Blackhawks

Lightning goalie situation up in the air heading into Game 3

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Lightning goalie situation up in the air heading into Game 3

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper was asked the inevitable question on Sunday, not long after he and the Lightning arrived in Chicago.

Know who your starting goaltender is for Game 3 against the Blackhawks?

“No, I don't, which would tell you, if I don't know, that Bish could be available,” Cooper said, referring to Ben Bishop, who started, but didn’t finish, Game 2 on Saturday night. “You'll have a better indication, I guess, tomorrow at the skate. Although our morning skates are all optional anyway; Bish, notoriously, he goes on sometimes during [optional skates] and sometimes he doesn’t. I’m sure you’ll get a clue then tomorrow.”

We’ll all get that clue at some point on Monday, although it may not be until game time. Will the starter be Bishop, who came out of the game, returned, then came out again for good in the third period on Saturday night? Or will it be backup Andrei Vasilevskiy, who came in relief of Bishop, stopped five shots and got the victory because he was in net when Jason Garrison scored the game-winning goal?

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“Yeah, we're not sure. “If we were, probably wouldn't tell you anyway,” Steven Stamkos said to laughs. “About Vasi, we have full confidence in him. I know a lot of us talked about it last night after the game.”

The Lightning talked of having faith in either of their goaltenders much like the Blackhawks did in the first round, when a struggling Corey Crawford was replaced by Scott Darling, who played well, before Crawford regained the net. It’s still a mystery what’s ailing Bishop. TVA Sports reported Bishop suffered a knee injury. Illness and dehydration were also possible issues.

[ALSO: Could Q separate Toews, Kane in Game 3?]

The Blackhawks aren’t too familiar with Vasilevskiy; Teuvo Teravainen knows the Russian goaltender some from international play.

“I think I've scored on him before, too,” said Teravainen with a smile. “I know they're [both] good goalies.”

Who’s starting in net for the Lightning? At the moment, we haven’t a clue. The Blackhawks don’t know either, but it won’t alter their game. They still want to get plenty of shots on him, still want to crash the net, still want to capitalize on rebounds.

“I think you approach any goalie the same way,” Brent Seabrook said. “[Vasilevskiy] played great for them the last, I don't know, five or six minutes the last game. You want to try to continue to get pucks and bodies at the net, make it tough for him to see. Get traffic. That's pretty much what you want to try to do.”

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.