Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp will do whatever it takes to win another Stanley Cup in return to Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp will do whatever it takes to win another Stanley Cup in return to Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp was finishing up his opening statement when he broached the obvious subject: what to expect in his second tour of duty with the Blackhawks?

“I want to make it clear that I’m coming back home to contribute to the Blackhawks in whatever role it may be,” he said.

Sharp departed the Blackhawks two summers ago a three-time Stanley Cup champion, a top-six forward who played a big role in the team’s success. Now he’s back with Chicago, although with time passing comes changes. Sharp is now 35 and coming off one of his toughest seasons, especially with injuries. He’s recovering, very well and on schedule, from a hip surgery in March. He probably won’t be the top-six guy this time around. But to get another chance at a Cup with a group he knows very well, Sharp is willing to play whatever role necessary.

Sharp talked to the media on Saturday afternoon, not long after signing his one-year deal worth $1 million with the Blackhawks. It’s the latest in the Blackhawks’ attempts to rekindle magic with former players. For the most part, this has not worked out well. But for general manager Stan Bowman, the familiarity of Sharp, coupled with the forward’s ability to mentor to young players and fill a role on a team needing depth, was a convincing combination.

“We expect him to bring a lot of speed to the table. He knows how to put the puck in the net. That’s something some players just have a knack of getting open and getting the shot off. As far as the intangibles go, stuff away from the ice, there’s no question there’s chemistry there,” Bowman said. “There are younger players here who weren’t here when Patrick was here before, but I think he’s going to help mentor those guys. Patrick has a lot of experience, been through a lot of situations. He can help sort of mentor those younger players and so from that perspective, there’s great comfort level among players and staff.”

[MORE: Blackhawks bolster depth with flurry of moves]

As for that speed and great skating, how much will be affected by Sharp’s hip surgery. Both Sharp and Bowman said he’s progressing just fine and Sharp will be ready for training camp — the surgery had a 4-5-month recovery window. Sharp said he’s, “pushing it pretty hard in the gym, and I’ve been on the ice in full equipment skating. I don’t anticipate any problems going forward.”

“I still have a ton of time to be ready for Day 1 and be ready for training camp,” Sharp continued. “I had got the surgery toward the end of [March] and that provided me with a ton of time… not to just back to the level I was at in March but it also allows me time to build my body back up to where I can play a season. I’ve played a lot of hockey, I know where I have to be physically and mentally to start the season. The time I’ve given myself is plenty.”

So where does Sharp end up in the lineup? As of now, Brandon Saad is penciled in as Jonathan Toews’ left wing. Nick Schmaltz, who played some with Patrick Kane last season, will likely get the first shot on Kane’s wing when the season begins. Sharp finished his 2014-15 postseason playing on the Blackhawks’ third line, and that’s probably where he could start this fall.

Sharp had several options this free agency. Like Brian Campbell last season, he took a lot less money to return to the Blackhawks. Much like his paycheck, his role will be different this time, too. But it’s a familiar place full of familiar faces, and whatever role Sharp takes on in order to win another Cup, he said he’s willing to play it.

“I expect to be 100 percent ready to go from Day 1, to contribute in any role Joel [Quenneville] puts me in and I’ll do the best I can,” Sharp said. “I look back to my time in Chicago, being a part of three different teams, all three times I played in a different spot. Things move around, there’ll be changes and combination, but I’m open and ready for anything.”

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Blackhawks mailbag: Goaltending situation and how draft could affect free agency

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.  

When are the Blackhawks going to announce their recent signings?

This question came on Wednesday and the Blackhawks officially announced the signing of 26-year-old Swedish forward Anton Wedin on Thursday. Wedin, who's a 5-foot-11, 194-pound winger, had a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League and is expected to battle for a full-time roster spot for the Blackhawks in 2019-20.

The other one to watch for is Dominik Kubalik. He has reportedly agreed to an entry-level contract with the Blackhawks, but word is it won't be made official until the 2019 IIHF World Championship ends. He's currently representing the Czech Republic, which advanced to the semifinals on Thursday. Kubalik's rights were acquired by the Blackhawks from Los Angeles in January for a 2019 fifth-round pick.

Does Crawford get extended during the summer?

Corey Crawford has one year left on his six-year contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. The expectation is that he will be re-signed — and he should be. When that comes remains to be seen.

Given his health situation, the Blackhawks may prefer to see how the 2019-20 campaign plays out before diving into contract negotiations with their two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie. Or they could try ironing one out starting on July 1 so that it doesn't hang over his head all season long. 

Crawford will be 35 in December, but that should not be the primary concern. It's whether or not the Blackhawks can count on his availability. When healthy, he's still one of the best in the game and the importance of the goaltending position is at an all-time high. Term will be the thing to watch for when it comes to Crawford's next contract.

Outside of the number 3 pick, what players or positions should the Hawks target in the draft?

The Blackhawks' philosophy is to take the best available player, especially in the first round of the NHL Draft. In 2018, the hope for the organization was that they would come away with a forward and defenseman in Round 1 but instead landed two defensemen (Adam Boqvist at No. 8 and Nicolas Beaudin at No. 27). Same with 2017 when they ended up Henri Jokiharju (No. 29) and Ian Mitchell (second round, No. 57 overall).

The later rounds (4-7) are where that thinking gets trickier because there isn't as much separation between the best available players. At that point — if it's close — positional need might be the deciding factor. 

Given the surplus of high-end defensemen in the pipeline, it's easy to say the Blackhawks should focus more on forward depth and the goaltending position. And that's probably true. But you still want to take the player with the highest ceiling because there's value in developing players the right way and making them attractive trade pieces down the line if there's no room for them on the Blackhawks roster. 

Favorite UFA targets? How do those affect your draft, if at all?

This is an interesting question, and the cliché answer is that it shouldn't impact the draft at all. In fact, the draft may have more impact on what the Blackhawks do in free agency more than vice versa.

The top of the draft is loaded with centers (Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Jack Hughes, Peyton Krebs, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras). The other name generating buzz is Bowen Byram, who's a defenseman. If the Blackhawks pick one of those centers at No. 3 overall, which is very possible, they'll be adding that player — whether he's NHL ready next season or not — to a center group that already includes Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome. 

Toews is going to retire a Blackhawk. Strome is likely going to earn a long-term contract as well. And Kampf appears to be the perfect fourth-line center. Which leaves one center spot left. 

The odd man out may be Anisimov, but even so, there might be less of an inclination to sign a center to a long-term deal this summer if they draft a center at No. 3 because they will have filled that long-term need through the draft. If it's still an area they'd like to address in the short-term, then that could change the Blackhawks' way of thinking going into July 1.

Is Collin Delia the best option behind Crawford or are there other goalies in the system who are ready?

The Blackhawks are very much invested in Delia as Crawford's backup for the 2019-20 season. GM Stan Bowman said as much during exit interviews.

"I think Delia has taken a nice step as a pro this second year," Bowman said. "He didn't play a lot of NHL games, but certainly early on when he was playing a lot, he was really, really good. The hardest part for someone like Collin is trying to adjust to the NHL to not playing every night. I think when he came up and played in a few consecutive games, he was really good. And once we started rotation a bit, that's an adjustment for a young goalie. He wasn't sharp. But now he goes back to Rockford and I think he's the No. 1 or No. 2 in the American League in all his statistics. So he's doing all he can do to show that he's ready. That's nice knowing we have him signed for a couple of years and his best years are ahead of him." 

Kevin Lankinen is somebody that's quietly emerging as an intriguing prospect for the Blackhawks. He was put in tough spot this past season, starting with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL then rotating in and out with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, where he had a 2.50 goals against average and .910 save percentage in 19 appearances. 

At the 2019 IIHF World Championship, he's been a big bright spot for Finland. He has a 1.83 GAA and .916 save percentage in six games. The Blackhawks want to see him handle No. 1 responsibilities in Rockford before putting him into the conversation as a potential NHL backup.

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Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

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Bildbyrån

Blackhawks fill assistant coach vacancy with hiring of Tomas Mitell

One month after "mutually" agreeing to part ways with assistant coach Don Granato, the Blackhawks have hired 38-year-old Tomas Mitell as his replacement on Jeremy Colliton's staff. 

Mitell spent the past two seasons as head coach of AIK Hockey (Allsvenskan) in Sweden, where he guided the team to an overall record of 64-27-13. He led AIK to a league-best 35-8-9 record during the 2018-19 campaign, with their 35 wins and 109 points each setting franchise records.

Perhaps more notably: Mitell served as an assistant coach under Colliton with Mora IK (Allsvenskan) during the 2016-17 season, so there's obvious familiarity between the two. 

Mitell rounds out Colliton's staff that also includes assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank and veteran goaltending coach Jimmy Waite. It's a young group behind the Chicago bench, with Colliton (34), Brookbank (38) and Mitell (38) each having little NHL coaching experience but offer a new-school way of thinking.

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