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


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."

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?


Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Has the championship window closed?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Jonathan Toews sits down with Pat Boyle for a 1-on-1 interview. Toews weighs in on his season with Brandon Saad, whether he expects major changes this offseason and has the championship window closed?

Also, Adam Burish joins the podcast and plays the game: “Building block, not sure, or no thanks.” Burish runs down the Blackhawks forwards and predicts whether or not they have a future with the team.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

What should the Blackhawks do in goal next season?

What should the Blackhawks do in goal next season?

The last time the Blackhawks were in Winnipeg they exploded for three first-period goals en route to a 5-1 victory on Dec. 14.

The roles were reversed on Thursday.

It appeared the Blackhawks might be headed for another drubbing when Brandon Saad scored 11 seconds into the game and they were awarded an ensuing power play following a failed offside challenge by the home team, but the Jets killed it off then responded with five unanswered goals over the next 11:53 and didn't look back as Chicago lost 6-2.

Anton Forsberg was pulled for the sixth time in his 27th start this season after allowing three goals on six shots, while J-F Berube gave up two goals on his first five shots before stopping 27 straight. It was the 14th time the Blackhawks allowed five or more goals in a game this season, having done that only eight times last season.

Needless to say, it's been a roller coaster in goal as of late.

To make matters worse, the Blackhawks aren't as optimistic about Corey Crawford returning before the season ends and maybe that's for the better.

But there's a big question mark between the pipes when you factor in Crawford's health and the inconsistency from their backups, which has included Jeff Glass, Forsberg and Berube.

The Blackhawks weren't expecting Forsberg to be the next Scott Darling when they included him in the trade package involving Saad and Artemi Panarin this past offseason, but they were certainly hoping he would be around the league average in save percentage (.913).

Instead, it's slipped to .905, which ranks 43rd of 52 goaltenders that have started at least 20 games this season. That's also his 5-on-5 save percentage, which is 49th out of 52 among goalies with 800-plus minutes of ice time.

When it rains, it often pours with Forsberg in net and he hasn't shown signs of progression to prevent the bleeding from getting worse.

The backup goaltending position is more important than ever in this day and age, especially for the Blackhawks with Crawford likely going into next year having not faced a shot in game action in nine months.

For those reasons, it might be wise for the Blackhawks to strongly consider rolling with Berube as the No. 2 to at least start next season if an external option isn't the preferred direction.

It would allow Forsberg to fine-tune his mechanics, build his confidence and continue his overall development with the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League, where he backstopped the Lake Erie Monsters to their first ever Calder Cup championship in Columbus Blue Jackets franchise history two years ago.

Berube and Forsberg are both under contract for the Blackhawks in 2018-19, and it's no secret there's a belief within the organization that Forsberg has a higher ceiling. He just hasn't been able to reach it yet in the NHL for whatever reason.

There are 11 games left, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Berube get more than half of those.

Yes, his save percentage is one percentage point below Forsberg's at .904. But three of his eight appearances have come in relief.

In his five starts, he has a .908 percentage; in his three relief appearances, it's at .893.

Berube deserves a longer look, one that could carry weight when determining next season's backup.