Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Hockey's sad summer

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Hawk Talk: Hockey's sad summer

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011
Posted: 10:27 a.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

READ: Two former Blackhawks die in plane crash

The puck cannot drop soon enough.

Blackhawks fans have been feeling that since shortly after last April's first-round playoff elimination. But all hockey fans can't wait, and for reasons beyond the anticipation early September brings as NHL training camps prepare to open.

Unfortunately, they'll only provide a distraction, not answers to what Jonathan Toews characterizes as the worst summer the sport has ever experienced.

Three popular people off the ice who put on their enforcer faces when they took the ice apparently took their own lives, either by mistake, or by design. Then came news Wednesday that 43 other lives were lost, many with NHL ties, in the plane crash carrying Lokomotiv, Russia's Kontinental Hockey League team that finished in third place last season.

Locally, the crash - and the losses - hit home for a handful of Blackhawks, besides the deaths of two of their former players, Alexander Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev. Joel Quenneville coached Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei, and Karlis Skrastins, and undoubtedly knew head coach Brad McCrimmon well, as an opponent during his playing days and as a longtime assistant coach around the league. New Hawks Brandon Segal was a teammate of Skrastins, Andrew Brunette with Salei, and Jamal Mayers with Demitra. And the player most deeply affected is Marian Hossa, whose body gained a much-needed rest this off-season, but who'll report to camp with a huge emotional burden. He was a close friend with fellow Slovakian Demitra, and were linemates during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Hossa also played under McCrimmon during his days as an assistant coach in Atlanta and Detroit.

It's unfathomable how fate led McCrimmon and those players to that team. McCrimmon left Mike Babcock's staff in Detroit after three years to pursue head coaching, and he wound up there. There are probably general managers around the NHL who thought of offering some of those players contracts or tryouts, but didn't. Or the players chose a more secure situation with Lokomotiv. That's how Cup-winning former Blackhawk Brent Sopel wound up signing with another KHL team, and he was among the dozens of current and former players who tweeted out their shock, sadness, and condolences upon hearing the news.

What made the crash shortly after takeoff more disturbing was the age of the aircraft being used, and how other similar jets had already been phased out after being used for more than three decades. Some Europeans countries reportedly wouldn't allow them in their airspace.

The NHL already had enough "hows" and "whys" to seek answers for already this summer following the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak. Give the league credit for being so proactive over the past couple of years in concussion prevention and treatment. Now, it has a new, albeit related, concern it must address with the trickle-down effects of fighting on players' mental and psychological health. By all accounts, Belak was a warm, happy guy to be around, until family members revealed after he reportedly hanged himself about his battle with depression. It's a connection that Mayers admitted to my colleague Tracey Myers the other day is "awful. It certainly raises a lot of questions as to 'Why?'"

The connection opens the debate about fighting's place in the game, just as hits to the head did for the concussion debate. The focus must be placed on the prevention of another Belak, Rypien, or (former Bear) Dave Duerson from happening. There's no telling how many former players have managed to be lucky enough to persevere through those symptoms.

This offseason's been full of press releases from Commissioner Gary Bettman expressing sadness on behalf of the NHL over these losses that run so much deeper than the ones in the standings. Teams soon begin taking the ice here, and cheers from packed arenas will follow, a welcome diversion from this summer filled with so many dark clouds. If anything good is to come from it, the NHL, and KHL has more on its plate moving forward in finding ways to prevent anything like these incidents from happening again.

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.  

When are the Blackhawks going to announce their recent signings?

This question came on Wednesday and the Blackhawks officially announced the signing of 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin on Thursday. Wedin, who's a 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger, had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League and is expected to battle for a full-time roster spot for the Blackhawks in 2019-20.

The other one to watch for is Dominik Kubalik. He has reportedly agreed to an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, but word is it won't be made official until the 2019 IIHF World Championship ends. He's currently representing the Czech Republic, which advanced to the semifinals on Thursday. Kubalik's rights were acquired by the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in January for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Does Crawford get extended during the summer?

Corey Crawford has one year left on his six-year contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. The expectation is that he will be re-signed — and he should be. When that comes remains to be seen.

Given his health situation, the Blackhawks may prefer to see how the 2019-20 campaign plays out before diving into contract negotiations with their two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Or they could try ironing one out starting on July 1 so that it doesn't hang over his head all season long. 

Crawford will be 35 in December, but that should not be the primary concern. It's whether or not the Blackhawks can count on his availability. When healthy, he's still one of the best in the game and the importance of the goaltending position is at an all-time high. Term will be the thing to watch for when it comes to Crawford's next contract.

Outside of the number 3 pick, what players or positions should the Hawks target in the draft?

The Blackhawks' philosophy is to take the best available player, especially in the first round of the NHL Draft. In 2018, the hope for the organization was that they would come away with a forward and defenseman in Round 1 but instead landed two defensemen (Adam Boqvist at No. 8 and Nicolas Beaudin at No. 27). Same with 2017 when they ended up Henri Jokiharju (No. 29) and Ian Mitchell (second round, No. 57 overall).

The later rounds (4-7) are where that thinking gets trickier because there isn't as much separation between the best available players. At that point — if it's close — positional need might be the deciding factor. 

Given the surplus of high-end defensemen in the pipeline, it's easy to say the Blackhawks should focus more on forward depth and the goaltending position. And that's probably true. But you still want to take the player with the highest ceiling because there's value in developing players the right way and making them attractive trade pieces down the line if there's no room for them on the Blackhawks roster. 

Favorite UFA targets? How do those affect your draft, if at all?

This is an interesting question, and the cliché answer is that it shouldn't impact the draft at all. In fact, the draft may have more impact on what the Blackhawks do in free agency more than vice versa.

The top of the draft is loaded with centers (Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Jack Hughes, Peyton Krebs, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras). The other name generating buzz is Bowen Byram, who's a defenseman. If the Blackhawks pick one of those centers at No. 3 overall, which is very possible, they'll be adding that player — whether he's NHL ready next season or not — to a center group that already includes Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome. 

Toews is going to retire a Blackhawk. Strome is likely going to earn a long-term contract as well. And Kampf appears to be the perfect fourth-line center. Which leaves one center spot left. 

The odd man out may be Anisimov, but even so, there might be less of an inclination to sign a center to a long-term deal this summer if they draft a center at No. 3 because they will have filled that long-term need through the draft. If it's still an area they'd like to address in the short-term, then that could change the Blackhawks' way of thinking going into July 1.

Is Collin Delia the best option behind Crawford or are there other goalies in the system who are ready?

The Blackhawks are very much invested in Delia as Crawford's backup for the 2019-20 season. GM Stan Bowman said as much during exit interviews.

"I think Delia has taken a nice step as a pro this second year," Bowman said. "He didn't play a lot of NHL games, but certainly early on when he was playing a lot, he was really, really good. The hardest part for someone like Collin is trying to adjust to the NHL to not playing every night. I think when he came up and played in a few consecutive games, he was really good. And once we started rotation a bit, that's an adjustment for a young goalie. He wasn't sharp. But now he goes back to Rockford and I think he's the No. 1 or No. 2 in the American League in all his statistics. So he's doing all he can do to show that he's ready. That's nice knowing we have him signed for a couple of years and his best years are ahead of him." 

Kevin Lankinen is somebody that's quietly emerging as an intriguing prospect for the Blackhawks. He was put in tough spot this past season, starting with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL then rotating in and out with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, where he had a 2.50 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 appearances. 

At the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he's been a big bright spot for Finland. He has a 1.83 GAA and .916 save percentage in six games. The Blackhawks want to see him handle No. 1 responsibilities in Rockford before putting him into the conversation as a potential NHL backup.

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Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

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Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

One month after "mutually" agreeing to part ways with assistant coach Don Granato, the Blackhawks have hired 38-year-old Tomas Mitell as his replacement on Jeremy Colliton's staff. 

Mitell spent the past two seasons as head coach of AIK Hockey (Allsvenskan) in Sweden, where he guided the team to an overall record of 64-27-13. He led AIK to a league-best 35-8-9 record during the 2018-19 campaign, with their 35 wins and 109 points each setting franchise records.

Perhaps more notably: Mitell served as an assistant coach under Colliton with Mora IK (Allsvenskan) during the 2016-17 season, so there's obvious familiarity between the two. 

Mitell rounds out Colliton's staff that also includes assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank and veteran goaltending coach Jimmy Waite. It's a young group behind the Chicago bench, with Colliton (34), Brookbank (38) and Mitell (38) each having little NHL coaching experience but offer a new-school way of thinking.

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