Charlie Roumeliotis

Five games to circle: Blackhawks to appear on national TV a league-high 19 times in 2018-19

nick_schmaltz_alex_debrincat_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Five games to circle: Blackhawks to appear on national TV a league-high 19 times in 2018-19

Despite missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade, the Blackhawks will appear on national television a league-high 19 times during the 2018-19 season, NBC Sports announced on Monday. Eleven of them will appear exclusively on NBC or NBCSN, with the other eight on NBC Sports Chicago in the Chicago area.

Eight of the 19 games will also land on "Wednesday Night Hockey," which will replace "Wednesday Night Rivalry" as part of NBC Sports' most diverse exclusive schedule to date that will include a total of 109 games. 

Here are five games to circle from the 11 games that will be aired exclusively on national TV, in order of how they appear on the schedule:

1. The new-look Blues — Nov. 14 vs. St. Louis at 7 p.m. on NBCSN

There might not have been a team in the Central Division that had a stronger offseason than the Blues. After failing to secure a postseason berth for the first time since 2010-11, they went out a traded for top-six center Ryan O'Reilly, signed Tyler Bozak to ensure even more depth down the middle, and added power forwards Patrick Maroon and David Perron to round out their top-nine. Not to mention the offensively skilled Robby Fabbri will be returning to the lineup after missing the entire 2017-18 campaign with an ACL injury. It'll be a nice early test for the Blackhawks.

2. Three Cups vs. three Cups — Dec. 12 vs. Pittsburgh at 7 p.m. on NBCSN

Whenever the Blackhawks and Penguins get together it's always a fun battle to watch because there's so much firepower sharing the same sheet of ice: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews. That's five future Hall of Famers right there. There's also the fact that they are tied for most Stanley Cups in the salary cap era with three, adding some extra juice between two teams that don't often see each other.

3. Winter Classic — Jan. 1 vs. Boston at 12 p.m. on NBC at Notre Dame Stadium

For the sixth time in franchise history, the Blackhawks will appear in an outdoor game. But they haven't had much luck in those games, losing four of the previous five, including all three of their Winter Classic appearances. The Bruins are 1-1 in outdoor games and will look to break the .500 mark in a rematch of the memorable 2013 Stanley Cup Final — at least for the city of Chicago — and Original Six showdown.

4. The defending champion Capitals come to town — Jan. 20 at 11:30 a.m. on NBC

Any time the reigning champions visit your city, it's a game you know you can't take off. Especially since it's the Game of the Week. Alex Ovechkin fell one goal shy of hitting the 50-goal mark for the eighth time in his NHL career at age 32 last season, but it was still good enough to win his seventh "Rocket" Richard Trophy. More importantly, he scored 15 goals and added 12 assists in 24 postseason contests to help lead the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup and took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs while doing so. He's still the greatest goal scorer in hockey — perhaps even of all time — and that's a reason in and of itself why it's a must-watch, even though in his last game against Chicago he was held without a shot attempt for the first time in his NHL career.

5. Rekindling an old rivalry with Red Wings — Feb. 20 at Detroit at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN

Ever since the NHL realigned the divisions in 2013-14, the Blackhawks and Red Wings get to see each other only twice per season — once at home and once on the road. No two teams in NHL history have squared off more than these two, so it's certainly been an adjustment. But fans know how deep this rivalry goes, and every time they do clash, there's a playoff-like atmosphere in the building and you can feel it through your television screen as well. This will likely be no different.

Check out the Blackhawks' full national television schedule here:

How Dylan Larkin's new contract impacts Nick Schmaltz, Blackhawks

nick_schmaltz_dylan_larkin_ap.jpg
AP

How Dylan Larkin's new contract impacts Nick Schmaltz, Blackhawks

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has consistently stated that the plan is to re-sign Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level contracts expire. It's why the Blackhawks have had a quiet offseason via free agency, because any contract brought in longer than two years might interfere with that.

It's too early to project what DeBrincat's second contract could look like, but we got an indication on Friday of what Schmaltz's number and term may come in at after Dylan Larkin inked a five-year extension with the Detroit Red Wings worth $6.1 million annually. It's easy to see the similarities between the two players.

For one, Larkin and Schmaltz share the same agent in Kurt Overhardt, so Schmaltz's asking price is likely to be in the same range as Larkin's starting point. They're also both centers and were first-round selections in 2014, drafted five picks apart (Larkin at 15, Schmaltz at 20).

On the ice, their production has been almost identical.

In his first three seasons, Larkin averaged .057 points per game and registered a career-high 63 points in his third year. Schmaltz is averaging exactly .057 points per game through his first two seasons and is on track to crack the 60-point mark in his third. There's a disparity when it comes to their faceoff numbers, with Larkin possessing a career 48.4 win percentage and Schmaltz at 37.7, but from his rookie to sophomore campaign Schmaltz went from 30.9 to 40.1, a substantial improvement.

Their roles are similar as well, with each slotted in as the No. 2 center of their respective teams with the potential to work their way to No. 1 over the course of time. In fact, Schmaltz's ice time went from 13:16 to 18:14 from Year 1 to Year 2 while Larkin went from 16:33 to 16:09 before jumping to 19:51 in Year 3.

The Blackhawks clearly felt Schmaltz was ready for a much larger role in his second year, and he was. It should be interesting to see how he's utilized in Year 3 and whether his ice time could get closer to the 20-minute range like Larkin's, which would certainly impact Schmaltz's offensive production in a positive way, especially if it means more power play time.

Assuming Schmaltz continues to progress the way we expect him to, it wouldn't be surprising to see his contract look similar to Larkin's. Schmaltz will become a restricted free agent next season and as of July 1, is free to begin extension talks with the Blackhawks.

Both camps — the Blackhawks and Schmaltz — are likely not interested in a bridge deal, and it wouldn't make sense for either side anyway. A five-year deal would give Schmaltz long-term security at a solid number along with a chance to earn another big payday by the end of it when he'll be 28 years old while the Blackhawks secure their top-six center for his prime years.

Here's where things may get a little tricky.

According to Craig Custance of The Athletic, Larkin has a full no-trade clause in Year 5 of his new deal. The Blackhawks currently have nine players on their roster with either a no-movement clause or some form of no-trade clause. They're one of the teams known to hand those out frequently; it's part of why free agents like coming to Chicago because they offer player control and protection. But obviously, that doesn't give the Blackhawks much flexibility when it comes to player movement.

At the same time, it might be challenging to avoid not giving Schmaltz some kind of clause in his new contract because he's one of the guys you want to take care of and make sure you have for a long period of time. So it may not be the number and term the Blackhawks and Schmaltz's camp spend the most time on during negotiations.

Hawks Talk Podcast: Will NHL Network's center rankings motivate Jonathan Toews?

jonathan_toews_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Will NHL Network's center rankings motivate Jonathan Toews?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis talk about Jonathan Toews being left off NHL Network's Top 20 center rankings. Will that serve as motivation for the Blackhawks captain?

The guys also weigh in on the Blackhawks' current roster compared to last year's and discuss what their confidence level is on Corey Crawford being ready by training camp.

They also answer your mailbag questions, including whether Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad as potential linemates is a real possibility for the 2018-19 season, the chances of Artemi Panarin returning as an unrestricted free agent in 2019 and where Gustav Forsling stands within the organization following his latest injury.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: