Blackhawks

Five Questions facing the Blackhawks as regular season begins

Five Questions facing the Blackhawks as regular season begins

The Blackhawks wrapped up their preseason schedule on Saturday night, a youngster-laden lineup falling 2-1 to the St. Louis Blues. The regular season is just about upon us.

But before they open against the Blues again on Wednesday, the Blackhawks have some tough decisions to make. Who stays? Who goes? And once decisions are made, how do things line up (and pair up) heading into Wednesday?

Coach Joel Quenneville told traveling media prior to Saturday’s game that the final roster should be set by Monday; all NHL team rosters must be finalized by 4 p.m. CT on Tuesday. So since it looks like we have a couple of hours before we know the Blackhawks’ answers, let’s look at Five Questions heading into the season opener.

1. Which prospect will make an impact first? Tyler Motte looks like he’s ready for this show. The forward has been great throughout camp, be it 5-on-5 or on the penalty kill. He had plenty of work on the latter while at the University of Michigan, and it shows. Working with Marcus Kruger on the kill doesn’t hurt, either. Where Motte fits in the lineup is a guess right now – the Blackhawks left most of their veterans at home for their preseason finale on Saturday. We should get our first look on Monday, when the Blackhawks return to practice. But in preseason games, wherever he was put in the lineup, Motte played well. Several prospects had good camps, but Motte stood out from the start.

2. Will Alexandre Fortin stay with the Blackhawks this season? You wouldn’t have thought so when the 19-year-old first signed his three-year contract at the start of September, and that’s not a knock on him. Teams just have to think long and hard about burning the first year of a player’s entry-level deal. But as Fortin’s camp has progressed, the Blackhawks’ high opinion of him has grown. Asked earlier this week if the Blackhawks could exercise the 10-game option with Fortin coach Joel Quenneville said, “yes, we could.” Let’s see how this one plays out. As previously written, Brandon Saad wowed out of camp in 2011, was so-so in his first two regular-season games and then was sent back to Saginaw. If Fortin is a big help immediately, he stays. If not, Fortin goes back to his junior team after a few games. Either way, it’s a pretty nice “dilemma” to have.

3. Will World Cup end up being beneficial for those who played in it? The Blackhawks had a slew of guys playing in that tournament, the last of them (Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford) returning late last week. Of the three, Crawford is the only one who saw any preseason games with the Blackhawks – he practiced plenty but only played one-and-a-half games with Team Canada. In terms of preparation, the World Cup should be the best training camp those players had. That includes defenseman Michal Kempny, who got his first big taste of hockey on smaller ice. Great competition and playing games that meant something in September are two benefits for players coming off a rare long offseason.

4. Is Duncan Keith good to go? Keith was disappointed to skip World Cup to make sure his surgically repaired right knee was ready for the season, but it’s looking like he made the right choice. Keeping Keith off the ice, especially early, was probably a tough task for the Blackhawks’ coaches – hurt, healthy, he wants to be out there. But it was the best move for Keith, who looked good in the one preseason game he played last week. Will there be a little rust? Possibly. But in terms of health, Keith said following last Tuesday’s game, “I’m happy the way it is, I’m excited the way it’s been [going], and I think it will be good going forward.”

5. How long will Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin stay apart? As long as the Panarin-Jonathan Toews combination works. The first time that top line struggles, or the Blackhawks aren’t getting what they want out of this balanced lineup, the familiar second line will be back together again. You’ll also see that trio (Kane, Panarin and Artem Anisimov) together on the power play, so the combination won’t completely go away. Again, breaking Kane and Panarin up was not a popular choice; the two clicked beautifully. If the Blackhawks sputter, they’ll be reunited.

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

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AP

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

The Blackhawks announced Monday that they have officially agreed to terms with forward Dominik Kahun, defensemen Lucas Carlsson and Darren Raddysh and goaltender Kevin Lankinen on entry-level contracts.

Kahun ($925,000 cap hit), Lankinen ($925,000) and Raddysh ($730,000) each signed two-year deals that run through the 2019-20 season while Carlsson's is a three-year deal that runs through the 2020-21 campaign and carries a cap hit of $792,500.

So who are these guys? Let's meet them:

Carlsson

Drafted in the fourth round (No. 110 overall) by the Blackhawks in 2016, Carlsson set a career-high with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 44 games this season with Brynäs IF of the Swedish Hockey League. He was tied for fourth among all blue liners with seven goals.

Carlsson, 20, doesn't have major upside, but he's a reliable, well-rounded defenseman and that's what drew the attention of Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley.

“When he’s on the ice, he makes things happen," Kelley told Scott Powers of The Athletic last summer. "I think what impressed the Sweden under-20 coach was Lucas’ ability to challenge in all three zones. He’s an active defensively. Offensively, he challenges. He keeps plays alive.”

Kahun

The 22-year-old forward spent the last four seasons with EHC München of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany's top professional hockey league, where he established career highs in assists (29), points (41) and tied a personal best with 12 goals, leading Munchen to their third straight championship in 2018 after recording four goals and 10 assists in 17 playoff contests.

He raised eyebrows at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, where he compiled five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games and won 55.4 percent of his faceoffs (41 of 74), helping Germany capture a silver medal.

“He has made an enormous step this year, has become much more stable and mature," German national team coach Marco Sturm said after the Olympics. "I am sure that he would grab it in the NHL,” Sturm told the Hamburger Morgenpost.

Most recently, Kahun had a goal and two assists in seven games for Germany during the IIHF Men's World Championship. He's 5-foot-11, 176 pounds whose known to be a solid two-way player and can play center but may need some time to adjust to the smaller ice surface and NHL style of speed and physicality.

Lankinen 

Lankinen is 23 years old and coming off a season in which he was in the discussion for the Urpo Ylönen trophy, annually awarded to the top goaltender of the Finnish Elite League, after registering a league-best 1.33 goals against average and .946 save percentage in 15 games with HIFK.

He missed a large portion of the season because of an injury, but it didn't stop him from turning in a strong postseason, guiding his team to a bronze medal after posting a 1.99 GAA and .936 save percentage in 13 playoff games. The year before that, he led the league with seven shutouts in 42 games, backstopping his team to a silver medal.

This is a low-risk, medium-sized reward signing for the Blackhawks, who could use some more young goaltending depth in the pipeline, especially given how this season unfolded with the big club.

Raddysh

The Blackhawks signed Raddysh to a one-year AHL contract last June, and he turned it into an NHL one after a strong season with the Rockford IceHogs.

Raddysh, 22, accumulated 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 66 regular-season games with the IceHogs, and has appeared in each of the team's playoff games en route to the Western Conference Final.

Last season Raddysh was named the OHL's top defenseman after scoring 16 goals and 65 assists for 81 points in 62 games for the Erie Otters, where he was teammates with current Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat. He's the Otters' all-time leader in assists (143) and points (184) among defensemen.

Raddysh might be nothing more than a depth defenseman, but his development is worth monitoring because the offensive production is there and that's something the Blackhawks lacked this past season from their back end.

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa: 'I will not play hockey anymore'

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AP

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa: 'I will not play hockey anymore'

Days after putting his Gold Coast condo on the market, Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa revealed to a Slovakian newspaper that he is moving back to his hometown country and doesn't plan on returning to the NHL.

"I will not play hockey anymore," said Hossa, who missed the entire 2017-18 campaign due to a progressive skin disorder and the side effects of the medications involved to treat it. "I have a valid contract with Chicago for the next three years, but I have only one health and it does not allow me to return."

Because he has three years left on a deal that carries a $5.275 million cap hit, Hossa is not expected to sign his retirement papers until the contract is completed or else it would result in salary cap consequences.

The news is not surprising, but it officially allows the Blackhawks to move on without him in the fold roster-wise and toy around with some options this summer.

The first is stashing his contract on long-term injured reserve, as they did last season when they utilized the in-season preference.

The second, which Hossa wondered could happen, is finding a trade partner that would absorb the remainder of his contract, usually done by lower payroll teams aiming to reach the cap floor.

And it wouldn't be difficult trying to find a buyer, considering Hossa's actual salary is $1 million per year over the next three seasons. Hossa, of course, has a no movement clause but it's likely he would waive it given his status at this point.

The good news for Chicago is, the three-time Stanley Cup winner didn't rule out joining the Blackhawks organization in some capacity after his contract expires in 2020-21, whether it's in a front office role or as a team ambassador.

In 19 NHL seasons, Hossa accumulated 525 goals and 609 assists for 1,134 points in 1,309 regular-season games, and added 149 points (52 goals, 97 assists) in 205 postseason contests. He's one of 45 players in league history to net at least 500 goals in his career.