Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Blackhawks sour as favorites

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Hawk Talk: Blackhawks sour as favorites

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
5:00 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO Everyone and his brother may not be picking the Blackhawks to win the 2010 Stanley Cup over the Philadelphia Flyers, but even the contrarians will acknowledge the series stacks up favoring Chicago.

Just dont go trying to sell that suit of clothes to the Redshirts themselves.

Honestly, it feels like just another seriesthats the way we have to approach it, Blackhawks forward Adam Burish said. Its two kind of cocky teams playing each other. The media tells us were favorites, but we dont care.

Teammate Brian Campbell also shifted the focus on favorites to the fellas asking the questions: We dont feel like were favoritesthats for you media to talk about. Weve just played them one time.

And by way of deflating Chicago as favorites, that one game this season is a smart tact to take. Hosting the Hawks last March 13, Philadelphia played its best game of the season to that point, keeping pace with every high-flying Chicago stride. The game went from bad to tragic when first Scott Hartnell tied the game with just 2:04 remaining, and then Chris Pronger snuck backdoor and took a sweet cross-ice feed from Claude Giroux for the buzzer-beater.

That was our most frustrating loss, all year long, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said, the memory of the lost points still singing his stache a touch. It was a tough pill to swallow.

But the loss may have been a cautionary tale for Chicago. It in fact foreshadowed a couple weeks worth of true floundering by the Blackhawks, enduring their worst stretch of the season late in March, as the playoffs loomed.

We did snap out of it, Blackhawks alternacap John Madden said. It was tough to weather. I, for oneand I think everybody else in the Blackhawks dressing room as wellwas tired of learning lessons. The season was starting to drag. We might have been guilty of looking too far ahead and not taking care of the business in front of us.

That March game was uncharacteristic in that there were more than twice as many shots (75) as hits (34), which touches on a couple of things. First of all, theres no way the Flyers can get lured into playing such a style vs. Chicago in the Stanley Cup, particularly not in a feeling-out Game 1. Second, if Philadelphia does hope to run with the high-flying Hawks, its going to be a short series.

That said, theres little that will convince the Blackhawks they are the team to beat for title.

Were not favorites, not in our terms, Chicago forward Troy Brouwer said. Theyre obviously a good team that knows what its like to be desperate, to play hard every night. We havent has as much exposure to that.

Indicative of how grounded the Blackhawks are is that even the most confident of the Redshirts, forward Kris Versteeg, who scored Chicagos first goal in the 3-2 loss at Wachovia Center a couple of months ago, wouldnt bite the favorites bait.

Thats a compliment that people are giving you, to call you the favorites, Steeger said. But it doesnt mean much to us. The league is so close, theres so much parity. Perhaps the very worst of the teams in the East arent very good, but otherwise the top eight in both conferences are all strong teams. You dont make it this far without being a favorite.

Besides, the colorful Burish has figured out one way that Philadelphia has the edge over his Blackhawks.

They have a cooler story than we do, he said. They got into the playoffs on a shootout. Even we cant match that.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Six thoughts on Blackhawks-Penguins trade involving Olli Maatta and what's next

Six thoughts on Blackhawks-Penguins trade involving Olli Maatta and what's next

Here are six thoughts on Saturday's trade that centered around the Blackhawks acquiring defenseman Olli Maatta from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round pick:

1. What Maatta brings to the table

It's no secret that the Blackhawks' biggest weakness in 2018-19 was the defensive inefficiencies. They allowed the second-most goals per game (3.55) and and most high-danger chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (13.7), and the blue line group was a big reason for that.

So Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman tried getting out in front of the trade market by acquiring Maatta, who's a defensive-minded defenseman and logged more than 120 minutes on the penalty kill last season, which would've ranked third among Blackhawks defensemen. And he played in only 60 games. Expect Maatta to play a large role in that department for the Blackhawks, who finished tied for the worst penalty kill percentage in 30 years.

Maatta doesn't provide much on offense and skating is considered to be a real concern, but his defensive metrics are strong. According to The Point, Maatta ranked ninth among NHL defensemen in blocked shots per game (2.05), 26th in defensive zone puck battles won (2.45), 40th in blocked defense zone passes (3.77) and 47th in outlet passes (8.95). 

"There's a lot of things to like about Olli Maatta," Bowman said on a Sunday morning conference call. "Certainly his strength in the last few seasons has been his ability to be a good, reliable defender. He's got good size, he's not necessarily a bruising defenseman, but I like the fact he's got an active stick. He's good at using his body to shield the front of the net. And I think he's shown the ability to be used in several different situations over the past few years for Pittsburgh. They have some high-end offensive players there, so he didn't really get the power-play minutes. He was probably more used as a penalty killer and that's something that we certainly want to improve next year.

"There's a variety of ways to go about that, and certainly bringing in some players that have shown the ability to do that is one way to accomplish our goal. I just like his all-round game. Good instincts with the puck. He finds the open man. Can move it quick, move it up to the forwards. The biggest thing is just his ability to play a sound, defensive game and I think that's important. That's one aspect that we weren't strong in last year and I think he's going to give us that ability to match up against players. With his pedigree — he's a young guy, but to have already played over 300 games and almost 70 playoff games and a couple Stanley Cups — there's an experience level that he has at a young age and I think he's going to fit in real nicely with our group."

2. Injury history

The one other area of concern on Maatta is his inability to stay healthy. He just finished his sixth season in the NHL, but he's played a full 82 games in only one of them. His injury history includes concussion, hand, hip and most recently shoulder. He also had a health scare in 2014 when he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his thyroid.

Whether or not the accumulation of those injuries has played a role in his overall progression is unclear, but the Blackhawks aren't worried about it. 

"I would say that’s part of being a hockey player, is it’s not that uncommon for guys to get hurt," Bowman said. "It’s a contact sport. And he’s missed some time, but I don’t think he’s had an unusual number of injuries. Pittsburgh was very forthright in everything, we certainly were able to check out all those things. There’s no long-term implications of the injuries. They healed up, he’s fine. From that perspective, it wasn’t a big issue. If it was the same injury year after year, I guess you might have a concern. But it wasn’t necessarily the case. As a result, that wasn’t a big stumbling block in the trade."

3. What went wrong last season?

One year after tying a career-high with 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 82 games, Maatta had a difficult time matching that production this past season. He scored only one goal and had 13 assists in 60 games. Obviously, a shoulder injury sidelined him for six weeks in February and March, but he struggled to find his groove upon returning.

Maatta played in Game 1 of the first round against the New York Islanders, but admitted he "had a bad Game 1" after having a minus-2 rating and found himself watching from the press box in the final three games as the Penguins were swept. Maatta took ownership of his play and hopes a fresh start in Chicago will benefit him.

"Obviously I wasn't happy," Maatta said. "I'm not going to say it was a terrible season, but I knew I can be way better than I played last season. I don't think I was able to do defensively as much as I wanted this year. I don't think it was a terrible season defensively or anything like that, but I expect way more from myself offensively than I had last season.

"I think [Chicago is] a new opportunity, that's how you have to look at it, and I'm just trying to better myself through that way."

4. Trading from a position of strength

Every team looking for a top-four defenseman has to explore the trade market to acquire one because there just aren't many available via free agency. And the ones that are unrestricted on July 1 will cost a lot, both in term and dollar value, which is fine, but there's no guarantee because bidding wars ensue on the open market and it's all about the players' preference.

With Dominik Kubalik and Swedish forward Anton Wedin signing entry-level contracts and expected to battle for an Opening Day roster spot, the Blackhawks knew they had a surplus of secondary forwards and used Dominik Kahun to fill a need elsewhere. And it was important for the Blackhawks not to subtract too much from the current roster or pipeline to do it.

"The strength of our team now is we got a lot of depth on the wing," Bowman said. "Looking at some of our young players that are getting ready to take on a bigger role, you can look at guys like Dylan Sikura. He didn't have the offensive success at the NHL level but I liked the way he played when he was with us last year in Chicago. It felt like his game was real effective other than the production part. Then when he was in Rockford I really liked the way he was able to score down there. So I think he's not far from being a guy and he's got sort of a similar skill set that Dominik (Kahun) has.

"We have a couple new players coming in from Europe in Anton Wedin and Dominik Kubalik. There's three young players that didn't play on our team last year very much and I think they're all ready to take a spot. So I feel like we had the ability to make a move there without damaging our team. ... We were sort of dealing from a position of strength which made it a very comfortable deal from our perspective. It's hard to acquire young defensemen. You look around the league and there's not a lot of them available and then when they are you usually got to pay a premium for somebody who's under contract or there's a manageable number. We like the way this played out for us."

5. Contract situation

Maatta agreed to a six-year, $24.5 million extension with the Penguins in 2016. He has three years left on that contract, which carries a $4.083 million cap hit. He's now the third-highest paid defenseman on the Blackhawks, surpassing Connor Murphy ($3.85 million cap hit) but staying under Duncan Keith ($5.538 million) and Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million).

When Maatta signed his contract, it included a modified no-trade clause in the final two years, according to Cap Friendly. Because he was traded prior to the NTC taking effect, the Blackhawks will have the option to either honor that clause or nullify it.

We saw a similiar situation play out when P.K. Subban was traded from Montreal to Nashville in 2016. Subban's eight-year deal with the Canadiens began during the 2014-15 season. He had a no-movement clause that was supposed to kick in on July 1 ahead of the 2016-17 season, but the Canadiens traded Subban on June 29 — two days before the start of the new calendar year. The Predators did not honor his NMC, respectfully.

6. What's next?

Before making the trade on Saturday, it was reported that the Blackhawks were interested in landing a top-four defenseman. Maatta has played top-four minutes in the past and did so, most notably, during the Penguins' back-to-back Stanley Cup runs in 2016 and 2017, but he's probably better suited as the No. 4 or in a third-pairing role.

The question for the Blackhawks now is whether the Maatta acquisition is just the beginning of more moves to come or whether they're satisified that they've filled their big need on the back end. Bowman has been widely known to be a GM that constantly works the phones, so he certainly isn't done looking.

"We're going to keep looking for ways to improve our team, not just the defense but I'm not setting that aside either," Bowman said. "Right now we're focused more on the trade market just because the free-agent market doesn't open up for another week until you can start talking to agents. But I think we want to find some new players for our team — whether that's through trades or free agency, it doesn't matter too much. It's really important to look at both. But right now the trade chatter has been pretty active throughout the league.

"I've had a number of conversations and I expect that to continue over the next week. This is the time of year where there's a lot of player movement with the draft and July 1st on the horizon. We're going to continue to look into other ways to improve our team through trades, and if none of that comes to be, then we'll look at the free-agent market. We expect to be active. That's our job. My job is to make a lot of calls and find out what options we have to bring in some new players. So this is a great start. We're a week out from the draft here and we've already improved our defense in a big way. We're going to keep looking at other ways to improve our defense and the rest of our team. So from that perspective, I expect it to be active over the next couple weeks."

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2019 NHL Draft Profile: LW Matthew Boldy

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NBC Sports

2019 NHL Draft Profile: LW Matthew Boldy

From June 10-20, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile one top prospect per day — 11 total — leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft as the Blackhawks prepare to pick third overall.

Matthew Boldy

Position: Left wing
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 192 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report from Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley:

"Big winger, great shot, highly skilled. I think what he brings is size, the shot, and he has a deceptively good two-way game."

NHL player comparable: David Pastrnak

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks are likely leaning toward drafting a center or defenseman with the No. 3 overall pick, but Boldy is an intriguing prospect because he’s drawn comparisons to Marian Hossa. And that’s a player the team has missed over the last two seasons.

Boldy is one of the most complete players in this draft class, and already has the size to play in the NHL. He’s a great skater, responsible in his own end, can play in any situation and can really play any style. Boldy might be a year away from making the jump to the pros, but he's going to be a player the you never have to worry about on the left side.

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