Blackhawks

Five Things: Blackhawks hit with rare call, Crawford excellent again

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Five Things: Blackhawks hit with rare call, Crawford excellent again

TAMPA — The Blackhawks weren’t thrilled with their team outing on Thursday, but they could take some comfort in knowing it was their first loss since Dec. 27.

Yes, the 12-game winning streak is over. It was a fun ride, one that catapulted the Blackhawks to the top of the Central Division standings. They’re still there, thanks to the cushion they’ve built. They also have no time to be disappointed in this one, given they’re playing the Florida Panthers, who had a 12-game winning streak of their own not too long ago, on Friday night.

So before we head to the other side of the state — it’s nice and warm over there, too — let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

1. Corey Crawford could’ve used some help. It was another night in which Crawford could’ve compiled a highlight reel of his saves. He did everything he could to keep the Blackhawks in this one, stopping 31 of 33 shots. “I thought he was great tonight,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He gave us a chance to be in the game the whole time.”

2. That odd infraction. There were a few people scratching their heads when Patrick Kane was called for interference when he played the puck before he was fully out of the penalty box in the second period. The rule is highlighted here. It was odd, it was costly — the Lightning scored the game-winning goal on that power play — but it was nonetheless legit. It was rarely called penalty night, though: Valtteri Filppula was whistled for a face-off violation to start the third.

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3. No generation. Artem Anisimov gave the Blackhawks the lead on their first shot on goal just 43 seconds into the game. It would take to the end of the second period for the Blackhawks to get another eight shots on Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop. Yeah, it’s been a while since the Blackhawks generated so little. They finished with 18 shots, their lowest total this season — the previous low was 19 against the Calgary Flames on Nov. 20. “It seemed like they had pretty good sticks and they closed the gap in their zone pretty fast,” Crawford said. “Just one of those games, I guess.”

4. A costly snooze. Richard Panik was settling in nicely with the Blackhawks. He found a place on the fourth line and scored two goals in as many games. But when he overslept on Thursday morning he made Quenneville one unhappy coach. Panik was benched, and the Blackhawks went with a seventh defenseman — Rob Scuderi, who played on the fourth line. Don’t know if Panik is in the lineup on Friday vs. the Panthers, but we’re guessing he learned his lesson.

5. A changing of the forward. Ryan Garbutt’s time here was brief, as he’s the latest to be shipped elsewhere. Jiri Sekac, who the Blackhawks acquired from the Anaheim Ducks, will likely make his debut on Friday against Florida. Garbutt’s energy was good for the Blackhawks, but the younger Sekac, who’s in the final season of his contract, might have more upside in the long haul.

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.