Blackhawks

Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz regaining confidence in their games in Rockford

Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz regaining confidence in their games in Rockford

ROCKFORD – Tyler Motte likes how his game was coming around. That game that showed great promise and power with the Blackhawks before he suffered his lower-body injury in November seems to be returning with the Rockford IceHogs.

"The pace and style's a little different but I'm getting at top speed more often, using my speed in certain situations," said Motte following the IceHogs' skate on Friday morning. "I'm getting open for my linemates to make plays, to get the puck on my tape or for me to get it on theirs. The confidence is definitely coming back, if not back already."

Hence the point of the Rockford assignment not just for him, but for fellow forward Nick Schmaltz. The two, who had their ups and downs in their first few months with the Blackhawks, are currently linemates (with Spencer Abbott) in Rockford. And while it was disappointing to leave Chicago, both know the work they do with the IceHogs now will benefit them going forward.

"I'm playing a lot of minutes and my offensive game has been improving and I've been making plays and playing well with the puck," said Schmaltz, who has six goals and three assists in 12 games with Rockford. "Hopefully I can keep that going and keep building my confidence."

Rockford coach Ted Dent said both have looked good with the IceHogs.

"[Schmaltz] has been good. He's handling the puck and he's playing in all situations – we're using him on the penalty kill as well sometimes. He looks comfortable," Dent said. "[Motte's] got a really good power move to the net on the right and left-wing side, because he's not afraid to go to the net and protect the puck, which is one of his strengths."

Motte has three goals and an assist in four games with the IceHogs. Anyone who saw Motte in his first few NHL games saw his power move to the net, one where he would out-hustle defenders and score a few goals in the process. But after returning from his injury, Motte didn't have that same drive.

"I don't think anyone comes back 100 percent right away after any injury but the injury itself can't be an excuse," said Motte, who added that he now feels as close to 100 percent as he has all season. "I don't think I played my best when I came back, was put in a little different role when I did come back, didn't see quite the same opportunities I had before. But again there's no excuse for not playing to the best of my ability and contribute more when I was up there."

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Schmaltz was healthy in his time in Chicago but still struggled to find consistency. With the IceHogs he's getting the minutes, responsibilities and confidence, and he's doing it with regular linemates. He and Abbott were together for several games before Motte joined them, and Schmaltz and Motte played together at development camps in the past.

"It's just a little bit of predictability," Schmaltz said. "You know what your line mates are going to do. They're two high-end skill players so that makes my job easier. Motte can shoot the puck and Abbs is a good play-making guy you can feed off. We have a little bit of everything on the line."

Guys like Motte and Schmaltz are there to improve their on-ice game but their mental approach to the situation is just as critical. Dent said both forwards have the right attitude about why they're there.

"Most of the time they start in Rockford and then they go to Chicago. It's different with these two and we haven't had that in a long time. So mentally, it's harder than anything else," he said. "It's just the right mindset. But they've been coached well and told the right things: go to Rockford, have the right attitude, play a lot of minutes, be the man, get your confidence back. And at some point in the near future I'm sure they'll go back up."

Getting that first taste of the NHL and then being reassigned can be a tough adjustment. Motte and Schmaltz are like any other player: being in the NHL is ultimately what they want. Right now, the stint in Rockford is what they need. 

"Obviously, eventually I want to be back. That's where everyone wants to play," Schmaltz said. "I'll keep working hard, keep building my game. In the long run, I'll look back and it and I think this will benefit me."

Watch live: Kirby Dach's Blackhawks introductory press conference

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Watch live: Kirby Dach's Blackhawks introductory press conference

The Blackhawks made a franchise-altering move over the weekend, selecting center Kirby Dach third overall in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Monday, the Blackhawks are holding an introductory press conference for Dach, 18, at the United Center. Here's the important information for those looking to tune-in to the big event:

Time: 11 a.m. CT

Television: NBC Sports Chicago (see channel finder)

Stream: NBCSportsChicago.com or the MyTeams app

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Evaluating where things stand for Blackhawks as negotiating window opens for NHL free agents

Evaluating where things stand for Blackhawks as negotiating window opens for NHL free agents

VANCOUVER — For more than two months, the Blackhawks had been primarily focused on the 2019 NHL Draft because the hockey gods gifted them with the No. 3 overall pick and a chance to speed up the retooling process in a significant way. They used that selection on Kirby Dach, a 6-foot-4, 198-pound right-handed shot center who’s projected to be a future first-liner for many years to come.

But now all the attention has shifted to Sunday, when the negotiating window for NHL free agents opened up. And the Blackhawks are expected to be one of the more active teams throughout this process as they prepare for July 1.

With the NHL and NHLPA officially setting the salary cap ceiling for the 2019-20 season at $81.5 million — a $2 million increase from last season but $1.5 million less than the original projection — general managers can finally calculate their financial plans internally as they approach the legal tampering period. The Blackhawks aren’t one of those teams where they’re living and dying by how much the upper limit fluctuates, but it’s still noteworthy that they’re projected to have $16.5 million in cap space, according to Cap Friendly.

However, that does not include the potential new deals for their restricted free agents. 

Stan Bowman said after Saturday’s draft that Brendan Perlini will be re-signed. Dylan Sikura is expected to be as well, as is Gustav Forsling. John Quenneville, who was acquired for John Hayden, is also a RFA and is expected to receive a qualifying offer but it’s unclear whether he’ll factor into the Blackhawks’ plans next season. So they don’t have an unlimited supply of money to spend.

But they certainly have enough to add an impact-type player.

Over the last month, the Blackhawks have been linked to Kevin Hayes (before his rights were traded to Philadelphia and signed a seven-year, $50 million deal), New York Islanders captain Anders Lee and six-time 30-goal scorer Corey Perry, to name a few. That indicates the Blackhawks are in the market for a middle tier player, not the upper (sorry Chicago, but the Artemi Panarin homecoming always has been a pipe dream).

The other option is to continue exploring the trade market.

The Blackhawks already acquired defenseman Olli Maatta, but that was a deal executed because it didn't require subtracting a key piece of the roster. It really could come down to whether the Blackhawks want to handpick who they want via trade and give up the assets to do it or potentially overpay — both in dollar amount and term — on the open market, which could present challenges down the road when Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and even Erik Gustafsson — depending on if he fits into the budget — are due new deals.

If it's the former, the Blackhawks prefer overpaying for the right player — somebody like Perry or Joe Pavelski on a shorter-term deal despite a higher cap hit would be ideal to help bridge the gap as far as responsibilities put on the younger players. If it’s the latter, the Blackhawks will pull off a trade for a high-end player only if it makes sense for the short term and long term because the offseason is a time to enhance the roster for both.

Bowman doesn’t know exactly how the next few weeks are going to play out, but you can bet that he’ll have his phone attached to his ear looking for ways to improve the roster and help turn the Blackhawks into a consistent playoff contender again. 

“We have a good position right now,” Bowman said. “For next season, we're in a better place than most teams. After that, it's hard to say, because we don't know what the cap will be a year from now and we've got a couple players that are going to graduate to new contracts a year from now. Not a lot of free agents take one-year contracts, so that's the thing — if you're going to sign a free agent, you've got to look at what's going to be the implication two years down the road. So from that perspective, trades might be more appealing to us than necessarily adding a top free agent. We're going to have some new players for next year, but I don't know if it's going to be free agents or through trades.”

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