Blackhawks

Why the Blackhawks may not be done making moves this offseason

Why the Blackhawks may not be done making moves this offseason

Since the offseason started, the Blackhawks have made five player acquisitions (Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta and Andrew Shaw and prospects John Quenneville and Aleksi Saarela) and two free-agent signings (Ryan Carpenter and Robin Lehner). Their 2019-20 Opening Day roster is starting to take shape.

But GM Stan Bowman may not be done making moves just yet.

According to Cap Friendly, the Blackhawks have 10 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders slotted into their structure for a roster size of 21 and projected remaining cap space of $1.036 million. With the signing of Lehner, Collin Delia is likely going to start the season in Rockford, which opens up a roster spot and $1 million.

That leaves the Blackhawks three roster spots and just over $2 million to fill out the final three positions, although they're not required to carry the maximum of 23 players on the NHL roster. The minimum is 20 but the ideal situation is 22 (one extra forward and defenseman).

But Bowman likes to have in-season financial flexibility for transactional purposes and right now the Blackhawks don't exactly have that. 

Brendan Perlini remains an unsigned restricted free agent and is likely to command at least $1.5 million. Dominik Kubalik appears to have a strong chance at making the Blackhawks out of training camp and his cap hit is $925,000. Dylan Sikura, whose cap hit is $750,000, was also singled out by Bowman recently as someone who could take on a larger role. 

That's three forwards right there who all figure to be part of the four-line rotation but mathematically and financially, it doesn't work without salary being moved out.

If we're trying to identify potential trade candidates, Artem Anisimov comes to mind as someone who's probably become expendable, given his diminishing role over the past couple seasons. The Blackhawks paid his $2 million signing bonus on Monday, the same day his modified no-trade clause was removed. His cap hit remains $4.55 million, but his actual salary owed over the next two years is $5 million total. All of that could open up new trade possibilities for the Blackhawks that are certainly worth exploring.

Brandon Saad's name has also been lightly tossed around over the past few months, but that's not a move you make for cap clearance. He has value and the Blackhawks would only consider it if they felt they were getting something of equal value — or close to it — in return.

If the Perlini negotiations unexpectedly go sideways, is he someone that could be the odd man out? Or could his extension potentially squeeze somebody else out? What about somebody on the blue line, which has suddenly become crowded? The Blackhawks have options but they don't want to subtract too much from the current roster. They've spent the last month trying to build around it.

While Bowman is comfortable with his financial situation in the long term and has been careful not to hand out long-term deals in the last two summers that could potentially get in the way of the second contracts for Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome, there are still some decisions to make before the Blackhawks can start figuring out what their Opening Day line combinations and pairings could look like.

"I think we’re in a good position with the cap," Bowman said. "We've really got sort of a pretty full roster now. Whether this is the way we start camp or tweak a few things, I think we’ve come a long way in the last month. If you look at where we were a month ago and where we are today, we’re a much, much better team and we’re well positioned to have a good season."

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What we learned about Blackhawks during five-game road trip

What we learned about Blackhawks during five-game road trip

"Every game now is a playoff game, pretty much. We've got to approach it like it's life or death."

Those were the words of Drake Caggiula and that was the mindset for the Blackhawks going into their five-game road trip in Western Canada, which was easily their most important swing of the season to date, given the circumstances. All five teams were ahead of them in the Western Conference standings, the Blackhawks were knocking on the door of a playoff spot and they had a chance to prove themselves ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

The Blackhawks finished the trip with a 1-4-0 record, picking up only two out of a possible 10 points. They ended the weekend sitting six points out of the final wild card spot with two games in hand but four teams to jump. It's not impossible to get back in the race, but the cards are certainly stacked against them.

So what did we learn about this team?

The easy narrative would be to say the Blackhawks shrunk in games that had playoff-type implications, but that‘s just not true. They simply failed to capitalize on their opportunities, and they had plenty of them.

In Game 1 against Winnipeg, the Blackhawks held a 2-0 lead before allowing a shorthanded goal in the second period that was the first of five unanswered for the Jets, who went on to win 5-2. The Blackhawks went 0-for-3 on the power play and were outscored (1-0), outshot (3-2) and out-chanced (4-2) during those three opportunities. That was their downfall.

In Game 2 against Edmonton, the Blackhawks held a pair of one-goal leads — 2-1 in the first period and 3-2 in the second period — but couldn’t close the deal despite the Oilers playing without the NHL's best player in Connor McDavid. Again, a huge missed opportunity that was there for the taking.

In Game 3 against Vancouver, the Blackhawks peppered a season-high 49 shots on goal on Jacob Markstrom, 25 of which came from high-danger areas, but couldn't crack the code. It was one of their most dominating performances of the season from start to finish and yet they weren't rewarded for it.

In Game 4 against Calgary, the market quickly corrected itself when the Blackhawks scored a season-high eight goals on 28 shots in an 8-4 win over the Flames. It’s the exact response they were looking for, with all four lines contributing on the scoresheet.

In Game 5 against Winnipeg, the Blackhawks scored the first goal, then fell behind 2-1 before evening things up at 2-2 in the final minute of the second period. The game was up for grabs. But the Jets scored 1:36 into the third period after a shot from the point deflected off Alex DeBrincat’s stick and in, and it turned out to be the game-winning goal.

Look, there are no moral victories at this time of year. An ugly win beats the heck out of a pretty loss.

If the power play doesn't go 0-for-14, we might be having a different discussion because it had a chance to change the complexion of each game except the last one — because, well, there were no penalties called on either side, which was the first time that's happened in an NHL game this season.

But the Blackhawks have no margin for error and they're learning that the hard way.

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3 Takeaways: Blackhawks have hole to climb out of after road trip

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USA TODAY

3 Takeaways: Blackhawks have hole to climb out of after road trip

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, but the Blackhawks lost 3-2 to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday to close out their five-game road trip. Here are three takeaways:

Bad trip

After losing in Winnipeg, the Blackhawks finished their five-game road trip with a 1-4-0 record. They began the trip last Sunday in Winnipeg with a 5-2 loss. 

Sunday's game against the Jets had flashes of good, but it was mostly strong plays from the go-to guys like Kane and Jonathan Toews. All three Jets' goals came from deflections off shots from the point. Overall, the effort and productivity paled in comparison to the lone victory of the trip, Saturday's 8-4 win over the Flames in Calgary on Saturday. 

The Blackhawks, six points out of the second wild card spot, will return home and face the New York Rangers at the United Center on Wednesday. They have 23 regular season games remaining. 

Kane keeps climbing 

With a two-point outing in Winnipeg, Kane tied former Blackhawk Steve Larmer for 87th on the NHL all-time points list with 1,012. 

"Showtime" set up Ryan Carpenter for the first goal of the game at 15:44 of the first period by backhanding a pass towards the front of the net for the crashing Carpenter to bury.

Kane scored with less than a minute remaining in the second period to tie it 2-2 off a three-way passing play with Jonathan Toews and Dominik Kubalik. Kane has 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) in his past 18 games. 

With the primary assist on Kane's goal, Toews earned his sixth point (two goals, four assists) of the road trip. 

0.0

Sunday's Blackhawks-Jets game was the only NHL contest this season to have zero penalties. This was good news for Toews, who had five minor penalties over the prior four games. 

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