Stan Bowman: Price was right for Blackhawks to reacquire Johnny Oduya

Stan Bowman: Price was right for Blackhawks to reacquire Johnny Oduya

For general manager Stan Bowman, bringing back Johnny Oduya had been a possibility for some time. Getting him at the right price made it a reality.

Oduya, who arrived in Chicago on Wednesday but didn't play against the Pittsburgh Penguins that night, was acquired from the Dallas Stars in exchange for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and Mark McNeill. The Blackhawks wanted to hang on to some of their prime assets, including draft picks for this summer's draft, which they host. But over the last few days each side got what it wanted.

"There comes a point when you have to keep your top assets, which I would say are your first- and second-round picks, as well as top prospects. When you have other discussions, those are the names that always come up and those are the assets they're asking for, and we weren't prepared to do that," Bowman said. "This was a price we're comfortable with. It allows us to maintain a lot of our prime assets going forward."

The familiarity Oduya has with the Blackhawks was certainly a selling point. But Bowman said it went beyond that, from Oduya's fitness level to previous work with Niklas Hjalmarsson to he's strength on special teams.

"In Johnny's case, he's still playing at a high level. He's always been incredible fitness level so he takes care of himself, trains hard, so that's the one thing we thought of," Bowman said. "The one element he may help us the most is the penalty kill, having another defenseman you can use. It can be problematic sometimes when one of your top defensemen takes a penalty and you're looking for guys you have that confidence in. Johnny's really strong in that area."

Coach Joel Quenneville said earlier today that they'll give Oduya, who's coming off an ankle injury, all the time he needs to get back to normal. Bowman said that had more to do with Oduya getting back to game pace than anything.

"He's played, so he's certainly not injured still," Bowman said, referring to Oduya's game on Sunday, his last with the Stars. "How sharp he is, that's the one thing. When you're out for a bit, it may take longer to get up to speed with the pace we want to play at. He may need a few more practices. We'll have a better sense of that [Thursday]."

Bowman said he wasn't really close to doing anything else. He reiterated what he said on Friday following the Tomas Jurco trade, that he was happy with how the forward lines have fallen into form and how the progress of young guys like Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero has continued.

Now for the slightly tweaked Blackhawks to see if the right price they paid leads to the right results come spring.

"I really liked the team we had here, even before we were able to add Johnny to the mix. Certainly when we have him now it gives our team that full complement of experience, depth and especially on the defensive side," Bowman said. "Up front, you see the progression of a lot of our younger players. They've come a long way in the last couple of months to being difference makers on our team. So I like the way the group is looking from top to bottom."

Why Blackhawks' Alex Nylander is standing out in Phase 3 training camp

Why Blackhawks' Alex Nylander is standing out in Phase 3 training camp

When forward Alex Nylander came to the Blackhawks last offseason in a trade that sent Henri Jokiharju — a young and promising defenseman for Chicago — to the Buffalo Sabres, Blackhawks fans and media were left scratching their heads.

Then, Nylander scored the Hawks' first goal of the season in their first game of the 2019-20 campaign against the Philadelphia Flyers in Prague. 

Throughout the season the winger would show flashes of offensive brilliance that occasionally earned him ice time among the Blackhawks' top forwards like Patrick Kane. 

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But as soon as we would feel remorse for doubting the trade and his abilities, Nylander would cough up the puck or hesitate in the midst of a quality scoring chance immediately after. 

The 22-year-old is using the NHL's Return To Play program as an opportunity to show growth and dependability in his game.

Nylander was one of few Hawks that regularly participated in Phase 2's small group voluntary workouts. Teammates are already noticing his game in Phase 3's training camp, which began on Monday.

Related: Why Blackhawks' Phase 3 training camp has had an extra intensity

"Nylander, I thought, looked really good. He’s quick, he’s firing the puck and he’s a lot of fun to play with," Hawks forward Dylan Strome said after Day 2's practice.

When asked about Strome's comments on Wednesday, Alex said he's confident in how he's performed in camp, but wants to reach another level for the Blackhawks' big postseason opportunity. 

"I feel pretty good right now, been getting those skates in before in Phase 2 which was huge. I feel really good here in camp, but I want to be prepared because this is obviously going to be my first playoffs," Nylander said. "Like Stromer said, I started playing really well at the end of the season, especially with Stromer and Kane, good chemistry and stuff like that and kind of building on that and keep it going for the playoffs, it's going to be huge."

The Blackhawks will be playing the Oilers in a best-of-five play-in series for this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs on Aug. 1 in Edmonton. Before the qualifying round starts, the Hawks will take on the St. Louis Blues July 29 in an exhibition game.

"We have huge games there obviously and we just need to be as ready as possible," Nylander said. "It was nice to get to know (teammates) and play with them in Phase 2, so we got to know each other better off the ice and on the ice, so just keep carrying it on every day in training camp and working hard and we'll be ready for the playoffs."

Nylander had 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 65 games with the Hawks before the NHL paused on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Malcolm Subban is preparing for potential 'opportunity of a lifetime'

How Malcolm Subban is preparing for potential 'opportunity of a lifetime'

When Robin Lehner was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights at the NHL trade deadline, you knew the Blackhawks were going to ride Corey Crawford down the stretch as long as they were mathematically in the playoff hunt. And that's exactly what happened.

Malcolm Subban, who was part of the package coming back to Chicago, logged only 70 seconds of ice time in a Blackhawks sweater prior to the March 12 pause after being called upon for a brief relief appearance. But his role could be expanding in a significant way ahead of the NHL’s Return to Play tournament.

Crawford has been absent for the first three days of training camp after being ruled "unfit to play," which has opened the door for Subban to potentially serve as the Blackhawks' starter for their qualifying round matchup against the Edmonton Oilers if Crawford isn't ready.

"It could end up being the opportunity of a lifetime," Subban said. "For me, it's just taking it day by day and continuing to work hard and making sure I'm ready if I get an opportunity."

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Head coach Jeremy Colliton made it clear on Day 1 that it will be an open competition as the Blackhawks prepare for the possibility of life without Crawford. Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Matt Tomkins will have as equal a shot as Subban to make their case, with all four rotating in and out with the NHL regulars' group during camp.

"We have a situation now where we’ve talked about it being open competition for a spot, whether that’s the starting position or the backup when we start come playoff time," Colliton said. "I think the work ethic from all of those guys has been good and that makes us feel good about the preparation they’re doing to take hold of that opportunity."

But Subban may have a slight leg up on the competition. He was one of only four Blackhawks — along with Alex DeBrincat, Alex Nylander and Patrick Kane — who participated in Phase 2 of voluntary workouts at Fifth Third Arena from start to finish and has the most career starts (60) among the four goaltenders.

Despite all that, Subban still feels like he has a long way to go before getting his timing right. He's taking full advantage of every practice session with goaltending coach Jimmy Waite and ironing out the fundamentals of his game because coaches weren’t allowed on the ice during Phase 2.

But Subban is slowly working his way back into form and getting more comfortable with each practice.

“We were skating for three or four weeks and I thought I was back on the little small things,” Subban said. “And then got out with Jimmy for the first time and realized I still had a lot of stuff to work on. But just getting out there and trying to correct those little bad habits that form and also getting back into game shape. Every skate will help.“