Wirtz confident in Bowman's ability to keep Blackhawks on top


Wirtz confident in Bowman's ability to keep Blackhawks on top

TAMPA, Fla. – Rocky Wirtz was all smiles prior to Game 1 on Wednesday night.

Why wouldn’t he be? The Blackhawks owner was about to watch his team participate in its third Stanley Cup Final in the past six seasons. Much like with the previous two, offseason salary-cap-related questions loom. Players will have to go. A rebuild of some sort will have to be done.

It’s something that concerns him, no?

“Well, if we’ve done our homework, no,” Wirtz said. “Stan and his folks have done the homework.”

General manager Stan Bowman has had to do some creative cap work the past few seasons, most notably and most devastatingly out of the 2010 Cup victory. He’ll have to do it again entering the 2015-16 season, when the salary cap is likely to hover around $71 million. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s contracts kick in and Brandon Saad is a priority to sign. Some players will have to go; others, who are entering free-agent status, won’t be re-signed. But Wirtz doesn’t doubt that Bowman will figure it out.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans]

“They have plenty of scenarios because we don’t know what the cap is going to be. It could be a $500,000 difference, up or down. It’s not like he’s going to wake up in the middle of June and say, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?’ He’s been working this since training camp,” Wirtz said. “So I’m not worried because I have complete faith in the process they go to.”

Bowman talked Monday of how changes are always afoot. But a loss in one area has always meant a gain in the other.

“I think there’s a lot of ways to look at that. If you look at it from a positive, you’re going to have some new blood. You’re going to have some guys that weren’t part of this. This is a great experience for our players,” Bowman said. “For the guys that are new to our team in the future, they’re going to want to get to this point themselves. So you have that new blood in the system going forward.”

The Blackhawks have benefited from that new blood in past postseasons. Saad and Andrew Shaw, 2011 draftees, broke though during the 2013 regular season/Cup run. Teuvo Teravainen, whom the Blackhawks drafted in 2012, is having a memorable postseason right now, adding a goal and an assist in the team’s 2-1 victory over Tampa on Wednesday night.

[RELATED - Teravainen making big impact as confidence grows]

Bottom line: every team’s dealing with it but very few, like the Blackhawks, are finding enough solutions to get to conference and Cup finals often.

“It’s a challenge. The salary cap, it’s a system we all play under. We’ve been through it before. There are changes to be made to every team and we’re no different. We certainly have expectations that we want to keep this going,” Bowman said. “The main players are going to be back. You have to rely on some young guys to step into bigger roles.”

Some of Bowman’s moves have been laudable. Others have been questionable. Having the core this team has certainly helps but it’s also about finding the right pieces to surround it, either through free agency or drafting and developing.

Ultimately, the Blackhawks have had more hits than misses. They wouldn’t be at their third Stanley Cup Final in the past six seasons if that were the other way around.

“It’s a credit to the organization,” Wirtz said. “We’re quite proud of the job they’ve done and the nucleus of the team, that’s something we’re excited about.”

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut


Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!