Blackhawks clinch playoff berth with win over Canucks


Blackhawks clinch playoff berth with win over Canucks

VANCOUVER — The Blackhawks wanted Andrew Ladd back because of the impact he made during the 2010 Stanley Cup run and what he could do this postseason.

He certainly did his part to help them secure that playoff berth this weekend.

Ladd scored the game-winning goal with 2:27 remaining in regulation as the Blackhawks guaranteed another place in the playoffs with their 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday. Ladd had four points this weekend — his 23rd goal of the season tonight and two goals and an assist in a 4-1 victory over Calgary on Saturday night. It’s what the Blackhawks envisioned when they reacquired him at the deadline.

“Yeah, love the way he played the last couple of games,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Ladd. “He brings that presence, got some pace to his game, has some energy. He was rewarded with some huge goals for us.”

The Blackhawks remain in third place in the Central Division with 95 points. Nashville, idle tonight, is in fourth with 91 points.

Scott Darling collected his second victory in as many nights, stopping 26 of 28 shots. Teuvo Teravainen scored his 13th goal of the season and Tomas Fleischmann scored his fourth since the Blackhawks acquired him from the Montreal Canadiens. Trevor van Riemsdyk had two assists.

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On Sunday, that top line of Ladd, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa probably looked its best since being assembled. They, as well as the rest of the Blackhawks, got off to a strong start in this one. And Ladd was rewarded at the end, as he took the pass from Toews to give the Blackhawks the victory.

“I figured as soon as [Toews] got the middle there, probably open up a lane on the back side and I just tried to find a spot and get ready to shoot one,” Ladd said. “Luckily I got a pretty good shot off.”

The Blackhawks had two previous leads in this one, first thanks to Fleischmann and then to Teravainen, who was the beneficiary of a pretty tic-tac-toe from Patrick Kane to van Riemsdyk to him.

“I just found myself in a good spot there and I just gave it to Teuvo,” van Riemsdyk said. “He made a nice shot, just put it under the bar.”

Darling, meanwhile, was good once again. He was critical when the Blackhawks had to kill off Toews’ double-minor high-sticking midway through the third period and he later made a diving glove save on an Alex Burrows shot.

“He was our best player both games,” Ladd said of Darling. “A lot of times, especially in those big penalty kills, he has to come up with big saves. He’s played great for us the last little bit.”

The Blackhawks played better this weekend. They got four much-needed points and may be betting some confidence back. But the Blackhawks aren’t just happy with getting into the postseason. They want to hone their game down the stretch and continue to build off what they did in Western Canada.

“All of these games are valuable right now,” van Riemsdyk said. “We’re just working our way to playing the right way, kind of building momentum that way. We know the importance of every night and we’re trying to make use of every game.”

The next wave of Blackhawks defensemen is coming


The next wave of Blackhawks defensemen is coming

It seems like yesterday the Blackhawks were scraping for young, impact defensemen prospects. Just one, even.

Oh, how that's changed significantly over the last 12 months.

In 2015 and 2016, the Blackhawks did not own a first-round pick. And before that, they hadn't drafted a defenseman in the first round since Dylan Olsen — 28th overall — in 2009. Luckily, they had already hit on Duncan Keith (second round in 2002) and Brent Seabrook (first round in 2003) in back-to-back drafts, and two years later on Niklas Hjalmarsson (fourth round in 2005).

That was a long time ago. Keith is turning 35 in July and Seabrook turned 33 in April. The Blackhawks have gotten that second wave of talent up front with Alex DeBrincat, Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Dylan Sikura. The same can't be said for the defense.

But it's coming.

Since last June, the Blackhawks have added defensemen Henri Jokiharju, Ian Mitchell, Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin to their pipeline and used each of their three first-round picks in the past two drafts to do it. Mitchell was the lone second-round pick, and he had an oustanding freshman season at Denver, meaning he could be ready sooner than later — probably after his sophomore campaign.

Despite the need for defensemen, the Blackhawks never wavered on their draft approach and the desire to add instant help didn't impact how they went about this past weekend. Draft the best player available and you can't go wrong.

The good news for the Blackhawks is, the players that were rated highest on their board when their picks rolled around were positional needs. How fitting.

"Coming into the draft, we're just looking for the best value players we have; guys ranked the highest at their spots," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said on drafting Boqvist and Beaudin. "It just so happened they're both defensemen, which is great because that's a very important position. I think they're the highest valued assets.

"Calling around this week about potential trades and looking for players and they're the hardest things to find. We didn't draft them just because they're defensemen. We like both of their style of play, their skill set. I think they both play the modern NHL game. Both have bright futures."

There are high hopes for all four of them.

Then you look deeper inside the organization and you'll find Gustav Forsling, who was once considered the Blackhawks' top defensive prospect and currently finds himself in the five-spot. Yet, he's the most NHL ready and could have a full-time role with the Blackhawks next season.

Peel the next layer and you'll see Blake Hillman, who showed promise and great situational defensive awareness in his brief stint last season. Dennis Gilbert, who brings size and physicality, offers a different element and will continue his developement with the Rockford IceHogs. And then there's Lucas Carlsson and Carl Dahlstrom, both of whom could make things interesting in training camp.

Suddenly, the Blackhawks are faced with having, what you would call, a good problem to have by putting together one of the best young defensive farm systems in the league.

Now, that's not to say that each of these guys are going to pan out the way the Blackhawks are hoping they will. But you're increasing your chances by collecting a number of players with high-end talent and creating competition.

The real question is when they'll all be ready.

While there may be temptation to push them along to help the Blackhawks in the short term, it's important to resist that because the future on the back end looks promising if they each grow at their own pace.

Boqvist has the potential to be Erik Karlsson as a best-case scenario. Even if he can be half of that, that's a win. Jokiharju's ceiling is whatever he wants it to be, and throwing Boqvist into the mix perhaps alleviates some pressure off his shoulders. Beaudin and Mitchell each have top-four potential and should develop as such.

Knowing what they could be capable of with proper development, there shouldn't be any reason to rush it. Just be excited they're on the way.

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?


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.