The Blackhawks' goaltending group had a great day on Monday.
Collin Delia inked a three-year contract extension that will keep him in Chicago through the 2021-22 season. And Corey Crawford practiced with the team in full for the first time, which was another significant step in his recovery.
"I feel great," Crawford said. "Back to normal. It's nice to get on the ice and practice with everyone. I'm feeling good, so that's the most important thing right now."
Crawford was placed in concussion protocol for the second time in a year when he smacked the back of his head on the post in a game against San Jose on Dec. 16. The first time kept him out for 10 months. This time around, it sidelined him for about two months.
"I had a few similar symptoms, but it was obviously a little bit quicker," Crawford said. "It was nice to not wait that long. But I don't know what to say, it's just try to stay patient, try and be confident that it won't last long. It's nice that it's back to normal."
Crawford acknowledged that at no point did he ever consider retiring from hockey. He's always been committed to playing and returning whenever doctors give him the green light.
"No, not at all," he said. "I was gonna come back as soon as I felt 100 percent. I'm not worried about that. It is what it is. Some guys have to do deal with other injuries, it's just what I had to deal with. I feel good, I feel ready, just going to work our way back into the lineup."
Working his way back into the lineup is going to be interesting.
The Blackhawks have won seven in a row, and have been getting terrific goaltending from Delia and Cam Ward. Nobody is happier about that than Crawford, who will be the first to tell you he wants to return as soon as possible. But there's no timeline set in stone just yet.
"I don't know, it's pretty tough to jump in right now," Crawford said smiling. "Deals and Wardo have been playing so well, we're on a pretty good streak right now. Obviously I would jump in the net right away, but honestly we haven't really discussed that at this point. We're just trying to figure out days when I could practice with the team and kind of get timing back. That'll come hopefully sooner than later."
Former Blackhawks player Dustin Byfuglien is taking personal time off to consider his NHL future, with sources speculating he may retire this year.
Dustin Byfuglien, currently on personal leave from WPG, is believed to be using the time to ponder his NHL future. I’m not saying Byfuglien is retiring; I’m not saying he’s coming back to play. Only that he’s contemplating his options and there’s no timetable for a decision.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) September 18, 2019
Byfuglien is 34 years old and currently plays on the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets announced on Sept. 13 that Byfuglien would be taking time off from the team, declining to cite an official reason for his departure.
Byfuglien has two years left on his contract, with an annual value of approximately $7.6 million.
Byfuglien was an eighth round, 245th overall draft pick for Chicago, entering the NHL in 2003. He played with the Hawks until 2010. In his NHL career, Byfuglien has played in 869 regular-season games, scoring 177 goals, 525 points and 1,094 penalty minutes.
While many fans of the Jets and Byfuglien may be sad if he does decide to retire (remember, nothing is official yet), it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Byfuglien be considering retirement considering his age. According to Natural Stat Tick and The Athletic, the average age for an NHL player during the 2017-18 season was 27.1, with Chicago and Winnipeg at the center of the bell curve. Byfuglien is seven years older than the median and while he isn’t the oldest player in the NHL by a long shot, he’s no spring chicken either.
Whatever Byfuglien decides to do, he has had an illustrious and impactful career in the NHL and we wish him nothing but the best going forward.
Dominik Kubalik is somebody the Blackhawks have had their eye on for a while, and now he very well could be the team's breakout candidate for the 2019-20 season.
Drafted in the seventh round (No. 191 overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft by Los Angeles, the Blackhawks acquired Kubalik's rights in January for a fifth-round pick. They signed him to a one-year, $925,000 deal in May.
But even before that, the Blackhawks knew he would play a role for them this upcoming season.
"Dominik Kubalik, he is someone we expect to have a similar impact [as Dominik Kahun] next year," GM Stan Bowman said in April. "A dynamic offensive player, he's got size and speed, can score. We’re hoping he can come in and we're expecting him to be on the team and where he fits is going to be a question. We'll see where it plays out, but I expect him to be an offensive player for us."
Kubalik was named MVP of the top tier hockey league in Switzerland after finishing first with 57 points (25 goals, 32 assists) in 50 games, and adding one goal and five assists in five playoff games. He also stood out at the 2019 IIHF World Championship for the Czech Republic after compiling 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 10 games.
"He’s probably as advertised," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Going to be somewhat of an adjustment for him. He hasn’t played in North America before, so that’s good. But it’s still going to take some practices and games. So he’s another guy, excited to get him playing and see how it plays out."
Kubalik certainly strengthened his case of making the 23-man roster in his preseason debut on Tuesday against the Red Wings when he scored two goals and recorded five shots on goal. He's a player that likes to shoot, and his second goal in Detroit showed how heavy and deceptive of a shot he has.
"I think I'm playing pretty simple," Kubalik said. "I don't want to handle the puck for a while, I just want to put it as quick as possible to the net. If there's a chance to shoot I'm just going to take it. And I'm trying to use my speed, so those two are probably my biggest strengths."
Similar to what they did with Kahun last season, it's easy to see a scenario where the Blackhawks give Kubalik a shot in the top-six right away. Obviously, he has to earn his spot, but there's real offensive upside and he could work well with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, and even be a threat on the power play.
Put that all together and Kubalik gives the Blackhawks some legitimate options on offense, which could be key for a team that relied so heavily on their top guys last season and didn't get enough scoring from their depth players.
"Obviously everything is pretty new," Kubalik said. "I'm just trying to get used to it as quick as possible. But I feel great. ... I'm feeling more and more comfortable and that's great. I hope it's going to continue."