Blackhawks

Predators ready to bring 'spirited game' against Blackhawks

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Predators ready to bring 'spirited game' against Blackhawks

After Game 3 of their opening-round playoff series against the Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators were still feeling pretty good about their performance despite their 4-2 loss.

Sure, there were some things they would have liked to do better, and the Predators have since addressed those areas heading into Game 4 inside the United Center.

[RELATED - Blackhawks: Shaw, Ribeiro ready to move on after Game 3 punch]

"We weren't skating as well as we had in the previous two games," Colin Wilson said. "I think they did a good job with their back pressure and it's something we usually use as our identity is back pressure. I don't think we were skating the way that we could have."

Now the Predators find themselves down by one in the series heading into Game 4. And while they said they address every playoff game as a must-win, they're not looking to change too many things against the Blackhawks on Thursday night.

"I think we've taken every game with the same approach," Wilson said. "You don't want to go two behind to a team in a series, but I think we've played every game like a must-win and if we keep playing the same way, we can [go far]."

Head coach Peter Laviolette has been happy with what he's seem overall from his team, and isn't worried about a lack of effort or energy as the playoffs continue.

"I don't think they were holding anything back in Games 1, 2 and 3. Playoffs are playoffs, each games are their own individual identity. Our guys, they seem to give an honest effort and they played hard. We didn't get results, and it's about results in the playoffs."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Now the Predators will aim to achieve those results tonight. For Nashville, it's about fixing some little areas — and adjusting in the absence of Shea Weber and Mike Fisher — but keeping their style of game the same.

"I don't think it was a lack of effort, or energy or wanting to do well," Laviolette said. "I believe that they'll bring a spirited game to the rink tonight. I believe their heads and energy will be in the right place and we'll take on the Blackhawks. But there's a lot of confidence in our room that if we play a certain way and certain style and execute, we can find success for sure."

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.