Blackhawks

Blackhawks offseason thoughts: on staying indoors and salary caps

Blackhawks offseason thoughts: on staying indoors and salary caps

It was such a strange sight to see you wondered if it was a typo. When the NHL released its 2017-18 schedule of special events, there were two outdoor games listed but the Blackhawks weren’t in either of them.

The Blackhawks’ participation in these games had become so commonplace that you just expected it to be part of the schedule every season. But for the first time since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season (when there wasn’t any outdoor games), the Blackhawks will be playing all their contests indoors.

This a good thing, a bit of a relief. Listen, the outdoor games are still fun to a degree especially if they’re new to you. But with everything else, the bloom falls off the rose when you’re inundated with the same teams playing every year. You need variety of teams and you need different locations – Minnesota and St. Louis finally got their opportunities the past two seasons, and provided wonderful settings. The NHL putting games at the service academies is another great idea. Again, keep the variety going.

From the Blackhawks’ standpoint, there’s probably another reason they need a break: they haven’t fared well in these games. Most of the games have been close – we’ll not get into that 2015 debacle in Minnesota – but the Blackhawks have nevertheless lost four of the five outdoor games they’ve played. Their lone win was that 2014 snow-globe-like game at Soldier Field.

At the same time we don’t expect the Blackhawks’ absence from the outdoor games to last for long. They move the dials, whether they win or not. But for right now, the break from the spectacle game is a good one.

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Speaking of recurrent themes with the Blackhawks… NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on Monday that the 2017-18 salary cap could be anywhere from the $73 million it was this season to $77 million, depending on if the NHLPA agrees to exercise the 5-percent inflator. Chances are that happens, giving teams a little more wiggle room.

The Blackhawks will have decisions to make no matter what, but the less the cap goes up the worse it’ll be. According to Capfriendly.com, the Blackhawks’ current projected cap hit for 2017-18 is $77,520,628. That includes performance bonuses from the 2016-17 season (close to $3.56 million) and the new contracts for Richard Panik ($2.8 million) and Michal Kempny ($900K), both of whom recently re-signed.

It’s going to be another season of the Blackhawks trying to shed a medium-to-sizeable contract and leaning on young (read: inexpensive) players to fill in the gaps. Regarding the latter part of that equation, the present and future look bright. Ryan Hartman is coming off a great season. Nick Schmaltz looked better in the second half and should improve. If Tyler Motte can reach pre-injury levels, he could make an impact. But shedding the money is going to be the critical issue.

So many contracts with no-movement clauses, instances in which you’ll have to convince the player you currently have as much as the potential trade partner that his going elsewhere is a good idea. As I’ve mentioned previously the Blackhawks did do this before; Brian Campbell and his then-massive contract was traded to the Florida Panthers at the 2011 NHL draft. Can they do something like that again?

The Blackhawks should shed some salary in the expansion draft, especially if the Vegas Golden Knights pluck Marcus Kruger and his $3.08 cap hit. But again, nothing is guaranteed.

The numbers are kind of/sort of in on the 2017-18 cap. Chances are the cap will go up and give the Blackhawks some breathing room. But it won’t be much and it’ll be another offseason of serious math. Considering contracts they have on the roster, the math will just be that much tougher.

Podcast: Blackhawks take 2-1 series lead with amazing 4-3 win over the Oilers

Podcast: Blackhawks take 2-1 series lead with amazing 4-3 win over the Oilers

Host Pat Boyle is joined by 2013 Stanley Cup champion and Blackhawks analyst Jamal Mayers as they discuss the Hawks' 4-3 win over the Oilers in a game that went down to the final 1:16. They discuss Toews' game-winning goal, the commanding lead the Hawks took in the series, and will the Blackhawks be able to close the Oilers out in game 4?

(1:15) - Biggest takeaway from the Hawks' win

(8:09) - Hawks special teams breakdown

(10:20) - Hawks' power play

(15:20) - How will the Oilers respond to being one game away from elimination?

(22:00) - Will the Hawks be able to close out the Oilers in game 4?

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Blackhawks turn back the clock, channel late-game heroics in Game 3 win over Oilers

Blackhawks turn back the clock, channel late-game heroics in Game 3 win over Oilers

When the Blackhawks were winning Stanley Cups during the dynasty era, one of their best attributes was their ability to come through in clutch situations even when they weren’t at their best.

The Blackhawks desperately needed a moment like that in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers. And they delivered.

After trailing 3-2 going into the third period, the Blackhawks scored two goals in a span of 4:31 in the final six minutes of regulation thanks to a pair of redirections by Matthew Highmore and Jonathan Toews, who scored his second goal of the game and recorded his 11th game-winning postseason goal to tie Bobby Hull, Patrick Kane and Stan Mikita for most in franchise history.

It felt like old times again.

"We stuck with it," Toews said following a 4-3 win on Wednesday night. "It was a great team effort, some great contributions from all over our lineup."

As the “home” team in Game 3, the Blackhawks took over the Oilers’ dressing room and made themselves feel, well, at home. They hit the ice in their red sweaters, which was strange to see outside the United Center and brought back memories of the old days.

But nothing made the Blackhawks feel more at home than when a recorded rendition of the National Anthem and O Canada sung by Jim Cornelison blared over the speakers prior to puck drop. And while there were no fans in attendance to blow the roof off Rogers Place, the Blackhawks certainly felt comfort knowing a part of Chicago was with them in Edmonton.

"We noticed those little details," Toews said. 

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There were lots of ups and downs in Game 3, and it would’ve been easy for the Blackhawks to let their frustrations get the best of them. 

They hit five posts. They went 1-for-6 on the power play, with their only goal coming during a 5-on-3 advantage. They gave up 10 high-danger chances at 5-on-5 through the first two periods and generated just one of their own. Leon Draisaitl (twice) and Connor McDavid made them pay three times, scoring their goals from an average distance of eight feet.

But the Blackhawks dug in, turned back the clock, channeled some late-game heroics against an Oilers team that lost just once in regulation (29-1-2) during the regular season when leading after two periods and have a chance to close out a postseason series on Friday for the first time since the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

"Hard-fought game from us," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We showed a lot of character to stick with it. We were pretty solid defensively, did a good job eliminating their transition, and we found a way to score some dirty goals. Proud of how the guys worked. We'll enjoy it for tonight, then on to the next one."