Blackhawks

Its not time to fly out of Crows nest

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Its not time to fly out of Crows nest

Breathe, Blackhawks fans. Breathe.

Im not going to argue last nights game in Nashville was a pretty vision. It wasnt. But judging by the knee-jerk (emphasis on jerk) reactions on the ol TweetDeck as I kept one eye on that, the other on the game, and the other on writing my share of the SportsNet Central highlights, youd think the team had morphed from a seven-game points streak into the Columbus Blue Jackets (the same Jackets the Red Wings needed to get past in a shootout at home Saturday night, by the way).

Simply put, there were too many passengers. Thats never a good idea against Nashville. Its worse when they try to pull that off on the road. Its even worse when the Preds had been playing their tails off lately and still found themselves six points behind the Hawks with only a game in-hand. Marian Hossa was great, Patrick Sharp wasnt there, Jonathan Toews wasnt there for almost half the game. Patrick Kane was unable to bring with him the night he had 24 hours before. The supporting cast that had sparked that unbeaten run couldnt provide any production, either. They drew just one power play, and for the second straight game, managed only 22 shots on goal. And Corey Crawford let in a bad goal whether it was a bounce, or a poor read that further solidified the tempo and momentum the Preds had already established.

Crawford was actually good in the first period to get out of it 1-1. But everyone forgets that, and the results he got prior to that, courtesy of that one bad period. Calling on the coaching staff to immediately hand the job over to Ray Emery (probably the same people who questioned Emery making the team in the first place) would be a panic-button move. Despite the dogfight for points in the West, its still not time to panic.

It means they wouldnt trust what Crawford did for them last year, the investment they made in him in the off-season, and the way he bounced back strong after watching Emery play ahead of him last month. Has Crawford been as top-end consistent as he was as a rookie? Probably not. Has Emery been good? You bet. But translating three goals in an 11-minute span into losing your job, at this point, tears down the long-term goalie everyone around here believes was discovered a year ago.

Lucky for us, the Hawks dont get to see us have bad days at work, but thats part of their deal.

Crawfords season has reflected what Detroits Jimmy Howard went through last season following an outstanding rookie year. Theyve both been brought along slowly. Mike Babcock stuck with Howard through the bumps. And you see what hes doing right now. Unfortunately, there arent many goalies out there who dont have a few bad games each season.

This is by no means a final answer on the goalie situation. If there are more games and goals that can be pinned squarely on him, Joel Quenneville will start turning more towards Emery. Id imagine well start to get clearer answers in the three weeks of road games that follow next Sundays All-Star Game. If given the opportunity for redemption in Tuesdays rematch with Nashville, lets see how he responds. Sitting at this same point of the season over the last four years (and not knowing what lies ahead) which goalie tandem have you felt most comfortable with? Khabibulin-Huet? Niemi-Huet? Crawford-Turco? Or Crawford-Emery?

Right now, worry more about health, across-the-board effort (especially on the road), and finding the right pieces to add at the trade deadline. It shouldnt be goalie. Not yet.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Jonathan Toews watched a lot of playoff hockey this spring. 

"Quite a bit," he admitted Wednesday before making his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut at MB Ice Arena. "More than usual."

That's because the Blackhawks missed out on the postseason for the first time since his rookie year in 2007-08. It's obviously not a position he'd like himself or his team to be in, especially after experiencing three Stanley Cups in a six-year span.

But you have to find a way to take the positives out of it at this point and let it fuel you for the upcoming campaign.

"You always want to be there playing," Toews said. "But when you can maybe step away from the game a little bit and just kind of breathe and — at the same time, look back and realize you’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of success. Obviously there’s no satisfaction there, but you understand it’s not the worst thing to stop and smell the roses and appreciate what you’ve been able to experience, because I think failing to get to the playoffs makes you realize how difficult it really is and maybe it’s something you took for granted.

"But watching more hockey this spring, I think, is something that was really motivating and kind of inspiring and exciting to want to get back to that level again. You dream of playing in the NHL, but at the end of the day, you want to play playoff hockey. That’s what it’s all about."

There were plenty of things that went wrong for the Blackhawks last season and contributed to why they watched the playoffs from home, whether it's the Corey Crawford injury, the down season from Brandon Saad, or the inexperience on the blue line.

For Toews, who turned 30 in April, it's about regaining that old form that made him one of the top players in the NHL and hoping it can filter down the rest of the Blackhawks lineup.

"For me, it’s part of just recapturing that energy, that motivation, excitement and that mindset of a young player who takes nothing for granted, that you had in your younger days," he said. "But also carrying the experience with you and understanding the impact of what you say, what you do, how you carry yourself can impact your teammates, especially the young guys. For me, it comes down to knowing what to say at the right time. But letting my play be the thing that helps me lead by example. No better time than now to use that experience and that excitement trying to rebound off the season we had last year."

If there's any reason to have belief that the Blackhawks can turn it around quickly, look no further than the two teams that collided in the Stanley Cup Final: Vegas and Washington. 

The Golden Knights had the longest odds to win it all at the beginning of the season while the Capitals' championship window was perceived to be closed after they failed to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017 in the second round yet again with a loaded roster. But it's not about what's on paper.

"Watching that last series, you just knew it came down to who had the most, the deepest belief in themselves," Toews said. "I even had a hard time predicting who was going to win every series. It could’ve gone either way in a lot of situations. It’s not only motivating, seeing how fast that play was and to have missed out on playoff hockey this year and to have the drive to get back there, but knowing if you do sneak into the playoffs it doesn’t matter. You can go a long way.

"For us, thinking, 'OK, we're gonna back and win a Stanley Cup this year,' it sounds like a long shot. But as always, our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs and being ready to hit our stride when we get there."

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

The Blackhawks had cap space to use this summer but elected to shore up their depth rather than make a splash when free agency opened up on July 1. Perhaps a large reason for that was because Marian Hossa's $5.275 million cap hit over the next three years complicated what they could do exactly in the short term without jeopardizing the long term.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted Tuesday that they had had discussions about moving Hossa's contract for a year now. But it finally reached a point where they simply needed to get it off their hands, even if it meant giving up Vinnie Hinostroza as a sweetener.

"We tried to make that deal work in every other way possible but they obviously said he had to be in it," Bowman said of including Hinostroza.

That's how important it was to free up even more cap space. By trading Hossa's contract in a nine-piece trade with the Arizona Coyotes, it created more options for the Blackhawks and financial flexibility going forward.

"It was a difficult trade from a sentimental perspective, because we'd love to not have to do that," Bowman said. "But on the practical matter, it was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here. It necessitated us trying to make the move that we did make. You don't know when those opportunities are going to come to try and make that type of a move. ... When this presented itself, we talked it through and got to the point where we thought it was something we had to take advantage of."

The problem for the short term is, it's mid-July and the big-name free agents are off the market. There's not much the Blackhawks can do to improve their roster externally unless they make a trade, which would require dipping into the pipeline.

And it's unfair to put a grade on the Hossa trade as a whole without seeing how they utilize that extra cap space. Could that be before the 2018-19 season starts?

"It's an option if we can find the right player or the right situation," Bowman said. "We certainly have more options now than we did before. I wouldn't say we have to do something. Having cap space is an asset in and of itself, so things will come along maybe in the summer or maybe in the beginning part of the year where teams have a couple players that make their team unexpectedly and that makes some other players more expendable. In the past we probably haven't really been a good match for those types of situations because we didn't have the cap room at that time, so now we're going to be in the mix for those types of things.

"Whether we use it right away or whether we use it during the season, I think the nice thing is we have the flexibility now going in to the coming years where we're going to need cap room, all that and more, to sign the young players."

It doesn't sound like there's much urgency to pull something off between now and when training camp rolls around in September. At least for now.

That doesn't mean there won't be once the market picks back up again. 

"Each year teams have surprises, good and bad, in camp," Bowman said. "Our team’s the same way. You have ideas on how your lines are going to look or how your players are going to be ready. Sometimes guys surprise you in a good way, sometimes it’s not what you think. There’ll be some adjustments around the league, but probably not a lot of activity.

"If you look back the last couple of seasons, late July and August are quieter as far as transactions. But there are some arbitration cases coming up around the league; those may get settled ahead of time. But if they do go to arbitration, if the number's not the way the team likes it, they may look to do something. There’s the possibility of moves, but probably closer to training camp is more when changes may happen."