Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: Second season off second chance

290986.jpg

Hawk Talk: Second season off second chance

Monday, April 11, 2011Posted: 7:10 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

No matter how much it hurt, the sun was still going to come up Monday.

Turns out, even though it was still overcast in the Chicago area this morning, the new day, and new life, couldnt have been shining any brighter for the Blackhawks. Consider their thank-you note in the mail for the Minnesota Wild, whose coach (Todd Richards) was still fired after their 4-3 win Sunday night over Dallas punched the defending champs ticket back to the post-season. Monday, there was a plane to catch for Vancouver for Wednesdays opener of the best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Obviously, youre praying Minnesotas gonna win. It was tough after our game, said Patrick Kane, who watched the game at home with his parents, who were in town. You feel like you kind of gave it away, and to have second life, maybe its one of those things we can appreciate now.

I was at home, watching TV with my brother, added last Junes Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Toews. I was kinda texting Sharpie, and hes like, Whats wrong with you? How come youre not watching the game? I started watching the second half. I honestly couldnt believe it.

For Duncan Keith, the phrase backing-in doesnt apply.

I definitely feel fortunate they (Dallas) didnt win, but at the same time, looking at the standings we deserve to be in. You go by points, we have more points than Dallas. It was definitely nerve-wracking watching that game, hoping they wouldnt get two more points. Having said that, we want to make the most of this opportunity.

The Blackhawks have been the Canucks demon the last two years, sending them into the off-season. Its Vancouvers pressure-cooked opportunity to exorcise the ghosts of the last two springs. Its the Hawks opportunity to approach this series with a nothing-to-lose, underdog mentality. Theyve been dealing with their own pressures the last three months in the wild West just to get back into the playoffs.

We dont spend every day in Vancouver, but definitely when youre there you get the feeling that they feel this is the year for their team, according to Toews. They had a great regular season. Youve got to think theyre putting a lot of pressure on themselves to win the whole thing. We dont feel like the underdog, but its easy to play that role a little bit go out there and try to make things as tough as we can for their team.

Theyre first in the league, and we just snuck into the playoffs, so obviously theyre the team I thinks got more pressure than us as far as trying to get through and win the Cup, offered Keith.

Chris Kamka from our Comcast SportsNet staff researched that since the NHL went to its current playoff format in 1994, there have been nine 8 over 1 seeded upsets, including one in each of the last two years. Back in 2006, the Edmonton Oilers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, only to lose in the seventh game to Carolina, still the last team not to make the playoffs the season after winning the title. The only time the Blackhawks were an 8th seed in that format was in 1997, when they lost, four games to two, to Colorado.

If the Blackhawks are to make it ten, theyll have to do it without at least two key ingredients to their success against the Canucks off-season departures Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. The latter, in particular, was the Nucks Nightmare. Byfuglien collected six goals and nine points in the last eight playoff encounters, and screened and jostled his way onto goalie Roberto Luongos doorstep, leading to many other goals.

Its a new look, its a new team, said head coach Joel Quenneville. But certainly being around the guys who have that experience theres things that can be related to these guys. Getting (them) exposed to the excitement and the emotions of playoff hockey can raise the pace of that 82-game grind and find that one more hurdle I think that can help us across the board, as well.

Another crucial component was Dave Bollands defense on the high-scoring Sedin twins, increasing their frustration factor as those series have gone on. Bolland missed the last 14 regular season games with a concussion, but returned to non-contact practice Saturday. Troy Brouwer, the Vancouver-area native whos capable of providing a net presence, missed the final three games after sustaining an upper-body injury last Tuesday in Montreal. Both traveled with the team to British Columbia Monday, and Quenneville said he expects both to play at some point in the series.

Other things to Mull-et

Kane said the first thing he did after the Wild win was call his barber, get him to open his downtown shop, and get a fresh mullet, his signature styling during last springs Stanley Cup run. Yes, he has the steps carved into the sides, above the ears. Toews claimed Viktor Stalberg was particularly excited about growing a playoff beard. He might be a candidate for strongest facial showing in this group, following the departures of Ladd and John Madden. But Kane had an interesting theory, stating 20-year-old Nick Leddy sports whiskers of a 38-year-old. Kane thought another 20-year-old, Marcus Kruger, might have the toughest time growing one.

The Hawks recalled four players from Rockford to have available for injury insurance in the playoffs: Forward Jeff Taffe, who played in one regular season game for the Hawks, defenseman Jassen Cullimore, who played in 36 games with the big club before Leddys recall after the first of the year, veteran defenseman Garnet Exelby, and goalie Hannu Toivinen.

The Hawks signed defenseman Joe Lavin, a fifth-round draft pick in 2006 (126th overall) to a two-year contract, beginning with the 2011-2012 season. The 21-year-old captained Notre Dame to the Frozen Four this past weekend.

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

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

ryan_hartman_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four or five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

In a 10-part series, we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-09 season, the start of the Blackhawks dynasty.

Starting a dynasty means you have to identify a group of core players to build your team around. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews were those guys, along with Marian Hossa, who joined that mix later on.

You also need a mixture of young talent and strong veterans to fill out the depth to become successful. That's exactly what the Blackhawks had at the beginning of their dynasty and throughout.

On the first day of NHL free agency in 2008, the Blackhawks inked All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal, which solidified Chicago as a destination players wanted to commit to long term. That same year, Kris Versteeg emerged as the Blackhawks' third Calder Trophy candidate in two years, Martin Havlat and Andrew Ladd set a career high in points with 77 and 49, respectively, while youngsters Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien began to make a name for themselves as valuable pieces to the puzzle.

"Real good group of guys," Joel Quenneville said on Oct. 18, 2008. "I can say that it's the first time I walked in the room where, wow, I was impressed."

Six of the Blackhawks' Top 10 scorers in 2008-09 were aged 23 or younger. The average age for the other four? 27. The youth movement was real and they all contributed in a big way.