Duncan Keith

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade assets and free agent speculation

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade assets and free agent speculation

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.

Are there any pending free agents in particular that the Blackhawks have their eyes on? Obviously people will say Panarin, but that's pretty unrealistic. I was just wondering if there are any realistic options that the 'Hawks seem to have their sights set on.

It's been reported that the Blackhawks have been doing their due diligence center Kevin Hayes, giving us a good indicator of which kind of players they're targeting — the middle tier, not the upper. 

Hayes was a first-round draft pick in 2012 by the Blackhawks but did not sign a contract with the team. He went to free agency and inked an entry-level contract with the New York Rangers.

Where he would fit in is the interesting question, especially if the Blackhawks draft a center at No. 3 overall. There are only four spots available, so it would require moving things around.

To what degree do you think the Hawks' third overall selection will influence who we target in free agency? i.e. If we draft Turcotte, we won't pursue someone like Kevin Hayes.

We touched on this in last week’s mailbag, but should clarify or expand a little bit: Who the Blackhawks select at No. 3 will not and should not directly affect who they target in free agency. But there could be some ripple effects. 

The example used was that if the Blackhawks draft one of the top available centers, they will be adding that player to a group that already includes Artem Anisimov, David Kampf, Dylan Strome and Jonathan Toews. And if Hayes is a potential target, as mentioned above, then there needs to be some maneuvering — i.e. a trade or a center moves to wing. 

It’s a good problem to have when you have an overload at the center position, but it's still somewhat of a problem because you can't keep everyone happy. 

If the Blackhawks don't make the playoffs next year and end up in the same draft spot this year (12th), do you think Stan Bowman will trade the pick for immediate help?

If the Blackhawks don't make the playoffs next year, a strong argument could be made that Bowman may not be the one making that pick. The organization can't go three straight years without making the playoffs and five years without winning a playoff round. Progress needs to be made next season in the form of a postseason berth.

But to your actual question: The reality is, it’s easier said than done to trade a first-round pick for an immediate impact-type player. It just doesn’t happen frequently if you look at the history. The Blackhawks would only explore that option if they feel they’re filling a hole both in the short term and long term. They’re committed to their vision of building a contender for years to come, not just the next one or two.

Who do you think is the biggest trade asset this summer?

Duncan Keith and Brandon Saad are probably the two players that could fetch the biggest return, but Keith has a full no-movement clause and isn't going anywhere unless he wants out. And the only way Saad is moved is if the Blackhawks are filling other holes on their NHL roster by doing so. Draft picks and prospects won't cut it at this stage of the "reload," and a team that would be interested in Saad's services likely won't be interested in subtracting from their roster either because it means they're looking to make a playoff run.

The one player that is worth monitoring this summer is Artem Anisimov. He has two years left on his contract that carries a cap hit of $4.55 million. He’s still a useful player, but maybe not at the price anymore.

There are two things that could make him expendable: 

1) Anisimov's no-trade clause will be lifted on July 1, giving the Blackhawks full control on where he could potentially be moved to.

2) More importantly: the Blackhawks owe Anisimov a $2 million signing bonus on July 1. After they pay that, his actual salary owed over the next two years is only $5 million total. That could be a relatively attractive piece for a smaller market team looking to add some center depth but not pay the full price for one.

Do you think the Hawks will have the depth/consistency next season to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference?

Hi Jeremy Colliton's burner,

We will obviously have a better idea by July 2 after we see what the Blackhawks do at the NHL Draft and how Day 1 of free agency unfolds, but they will have every opportunity to fill out their depth this summer, particularly up front.

The consistency part is unknown. It doesn’t matter how the roster looks on paper. Next season will be about execution. Fortunately for the Blackhawks, they will be going into training camp knowing exactly what to expect from Colliton and will have several weeks of practice to hit the ground running come October.

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Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Defensemen

Blackhawks 2018-19 season grades: Defensemen

The Blackhawks’ defensemen group was dealt a tough hand this season. There wasn’t much done in the offseason to bolster the most glaring need on the roster and a coaching change one month into the season forced them to play a new defensive system on the fly.

In going from a zone coverage under Joel Quenneville to man-on-man under Jeremy Colliton, the transition took a little longer than expected and was more difficult for the veteran players that had spent 10-plus years playing one way.

“I think we definitely got better the second half of the year,” Brent Seabrook said. “Jeremy coming in, changes some things up, especially defensively. For myself, I played for Joel for 10 years and the system that he wanted to play and as a defenseman, it definitely took me some time to adjust for sure.”

The Blackhawks gave up the most 5-on-5 high-danger chances per 60 minutes (13.66) this season and also ranked 31st in expected goals against per 60 minutes (2.68), according to naturalstattrick.com. Last year they were 28th in 5-on-5 high-danger chances allowed (12.09) and 26th in expected GAA (2.46). So they trended in the wrong direction.

The one bright spot was the emergence of Erik Gustafsson, who finished third among defensemen with 17 goals and sixth with 60 points. He changed life for the Blackhawks by generating offense from the back end and was a huge reason the team turned around their power play.

But the Blackhawks need to address their defensive unit this summer. A full training camp to get everyone on the same page will be crucial, but the personnel must get better as well.

"I think you need a mix," Colliton said. "We can’t all play like Gus, you know? But at the same time, we want guys who can transition the puck. If you’re able to break out clean and once you win the puck back, if you can make a tape-to-tape play and break out clean and get going the other way, then it helps you defensively, too. So if we’re looking to improve, again, it’s defending hard whether that’s up the ice at their blue line or at our blue line or getting out of D-zone, that’s probably the No. 1 priority for us now.

"And I think it’s the easiest to improve on, too. It’s just bearing down and finding a way, whether it’s defending the rush, defending the line, forcing a turnover, or in D-zone coverage, finding a way to get a stop, finding a way to create a loose puck and then winning the battle going the other way."

Grade: C-

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Four takeaways: Frustration boils over in Blackhawks loss to Predators

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AP

Four takeaways: Frustration boils over in Blackhawks loss to Predators

NASHVILLE — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday:

1. A forgettable start

For the sixth straight game, the Blackhawks allowed the first goal — at the 2:11 mark. And it didn't stop there. The Predators scored two more, minutes later within a 39-second span to go up 3-0 in only 4:11 of action. 

What made it even more difficult to swallow is that the Predators were without several key offensive players, including their leading scorer in Filip Forsberg. The Blackhawks had an opportunity to take advantage of a depleted Nashville team, but the Predators came out hungrier after getting shut out two nights before and it showed. The Predators lead the NHL with 14 wins when scoring first.

"I feel like we’re talking about it, we’re aware, we’re trying to have better starts," Jonathan Toews said. "I don’t know how to explain that one tonight. I don’t know if it’s lack of effort again or if it’s just mistakes that we can’t be making, but we seem to correct the course the rest of the game. I think it’s a bunch of different things. So we’re trying to figure it out and continue to try our best to have better starts. It’s clearly what’s hurting us lately."

2. Frustration boils over for Duncan Keith

After falling behind 3-0, frustration really boiled over for the Blackhawks. 

Mikka Salomaki delivered a big hit on Keith, who didn't like it and chaos ensued. To sum it up, Keith racked up 29 penalty minutes (roughing, instigator, fighting, misconduct and game misconduct) while Alex DeBrincat also compiled seven penalty minutes (five for fighting and two for roughing) by coming to the defense of his teammate.

Nobody takes losses harder than Keith, who has been ejected twice this season. But in this case, it was evident that it was built-up frustration and he took it out on the Predators, showing saw raw emotion that the Blackhawks need.

"I just thought it was a little bit from behind," Keith said. "I didn't see the hit coming. It didn't hurt, but at the end of the day we're down 3-0 not even five minutes into the game. Enough's enough.

"At some point, some sort of response was needed. Nice to see DeBrincat get in there; I don't expect that but I'll remember that."

3. Seven-minute kill

After sorting out the messy scuffle, the Predators were awarded a seven-minute power play and even had a 5-on-3 opportunity in the middle of it. It had the potential to turn into a disaster for the Blackhawks, who were already trailing 3-0 and would have to kill it off without one of their best defenders in Keith.

Ironically, it was the Blackhawks that capitalized first when Brandon Saad made a sensational one-man effort by muscling his way past a Predators defender and crashing hard to the net for a shorthanded goal to make it 3-1. It didn't last long, as the Predators got it back 1:15 later which ended the power play. But the response, in a way, galvanized the group.

"That's the passion we need as a team in a hole," Saad said. "You see after that we get a pretty good kill for the most part. I know we gave up one, but it sparked us a little bit and we played with more energy throughout the game. We got to have that throughout the whole 60 minutes, though."

4. All in

The Blackhawks felt like they were making progress under Colliton in the first couple weeks. And then the Vegas game happened, where they lost 8-3 because their effort level wasn't there. Those are the types of losses that are inexcusable.

The Blackhawks are trying to change that or else they'll never be able to dig themselves out of this hole.

"If everyone's not going, you make it tough on yourself," Colliton said. "Especially the way we want to play, we need all give guys on the ice together. We attack together. We defend together. Be willing to do the boring work, be willing to do the thankful stuff. The thing is, if you do it for them, they'll do it for you and everyone gets more in the end. That's what we got to get to. We're not there. But there's no reason why we can't. It's not an ability thing. It's just a will thing. Wasted enough time, let's go now."