Blackhawks

Worth the wait? Cody Franson, Blackhawks will soon find out

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USA TODAY

Worth the wait? Cody Franson, Blackhawks will soon find out

Cody Franson had to wait this offseason, wait to see if he would get any offers during free agency, wait to see if anyone would need his services at some point. Good thing he’s been through this before.

“For some reason it’s been one of those things where the contracts kind of had to wait,” he said on Friday. “Even having the successful year in Toronto and getting traded, my first year of free agency I didn’t sign with Buffalo until the end of September. It’s something that’s always happened that way for me, I don’t really know why. I have a chip on my shoulder about it and I want to go out there and right some wrongs.”

Franson is hoping another wait leads to another contract, this time with the Blackhawks. The 30-year-old defenseman had offers this summer and, recognizing the potential opportunity with Chicago, signed a PTO with the Blackhawks earlier this month. On paper, it could be an excellent fit. After losing Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk the Blackhawks could use another veteran, especially a right-handed shot. He also brings size (6-foot-5, 225 lbs.) and is familiar with the Blackhawks defense, from previous meetings and offseason workouts.

“We skate together in the summer. We know each other pretty good,” Brent Seabrook said. “I think he’s a big body, can move pretty good and he likes to make plays and he’s got a huge shot. Another big physical presence back there. Could be good.”

Coach Joel Quenneville agreed.

“He has a lot of attributes you look for in a defenseman: big, mobile, can shoot the puck and has some experience,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for him to show his stuff here in scrimmages. He gives us some size and is something nice to look at.”

Franson spent the last two seasons with the Sabres, where he had a cap hit of $3.325 per season. The Blackhawks would have cap space once they put Marian Hossa on long-term injured reserve near the start of the season. Sure, it all comes down to Franson having a strong camp. But the Blackhawks are in need of a few things on defense and Franson would fill a few of those voids.

It was another summer of waiting for Franson. But if he has the camp he and the Blackhawks hope he has, it will be worth it.

“The core group of guys they have here, the position they’re in, it felt like a good opportunity to have a successful year if everything goes well,” he said. “Being able to play with that group of forwards and the experienced defensemen these guys have, having been around as long as I have you can still learn from guys like that. I’ve played on teams that have struggled, missed the playoffs, things like that. To have this opportunity is something I’m very excited about. If everything goes accordingly I think it could be a great fit.”

Welcome back: Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk's 'best medicine'

Welcome back: Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk's 'best medicine'

ST. LOUIS – Eddie Olczyk’s morning at Scottrade Center was full of hugs and handshakes, of questions and encouraging words, of smiles and even some tears.

It was a busy morning but a good one for Olczyk, who Wednesday night will do his first hockey broadcast since being diagnosed with colon cancer in August. For the first time in a while, Olczyk felt like himself.

“It feels normal. It feels comfortable,” said Olczyk, who will be alongside Doc Emrick when the Blackhawks face the St. Louis Blues. “I just feel invigorated. Seeing a lot of familiar faces, guys busting chops and a lot of well wishes.”

Olczyk went through his usual game-day routine, including quick chats with Blackhawks players following skate. On Wednesday those talks were that much more special, for both sides.

“Great to see him,” said Ryan Hartman. “When I first saw I was pretty excited to see him back. It’s definitely a presence you know when you’re watching games, that voice you heard growing up. He looks good, looks healthy. He’s in a battle but he looks really good.”

Olczyk will also be in the booth on Thursday night when the Blackhawks host the Edmonton Oilers. Past that, he’ll play it by ear. He’s talked to NBC and Blackhawks president John McDonough, who Olczyk said gave him an “open canvas” in terms of scheduling. If Olczyk feels good on Saturday and the Blackhawks play on Sunday, he’ll try to get back in the booth.

“We think about him every day and we’ve had the pleasure of having him come by a couple of times. Having him be here today for a road game is great to know,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “But he has a tough battle ahead of him and he’s doing everything he can to fight it. We support him every single day.”

Olczyk started chemotherapy treatments in September and he has his good and bad days. Those will continue for a while. So will his fight to completely beat this. But for at least the next two nights Olczyk gets to return to a normal routine, and that’s the perfect panacea for a trying time.

“I’m overwhelmed with everybody,” Olczyk said. “But this is the best medicine I’ve had in a long time.”

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."