Archive for the ‘Chicago Blackhawks’ Category

Chicago Blackhawks and NHL Playoffs Update

May 24, 2017

Well just had a thought….Kane got 3 cups before Ovechkin got one. And we beat the Russians to the moon, too! So ha ha.

Very happy we get 7 games from Ottawa Pitt. I think it is better for hockey if Pitt wins this series as they play the more entertaining style, but Ottawa has that Cinderella story going for them, and Craig Anderson and his wife’s story from this season, and Erik Karlsson. 7 games of that one is a good thing.

If Nashville were to go on and win the cup, I cannot recall one other team that lost their number one center and won the Cup. If that happens, we are truly in a new era in the NHL, one dominated by skilled, fast defensemen. But I would be really surprised if that rule gets broken. So a lot is riding on the Ott Pitt game 7. Place your bets against Nashville now, thank me later.

Well Scott Darling is gone and the Hawks did the conservative thing and kept the better goalie. Darling is really good but it remains to be seen how he would ride out the ups and downs of a season being the clear cut number one somewhere. So we went with the sure thing. I think he can do it personally, but I don’t need a good hunch in net when you employ two superstars up front at $21 million per year.

I think the Hawks are not really a contender until they can integrate some size into the forward group, speed on defense, and better depth for the 3rd and 4th lines. The hope here has to be that Gustav Forsling and John Hayden can both turn into players. The last two playoff years are showing a downward trend. Any way you slice it, they need to shed salary even if they lose Kruger in the expansion draft, now that Panik got $2.8 million. A lot, and I mean a lot, is riding on Schmaltz and Hartman taking that next step in their development, like getting their games to the point where they could actually get a point in a playoff game. Might as well throw Panarin into that equation as well.

Something tells me this coming year will be Hossa’s last. Especially if we don’t show an upward trend in the playoffs for a third year in a row. Why would that guy, who has all the money he will ever need, put his body through a full season of hockey, for $1 million? The fact he is likely to do it even once, next year, is essentially a bonus for the Hawks. When he retires they will carry about a $4.9 million cap hit for a penalty due to his contract terms, salary versus cap hit, right through the 2020-2021 season. Won’t that be fun? Oh well, his signing was done to win a Cup and the Hawks have 3. So the suffering in the later years which is sure to come (see Detroit) was at least well worth it. And not everyone can say that (compare the Vancouver Canucks from 2011 to now. Ouch.)

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Phillip Danault

February 3, 2017

Riding in to work yesterday morning I had the NHL Network on as I often do. They were interviewing one of their Montreal reporters that works for TVN I believe. Anyway, he was discussing the wave of injuries Montreal has overcome and that they are finally healthy, but the injuries helped them learn about a few guys on the roster. The second and main guy he mentioned is Phillip Danault. He is at this point centering the first line between captain Max Paccioretty and Alexander Radulov. He started the year on the wing on the fourth line. They are very happy with him and I recall seeing at the start of the season they had inked him to a two year deal at 800k each year.

When I got to work I was happy because I could go to the bathroom and rinse out the throw up that was in my mouth after listening to the interview.

Chicago Blackhawks mid season Update

January 27, 2017

This is my issue with the Hawks and has been from camp this year. I agreed with going with the young guys because with the cap and expansion I saw that as the best option for them. So this is a year they are riding on the development of some young players to become the next wave of mid-tier talent to surround the core with. In the cases of Forsling, Schmaltz, Motte, Kempny, not so good. In the cases of Hartman, Hinostroza, and Kero, pretty good progress this year for what they are.

But in the last two losses you can see how a team that lacks so much depth up front is not going to be too hard to push aside when in the playoffs it becomes best on best. Against Tampa last night you had the Kane line and Victor Hedman matched up for the most part, and that left Toews line to do a little damage. But for what is left on lines 3 and 4 is a mish mosh of guys who struggle to play NHL caliber defense (Schmaltz) or are of such limited offensive skill sets that you really can’t count on them for much, Kero’s nice give and go with Kane being the exception. And by the way, where has Artemi Panarin gone? He has been MIA lately and not looked too dangerous during these games.

In reality I don’t see a lot of difference between teams up and coming in the West, like Winnipeg, and the Hawks talent wise. If not for the exceptional goaltending the Hawks have had in parts of this year they could easily be struggling to stay or get into the playoff picture at this point. And things are so tight, it only would take a few weeks without a key guy like Keith or Kane for the Hawks to fall pretty far back in the standings. They depend on those guys so much for their scoring output. By next season, if Hossa’s scoring touch regresses in step with his age, they will really struggle unless someone new steps up as a major threat to put the puck in the net. While they are developing nice complimentary players in Hino and Hartman, and support players like Kero, I don’t see anyone capable of filling that kind of role next year. Maybe a tiny chance Hinostroza keeps coming on, as he has a nice skill set, good wheels, but production wise he is a long, long way off from being that consistent right now.

There are just many teams with young dynamic talent that is developing and improving rapidly, whereas the Hawks are aging with several great players that have plateaued, a huge chasm, then some low skill grit and character guys, and young developing guys that don’t produce a lot currently. There are no yuppies on our roster, upper middle class guys that have upward trajectory and could become something big. Winnipeg, Toronto, Philly, Carolina, Edmonton, and Columbus are just some of the teams across the league with some serious up and coming young talent. Of course they have not enjoyed much recent success, either.

But here is the issue: The talent in the league is compressing rapidly, the lower teams swinging upward quickly, while the upper teams age and deteriorate at different rates, see LA, NYR for example. So the coming years will see a death struggle to make the playoffs and fight in the off season for what talent is available. The pressure on trades in that environment is enormous, which is why you seldom see big trades anymore. Marc Bergevin in Montreal must have balls of steel, trading Subban out of Montreal in the off season. They were ready to lynch him and surely would have if that trade went sour.

What Does the Blackhawks Start Mean For their Roster?

November 30, 2016

A few observations regarding the Chicago Blackhawks start to the season, which sees them surprisingly leading the Western Conference despite working 6 rookies into the lineup.

Bounce Back By Hossa

Marian Hossa has seen his shooting percentage return from the depths of last year when he was held to a career low 13 goals. He already has 11. The significance of this is twofold.

One, the Hawks now only have one missing spot to fill in their Top 6 forward rotation, not two. It was believed Hossa would serve on Kruger’s line in a checking role this year. Instead, he has been one of their best scoring options to date. The Left Wing spot on the Toews line remains a question mark.

Two, most significantly, Hossa is likely to play at least another year. Recent comments in the press indicate Hossa wants to play as long as he feels he is playing at a level he is satisfied with. He is happy with how he has played thus far and why wouldn’t he be, he has been perhaps the Hawks best forward. There had been speculation Hossa would retire after this year, when you couple his salary going down next year to $1 million and his declining scoring and role by the end of the playoffs last year. This would have left the Hawks with roughly a $4.9 million cap hit for a player not on their roster next year, making the annual salary cap challenges even worse. Instead, the Hawks are likely to return a player off of a productive season for his usual $5.275 million cap hit. They couldn’t even field a minimum salary player for the difference between those two numbers, instead they are likely to get Hossa back, even if he will be one year older. HUGE win for the Hawks here.

Yes, Panarin is Still Really Good

Last year, you heard things like, well he played with MVP and Art Ross winner Patrick Kane, so of course he scored a lot. But can he do it on his own? Well, you saw in the World Cup he was an offensive force. And again, when Toews struggled, Kane was moved to his line, and Panarin didn’t miss a beat. He has proved to be the kind of talent you don’t let get away. Look for the Hawks to ink him to a six-year deal in the $6.5 million per year range. Even if it takes exposing a player like Kruger to Las Vegas in the expansion draft.

Remaking the Defense

The Hawks set out to fix the loss of Oduya from the 2015 Cup purge. The Sharp trade in which the Hawks took back Trevor Daley from Dallas rather than keeping that money and resigning Oduya set the frachise defense core back when Daley could not or would not assimilate into the Hawks defensive structure enough to move up from the bottom pairing last year. They took several steps this year to fix this situation:

Signed Michal Kempny from the KHL. This has worked wonders, especially for Brent Seabrook, who spent all last season babysitting Victor Svedberg and Eric Gustafsson, two Swedish AHL defensemen as his partner for most of the season, along with Trevor Van Riemsdyk, who has struggled in limited play as the 6th defenseman this year. The rookie Kempny has some of the best Corsi stats on the Hawks D, brings a physical edge to his game, and solid defensive play. He will be a Restricted Free Agent after this season, and Hossa’s likely return should help free up some money to bring him back again next season.

Signed Brian Campbell as a UFA. Campbell’s wheels on defense have helped the Hawks move out of their zone and aided their transition game. They have not had speed on defense like Campbell since trading Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders in the 2014 Cap purge. Campbell has spent time on all 3 defense pairs and has made they defense core much deeper than in recent seasons.

The Rookies

Gustav Forsling – The young Swede surprisingly made the team as the 6th defenseman after a strong training camp and preseason. However, after some early season struggles, and a logjam of 8 defenseman, it must be questioned if Forsling would have been better off returning to Sweden. He is not eligible to be sent to the AHL, and too young to sit in the press box. So better on ice options such as Michal Kempny and Michal Rozsival sit out while Forsling tries to find his game as the 6th defenseman. This situation is worth watching as the season progresses. Either Forsling steps up with more experience, or Quennville is likely to turn to his other options as the season progresses.

Ryan Hartman – The biggest surprise of the young rookies, Hartman leads the group with 5 goals. Criticized for a lack of discipline in the AHL last year, he has stayed away from foolish penalties, shown some finish and grit to his game, and put up some of the best possession numbers among all of the Hawks forwards. At this point he has likely played his way into strong consideration to protect from the expansion draft at the end of this season.

Nick Schmaltz – Schmaltz has been tried all over the lineup and has not found a niche at center or wing. Playing with Kane and Panarin while Anisimov was hurt last night, it was clear that his wingers were avoiding giving him the puck as offensive possession tends to end when he gets it. He is physically overmatched and would be best served in the AHL. However, without him, Jordin Tootoo or Andrew Desjardins would need to suit up and the Hawks are still looking for an element of skill in their lineup and his flexibility to play center is a plus. But at this point it would not be hard for either Tootoo or Desjardins to replicate Schmaltz’ one goal with his playing time. He shows promise and back checks hard sometimes, but his development curve would put him in the AHL now in a perfect world.

Tyler Motte – Solid 200 foot game, kills penalties, blocks shots, very good wheels, Motte has been a useful player. The Hawks would like to see a little more finish from a guy that scored 32 goals in 38 college games last season. Other than that he looks like a player, and could find himself on a top line if he gets the confidence to score going.

Vince Hinostroza – After being benched early in the season, Hino has used his speed to get the puck up ice and register solid Corsi numbers. He collected all 3 of his points in one game so the offensive output has not been there on the whole. He went through the same thing last year in the AHL and when he adjusted he became a point per game player. If the Hawks are patient with him, he may reward them with some more consistent offensive output as he is generating chances for himself and his linemates.

It will be interesting to see how these rookies develop as the Hawks are counting on them to provide secondary scoring to support their stars, since players like Tootoo, Kruger, Rasmussen, Desjardins, and Van Riemsdyk have very limited offensive potential.

Why are the Chicago Blackhawks Struggling?

October 17, 2016

A couple thoughts….

I just saw a tweet that Marcus Kruger is the only Hawk draftee from 2008-2016 who is still on the roster AND has played more than 10 NHL games! That is crazy! And that is how you end up in cap hell quickly. The Blackhawks, for example, were too busy trading assets to move up in the draft to take Nick Schmaltz while StL sits there and takes Robbi Fabbri with the very next pick a few drafts ago. That kind of miscalculation, year after year, to division rivals no less, puts you behind the 8 ball.

And if you think about it, it has been known for a while with moving Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa aging that young wingers for the top six were needed. And you can’t rely on the miracle kind of trade that brought Sharp to Chicago from Philadelphia to turn out like that time and again. Which is why losing Brandon Saad was such a kick in the shorts long term. Think about the swings and misses the Hawks have taken just recently:

Jimmy Vesey – college UFA signed with NYR

Nail Yakapov – winger on the market, Hawks clearly had interest, but couldn’t take on the full cap hit, lost him to St Louis

Juri Hudler – Hawks had interest, couldn’t afford $2 million cap hit, signed with Dallas

And the guys that didn’t work out….

Marco Dano – top line winger of the future from the Saad deal with Colombus, traded to Winnipeg and since sent to minors

Teuvo Teravainen – Promising skilled center/winger, stalled in his second year, shipped to Carolina as ‘payment’ for them to take Brian Bickell’s $4 mil cap hit for one year

Mark McNeil – Former 2011 first round pick can’t make the NHL

And the guys that worked just fine but they got rid of or lost anyway…

Stephen Johns – Could write an epic about this…held onto Sharp too long last offseason and had to include their top prospect as a gift to Dallas in Sharp trade

Andrew Shaw – RFA traded for draft picks to Montreal as hit future cap hit would have prevented resigning Panarin

Philip Danault – Traded at deadline last year with 2nd for Weise and Fleishmann from Montreal. A player the Hawks could sorely use right now.

Brandon Saad – RFA hit on a $6 million contract after trade with Columbus as Hawks could not afford his next deal due to cap constraints

Kevin Hayes – 1st round pick college UFA after senior year chose to sign with NYR rather than Hawks to get playing time assurances

Patrick Sharp – 3 time Cup winner moved after 2015 Cup due to Cap restraints

Johnny Oduya – 2 time Cup winner lost in free agency when Hawks forced to take Trevor Daley back in Sharp trade to Dallas. Not enough cap room left to sign the UFA who then signed with Dallas. Oduya and Johns give them the shut-down D pair they never had.

Even trading Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri for Kris Versteeg looks like a pretty healthy loss at this point.

The talent drain versus what we have added over the last couple years alone is staggering. Think about this, and this is why I do not view the Hawks as a Cup Contender this year…

Tampa Bay is fielding the same team they did when we beat them in the Cup in 2015, plus Drouin is now a first line wing with the talent to earn that role, plus major growth from Kucherov as he has become one of the game’s best offensive players.

Meanwhile, the Hawks 3rd line has gone from Vermette-Sharp-TT to Motte-Kruger-Hartman. The 4th line that had Shaw on it now has no one at this point you could say for sure should play 40 games in the NHL this season. The first line has Richard Panik instead of Brandon Saad, and Marian Hossa is not as dangerous as he was then. Second line is better, going from Richards – Kane – Versteeg to the Panarin – Anisimov – Kane line. Plus, and most critically to all of this…….is Keith the same player after his knee surgery?

Also St Louis and Dallas appear to have passed us to the point they beat us on a regular basis. And Nashville could be better this year than last year, when they made it to the final 4 in the playoffs. I am not ready to put them ahead of the Hawks for this year at this point though.

Coupled with the fact that we have one of the worst AHL teams from a prospect standpoint with virtually no one on the team having a long term future with the NHL club, except maybe the Swedish goalie Johansson. And if you believe in the future of Eric Gustafsson then him too. All of the best players, like 28 yr old winger Spencer Abbott, are career AHL guys.

Getting Panarin and Kempny were both coups for the Hawks, and it helps to stem some of these losses. And we may have a few diamonds to develop in the next couple years in Forsling, Motte, and maybe Fortin or Hino or Debrincat. But poor drafting coupled with these departures leaves us with what we have now.

I think my friend Jeff summed up what many fans feel when he said they lost him with the Sharp trade. Excellent line in the sand to compare the team before that and after. I think you can look back and losing Saad along with the Sharp trade, and giving away Danault, and then Shaw have conspired to put the Hawks closer to the middle of the talent pack than the top. We are a possession team that can’t play a possession game. Everyone in the NHL wants to do that. And we used to be a team that could convert a higher percentage of our chances than anyone else, Sharp and Saad were a big part of that, as Leddy was the possession stats.

We are now Pittsburg. Before this latest Cup. And it will take a transformation of similar proportions for us to be able to make the most of our core and go on a crazy run like they did.

Really, Keith, Hammer, Panarin, Campbell, even Hossa, are some of the best value contracts in the NHL. Even with these we are really hurting cap wise, even after shedding Bickell’s contract at the high expense of TT. So we wait to catch lighting in a bottle with some of the young guys because really we have no other options right now. At this point any roster improvements will have to come via trade, and we have very few cards to play.

That first game vs StL was a train wreck, and if you start slow enough in today’s NHL you are in a heap of trouble when it comes to making the playoffs, especially in this division. I think it will take 15 or so games to really see what we have, but not a good start.

Here’s hoping the young guys have a quick learning curve.

What Blackhawks Fans Should Learn from the World Cup

September 30, 2016

The World Cup of Hockey is over and Canada won the tournament without losing a game, which surprised no one. Jonathan Toews set up with winning goal with a shorthanded pass to Brad Marchand. We can all move on to the normal NHL preseason and look forward to the start of the regular season of games.

But what should Chicago Blackhawks fans take away from the World Cup?

Toews is still a brilliant, hard-working, heady player.

Feel good Hawks Fans, about your Captain. There was a lot of criticism of Toews based on his 58 points last year coupled next to his $10.5 million salary. Yes some of that was due to a carousel of Left Wings on his line last year that were not top 9 NHL talent, some of which are no longer even in the NHL. Yes some was due to Hossa losing some of his scoring touch as he enters his late 30s. And some was due to the fatigue of playing as many games as anyone over the past five seasons, with extended playoff runs, Olympic Golds, and the World Cup. But you know what? He showed that he is the swiss army tool of the Canadian Team and can excel shutting guys down, playing the power play, penalty killing, and generating offense. He is smart and plays winning hockey all the time. No we don’t know what he will have to work with on the wings. But Captain Serious will be the man in the middle this year for Chicago.

Hossa can still play with the big boys.

Could you see any of the Hawks rookies getting first line minutes on Ralph Kruger’s Team Europe this tournament? No, neither can I. Regardless of where Hossa plays for the Blackhawks this year, it was plain to see he is still the second best Right Wing on the team after Patrick Kane. Defensively he is as elite as elite can get. Does he convert less of his chances now than when he was younger? Yes. But Hossa is still a puck possession machine, able to carry the puck and shield it with his body for extended periods of time in the offensive zone, a skill that few players have at his level. He could still be a very useful player for a top line that has some legit help on the other wing. Most importantly, he still has his wheels. After the first Blackhawks preseason game, I don’t see anyone bumping Hossa down to the third line.

Kane will be better with the Hawks.

Kane was the best offensive player on a miserable performing Team USA. The other players constantly deferred to Kane, whose stickhandling and ability to skate and handle the puck and create offense is at the top of the game. If he is reunited with Artemi Panarin with Anisimov in the middle, he will actually play on a better line with the Blackhawks than he ever did with Team USA. It is probably too much to expect a follow up MVP season, but Kane is still in his prime and will put up his numbers, whether they are more a point a game if he has to carry a line, or closer to the 100 plus points he put up last year playing with another dynamic talent in Panarin.

Michal Kempny will be a very solid bottom pair defenseman.

Kempny was getting number one pair minutes for the Czech Team. Despite their lack of success, Kempny acquitted himself well against the best players in the world as he made the adjustment to the smaller narrower ice surface of the NHL rinks as compared to the European rinks where he has played in the KHL. Playing the protected minutes the Blackhawks will give their 5-6 defensemen, Kempny have time to complete his adjustment to the NHL playing style and should excel. By the end of the year, the Hawks will know if he can ascend to the 4th defenseman position held by Brian Campbell, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Kempny will be a restricted free agent.

Ville Pokka is heading to Rockford to start the season.

Barring a trade, Ville Pokka will start the season in Rockford. He was ok in playing 3rd pair minutes for Team Finland, who did not win a game. Getting burned by a full speed Connor McDavid move doesn’t really count against him though, as there will be a long line of veteran NHL defenseman added to that list this year. Pokka had the look of a guy that could get by at the NHL level on 3rd pair minutes, but when you are 7 deep at defense already, you don’t need someone that you can just ‘get by’ with on your last pair. Not to mention that Gustav Forsling is probably considered ahead of Pokka right now if the Hawks were to deal a TVR for example. But with Campbell and Roszival UFAs and Kempny an RFA after this season, Pokka will have an important role to play on the Blackhawks next season providing inexpensive defensive depth.

Which Blackhawks Rookie Makes the Cut?

September 16, 2016

Here is a quick take on several of the young forwards in the Blackhawks organization whom will be vying for a role on the big club this year. Which ones will make the team? They will likely look like this coming out of training camp:

First, assess what the forward ‘locks’ are at this point.

Panarin-Toews-Hossa

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane

Desjardins-Kruger-XXXX

XXXX-XXXX-XXXX

Extra: Tootoo or Mashinter

The extra forward will be either Tootoo or Mashinter because the Hawks require a face puncher to be on the roster for the regular season. From what I understand the star players and the coach are on the same page with this. The other forwards are listed where they ended last season in the playoffs.

The candidates:

Nick Schmaltz – The 1st round pick and University of North Dakota center finished on one of the highest scoring lines in college hockey last year. At 6’0” 180 lbs, he comes with a reputation as a highly skilled forward who does not play a physical game and has been challenged in the defensive zone but took a nice step forward in that area last season.

Tyler Motte – A former 4th round pick, the University of Michigan winger who played on college hockey’s highest scoring line last season. Last year saw a huge leap in his offensive output, as he had a knack for going to the net and making plays. A compact 5’9” but sturdy 191 lbs, Motte comes with a complete defensive game, excellent speed, and a willingness to block shots which will likely endear him to coach Joel Quennville.

Vince Hinostroza – Former 6th round pick left Notre Dame after his sophomore season to go pro, and put in his rookie professional year with the AHL’s Rockford Icehogs last season. After playing 7 games with the Blackhawks and starting the season slowly in Rockford, he scored his first goal in December and then came on like gangbusters to lead the team in scoring with 18 goals and 51 points. An undersized guy with good speed and a skilled game, Hinostroza has garnered complements from the Hawk’s front office including Quennville, who offered praise such as “I didn’t mind Vinny” which is as flowery as he gets for rookies.

Ryan Hartman – Former 1st round pick plays a physical game and wins the most likely to resemble Andrew Shaw award among the Hawks young players. Hartman antagonizes opponents and has the ability to draw their attention away from his team’s most skilled players and onto himself. While that is a valuable skill, too often last year Hartman took bad timed, ill-advised penalties which NHL teams do not condone. Certainly not a team like the Hawks, who are annually among the league’s least penalized teams. However, if Hartman can more wisely use his physical game, there is room for a winger with size and the willingness to mix things up with the departure of Shaw, Ladd, and Weise in the offseason.

Tanner Kero – A former collegiate free agent, Kero played a hefty 17 games for the Blackhawks in his rookie year, as a defensive center with smarts and speed, while Marcus Kruger was injured. A good penalty killer, Kero started the year as an effective goal scorer with Rockford prior to being recalled. However, his scoring touch dried up after that, and whatever mark he makes in the NHL seems to be that of a role player and defensive specialist.

Mark McNeil – Another former first round pick, McNeil wisely signed a cheap $600k one year deal as an RFA this offseason. Last year Rockford head coach Ted Dent declared that McNeil was an “NHL player for sure” and only lacked an opportunity. However, the word going around has been the Blackhawks brass does not like McNeil for one reason or another. A solid defensive player with decent wheels and NHL size, McNeil’s scoring touch has never come along as they hoped and he does not play a physical game despite having the body to do so, in a similar vein to the recently departed Bryan Bickell. With the ability to play center or wing, and a good record on faceoffs, McNeil offers versatility that many NHL clubs, especially the Blackhawks, desire out of players that are not superstars.

Dennis Rasmussen – The Swedish center that earned the most playing time while Marcus Kruger missed most of last season, “Moose” offers good size, intelligence, but not great wheels and very limited offensive potential. His peripheral metrics were actually not bad for being used in a 4th line role last season. Where Marcus Kruger clearly slots as the 3rd best center on this team, Rasmussen will likely battle with Kero, Lundburg and McNeil for the 4th line center role.

Kyle Baun – The grandson of Toronto Maple Leaf legend Bob Baun, Kyle spent most of last season injured. He impressed late the season before playing a few games for the Hawks after signing as a college free agent. Unfortunately, in the games he did play in last year in the AHL, Baun showed almost no offensive potential. He moves well for a winger with his size and competes hard for pucks, a characteristic in line with how Brandon Saad plays. However, his game is not nearly as complete or as skilled as Saad’s, nor does he have elite speed.

Martin Lundburg – Signed as a free agent out of Sweden this offseason, Lundburg is the kind of rabid defensive penalty killer that will dive face first in front of a shot. He is capable of filling a pure defensive role at center and will challenge younger Hawk prospects with higher offensive upsides for playing time this season in Chicago and possibly Rockford. In his favor is that he already has pro experience from Sweden’s highest elite league.

The Hawks need 4 players from this list to make the NHL team. Keep in mind they may still sign an NHL vet or two to PTO’s to come to training camp and try and make the team. Tomas Fleishmann is still out there, for example. My list of guys most likely to make the team, in order:

1. Vince Hinostroza – Showed the type of offensive game and speed the Hawks need last year in his first pro season in the AHL. Played center and wing so has versatility.

2. Tyler Motte – Motte’s complete defensive game, and willingness to go to the net, will win over the Hawk’s coaches despite his lack of pro experience. Looks good to fill a lower line role.

3. Nick Schmaltz – He would be best suited to play at least half a season in Rockford to start his pro career and round out his defensive game. The problem is with this thin of a roster and a lack of depth in skill guys, I am not sure the Hawks will have the luxury of starting him in Rockford where he belongs. His defensive showing in preseason games will be what makes or breaks him making the team out of camp. With most of the top guys at the World Cup, he will get an extended look.

4. Tanner Kero – Kero’s defensive game and speed will get him serious consideration as the 4th line center out of camp. If he can add anything to his game offensively at the NHL level, it would really strengthen his case. Quennville acknowledged the role of speed in the Stanley Cup Final results this year in the offseason, and one of the elements some of these young guys like Kero can give him is more speed.

5. Ryan Hartman – After moving Brian Bickell, Andrew Shaw, and losing Andrew Ladd and Dale Weise this offseason, if there ever was a year for Ryan Hartman to make the team, this is it. But nothing in his game last year in the AHL showed he was ready mentally to be an NHL pest. And the Hawks don’t employ players that play like morons. That is not to say Hartman can’t learn some discipline and alter his game, but he will have to if he is to make the team. They certainly can use his size and physical game this year, two things they sorely lack.

6. Dennis Rasmussen – Was effective in a 4th line role last season after Marcus Kruger went down, although he normally played extremely limited and sheltered minutes. With a big frame, Moose brings size the Hawks lack, even if he does not play an overly aggressive game.

7. Mark McNeil – There is no realy reason for McNeil not to make the team this season, from his cheap cap hit to his pro sized body to his versatility at wing or center. But he likely won’t, as some of the Hawks brass do not think very highly of him. It will take a very good showing in camp and preseason for McNeil to get a shot. For example, last season when everyone and their brother from Rockford got a taste of the show, McNeil only got in for one game, the game in Carolina before a week long break, and it was one of the Hawks most dead performances of the entire season.

8. Martin Lundburg – It is hard to assess Lundburg’s chances, but he could beat out Kero and Rasmussen for the 4th line spot if his gritty game is effective. He did not score much in the Swedish league, so his upside offensively in the NHL is, shall we say, small.

Chicago Blackhawks play game of Chicken with Artemi Panarin contract

September 15, 2016

There is some Good News and Bad News for Chicago Blackhawks fans that are following the World Cup of Hockey Tournament. The Good news is that Artemi Panarin, the Blackhawks Calder Trophy winning winger as NHL Rookie of the Year, has been one of the very best players on Team Russia as the warm up games have concluded. If anyone had any doubts if he was the real deal, each game that goes by making it clearer and clearer what kind of possession driving, ultra competitive, high scoring, savvy winger he truly is.

Did he get some lift from playing with Patrick Kane last year, the Hart Trophy winning MVP? No doubt. Ask Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards, two guys out of the NHL (Richards retired and Versteeg is on a PTO with Edmonton) who are only a year removed from winning a Stanley Cup after playing on a line with Kane.

But on a team with the likes of Ovechkin, Kucherov, Tarasenko, and Malkin, Panarin has been pacing the team in offensive production and in the middle of much of the offensive push for Russia. So it seems the Blackhawks have another offensive superstar on their hands, in a league where scoring 30 goals in a season makes you an elite player, Panarin potted 30 as a rookie and finished in the top 10 leaguewide in scoring. Only 28 players, less than one per team, reached the 30 goal mark last season.

So what is the bad news in all this? Panarin’s rookie contract ends after this season. The Blackhawks wanted to extend his contract this offseason. Panarin is so good that each day the Hawks wait to present his next deal, his price goes up. However, after the salary cap number came in, a problem became apparent. Estimating a modest 3% cap growth for next year, there is not enough salary cap room to sign him to a market deal and keep the team under the cap even with cheap players from college or the AHL on rookie deals.

Based on Brandon Saad’s current $6 million deal in Colombus, and Tarasenko’s $7.5 million deal with St. Louis, and whatever Gaudreau signs for in Calgary, Panarin is looking at $6.5 – $Gaudreau million (would that be a Gaudrillion dollars?) on his next deal per year. The only way for the Hawks to fit such a deal is to remove a salary from their current team that is not an entry level contract or low cost deal.

Can they or would they move Toews, Kane, Keith, Hjarmalsson, or Hossa? No, the first 4 are too good and Hossa is declining too much relative to his cap hit. Seabrook starts an 8 year, $6.875 per deal this year. He is one of the only players on the Hawks who is physical and has size. It is unlikely with that long term salary commitment they would find a taker, or that they would have a suitable replacement in house.

Cory Crawford and his $6 million deal could be a possibility, but behind him are only the unproven Scott Darling who has nice size and potential but has never carried the weight of being an everyday goalie, even in his break through year in the AHL when he shared the net with Michael Leighton. Plus, there is a glut of goalies in the NHL. What contending team needs a goalie that doesn’t already have one? A move in net seems very unlikely. Crawford’s deal gets better each year.

Only two players are left with significant salary, centers Anisimov and Kruger. Anisimov has solved the long sought 2nd line center with size issue, although his numbers would indicate he is more suited to a third line role. Kruger is a two time Cup winning defensive specialist making just over $3 million per year. At that price there may not be much of a market for Kruger in trade.

However, the NHL expansion draft to stock the Las Vegas franchise is June 17th. NHL teams can protect 4 defensemen and 4 forwards, or 3 defensemen and 7 forwards, and one goalie in each case. The Hawks could leave Kruger unprotected and see if Las Vegas wants to add a defensive specialist with Cup winning experience to their young team. If so, this would create the room for Panarin’s new deal. They must protect Anisimov as he has a no move clause in his new contract. The team could, however, ask him for a list of teams and try to work out a deal, although again this could be a difficult thing to pull off.

Most likely, they will try to trade Kruger after this season, or leave him exposed in the expansion draft, at which point they would have until July 1st to cut a deal with Panarin and prevent him from fielding offers as a restricted free agent. In this case Chicago would retain the right to match any contract he signs.

If Kruger is not selected in the expansion draft, they could look to deal Panarin’s rights, although after doing the same thing with restricted free agents Brandon Saad (netted the since-traded Marco Dano and Anisimov from Colombus) and Andrew Shaw (netted two picks from Montreal) in the last two seasons, the Hawks well know that they will be coming out on the short end of any such deal.

Pull up GeneralFanager.com or capgeek, how do you think they will fit in Panarin’s next deal?