Blackhawks

Blackhawks prep for Rangers without Brent Seabrook

Blackhawks prep for Rangers without Brent Seabrook

The Blackhawks broke out of their scoring slump against one of the league’s worst teams on Tuesday. Now they’ll face one of the best.

Scott Darling will start but Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook will be out when the Blackhawks face the New York Rangers on Friday night at the United Center. Coach Joel Quenneville was hoping at least Toews would skate on Friday but he didn’t. Toews and Seabrook could skate on Saturday but until they do, Quenneville is hesitant to say when they’ll return to game action.

Seabrook will be missing just his third regular-season game since 2012-13. Duncan Keith joked that Seabrook’s absence has meant a quieter locker room — “we’ve gotta talk a little more to get some noise going in here,” he said. But there’s no doubt the Blackhawks will miss Seabrook on the ice.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“On top of everything he brings off the ice for us he’s been such a durable, important player for this team, this organization. When he’s not out there it’s a weird feeling,” Keith said. “We have to do as best we can to play good hockey and try to fill a huge void you can’t really replace.”Michal Kempny appears to be a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game. Quenneville was asked what Kempny needs to improve upon.

“I just think that consistency without the puck and how he defends in his own end is probably the area that there’s growth there in his game. But I still think our defense is pretty good and we’ve got some tough decisions on a game to game basis. He adds one more guy we feel can play,” Quenneville said. “But I think the depth, that’s a strength, and sometimes that’s part of the decision.”

The Rangers, who have 37 points this season, are coming off a 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night. While the Rangers got off to a hot start, winning 13 of their first 17 games, they’ve come down to earth lately (5-4-1 in their last 10). Like the Blackhawks, the Rangers have had their injury issues. Rick Nash (groin) and Jimmy Vesey (upper body) are the latest injuries. Vesey was listed as day-to-day; his status for tonight’s game is not yet known.

Broadcast information

Time: 7:30 p.m.

TV: CSN

Live Stream: CSNChicago.com/NBC Sports app

Blackhawks lines

Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Ryan Hartman-Marcus Kruger -Marian Hossa

Tyler Motte-Dennis Rasmussen-Richard Panik

Andrew Desjardins-Vinnie Hinostroza-Jordin Tootoo

Defensive pairs

Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Gustav Forsling-Michal Rozsival

Goaltender

Scott Darling

Injuries 

Jonathan Toews (back), Brent Seabrook (upper body), Corey Crawford (appendix)

Rangers lines (via New York Daily News)

Michael Grabner-Kevin Hayes-J.T. Miller

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Marek Hrivik-Oscar Lindberg-Jesper Fast

Nicklas Jensen-Josh Jooris-Brandon Pirri

Defensive pairs

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Nick Holden

Brady Skjei-Kevin Klein

Goaltender

Antti Raanta

Injuries

Jimmy Vesey (upper body), Rick Nash (groin), Matt Puempel (concussion), Mika Zibanejad (broken fibula), Pavel Buchnevich (back)

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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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

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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.