Blackhawks

Back-and-forth affair sends Hawks to 7th straight loss

668704.png

Back-and-forth affair sends Hawks to 7th straight loss

SAN JOSE, Ca. The response to Jonathan Toews getting knocked around was much like the Blackhawks overall performance on their winless skid: it was there, but it needed to be more and it needed to be quicker.

Toews was roughed up early, and the Blackhawks couldnt get retribution on the scoreboard as the San Jose Sharks beat them 5-3 at HP Pavilion on Friday night. It was another frustrating game for the Blackhawks, who are now winless in seven straight (0-6-1).

The Blackhawks are still somehow in sixth place in the Western Conference, but theyre still losing ground in points. First-place Detroit is now 11 points ahead of them.

The Hawks talked positives after Fridays game but that was little consolation in the grand scheme of things. They still allowed three Sharks power-play goals, two of which put them in an early 2-0 hole and those little gaffes once again turned into big opposing goals.

The Sharks used their physical edge early and often, with Toews in the crosshairs. When Sharks captain Joe Thornton took a few shots at Toews, the Blackhawks didnt respond as quickly as they should have. And when defenseman Sean ODonnnell and Duncan Keith did respond it somehow became a Sharks power play.

Its a little confusing how we get the extra penalty there. Im not sure how many free shots theyre allowed to get. We defend ourselves and get the extra two minutes, Toews said. Its tough to look on the bright side of things but we played hard out there. We saw some fights, saw some scratching and clawing, some battling in front of the net. We played the way we had to. We just gave them too many opportunities on the power play and thats how they separated themselves.

Corey Crawford struggled again, allowing five goals on 27 shots. Asked about goaltending after, coach Joel Quenneville said that has to be better.

The Blackhawks did show their best mettle in the second period, when two Marcus Kruger goals tied the game at 2. Jamal Mayers, who fought Ryan Clowe and was also part of the scuffle with Toews -- was also put on the top line for protective measure. It worked, by the way.

I think that there were a few things said to get us back on track and to be a little more resilient, Mayers said of the first intermission. We know how we have to play. Weve been talking about it for a couple days. Its about executing.

But it was the poor execution that overshadowed things once again. Viktor Stalberg had another costly turnover he didnt play much after committing it, either the Blackhawks gave up another power-play goal and Crawford was too far out of the net again.

The Blackhawks keep trying to find the positives in this skid. There were some here and there, and their second period was a reminder of what they can do when they want to. But the good moments, like physical retaliations, havent been enough to outweigh the problems.

These are tough times right now, said Marian Hossa. We need to get out of the slump. We talk about it, but we cant just put our heads down. We just have to battle through it. Obviously its not a fun time right now.

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

john_tavares_usa_today.jpg
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

johnny-t.jpg
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.