Competition for roster spots will be intense


Competition for roster spots will be intense

Thursday's discouraging news on the labor front, in which NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced there would be a lockout on September 15 if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached, has a trickle-down effect.
It likely means the Blackhawks and the 29 other teams will be even quieter on player movement until a new CBA is reached. General Managers still wanting to make roster moves can have discussions and perhaps set the table for doing things in what could well be a flurry of activity once the labor pains go away.As I wrote earlier in the week, I believe Stan Bowman wouldn't mind making some moves, but he doesn't necessarily feel he has to if he's not getting what he'd like in return. Sure, every fan has their trade proposals, realistic or not, from either team's standpoint. But it's also not Fantasy Hockey, it's the real thing. The Hawks' Vice President and General Manager has made one move this offseason, signing former Anaheim defenseman Sheldon Brookbank to add some size and toughness on the back, and hopefully an effective penalty-killing option.While there have been some names rumored to be on the trading block, let's take a closer look at what happens if the Hawks end up standing pat, whenever the 2012-13 training camp and regular season gets underway. It would result in some spirited competition for roster spots and ice time, primarily because some young players Hawks fans have been intrigued (or excited) by are on the verge of playing at the highest level.Toews, Sharp, Hossa, and Kane are four of the top six forwards. Part of the decision in your mock lineup has to do with whether Kane winds up at center. Since the post-playoff news conference, it sounds as if that's become less likely. And barring a deal to bring in a number-two pivot, Marcus Kruger and Dave Bolland would be your second-and-third-line centers, or vice-versa.If Viktor Stalberg's on the roster, he'd seem best suited on the top two lines rather than the bottom two as the team expects him to become a more complete player on the defensive end. Do you then reunite the effective second line when Toews was sidelined late last season, which was Stalberg-Kruger-Sharp? Provided you do that, then who plays with Toews and Kane? An agitatorgrinder like Carcillo or Shaw? Does Brandon Saad continue to impress in camp and bring additional size to that line? You can only pick one, so the other two have to be dropped down somewhere.Moving to the so-called "third line" - with Bolland or Kruger in the middle. Is the best bet (or do you expect) to reunite the best line in the playoffs the last two seasons - Bolland, Bickell and Frolik? The wingers didn't come close to carrying that momentum into last regular season and combined for their share of healthy scratches. Of the trio mentioned earlier for top-line options, just one makes it. The other two must drop down somewhere. Here? Fourth line? Is Jimmy Hayes ready to grab full-time duty at this level? That comes with the knowledge that, similar to Saad, they need to play regularly to grow into whatever potential you project for them.There's one more line to fill out. Figure Jamal Mayers as one piece. Brandon Bollig became a likable addition last season, but if everyone's healthy at the start, is there a spot for him? Did you like the upsides of Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin a year ago? Did the fact each struggled with injuries last season ruin their realistic chances to contribute this year? Or can they provide things this Hawks team could use, with the opportunity to grow with regular playing time? The Stanley Cup isn't won (but could certainly be lost) in the first couple of months. And I haven't even brought up the name of the player generally considered the best, start-to-finish, at Rockford last season, Brandon Pirri.So that's 18 forwards for 12 spots. As the roster stands, figure 10 are pretty much "locks" for the regular lineup (Sharp, Carcillo, Kruger, Toews, Mayers, Stalberg, Bolland, Shaw, Hossa, Kane). That leaves two spots to fight over. See? A trade package could loosen things up a bit. Or you have a lot of guys needing to earn it under what should be a head coach carrying a much more critical eye into this season.Bowman has eight defensemen with NHL experience. We know Keith, Seabrook, Leddy and Oduya will play. What'll be more curious is whether skaters Leddy and Oduya remain paired like they were in the playoffs, or if it's better to have a more physical presence beside them, and how Hjalmarsson fits into the mix. Brookbank is here, Montador remains, and how high is Dylan Olsen's upside? All of them will have to be better with what they're here to do, by definition of their position. Corey Crawford must do a better job of bailing them out the times they do get too loose.There's no question improvement from these younger players, whose time is almost here, can make this team better. There are size and "sandpaper" elements on this massive list that could conceivably repair the power play. I've also mentioned in the past how I'd love to see Olsen work on his booming shot so that it could potentially be a factor on the power play. Maybe the team has him doing that. Can enough of these ingredients fix the special teams next season?Unless Stan Bowman gets what he wants in return (and by the numbers, you can see there are options to package on the market with the right trade partner), it's just about time to see how "NHL-legit" some of these kids can be. All of you have in your own minds what the upside is on all these players, young and experienced.
So break out your pencil. Make sure it has an eraser. And draw up who stays...and who goes...if Stan stands pat.

After skating with Blackhawks, when could Corey Crawford return?


After skating with Blackhawks, when could Corey Crawford return?

The Blackhawks are in the middle of a five-game losing streak, but there was a positive development at practice on Saturday.

Corey Crawford was on the ice 30 minutes beforehand working with goaltending coach Jimmy Waite, along with Collin Delia and Cam Ward. He has been in concussion protocol since Dec. 16 after smacking the back of his head on the post and leaving in the second period against San Jose.

"Positive that he was out there, but I'm not sure it means a ton," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Hopefully he continues to feel better."

This wasn't the first time Crawford had been on the ice since the injury, according to a source, which is also great news because it indicates he's responding well to the workouts. But he didn't fully participate with the team in practice, so there are still hurdles that he needs to overcome before getting cleared to play.

The good news is, Crawford hasn't been sidelined very long. It's been only a month, so it shouldn't take him too long to get back into game shape compared to this summer when he was off the ice for more than six months and spent all of training camp getting his conditioning back. Crawford went straight into drills on Saturday, with several teammates getting in on the action to help simulate game-type scenarios.

The Blackhawks host the Washington Capitals on Sunday and then the New York Islanders on Tuesday before going on a nine-day break. The team isn't putting a timeline on his return, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Crawford between the pipes again shortly after they return.

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Four takeaways: Strong start wasted as Blackhawks winless streak extends to five games

Four takeaways: Strong start wasted as Blackhawks winless streak extends to five games

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday:

1. Strong start wasted

The Blackhawks came out of the gates flying. They recorded the first nine shot attempts (four on goal) and didn't allow the Rangers to get their first shot on net until the 6:35 mark.

The Blackhawks were rewarded when Brandon Saad scored at 5:41 to put his team up 1-0. But the Rangers responded with a pair of goals within 4:18 of each other towards the latter stages of the frame to go up 2-1.

It was a tough way for the Blackhawks to go into the first intermission, happy with the start but not the result.

2. High-quality scoring chances

The Blackhawks gave up three goals at 5-on-5 and one empty-netter. And they'll quickly realize when reviewing the tape that they didn't do Collin Delia any favors.

Each of New York's first three goals came from the lower slot area, and they were seemingly all preventable. That's the positive, but also the negative because the Blackhawks are making it tough on themselves.

The Rangers finished with 14 high-danger chances at even strength compared to the Blackhawks' three. Below is a heat map of the shot chart at 5-on-5, courtesy of

3. Power play stays hot

The Rangers aren't a great team in the penalty kill department. They went into Thursday's game ranked 26th with a 77.1 percent success rate. But they were coming in hot, having killed off 14 in a row in the last three games.

That wasn't enough to stop the Blackhawks' scorching power play, which potted two more on three opportunities (goals by Saad and Alex DeBrincat). It's the seventh straight game the Blackhawks have scored at least one power-play goal, upping their percentage to 37.2 (16-for-43) since Dec. 18 — a span of 14 games, which ranks first over that stretch.

The power play continues to be a bright spot, and the Blackhawks have to be pleased with the consistency of it over the last month now.

4. Strome vs. Strome

For the third time in his NHL career, Dylan Strome went head-to-head with older brother Ryan, the latter of whom had gotten the best of his younger brother in the first two meetings — once when Ryan was with the Islanders and the other when he was with the Oilers, both against Dylan's Coyotes.

But Ryan stayed 3-for-3 against Dylan even though they were both on different teams this time.

Dylan was on the ice against Ryan for 8:46 of 5-on-5 time, which is the most he faced against any other Rangers skater. Ryan's line generated nine scoring chances and allowed only one during that time.

Dylan did get the better of his older brother in the faceoff department (58.3 percent vs. 53.3 percent), but it was Ryan that came away with the result that matters to both of them and that's the two points in the standings.

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