Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Pronger presents big challenge

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Hawk Talk: Pronger presents big challenge

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
7:00 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO - A looming shadow is cast over the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup aspirations, running about 66, 220, with a number of battle scars and a scowl you can see, on a bright, sunny day like Monday, from Philadelphia.

Not to oversimplify the strategy Chicago brings to the ice on Saturday in Game 1 vs. the Flyers, but neutralizing massive defenseman Chris Pronger is central to whatever it is. For sure, the veteran of 16 seasons has captured the Blackhawks attention.

Hes a big guy, Chicago center Dave Bolland said.

Hes as good a player as there is back there, said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who coached Pronger with the St. Louis Blues. Pronger enjoyed career-high and league-leading ratings under Coach Q in 1997-98 (plus-47) and 1999-00 (plus-52).

Pronger only registered a plus-22 this season, leading Philadelphia at age 35. He also scored 55 points on 10 goals and 45 assists and didnt miss a single game, one of just five Flyers to accomplish that feat. And the burly giant wasnt making token appearances in games, eitherhis 25:56 of average ice time led the Flyers as well.

Hes a workhorse, Blackhawks alternacap Duncan Keith said. Hes out there most of the game.

Yeah, hes a big guy, Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said. He plays a lot of minutes, but it doesnt look like hes aged too much. Still we have to try to wear him down as much as possible.

Wear him down? Its tiring merely reading Prongers accolades.

To Bolland at least, Prongers size and superlatives come second to his experience in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Hes one of a few guys they have who have been through the Finals, Bolland said. I remember watching him dominate when the Anaheim Ducks won it.

Despite Prongers multi-tiered value to Philadelphias defense, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette may have little choice than to match his defensive ace on net, up against the Blackhawks own brawny man, Dustin Byfuglien, who has basically gone ham on both the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks in prior series.

Neither of those teams had a skater who could measure up against Big Buff, whose confidence is growing by the day and who has tallied a team playoff-high eight goals in just his last eight playoff games.

When it was suggested that Laviolette may choose to move Byfuglien using a skilled but smaller, quicker defender (say the 510, 194 Kimmo Timonen) Kane burst out laughing, dismissing the idea that you can attack Byfuglien at the net with anyone but your biggest player.

Pronger and Buff will be seeing a lot of each other in the series. Buff is just big and strong and he can just stand there at the net all day. No ones had an answer for him yet, and thats the way we want it.

Chicago didnt exactly prove it had solved Pronger, either, at least not in the one game the two clubs played during the 2009-10 season. It was the behemoth of the blue line who slipped behind Brent Seabrook and took a backdoor pass to score with just a few seconds left in the game, turning Philadelphia from likely desperation overtime team to look-ma buzzer-beater winners faster than you can say six-six and gulp.

There arent many obvious obstacles the Blackhawks will have to scale in Philadelphia as they begin to gameplan against the Flyers. But the one presented in Pronger is simply too big to ignore.

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

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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