Blackhawks

Blackhawks optimistic about future, but disappointed about 'lost season'

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks optimistic about future, but disappointed about 'lost season'

The Stanley Cup playoffs begin this week and the Blackhawks won't be participating for the second straight season after doing so in the previous nine years. And it doesn't feel right in Chicago, a city that has been so accustomed to watching their team play into May and June.

But a lot happened in the 2018-19 campaign, which featured a mid-season coaching change from the second winningest NHL coach of all-time in Joel Quenneville to 33-year-old rookie head coach Jeremy Colliton. The Blackhawks made progress over the course of the season, but there's still a lot of work to be done both roster-wise and on the ice.

The Blackhawks had their end of the season press conference on Sunday at the United Center and the mood around the room was disappointment that they won't be playing in the postseason, but optimism about being able to bounce back next season.

Here are the hightlights from the exit interviews:

General manager Stan Bowman:

"We're disappointed we're not playing in the playoffs. That's why we do this. That's the reason these guys come and do their best to put our team in the position. We came up a little bit short this year. But the feeling is much different now than it was a year ago. I think we have a clear path forward of how we're going to be better next year, and just reflecting back on this season there's been a lot of things that's been happening with the new coach coming in and our team getting adjusted to that. It took some time but when you look at the last 50 games we were playing at about a 100-point pace. That's a pretty good chunk of the schedule. It's not like a 10 or 12-game segment where we got hot.

"I think for the last 50 games we were playing like a team that could contend for the division title but we had a lot of ground to make up. The goal now is to build on that. We showed progress from a year ago until today and we expect progress again going forward. Obviously, we look at in a couple year horizon and like last year was sort of the low point we're building to where we are now and next year we expect to be even higher. We're on the right path and there's a lot of things to be excited about and some other things we need to improve and that's our job between now and training camp."

Head coach Jeremy Colliton:

"Definitely feel better about how the team was playing at the end as opposed to the beginning. And I think that ultimately, we want to win, we want to get into the playoffs, we want to still be playing, it’s a disappointment to not be. We thought we were on our way and had a chance, but I think ultimately the progression — we got better, and we got some things to build on going into next season. We will continue to make progress, but we’re not starting from scratch and that’s exciting.

"Got an opportunity to build relationships with all these guys and they know me and I know them and just think it will allow us — we need to have a much better start. Ultimately, it was too big a hole to crawl out of where we were in December. But I think we positioned ourselves with a lot of work in the offseason here and in training camp to have a much better beginning to the season."

Captain Jonathan Toews:

"You want to have an opportunistic outlook as to where things are going. But you've got to be realistic too as far as where you have to grow, where you have to get better. At the end of the day, we were in the hunt. We had a chance to get points to make the playoffs. It's easy to say what happened earlier in the season, if that would have been any different, we'd be sitting in a different spot right now. But we're not satisfied one way or another. You have to learn what you can from the situation and let it be that motivating factor that makes you better next year."

Alex DeBrincat:

"Ups and downs. I thought we had a few good stretches there. But at the beginning of the season, that long, what, probably 21 games with maybe three wins was too much to dig ourselves out of. I think if we win more games there we're maybe not doing this today and we're maybe playing a game in a few days, so tough to say. I thought after All-Star break we did pretty well but we're still on the outside looking in and we gotta be better."

Patrick Kane:

"The way we played the last 50 or so games, a lot of confidence in the room, lot of confidence in management and coaches about bringing back a good, solid team next year. And disappointing finish, for sure. But I definitely think there’s a lot of hope and belief in the room that we can turn it around."

Brent Seabrook:

"It’s a lost season. We want to be competing for Stanley Cups every year and it’s something we’ve done a lot in our career. I know it’s not going to happen every year, but why can’t it? We want to get back there. We want to get back to competing for a Stanley Cup and we want to win more. I’ve talked about this at length in years past, anytime you lose out, you hear every once in a while when a guy retires he’s got one Cup. I think when you win a Cup, the desire burns that much more. You just want it that much more.

"Playing in those meaningful games, I’ve also talked about the fact that the regular season’s the regular season. It’s obviously important because you’ve got to make the playoffs. But I think as hockey players and professional athletes, it’s the playoffs that really mean the most to us and having that opportunity to play in those big games and visiting buildings where everybody’s screaming at you, and here at the United Center when it’s rocking and roaring and they’re screaming at everybody else, that’s the fun hockey to play."

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Where could the NHL potentially finish the 2019-20 season?

Where could the NHL potentially finish the 2019-20 season?

Sunday night, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the NHL and NHLPA have begun tossing around ideas for where the league could finish potential regular season or playoff games, if the COVID-19 pause were lifted.

The NHL pause went into effect on March 12 due to concerns with the coronavirus pandemic.

Friedman reported one location discussed was North Dakota. 

"Several sites would be necessary, but Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D., makes sense," he wrote. "Host of the 2005 World Junior Championships, the 2016 World Under-18s and the NCAA’s Fighting Hawks, it is an impressive facility that is definitely more suitable than many other available non-NHL options in the United States."

The NHL and NHLPA are expected to discuss other locations this week per Friedman. 

"The league and players must agree on any return-to-play scenarios," he added. "The players are very concerned about the potential of 35 per cent escrow on future paycheques, and whether or not the NHL will consider allowing that to be paid over multiple years. (CBA discussions are believed to be taking place.)"

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How COVID-19 crisis could impact Blackhawks, NHL's salary cap

How COVID-19 crisis could impact Blackhawks, NHL's salary cap

On March 4, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told general managers that the projected salary cap for the 2020-21 season is expected to be in the range of $84 million and $88.2 million. That's roughly a $2.5 million to $6.7 million increase after it went up only $2 million last season.

But eight days later, the NHL put its season on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's unclear if or when hockey will even resume at this point. Because of the uncertainty and the risk of the league potentially losing $1 billion in hockey-related revenue, there's legitimate concern about what the ceiling could look like after we get through this, and not just for next season.

Could the NHL's salary cap stay the same? Might it even go down to help ease the escrow pain for players? Anything is possible, but it would require both the NHL and NHLPA to come to an agreement on what that artificial number could look like.

If the salary cap remains flat, the Blackhawks would be one of the many teams that would find themselves in an extremely tough position. And they better start preparing for that scenario.

As of right now, the Blackhawks' projected cap hit for next season is $74.1 million, according to Cap Friendly. That number factors in the three players on long-term injured reserve (Calvin de Haan, Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw) but also includes the current players on the roster, which comes out to 26 total, so cuts obviously must be made to get down to the maximum of 23.

But what that number doesn't include is the potential performance bonus overages and the fact the Blackhawks don't have a goaltender signed beyond this season other than Collin Delia, which doesn't leave much room for free agent signings elsewhere. Heck, taking care of their own guys is going to be a major challenge.

The Blackhawks have nine pending restricted free agents, which most notably includes Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome. Corey Crawford is their highest-profile unrestricted free agent. Those are four key pieces the Blackhawks must try to squeeze in under the cap if the priority is to bring all of them back, and — loosely projecting — gives them around $9-10 million to do so.

You have to wonder if it makes more sense for everyone involved to agree on one-year deals and revisit things the following year after more clarity is provided on the NHL's financial situation, especially with Seattle preparing for league entry and the U.S. television deal set to expire after the 2021-22 season.

For now, the Blackhawks and the rest of the NHL are waiting to see what the next steps are. But the financial ramifications will be significant, and it's something every team must now navigate through. 

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