Blackhawks should be a legit Cup contender next season, even with salary cap purge

blackhawksback.jpgWith all the Chicago Blackhawks Doomsday talk in the air, it’s easy to forget that the team still has some major talent in place. In fact, if the team is able to retain goalie Antti Niemi, you could make the argument that the core is still intact.

Seriously, just take a look at who’s left. At the forward position, they still have their very best players: Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp remain while a few leftover support players include Troy Brouwer and Dave Bolland. Their defense features important pieces such as Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and even highly paid Brian Campbell. The team needs to either retain Niemi or find a suitable replacement, but if they indeed ship Cristobal Huet to the minors they might be out of the salary cap abyss.

NHL.com looks at how the Blackhawks still might be one of the Cup favorites, even with all those changes.

Jack Skille doesn’t have to go far to hear about there being “no way” the Chicago Blackhawks will defend their Stanley Cup title after saying goodbye to multiple key players this summer.

All he has to do is answer his phone.

“I’ve got my own buddy saying that to me,” said the 23-year old Skille, a winger who will get his first shot to play a full NHL season in Chicago after being drafted in 2005. “I’ve got my best buddy since I was 6-years-old saying that to me. He’s like, ‘Nah, there’s no way. There’s no way.’ I get into arguments with him. I’ll say ‘Yeah … we will.'”

That’s because Skille, like his soon-to-be Hawks teammates, genuinely believes there is still enough talent left behind to remain one of the NHL’s top teams again. Judging by the noise level in the Chicago Hilton Friday during the opening ceremony of this year’s Blackhawks fan convention, many fans also are believers.

When you look at the list of players who were jettisoned, most were depth guys. Sure, Dustin Byfuglien rocked it on the first line with Kane and Toews during the playoffs, but he shuffled around the lineup plenty of times over the last couple years. Kris Versteeg possesses some solid offensive talent, but can you really say he was an essential player to Chicago?

Losing players such as John Madden will hurt, but it more or less makes the Blackhawks a “normal” NHL team instead of an embarrassment of riches. They won’t be able to bludgeon you with their absurd depth anymore, but Chicago still brings plenty to the table as a top-end team too.

In other words, don’t count out the ‘Hawks next season.

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    Domi: ‘No reason’ the Coyotes can’t make the playoffs next season

    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 12:  Max Domi #16 of the Arizona Coyotes waves to fans after being named the number one star of the game following the NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Gila River Arena on January 12, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Oilers 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    Max Domi is thinking big for next season.

    After an impressive rookie campaign, in which Domi scored 18 goals and 52 points, the now 21-year-old forward is eyeing a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Arizona Coyotes.

    Tall order, given they are in the Pacific Division and they were 20 points behind the San Jose Sharks for third in the division when the season ended.

    But Domi is optimistic.

    “There’s no reason we can’t,” Domi told TSN.

    “We came out of the gates pretty hot this year and we beat some high-end teams but when the nitty gritty comes down to it, you gotta be able to win after the All-Star break — that’s when it really matters. Finding a way to find that consistency and manage that throughout an 82-game season will be pretty clutch for us and there’s no reason we can’t do it.”

    The Coyotes have had a busy offseason since the middle of April. Here are a few examples:

    — They fired GM Don Maloney, citing a need to move in a new direction. (Click here)

    — They promoted 26-year-old John Chayka, who, as a result, became the youngest GM in NHL history, definitely representing a change in direction. (Click here)

    — They acquired the rights to defenseman Alex Goligoski and signed him to a five-year deal. The idea was to add a defenseman capable of efficiently moving the puck to Arizona’s skilled group of forwards. (Click here)

    — After a breakout season, goalie Louis Domingue was signed to a multi-year deal that could represent a changing of the guard in the Coyotes crease, which previously belonged to Mike Smith. (Click here)

    — They added grit by signing Jamie McGinn to a three-year, $10 million deal. (Click here)

    — After a lengthier negotiation process than maybe expected, the Coyotes re-signed Shane Doan for one year at $5 million. Doan, who turns 40 years old in October, led Arizona last season with 28 goals. (Click here)

    — They made further moves on the blue line, adding Luke Schenn and re-signing restricted free agents Connor Murphy and Michael Stone. (Click here)

    The Coyotes, already with Domi and Anthony Duclair, could have another young, skilled forward in Dylan Strome, the third overall pick in 2015, fight for a spot on the roster next season.

    So, yeah. Busy.

    With all the moves this summer, especially on the blue line, the Coyotes could perhaps take the next step in their evolution. It will also depend on other teams in the West, and if they improve or regress.

    Whether that translates an Arizona appearance in the 2017 playoffs won’t be known for several months. But you can count Domi as a believer.

    ‘It’s getting stronger every day’: Bishop says he’ll be ready for World Cup camp

    2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Three
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    With the World Cup of Hockey approaching, Ben Bishop seems optimistic he’ll be ready to participate in the Team USA training camp prior to the event.

    Bishop, the Tampa Bay Lightning goalie, was injured on a seemingly innocent play and had to be stretchered off the ice in the first period of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.

    There had been talk that he could perhaps return to game action, but in the end, he didn’t play another game in the series, as the Bolts were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.

    “The leg is feeling better and it’s getting stronger every day,” Bishop told ESPN.

    “I’m getting ready to start skating soon … and get back on the ice and doing that side of things. We have about a month until we go, so I’ll start off slow and pick it up in the next month and be ready for training camp for the World Cup.”

    Good news for Team USA, which also called on Jonathan Quick and Cory Schneider for their goaltending duties. The tournament begins Sept. 17.

    In keeping with the optimistic mood about his status for the World Cup, Bishop last week revealed his new Team USA mask.

    Related: Lightning lock up Vasilevskiy — what now for Bishop? 

    Benn aims to be ready for World Cup after offseason surgery

    Fans celebrate along with Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) after a score by Benn in the first period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series game, Monday, April 21, 2014, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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    Surgery earlier this month to repair a core muscle has put Jamie Benn‘s status for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey in question, however the Dallas Stars captain still aims to be ready to play for Team Canada.

    It was announced on July 15 that the recovery timeline for this surgery was six weeks, which certainly makes it possible that Benn could be ready for the tournament, which begins Sept. 17.

    “As of right now, yeah. I think this is a surgery that I’m able to come back a little quicker than double-hip surgery. That’s the main focus I’m training towards being able to make it for World Cup. We’ll just see what happens,” said Benn, as per Mark Stepneski of the Stars’ website on Saturday.

    “Well, I think I’ll get on the ice later this week and just keep ramping it up a little more each time. I still think that’s a lot of time, enough time for me to be ready to jump into high-level hockey.”

    Benn had 41 goals and 89 points last season with the Stars. He signed an eight-year, $76 million contract extension on the same day his recent surgery was announced.

    Benn’s teammate Tyler Seguin “should be ready for the World Cup,” said Stars GM Jim Nill earlier this month.

    Done deal: Coyotes sign 2016 first-round pick Chychrun to entry-level contract

    BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Jakob Chychrun poses for a portrait after being selected 16th overall by the Arizona Coyotes  in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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    The Arizona Coyotes moved up the draft order to select defenseman Jakob Chychrun at 16th overall. And now, they have signed Chychrun to a three-year entry-level contract.

    The Coyotes made the announcement on Saturday.

    “We are very pleased to sign Jakob to an entry-level contract,” said Coyotes GM John Chayka in a statement. “Jakob is a highly-skilled player with an all-around game. He has a great work ethic and is very determined. We look forward to watching him continue to develop this season.”

    When the 2015-16 season began, it was suggested Chychrun could potentially be a top-three pick in the draft in June. But he fell down the order, despite being the No. 4-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.

    He was the fifth defenseman taken in the draft.

    Listed at six-foot-two-inches tall and 215 pounds, Chychrun brings size and strong skating ability to the blue line. He had 11 goals and 49 points last season with Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League.

    The Coyotes selected Chychrun after acquiring the remainder of Pavel Datsyuk’s contract from the Detroit Red Wings and moving up the order.

    Chychrun’s fall — and what precipitated it in the first place — was discussed in great detail when the Coyotes held their development camp earlier this month.

    “I think it was about being tense,” said Coyotes director of player development Steve Sullivan. “All the pressure of wanting to be second overall and maybe not having a great season; it snowballed the wrong way for him.

    “Now he needs to understand he’s been drafted into the National Hockey League and we’re going to put him in a game plan to get him here as fast as we can. He can loosen up and play the way we think he can play. If that happens, there is no reason why he won’t be here sooner than later.”

    Related:

    Coyotes’ defensive makeover continues with Luke Schenn signing

    Report: Stone and Coyotes agree to one-year, $4M deal

    Coyotes sign Connor Murphy to six-year extension