Blackhawks

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

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USA TODAY

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four or five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."

Corey Crawford named NHL's second star of the week

Corey Crawford named NHL's second star of the week

Corey Crawford was named the NHL's second star of the week after going 2-0-1 with a 0.65 goals-against average, .980 save percentage and a shutout.

The Blackhawks netminder kicked things off by stopping all 28 shots faced in a 1-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wedensday night. He then recorded 31 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night, and concluded the week with a stellar 39-save performance in a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday.

Prior to Wednesday, the Blackhawks had been on an eight-game losing streak. In the last three games, the team recorded five out of a possible six points, and Crawford is a big reason why.

In 12 games this season, Crawford is 5-6-1 with a 2.44 goals against average, .922 save percentage, and a shutout.

Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson (five goals and eight points in three games) and San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (five goals and six points in three games) were named the first and third stars, respectively.

At 30, Patrick Kane feels better than ever

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AP

At 30, Patrick Kane feels better than ever

It seems like yesterday that Patrick Kane was breaking into the NHL and considered a rising superstar in Chicago. He's now in Year 12 of his professional career and turned 30 years of age on Monday, which can be a pretty intimidating number for athletes because it often signals the back-nine of their careers.

But not for Kane.

"I still feel pretty good, so I don't think it's that intimidating," Kane said smiling. "But it is 30, so it's pretty crazy how time flies by. I think 30 is still fairly young, especially in today's game, you see a lot of players play into their 40s as well, so just try to maintain what I got going right now and keep it going as long as I can. I still feel fairly young. Sometimes when you get older it's exciting, when maybe you're 18, 19, 20, 21, but now the birthday's seem to be coming faster and faster and more often. It is what it is, but I still feel like I got a lot of hockey left."

Kane isn't showing any signs of slowing down, either. He's on pace to finish with a career-high 49 goals and 101 points this season, which would put him at the 100-point mark for the second time. He's also playing more minutes than he's ever had, and invites it.

"Sometimes I almost wonder if I feel better than I did when I was in my younger 20s," Kane said. "There are so many different things you learn about your body, what works for you. We do a great job at the Blackhawks as far as nutrition, best ways to take care of yourself. I wonder if I almost feel better."

Kane has three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy, Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and a Ted Lindsay Award on his resume yet continues to look for ways to get better. It's one of the main reasons why he’s always in the conversation of best players in the league.

"One of the great things about him is he loves the game," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "He loves to play. He loves getting better. He's always trying new things. He's interested in what other players are doing and incorporating it into his own game. I think he can just continue to get better in different ways. He'll be a different player obviously as he gets older, but there's no reason why he can't keep improving.

"The top guys, the best players, they're competitors. They want everything. They want to do everything that they can to be great. They're never satisfied until they want to be the best player in the league and win the Cup. That's where he's looking at. That's what he's looking for. He takes everything in."

We’re seeing it in other sports where Drew Brees and Tom Brady are in peak physical condition at age 40 and 41, respectively, and are still playing at the highest level they’ve ever played. Hockey is a different sport, but this is the era we live in now where athletes are meticulous about what they put into their body, how they train and study other players, looking for incremental ways to get better in any way they can both on and off the ice.

For Kane, it’s not hard to see him playing into his 40s. Half the battle is mentally wanting to do it, year round, whether it's training and nutrition or preparing for the grind of an 82-game season plus playoffs.

Kane has always been a rink rat and a student of the game, one of the last players off the ice at practice and somebody who could tell you exactly what happened around the NHL the previous night. So it appears that will never be an issue.

Eventually, there will be a point in time where he's forced to hang it up. Father Time is undefeated.

But that won't be any time soon. He's kicking the can as far down the road as possible, believing he still has a lot of hockey left in the tank and high-level ones at that. At this point, somebody might have to drag him off the ice when it's all said and done.

"Where I'm at in my life right now, I'm just really enjoying playing hockey and I'm really enjoying trying to make the best of my game, be the best player I can be," Kane said. "That's where my focus is right now. I know later in life there are some other things that come into play, whether it's family or kids or different things like that. But if you have the motivation and dedication to take care of your body, it seems like it really pays off for you and you can see it with those type of athletes.

"You definitely think about that, and I don't want to say do the same things, but do what works for you. And I think the way I play the game kind of helps too, it's not like I'm running guys over all the time or getting run over. Knock on wood, I'll probably get blown up tomorrow or something now. I think I should be able to do it for a long time."