Blackhawks

In Duncan Keith's absence, 'everyone can do a little more'

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In Duncan Keith's absence, 'everyone can do a little more'

The Blackhawks went 10 games without Duncan Keith earlier this season when the defenseman underwent knee surgery.

They’ll be going without him again now. They just don’t know for how many games.

Keith, who was offered an in-person hearing, will instead have his hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety over the phone on Friday afternoon. Keith was given a match penalty for intent to injure for his reckless high-stick on Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle in Tuesday night’s game. Whatever Keith gets, it will mark his third NHL suspension — he was suspended five games for elbowing Daniel Sedin in March 2012 and suspended one game for high-sticking Jeff Carter in the face in June 2013.

On Thursday the Blackhawks were preparing for games without Keith, including Friday night’s outing in Winnipeg.

“No one can do the things he does, but everyone can do a little bit more. I think that’s the mindset,” Marcus Kruger said. “We all want him on the ice, but the situation is what it is. It’s up to the guys playing to fill that hole.”

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Marcus Kruger brings balance, PK help to Blackhawks]

It’s never a good time to lose a player, especially one who does as much as Keith. But the timing right now is that much worse: The Blackhawks have struggled the last few weeks and are fighting to stay in good position in the Central Division. Keith’s poor choice could really be costly.

“We always talk about discipline, as a team we feel we’re pretty strong in that area. We deal with it the right way, and we feel going forward that we have to be smart about how we play on the ice, how we react to different situations and don’t hurt the team,” Quenneville said. “We were fortunate to come out of (that five-minute penalty kill) we outscored them in that stretch, but we missed him the whole game.”

Keith practiced on Thursday but declined to speak afterward.

“His competitiveness is what makes him a great player,” Quenneville continued on Keith. “And I just think being smart and knowing your limitations, or I guess the limit, is what we have to do.”

Keith’s absence means another defenseman gets an opportunity. On Thursday the pairings were as follows: Trevor van Riemsdyk-Niklas Hjalmarsson, Viktor Svedberg-Brent Seabrook and Erik Gustafsson-Michal Rozsival. Gustafsson was one of the Blackhawks’ call-ups when Keith was injured earlier this season.

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“He’s not the whole team, but he’s a big part of it,” Gustafsson said. “He’s one of our best defensemen and one of the best in the league. We just have to keep moving and just get on a winning track here, start winning some games in a row. We just have to go out and play hockey.”

The Blackhawks were already struggling to find answers and victories down the regular-season stretch. They were already without Corey Crawford, who still isn’t skating. Now they’ll have to make do without Keith.

“I think every year ... you’re dealing with all kinds of situations. Certain guys, are they going to be ready for the playoffs? And in the playoffs things happen,” Quenneville said. “Being adaptable as a team, a line, a group we feel we (have to) find ways, find solutions. That’s where we’re at: No matter what hand we’re dealt here, we’ll find a way to do everything we can to rectify every situation we have in front of us and be the best we can be.”

A sneak peek at Cam Ward's new Blackhawks goalie mask

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USA TODAY

A sneak peek at Cam Ward's new Blackhawks goalie mask

It's a new year, new team for Cam Ward, who spent his first 13 NHL seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes before signing in Chicago on a one-year deal this summer. That means a newly-designed goalie mask is required to match up with his new team's colors, uniform and Blackhawks logo.

The designer of Ward's goalie masks Steve Nash, whose clients include 2017-18 Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck, two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick and three-time 30-win netminder Martin Jones, shared a teaser on Twitter of Ward's new Blackhawks-themed mask for the upcoming season and it's sweet.

Check it out:

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

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USA TODAY

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 or 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."