Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Teuvo Teravainen playing his game again

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Blackhawks: Teuvo Teravainen playing his game again

Teuvo Teravainen was critical of his first two games.

He spent a majority of both on the Blackhawks’ top line, playing left with with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. But Teravainen just wasn’t his usual puck-possessive self. Game 3, however, he was back at center on the third line. And in that game, a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders, Teravainen looked more like the guy from late in the postseason.

“Yeah, I felt a little better,” he said. “Maybe I get pucks more and get my game going a little bit more. I felt better. I’m not that happy how I started the first couple of games so I try to improve my game.”

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Teravainen was much improved on Saturday because he played his game. The wing-turned-center-turned-wing-turned-center again was skating with more confidence. He was holding the puck more, practicing patience, making passes at the right time and shooting more. His latest outing showed more of what the Blackhawks want from him.

“He was better the last game when he did go to center,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Him with the puck is his strength. He can find it more and keep it more.”

Teravainen could be that guy with Toews and Hossa, too. But in his first game plus with the duo, Teravainen was more focused on getting it to his two veteran line mates more than keeping it for himself and playing his game.

“Yeah, maybe I was thinking a little too much,” said Teravainen. “I just have to be myself and don’t try to make too many plays. I have to hold onto the puck more and be myself more.”

Toews said he talked with Teravainen about holding onto the puck more – “I was jokingly, but mostly serious, [telling] him, like, ‘No, you’re the guy on the line. You want the puck.’”

Teravainen played that way during the Stanley Cup finals with two other veterans, Patrick Sharp and Antoine Vermette. Sure, he was on the wing with that line, but he was still effective on both sides of the puck and not afraid to hold onto it.

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Now centering the third line again – with Bryan Bickell and Viktor Tikhonov – Teravainen is returning to his game.

“He’s very skilled. He has a lot of patience and makes a lot of moves, like that one [pass] he gave me for the one-timer that I missed the net, where I lost some sleep from,” Bickell said of his scoring chance from Teravainen. “You expect the puck when you don’t expect the puck, because he’s going to make plays out of nothing. He has a lot of vision, a lot of poise. He has a good shot. I always tell him to shoot more, and he creates havoc thatway, too.”

The bottom line is Teravainen is at his best when he has the puck more. He could get a chance on that top line again and if he does, he’ll probably play his style more. But for now, Teravainen at center gives the Blackhawks a little more balance on their lines. It also gives him more confidence to play his game.

“I think I’m feeling good with any position I’m playing and any guy I play with, too. I just have to be myself, be around the puck, skate a lot and be active,” he said. “I think I’m getting better.”

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.