Invitees answer Blackhawks’ prospect camp call

Invitees answer Blackhawks’ prospect camp call

Jake Randolph wasn’t sure whether he should answer the phone or not, given it wasn’t a number he recognized.

“I almost ignored the call because I thought it was the usual telemarketer,” Randolph said with a laugh.

Randolph did answer it, however, and the “sales pitch” was an easy one for him to take: it was Ron Anderson, the Blackhawks’ director of player recruitment, inviting Randolph to the team’s prospect camp.

Undrafted players are part of a lot of prospect camps, and Randolph is one of 24 attending the Blackhawks’ one. For he and others, it’s a chance to hone some skills, to get some midsummer work in that can benefit them again come the fall or hope it leads to more opportunity – or a look – down the line.

James Sanchez, who hails from nearby Northbrook, is participating in his second camp in the past week. He was part of the Arizona Coyotes’ camp, which ran from July 4-8. Other than working through somewhat tired legs, he’s seeing the benefits of both camps.

“It’s surreal seeing the best of both worlds, seeing how they do it at different camps,” Sanchez said. “It’s an intense camp and an honor to be here.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Jimmy Schuldt and his St. Cloud State teammates were playing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha when Anderson invited him to camp. He’s been to several prospect camps in the past but this one with the Blackhawks, his first, was an eye opener.

“The skill level here was really high compared to the other ones, and it’s been a really good experience overall,” he said. “[I was invited] in the middle of the season, so you’re not really thinking about it too much because you’re focused on the season. But once summer came, I was excited to come out here.”

Randolph (Nebraska-Omaha), Sanchez (University of Michigan) and Schuldt are returning to their respective schools this fall. Same goes for fellow invitee Sam Piazza of nearby Darien, who also goes to Michigan. They’ll all take lessons learned from this week back with them.

“You get direct exposure to all the NHL guys, which is phenomenal. You get to see what an NHL program looks like, and the Blackhawks is one of the best so it was a pleasure to be around it,” Piazza said. “The coaches on the bench will give you tips on how to play a little bit. It’s more wide open here than in school, so you’re just working hard and doing the best you can.”

Schuldt agreed.

“There are a lot of little coaching tips you don’t think about. Not that my coach isn’t good at St. Cloud; he’s phenomenal. But [you] get another perspective, more eyes on me and breaking down my game further. That helps,” Schuldt said. “Little habits I formed over the past few days I’ll carry over to my season and hopefully help my team.”

Most of the camp invitees wrapped up their time here with Wednesday’s scrimmage. It’s been a good week of working and learning, and definitely worth answering that call.

“It’s a great experience,” Randolph said. “This is my first at an NHL camp and what better organization than the Blackhawks, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

Do the Blackhawks have room to sign John Tavares?


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


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.