Blackhawks

Closing it out: Five things from Blackhawks-Wild

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Closing it out: Five things from Blackhawks-Wild

ST. PAUL, Minn. — When the Blackhawks began their second-round series with the Minnesota Wild, many expected this series to go six, seven games to declare a winner.

But in just four games — albeit four close games — the Blackhawks dispatched the Wild for the third consecutive postseason. The end came quicker than most of us foresaw, even those of us who shun predictions like Dracula shuns sunlight. Maybe it was experience, maybe it was all parts of their game clicking, but the Blackhawks collected their second series sweep since 2010, when they did the same to the San Jose Sharks in that year’s Western Conference Finals.

[MORE: Blackhawks sweep Wild, move on to Western Conference Final]

So before we pack up and head home for an extended rest, let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 4-3 victory over the Wild.

1. Playing to the end.

Yes, it was an interesting ending with the Wild scoring twice in the final two-plus minutes to cut Chicago’s lead to just one goal. As coach Joel Quenneville called it, it was “haywire.” Still, this was a pretty complete effort, not just in this game but also in the other three. The Blackhawks knew it wasn’t going to be easy. They knew the Wild would come with everything it had, and it just about forced a Game 5. But credit the Blackhawks for coming up with that one last stop at the end to avoid playing another game.

2. Patrick Kane does it again.

Let’s all move past the “oh, he was supposed to be out 12 weeks” thing, shall we? Kane isn’t the first guy to come back after six or seven weeks from a fractured clavicle. Not sure, though, that many have come back as well as he has. After a decent first round Kane took off in this one, and he scored his fifth goal of this series in the third period tonight. Said Kane following this one, “I still think there’s some areas that I can try to improve a little bit.” Sure, let’s go with that.

[SHOP: Get a Patrick Kane jersey here]

3. Defensive changes coming.

Michal Rozsival suffered a horrific-looking left-leg injury on Thursday night and Quenneville said it “doesn’t look good.” Doubt Rozsival is back for the Western Conference Finals or beyond this postseason. The Blackhawks’ remaining defensemen, especially the top four, played well in the period-plus of Rozsival’s absence. Those four will benefit from the rest they’ll get now and Quenneville has to figure out his fifth and sixth defensemen. Does David Rundblad draw in? Does Kimmo Timonen, who’s playing limited minutes stay in the lineup? As Quenneville always tells us, we’ll see.

4. A frustrating end for the Wild.

Minnesota thought it had enough to get over the hump this season, to finally beat the Blackhawks in the postseason. But as in the previous two times against the Blackhawks, the Wild’s best weren’t that in this series. Zach Parise had just one goal, and that was in Game 1. Same for Nino Niederreiter, who didn’t score until the waning minutes of Game 4. Ryan Suter had a horrible series. Devan Dubnyk wasn’t the difference in goal. The Wild had a tremendous second half to the regular season. They deserve full marks for getting this far. But head to head vs. the Blackhawks, the same issues were there once again.

5. Get some rest.

We’ll see how long this Western Conference Final wait ends up being, but the Blackhawks will take any rest they can get this time of year. They should have a couple of days, at least, to relax, unwind and watch other teams play hockey. Let’s not get into the rust-or-ready stuff yet. It’s the postseason, and healing bumps and bruises, even if they’re minor, is more important right now. The Blackhawks have earned a nice break. They’ll use it wisely.

2019 NHL free agent focus: Five potential targets for Blackhawks

2019 NHL free agent focus: Five potential targets for Blackhawks

Stan Bowman has had a busy last couple weeks. He pulled off a pair of trades, landing defensemen Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan from the Eastern Conference. He drafted center Kirby Dach with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft that could turn into a franchise-changing player. And now he’s in the middle of negotiations with pending restricted and unrestricted free agents.

With the defensemen group starting to take shape, it appears free agency will be used to fill out the forward group. That could come via trades, also, but it really depends on the market.

So let’s identify five potential UFA targets for the Blackhawks ahead of Monday, when players are officially able to sign contracts:

1. Ryan Dzingel, LW

When Dzingel was with the Ottawa Senators, he was playing top-six minutes and earning power-play time because the Senators weren’t very deep. After getting traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the deadline, he struggled to be a fit there, didn't play much on the power play and was healthy scratched for one game in the playoffs.

But he still has value, although it may not be in an area that the Blackhawks need (penalty kill).

Dzingel, a Wheaton native, set a career high in goals (26), assists (30) and points (56) in 78 games this past season with the Senators and Blue Jackets. He can play in the top-six but might be more effective as a middle-six winger on a good team.

According to Evolving Wild, Dzingel is projected to earn a contract of four years with a $4.25 million cap hit. 

2. Anders Lee, LW

It’s a little surprising that the New York Islanders and their captain haven’t made any progress on a long-term extension. At the same time, it’s pretty clear that Lou Lamoriello is looking to make a big splash this summer in his pursuit of Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, and needs financial flexibility to negotiate.

Lee is a perfect complementary top-six left winger who would look great next to Jonathan Toews or opposite Patrick Kane. He’s got size at 6-foot-3, 231 pounds, is reliable, scored 40 goals in 2017-18 and has a strong work ethic. Those qualities check a lot of boxes the Blackhawks are looking for.

Where it gets tricky is what his contract may look like. He's projected to receive in the range of a seven-year deal that carries a $6.5 million cap hit. The dollar amount is doable, but the term could scare the Blackhawks away as they prepare to sign Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome to long-term extensions next summer.

3. Gustav Nyquist, LW

The Blackhawks have been interested in Nyquist's services in the past, so they'll certainly look into him as a possibility now that he hits the open market.

Nyquist has scored at least 20 goals in four of his past six seasons, with 28 being his career high. But he's not known to be a goal scorer. He's a pass-first, playmaking-type winger and makes players around him better because of it. Nyquist is a consistent 45-55-point player.

His next contract is projected to be in the six-year, $5.6 million range, which — like Lee — is a fair dollar amount but the term may not be something the Blackhawks are crazy about. Bowman appears to be focused on free-agent forwards who can be signed on shorter-term deals.

4. Joe Pavelski, C/RW

Perhaps the most intriguing player on the free-agent market for the Blackhawks is Pavelski, who’s served as the San Jose Sharks captain but may not fit into their plans going forward because of their cap crunch.

Yes, he will turn 35 in July. And yes, he has a ton of mileage on his body. But he’s showing no signs of slowing down. 

Pavelski is a five-time 30-goal scorer who’s coming off a 38-goal season, can play both center and wing, and is an absolute gamer, a leader on and off the ice who shows up when the lights are shining brightest. He’s also not afraid to go to the dirty areas and is widely considered to be one of the best at deflecting pucks, which comes in handy on the power play.

What makes him an attractive piece is that Pavelski could be a player that makes an immediate impact but wouldn't require a long-term deal. He's projected to earn a three-year contract with a cap hit of $7.4 million. If the Blackhawks can get him at two years, that would be ideal. But like Patrick Marleau a few years ago in Toronto, his camp is probably looking for that third year.

5. Corey Perry, LW

Days after he was bought out by the Ducks, Perry’s name surfaced as a possibility for the Blackhawks. And it makes sense because the Blackhawks aren't looking to hand out long-term contracts.

Perry is 34 years old, a former Hart Trophy winner and 50-goal scorer, and is still a productive player when healthy. But that's the biggest concern. He missed 51 games this season with a knee injury, returned ahead of schedule and never looked the same on the ice.

Per the CBA, Perry can sign a one-year, bonus-laden deal and it appears that's what he'll do. A one-year contract in the $2-3 million with bonuses would be a low risk, high reward move for the Blackhawks.

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: What will be Stan Bowman's next move?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: What will be Stan Bowman's next move?

Gabe Ramirez, Vinnie Duber, and Jay Cohen join Kap on the panel to discuss game two of Cubs vs. Braves and the battle of the Soxes.

Plus with the start of free agency coming up, what will be Stan Bowman's next move?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

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