up their defense – they blew a 4-1 lead vs. New Jersey and just about did it again vs. the New York Rangers – overall they’re trending in the right direction. And just as they face the team against whom they played their best game of the season.

“I’m sure [the Penguins] will be excited about playing us and making things better. They’re playing well, winning some games. For [us], we’re looking for more consistency in our game with the puck and we’re generating some offense,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still think it has some ways to improve. That was one night, whether it was the quality of the plays we made or [what], we seemed like we had the puck a lot and did some good things with it. We haven’t seen much of that lately so I think that maybe we can recapture a little bit of that with the puck as well.”

In the past three games the Blackhawks haven’t just reignited their offense, they’ve regained their confidence. Their lines are finding some chemistry. As frustrating as their scoring drought was, they’re hoping it’s behind them.

“At some point in the season I feel like every team goes through it, either in the beginning, the middle or toward the end. You just don’t want to have it right at the end of the season,” Ryan Hartman said. “You can look at it in in a positive way. Hopefully we got that part over with and now we’re just coming in confident and hopefully we put the puck in the net.”

The Blackhawks got off to a hot goal-scoring start against the Penguins by doing the right things: shooting, pouncing on rebounds, getting traffic in front of the net and capitalizing. As they head into their 20th game of the season, the Blackhawks are finally getting back to what worked so well in Game 1.

“Things dried up for a bit but I think we have a good rotation going here with the lines; the chemistry’s starting to fill in a little bit. Some guys are stepping up. [Artem] Anisimov had a big night and Brinsky’s [Alex DeBrincat] playing great. It’s good to see those guys step up. It makes you want to be that next guy who’s called up to step up in the next game,” Patrick Kane said. “It’s good to see some goals go into the net. More important, it’s good to see some wins. But we’re playing the right way and hopefully this will trend in the right direction for us.”

Reasons to be optimistic about a Blackhawks turnaround

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USA TODAY

Reasons to be optimistic about a Blackhawks turnaround

It's mid-November, and the Blackhawks are on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. It's unfamiliar territory for Chicago, which is accustomed to seeing its team as a perrenial Western Conference favorite and Stanley Cup contender.

Since starting the season 3-0-1, the Blackhawks are 6-8-1 in their last 15 games and haven't won more than two in a row yet. It's a little concerning.

But there are reasons to be optimistic about a potential turnaround.

Let's start with the obvious concern: The offense.

If you take away the first two games in which they combined for 15 goals, the Blackhawks would rank 27th in the league in goals per game (2.59). They also went through a stretch where they scored only two goals or fewer in nine of 12 games.

Since then, the Blackhawks have erupted for 15 goals in three games and they're continuing to generate shots at a high rate.

In their last nine contests, the Blackhawks are averaging 38.9 shots per game and rank fifth overall at 34.6. The problem on offense has never been the quantity of shots, it's the quality. They're slowly starting to get both.

And the weird part is? Patrick Kane has four goals in his past 17 games, Duncan Keith has zero goals in 19 games this season, Brandon Saad has one goal in his last 13 and Jonathan Toews has two goals in his last 14, one of which was an empty netter. Those are Chicago's top four horses who are struggling collectively to get on the scoresheet.

Their individual track records suggest they won't stay dry forever.

The Blackhawks' recent offensive hot streak is being spearheaded by role players such as Artem Anisimov (eight goals in his last nine games) and Alex DeBrincat (six goals in seven games this month), the latter of whom has emerged as a darkhorse candidate for the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. While it would be unfair to expect him to continue scoring at a goal-per-game pace, DeBrincat's emergence shows he's starting to get comfortable in the NHL and we're seeing exactly what he can bring to the table.

The biggest reason the Blackhawks are staying afloat while the offense figures itself out is the elite goaltending they're getting from Corey Crawford.

Chicago is giving up 33.8 shots per game, which is fourth-most, yet Crawford is making an early case for the Vezina Trophy, sitting at fifth with a 2.26 goals against average and tied for second with a .930 save percentage, including two shutouts.

If there are any doubts about Crawford coming back down to earth, he had a 92.99 save percentage at even-strength last year and 93.32 in 2015-16. Through 16 appearances this season, he's actually a bit below that at 92.47, according to naturalstattrick.com.

Now, in the previous two seasons, the Blackhawks averaged 31.4 and 30.8 shots against, respectively, but the point remains the same that you can consistently count on Crawford playing at a high level.

Did we mention the Blackhawks have the sixth-best penalty kill percentage (82.9) dating back to Oct. 29, 2016? That's a great combination, especially when you have one of the league's best goaltenders to bail you out at times.

Ultimately, the Blackhawks' success hinges on their star players playing like it. Once they get going, the rest will follow. The question is, when will that happen?