Blackhawks

Patrick Kane believes Blackhawks might be better than last year ... on paper

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AP

Patrick Kane believes Blackhawks might be better than last year ... on paper

After initially struggling to cope with the reality of losing linemate and close friend Artemi Panarin, along with teammate Niklas Hjalmarsson to trades his offseason, Patrick Kane is slowly starting to like Chicago's reformed roster the more he looks at it.

The Blackhawks reacquired top-line winger Brandon Saad, brought back three-time Stanley Cup champion Patrick Sharp, got 24-year-old defenseman Connor Murphy in return to help ease the loss of Hjalmarsson on the back end, and made several depth signings up front such as Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels via free agency.

But will it translate into on-ice success? 

"It's tough to say," Kane said at the Chicago Hockey Charity Classic at Fox Valley Ice Arena on Saturday. "I think time will tell, obviously. But I'd like to think on paper we're a better team."

GM Stan Bowman wasn't kidding when he said changes would be coming to the organization after a first-round sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators, and his moves helped extend the Blackhawks' championship window a few more years despite making the short term a more challenging task.

At the same time, the Blackhawks did finish the 2016-17 campaign as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference with 109 points before getting bounced in the opening round for the second straight year. There's a fine line when you're evaluating the season as a whole.

"If you look at our season last year, I mean, we had a pretty good season," Kane said. "We just kind of collapsed there at the end. Disappointing finish, but when that happens, you know there's going to be changes. You can't really ask for much more from a management standpoint, as far as asking for them to make moves to help us win. They did that."

Now the question is whether they can put it all together.

Getting the new (and old) faces acclimated to the Blackhawks' style of hockey as quickly as possible and ironing out the wrinkles before April will be key to avoiding another quick postseason exit.

"Obviously, there's some faces that have been here for a long time, and some faces you didn't want to see go that are maybe kind of the cause of some of those moves, but it's disappointing," Kane said. "At the same time, we've got some guys coming back in, like Sharpie and Saad, [and] they're pretty high on this Murphy kid, as well.

"We have guys that are going to come in. It looks great on paper, but we need to go on the ice and do it and make sure that we're playing the game of hockey we know how to play."

Lance Bouma's second chance has meant steady work with Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Lance Bouma's second chance has meant steady work with Blackhawks

Lance Bouma took his place at fourth-line left wing as the Blackhawks rolled their forward rushes on Tuesday morning. As the Blackhawks have tinkered with their trios, Bouma, whose final two seasons with the Calgary Flames were filled with uncertainty, has found a consistent role in this lineup.

“Obviously I was brought here for a reason,” Bouma said. “Things didn’t go the way I wanted them to in Calgary. To come here to Chicago and have that role, it’s been a lot of fun so far.”

The Blackhawks knew what they wanted from Bouma and his fellow fourth liners: some physical play, some energy and if there are any scoring opportunities, bonus. It’s a second chance for Bouma, whose contract was terminated by the Flames on June 30.

“I think it’s definitely a motivator knowing that you get in that situation where all of a sudden, ‘OK, I have to almost start over again and I have to prove to a new team that I belong in this league and I can play,’” coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday. “There are always circumstances where teams make decisions like that. We’ve been a part of it. And moving forward as a player, you’ve gotta look at it as a fresh opportunity. It’s an opportunity to get back to playing your game.”

After recording 16 goals and 18 assists in the 2014-15 season, Bouma signed a three-year, $6.6 million deal with the Flames. The next two seasons didn’t go as planned as Bouma dealt with injuries, inconsistent play and healthy scratches. So getting that call from the Blackhawks was a huge lift.

“I was just looking forward to a fresh start and something new,” he said. “I just was ready to come into camp and have a great season and it’s been great so far.”

[MORE: Eddie Olczyk expected to return to broadcasting booth this week

Tommy Wingels, who has centered the Blackhawks’ fourth line the last several games – and will again vs. St. Louis on Wednesday – said Bouma looks “refreshed” this season.

“Obviously whether it’s a team doesn’t want to bring you back or it’s a trade or buyout, there’s certainly something that deep down gets you going,” Wingels said. “I think it was a good summer for him mentally to come to a new organization, come to a new group of guys and re-establish his game. It’s tough when you’re with the same coaches, same team for so long; maybe what you do gets taken for granted. He looks good and he’s skating really well and I think he moves really well for a big man. He’s strong on the pucks and he’s a good asset for us.

Bouma isn’t here to be a top-six player. He’s not here to fulfill a contract that he no longer has. The Blackhawks needed depth, energy and a physical presence and in brining that, Bouma has earned steady work.  

“We knew the player coming in that we wanted him to play that style and he’s done a good job of it, too,” Quenneville said of Bouma. “So it’s something we were looking for in our needs and it fit perfectly."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Tracey Myers and Pat Boyle discuss Nick Schmaltz returning to the Blackhawks line-up on Wednesday night and which player is looking forward most to his return?

They also weigh in on Corey Crawford’s incredible start to the season and why he’s the major reason why the Hawks begin the week in first place in the Central.

They also discuss who is the biggest Hawks rivalry right now, which new defenseman has impressed the most and how is Connor Murphy dealing with being a healthy scratch at times this season?

Plus, they discuss someone other than Nick Schmaltz returning to work on Wednesday night.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: