Blackhawks

Evaluating where things stand for Blackhawks as negotiating window opens for NHL free agents

Evaluating where things stand for Blackhawks as negotiating window opens for NHL free agents

VANCOUVER — For more than two months, the Blackhawks had been primarily focused on the 2019 NHL Draft because the hockey gods gifted them with the No. 3 overall pick and a chance to speed up the retooling process in a significant way. They used that selection on Kirby Dach, a 6-foot-4, 198-pound right-handed shot center who’s projected to be a future first-liner for many years to come.

But now all the attention has shifted to Sunday, when the negotiating window for NHL free agents opened up. And the Blackhawks are expected to be one of the more active teams throughout this process as they prepare for July 1.

With the NHL and NHLPA officially setting the salary cap ceiling for the 2019-20 season at $81.5 million — a $2 million increase from last season but $1.5 million less than the original projection — general managers can finally calculate their financial plans internally as they approach the legal tampering period. The Blackhawks aren’t one of those teams where they’re living and dying by how much the upper limit fluctuates, but it’s still noteworthy that they’re projected to have $16.5 million in cap space, according to Cap Friendly.

However, that does not include the potential new deals for their restricted free agents. 

Stan Bowman said after Saturday’s draft that Brendan Perlini will be re-signed. Dylan Sikura is expected to be as well, as is Gustav Forsling. John Quenneville, who was acquired for John Hayden, is also a RFA and is expected to receive a qualifying offer but it’s unclear whether he’ll factor into the Blackhawks’ plans next season. So they don’t have an unlimited supply of money to spend.

But they certainly have enough to add an impact-type player.

Over the last month, the Blackhawks have been linked to Kevin Hayes (before his rights were traded to Philadelphia and signed a seven-year, $50 million deal), New York Islanders captain Anders Lee and six-time 30-goal scorer Corey Perry, to name a few. That indicates the Blackhawks are in the market for a middle tier player, not the upper (sorry Chicago, but the Artemi Panarin homecoming always has been a pipe dream).

The other option is to continue exploring the trade market.

The Blackhawks already acquired defenseman Olli Maatta, but that was a deal executed because it didn't require subtracting a key piece of the roster. It really could come down to whether the Blackhawks want to handpick who they want via trade and give up the assets to do it or potentially overpay — both in dollar amount and term — on the open market, which could present challenges down the road when Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and even Erik Gustafsson — depending on if he fits into the budget — are due new deals.

If it's the former, the Blackhawks prefer overpaying for the right player — somebody like Perry or Joe Pavelski on a shorter-term deal despite a higher cap hit would be ideal to help bridge the gap as far as responsibilities put on the younger players. If it’s the latter, the Blackhawks will pull off a trade for a high-end player only if it makes sense for the short term and long term because the offseason is a time to enhance the roster for both.

Bowman doesn’t know exactly how the next few weeks are going to play out, but you can bet that he’ll have his phone attached to his ear looking for ways to improve the roster and help turn the Blackhawks into a consistent playoff contender again. 

“We have a good position right now,” Bowman said. “For next season, we're in a better place than most teams. After that, it's hard to say, because we don't know what the cap will be a year from now and we've got a couple players that are going to graduate to new contracts a year from now. Not a lot of free agents take one-year contracts, so that's the thing — if you're going to sign a free agent, you've got to look at what's going to be the implication two years down the road. So from that perspective, trades might be more appealing to us than necessarily adding a top free agent. We're going to have some new players for next year, but I don't know if it's going to be free agents or through trades.”

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Patrick Kane views booing in St. Louis as 'a sign of respect'

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USA Today

Patrick Kane views booing in St. Louis as 'a sign of respect'

ST. LOUIS — Of the 11 NHL All-Stars from the Central Division this season, four of them are Blues: Jordan Binnington, Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron and Alex Pietrangelo. And deservedly so.

The other seven were all booed by Blues fans on Friday, but none were louder than the ones Patrick Kane drew.

Kane steps on the ice for warmups? Boos.

Kane’s name announced as a Central Division representative? Boos.

Kane touches the puck for one of the skills challenges? Boos.

Heck, even during Thursday’s media session when seven other skaters were talking at the same time as Kane, he was interrupted by boos.

So when the nine-time Blackhawks All-Star won the Shooting Stars challenge at the Skills Competition on Friday, Blues fans weren’t afraid to show how they felt about it. It didn’t help that it was the final event of the night, either.

After the competition, Kane was asked about the crowd reception in St. Louis. And he responded in terrific fashion.

"The boys were asking me why I was getting booed," Kane said. "And I said I shouldn't have scored those overtime playoff goals against them and maybe they wouldn't have booed me."

Over the last decade, Kane helped lead the Blackhawks to nine consecutive playoff appearances, five Conference Finals and three Stanley Cup runs. He was a thorn in the side of every Central Division team over that span, including the Blues.

In 64 career games against the Blues, Kane has 25 goals and 38 assists for 63 points. He also has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 13 postseasons contests, with two of those goals being game winners.

As they say, fans don’t boo nobodies.

"I remember me and my dad, we went to watch the Flyers and Sabres fans were booing [Eric] Lindros the whole game," Kane recalled. "I think he got kicked out with like 10 minutes left in the game or something, and then the game was no fun anymore because there was no one left to boo or watch. 

“You kind of view it as, obviously it’s somewhat a sign of hatred, but somewhat a sign of respect too. It’s fun when you play in Nashville or Winnipeg or places like that, and you hold onto the puck and they’re booing you and you want to hold onto it longer. [Duncan Keith] get booed in Vancouver, which is always pretty funny to see him up his game a little bit and hold onto the puck as well. It’s somewhat a sign of respect.”

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Patrick Kane wins Shooting Stars, Kendall Coyne part of history and more from 2020 NHL Skills Competition

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AP

Patrick Kane wins Shooting Stars, Kendall Coyne part of history and more from 2020 NHL Skills Competition

ST. LOUIS — The NHL Skills Competition can be hit or miss, but 2020 will go down as one of the better ones in recent memory. There were two new events, history was made and there was certainly drama.

It also ended in a fun night for Blackhawks fans, who got to see their lone All-Star wrap up the event with a win in St. Louis.

Here's a recap of some of the best moments from Friday:

Patrick Kane wins Shooting Stars challenge

It may have been the final competition of the night, but it was a memorable one. The NHL introduced a new event called the "Shooting Stars" challenge, which featured 10 players trying to hit a variety of targets from an elevated platform in the crowd. Each one had seven pucks to rack up as many points as possible.

Mitch Marner, who was the second shooter, recorded 22 points, which was the score to beat. Only Kane matched that, although the hometown fans lobbies for Ryan O’Reilly to be included in the group after Blues legend Brett Hull took his final shot and missed.

In a one-shot sudden death “score-off,” Kane picked up two points while Marner came away with zero. Much to the disappointment of Blues fans, Kane officially took home the W.

"It was alright, I think it's a little gimmicky," Kane said. "But at the same time, try to have fun with it and enjoy the event. We all had a little pact that we're going to shoot for the arch and try to get as many points as we can through the 10-pointers. It was fun to win it."

History made for second straight year

Kendall Coyne Schofield made history in 2019 when she became the first woman to participate in the NHL Skills Competition, replacing an injured Nathan MacKinnon in the fastest skater competition. She logged a time of 14.346, which was seventh out of the eight participants.

This year, there was an entire event dedicated for the women skaters for the first time in league history.

USA and Canada played against each other in a 3-on-3 tournament, with the 10 best players from each country making up the rosters. It was entertaining back and forth action, and Canada prevailed 2-1 despite USA nearly scoring on a buzzer beater in the final period. It was a terrific event for the sport and the growth of women's hockey.

"It's something that you dream about, the day that there's routinely that many people watching women's hockey and there are sold-out building," Coyne Schofield said. "And so to have that here tonight for 3-on-3 alongside the NHL's best is just incredible." 

A new fastest skater

After winning the event for three consecutive years, Connor McDavid was dethroned in the fastest skater competition despite posting the best time of his career (13.215). He was edged out by Mathew Barzal by just 0.04 with a time of 13.175. 

Barzal missed Dylan Larkin's record of 13.172 from 2016 by only 0.003.

"I told Connor when I was out there, I don't think I could have skated a better lap," Barzal said. "I don't know if I could do it again. It was exciting. Obviously you want to try to win and there's a lot of fast skaters out there. To skate a lap like that today was fun, it was cool."

A new hardest shot champion

With the hardest shot competition in St. Louis, it was only fitting for the Blues to bring back Al MacInnis, who’s a seven-time champion of the event. And that’s exactly what they did.

MacInnis hopped on the ice, waved to the crowd, teed up for a celebrity shot and clocked in at 100.4 mph with a wooden stick. The official time may never be confirmed, but in the eyes of everyone there, it didn't matter. It was a cool moment to see MacInnis blast one more shot.

Shea Weber, who won the hardest shot competition three consecutive years from 2015-17, made his return to the event and reclaimed the title with a first shot of 105.9 and a second of 106.5, both of which were harder than any other skater.

Weber’s 106.5 was 2.0 away from his personal best set in 2015 and 2.3 away from Zdeno Chara’s record of 108.8 in 2012.

Jordan Binnington clutches up in St. Louis

One of the loudest moments of the night came during the “Save Streak” challenge, where all eight goaltenders competed to make the most consecutive saves.

The streak to beat was nine by Andrei Vasilevskiy with one netminder left: the hometown guy.

And, like he did throughout the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, Binnington clutched up and topped Vasilevskiy by stopping 10 in a row, one of which came from Tomas Hertl wearing a Justin Bieber face mask in honor of the social media bet Bieber and Binnington made about a future breakaway challenge.

"We expected more of the Biebs today but he'll be alright," Binnington said. "He'll figure it out. We'll take that one. I don't think it counts towards the real competition. ... It was pretty funny. I'm sure he'll get a laugh out of it. Hertl did a great job."

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