Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: How to Beat Preds

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Hawk Talk: How to Beat Preds

Thursday, April 15, 2010
10:30 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

As ascendant Stanley Cup favorites and critical darlings, most analysts see the Chicago Blackhawks quarterfinal series against the Nashville Predators as nothing more than an afterthought. And why not? The Hawks stitched together a superior regular season and potent 6-0-1 stretch run kick to sprint into the postseason. Here are 10 ways the Blackhawks can beat the Predators:

Puck Possession: Yes, this is the top bullet despite Chicagos wounded troops (hurry back soon, Soupy Campbell!). There is no greater key to Chicagos domination of the 2009-10 regular season than its ability on both ends of the ice to simply strongarm and suffocate the game by never letting go of the puck. Chicagos shot differential of 9.0 the third-biggest of any team in the post-lockout era and is a distinct measure of playoff success. Yes, Nashville has the potential to squeeze the juice out of the puck and demoralize opponents and fans alike with slowdown, Slurpee play. But the Hometown Heroes can simply go Globetrotter on teams, playing keepaway until daylight to the goaltender breaks; puck possession on Chicagos level is nothing short of a neck-snapper.

Antti-Dote: Sure, rookie netminder Antti Niemi has just 42 games of NHL experience under his belt. Yes, between his first run as a starter right before the Olympics break and Cristobal Huets utter abdication of the crease just a matter of weeks later, Niemi wasnt razor-sharp. And yes, rookie netminders whove sipped from the Cup are few and far betweenKen Dryden may be able to both out-argue and out-save Niemi even today. But listen, Niemi is a bad, bad Finn. He stole the blue ice from a veteran making close to 6 million per year, a guy who still ranks in the NHL all-time top 10 in save percentage. The rook finished second in the NHL in points percentage (.757), third in shutouts (seven, tied with his countryman counterpart in this series, Pekka Rinne) and fourth in goals-against average (2.25). And most importantly at this time of year, Niemi is unflappable. In coach Joel Quennevilles parlance, the rookie is laid-backish. That quality makes him goalie-wise beyond his 26 years.

By the Time They Get to Phoenix: Perhaps the Blackhawks can emulate the Phoenix Coyotes in their 3-2, Game 1 win over Detroit, as they took their poor power play unit and stung the Red Wings with three man-advantage goals. Aside from a nice streak at the turn of the calendar, Chicagos man-advantage looked awfully five-on-fivish for most of the season, to the point of slowly fading to black post-Olympics (dwindling to an NHL 16th-best .177 by seasons end). But on the flip side, Nashvilles penalty kill is a .771 embarrassmentthats the worst mark among playoff clubs and 28th overall in the league. In this battle of bad to worse, Chicago capitalizing with scores on those rare Predators penalties could help turn the series.

Defensive Domination: Without Campbell, the Blackhawks are weaker on D, of course. But the top four d-men, paired up as Duncan Keith-Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Seabrook-Niklas Hjalmarsson, have kept the ship afloat. Buff is a Seabrookian big body whose time served on offense over the past two seasons has served him well now that hes back on the blue line. Seabs and the Babyfaced Gangster both pack just enough puck-possession and big-hitting skills to form a pairing few opponents want to skate through. Nashville has a deep forward corps, but its not particularly skilled; down a key man or not, theres no reason the Hawks shouldnt stymie whatever is passing for offense south of the Mason-Dixon Line these days.

Home Cooking: The Blackhawks won the third-most (29) home games in the NHL in 2009-10 and in the United Center have an advantage like none other in the game. The UC has hosted the two dozen biggest indoor crowds of the entire NHL season, so no barn gets louder and less hospitable for opponents than Sweet Home Chicagos. Last year, the decibel level for the pregame national anthem alone was eardrum-bleeding. Its only going to get louder this season.

Be Cool: Chicago is well aware that the Preds play a lull game. It masquerades as bruising, old-school yawner pucks, but its really a series of traps, and by the time you take the ice off of your bruised cheek and look up at the JumboTron, youre down two with 10 minutes left. The Hawks have shown a tendency to play to the level of its opponent, and in the case of this matchup, against a team that sports inferior talent top-to-bottom, they cannot let this happen. For all the experience gained in last years surprising run to the NHLs final four and in a full season played out as hunted and not hunter, the Blackhawks are still young and subject to pressure. Nashvilles sole aim will be to bully the Hawks, frustrate them with physical play, and with the help of a fortunate puck dribble or two, cast growing doubt in the minds of the heavy favorites. The Hometown Heroes need to be cool, weather any slumps or mid-game stagnation and continue to play their ruthlessly efficient, puck possession game.

Stay Cool, Q: Quenneville played Cool Hand Q to the hilt this year, steadying his troops through the seasons ups and downs. But he does tend to be a touch paranoid when it comes to his lineshes quick to toss his players into a Lotto Hopper of lines when the offense goes a touch stale. When he panics at the sight of stagnant offense mid-game or drops a key cog three lines because of a single brain cramp, it doesnt inspire the troops. During the March skid that made the Redshirts look more AHL than NHL, the players said a lot of the right things, but boy howdy, there were some 10,000-mile stares being cast in the dressing room. Q needs to stay calm at the wheel and not give in to a game of 52-card pickup at the first downturn.

Fourteen Deep: The Blackhawks are outrageously deep on offense. The team was carried to a six-game win streak by its fourth line of Colin Fraser, Tomas Kopecky and Ben Eager, all of whom had been healthy scratches for at least one game earlier in the season. Bryan Bickell and Adam Burish, both who could contribute to fourth or even third lines on most any NHL team, appear likely to spend the quarterfinals watching in the press box. And in spite of major injuries to the defense, none bigger than the loss of Campbell for the quarterfinals, the Hawks have shifted on the fly and mostly retained their characteristic toughness and puck possessiveness.

Spreading the Wealth: The Blackhawks score a ton of goals (at least five-on-five, or shorthanded, heh) yet only Patrick Kane could be considered a team superscorer, topping 30 goals, 80 points and more than one point per game. But overall Chicago is a much more high-powered offensive team than Nashville, no matter how thin the O is spread: The Hawks have four players with more than 60 points, while no Sabertooth topped 51. Which means in parched or lulled time

Superstars Take Over: Despite any talk of spreading the wealth, the Blackhawks have a half-dozen playmakers superior to any Nashville skates, from the Big Red Cheese, Jonathan Toews, to the wizardry of Kane and Marian Hossa, the explosiveness of Kris Versteeg, the steady scoring of Patrick Sharp and the center of the line of defense, Duncan Keith. When times get tough, superstars step up. The closest forward Nashville has to a superstar is Patric Hornqvist, whos tallied all of one goal in eight career contests vs. Chicago. Any of the aforementioned Blackhawks could equal that with a single sneeze.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

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AP

Getting to know four newly-signed Blackhawks

The Blackhawks announced Monday that they have officially agreed to terms with forward Dominik Kahun, defensemen Lucas Carlsson and Darren Raddysh and goaltender Kevin Lankinen on entry-level contracts.

Kahun ($925,000 cap hit), Lankinen ($925,000) and Raddysh ($730,000) each signed two-year deals that run through the 2019-20 season while Carlsson's is a three-year deal that runs through the 2020-21 campaign and carries a cap hit of $792,500.

So who are these guys? Let's meet them:

Carlsson

Drafted in the fourth round (No. 110 overall) by the Blackhawks in 2016, Carlsson set a career-high with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 44 games this season with Brynäs IF of the Swedish Hockey League. He was tied for fourth among all blue liners with seven goals.

Carlsson, 20, doesn't have major upside, but he's a reliable, well-rounded defenseman and that's what drew the attention of Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley.

“When he’s on the ice, he makes things happen," Kelley told Scott Powers of The Athletic last summer. "I think what impressed the Sweden under-20 coach was Lucas’ ability to challenge in all three zones. He’s an active defensively. Offensively, he challenges. He keeps plays alive.”

Kahun

The 22-year-old forward spent the last four seasons with EHC München of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany's top professional hockey league, where he established career highs in assists (29), points (41) and tied a personal best with 12 goals, leading Munchen to their third straight championship in 2018 after recording four goals and 10 assists in 17 playoff contests.

He raised eyebrows at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, where he compiled five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games and won 55.4 percent of his faceoffs (41 of 74), helping Germany capture a silver medal.

“He has made an enormous step this year, has become much more stable and mature," German national team coach Marco Sturm said after the Olympics. "I am sure that he would grab it in the NHL,” Sturm told the Hamburger Morgenpost.

Most recently, Kahun had a goal and two assists in seven games for Germany during the IIHF Men's World Championship. He's 5-foot-11, 176 pounds whose known to be a solid two-way player and can play center but may need some time to adjust to the smaller ice surface and NHL style of speed and physicality.

Lankinen 

Lankinen is 23 years old and coming off a season in which he was in the discussion for the Urpo Ylönen trophy, annually awarded to the top goaltender of the Finnish Elite League, after registering a league-best 1.33 goals against average and .946 save percentage in 15 games with HIFK.

He missed a large portion of the season because of an injury, but it didn't stop him from turning in a strong postseason, guiding his team to a bronze medal after posting a 1.99 GAA and .936 save percentage in 13 playoff games. The year before that, he led the league with seven shutouts in 42 games, backstopping his team to a silver medal.

This is a low-risk, medium-sized reward signing for the Blackhawks, who could use some more young goaltending depth in the pipeline, especially given how this season unfolded with the big club.

Raddysh

The Blackhawks signed Raddysh to a one-year AHL contract last June, and he turned it into an NHL one after a strong season with the Rockford IceHogs.

Raddysh, 22, accumulated 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 66 regular-season games with the IceHogs, and has appeared in each of the team's playoff games en route to the Western Conference Final.

Last season Raddysh was named the OHL's top defenseman after scoring 16 goals and 65 assists for 81 points in 62 games for the Erie Otters, where he was teammates with current Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat. He's the Otters' all-time leader in assists (143) and points (184) among defensemen.

Raddysh might be nothing more than a depth defenseman, but his development is worth monitoring because the offensive production is there and that's something the Blackhawks lacked this past season from their back end.

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa: 'I will not play hockey anymore'

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AP

Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa: 'I will not play hockey anymore'

Days after putting his Gold Coast condo on the market, Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa revealed to a Slovakian newspaper that he is moving back to his hometown country and doesn't plan on returning to the NHL.

"I will not play hockey anymore," said Hossa, who missed the entire 2017-18 campaign due to a progressive skin disorder and the side effects of the medications involved to treat it. "I have a valid contract with Chicago for the next three years, but I have only one health and it does not allow me to return."

Because he has three years left on a deal that carries a $5.275 million cap hit, Hossa is not expected to sign his retirement papers until the contract is completed or else it would result in salary cap consequences.

The news is not surprising, but it officially allows the Blackhawks to move on without him in the fold roster-wise and toy around with some options this summer.

The first is stashing his contract on long-term injured reserve, as they did last season when they utilized the in-season preference.

The second, which Hossa wondered could happen, is finding a trade partner that would absorb the remainder of his contract, usually done by lower payroll teams aiming to reach the cap floor.

And it wouldn't be difficult trying to find a buyer, considering Hossa's actual salary is $1 million per year over the next three seasons. Hossa, of course, has a no movement clause but it's likely he would waive it given his status at this point.

The good news for Chicago is, the three-time Stanley Cup winner didn't rule out joining the Blackhawks organization in some capacity after his contract expires in 2020-21, whether it's in a front office role or as a team ambassador.

In 19 NHL seasons, Hossa accumulated 525 goals and 609 assists for 1,134 points in 1,309 regular-season games, and added 149 points (52 goals, 97 assists) in 205 postseason contests. He's one of 45 players in league history to net at least 500 goals in his career.