Blackhawks

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks aim to stay hot vs. Canucks tonight on CSN Plus

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks aim to stay hot vs. Canucks tonight on CSN Plus

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Vancouver Canucks tonight on CSN Plus and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Jonathan Toews heating up again.

The Blackhawks captain went through a difficult stretch offensively towards the middle part of the season, and broke through when he had one goal and three assists in a 4-2 win over Vancouver on Jan. 22. Since then, only Brad Marchand (35) and Patrick Kane (32) have had more points than Toews (31). He extended his point streak to four games with a two-goal effort in Sunday's 6-3 victory over Colorado, and will look to keep it going tonight.

2. Canucks banged up.

The Canucks have lost six straight games, and it's not helping that players are dropping like flies as the season winds down. Loui Eriksson remains out with a leg injury. Erik Gudbranson (wrist) has been out since December. Brendan Gaunce (upper-body injury) and Jacob Markstrom (food poisoning) didn't travel to Chicago. Nikolay Goldobin is battling an illness. And Markus Granlund, who ranks second on the team with 19 goals, has been shut down for the season to undergo wrist surgery. They're a vulnerable group right now.

3. Take advantage on special teams.

Special teams hasn't been a kind area for the Canucks this season. Their power play is the third-worst unit in the league at 13.8 percent, and their penalty kill unit ranks 26th with a 77.6 percent success rate. The good news for the Canucks is that they're one of the least-penalized teams, but when they do go down a man, it's often trouble. They're 3-for-6 on the PK in their last three games, having allowed one in each of them.

4. Nick Schmaltz showing improvement at the dot?

Since moving to center for the injured Artem Anisimov, Schmaltz is 10-for-50 at the faceoff circle, which comes out to be a 20 percent success rate. His season percentage has slipped to 28.9, by far the lowest total among players who have taken at least 200 attempts. He showed some improvement in that department Sunday against Colorado when he went 5-for-15 (33.3 percent) after going 5-for-35 (14.3 percent) in the previous three games. Progress.

5. Richard Panik approaching 20 goals.

With a goal on Sunday, Panik increased his career-high goal total to 19; his previous season-high was 11, set in 2014-15. One more goal puts him at 20, which would make him the sixth Blackhawks player this season to reach the 20-goal mark. Ryan Hartman isn't far away, either, from potentially making it a seventh. They had only four 20-goal scorers last season. 

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Report: Where could the NHL potentially finish the 2019-20 season?

Report: Where could the NHL potentially finish the 2019-20 season?

Sunday night, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the NHL and NHLPA have begun tossing around ideas for where the league could finish potential regular season or playoff games, if the COVID-19 pause were lifted.

The NHL pause went into effect on March 12 due to concerns with the coronavirus pandemic.

Friedman reported one location discussed was North Dakota. 

"Several sites would be necessary, but Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D., makes sense," he wrote. "Host of the 2005 World Junior Championships, the 2016 World Under-18s and the NCAA’s Fighting Hawks, it is an impressive facility that is definitely more suitable than many other available non-NHL options in the United States."

The NHL and NHLPA are expected to discuss other locations this week per Friedman. 

"The league and players must agree on any return-to-play scenarios," he added. "The players are very concerned about the potential of 35 per cent escrow on future paycheques, and whether or not the NHL will consider allowing that to be paid over multiple years. (CBA discussions are believed to be taking place.)"

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How COVID-19 crisis could impact Blackhawks, NHL's salary cap

How COVID-19 crisis could impact Blackhawks, NHL's salary cap

On March 4, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told general managers that the projected salary cap for the 2020-21 season is expected to be in the range of $84 million and $88.2 million. That's roughly a $2.5 million to $6.7 million increase after it went up only $2 million last season.

But eight days later, the NHL put its season on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's unclear if or when hockey will even resume at this point. Because of the uncertainty and the risk of the league potentially losing $1 billion in hockey-related revenue, there's legitimate concern about what the ceiling could look like after we get through this, and not just for next season.

Could the NHL's salary cap stay the same? Might it even go down to help ease the escrow pain for players? Anything is possible, but it would require both the NHL and NHLPA to come to an agreement on what that artificial number could look like.

If the salary cap remains flat, the Blackhawks would be one of the many teams that would find themselves in an extremely tough position. And they better start preparing for that scenario.

As of right now, the Blackhawks' projected cap hit for next season is $74.1 million, according to Cap Friendly. That number factors in the three players on long-term injured reserve (Calvin de Haan, Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw) but also includes the current players on the roster, which comes out to 26 total, so cuts obviously must be made to get down to the maximum of 23.

But what that number doesn't include is the potential performance bonus overages and the fact the Blackhawks don't have a goaltender signed beyond this season other than Collin Delia, which doesn't leave much room for free agent signings elsewhere. Heck, taking care of their own guys is going to be a major challenge.

The Blackhawks have nine pending restricted free agents, which most notably includes Drake Caggiula, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome. Corey Crawford is their highest-profile unrestricted free agent. Those are four key pieces the Blackhawks must try to squeeze in under the cap if the priority is to bring all of them back, and — loosely projecting — gives them around $9-10 million to do so.

You have to wonder if it makes more sense for everyone involved to agree on one-year deals and revisit things the following year after more clarity is provided on the NHL's financial situation, especially with Seattle preparing for league entry and the U.S. television deal set to expire after the 2021-22 season.

For now, the Blackhawks and the rest of the NHL are waiting to see what the next steps are. But the financial ramifications will be significant, and it's something every team must now navigate through. 

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