Blackhawks

Revamped Blackhawks definitely have work to do

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Revamped Blackhawks definitely have work to do

Brent Seabrook was talking about the Blackhawks’ young season so far when he made a simple assessment.

“I think we have some work to do,” he said following a 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

It comes as no great surprise that the Blackhawks didn’t come charging out of the 2015-16 gate. They went through so many changes this offseason there was no doubt it was going to take time. So here they sit, heading into November, with a mediocre 6-5-0 record. As coach Joel Quenneville said, “that’s probably what we should be.”

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The Blackhawks are struggling in areas this season that they haven’t dealt with since the season or two following the summer of 2010 purge. Their left-wing problem has replaced their long-time second-line center problem: they don’t really have the depth on that side right now. Much like they used to try to make centers out of wings, they’re now trying to make left wings out of those more suited as right ones — Teuvo Teravainen is one of those.

They’re also still looking for the combinations to give them that familiar, well-oiled four-line rotation. The lack of that has been glaring, from the multiple left wings used on the top line — Ryan Garbutt got another chance there on Friday night — to the third line changes, as well.

Marian Hossa was one who saw these early season bumps coming.

“We’ve got so many new pieces, it’s going to take some time. It may take 15 games for everyone to buy into the system,” he said recently. “Right now, we’re searching. Our coaching staff’s searching on who’s best with who.”

The search got that much tougher when Duncan Keith was sidelined after undergoing knee surgery. The Blackhawks lost more than a defenseman; they lost a power-play point man, a penalty killer, a massive minutes player and a leader. That’s a lot to replace, even with a team effort; and while the Blackhawks did it fairly well through the first three games Keith was sidelined, his absence has been felt more the past several contests.

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The Blackhawks aren’t going through a rebuild. That’s pretty drastic. But they are certainly going through a restructuring. New additions are learning new roles and new systems, and core players are adapting to new partners and linemates, something they haven’t had to do much of the last two or three seasons.

It takes time.

The Blackhawks have to adjust. Everyone will adapt. Keith will return. The Blackhawks know the Central Division is going to be tough. It is every year, and it’s going to take one hell of an effort to stay among the best teams. They can certainly get that necessary chemistry and get more consistent as they get to know each other better.

But as Seabrook correctly surmised, the Blackhawks definitely have some work to do.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”