The Circus Trip: Blackhawks moments to remember

The Circus Trip: Blackhawks moments to remember

CALGARY, Alberta – The Circus Trip. It’s garnered a name and presence all its own in its years of existence.

A staple of the Blackhawks’ season (and the Bulls’ too), it’s as synonymous with them as their raucous national anthem at the United Center. Regardless of their record at the end of this trip this season, the Blackhawks will likely remember it for a long time. Because it’s their last.

As Chris Kuc reported in Monday’s Chicago Tribune, this is the final Circus Trip for the Blackhawks and Bulls. No more two-week absences from the United Center every November. There will no longer be that lengthy trek through Western Canada and California. From now on, the Blackhawks (we figure, anyway) will have a more normal travel schedule.

Still, we’ll never forget this trip. As coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday, “it’s worked out pretty well.” Well, at least the last few years it has. So before we get into the heart of the final one, let’s look back at some of the Blackhawks’ good and bad Circus Trip moments.

1. Welcome to the Blackhawks, Marian Hossa. As we talk of Hossa’s resurgence this season let’s go back to his first game with the Blackhawks, Nov. 25, 2009. On that night Hossa was part of a special game, as the Blackhawks tied a franchise record with three short-handed goals in a 7-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks. Hossa had one of those short-handed efforts (Troy Brouwer and Patrick Sharp had the other two).

2. A line is born. The 2014-15 Blackhawks were so-so to start the season and struggling to find balanced lines. On this trip they struck gold when they formed the second line of Kris Versteeg, Brad Richards and Patrick Kane. The trio paced the Blackhawks, who went 5-1-0 on that trip.

3. One streak ends, another continues. When the Los Angeles Kings came back to beat the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime last Nov. 28, it was the first time the Blackhawks lost a regular-season game after leading through the first 40 minutes since April 12, 2014. But, it was a good night individually for Kane, who recorded a point in his 19th consecutive game. That eclipsed the record for a U.S.-born player, which was shared by Eddie Olczyk and Phil Kessel at the time. Kane’s streak would reach 26 consecutive games. 

4. A rough night vs. their rivals. Those of us who cover the Circus Trip now have seen the Blackhawks have a ton of success on it. But back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, not so much. The Blackhawks-St. Louis Blues game on Nov. 27, 1999 was particularly painful for several reasons. First, Jocelyn Thibault left the game early after an Al MacInnis slap shot broke his left ring finger. Then Marc Lamothe, making his NHL debut, allowed seven more goals en route to the Blues’ 8-3 victory over the Blackhawks. Double ouch, indeed.

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5. Home cooking. In the Blackhawks’ first trip to Winnipeg in 2013, Jonathan Toews’ five-game point streak was snapped. When the Blackhawks returned on Nov. 21 of that year Toews was stellar, recording a four-point game (a goal, three assists) in the Blackhawks’ 6-3 victory over the Jets. This game jump-started the Blackhawks, coming off a 5-1 loss to Colorado the previous game, to finish this Circus Trip with five consecutive victories.

6. A bad penalty kill night. The Blackhawks had their rough moments earlier this season on the kill but they didn’t have a game like they did against the New York Rangers on Dec. 6, 1995. That night the Blackhawks played the Rangers to a 5-5 tie but all of the Rangers’ goals were power-play goals, the fourth time the Blackhawks had allowed that many to an opponent in a game in franchise history.

7. A lopsided one in Edmonton. The Blackhawks’ games against the Oilers on their long trips are either really good or really terrible. The one we’re discussing here, from Nov. 19, 2011, was the latter. Then-Oilers forward Taylor Hall recorded his second career hat trick as Edmonton pummeled the Blackhawks 9-2. The Blackhawks had a quick trip to Las Vegas planned following this game, and we wondered if they’d go after that drubbing. They did. 

8. A plucky comeback. Entering their game against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 25, 2011, the Blackhawks had lost three in a row on their Circus Trip (including the previously mentioned game vs. Edmonton). After the first 40 minutes of this one, they trailed the Ducks 4-2. But when the third period started, the Blackhawks’ offense woke up. Toews and Sharp each scored twice in the first 9:22 of the third period as the Blackhawks came back to win 6-5. 

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators


Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four of five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

In a 10-part series, we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-09 season, the start of the Blackhawks dynasty.

Starting a dynasty means you have to identify a group of core players to build your team around. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews were those guys, along with Marian Hossa, who joined that mix later on.

You also need a mixture of young talent and strong veterans to fill out the depth to become successful. That's exactly what the Blackhawks had at the beginning of their dynasty and throughout.

On the first day of NHL free agency in 2008, the Blackhawks inked All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal, which solidified Chicago as a destination players wanted to commit to long term. That same year, Kris Versteeg emerged as the Blackhawks' third Calder Trophy candidate in two years, Martin Havlat and Andrew Ladd set a career high in points with 77 and 49, respectively, while youngsters Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien began to make a name for themselves as valuable pieces to the puzzle.

"Real good group of guys," Joel Quenneville said on Oct. 18, 2008. "I can say that it's the first time I walked in the room where, wow, I was impressed."

Six of the Blackhawks' Top 10 scorers in 2008-09 were aged 23 or younger. The average age for the other four? 27. The youth movement was real and they all contributed in a big way.