Blackhawks

Hawks welcome Morrison, start him on second line

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Hawks welcome Morrison, start him on second line

VANCOUVER Brendan Morrison made the all-too-familiar walk through Rogers Arena on Monday afternoon. The newest Chicago Blackhawks forward, acquired from Calgary on Friday, spent eight seasons with the Canucks and is well aware of their game.

As far as this intense matchup between the Canucks and the Blackhawks, hell get a first-person account of that soon enough.

Morrison will be in the lineup, possibly on the second line, when the Blackhawks play the Canucks at Rogers Arena on Tuesday night. The veteran center said he feels good and is ready to go against his former team. And hes got a pretty good idea what kind of game its going to be.

Theyre very heated. Even as a fan those are fun games to watch. They have a pretty intense battle going, Morrison said. Theres nothing like jumping right into it tomorrow night. It should be a pretty good atmosphere.

Morrison did indeed center the second line with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp in his first practice with the Blackhawks on Monday. Whether that stands for Tuesdays game Sharp is questionable for the game is uncertain. But no matter who Morrisons linemates are, coach Joel Quenneville said he wants the veteran to just play his game.

He doesnt have to do more than what hes always done: keep it simple and hell just grow with the group, he said. That line has the potential to really improve.

Morrison had some great years with the Canucks. He had career bests in goals (25), assists (46) and points (71) with them in 2002-03; he also put up his best postseason numbers that season, with 11 points in 14 games.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said parting with Morrison was tough.

I was a big fan of Brendan. He was a real piece of the foundation of this organization. Sometimes you have tough decisions to make and that was one of the tough ones we had, he said. I hope he does well, except for tomorrow night.

The game will certainly be intense. But Morrison will bring the calm demeanor and smart hockey sense hes had his entire career. And the thought of possibly playing with the likes of Hossa are appealing.

I dont know how much more help he needs; hes third in scoring in the league, Morrison said. But Ive been pretty lucky. Ive played with some high-end, talented guys. Ill just do what I do and try to get them the puck.

But the opportunity is there, and Morrisons ready for it. Hes done plenty in his career, save hoisting that Stanley Cup over his head. Now he has another shot at that.

I thought when I was here (in Vancouver) there was a good chance Id finish my career here. Since that time, who wouldve thought; the experiences Ive been able to have, Morrison said. As far as chances go this is as good a chance as Ive probably seen.

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

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USA TODAY

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?

The NHL Draft is over. Farm systems have been restocked and now the focus has shifted to free agency, where the fun is just beginning.

The biggest fish on the market is John Tavares, a franchise-changing center in the heart of his prime. For a little bit, it seemed like the loyal New York Islanders captain was ready to move on after they took another step back by missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

But then Lou Lamiorello became available and was snatched up by Long Island. His first order of business was relieving GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight of their duties, the first real sign that significant changes were coming. The next was securing Barry Trotz as head coach after he couldn't agree to terms on an extension with the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

For the first time in a while, there appears to be structure in the front office and coaching staff.

Yet, Tavares has remained committed to visiting with reportedly five teams in Los Angeles during the free agent negotiating window that opened Sunday. And he's absolutely earned that right. San Jose and Toronto are believed to be two of the teams. The rest is unclear.

When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle at the end of the draft on Saturday, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wouldn't confirm nor deny that they were one of the teams scheduled to meet with Tavares.

"I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile.

Whether or not they are, could the Blackhawks realistically even make it work?

They actually have the cap space to do it. Or at least they can make room without shuffling too many cards.

As of Sunday, the Blackhawks have $9.225 million in open cap space to fill out six roster spots. If you can find a trade partner for Marian Hossa's contract, that creates an extra $5.275 million, which brings the total up to $14.5 million. That's without subtracting any real bodies from the roster. 

Tavares is likely to command in the $10 million range for average annual value over the next seven years, and the latter part is key. While it would certainly be challenging to have three players eating up at least $10 million each in cap space — with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at $10.5 million — they could make it work in the short term.

But signing Tavares to a seven-year deal would probably get in the way of the Blackhawks' longer-term goals, which includes re-signing Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz when their entry-level deals expire and even Vinnie Hinostroza when his new two-year contract ends.

Are the Blackhawks willing to risk that?

For Tavares, maybe. But Toews is 30, Kane is 29 and Tavares will be 28 by the time this upcoming season starts. At some point, an infusion of youth would be required to remain competitive for the long term.

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

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USA TODAY

Stan Bowman plays coy when asked about pitching free agent John Tavares

The unrestricted free agent market opens up for the NHL on July 1. Five-time All-Star John Tavares is will reportedly be meeting with five different teams to talk about the possibility of leaving the only team he's played for his entire career, the New York Islanders. 

After a highly disappointing 33-39-10 finish to the 2017-18 season, many expect Chicago general manager Stan Bowman to be very aggressive this offseason. When asked by NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle if the Blackhawks would be one of the five teams going after Tavares, Bowman gave a very reticent answer.

"I woudn't want to spoil the surprise, right?" Bowman said with a smile. 

"No, I'm not going to comment on that, but I know we're gonna have a lot of discussions over the next five or six days and we'll see where it goes."

Reports indicate that the Islanders and Tavares had been trying to work out the terms of a long-term extension, but with so many attractive options out there, it will be a tough decision for him. There are several teams coming off of playoff runs expected to go after Tavares, including Tampa Bay, Las Vegas and San Jose. In addition to those teams, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be in play as well.

But Chicago's rough year was so out of place for a team so used to winning consistently, that one can imagine their pitch will be enticing.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada had this to say about the Blackhawks potential pursuit of Tavares: "They're not going to tolerate being that bad again, they're going to try something. I think they'll make a run at John Tavares too. I do, I think they'll ask, is there any way we can get him here?"

When taking all of this into account, it is sure to be an extremely exciting free agency period for the Blackhawks. The team is in full "re-tool" rather than "rebuild" mode, and there have been discussions that Kane may be becoming the more vocal leader of the team. But the addition of Tavares to a core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford could boost the Blackhawks back into Stanley Cup contention.