Blackhawks

NHLPA authorizes further negotiations with NHL on 24-team return-to-play format

NHLPA authorizes further negotiations with NHL on 24-team return-to-play format

The NHL Players' Association Executive Board announced Friday night that it has agreed to the NHL's proposed 24-team return-to-play format. The voting process involving all 31 player representatives began Thursday night but the results were not made official until Friday.

"The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup," the NHLPA said in a statement. "Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.​"

If and when the final details are agreed upon, the format would feature 12 teams from both the Eastern and Western Conference with the top four teams based on current points percentage each earning a first-round bye. In the East, the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers would secure the 1-4 seeds while the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars would do the same in the West.

Seeds 5-12 would feature a best-of-5 play-in series to determine the bottom four seeds in the Stanley Cup playoffs while the top four seeds would compete against each other in a round-robin format to determine the official seeding.

The Blackhawks, in this format, are slated to take on the Edmonton Oilers. They went 2-1-0 and had a plus-1 goal differential against the Oilers this season.

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NHL Phase 2 target time and guidelines firming up for Return to Play

NHL Phase 2 target time and guidelines firming up for Return to Play

On Monday morning, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reported that the NHL and NHLPA sent out a protocol for Phase 2, which includes team practice facilities opening up and small group workouts beginning, that was sent to players and teams late Sunday night.

The memo stated the NHL is planning on transitioning to Phase 2 in early June but the league isn't sure specifically when and how long the camps may last according to LeBrun.

The document also stressed player participation in Phase 2 is voluntary as teams can't require players to travel back to the home ice cities. 

Per LeBrun, the agreement also states no more than six players are permitted to be at a practice facility at one time and no coaches or other team personnel are allowed on the ice. 

Players will be required to wear face coverings while entering and leaving facilities and inside facilities during times when "social distancing cannot be maintained.''

For testing during Phase 2, LeBrun tweeted the following excerpt from the memo:

"As an over-riding principle, testing of asymptomatic Players and Club personnel must be done in the context of excess testing capacity, so as to not deprive health care workers, vulnerable populations and symptomatic individuals from necessary diagnostic tests.''

The NHL released the protocol to the public at 10 a.m. central on Monday.

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Blackhawks 2019-20 season in review: Corey Crawford

Blackhawks 2019-20 season in review: Corey Crawford

The NHL put its 2019-20 season on pause March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but remains hopeful to award the Stanley Cup at some point. Although it's unclear if or when it could return, NBC Sports Chicago will recap the season of each Blackhawks player to date in our "season in review" series. Next up is Corey Crawford.

One of the most intriguing storylines going into Blackhawks training camp this season was how the goaltending tandem would work between Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner, both of whom were going to be pending unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.

You have a two-time Stanley Cup champion on one end and a reigning Vezina Trophy finalist on another and each of them deserved their fair share of starts. It's a good problem to have if you're a coach, but the other part of the challenge is trying to keep both netminders happy.

"They both want to play 60 games, 80 games maybe,” head coach Jeremy Colliton said in November. “That's part of the team. [Patrick Kane] wants to play 60 minutes. It's how it is. Ultimately, we want to make decisions that help the team win and part of that is keeping both guys fresh, keeping both guys playing at a high level and I think that's going to be a benefit for us as the season goes on."

For most of the season, it worked.

Going into the NHL All-Star break, the Blackhawks had the sixth-best team save percentage at .913; Lehner led the way at .922 and Crawford was at .910. But coming out of the break, Crawford was lights out and Lehner was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights at the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

From Jan. 27 and on, Crawford went 7-7-1 with a 2.46 goals-against average, .927 save percentage, 7.60 goals saved above average and 9.76 high-danger goals saved above average, which ranked No. 1 among all goaltenders over that span, according to Natural Stat Trick. He clearly got into a rhythm the more starts he got and kept the Blackhawks in the playoff race down the stretch.

"He’s been excellent, coming up with big saves when we needed them," Colliton said of Crawford at the beginning of March. "He’s been excellent for a while now. I’d have to really work to go back to find one where we didn’t like his play. It’s a big boost for our group."

With the NHL Players' Association signing off over the weekend on the NHL's proposed 24-team return-to-play format, the Blackhawks will have an opportunity to compete for a playoff spot when hockey returns. And if Crawford can get back to the level he was at before the NHL pause, don't count out the Blackhawks to make some noise because a hot goaltender could be the difference in a series.

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