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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Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

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.  

When are the Blackhawks going to announce their recent signings?

This question came on Wednesday and the Blackhawks officially announced the signing of 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin on Thursday. Wedin, who's a 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger, had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League and is expected to battle for a full-time roster spot for the Blackhawks in 2019-20.

The other one to watch for is Dominik Kubalik. He has reportedly agreed to an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, but word is it won't be made official until the 2019 IIHF World Championship ends. He's currently representing the Czech Republic, which advanced to the semifinals on Thursday. Kubalik's rights were acquired by the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in January for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Does Crawford get extended during the summer?

Corey Crawford has one year left on his six-year contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. The expectation is that he will be re-signed — and he should be. When that comes remains to be seen.

Given his health situation, the Blackhawks may prefer to see how the 2019-20 campaign plays out before diving into contract negotiations with their two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Or they could try ironing one out starting on July 1 so that it doesn't hang over his head all season long. 

Crawford will be 35 in December, but that should not be the primary concern. It's whether or not the Blackhawks can count on his availability. When healthy, he's still one of the best in the game and the importance of the goaltending position is at an all-time high. Term will be the thing to watch for when it comes to Crawford's next contract.

Outside of the number 3 pick, what players or positions should the Hawks target in the draft?

The Blackhawks' philosophy is to take the best available player, especially in the first round of the NHL Draft. In 2018, the hope for the organization was that they would come away with a forward and defenseman in Round 1 but instead landed two defensemen (Adam Boqvist at No. 8 and Nicolas Beaudin at No. 27). Same with 2017 when they ended up Henri Jokiharju (No. 29) and Ian Mitchell (second round, No. 57 overall).

The later rounds (4-7) are where that thinking gets trickier because there isn't as much separation between the best available players. At that point — if it's close — positional need might be the deciding factor. 

Given the surplus of high-end defensemen in the pipeline, it's easy to say the Blackhawks should focus more on forward depth and the goaltending position. And that's probably true. But you still want to take the player with the highest ceiling because there's value in developing players the right way and making them attractive trade pieces down the line if there's no room for them on the Blackhawks roster. 

Favorite UFA targets? How do those affect your draft, if at all?

This is an interesting question, and the cliché answer is that it shouldn't impact the draft at all. In fact, the draft may have more impact on what the Blackhawks do in free agency more than vice versa.

The top of the draft is loaded with centers (Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Jack Hughes, Peyton Krebs, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras). The other name generating buzz is Bowen Byram, who's a defenseman. If the Blackhawks pick one of those centers at No. 3 overall, which is very possible, they'll be adding that player — whether he's NHL ready next season or not — to a center group that already includes Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome. 

Toews is going to retire a Blackhawk. Strome is likely going to earn a long-term contract as well. And Kampf appears to be the perfect fourth-line center. Which leaves one center spot left. 

The odd man out may be Anisimov, but even so, there might be less of an inclination to sign a center to a long-term deal this summer if they draft a center at No. 3 because they will have filled that long-term need through the draft. If it's still an area they'd like to address in the short-term, then that could change the Blackhawks' way of thinking going into July 1.

Is Collin Delia the best option behind Crawford or are there other goalies in the system who are ready?

The Blackhawks are very much invested in Delia as Crawford's backup for the 2019-20 season. GM Stan Bowman said as much during exit interviews.

"I think Delia has taken a nice step as a pro this second year," Bowman said. "He didn't play a lot of NHL games, but certainly early on when he was playing a lot, he was really, really good. The hardest part for someone like Collin is trying to adjust to the NHL to not playing every night. I think when he came up and played in a few consecutive games, he was really good. And once we started rotation a bit, that's an adjustment for a young goalie. He wasn't sharp. But now he goes back to Rockford and I think he's the No. 1 or No. 2 in the American League in all his statistics. So he's doing all he can do to show that he's ready. That's nice knowing we have him signed for a couple of years and his best years are ahead of him." 

Kevin Lankinen is somebody that's quietly emerging as an intriguing prospect for the Blackhawks. He was put in tough spot this past season, starting with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL then rotating in and out with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, where he had a 2.50 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 appearances. 

At the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he's been a big bright spot for Finland. He has a 1.83 GAA and .916 save percentage in six games. The Blackhawks want to see him handle No. 1 responsibilities in Rockford before putting him into the conversation as a potential NHL backup.

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Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell


Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

One month after "mutually" agreeing to part ways with assistant coach Don Granato, the Blackhawks have hired 38-year-old Tomas Mitell as his replacement on Jeremy Colliton's staff. 

Mitell spent the past two seasons as head coach of AIK Hockey (Allsvenskan) in Sweden, where he guided the team to an overall record of 64-27-13. He led AIK to a league-best 35-8-9 record during the 2018-19 campaign, with their 35 wins and 109 points each setting franchise records.

Perhaps more notably: Mitell served as an assistant coach under Colliton with Mora IK (Allsvenskan) during the 2016-17 season, so there's obvious familiarity between the two. 

Mitell rounds out Colliton's staff that also includes assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank and veteran goaltending coach Jimmy Waite. It's a young group behind the Chicago bench, with Colliton (34), Brookbank (38) and Mitell (38) each having little NHL coaching experience but offer a new-school way of thinking.

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