Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Blues tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Blues tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the St. Louis Blues tonight on CSN and streaming live on Coverage begins at 6:30 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. Jump on the Blues early.

The Blues own a dominant 13-1-2 record at home this season, and have picked up at least a point in 14 straight games at Scottrade Center. One way to snap that streak is to get out in front early considering they score the fifth-fewest goals in the opening frame with 17 and have combined for 64 in the final two periods. The Blackhawks have scored 26 in the first, which ranks among the top-7. But one may not be enough, given that the Blues are 8-6-2 when giving up the first goal. They're a resilient bunch as are the Blackhawks, so setting the tone and taking control early could be key.

2. Will Patrick Kane snap goal drought?

Patrick Kane added another assist to his stat sheet in Thursday's 5-4 win over the New York Islanders, giving him 29 points in 32 games this season, which ranks among the top-10. But he hasn't found the back of the net in nine consecutive games, a drought he says is "frustrating." It's his longest goal drought since the 2013-14 campaign when he went 11 straight without a goal. Against a Blues team battling the Blackhawks for the top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference, perhaps now would be a good time to break through.

3. Artemi Panarin's surge.

There isn't a hotter player on the Blackhawks right now than Artemi Panarin, who had a three-point night on Thursday. He's got three goals and three assists in his last three games, all of which have resulted in wins. His point total matched Kane for the team lead at 29, and is also among the top-10 in the league. Feed him the puck.

4. Vladimir Tarasenko.

Look out for Artemi Panarin's fellow Russian countryman: Vladimir Tarasenko has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in eight games this month, including 10 points in his last five. His 37 points trail only Connor McDavid (39) for the league lead. Tarasenko has also had success in both games against the Blackhawks this year, scoring two goals and two assists to help the Blues pick up three out of a possible four points. Expect him to be a factor.

5. Hot power play vs. top penalty kill.

The Blackhawks erupted for a season-high three power-play goals in Thursday's win, cashing in on all three opportunities. They're running into the second-best penalty kill unit in the Blues, who have killed off 12 straight penalties to increase their season percentage to 88.2. As the great Pat Foley would say: "Something's gotta give!"

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Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?


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


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.