Blackhawks

Toews, Saad bust slumps in Blackhawks' Game 4 victory

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Toews, Saad bust slumps in Blackhawks' Game 4 victory

Jonathan Toews waited just long enough before lifting the shot past Frederik Andersen.

Just like that, the Blackhawks captain, who hadn’t scored since the Minnesota Wild series, had found the back of the net again. The pressure to score was off — for that moment, anyway.

“I kind of feel that pressure all the time. I know it's there. Most of it I put on myself,” said Toews following the Blackhawks’ 5-4 double-overtime victory on Saturday night. “Just in some ways, (I’ve) got to stay patient and not show any frustration or show any sign of anything snowballing in the wrong direction for my own game.”

Toews and Brandon Saad ended their scoring droughts on Saturday — Toews hadn’t scored since Game 2 against the Wild on May 3, Saad since Game 1 on May 1. Whether it’s those two or other top-six players, from Patrick Sharp to Marian Hossa to Patrick Kane, they’re expected to produce more this time of year. The Blackhawks’ top line had a strong night, from those two goals — Saad’s short-handed score gave the team a 1-0 lead — to the offensive-zone time they had.

“Both those guys had monster games, not just production-wise, but their pace off the rush, possession-wise,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “They were dangerous.”

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Production hasn’t been easy for the Blackhawks in this series, regardless of player. Only Brad Richards has a point in each of the first four games (goal, three assists). Part of the point struggles has been the Ducks keeping the Blackhawks from getting close to Andersen. The Ducks goaltender has been strong, too. The five goals Andersen gave up in Game 5 equaled the number of goals he’d given up the previous three games combined.

“That last game was a big step to find the back of the net against Andersen and really see he is kind of human,” Bryan Bickell said. “Because he’s been standing on his head as of late.”

Every player feels the pressure to score this time of year but none more than the top guys. Saad and Toews ended their slumps on Saturday night. Others have come close to doing the same. The pressure never really dissipates, even when that goal comes. But the confidence grows, and that bodes well the rest of the way.

“I think as a line with Hoss and Saad, we generated a lot. Finally got a bounce. That's what I was waiting for,” Toews said. “Hopefully I can continue that confidence that scoring gives you, continue to make big plays.”

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.