Why Blackhawks will have their hands full with Predators

Why Blackhawks will have their hands full with Predators

The Blackhawks are a shoe-in favorite to come out of the Western Conference, and even win another Stanley Cup.

That's what happens when you've climbed to the top of the mountain three times in the last seven years, and have superstars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith leading the charge on the ice and Hall of Fame coach Joel Quenneville behind the bench.

But Chicago will have its hands full in the first round against the Nashville Predators for a variety of reasons.

Let's start with the numbers.

The Predators own the best even-strength possession numbers out of all eight playoff teams in the West, controlling 51.4 percent of the shot attempts — also known as Corsi For percentage. It's the third straight season they've finish among the top-7 overall in that category. (The Blackhawks finished 12th overall this year with a 50.4 percentage).

Now, if you trim the category down to even strength within a one-goal game to get a feel for how teams play in a tight matchup, the Predators — and Blackhawks — hover near the middle of the pack. But they're consistent in this area:

— When the Predators are leading, they rank No. 7 in the league with a 46.7 Corsi For percentage.

— When the Predators are trailing, they rank No. 3 in the league with a 58.5 Corsi For percentage.

For comparison:

— When the Blackhawks are leading, they rank No. 17 in the league with a 44.7 Corsi For percentage.

— When the Blackhawks are trailing, they rank No. 5 in the league with a 58.2 Corsi For percentage.

The Predators don't play any differently when they're ahead or behind. They stay aggressive — unlike the Blackhawks who tend to take their foot off the gas when jumping in front — and that's a key ingredient in the playoffs, where no lead is safe. The Predators know that after they squandered a 3-0 lead in Game 1 against the Blackhawks in 2015 and fell 4-3 in overtime.

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Speaking of overtime, the Predators had a rough record in that area this year winning only four of 12 games, and also went 2-4 in the shootout. They left way too many points on the table, which is a large reason why they finished in a wild-card spot.

But as we know, 3-on-3 and shootouts don't exist in the playoffs, and that's great news for the Predators given their success at even strength, as detailed above.

Here's the most important note on why the Predators may give the Blackhawks headaches, and the differentiation between this year's team and the two they've fielded against Chicago in the past:

— In 2009-10, the Predators had nine players score 10 or more goals while the Blackhawks had 11. (Blackhawks won series in six games, went on to win Stanley Cup).

— In 2014-15, the Predators had eight players score 10 or more goals while the Blackhawks had 10. (Blackhawks won series in six games, went on to win Stanley Cup).

— This year, the Predators had 12 players finish with 10 or more goals while the Blackhawks had only seven. (A year ago the Predators and Blackhawks both had eight).

Nashville has had its best four-line rotation in a while, and it's getting key contributions on offense from the blue line group — Ryan Ellis (16 goals), Roman Josi (12) and P.K. Subban (10) — that's, oh by the way, one of the best at preventing goals, too.

It will be important for the Predators to jump on the Blackhawks early, though. They've never won a playoff series in franchise history when losing Game 1 (0-7), and the Blackhawks are 32-8 in Games 5-7 under Quenneville compared to 44-40 in Games 1-4. The Blackhawks are almost impossible to put away.

It won't be a must-win for either team, but Game 1 on Thursday will have that feel to it, especially for Nashville.

NHL Draft Profile: D Adam Boqvist

NHL Draft Profile: D Adam Boqvist

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Adam Boqvist

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 168 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Boqvist is a finesse defenseman who is very skilled, possesses excellent vision and tons of talent. He is fun to watch and full of surprises on the ice. He often plays bigger than his size and skated in his first games with Sweden's Senior National Team in April."

NHL player comparable: Erik Karlsson

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would love to have Karlsson, who is probably being traded out of Ottawa this summer. Every team would love to have him. But that's not realistic for Chicago. So what if they drafted his potential mini me?

Boqvist is electric with the puck and has drawn comparisons to the Swedish defenseman as a best-case scenario.

There are two concerns, though. One is that he may need some time to develop at just 17 years old and his defense a work in progress. The second is that he's sustained head injuries over the course of his young career, which adds a little bit of risk to the equation.

If he can stay healthy and his development isn't rushed, there's major upside here. But are the Blackhawks willing to be patient? We're not so sure.

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?


Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

Here's an interesting development as we approach the NHL Draft: Artemi Panarin has informed the Blue Jackets that he's not ready to consider an extension "at this time" and because of that, Columbus is testing the market for the Russian winger, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen responded to the report shortly after in a statement released by the team:

"Artemi is an elite National Hockey League player. Our position has been that we want him to be a Blue Jacket for many years and that has not changed. He has a year left on his contract, so there is plenty of time to work towards that end. Should anything change moving forward, we will address it at that time and any decision we make will be in the best interest of our club.”

Ironically, Panarin was traded to Columbus on the afternoon of last year's draft as part of a blockbuster package that sent Brandon Saad back to Chicago. It shook up the hockey world, and has the potential to do so again.

Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, but is free to sign an extension with Columbus on July 1. Clearly, that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now and it's why the Blue Jackets have to put out feelers. They can't risk losing him for nothing.

On the flip side, Panarin has every right to test the open market. He has one year left on his contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. He's due for a hefty raise, will be 27 years old next summer — the prime of his hockey career — and will certainly be looking for a long-term deal after accepting a bridge contract with the Blackhawks.

Speaking of whom, should his former team explore bringing him back to Chicago now that he's on the market?

Every general manager should and will do their due diligence and call for an asking price, Stan Bowman included. Those conversations might start with Alex DeBrincat or Nick Schmaltz, and if that's the case, you say thanks but no thanks and move on. 

The Blackhawks have the Nos. 8 and 27 picks in this year's draft as possible ammunition, but the Blue Jackets are ready to take that next step. They were up 2-0 in their first-round series before losing four straight to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. It's unlikely they'd be looking to center a potential deal around draft picks. 

The only way you even consider it from the Blackhawks perspective is if Panarin is guaranteed to sign a long-term extension at a price you're comfortable with, but that's one of the main reasons why they traded him in the first place. 

To cap it all off, trading for Panarin wouldn't even address the Blackhawks' biggest need and that's a Top 4 defenseman. Those don't grow on trees. The Blackhawks will have the cap space to sign a player like James van Riemsdyk to patch up their top 6. You can't say the same for the free-agent blue line group.

So while it may certainly be fun for Blackhawks fans to come up with possible trade scenarios to get Panarin back in an Indianhead sweater, it just doesn't make great sense for a variety of reasons.