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.”

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.