Blackhawks

Five Things from Blackhawks-Wild: Panarin sticks up for Kane

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Five Things from Blackhawks-Wild: Panarin sticks up for Kane

The Blackhawks have been looking for consistency as much as they’ve been looking for points lately. And while they didn’t get the right start again on Sunday, they got enough to earn at least one point by the end of the night.

Hey, it’s not pretty right now but any points are crucial. The Blackhawks got the most out of their fourth line and goaltending and didn’t have any answers in the shootout. So you take what you can.

 

And as the Central Division plot thickens, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

1. The Andrew Shaw effect. The Blackhawks needed a spark in the second period after going down 2-0 and he provided that – and a much-needed goal. Shaw scored his 12th goal of the season and was around the net a few minutes later when line mate Richard Panik scored on a wraparound. Said coach Joel Quenneville of that fourth line, “that line was our most dangerous line tonight.”

2. Failed four-minutes of power-play time. The Blackhawks got a big opportunity early when Zach Parise was called for a double-minor high-sticking on Michal Rozsival. But four minutes later, all the Blackhawks had were two shots on goal. Credit the Wild’s kill for part of that, but the Blackhawks have gotten away from the shoot-first mentality that helped their power play click earlier this season.

3. A massive overtime penalty kill. Well, if the Blackhawks needed a confidence boost with that kill, which hasn’t been good this season, they got it in overtime on Sunday night. Facing a 4-on-3 after Artem Anisimov was whistled for goaltending interference, the Blackhawks kept the Wild from scoring in those two minutes. Yes, Parise hitting the side of a wide-open net helped, but the Blackhawks’ kill helped force the shootout.

[MORE: Blackhawks' rally falls short as Wild win in shootout]

4. Another good night for Scott Darling. No, it wasn’t a victory but Darling’s a big reason why the Blackhawks had a chance in overtime and the shootout. Darling stopped all 16 Wild shots he saw in the third period, when the Blackhawks managed just seven on the other end. Darling’s shootout loss was his first in four attempts – and Charlie Coyle’s shot was the first to get by him in those appearances. Darling is getting an opportunity due to Corey Crawford’s upper-body injury. No one likes to see someone hurt, but Darling is gaining much-needed confidence in these outings.

5. Artemi Panarin, pugilist? Yes, it was quite the surprise to see Artemi Panarin go after Matt Dumba in the third period. Panarin was ticked off after Dumba hit Patrick Kane, sending Kane to the dressing room for a few minutes. Panarin got a roughing call – the Blackhawks killed off the ensuing penalty. There won’t be any discipline for Dumba – the vice president of the Department of Player Safety sent out an explanation of Rule 48 (unavoidable head contact). But Quenneville appreciated Panarin’s reaction. “I loved the response,” Quenneville said. “Just like the crowd did.”

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.