Blackhawks

Antoine Vermette coming up big for Blackhawks

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Antoine Vermette coming up big for Blackhawks

TAMPA, Fla. – It was just before Antoine Vermette was traded to the Blackhawks when Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett called his good friend Joel Quenneville.

“I told him, ‘[Vermette] is an emotional guy, he has strong ties to our team, it was hard for him to leave teammates,’” Tippett recalled. “’But you’ll see, as the season goes on, you’ll find he’ll be an important player in key times.’”

Tippett’s words proved to be accurate, because Vermette has been very important at a very key time for the Blackhawks.

Vermette scored the game-winning goal with less than five minutes remaining when the Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. It was his second game-winning goal in as many series – Game 4 of the Western Conference final vs. the Anaheim Ducks – and Vermette, part of a solid third line with Patrick Sharp and Teuvo Teravainen, now has a point in four of his last five games.

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“This is very exciting, something I was looking forward to,” Vermette said on Thursday afternoon. “I’ve been saying all along this is a great opportunity. I’ll try to make the best out of it with a good group, great players. Any time you get the chance to play at this time of year, this is something you want to grab and take advantage of.”

It took some time for Vermette to find his footing when he first got here. He was moved around a bit, too, from second line to third line to on the wing instead of his usual center spot. Tippett figured it would take time.

“It wasn’t just when the trade came. You have to remember he went through two months of hearing about the trade every day,” Tippett said with a laugh. “It was just the second half of the year, the way our [Arizona] team was going, his name out there, his family stuff – Vermette’s wife is expecting their second child later this month – there was a lot going on. It didn’t surprise me that he took time to get going.”

Still, Vermette handled everything well. That includes the scratches, from being benched in Games 1 and 2 vs. Nashville to getting the same treatment in Game 3 against the Ducks. Vermette responded to that benching in the best possible way in Game 4, scoring the game-winning goal in overtime.

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Vermette handled the scratches, especially the one during the Anaheim series, with aplomb. He said it was about the team, not him. Quenneville, who called Vermette “a great pro” after that Game 4 goal, said the center has been great down the stretch.

“Yeah, he's definitely improved as the playoffs have gone on here. Those two goals were huge goals for us; very timely, as well. I think his play has picked up. He's been better in the faceoff circle. That line has been improving as we've gone along here. They've scored some big goals, have some offensive zone time.”

“I like his progression here,” Quenneville added. “It seems like the bigger the games, the more he's up to the challenge.”

Vermette has been an important player for the Blackhawks at critical moments. His former coach knew it was only a matter of time before he was.

“He’s a valuable player in a lot of key situations. He’s a guy who just doesn’t blow you away with an unbelievable skill but he does little things in the game that help you win,” Tippett said. “The adjustment was tough for him. His wife is pregnant, uprooting the family. Now you’re seeing what he can do.”

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

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AP

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

The Blackhawks announced Monday that they have officially agreed to terms with forward Dominik Kahun, defensemen Lucas Carlsson and Darren Raddysh and goaltender Kevin Lankinen on entry-level contracts.

Kahun ($925,000 cap hit), Lankinen ($925,000) and Raddysh ($730,000) each signed two-year deals that run through the 2019-20 season while Carlsson's is a three-year deal that runs through the 2020-21 campaign and carries a cap hit of $792,500.

So who are these guys? Let's meet them:

Carlsson

Drafted in the fourth round (No. 110 overall) by the Blackhawks in 2016, Carlsson set a career-high with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 44 games this season with Brynäs IF of the Swedish Hockey League. He was tied for fourth among all blue liners with seven goals.

Carlsson, 20, doesn't have major upside, but he's a reliable, well-rounded defenseman and that's what drew the attention of Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley.

“When he’s on the ice, he makes things happen," Kelley told Scott Powers of The Athletic last summer. "I think what impressed the Sweden under-20 coach was Lucas’ ability to challenge in all three zones. He’s an active defensively. Offensively, he challenges. He keeps plays alive.”

Kahun

The 22-year-old forward spent the last four seasons with EHC München of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany's top professional hockey league, where he established career highs in assists (29), points (41) and tied a personal best with 12 goals, leading Munchen to their third straight championship in 2018 after recording four goals and 10 assists in 17 playoff contests.

He raised eyebrows at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, where he compiled five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games and won 55.4 percent of his faceoffs (41 of 74), helping Germany capture a silver medal.

“He has made an enormous step this year, has become much more stable and mature," German national team coach Marco Sturm said after the Olympics. "I am sure that he would grab it in the NHL,” Sturm told the Hamburger Morgenpost.

Most recently, Kahun had a goal and two assists in seven games for Germany during the IIHF Men's World Championship. He's 5-foot-11, 176 pounds whose known to be a solid two-way player and can play center but may need some time to adjust to the smaller ice surface and NHL style of speed and physicality.

Lankinen 

Lankinen is 23 years old and coming off a season in which he was in the discussion for the Urpo Ylönen trophy, annually awarded to the top goaltender of the Finnish Elite League, after registering a league-best 1.33 goals against average and .946 save percentage in 15 games with HIFK.

He missed a large portion of the season because of an injury, but it didn't stop him from turning in a strong postseason, guiding his team to a bronze medal after posting a 1.99 GAA and .936 save percentage in 13 playoff games. The year before that, he led the league with seven shutouts in 42 games, backstopping his team to a silver medal.

This is a low-risk, medium-sized reward signing for the Blackhawks, who could use some more young goaltending depth in the pipeline, especially given how this season unfolded with the big club.

Raddysh

The Blackhawks signed Raddysh to a one-year AHL contract last June, and he turned it into an NHL one after a strong season with the Rockford IceHogs.

Raddysh, 22, accumulated 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 66 regular-season games with the IceHogs, and has appeared in each of the team's playoff games en route to the Western Conference Final.

Last season Raddysh was named the OHL's top defenseman after scoring 16 goals and 65 assists for 81 points in 62 games for the Erie Otters, where he was teammates with current Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat. He's the Otters' all-time leader in assists (143) and points (184) among defensemen.

Raddysh might be nothing more than a depth defenseman, but his development is worth monitoring because the offensive production is there and that's something the Blackhawks lacked this past season from their back end.

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa: 'I will not play hockey anymore'

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AP

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa: 'I will not play hockey anymore'

Days after putting his Gold Coast condo on the market, Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa revealed to a Slovakian newspaper that he is moving back to his hometown country and doesn't plan on returning to the NHL.

"I will not play hockey anymore," said Hossa, who missed the entire 2017-18 campaign due to a progressive skin disorder and the side effects of the medications involved to treat it. "I have a valid contract with Chicago for the next three years, but I have only one health and it does not allow me to return."

Because he has three years left on a deal that carries a $5.275 million cap hit, Hossa is not expected to sign his retirement papers until the contract is completed or else it would result in salary cap consequences.

The news is not surprising, but it officially allows the Blackhawks to move on without him in the fold roster-wise and toy around with some options this summer.

The first is stashing his contract on long-term injured reserve, as they did last season when they utilized the in-season preference.

The second, which Hossa wondered could happen, is finding a trade partner that would absorb the remainder of his contract, usually done by lower payroll teams aiming to reach the cap floor.

And it wouldn't be difficult trying to find a buyer, considering Hossa's actual salary is $1 million per year over the next three seasons. Hossa, of course, has a no movement clause but it's likely he would waive it given his status at this point.

The good news for Chicago is, the three-time Stanley Cup winner didn't rule out joining the Blackhawks organization in some capacity after his contract expires in 2020-21, whether it's in a front office role or as a team ambassador.

In 19 NHL seasons, Hossa accumulated 525 goals and 609 assists for 1,134 points in 1,309 regular-season games, and added 149 points (52 goals, 97 assists) in 205 postseason contests. He's one of 45 players in league history to net at least 500 goals in his career.