Myers: Hawks roll with the changes en route to another Cup


Myers: Hawks roll with the changes en route to another Cup

The smile on Blackhawks president John McDonough’s face couldn’t get any bigger.

The Blackhawks had won another Stanley Cup, this one on home ice, as McDonough had hoped the team would eventually do.

In a few weeks the mood will change some as the Blackhawks once again part with key players off a championship team. But McDonough wasn’t sweating it.

“We adapt to change,” McDonough said a few minutes after the Blackhawks’ 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. “I think right now, change is the norm for all of us. We’re accustomed to it.”

It’s hard to argue. The Blackhawks went through a devastating player purge following their 2010 Cup victory. Three seasons later, they won it again. They parted with players after that victory. Two seasons later, they claimed their third Cup in the past six seasons.

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Yes, despite all the changes, the Blackhawks have everyone uttering that “D” word: dynasty. How do you argue it? The victories are there, even if they’re not in consecutive seasons. In the salary-cap world, doing what the Edmonton Oilers or New York Islanders or Montreal Canadiens did back in the day would be near impossible. Winning just about every other year is pretty difficult, too. Yet that’s what the Blackhawks have done.

So, this is a dynasty, right?

“I kind of thought I'd get asked that question,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “I don't think that's really for me to say. That's really for other people to make those proclamations. All I know is that we've got an amazing group here, they've accomplished a lot together, and I'm really proud of the effort they've given year after year. It doesn't always go your way, but they've accomplished quite a bit and we're not finished.”

The Blackhawks have gotten here thanks in large part to their core. When Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa – among others – are on your roster year after year, that’s an excellent start. And the example they set filters through the room.

“Consistency, the way our top guys prepare,” coach Joel Quenneville. “They want to be the best they can. They make players around them better. Their focus, concentration, each game is important to them to be the best they can be. They lead the charge and they play the right way.”

But, again, this is the salary-cap world and the Blackhawks have had to alter their roster, sometimes drastically. But the Blackhawks have found the answers in a variety of ways.

They’ve made the most of drafting and developing; 2011 selection Andrew Shaw was a big factor in the 2013 Cup as was Brandon Saad (2011) and Teuvo Teravainen (2012) in thisCup. All three should be fixtures with this group for a bit. Bowman’s talked on how he doesn’t like to depend on the free-agent market a ton but when he’s gone there, he’s done all right. Michal Handzus was critical in the 2013 Cup run. Antoine Vermette and Andrew Desjardins, trade-deadline pickups this spring,were terrific this postseason.

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No matter who comes along, however, be it draft/development or acquisition, they have to buy into the Blackhawks’ way of doing things. It’s team first, individual second. Egos have to be set aside. A role a player had on his previous team may not be the same here. But if players buy in, the end result is usually pretty good.

“It certainly is a credit to our leadership group on the team and also my staff has done a fantastic job drafting and developing players. The only way you make it work in this system is if you can have young players that you not only draft but you develop, or you find them as free agents and you develop them,” Bowman said. “We've got a lot of people working to put in countless hours and they can certainly make you look good. This is by no means all my doing. I have to credit them.”

The credit goes to a lot of people for making this work. The team brass has to make the right decisions, be it in the draft, at the trade deadline or during free agency. The coaches have to find the right combinations. And the players have to execute. Everyone has played their part. Change will come again for these Blackhawks. Who knows if they go as far next season; even if they don’t, it won’t be a surprise if they’re back in the thick in the near future.

“There are times players have to go, but Stan and Joel and hockey operations have done an amazing job,” McDonough said. “They understand today and they understand the future. That’s the secret of success for the Blackhawks.”

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on Tuesday:

1. Brandon Saad's breakout game

After turning in one of his best efforts of the season on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks rewarded Saad with a promotion to the top-six again. And he took advantage of that opportunity.

In the first period alone, Saad recorded four shots on goal, scored his first of the season on the power play, drew a penalty and had a takeaway in 7:42 of ice time, which led all forwards. He finished with nine shot attempts (a season-high seven on goal) and 18:56 of ice time.

On his power-play goal, Saad battled for position in front of the net, called for the puck and scored on his second effort. He did all the right things and got rewarded, including on the empty-netter that sealed the victory.

"I've had some chances, especially as of late," Saad said. "But it's definitely nice for them to get in and get a win on top of that."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "He was excellent tonight. ... I thought he had great speed all over the ice, had the puck way more. We’re happy for him. Big factor in the win."

2. Erik Gustafsson's slap-pass becoming a thing

For the second time this season, Gustafsson contributed to a game-winning goal that involved a fake shot and slap-pass from the point. Patrick Kane was the recipient of the cross-ice pass and buried home the one-timer from the right faceoff circle

"I can’t score by myself, so it’s better to pass it," Gustafsson joked. "No, I know Kaner is out there. He’s always getting open when someone else has the puck so it’s easy to find him and there was one guy in front of me so I wanted to pass it."

3. Blackhawks cut down on high-danger chances

On Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks allowed 25 high-danger chances at even strength. It put them at the very bottom of the league for most on average per game, ironically falling below Anaheim.

Through two periods on Tuesday, the Blackhawks allowed zero and only five at 5-on-5 for the entire game. Certainly a 180 from two nights ago, and an area they will continue to build upon.

"We just took away those quality chances," said Corey Crawford, who made 24 saves and picked up his first win at home since Dec. 17, 2017. "I don't think they really had too many where they had time in front of the net to really think about where they wanted to shoot and our guys were on the right away in the middle of the ice and that'll give you a great chance to win a hockey game."

4. Special teams battle

There were a total of 20 penalty minutes (10 for Anaheim, 10 for Chicago), which meant lots of power play opportunities and not as much even-strength time.

The Blackhawks had four of them in the first period, and converted on the second try when Saad scored his first of the season. The penalty killed went 4-for-4, allowing a combined eight combined shots on goal but limiting the quality chances.

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."