Blackhawks

Blackhawks mailbag: Defensive challenges and happy campers

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks mailbag: Defensive challenges and happy campers

The Blackhawks entered this season with the same mantra they have countless others: get off to a good start and save yourself a point chase at the end of the season.

My first season on the beat was probably the Blackhawks’ best lesson lately on what happens when you’re scrambling late; they just about missed the playoffs, losing to Detroit in the regular-season finale and needing Minnesota to beat Dallas to get into the postseason. And while the overall results have been a mixed bag, their opening record (5-2-2) isn’t shabby.

Still, there are questions regarding where the Blackhawks are and where they’re heading. To that end (yeah, we’re finally getting to the point of this whole spiel), we bring you this week’s mailbag:

The Blackhawks’ happiness with Tanner Kero was partly because of Kero’s work last season. But in terms of comparing to other centers, Kero’s emergence had more to do with replacing Dennis Rasmussen than it did Marcus Kruger – Kero re-signed with the Blackhawks around the same time talks reportedly went awry between the team and Rasmussen. Anyway, back to Kero. I don’t think it’s so much what he’s not doing as what Tommy Wingels is doing in that fourth-line spot. The Blackhawks originally envisioned Wingels at wing but he has previous experience at center and his work there has been pretty good. Saturday night’s game certainly helps, be it for Wingels alone or keeping that fourth line together (he, John Hayden and Lance Bouma, who scored the game-winner). Don’t be surprised if there’s some rotation there, though.

Maybe, although either of those guys will likely still be rotating in/out with another player. Just depends on how much the Blackhawks want those guys playing constantly (I would guess that would be the case with rookie Matthew Highmore more than Hinostroza).

We all know this contract, all know how it hamstrings the Blackhawks for a while. But in the immediate future, what can you do? Fellow scribe Mark Lazerus has asked a few times about Seabrook’s place in the lineup and coach Joel Quenneville has demurred. Granted, we’re guessing general manager Stan Bowman doesn’t want Seabrook out of the lineup, either. Seabrook’s leadership skills are tremendous; to a man, the Blackhawks will say how vocal he is. His past work, especially in the playoffs, speaks for itself. It depends on how things progress as the season goes but I don’t foresee Seabrook coming out of the lineup right now. Speaking of Seabrook…

Highly doubt it. The asking price won’t be just one guy for another. And with any trade talk I remind everyone to see a player’s NMC status. Seabrook has a full no movement clause.

Nope, he’s not going anywhere, as the traveling media confirmed with Quenneville on Monday afternoon in Las Vegas. I had to be reminded that DeBrincat was nearing that deadline on Sunday, his status not coming up in conversations with Quenneville and Stan Bowman like it did when Brandon Saad made the team at 19. DeBrincat has made such an impression that it was going to take something extraordinary for the Blackhawks to reassign him. DeBrincat has found his place in the lineup and whether or not he’s been scoring he’s been good. So here, he remains.

https://twitter.com/unclepauly5/status/922234405535604736

You don’t trade him. The Blackhawks are where they are right now due in large part to their goaltending, especially Crawford. There have been, what, two games in which the Blackhawks dominated? So no, you don’t trade Crawford.

We’re quite a while from the trade deadline, so let’s tap the breaks on any talk about what the Blackhawks may do several months from now. As far as Murphy’s current status, no, I don’t believe his job is in jeopardy. Again, part of this is the eight-defensemen situation. But it’s also getting Murphy more ingrained in the system. I talked to Dave Tippett, Murphy’s former coach, a few weeks ago. He said, “we put him into situations he may not have been ready for [with Arizona], but he always continued to improve in those situations. He still has a lot of growing to do but he’s a very dedicated athlete and I think there’s a lot of upside there.” It’s easy to look at who the Blackhawks traded away for Murphy and Murphy’s contract and say, “yeah, he should be an everyday guy.” He should be at some point but considering what I mentioned above, I’m not surprised he isn’t right now. Speaking of defensemen rotating in and out of the lineup…

Yeah, I’m still not a big fan of the eight-defensemen set, for the reason you just mentioned. I wrote about the Blackhawks’ defensive juggling act on Sunday and, while I still think it’s tough to do I believe the Blackhawks will stay with it for a while. I list some reasons in Sunday’s story, which is linked above. So far (judging from outward appearances) the defensemen seem to be on board with the changes. I’m just curious to see how long they can keep the balance to where no one is sitting too long. That’s always the challenge.

Signing Cody Franson was part of the short-term plan regarding the long-term injured reserve funds. I think the Blackhawks just let things play out now for a while. You’re not going to make a move based on the first month of the season.

Yeah, someday I will stop writing about the power play’s woes but it won’t be today. I personally don’t think it’s the personnel. Whenever we talk about this it’s usually the same culprits: lack of movement, not enough shots and net-front traffic. I still say a strong penalty kill is more important and if the Blackhawks’ 5-on-5 scoring increases the power-play concerns fade. But it has cost them, so it’s certainly a concern.

I wouldn’t take the stern expressions as a sign of unhappiness. I’ve seen them plenty of times arriving at an arena looking like that; just focused before a game.

Going to go with a B-plus mainly because they came out of those first eight games with a pretty solid record. Granted, goaltending deserves a massive pat on the back for that. But it’s still early and I still figure the lines will get rolling at some point. Penalty kill has been very good and power play absolutely has to get better.

Check out Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford's sweet 2019 Winter Classic helmet

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USA TODAY

Check out Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford's sweet 2019 Winter Classic helmet

Corey Crawford's helmet for the 2019 NHL Winter Classic was revealed on Friday, and it's very easy on the eyes. Take a look:

So fresh, so clean. The Blackhawks unveiled their jerseys for the 2019 Winter Classic last month, paying homage to the team's 1934 uniform. Crawford's helmet obviously follows this trend, using the same color theme and logo.

Played on New Year's Day, the Winter Classic provides NHL teams with the opportunity to wear special occasion uniforms for the annual game. The Blackhawks, appearing in their fourth Winter Classic, are no stranger to this. 2019 will be their fourth appearance in the outdoor event, taking on the Bruins on at Notre Dame Stadium.

Previously, the Blackhawks faced the Red Wings at Wrigley Field (2009); the Capitals at Nationals Park (2015); and the Blues at Busch Stadium (2017). They are looking for their first win in the event, though, as they lost all three of their previous appearances in regulation. 

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Jan Rutta clears waivers, but Blackhawks running into logjam on defense

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USA TODAY

Jan Rutta clears waivers, but Blackhawks running into logjam on defense

After clearing waivers on Friday, the Blackhawks sent Jan Rutta to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League as they continue to shuffle the deck on defense. But there's still a logjam on the back end and decisions must be made soon.

Erik Gustafsson is back after missing two games with an illness. Carl Dahlstrom was recalled from Rockford. Gustav Forsling, who's nursing a shoulder injury, is getting close to returning. And Brandon Davidson, who had meniscus surgery on Nov. 27 and was originally given a 6-8 week timetable, practiced with the Blackhawks on Friday for the first time since the injury. 

In total, nine defensemen were on the ice for morning skate ahead of Friday’s matchup against the Winnipeg Jets, which means the competition is just beginning.

"That’ll be determined by how guys play," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "So that’s a positive for our team."   

Despite Rutta being out of the mix now, the Blackhawks still have to make some roster decisions and identify who their rotation will consist of on defense. Or at least clear room to give the younger guys a longer look for the future. They carried eight defensemen last season and have been reluctant to do so again this season.

With the league-wide holiday freeze approaching from Dec. 19-27 that prevents teams from making any transactions on the waiver wire or trade front, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Blackhawks make a move or two come before then.