Blackhawks

Why Blackhawks felt a weight lifted off their shoulders in much-needed victory over Flyers

Why Blackhawks felt a weight lifted off their shoulders in much-needed victory over Flyers

As Artem Anisimov’s power-play rebound found its way into the Philadelphia Flyers net on Wednesday night the United Center erupted, drowning out the sound of the massive burden dropping from the Blackhawks’ shoulders.

“It’s the big weight lifted off your shoulders,” said Cody Franson, whose shot led to that goal. “Guys are a little more relaxed, getting back to what made us successful.”

This big reaction off one goal may seem overblown, and perhaps in hindsight it’ll be considered as such. But for a Blackhawks team that was struggling to score in pretty much any fashion but especially on the power play, Wednesday night’s 3-0 victory was a relief.

They snapped an 0-for-18 power-play slump and it led to more fast, with Jonathan Toews scoring just 20 seconds after Anisimov. Power-play troubles snapped, losing streak snapped, a big wave of frustration snapped.

‘It’s more relief. Something dropped from our shoulders when we scored that goal,” said Anisimov, who scored his third goal in as many games. “We just need to keep building off that. Just play simple, like that play. Pass over, shoot, rebound. Easy, you know?”

Anisimov laughed after saying that but the mood was definitely lighter on Wednesday night. It was a heavy early week for the Blackhawks, who were coming off a three-game losing streak and an angry close-of-practice talk from coach Joel Quenneville on Tuesday.

“I think it was a little bit of everything. Our first couple of power plays had some decent looks and [we did] the right thing on that one: get it to the net, traffic, get the rebound and get rewarded,” Quenneville said. “We obviously needed a power-play goal and that helped a little bit of confidence as we went along offensively.”

The Blackhawks didn’t do a complete 180 off their latest batch of games on Wednesday. They still gave up a lot of quality chances – credit Corey Crawford, whose 35-stop performance ensured that Anisimov’s goal would be the winning one. But the Blackhawks needed a positive. They needed a spark. They needed a power-play goal. Weights lifted.

“With this group, we never really freak out. We don’t lose our mind. It’s early in the season. You want to gain ground but you don’t want to create something that’s not really there,” said Corey Crawford, whose 35-stop performance made that power-play goal the game winner. “You’ve just come back and keep playing. you gotta stick with it. You can’t let a streak like that affect you and make it worse. We’re fine, we know how to play hockey, and we’ve just gotta keep going.”

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.