Blackhawks

Stan Bowman: Blackhawks trying to get something done with Andrew Shaw

Stan Bowman: Blackhawks trying to get something done with Andrew Shaw

We’re entering the meaty portion of this offseason. The NHL draft begins Friday in Buffalo and free agency commences July 1. The Blackhawks have selections to make, questions to answer and a roster to shape.

And so it begins again.

With the salary cap set at $73 million for the 2016-17 season, general manager Stan Bowman can move forward with potential signings and other offseason moves. The top priority still seems to be re-signing Andrew Shaw, although Bowman said on Thursday there’s been no progress on that front thus far. Shaw’s agent Pat Brisson said via email last week that he expects to talk to Bowman at the draft this weekend.

“We’ve had some good discussions with his agent, so that’s ongoing. And we’re trying to get something done. That’s how I can characterize it right now,” Bowman said from Buffalo. “There are a lot of things we’re working through and that’s certainly one of them.”

The Blackhawks have some cap room but not a ton. If they do sign Shaw, he could take $3 million or more of that; he had a cap hit of $2 million last season. Do the Blackhawks get a defenseman? Do they make some other deal in the next few days/weeks? Plenty of speculation abounds this time of year but Bowman wasn’t talking about any of it.

“There are lots of rumors floating round. I’d say a majority of them are false but you can’t comment on individual rumors. We have a job to do and there are a lot of conversations this time of year,” Bowman said. “We’re trying to prepare for the draft, we have eight picks and that’s an important part of building for the future, making sure we prepare well and choose the right players. The other part of it is shaping our roster for next season, which can come through trades, preparing for free agency and those type of things. There’s a lot happening and these are busy days.”

In the meantime, the Blackhawks have shored up several depth players recently. Richard Panik signed a one-year deal last week. Nick Schmaltz signed a three-year, entry-level deal on Sunday. Dennis Rasmussen was re-signed for this coming season on Wednesday. As much as everyone likes the splashy deal and players these depth guys are just as important, especially to a team constantly fighting cap issues.

“It’s a huge part of what we’re trying to do here and critical to our success going forward,” Bowman said. “[This is Rasmussen’s] third year with us. He took a big jump last year and now he’s trying to build on that and expand his role. With Nick, we’re thrilled he made the decision he was ready for pro hockey. We’ve felt that way for a while here, watching him the last two years in college. He’s grown his game from when we drafted him and we thought it was time for him to take the next step. He felt the same way. He’ll have a great opportunity to show us what he can do in camp. We don’t hand out jobs but they’re there to come and earn. He’s prepared to have a big summer. When we get to see him on the ice, you’ll see the talent he has.”

The Blackhawks have eight picks at the draft; they’ve usually selected a good mix of forwards, defensemen and goaltending and they’ll probably do the same this draft. But this weekend usually goes beyond taking future prospects. The Blackhawks have decisions to make and a roster to shape. Much of that could start this weekend.

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the ECHL to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.