Which 'new' Blackhawks could return next season?


Which 'new' Blackhawks could return next season?

Brad Richards recalled the talk he had with Joel Quenneville last summer, the one on which the Blackhawks coach kept interrupting his soon-to-be center.

“The last thing Joel said when I hung up was, ‘Come to Chicago. We’ll win a Cup.’ He said it like three times in that conversation,” Richards said a few minutes after lifting the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career. “I kept thinking, ‘How does he know that?’ I don’t know how he knew, but he knew we had a chance and here we are.”

Richards came to Chicago for one year and $2 million. It wasn’t about the money; it was about another chance at winning that Cup. Now he’s got it, he’s enjoying his time here and he won’t rule out the possibility of coming back.

We already know the Blackhawks have to part with several players, be it unrestricted free agents due a raise they can’t afford to give or those whose contracts will no longer fit under the upcoming salary cap. But what about the other side: Which players could the Blackhawks possibly bring back?

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Blackhawks know roster changes are coming in wake of Cup win]

The Blackhawks will work to re-sign Marcus Kruger, who has now been here for two Cups. Andrew Desjardins and Richards could also be on the radar. Obviously it all depends on where the salary cap falls — most forecasts have it settling around $71 million — but the possibilities are there.

For Richards, it’s a thought he won’t completely rule out right now.

“I haven’t talked about anything. My attitude is, everything’s wide open now,” Richards said. “I know the situation here. I knew it before I signed here. But obviously it was an amazing year. So if they want to discuss something I’m obviously going to discuss it.”

It won’t be about money for Richards. It’s more a chance to return to this successful team, on which he eventually found his niche and had a very nice postseason.

“I’m in a fortunate position, financially, where I’ve done all that stuff and hit my big contracts. Now it’s really all about what just happened this week. You can’t replace that with anything, so we’ll see,” Richards said. “It’s a lot different feeling than last summer, I tell you that. I won’t care who calls right now. I’m just enjoying this every day.”

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks Stanley Cup champs gear right here]

Patrick Kane, who was Richards’ line mate for some of the regular season and again in the postseason — Richards set up Kane’s goal in Game 6 against Tampa Bay — Richards possibly returning was a nice thought.

“He’d be a guy you’d love to see come back here and play in that second-line center role,” Kane said. “He’s a good player. He’s a good guy but a good hockey player. You’ve seen what he’s done in the past; his numbers speak for themselves. It was a pleasure playing with him. I hope we can do it again.”

That situation is up in the air. So let’s go back to the fairly certain part of this story: The Blackhawks will find a way to sign Kruger. The center has been an important part of this team for two Cup victories now, and general manager Stan Bowman has re-signing him near the top of his list.

“Absolutely, we want to bring him back, make it known he’s going to be a part of this going forward,” Bowman said. “He’s another one of those guys who doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He’s a penalty-kill guy who matches top centers on other teams, face-offs; he does all the important details that coaches appreciate. Joel would tell you he’s a big part of why we win.”

There was little fanfare when the Blackhawks picked up Desjardins at the trade deadline. More of the focus was on Antoine Vermette, who also wouldn’t mind returning to Chicago but probably won’t be affordable. Desjardins, who made $750,000 this season, was a great addition, giving the Blackhawks a dependable fourth line with Kruger and Andrew Shaw. Desjardins talked on the Cup-winning night of the chemistry he had with Shaw and Kruger. Bowman liked it, too, and would like to see Desjardins here again next season.

“We would love to bring him back. That’s a discussion we’ll have,” Bowman said. “It’s up to him and his agent; hopefully he wants to come back. We were pleased with his contribution.”

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


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.