Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

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USA TODAY

Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow

Nick Schmaltz seemed to be everywhere the puck was on Saturday night. Great pursuit of the puck, great passes to Patrick Kane or Alex DeBrincat and an all-around confidence that’s becoming more apparent by the game.

So has coach Joel Quenneville seen what he’s needed to from Schmaltz at second-line center?

“And more.”

It’s been a pretty impressive showing for Schmaltz this month. The 21-year-old has played in all three of the Blackhawks’ preseason games and keeps getting better in each one. The uncertainty Schmaltz understandably showed as a rookie is gone; the NHL game no longer feels uncomfortable.

“I feel like the game’s slowing down for me, just seeing plays,” Schmaltz said. “I know what I’m doing with the puck before I get it. It feels good and just trying to get better every day.”

Schmaltz and his fellow second liners didn’t connect for goals in the Blackhawks 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The three combined for 12 of the Blackhawks’ 54 shots on goal – Kane and DeBrincat each had five – and the chemistry continues to build between the three.

Jonathan Toews talked on Saturday morning of how much more relaxed Schmaltz looks with the puck now, and that was evident again later that night.

“He’s really starting to get comfortable physically at this level,” Toews said. “He thinks the game so well, puts himself in good spots, much like Kaner where he can skate with the puck and use his speed. He has his head up so he backs guys off. Those two were making great plays tonight and Brinksy was fitting in well. They couldn’t buy a goal but Schmaltzy’s getting better and better, and you’re’ seeing that calm poise that he has really come out the more he gets comfortable.”

Schmaltz was likely getting a second-line audition in some capacity this fall; the original thought was at left wing in the wake of Artemi Panarin’s trade. But Schmaltz has always felt at his best at center. He’s showing that. And more.

“It’s always fun to play no matter if it’s preseason or regular season," he said. "I’m always happy to play, especially when you’re playing with great players. I feel like I’m more comfortable in the middle, able to use my speed a little bit more, create more offense that way.

"I think it’s going well. Wherever I end up, I’ll be happy.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks doomed to miss playoffs without Crawford?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Blackhawks doomed to miss playoffs without Crawford?

Jesse Rogers (ESPN Chicago), Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) and Dan McNeil join Chuck Garfien on the panel.

Corey Crawford is reportedly suffering vertigo-like symptoms and there’s a chance he might not return this season. Are the Blackhawks playoff chances gone if he doesn’t come back?

Plus, the guys talk Bears coaches, preview Conference Championship weekend and Jesse discusses if the Cubs are saving their money for next winter’s big free agent class.

Listen to the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Why Corey Crawford situation is tricky for Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Why Corey Crawford situation is tricky for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have been tight-lipped about Corey Crawford's status ever since he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 27 with an upper-body injury, and it's fueled rampant speculation on social media about what's really going on. That came to an end on Tuesday when Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that there's growing concern within the organization that its star goaltender could miss the remainder of the season with vertigo-like symptoms. (Blackhawks senior adviser Scotty Bowman went on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Wednesday to clarify it's post-concussion syndrome).

And while there's at least some clarity surrounding Crawford's condition, it's opened up more questions about what the Blackhawks may do going forward.

On Monday we broke down the unfavorable playoff picture for the Blackhawks going into the bye week, which was a glaring concern in and of itself. Add in the possibility that Crawford could be sidelined for the rest of the campaign and those chances absolutely diminish.

So what course of action should the Blackhawks take ahead of the Feb. 26 trade deadline? That's where the tricky part comes in.

Because of the nature of Crawford's injury, the Blackhawks aren't at a point right now where they want to put him on long-term injured reserve because that would require him to miss a minimum of 10 games or 24 days, and they're still holding out hope that he could come back within that timeframe. The problem with it is that nobody really knows. It could be days, weeks or months, and putting a restriction on that doesn't make much sense in the middle of a playoff run even though it would open up significant cap space.

Which brings us to our next point. There are certainly some decent rental goaltenders (Robin Lehner, Petr Mrazek or Antti Raanta, to name a few) on the market if the Blackhawks choose to go that route, but that might not be the wisest thing to do.

Given their spot in the standings and the chances Crawford could return, why risk giving up future assets for a playoff run that may not happen? It would be different if the Blackhawks wanted to add some insurance for the stretch run and postseason, but there's no guarantee it'll happen.

If the Blackhawks did, however, want to go that route, they would need to act quickly because there's no point in waiting closer to the deadline. Every point is crucial from here on out.

Perhaps the best and most logical idea is to stand pat.

Let it ride with Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass and hope they can hold the fort down until a potential Crawford return. Let the young guys continue to grow. Maybe add a defenseman to patch up the back end, but don't empty the tank. There's no reason to. The Blackhawks are hoping to sign highly-touted prospect Dylan Sikura after his college season ends, which would serve as a deadline acquisition by itself.

It will be tempting for the Blackhawks to be aggressive at the trade deadline in the wake of Crawford's injury, and they're surely already having these discussions as they continue to explore the different avenues. But this might be a rare case where doing nothing is the right way to go.