Blackhawks

NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: How quickly can P.K. Subban change the way the Predators play?

NHL 2016-17 Central Division preview: How quickly can P.K. Subban change the way the Predators play?

CSN Chicago will unveil a preview each day for every Central Division team leading up to the NHL's season-opener. Next up: Nashville Predators.

One-third of the craziest 23 minutes in National Hockey League history involved P.K. Subban being traded to the Predators from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for captain Shea Weber in a one-for-one swap. It shook the hockey world.

The move signaled the Predators' desire to change to an up-tempo style of hockey, which is becoming the new norm, while the Canadiens are looking to build around the best goaltender in the world in Carey Price.

How quickly will it take for the Predators to make that transition, though?

This team has the potential to win its first division title in franchise history, but it will be a tough road to climb when you factor in the competition in the Central and the amount of time it may take to gel.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016-17 season, Blackhawks fans!]

The Predators are so used to playing from Pekka Rinne on out and now it's the complete opposite. For as long as Weber anchored the back end, it was all about playing tight defense, and even with that style, Rinne had a career-worst save percentage of .908 last year. The quality of shots he'll face this year will get much tougher as they may not be as structurally sound in their own end.

On offense, Filip Forsberg and James Neal combined for 64 goals last year. Weber also accounted for 20 of them, and that's asking a lot out of both Forsberg and Neal to surpass what they did a year ago while counting on Subban to score 20-plus goals when his career-high is 15.

The Predators were also a top-four puck possession team last year, so while their attack should be much stronger with Subban leading the rush, the numbers can't improve by much.

The Predators don't have as deep a forward group as other teams in the division, and their second- and third-line centers are manned by 36-year-old newly-appointed captain Mike Fisher and 36-year-old Mike Ribeiro, who scored just seven goals last year which was the lowest mark of his career since 2002-03. Not exactly guys that can fly.

Subban will certainly change the way the Predators play — and for the better — but it may take some time getting used to. 

Other previews: Colorado Avalanche | Dallas Stars | Minnesota Wild

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

ilya_mikheyev_ap.jpg
AP

Reports: Blackhawks among finalists for a pair of international forwards

The Blackhawks are always active in the overseas market. Over the last few years, Dominik Kahun, David Kampf, Michal Kempny, Jacob Nilsson, Artemi Panarin and Jan Rutta are among the notable Chicago signings that have come from there. 

And they continue to be an attractive destination.

The Blackhawks have reportedly expressed interest in 24-year-old Russian winger Ilya Mikheyev and 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin, and the feeling is mutual.

Of the 30 NHL teams that have checked in on Mikheyev, TSN's Darren Dreger reported on Tuesday that the Blackhawks are among the finalists — although it appears the Toronto Maple Leafs could be the frontrunners. Mikheyev, who's 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, racked up 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 62 games this season for Avangard Omsk of the KHL, and tallied 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 13 postseason contests. His decision is expected to come this weekend.

Wedin has also reportedly narrowed his list, which includes the Blackhawks. He had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League, where he compiled 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 32 regular-season games and nine points (two goals, seven assists) in seven playoff contests with Timra IK.

The 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger is expected to make his decision either before or after the 2019 IIHF World Championship, depending on whether or not he plays for Sweden.

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Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

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