Blackhawks

Wild excited for 'another crack' at Blackhawks

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Wild excited for 'another crack' at Blackhawks

The Wild have been down this road before; for the past two postseasons, to be exact.

In each of the last two years, the Blackhawks ended Minnesota's playoff run, but as both teams prepare to face off in the second round, the Wild feel this could be the year that trend changes.

"They're a great team, and they're always the team you've got to beat if you want to get out of the West," Zach Parise told Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. "These guys are, every year, they're Cup contenders. For us to get in that conversation with them, we've got to beat them.

"It's good for us to get another crack at them. I thought we had a good series with them last year. You want to go down and get on in Chicago and have a good start to the series."

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Blackhawks aware Wild not the same team from past playoff battles]

The Wild earned their playoff berth with a 2-1 victory against the Blackhawks back on April 7, a drastic departure from their previous trip to the United Center in January when Ryan Suter described every day as a "bad day" as the team's losses continued to pile up.

The Blackhawks and Wild met three times this season, and the Blackhawks picked up victories in the first three matchups leading up to that January game that seemed to push frustrations to a new level.

But just three days after that loss, the Wild picked up goaltender Devan Dubnyk, and that's when everything changed.

All of a sudden, the Wild started winning. Their chemistry was back as Dubnyk went on to have an incredible run that included victories in Minnesota's two remaining regular-season games against the Blackhawks.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

"We're a different team than we were then," Parise told CSNChicago.com after that April 7 game. "We're playing just better as a group from goaltending out. We're playing a better team game."

The incredible turnaround Minnesota's had this season was again on full display when the Wild sent the St. Louis Blues packing after a Game 6 win in the opening round.

Now the Wild — who are 0-6 against the Blackhawks at the United Center the past two postseasons — are confident they have what it takes to reverse the narrative against the Blackhawks, but they know it'll take a lot of hard work.

"We've had to be ready for a little while now just to get in," Jason Pominville told the Minnesota media. "We got in feeling good about our game, and it kind of snowballed through the first round. Now we're past the first one, we've got to look at what's ahead of us.

"But knowing that we've played these guys the last couple of years, it's not going to be easy. They're a good team. They're an elite team. They've proven it. We've got to be up for the task."

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

The Blackhawks had cap space to use this summer but elected to shore up their depth rather than make a splash when free agency opened up on July 1. Perhaps a large reason for that was because Marian Hossa's $5.275 million cap hit over the next three years complicated what they could do exactly in the short term without jeopardizing the long term.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted Tuesday that they had had discussions about moving Hossa's contract for a year now. But it finally reached a point where they simply needed to get it off their hands, even if it meant giving up Vinnie Hinostroza as a sweetener.

"We tried to make that deal work in every other way possible but they obviously said he had to be in it," Bowman said of including Hinostroza.

That's how important it was to free up even more cap space. By trading Hossa's contract in a nine-piece trade with the Arizona Coyotes, it created more options for the Blackhawks and financial flexibility going forward.

"It was a difficult trade from a sentimental perspective, because we'd love to not have to do that," Bowman said. "But on the practical matter, it was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here. It necessitated us trying to make the move that we did make. You don't know when those opportunities are going to come to try and make that type of a move. ... When this presented itself, we talked it through and got to the point where we thought it was something we had to take advantage of."

The problem for the short term is, it's mid-July and the big-name free agents are off the market. There's not much the Blackhawks can do to improve their roster externally unless they make a trade, which would require dipping into the pipeline.

And it's unfair to put a grade on the Hossa trade as a whole without seeing how they utilize that extra cap space. Could that be before the 2018-19 season starts?

"It's an option if we can find the right player or the right situation," Bowman said. "We certainly have more options now than we did before. I wouldn't say we have to do something. Having cap space is an asset in and of itself, so things will come along maybe in the summer or maybe in the beginning part of the year where teams have a couple players that make their team unexpectedly and that makes some other players more expendable. In the past we probably haven't really been a good match for those types of situations because we didn't have the cap room at that time, so now we're going to be in the mix for those types of things.

"Whether we use it right away or whether we use it during the season, I think the nice thing is we have the flexibility now going in to the coming years where we're going to need cap room, all that and more, to sign the young players."

It doesn't sound like there's much urgency to pull something off between now and when training camp rolls around in September. At least for now.

That doesn't mean there won't be once the market picks back up again. 

"Each year teams have surprises, good and bad, in camp," Bowman said. "Our team’s the same way. You have ideas on how your lines are going to look or how your players are going to be ready. Sometimes guys surprise you in a good way, sometimes it’s not what you think. There’ll be some adjustments around the league, but probably not a lot of activity.

"If you look back the last couple of seasons, late July and August are quieter as far as transactions. But there are some arbitration cases coming up around the league; those may get settled ahead of time. But if they do go to arbitration, if the number's not the way the team likes it, they may look to do something. There’s the possibility of moves, but probably closer to training camp is more when changes may happen."

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

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AP

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

The second wave of Blackhawks defensemen is on the way. That's exactly where all the attention was when prospect camp opened up Monday at MB Ice Arena.

Nicolas Beaudin. Adam Boqvist. Henri Jokiharju. Ian Mitchell. Call it the Big Four. Where are they all at in their development? When will they be ready to make an NHL impact? Who's the most pro ready? 

Lots of questions. Those will slowly start to get answered and it begins now.

While there may not necessarily be an open competition among the group right away, there's certainly a desire to make a strong first impression in front of the upper brass that included Stan Bowman, John McDonough and Joel Quenneville watching on Day 1.

"Every NHL team has a lot of good defensemen prospects, so I mean obviously when you want to go out there you want to showcase yourself as best as you can," Mitchell said. "Obviously you want to be the best defenseman here so that's my goal going into this, I want to prove to everyone that I'm a good defenseman, I deserve to play at the next level. Obviously there's lots of good players here, but you're trying to all succeed."

Said Beaudin: "There's a lot of competition. There's a lot of good, young defensemen. I think you just need to be different when you play when you show what you can do."

Said Boqvist: "I'm trying to be better every day. Of course I will play in the NHL one day and win Stanley Cups, so that's my mindset."

The theme? Focus on your own game, take what you learn out of this week and apply those tools in your game when advancing your development next season. The rest will take care of itself.

Mitchell will go back to Denver for his sophomore campaign to continue his development. Beaudin is expected to return to the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Boqvist signed with the OHL's London Knights, where he will look to get accustomed to the North American style of play.

For Jokiharju, the goal is different. This is his second development camp. He signed an entry-level contract in June. Making the big club is a real goal and a legitimate possibility for a Blackhawks team looking for young, impact defensemen immediately.

"I think if Henri has a really good summer of training, comes into camp, I certainly thinks he gets a good look," Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley told NBC Sports Chicago last month.

Jokiharju showed poise and confidence with and without the puck during drills, like someone who knows this is only the first step towards that ultimate goal.

"Yeah," Jokiharju responded when asked if the expectation is to make it to the NHL this season. "You want to set the bar high, you don't want to set the bar too low. I want to dream big and that's the dream."

That's the dream for everyone. When that happens, it's up to them. This week is a chance to set an early tone.