Blackhawks

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

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AP

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Front office

If we're evaluating Stan Bowman's moves as a whole, we have to go back to July 1 when the 2018-19 season really started.

On that day, the Blackhawks announced three signings: Chris Kunitz (one year, $1 million), Brandon Manning (two years, $2.25 million cap hit) and Cam Ward (one year, $3 million). Not exactly splashy additions after missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 years — although, to be fair, it wasn't a great market to throw money around.

Eleven days later, the Blackhawks traded Marian Hossa and his $5.275 million cap hit to the Arizona Coyotes in a seven-player deal that included top-nine winger Vinnie Hinostroza. Bowman acknowledged after the trade that he tried exploring every possible avenue before surrendering that the financial flexibility became more valuable.

But the trade might've put the team in a better position going into free agency had it been executed before July 1. Because of all that, Bowman's grade isn't looking great so far.

Then we get into the actual regular season.

The biggest move Bowman made was the coaching change on Nov. 6 in going from future Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville to Jeremy Colliton, which was a controversial decision in and of itself, especially the timing of it.

“There’s no perfect way to do things," Bowman admitted. "I think we made the best of it at the time. It’s one of those things where you’ve just gotta get through it. I think he’s gonna benefit from not only having a training camp next year but also we had this whole long stretch of a season. ... We’ve got a lot more things we want to get to, and I think we did a good job of — it’s a good start, but I’m sure Jeremy will tell you that we want to be way better next year and we’re gonna push our players to be better. We’re gonna try to do things differently. It’s not just taking this exact same program and we’ll start that. We want to do different things as well and enhance our team. I think there’s reason for hope there.”

Where did Bowman start to earn high marks? The roster tinkering, beginning in late November.

Perhaps recognizing that Nick Schmaltz wasn't progressing the way the team would have liked in a contract season, Bowman dealt him for a potential future second-line center in Dylan Strome and replenished the top-nine forward they lost in Hinostroza with Brendan Perlini, who showed flashes down the stretch. That's turned out to be a win-win for both sides.

The trade that was very clearly one-sided is the one Bowman pulled off with Peter Chiarelli, who was later relieved of his GM duties with the Edmonton Oilers.

Not only did Bowman acquire rugged winger Drake Caggiula, who became such a valuable part of the Blackhawks' second-half turnaround because he was a perfect complement for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line, but he unloaded the contract of Manning without having to retain salary or giving up an important piece of the roster. It essentially gave the Blackhawks an extra $2.25 million to work with this summer, which shouldn't go unnoticed when you look at how deep the 2019 free agent class is.

Bowman essentially undid the mistake he made and put the Blackhawks in an even better position going into this offseason by adding a useful player on top of it. So he certainly upped his overall grade.

Now it's time to spend the money he cleared in getting rid of the contracts of Hossa and Manning, and continue building around the current core.

"We're not going to bring the same group back," Bowman said. "That's clear. We don't do that really any year. There's changes to every team, even a team that ends up winning the Cup this year will have some different players. We're going to have some new players next year. What we're going to do is try to improve in the areas where our team needs some help and the way that looks isn't completely clear right now, but we have time over the next couple months to dive in and look at our team in greater detail and figure out how we're going to make that happen.

"There's obviously free agent signings, there's trades, there's growth from within. Those are the ways that your team improves from year to year and we're going to do that. So we're going to have some new players here next year for sure but we have a lot of players that are going to be back and I think a lot of the key guys who had good seasons they're coming back for sure, so we don't need across the board changes but we do need some new players."

Front office: B-

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2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 1 thoughts and takeaways

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NBC Sports Chicago

2019 Blackhawks development camp: Day 1 thoughts and takeaways

Here are four thoughts and takeaways from Day 1 of Blackhawks development camp at Fifth Third Arena:

1. All eyes on Kirby Dach

There are a ton of storylines to follow at Blackhawks prospect camp, and the main focus on Day 1 was getting a first look at their No. 3 overall pick. The Blackhawks signed Dach to an entry-level contract a week ago, which was Step 1 in the housekeeping department of his development process. Monday was the first deadline for teams to sign 2019 draft picks.

The next step is seeing where Dach compares to the other prospects in the pipeline. Drafted third overall, he clearly jumps to the top in terms of talent level. It's where he's at in his development curve that will be something to monitor between now and training camp.

The Blackhawks have said all along that they're going to give Dach every chance to make the roster out of training camp, and Dach himself said immediately after he was drafted that that's a goal of his also. He wants to make the decision difficult on the management and coaching staff, and if he feels any pressure to perform this week, it's not going to be because of the organization.

"I think the biggest pressure is going to come from myself," Dach said. "I know that kind of stature of being the third overall pick there's going to be some pressure behind it but I kind of just flush it out. The only pressure that's going to come from my performance is going to be myself because I know how good I can be every day and I need to strive for that excellence."

2. Where will Adam Boqvist play next season?

While all eyes may have been on Dach, there was almost as much attention on Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018. When he got drafted a year ago, Boqvist said he felt like he was still 2-3 years ago from being a full-time NHL player.

But things can change. We saw it last September when his strong training camp gave the organization something to think about when trimming their roster to 23 players. Boqvist admitted Monday that he even surprised himself.

The Swedish blue liner spent the past season with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League, where he emerged as one of the top offensive defenseman in the league. He had a stellar postseason run, and played a large role on the team as an 18-year-old.

But it appears Boqvist has his eyes set on turning pro and doing so as quickly as possible.

"Of course I want to play in the NHL but we'll see," Boqvist said. "I want to turn pro quick and I think I'm pretty ready for that. ... I'm just trying to go out there and show them that I want to be on the team and everything, do my best every day."

3. Where things stand with Ian Mitchell

After Denver's season ended in April, there seemed to be an assumption among Blackhawks fans that it was only a matter of time before Mitchell signed an entry-level contract. But that wasn't exactly the case. 

One month later, Mitchell announced that he would be returning to Denver for his junior season and the school named him team captain. It immediately sparked some concern among the Chicago fanbase, wondering what that could mean for his future with the Blackhawks.

It's because their memory is still fresh from 2014, when Kevin Hayes, who was drafted by the Blackhawks in the first round (No. 24 overall) in 2010, decided not to sign with the team and became an unrestricted after four years in college.

"Which is, of course, understandable, but that's not my intention whatsoever," Mitchell said. "I just want to make it known that my intentions are to sign with the Blackhawks, 100 percent. It's just I'll be going back for one more year. I don't want people to think I may be bailing because loyalty is very important to me and that's why I'm going back to Denver, but that's also why I want to sign with the Blackhawks. They've been great to me."

Mitchell, who was selected in the second round (No. 57 overall) in 2017, understands why this has been a topic of conversation and knows the fans want nothing more than for their team to succeed. But so does Mitchell, and he expects to be part of the Blackhawks' long-term plans. It just won't be until at least the 2020-21 season.

"I'm sure I'll talk to the organization this week, but I think it'd be very difficult to change my decision based on my teammates are expecting me back," Mitchell said. "I've been named the captain of Denver hockey so I just think that to leave my teammates in that spot, that'd be very difficult for me. I just feel like another year is going to be very beneficial for me. Getting that one year, more seasoned, I think I've developed a great amount in my first two years and I don't think the third year will be any different. Also pushing myself and playing big-time minutes so I'm excited about it."

4. Evan Barratt update

One of the prospects who took a significant step in their development this past season is Barratt, who finished fourth in points-per-game (1.34) among all NCAA Division I skaters. He scored 16 goals and added 27 assists in 32 games for Penn State, which was a 25-point improvement from a year ago.

And the Blackhawks' third-round pick in 2017 did this while dealing with a nagging right hip injury that he eventually had surgery on in April.

Barratt is three months into the recovery process and started skating a couple weeks ago, but he won't be participating in any on-ice workouts this week. He expects to be cleared for action in October, right around the time he begins his junior season at Penn State.

"It definitely stings a little bit," Barratt said of being restricted to off-ice workouts. "It's been a long summer so far and having to deal with it has definitely taught me a lot of things. You can always learn from watching and just being around guys and the coaches. I'm not looking at it as a setback, but definitely as a learning experience as I go into the future."

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Blackhawks mailbag: Why did the Blackhawks give up on Henri Jokiharju so fast?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks mailbag: Why did the Blackhawks give up on Henri Jokiharju so fast?

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition. 

Why did we gave up on Henri so fast?

The question isn’t why did the Blackhawks give up on Henri Jokiharju so fast? It’s why did they sell him without receiving an immediate impact-type player in return, whether that came in the form of a package or not?

The Blackhawks were always going to use their surplus of defensemen prospects as trade ammo to patch up a need elsewhere. Alex Nylander could turn into a fine player, but he’s far from a sure thing. It seems like, for whatever reason, he’s struggling to take the next step and the Blackhawks find themselves hoping that he can turn into the player he was supposed to become when he was taken No. 8 overall in 2016.

With moving out Jokiharu does that mean someone like Boqvist or Beaudin is more likely to be ready to step in possibly sometime this season?

The Jokiharju trade certainly opens the door for one of those prospects to emerge from the pack, and we could see a glimpse of them as soon as this season.

After four years in the QMJHL, Beaudin will turn pro and start the season in Rockford if he doesn’t make the Blackhawks out of training camp. And according to our friend Scott Powers of The Athletic, it’s looking more like Boqvist might turn pro also after one year in the OHL.

If that’s the case, both of those prospects will be readily available for a call-up at any point. Beaudin is likely still a year away. Boqvist is the interesting one because he turned heads at training camp last season and gave the Blackhawks something to think about when they were trimming their 23-man roster.

If Boqvist excels in the AHL and the Blackhawks have a spot for him, the former No. 8 overall pick in 2018 is only a phone call away from a call-up and that could be tempting if an offensive jolt from the backend is needed.

Does the arrival of Nylander hinder the potential chance of Dach making the roster out of camp?

The Blackhawks aren’t going to keep Kirby Dach off the roster because the math squeezes him out. If he does his part to force the management group into keeping him on the team, the Blackhawks will figure out how to shuffle the cards later.

But the Nylander acquisition does add to the competition up front in general and Dach figures to be part of that mix. The challenging part is that you have to think Dach is battling for a top-nine spot. The Blackhawks won't keep him on the roster all season because he's the 11th- or 12th-best forward. They'd want him playing decent minutes in the NHL, and if he's not doing that, they'll send him back to the WHL to do it.

The ‘Hawks currently have 10 forwards (excluding Perlini) locked into a roster spot. Kubalik & Sikura are expected to round out the forwards, but who else do you think has a strong chance to make the team? Nylander? Saarela? Wedin? Quenneville? Looks less likely for Dach.

Good question, and something we’ve been writing and talking about on the Blackhawks Talk Podcast for the past several weeks. The Blackhawks like having internal competition and continue to note that you need to be 14, 15, 16 forwards deep to be successful in today's NHL.

But the reality is, the extra forwards in this scenario should be taking steps forward in helping the team right now and not serving as 13th forwards. You have to think Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Sikura will be on the Opening Day roster, but that doesn't seem like a given as of right now. The fact that Nylander could play left wing or right wing helps his case. Anton Wedin is an intriguing candidate. John Quenneville will definitely get a look. Where does Brendan Perlini factor into the plans?

It's too early to tell because it still feels like there could be some more tweaks coming between now and training camp.

Who do you see taking the first line LW position and the second line RW position for the majority of the year?

In Tuesday's conference call explaining the Alex Nylander-Henri Jokiharju trade, GM Stan Bowman hinted that the Blackhawks are likely to start the season with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the first line and Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome on the second. And the question is who’s going to play left wing on the first and right wing on the second.

Andrew Shaw sticks out as somebody who could get an immediate look. Brandon Saad finished the season on the third line and was effective in that role but maybe he gets another shot also. Of course, Drake Caggiula worked so well with Kane and Toews but he’s probably better suited in a bottom-six role.

If Nylander makes the team out of training camp, he could be the wildcard. He's the kind of player who should play in the top-six with other offensively-skilled players to maximize his talent but he hasn't earned that opportunity yet. Kubalik, however, has after his breakout season offensively in the Swiss league and at the international level. And like they did with Dominik Kahun last season, the Blackhawks could look to put him in the best possible position to succeed off the bat.

If we're projecting right now, I could see these combos as the first two lines to open camp: Kubalik-Toews-Kane and DeBrincat-Strome-Shaw. 

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