Blackhawks

NHLPA offers proposal, both sides expected to meet Tuesday

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NHLPA offers proposal, both sides expected to meet Tuesday

After going through the NHLs 288-page proposal this weekend, the NHLPA handed their much-shorter proposal to the league during talks on Monday. And the two will spend New Years Day talking more.

The players association offered their own proposal when the two sides met today in New York City. As the New Years Eve revelry increased outside the NHL offices near Times Square late Monday afternoon, the two sides broke off talks for the day.

But theyll get back together soon.

Their response was a comprehensive one dealing with the full slate of issues that we raised and proposals we put forth, league commissioner Gary Bettman told New York media tonight. Were in the process of reviewing their response. Were going to do that tonight, and the expectation is well contact them tomorrow morning and get back together hopefully by midday.

Bettman did not talk specifics about the NHLPA proposal. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, when asked if the players made any movement on their latest proposal, said yes, but Im not going to describe it beyond that. SportsNets John Shannon reported that the NHLPA proposal was 26 pages.

We covered the range of subjects they covered. Their document included a very long list of contract language as opposed to bullet-point items, Fehr said.

Asked if owners could come back into the negotiation picture, Bettman said, thats not currently contemplated. Well see how things develop.

This is as congenial of talks that the league and NHLPA have had in quite some time. We all remember Dec. 6, when Fehr went to the podium in New York and proclaimed the two sides close to a deal. An angry Bettman followed shortly after, saying that was not the case.

Both sides are scurrying to draw up a new collective bargaining agreement in the hopes of at least a 48-game hockey season.

We need to drop the puck by Jan. 19 if were going to play a 48-game season, Bettman said. It doesnt make sense to play a season shorter than that.

How Blackhawks are taking a page out of Capitals book in new-look power play scheme

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USA TODAY

How Blackhawks are taking a page out of Capitals book in new-look power play scheme

The Blackhawks haven't really been known to be a strong power-play team under Joel Quenneville. During their three Stanley Cup runs, they finished 16th (2010), 19th (2013) and 20th (2015) and often relied more on their 5-on-5 and penalty kill success.

But last season was a disaster with the man advantage in many ways, tied for third-worst with a 16.0 percent success rate. Something needed to change over the summer, whether it was schematically or personnel wise.

The Blackhawks showed on Monday that they have done both. And it looked awfully similar to the structure the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals ran that was so successful in the playoffs: a top-heavy first unit that consists of four forwards and one defenseman with a 1-3-1 setup.

Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Nick Schmaltz, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith made up the first unit. Victor Ejdsell, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Saad, Dylan Sikura and Erik Gustafsson made up the second.

But let's focus on the first unit and the technical changes.

Here's a general idea of what the Blackhawks power play setup looked like last season: 

As you can see, it's very spread out, essentially using the perimeter to create and cycle the puck. The advantage to this particular setup is the ability to have freedom in the offensive zone. The disadvantage is the lack of structure because you're basically just looking for openings. And trying to find that perfect pass or shot is something the Blackhawks did far too often last year.

"I think just not shooting enough, trying to be too cute, looking for that perfect play," Schmaltz said on what went wrong with the power play in 2017-18. "I think if you get that first shot then you retrieve it you can kind of make sure to get those second and third pucks and that's when they really tire out and then that's where those seam plays develop."

A lot of the times, it was Kane or bust. While your best offensive player should certainly have the puck and drive the possession, it's not the best team recipe for success when you're depending so heavily on one player. 

"Any time you have Kaner with the puck he's going to make things happen," said Kunitz, who was a part of several top-ranked power plays with Pittsburgh playing alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. "But I don't think you can just rely on him to do it for everybody else. There's guys out there with tons of skill and they've shown that's why they're out in those first units to be able to go out there and make those plays, so I think it's something that you have to be a threat, everybody on the ice of making the right play and dictating where the puck can move.

"It doesn't always have to move through one guy. And when you do that it opens up some spaces for everybody else. But it's something that you have to be able to take that initiative to want to score goals, go out and do it and when you make those plays it'll open up the ice for everybody else."

To help do that, assistant coach Kevin Dineen unveiled a new 1-3-1 scheme with the biggest change being Schmaltz setting up shop in the slot, where T.J. Oshie found great success in Washington. It allows Schmaltz to be a hub in the middle of the zone, where he can pass it to four different players while also using his quick release to uncork a snapshot.

How many times did we see this play work for the Capitals last season?

Oshie and Alex Ovechkin finished with six power-play goals last postseason, which led all players. The Capitals as a team ranked seventh in the regular season (22.5 percent) and second in the playoffs, converting on 22 of 75 attempts for a conversation rate of 29.3 percent. Those two were crucial to the success.

Perhaps the thought to put DeBrincat on the left side is that it puts his deceptive shot to good use and, like Ovechkin, keeps penalty killers thinking by not giving him a clear path to tee off a slap shot from the faceoff circle, which could open up something else.

With Schmaltz playing the role of Oshie and DeBrincat playing the role of Ovechkin, that leaves Kane and Toews on the other side to play off each other like Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov (as seen in the GIF above) and allows Keith to play the role of John Carlson at the point. Not bad.

With an emphasis being put more on special teams success, particularly the power play, perhaps the Blackhawks will see more production in all areas if they're successful in the one they struggled in the most last season.

"It's the first day we practiced it, so it's just one day at a time here," Keith said. "I think try to turn the page, just focus on this year and not worry about last year and what happened. A lot of time's power play is about confidence too, 5-on-5, anything, individual players, your confidence is a major factor. It's a new year, let's have fun, move it around and make some plays."

At age 33, Brent Seabrook trying to adapt game while staying true to himself

At age 33, Brent Seabrook trying to adapt game while staying true to himself

At 33 years of age, Brent Seabrook knows he isn't getting any younger. Quite frankly, nobody is. Except for the NHL.

Recognizing this, he had one goal — no pun intended — in mind this offseason.

"As I get older, it's tougher to play [against] all these young water bugs," Seabrook said in April. "My main focus this summer is trying to get in the best shape I can."

He did just that. Seabrook noticeably looks more fit as the Blackhawks reported to training camp this weekend, but there was an injury scare that delayed his start.

Three weeks ago he felt something bothering him in his abdomen and had no choice but to get it checked out.

"To be honest, when doc gave me the news I freaked out," Seabrook said. "I put a lot of effort into this summer and trying to get my body where it needs to be to have a good season and have a good camp. I think that's where it's going to start for us here this season, is right now during camp and I was pretty disappointed that I wasn't able to partake in the first day and first couple days to be on the ice, but it was nice to be out there today that's for sure."

Fortunately for he and the Blackhawks, it only sidelined him for two days of on-ice drills, which is the most important part of developing team chemistry going into a season everybody in the organization is motivated to begin after seeing how last year unfolded.

While he wasn't able to participate in the dreaded fitness testing with his teammates on Thursday, you don't have to look at the test results to know Seabrook is in the best shape of his life.

"He had a good summer," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought he did a real good job of training and pushing to the next level. I think when you're looking at his fitness level ... we know that he's way better than he's ever been and that commitment, it shows that he's doing everything he can to enhance his game and enhance our team game, so that's going to make him quicker out there."

In any profession, evolving with the times is essential to staying relevant. Seabrook understands the league is as young and quick as it's ever been, which is why he spent so much time focusing on that this summer.

But he also has to stay true to himself and what has made him Brent Seabrook.

"I'm me and that's not going to change," he said. "The abilities I have, I can work on making them quicker, faster, better, things like that, but what you see is what you get. I don't think you can really change with the times other than trying to get better. You're always learning out there, learning how different tendencies are, watching players around the league, skating in the summer and trying different things, that's kind of it.

"But the main focus for me this summer was my quickness. Single leg strength, getting that good push, being able to focus on having that quick jump and being able to close gaps quickly. Obviously, the stuff I've done over the years, trying to have a good stick, be physical, that can work in my advantage as well ... I'm me, but you try to get better in certain areas and try to adapt for sure."

Seabrook isn't going to outrace Connor McDavid or Mathew Barzal to a puck; not many people can. Speed is different than quickness.

If his quickness and strong first step can help put himself in a good position on the ice to cut off angles, that's where you will see the results.

"They're fast, they're quick," Seabrook said. "It's as much positioning and knowing where to be on the ice for myself as much as it is to be as fast and as quick as them. I don't think I'm going to catch them as I'm getting older, but I can put myself in good positions and good situations where I'm not getting beat and having to turn around and chase them and having a good gap, really focusing on my quickness and my conditioning this summer and just trying to be the best Brent Seabrook I can be."