Blackhawks

Ian Cole weighs in on what went wrong for Blackhawks and chances of a Penguins three-peat

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AP

Ian Cole weighs in on what went wrong for Blackhawks and chances of a Penguins three-peat

Ian Cole is well familiar with the Blackhawks and the success they have experienced over the last decade.

He's seen in first-hand after spending his first four and a half NHL seasons in the same division as them with the St. Louis Blues before getting traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the deadline of the 2014-15 season.

Like the rest of the hockey community, Cole was shocked to see the Blackhawks get ousted in four games during their first-round series against the eventual Western Conference champion Nashville Predators. But he also understands how taxing it is to play deep into the playoffs on an annual basis, especially when three of them have ended with parades in late June.

"It was definitely surprising because of the caliber players that they have and how good they've been for so long," Cole said at the Chicago Hockey Charity Classic in Geneva last weekend. "But you certainly can sympathize with the fatigue that builds up after playing that many games for that long. How many? Six, seven, eight years now where they've played a lot of hockey.

"Then again, you saw the run that Nashville went on, how well they were playing and they were a buzzsaw for sure. They went through a lot of teams that people didn't give them a chance on. You come up against a hot team, maybe you don't play your best, even for a team like the Hawks you can lose."

While there are a combination of reasons for the Blackhawks' quick exit, one of them may also be attributed to the big gap between the core veterans that have won multiple Stanley Cups and the first- and second-year players with little-to-no playoff experience. 

There was no in between. It wasn't noticeable in the regular season, but it certainly showed in the postseason when the stars weren't at their best.

Coming together and being associated as one unit will be key for the Blackhawks returning to glory, and Patrick Kane training with Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza in Chicago this summer is a great step towards wanting to make that happen.

"Experience helps for sure," Cole said. "I don't think that it's something you want to overlook, but at the same time the guys that were there that didn't have that playoff experience certainly contributed during the regular season, were very, very good hockey players and are very good hockey players, and will continue to be very good hockey players in the future.

"I think their future is really bright. Last year was a hiccup for a really, really good hockey team. I think next year they'll be right back at it. I can't see any other outcome in that."

The Penguins went through a similar situation when they reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2008, won it in 2009, and followed that up by winning only one playoff series over the next three seasons. 

A big part of the culture change is when Mike Sullivan took over as head coach in December of 2015. He helped lead the Penguins to two Stanley Cups in an 18-month span, and became just the second head coach in league history to win back-to-back titles in his first two seasons with a franchise.

Rewind a few months back though, and it was actually his third straight year of getting a ring. Sullivan served as a player development coach for the Blackhawks during the 2014-15 Stanley Cup campaign, where he studied individual players and the team as a whole.

Being a behind-the-scenes coach for a championship-winning organization was important for Sullivan's coaching career, and he hasn't been shy about carrying over many of the lessons he learned in his brief stint with the Blackhawks to Pittsburgh.

"He certainly speaks to our defensemen about Duncan Keith and what he does, and Brent Seabrook and what he does, and seeing them close up and how they perform and play in certain situations," Cole said of Sullivan. "He can certainly relate those to us. And it's not anything that you can't find out watching video. There are no secrets, but when you do have that personal experience, you can certainly draw from that and he does.

"A team that has had as much success as the Blackhawks, I think you'd be foolish to not try to learn from what they've done to be successful. And I'm sure teams will try to learn from what we did when we were successful."

Finally getting back on the ice last week to prepare for the upcoming season after another shortened summer, Cole and the Penguins have turned the page and are looking to do something no team has accomplished since the early 1980s: a three-peat.

"It's actually funny, because as soon as we won the second one, people were saying, 'Let's go for three!'" Cole said. "There are some short summers and there's a lot of built up fatigue. You can definitely feel it from the second year of the playoffs as opposed to the first year. There's a lot more fatigue and you certainly hit that wall a lot quicker. ... But it's just one of those things that you have to battle through.

"You're paid to win hockey games and you ultimately want to win the Stanley Cup every single year. Any goal short of that is a mistake. So that's going to be our goal."

But is it actually realistic?

"People said that back-to-back wasn't necessarily realistic based on the history of it," Cole said. "We would love to make it happen. If there's a team that could do it, I think it's us. We all want to make it happen, we all want to go down in the history books that can win three, heck four, go match the Islanders. Can it happen? Who knows. But we're certainly going to try."

Blackhawks hoping to get players back on road trip

Blackhawks hoping to get players back on road trip

The Blackhawks were still without Duncan Keith (groin injury) and Andrew Shaw (concussion protocol) at practice on Wednesday before hopping on a flight to Boston for Thursday's game and then to New Jersey for Friday. 

With Keith out, defenseman Dennis Gilbert was recalled from the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL and participated in practice. 

Dylan Strome (concussion protocol) and Drake Caggiula (concussion protocol) will travel with the team and will be evaluated prior to Thursday's game per Hawks head coach Jeremy Colliton. Olli Maatta missed practice with "flu-like symptoms" but should be good against the Bruins. Robin Lehner, who missed Monday's game with the flu, practiced Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Tough matchup

The Blackhawks, 1-5-1 in their past seven games and last place in the Central division, will have their work cut out for them against the Bruins, who sit in first of the Atlantic division and haven't lost a regulation game at home.

"We know we have to be better at the end of the day," Hawks rookie Kirby Dach said. "It kind of starts from the top and comes all the way down, we have to find a way to compete every night, pull the rope in the same way. With the leadership group we have, they've been through so much, I'm confident in them and our coaching staff to help us, especially me, get through this."

New Jersey, last in the Metropolitan division, could be a different story. The struggling Devils underwent a coaching change, firing head coach John Hynes and naming Alain Nasreddine interim head coach a couple hours before their 4-3 loss to the Golden Knights on Tuesday.

Close one

Patrick Kane went in early during practice after incidental content with Zack Smith's arm during a drill, but Colliton said he'll be fine and good to go Thursday. 

Moms! 

The Blackhawks players will be accompanied by their mothers on the road for the annual mom's trip.

"I think it’ll give everyone a boost," Colliton said. "It’s always nice to have family around and obviously whether it’s moms or important people in your life, it’ll be good for the group to have them around."

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A decade since the Blackhawks signed Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane to extensions

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USA Today

A decade since the Blackhawks signed Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane to extensions

On Dec. 3, 2009, the Blackhawks wrote some of the grandest chapters of their rich history, along with some checks to fund them. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith all signed contract extensions with the Hawks on this day before going on the lift the Stanley Cup three times in a Hawks sweater.

Toews was 21 and the youngest captain in the NHL at the time he inked his five-year extension with a $6.3 million average annual value. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and Selke and Conn Smythe trophy winner played his 900th game with the Blackhawks on Monday and has 769 points (331 goals, 438 assists) with Chicago.

Kane, whose extension mirrored Toews', was also 21 at the time of the deal and went on to capture Calder, Art Ross, Conn Smythe and Hart trophies in addition to being the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 NHL Draft and grabbing Olympic silver. Kane has 971 points (370 goals, 601 assists) in 930 games with the Hawks.

Toews and Kane signed another extension on July 9, 2014, with equal terms sporting an average annual value of $10.5 million through eight years. It was the highest AAV in the league when the contracts kicked in during the 2015-16 season. They are locked up through 2022-23 with a no movement clause.

Keith was 26 when he signed his 13-year extension with an AAV of $5.54 million. The defenseman, currently out with a groin injury, went on to win a Conn Smythe and two Norris trophies in addition to two Olympic gold medals. He's under contract with a no movement clause through 2022-23. Keith has a career +/- rating of +157 and 589 points (99 goals, 490 assists) in 1102 games with the Hawks.

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