Blackhawks

Can Blackhawks count on Corey Crawford returning to top form?

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USA TODAY

Can Blackhawks count on Corey Crawford returning to top form?

The Blackhawks have repeatedly stated that they expect Corey Crawford to be 100 percent healthy and ready to go by training camp after missing the final 47 games of this season with an upper-body injury.

That's Step 1.

Step 2 is projecting whether or not he can return to an elite level.

It's a fair question to wonder and an even greater challenge to figure out, because the Blackhawks saw down the stretch how important he is to their team.

"None of us can predict the future, so I'm not going to get into the, 'How do I know' anything," general manager Stan Bowman said. "We have expectations that he's going to be the same goalie that he's been. I think if you look back at the last probably three to four seasons, Corey's been getting better every year. You look back at where he was in 2013 and I think there's no way we win the Stanley Cup that year or in 2015 [without him]."

Crawford was 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage in 28 appearances before going down. J-F Berube, Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass and Collin Delia combined to go 17-30-8 with a .902 save percentage in Crawford's absence. The drop-off was noticeable, especially when it came to quality scoring chances allowed.

Since 2012-13, Crawford has the third-best high-danger save percentage (81.48) at 5-on-5 among goaltenders who have appeared in at least 250 games over that span, according to corsica.hockey. Only Sergei Bobrovsky (83.18) and Carey Price (82.63) are above him.

That's great company.

"Stan mentioned the importance of him and what he has been to our team and our organization," coach Joel Quenneville said. "You can just see from the way things went this year how valuable he really is. That stuff will all be discussed as we're going forward here.

"He's on the right track. He's close to being ready to go. Several more months now to prepare for the season. Knowing that ingredient to our team is certainly a big piece to our success and our team as well. But we look forward to that being in place and Crow ready to be a part of it."

Another factor to consider is that Crawford will turn 34 in the middle of next season. Clearly, he's not getting any younger. Nobody is.

But goaltenders tend to age well and recent history supports that. Look no further than some of the current active netminders.

Henrik Lundqvist, 36, had a .915 save percentage in his 13th season, which wasn't far off from his career average of .920 despite being a part of a New York Rangers team that finished with the eighth-worst record.

Pekka Rinne, 35, will likely win his first Vezina Trophy for top goaltender after posting a 42-13-4 record with a 2.31 goals against average, .927 save percentage and eight shutouts in his 12th year.

Marc-Andre Fleury is 33, but he's got lots of mileage on his body having played in more than 700 career regular-season games and 116 postseason contests and counting, yet still had a career-high .927 save percentage in his 14th season.

And then there's 39-year-old Roberto Luongo, who already announced he'll be back for a 19th season after recording a .929 save percentage, his highest since 2003-04 — albeit in only 35 games because of an injury.

Age shouldn't be a concern for Crawford, who's played in only 409 regular-season games and 87 in the playoffs. There's still a lot of gas left in his tank

But can he get back to being one of the best goalies in the league? If — and it's a big if — his health doesn't get in the way of it, there's no reason not to believe he can't.

"He just seems to keep getting better every year to where you can see his value to our team right now," Bowman said. "So I would expect his performance to be certainly where he was last year, for sure. I don't think there's any reason to doubt that. He's got a lot of confidence. That last couple of seasons he's played a bigger role on our team and we're looking for that next year. We're hopeful that's the case."

Is Dylan Sikura on the outside looking in with Blackhawks?

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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

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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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