Blackhawks

Blackhawks tapping into youth for physical play

646434.png

Blackhawks tapping into youth for physical play

The Blackhawks shipped out a big, physical presence on Monday when they sent John Scott to the New York Rangers. Now theyll try and get some of that sandpaper from within.

Brandon Bollig was recalled from Rockford today, and Andrew Shaw got his second call on Monday as the Blackhawks prepare for the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow night.

No, Scott never played a ton of minutes for the Blackhawks. He played in just 29 games this season, the final one of his two-year deal with the team. But he was still a physical option. Now Blackhawks young guys get their chance to bring that presence.

If Bolig plays tomorrow, it will be his NHL debut. Bollig skated with Jamal Mayers whos provided the most consistent physical presence this season -- and Jimmy Hayes today. He said hell try to bring whats worked for him in Rockford.

Being sound defensively, finishing every check. Its not just fighting but that physical aspect and bringing that energy that gets the scoring lines going, he said today.

Coach Joel Quenneville said I havent seen (Bollig) play but hes doing well down there. He gives us energy on that line, toughness, with speed and quickness. Hes responsible in the tough areas.

While Bollig is truly a new face, the Blackhawks know exactly what they can get with Andrew Shaw. The rookie stormed out to a hot start when he was first recalled in January, bringing an aggressive style along with a scoring touch. General manager Stan Bowman said Monday that Shaws been playing well in Rockford and deserved another shot.

No, a group of young and rookie players are not going to provide all the solutions right now. But guys like Shaw and Jimmy Hayes brought the Blackhawks a jolt when they needed it back in January, when Patrick Sharp was sidelined with a broken wrist and the team was going through that trying middle part of the season. With the teams recent struggles they could use that youthful energy again.

But the rest of the Blackhawks have to tap into it, too.

We need everybody here, Quenneville said. We have a tough road ahead of us here, a lot of challenges. We have a lot of rookies, young players, who have proven this year they can help us a lot of ways. We need everyone to accept some ownership, be it the leaders or the new guys. We have to move forward together.

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

john_tavares_usa_today.jpg
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

johnny-t.jpg
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.