Blackhawks

Brandon Saad on Blackhawks: 'This is where I want to be'

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Brandon Saad on Blackhawks: 'This is where I want to be'

There was no hemming and hawing for Brandon Saad, no talk of what he could be getting with his current contract ending and pending restricted free-agent status.

Instead, it was all about how he could stay with the Blackhawks.

“The money’s going to come and go. But to win championships and play on a great team, that’s what it’s all about,” Saad said. "I’m looking forward to getting something done pretty quick.”

Saad is going to get a nice little payday regardless of where he goes. That payday would definitely be more elsewhere. But the lure of staying with the Blackhawks, who have won three Stanley Cups since 2010, including the last two with Saad, is more of an enticing carrot.

[MORE HAWKS: Blackhawks roll with the changes en route to another Cup]

The Blackhawks have become a model of success in the salary-cap world that was supposed to keep dynasties – or whatever you want to call this – from happening. Staying here and possibly winning more championships appeals to Saad, and he’s willing to take a little less cash to keep winning here.

“They’ve been great to me,” Saad said of the Blackhawks, who selected him in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. “Obviously you play the game to win. This is where I want to be.”

General manager Stan Bowman has been confident that he’ll re-sign the 22-year-old and he reiterated that on Wednesday.

“He’ll be a big part of our group for many years to come. We’ll make it work; that’s not a concern to me,” Bowman said of Saad. “Brandon’s been a big part of this, he’s grown as a player and we want him to continue to grow and take a bigger role next year. I think we’ve seen him emerge over the last couple of seasons. He’s just starting to grow into a big role on our team and that’ll continue for many years to come. We’ll work that out. I have confidence in that, in terms of bringing a player like Brandon back.”

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It’s not the first time players have taken less money to stay in Chicago. Bryan Bickell has struggled since signing his four-year, $16-million deal in the summer of 2013 but, considering how he played that 2013 postseason, he likely would’ve gotten more elsewhere. Niklas Hjalmarsson signed his current deal a year before his previous contract ran out and didn’t take that big of a raise to stay with the Blackhawks. At the time Hjalmarsson said, “maybe I could have gotten more [money] somewhere else but I make a lot of money.” The lure of the Blackhawks and the potential to win more here keeps players from testing a market that certainly would pay them more.

The salary cap for 2015-16 will probably end up around $71 million. The Blackhawks will have to do some number crunching again this offseason. Some players will not be re-signed and some will be traded. But Bowman has no intention of letting Saad go, and it doesn’t sound like Saad wants to leave, anyway.

“It’s not about the money,” said Saad. “We love playing the game, and to be in Chicago and be a part of a great team where we get along, it’s a great group of guys and we have a lot of fun. This is the goal, to get something done and be in Chicago.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

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

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USA TODAY

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."