Blackhawks

Patrick Kane cleared to return to Blackhawks lineup

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Patrick Kane cleared to return to Blackhawks lineup

Patrick Kane emerged from the locker room wearing the familiar red sweater of a top-six forward.

Gone was that white don’t-hit-me sweater Kane wore during his last practice with the Blackhawks. He was cleared for contact and is taking some hits around that fractured left clavicle that’s cost him the past seven weeks.

When asked after practice if Kane could play Wednesday when the Blackhawks face the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their first-round series, coach Joel Quenneville said, “yeah he could.” Later in the afternoon, however, that likely turned into a definitely.

Kane was cleared for full participation a few hours after practice, the team announced. Dr. Michael Terry released a statement regarding Kane around 5 p.m. Monday.

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“Patrick has been working extremely diligently with his rehabilitation and has recently returned to full-contact practice without any difficulty,” the statement read. “After discussions with Patrick and the team, and examining Patrick today, we collectively feel it is appropriate, with minimal risk, for him to return to full participation.”

Kane was back on the second line with Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards – the trio that was stellar from mid-November through December – on Monday. Speaking before he was fully cleared, Kane was happy with his progress.

“Where I’m at right now is [to] just to kind of go through practice today and get as ready as possible and try to feel what it’s like to be in a game simulation,” he said. “I thought it was a good day, a good practice for the team overall. Overall, I feel pretty good. I just have to take it day by day right now.”

For Kane the wait’s been long, although not as long as originally expected. He credits the Blackhawks’ doctors and staff for that. Kane said he “pretty much had full range of motion within the first week” following his Feb. 25 surgery. He’s taken some contact, some pushing and shoving, but nothing severe. That will likely change when he does return to the lineup; it’s the playoffs and big hits are just par for the course, whether you’re coming off an injury or not.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Blackhawks fans!]

Kane admits he’ll be thinking about when that first big hit comes.

“A little bit. I think like anything you try to be cautious with it at first,” he said. “I've talked with different guys who that have had the injury and they say when you're cleared, you're cleared. You just have to have some faith and trust in the healing process.”

Richards, who missed the Blackhawks’ last three regular-season games with an upper-body injury, skated with Kane over the past week.

“He just looks like Patrick to me…” he said. “Today was another day that was a step in the right direction for Kaner and for other guys, so you wake up tomorrow and come back at it and see where you’re at. Either way, it’s exciting for everybody because we know we’re starting the best part of what we do, is starting Wednesday night, so that’s exciting for everybody.”

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With Kane’s return the Blackhawks get a jolt in a lot of ways. He was the most consistent scorer and led the NHL in points at the time of his injury. He’s key on the power play and also critical to the team’s puck-possession game, which has struggled in his absence.

“Yeah, it gives us a boost in offense and just overall play and our depth. We missed him,” Bryan Bickell said. “I thought we did pretty good at the start without him but not as of late. We couldn’t find a way to get goals. Hopefully he can spark us on the power play, which is needed. There are going to be more special teams in the playoffs.”

The light is green for Kane’s return. The Blackhawks were looking for a boost, a jolt, entering this postseason. They just got it.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Seth Gruen (Big Ten Unfiltered) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel. 

The Blackhawks drop their 8th straight. So should their “One Goal” be to tank?

Plus, Jon Lester isn’t a fan of the new pace of play proposals. Is he right?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

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With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

After losing their eighth straight game and falling 12 points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks' playoff chances have dipped to a season-low 0.2 percent. It would take a miracle for them to extend their postseason streak to 10 at this point, where getting just one win seems like a monumental task.

The Blackhawks were probably never really going to be buyers before the Feb. 26 trade deadline even if they were still in the hunt, but it's hard to imagine they had plans to be sellers. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has reiterated over and over again that he's confident in this group, one that's getting younger and faster.

But now they've reached a territory where they have to consider selling off spare parts simply to coup some draft picks or prospects that they could perhaps retain or use as sweeteners in the offseason.

So which players could the Blackhawks realistically sell?

Let's start with the two players getting rewarded with top-six ice time as of late: Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels.

These are two players that play with high energy and go to the greasy areas, something that's important in the playoffs when scoring goals becomes more difficult. They can clean up rebounds. Wingels, particularly, likely has more value and it's showing given his recent success on the power play as a net-front presence guy. He also isn't a stranger to the playoffs with 54 games under his belt compared to Bouma's five.

Both of them are pending unrestricted free agents and are making $1 million or fewer, which certainly works in the Blackhawks' favor considering they won't cost much and their cap hits are easy to fit in on any interested team.

Maybe a team would like to take a flyer on Tomas Jurco, who's a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but that would be a move somebody makes as more of a longer term project than strengthening your depth for a playoff run this spring.

On the back end, Michal Kempny and Jan Rutta could be in play for a contender looking to ensure some depth as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Again, each of them are making less than $1 million so it's a low-risk situation for clubs whose Plan A or B fall through and may be interested in at least getting something.

While they don't have much NHL experience, they're both 27 years old and have played the sport long enough to know what they can bring to the table.

Once Feb. 26 passes and potential roster spots open up, expect the Blackhawks to start calling up the kids. 

Matthew Highmore deserves a look after leading the Rockford IceHogs with 20 goals and 32 points. John Hayden has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 15 games since joining Rockford, and belongs in the NHL. Even Anthony Louis, who's taken a step forward, should get a taste of the action as he continues his development.

Carl Dahlstrom is getting his shot now. Erik Gustafsson is in that process as well. Gustav Forsling had another extended look during the first half of the season before the team decided it would be wise to continue his development in Rockford, where he can play top-pairing minutes.

All of this would give the Blackhawks a better indicator of how they can approach the upcoming offseason, and which young guys they can possibly add into the mix for 2018-19. But first, we have to see how the end of February plays out before making those calls.