Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman: 'We have to go out there and earn it'

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman: 'We have to go out there and earn it'

General manager Stan Bowman talked in late January of the Blackhawks' season at that point. It was pretty good, but he figured it was only a matter of time before veterans and youth gelled and it led to bigger and better things. 

Well, here we are, with the Blackhawks earning the No. 1 seed in the West and home ice through the western portion of the playoffs. The work Bowman and the Blackhawks have done up to this point has worked.

Now to see how it comes together in the postseason.

Bowman talked to the media on Thursday morning prior to the Blackhawks hosting the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their first-round series. Bowman said he was as optimistic about this team as he has previous ones.

"We've put ourselves in a good position but none of that really matters at this point. We've got to get out there and earn it, starting tonight," Bowman said. "I like the way our team looks. I think that we've shown we can play really good hockey when we play together as a team. And you have to get out there and do it."

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The biggest question entering this season was how the Blackhawks' rookies would adapt, and how long it would take. When Bowman talked in January, they were playing pretty well. They became even bigger players in the Blackhawks' success after that. Still, the stage is that much bigger now, and the inexperience factor at this one could loom large. But Bowman thinks the rookies can handle it.

"They are technically still rookies. But they've played, most of them have played all year in the NHL. They have not been through a playoff run here in Chicago but they've all been through big runs. Nick Schmaltz won the national championship last year. He was part of a team that did something special in pressure moments. It's not like these guys have never played in pressure situations, so you have to give them a chance to do that," Bowman said. "You have to be an NHL playoff rookie at some point and I think they'll get through it fine."

These Blackhawks are a mix of veterans who have been here a few times and rookies who haven't. Through most of the season, however, the number of NHL years accrued usually didn't matter: everyone on the team contributed at some point. Bowman believes it can continue in the playoffs but the task gets that much tougher.

"We don't take anything for granted," Bowman said. "We had a very good regular season. I'm proud of what we accomplished. But now we start over. And everyone starts with a clean slate."

Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

Report: Blackhawks will head to Edmonton in NHL's Return to Play plan

The NHL and NHL Players' Association worked diligently into the late hours on Tuesday and reportedly made significant progress as the two sides look to come to an overall agreement on the protocols and safety measures for Phase 3 and 4, transition rules and a Collective Bargaining Agreement extension. 

Nothing is official until the entire deal is ratified — the voting could take place Friday or Saturday — but, barring any last-minute breakdowns, Edmonton and Toronto are expected to be named the two hub cities for the league's 24-team Return to Play plan, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie. Chicago was among the four finalists from a field that started with 10 candidates.

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Vegas was a clear frontrunner from the beginning because of its appealing and tight bubble environment, but the NHL and NHLPA were forced to shift its attention elsewhere after an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.

It was originally believed that the league would put each conference in opposite regions to eliminate any sort of competitive advantage, but that no longer appears to be the case. The Western Conference is expected to play in Edmonton while the Eastern Conference will go to Toronto, which means the Blackhawks will head to Edmonton if or when hockey officially returns.

Both hub cities will host exhibition games, the qualifying round and Rounds 1 and 2 of the playoffs, but only one of them will host the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final. It's unclear which city will host the latter.

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

Report: Blackhawks' Ian Mitchell not expected to play in NHL's 24-team playoff

When the NHL's Return To Play plan and 24-team playoff format were originally being hashed out, there was some hope that the Blackhawks could receive some much-needed defensive depth from Ian Mitchell. But that may not be the case.

Chicago could use all the help they can get in their potential best-of-5 play-in series against the Oilers under the league's format.

Mitchell, 21, was drafted by the Hawks in the second round (No. 57 overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He spent the past three seasons at the University of Denver, captaining the Pioneers this past year and setting a career high in goals (10) and points (32) through 36 games.

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The promising defenseman signed a three-year entry-level contract with Chicago in April after the NHL paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11.

Wednesday morning, TSN's Bob McKenzie reported players in a similar boat to Mitchell who signed during the pause, as well as unsigned draft picks, are not expected to be eligible if and when the NHL resumes to finish the 2019-20 season.