Blackhawks

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade-deadline questions abound

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Blackhawks mailbag: Trade-deadline questions abound

We’ve hit the All-Star break, where Patrick Kane will ultimately be the Blackhawks’ lone representative this weekend in Nashville. Jonathan Toews, who’s been ill for several days, will not be attending. Because of that, he’s also suspended for Tuesday’s game in Colorado.

C’est la vie.

But in our latest mailbag the All-Star Game and all its glitz isn’t what’s on your mind. Nope, it’s the trade deadline, which hits at 2 p.m. CT on Feb. 29. Several of you asked if the Blackhawks acquire someone around that time. The Blackhawks have decent cap space right now ($2.49 million, via generalfanager.com), so a move could be made.

Stan Bowman, talking about the deadline on Tuesday in Carolina and said it’s probably too early to say what the Blackhawks may do. They’re still working in some younger guys, and if things are going well over this last month, the Blackhawks won’t be devastated if they don’t make a move.

Also, a lot of teams are still vying for postseason spots, and who gets close to that and who falls further out of the race will determine potential trade partners.

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“There [are] still a large number of teams who aren’t at that point yet. You don’t know exactly what the pool of players who are going to be available, so we have some ideas on players that might become available, and we’re going to do our work over the coming weeks and follow them and have an idea of who we want to approach,” Bowman said. “And then it just becomes is there a match and does it work, do you have what they are looking for. So I can’t characterize it yet.”

And there’s one more trade-related question involving current roster players.

That I wouldn’t advise. Yes, the Blackhawks have dealt prospective defensemen in the past but those guys aren’t doing much elsewhere. You can still get an experienced guy for a pick or prospect — the Blackhawks got Johnny Oduya for a second- and third-round pick at the 2012 deadline. Not every guy in your defensive group is going to have years of experience. You need to keep some youth for the present and future.

Now, onto the rest of the mailbag:

This is probably a stay-cation more than a vacation, but nevertheless I don’t see much happening these next few days. Besides, moves never happen unless I’m at yoga — please see the news of Toews missing the All-Star weekend — or in the case of Toews and Kane’s signing a few summers ago, on an airplane.

Morning skates are pretty dull. It’s really just a chance for players to get their legs going in the morning and to roll the forward lines. A few teams did away with them this season and I wondered a few months ago if the Blackhawks would do the same. But since they never practice — and why would you with this schedule — the Blackhawks will continue having skates.

There’s a lot of time to figure this one out. As Bowman reminded us on Tuesday, Marcus Kruger is on schedule after December’s wrist surgery but that schedule still doesn’t have him returning until around the start of the playoffs. So Dennis Rasmussen and Phillip Danault are good for a while.

Yes, Andrew Shaw will be a restricted free agent this summer. Bowman, when asked about keeping Shaw, said, “we want to keep all our guys.” The GM is happy to see the year Shaw is having on that top line, too. A lot is going to depend on how much the salary cap rises, and the way the Canadian dollar is going, it probably won’t be much.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

 

It’s possible he gets lost in the cap crunch. Or perhaps the Blackhawks offer him something like they did Kruger this offseason: a little bit of a raise now, knowing a bigger deal could come later). I don’t foresee a Brandon Saad-type trade. No offense to the scrappy Shaw but they’re two different players commanding two different prices and, if that scenario plays out, trade packages.

I think Scott Darling is secure. Darling’s having a decent season (5-4-2 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .911 save percentage), winning three of his last four outings. The Blackhawks aren’t going to be trading for a backup goaltender. The schedule lightens following the break, so Corey Crawford’s going to be getting the bulk of the outings. Darling came in to save the day in the 2015 first round vs. Nashville but Crawford is obviously going to be the guy in the playoffs.

There’s no personal giddiness — again, fan of the game, not of the team — in seeing which players emerge from the minors. But there is curiosity on who will rise through the ranks. At some point, and by that I mean when he’s ready and when the Blackhawks have a legitimate spot for him to play ample minutes in, I’d like to see what Marko Dano can do. Again, I don’t think he’s ready yet and, more important, the Blackhawks don’t either. I’d also like to see Ville Pokka at some point.

I told you I’d answer this, Alex! Unfortunately I have never had the supposed goodness of Pizza 73. Considering how many times I’ve been in Western Canada, I don’t know how I haven’t had it. But you’ve talked me into it. I’ll report back following my next trip to Calgary.

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

The third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."