Hawk Talk: It's time to get real


Hawk Talk: It's time to get real

Monday, Oct 3, 2011
Posted: 12:36 p.m. Updated: 3:57 p.m.
By Chris Boden

Unless you're into exhibition wins and losses, the Blackhawks probably couldn't have asked for much more from their preseason. Provided Dave Bolland and Ben Smith return to practice early this week, as Joel Quenneville predicted Sunday, the most important thing was to enter the regular season healthy. If you don't ask Viktor Stalberg, they've done that, and Quenneville even indicated he might be back before the projected three weeks from Wednesday's apparent knee-on-knee collision. They just have to hope the Patrick Sharp appendectomy becomes the most significant of their freaky, quirky health encounters this season.

That holds true for the road ahead. I can't help feeling that key injuries would be the only thing preventing this year's team from making a long, deep run into the playoffs again. There are some interesting new contenders and obstacles in the West this season, which we'll take a closer look at later this week. The seven practice games didn't always provide proof of what the Hawks need from some veterans, both new and returning. They'll need some to play their roles better, and hope the opening bell Friday in Dallas supplies that. Some need to play smarter and tighter. Others need to find that extra dose of mean-streak, or that final gear, or simply familiarity with another ample dose of off-season roster turnover. Just like any other preseason. But the pieces assembled, the talent on-hand, and the work of Quenneville and his staff should make this a pretty fun ride.

Two surprises emerged from the past 2-12 weeks: Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane. Saad doesn't turn 19 for another three weeks, but already has an NHL body and consistently made the right play during exhibitions, whether it put his name on the scoresheet or not. He could be back in juniors by, or shortly after, that Oct. 27th birthday, but his star rose quickly here after it fell to the second round in the June draft. Camp was just a continuation of what he displayed with the team's other prospects in July, as well as the rookie tournament early last month.

Despite early, widespread doubts, the Kane Experiment in the middle hasshowed promise. He had a rough day in the faceoff circle Sunday, goingup against more experienced centers, especially with Jonathan Toewsnot making the trip. He'll need to grow as he goes along in order tostay there, but he won slightly more than half of his faceoffs overthree games. Entering a season in which he hopes to elevate his gameinto the Hart Trophy conversation, he could do worse than playingbetween Marian Hossa and Andrew Brunette.

The flip side of Kane-at-center is part of the reason it came about. Marcus Kruger didn't live up to what coaches and management expected these past couple of weeks and was outplayed by Brandon Pirri.Both wound up being sent to Rockford Monday, meaning (barring a latetrade or signing) fourth-line anchor duties could initially rest with Jamal Mayers or Ben Smith. Both Kane and Sharp would not be used at center at the same time, unless it's an emergency.

The Corey Crawford we saw in his three starts looked very much like the one we saw carry the team down the stretch last season, easing Sophomore Slump concerns of some. So what would the start of a Blackhawks season be without some goalie angst (Turco, Niemi, Huet, Khabibulin, etc.)? This one fell to the backup decision that went to Ray Emery Monday afternoon.

He caught some tough breaks, but made mistakes of his own, both in decision-making and rebound control. After not finding takers this summer and coming here on a tryout deal, he likely did not raise his value much in other teams' eyes. But he's taken a team to the Stanley Cup Finals and was very sharp when Anaheim needed it most down the stretch last season after Jonas Hiller was sidelined. That came approximately a year after hip surgery that most people thought would end his career. Some respected, experienced observers expressed concern over a drop in his quickness during camp, even compared to last spring's duty with the Ducks.

More time in Rockford certainly can't hurt Alexander Salak, who had the more impressive camp, but owns just two games of NHL experience, two years ago. Would he be able to handle the backup role like Antti Niemi did a couple of years ago? He played only 32 (roughly half) of his Swedish Elite team's games a year ago, but enjoyed his best season. In the end, the decision was Emery, with the trust his game will improve as he continues working with Stephane Waite and the Hawks' staff. This time a year ago, he was shedding crutches. If he can overcome that, Hawks brass feels he can find a way to regain the form he reached just six months ago.

The good news is the NHL preseason is the shortest of all major sports. The bad news is it still doesn't provide clear answers to every single question we've had.

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

Blackhawks mailbag: Will Blackhawks be buyers or sellers at trade deadline?

Blackhawks mailbag: Will Blackhawks be buyers or sellers at trade deadline?

The NHL All-Star weekend has come and gone and the bye week for the Blackhawks ends on Thursday, when the team returns to practice in Arizona.

The next time the Blackhawks play a game, the calendar will have flipped to February. That means we’re down to the final two months of the regular season.

As of Wednesday, the Blackhawks sit three points out of the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference. But a lot could happen between now and then.

Let’s dive into our latest Blackhawks mailbag to kick off the back half of the 2019-20 campaign:

How will the Hawks utilize their cap space before the trade deadline?

With less than a month until the Feb. 24 trade deadline — which is a week earlier this season — the Blackhawks have a decision to make soon. Will they be buyers or sellers? Quite frankly, the answer right now is: to be determined.

GM Stan Bowman told the Chicago media on Jan. 7 that the next "five or six weeks" will likely determine the course of action at the trade deadline. He reaffirmed that last week to

"I think right now we've got to let it unfold a little bit more," Bowman said. "Kind of give this group a chance to continue on this push we're on."

If the Blackhawks continue to make a run like they have over the last month — they've won 11 of their past 16 games and five of their last six — and creep into a playoff spot, it's going to be awfully difficult to subtract from the roster, even if it might not be good enough to win a Stanley Cup. If they start trending in the wrong direction and slip further outside the playoff picture, the Blackhawks will likely be forced to sell some spare parts.

Another option that can't be dismissed just yet is the idea of taking on a bad contract to recoup some drafts picks or prospects. That is, of course, if the Blackhawks fall out of contention. But that's something they would have to do well before the deadline to give teams that open up cap space a chance to use it. And it would have to be a contract on an expiring deal since the contracts of Calvin de Haan and Brent Seabrook will go back on the books this summer. 

The Blackhawks have roughly $13.8 million in cap space, according to Cap Friendly.

If the team continues to go on a run after the break & Stan does decide to help the team, where do you see the most need? Scoring winger, center on bottom-6 for scoring balance? Or D-man (RHD or LHD? big physical or puckmover) to shore up our D-corps?

The obvious answer is a top-four defenseman of some sort, but here’s why that could get complicated: Five defensemen — Calvin de Haan, Duncan Keith, Olli Maatta, Connor Murphy and Brent Seabrook — are currently under contract for at least the next two seasons after this one, Erik Gustafsson is a pending unrestricted free agent, Adam Boqvist is playing top pairing minutes in the first year of his entry-level contract and Slater Koekkoek is also set to become a restricted free agent.

So if the Blackhawks want to acquire a defenseman, it must be a rental. But they're going to be competing with plenty of other playoff-contending teams and it doesn't make sense to get involved in a bidding war.

The Blackhawks, under these circumstances, would be better off adding a top-nine forward to balance out the four-line rotation. There aren't many centers available, so pencil us in for a scoring winger. 

What is the goal for this season?

At the beginning of the season, the Blackhawks would've told you that getting back to the playoffs is the main goal. And to a large degree, it still is. But they won't try doing so at any cost.

Bowman isn't the type of general manager who will mortgage future assets just to make a run this season or prevent his seat from getting any hotter. He's always weighed both the short term and the long term when negotiating deals, which is why he's going to see how the next few weeks play out before making a final decision on how the Blackhawks should approach the trade deadline.

Could you any Blackhawks player sneaking in a conversation for an award. Most notably Dominik Kubalik for the Calder or Robin Lehner for the Vezina? 

Kubalik has certainly played his way into the Calder Trophy discussion. In our PHWA midseason awards, I had him third on my list behind Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes, who were No. 1 and 2, respectively. It's difficult to see Kubalik jumping them but being in the conversation is impressive on its own.

Kubalik is on pace for 34 goals, which would be the fourth-most in franchise history by a rookie, behind Jeremy Roenick (34), Darryl Sutter (42) and Steve Larmer (43). If he continues to produce at this rate, Kubalik should finish as a finalist.

As far as the Vezina Trophy, Lehner absolutely has to be in the conversation to this point. He was third on my midseason awards ballot, behind Ben Bishop and Connor Hellebuyck, respectively.

Lehner ranks fifth among all goaltenders in goals saved above average (13.3), according to Natural Stat Trick. But of the 55 goaltenders who have at least 16 appearances this season, only one of them has faced more high-danger shots against per 60 minutes than Lehner (9.89) and that’s his teammate Corey Crawford (9.92).

Let me throw this out there too: If Kane has a monster stretch run and guides the Blackhawks to a playoff berth, look for him to sneak into the Hart Trophy conversation.

Anything on Shaw's status?

Andrew Shaw’s concussion history has been well-documented. He found himself in a dark place during the 2016-17 campaign after suffering a concussion in Montreal, so he's going to be extra careful this time around and he has been. He's been sidelined since Nov. 30.

The encouraging news is, Shaw has been around the team more as of late. He was spotted several times before the break observing practice from the bench and joined the team on their latest three-game road trip.

But it doesn’t appear Shaw's return is imminent. 

Will Lehner re-sign?

Lehner has made it known that he likes it in Chicago and believes in this group. But this summer, he wants to be paid market value — both in term and dollar amount. It's really going to come down to what the Blackhawks want to do.

If the Blackhawks fall out of the playoff picture, could they make Lehner available for trade? If so, it's been reported the Carolina Hurricanes would be heavily interested in his services. And they certainly wouldn't be the only team.

If the goal is to continue making strides forward, the Blackhawks should be exploring a long-term extension with Lehner, whether they miss the playoffs this season or not. He's become a valuable piece to the puzzle.

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Ride along with Patrick Sharp


Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Ride along with Patrick Sharp

Pat Boyle takes former Blackhawk Patrick Sharp on a ride around Chicago and they discuss Sharp making Chicago his home, the championship runs, how epic the celebrations were and reminisce about Sharp's long, successful career.

(0:56) - Chicago is home for Sharp

(4:10) - When Sharp knew the Hawks were ready to compete for a championship

(6:50) - What getting a letter on his sweater meant to Sharp

(10:50) - 2010 playoff run

(16:16) - Hockey was brought back to Chicago

(19:50) - How epic were the celebrations after the championships

(22:40) - Looking back at his career

Listen here or in the embedded player below.


Blackhawks Talk Podcast


Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.