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


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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Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

USA Today

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

The Blackhawks divided practice into two groups on Thursday and Friday. One of them was filled with NHL players. The other was loaded with prospects.

Dylan Sikura found himself in the first group with the prospects, and it's hard not to read into what that could mean about his standing with the team as the coaching staff looks to finalize its 23-man roster over the next two weeks.

Once thought of as a highly-touted prospect coming out of college, Sikura put up strong numbers in the AHL last season but his offensive production hasn't translated to the NHL level.

Part of that is because he was put in favorable situations in college and Rockford, where he played first-line minutes and was the go-to guy on the top power play unit. It was difficult for him to get those same opportunities in Chicago when players like Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are viewed as the heavy lifters on offense.

When the Blackhawks traded Dominik Kahun to the Pittsburgh Penguins in June for defenseman Olli Maatta, GM Stan Bowman felt he was able to pull the trigger on that trade because he was confident that there were players in-house ready for bigger roles and that could fill Kahun's skates. Bowman singled out Sikura specifically.

“Looking at some of our young players that are getting ready to take on a bigger role, you can look at guys like Dylan Sikura,” Bowman said at the time. “He didn't have the offensive success at the NHL level but I liked the way he played when he was with us last year in Chicago. It felt like his game was real effective other than the production part. Then when he was in Rockford I really liked the way he was able to score down there. So I think he's not far from being a guy and he's got sort of a similar skill set that Dominik has.”

Bowman is right. When Sikura was on the ice at 5-on-5 last season, the Blackhawks controlled 55.4 percent of the shot attempts and 53.2 percent of the scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. When he wasn't on the ice, those numbers dropped to 47.7 and 45.5, respectively. 

But through 38 career games with the Blackhawks, Sikura is still looking for his first career NHL goal and he knows it's a results-oriented business.

“It's obviously something you think about every now and then and it's tough but I thought there was spurts last year where I was really good," Sikura said. "And even though I wasn't scoring I was still playing and put in situations playing with top guys, so I think all that is going to help me in the long run. Coach always says you end up getting rewarded for what you deserve and I think if I continue to work away from the puck and work on that side of the game then the offense will come."

Sikura survived the first wave of cuts, which consisted of six players. But the next round is expected to be bigger and should come this weekend with the IceHogs training camp beginning Sunday.

Whether Sikura is part of that remains to be seen, but with a crowded forward group already and limited spots available, he might have to wait for his chance again mid-season.

“You always got to be ready, if it's going to be here to start the season or down there, you always got to be ready to go,” Sikura said. “You saw last year, I think when you're down there sometimes you don't think you're coming up then next day you get a call, so you always got to be ready and working on your game. It's a little bit of different hockey down there, but you've got to do the little things and I think my game kind of changes down there a little, but to stick up here I've got to do the little things and hopefully it all works out."

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Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

Detroit Red Wings

Blackhawks make first wave of roster cuts in 2019 training camp

After starting training camp with 55 players, the Blackhawks made their first wave of roster cuts on Friday and they weren't very surprising.

Forwards Nathan Noel, Graham Knott, Tyler Sikura, Tim Soderlund, Dylan McLaughlin, Kris Versteeg and defensemen Chad Krys, Jack Ramsey and Jake Ryczek were re-assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Goaltender Alexis Gravel was also returned to his junior team, the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Blackhawks training camp roster now sits at 45 players: 26 forwards, 14 defensemen and five goaltenders.

The IceHogs kick off their training camp on Sunday, so expect the Blackhawks to make more roster moves before then. Saturday's preseason game against the Boston Bruins could serve as the final opportunity for some of the bubble players to make an impression before the organization makes their next round of cuts.

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