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

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.