Blackhawks

Boden: Blackhawks know their potential

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Boden: Blackhawks know their potential

Ken Hitchcock and the Blues had been, deservingly, receiving league-wide praise for how the teams performed the past month since he took over behind the bench. Hes the Point-B-to-Point-C Cup-winning coach brought in to mold a young, talented group of Blues into realizing their potential. So far, hes been doing just that. And quickly. Without being totally healthy.

But Saturday night, Hitchcock could only praise the team that cooled off his up-and-comers.

They (the Blackhawks) treated it like a playoff game, Hitchcock told reporters. Because that was as hard and competitive a game as weve had since Ive been here. They really came to play.

While St. Louis is still discovering its potential, the Blackhawks know theirs. And so do fans. The core, and all the pieces around it, should still be in the Stanley Cup discussion deep into next May. This was confirmed in their fast start, but it was a pace no team can realistically keep up for six months. Every game they dont look that way brings another dose of panic outside the locker room, wondering why they cant copy their best games, night in and night out.

Theres no perfect team in this league thats as competitive as its ever been. The Blackhawks are still among the best, but figuring out what itll take to get as close to that as possible. Theyve swallowed some medicine the past three weeks by underestimating opponents, and not being as ready for the puck-drop as guys in the other sweaters. The times they do, they can only hope it doesnt make them even more uncomfortable when its time to count points the first weekend of April.

But Saturday in St. Louis was Exhibit A of what this teams capable of doing. Joel Quenneville will keep tinkering. Stan Bowman will be tweaking when he senses he needs more than what he has in place. Itll happen sooner if he senses there are more efforts like last Tuesdays than the one he saw Saturday night. It could be a hungry kid from Rockford wholl add some energy, or a veteran or two, now that the GM enjoys some salary cap flexibility. And hell probably know a lot more based on how his team responds to the heavy home schedule these next six weeks. Monday could be a nice barometer about how long their memory is, since that same Phoenix team they looked so bad against pays a return visit, just six days later.

Ripple Effects in Pebble Beach
Elliotte Friedman of the CBC shared an interesting nugget Saturday night about NHL Realignment options thatll be discussed, perhaps proposed, at the Board of Governors meetings that begin Monday in Pebble Beach. I like the idea, but its unbalanced and probably wont stand a chance of surviving.

In it, the Blackhawks get to keep all their big rivals in an eight-team division thatll also include Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus, Minnesota, Winnipeg, and Dallas. The other eight-team division includes all the other teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. But the top four in each division would advance to the playoffs, and with the two other Eastern time zone divisions containing just seven teams each, you can hear the yelling now from those fifth-place finishers in the eight-team divisions. What if the Blackhawks wound up fifth in that division in the future? On top of that, the only way to balance it geographically would be the same scenario thats being discussed now sending Detroit, Nashville or Columbus to the East. And that still leaves unbalanced divisions. Itll be interesting to see if they reach a final decision on it as soon as this week, with the most likely scenario being Detroit to the East, Winnipeg to the West. And probably no one except those two teams real happy.

Lucas Carlsson out to prove he belongs with Blackhawks

Lucas Carlsson out to prove he belongs with Blackhawks

DALLAS — The Blackhawks have gotten extended looks this season at two of their coveted defensemen prospects in Adam Boqvist and Dennis Gilbert, the latter of whom is better known for his defensive game than offensive prowess. 

On Sunday, it was Lucas Carlsson's turn.

With Erik Gustafsson being held out of the lineup for precautionary reasons ahead of Monday's trade deadline, the Blackhawks called up Carlsson for their four-game road trip that kicked off in Dallas. They wasted no time in throwing their 2016 fourth-round pick into action despite having no practice session or a morning skate for him to get acclimated to the group.

"Maybe it's easier for me to just get right into it, I don't know," a smiling Carlsson said following a 2-1 loss to the Stars. "It was fun, obviously. I was a bit nervous at the start, but I think I got into it pretty quickly. I just try and play my game, don't change anything. Obviously you have to adjust a little bit, everything's much faster here, so it's good."

Head coach Jeremy Colliton said before the game he wanted Carlsson to be clean with the puck, have a tight gap and be physical when he needed to. And Carlsson did exactly that.

The 22-year-old Swedish blue liner had one shot attempt, one blocked shot and three hits in 14:55 of ice time while playing on the second pairing with Connor Murphy. He wasn't too noticeable, but that's not intended to sound negative. He kept it simple, played his game and didn't make any glaring mistakes in his NHL debut.

"I thought he was good," Colliton said. "He was assertive, physical, made plays, skated the puck. He did well for himself, so [I'm] happy for him in his first game."

The one noticeable offensive play Carlsson did make came in the third period when he delivered a nifty backhand pass between his legs in the slot to Dominik Kubalik, who looked surprised it even got to him. It nearly created a prime scoring chance, but the puck got away from Kubalik.

Carlsson clearly wasn't lacking confidence, which is always a good thing as younger players tend to play timid while they try figuring out the league. He's a sound defender with some offensive upside — he led all Rockford IceHogs defensemen in goals (five), assists (21) and points (26) — and is out to prove he belongs at the NHL level.

"Of course," Carlsson said. "I still have one more year on my contract, so I want to show what I can do and hopefully play a few more games here and see what happens."

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Will Brandon Saad be traded by Blackhawks again? He hopes not

Will Brandon Saad be traded by Blackhawks again? He hopes not

DALLAS — Brandon Saad knows what it’s like to be traded. He’s been moved twice in his NHL career — once from Chicago to Columbus and then again from Columbus to Chicago. Both of those deals were made in the summer, though, and they were also unexpected.

With the NHL trade deadline on Monday at 2 p.m., Saad knows his name is out there and admitted the possibility of being dealt is on his mind.

"A little bit," Saad said following a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Sunday. "That's part of the business, right? Love it here in Chicago but it is what it is. You wait for tomorrow and there's always rumors floating, but at the end of the day, you just focus on hockey games and winning here with the Blackhawks and see what happens."

The Blackhawks aren’t necessarily shopping Saad, but they are listening to offers. The return would have to start with at least a first-round pick for the Blackhawks to even consider that possibility, and it’s unclear whether anybody has gotten close to meeting their demands.

What makes Saad an attractive trade piece is the fact he has one year left on his contract after this season at a $6 million cap hit. General managers across the NHL have been reluctant to give up first-round selections for rentals, and it’s hard to blame them. Giving up a king's ransom for pending unrestricted free agents, historically, backfires more often than not.

Jason Zucker, Blake Coleman and, most recently, Ondrej Kase were all moved and fetched first-rounders because they have term left on their contract. Chris Kreider and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, both of whom are at the top of TSN’s trade bait list, have not been traded with less than 20 hours to go until the deadline and you have to wonder how much that has to do with contending teams not being willing to meet the high price tag for a rental.

The Boston Bruins reportedly expressed interest in Saad, but that was before they acquired Kase. The Edmonton Oilers have also checked in, but would they be willing to part ways with their first-rounder? How about the Colorado Avalanche?

GM Stan Bowman's phone line is going to be busy in the coming hours as teams start to put together their final offers, but Saad is hoping he remains with the Blackhawks.

"It's just part of the business, right?" Saad said. "At the end of the day, you're a hockey player, so you're going to play hard for whoever you're with and take it as it comes. The other ones were in the summertime, so I've never dealt with it at the deadline, so that's always a new experience. But hopefully I'm here in Chicago."

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.