Blackhawks

Six reasons the Blackhawks are 6-0-0

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Six reasons the Blackhawks are 6-0-0

The Chicago Blackhawks stormed the ice after defenseman Nick Leddy clinched another victory, this one in overtime. A 6-0-0 start, an impressive mark for any team, but a franchise record for the Blackhawks.

So how did the Blackhawks get here? Whats been working en route to this impressive mark? Here are six reasons why the Blackhawks are 6-0-0:

1. Four lines rolling. The Blackhawks ability to roll four lines and three defensive pairs, for that matter had Marian Hossa reminiscing about the 2010 Cup team during opening weekend. The steadiness and reliability among the lines has given the Blackhawks the necessary energy to go 60 minutes. Another little mention here: minus a minor tweak here and there, the lines and pairings have remained the same. No, coach Joel Quenneville usually doesnt change things up when the Blackhawks are winning; but weve all see him change things, even in mid-game, if results werent immediate. Theres been none of that so far this season, and the set lines have led to success.

2. Corey Crawford. The goaltender had something to prove this season after a rough sophomore stint. So far, so good. Crawford just looks more comfortable in the net this season; his positioning is better, hes staying square in the net and not over-committing to one side or the other, and hes getting more rebounds out of harms way defense is helping him there, too. If his critics are still looking for something to complain about: no, Crawford still doesnt have a shutout. But he has a 5-0-0 record with a 1.78 goals-against average (sixth best in the NHL) and .933 save percentage (seventh in NHL). Not a bad collection of numbers.

3. Great condition. The biggest concern for every NHL team in this lockout-shortened season was how players conditioning would be out of the gate. How would they take those first few hits? More muscle pulls and injuries early on? Outside of Daniel Carcillos season-opening knee injury, the Blackhawks health has been fine. Coach Joel Quenneville gave full credit to the players, be it the ones who honed their games overseas, those who played in Rockford or the ones who skated three times a week at Johnnys IceHouse West those four months. The Blackhawks took care of themselves, which was pivotal in getting through those six games in the first nine days.

4. Special, special teams. Lets not mince words: the Blackhawks power play and penalty kill were hellish last season. Costly, brutal, bad, whatever the negative connotation, it fit. This year, theyve been stellar. The power play, which has tallied at least one goal in five of their first six games, is ranked eighth in the league (26.9 percent). Their penalty kill has been even better. Its nixed 22 of 23 power plays its faced including six against the Wings last night and is second in the NHL (95.6 percent).

5. Big guns, big results. We scribes have the coachs motto on a saveget key: your best players need to be your best players. And through the first six games, the Blackhawks best have been just that. Patrick Kane leads the team with nine points (2 goals, 7 assists). Marian Hossa, who looks to have benefitted from the extra down time after last postseasons concussion, has eight (5-3-8). Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp each have six points. Couple the top guys work with contributions throughout the lineup, and the Blackhawks are a complete package right now.

6. Familiarity. The team you see now is basically the team you saw last year, personnel-wise. So why the start this season? Other than the reasons listed above, theres one more: these guys all know each other now. They know each others styles, tendencies and arent adjusting to new teammates constantly, as they were over the last two seasons.

Theres still a lot of hockey to be played and you can never predict what could happen in an 82- sorry, 48-game season. But when many NHLers talked in the preseason, they said a fast start would be necessary in this shortened campaign. The Blackhawks have gotten that. Credit them all, and the right factors, for getting them here.

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.