Blackhawks: Stan Bowman happy to see Artemi Panarin reach bonuses

Blackhawks: Stan Bowman happy to see Artemi Panarin reach bonuses

ST. LOUIS – Stan Bowman wasn’t sweating the Blackhawks’ money situation as rookie Artemi Panarin neared performance bonuses at the end of the regular season. After all, he got the guy because of his potential success.

“It’s always sort of puzzled me why people look at that as a bad thing,” Bowman said on Wednesday morning. “He’s come in and done something that’s maybe not unheard of but certainly you haven’t seen a first-year player come in and finish that high in the standings for points. And also, you look at the impact he had on our team, we wouldn’t be where we are today without his contributions. So I’m happy for him. I mean we were certainly rooting for him, not against him.”

Bowman talked on various subjects on Wednesday, several hours before the Blackhawks face the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their first-round series. The big topic was Panarin, that bonus money, and that bonus money’s effect on the 2016-17 salary cap that is still unknown.

Panarin was a massive contributor to the Blackhawks this season, his 30 goals the most for a Blackhawks rookie since Eric Daze reached that in 1995-96. After finishing as well as he started — Panarin had two goals and an assist in the Blackhawks’ regular-season finale vs. Columbus — he earned $2.595 in bonuses.

[MORE: Stanley Cup playoff preview: Blues vs. Blackhawks]

While Panarin has been a boon to the Blackhawks, he’s been a bane to the opposition. Linemate Patrick Kane was already tough enough to contain. Now throw in Panarin. St.Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said you have to defend Panarin the same way you do Kane, but you also have to keep in mind how one feeds off the other.

“What they’ve found with each other is that, when you take away their time and space one seems to be supporting the other. One’s close and they make those great little plays with each other,” Shattenkirk said. “Panarin’s been someone who’s caught a lot of people off guard this year. No one knew what to expect out of him but he’s a phenomenal player. He has just a great one-timer from that off side and seems to find those quiet areas that he can get it off. He’s not as crafty as Kane is, but he can certainly make you hurt 1-on1 at the wrong time if you get caught sleeping.”

As far as the offseason math, the salary-cap fun that those bonuses will inflict: Bowman will worry about that this offseason. Well, let’s be honest, Bowman is probably already thinking of the offseason scenarios and cap. It’s what he does. But as far as Panarin goes, Bowman is thrilled to pay the forward who was a critical part of the Blackhawks’ season.

[SHOP: Gear up for the Stanley Cup playoffs, Blackhawks fans!]

Now to see what Panarin can do in the playoffs. Panarin recently said via his interpreter Stan Stiopkin that he doesn’t know what to expect in his first NHL postseason. Considering how he’s handled so many new things already — new country, new language, etc. — you’d think he would adapt pretty quickly to this, too.

Panarin earned some extra cash for his great regular season. Considering how much he helped the Blackhawks get to this point, they’re happy to pay for it.  

“He came in here, he took a chance on us. He had a lot of options. I think we owed it to him to put him in the best position to succeed,” Bowman said. “And you could tell from the beginning of the season when he scored the first goal in the first game there for our team and there was some magic all year long.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers


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.

A 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.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

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


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."