Blackhawks goaltending a hot topic during Blackhawks fan convention

stanbowman1.jpgWhile the Chicago Blackhawks held their fan convention this weekend, much of the festivities were a bit overshadowed wondering about what the team will do with goaltender Antti Niemi. This is unknown territory really for any NHL team to have such great success one year winning the Stanley Cup to scrapping a lot of the roster in the off-season and now temporarily landing in limbo regarding the goalie that helped win the Cup. While general manager Stan Bowman has a lot to mull over before making a decision on Niemi by Monday, he did take time out to speak with the fans at the convention and, of course, the team’s goaltending was the topic of conversation as Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago tells us.

“There are always options in every decision and you have to weigh what it’ll take, what it would do to your team flexibility-wise if you decide to keep him, or do you have to make a decision in another direction,” Bowman told the panel audience. “There are pluses and minuses to all strategies. We’ll come up with the right decision. I tried to say this all along: one man doesn’t make a team here. We’re going to be ready come October to defend the Cup and we’re going to work on making sure we get it right.”

When asked about Corey Crawford, who has spent several years in the Blackhawks’ minor-league system, Bowman said, “I think the time is now for him to get an opportunity to show what he can do.

“You don’t want to rush a goaltender to the NHL. But he’s spent a number of years playing in our system. He’s carried the load (in the minors) year after year, and we think it’s time for him.”

I don’t want to go and read into what are obviously pretty crafted and careful answers regarding what is going to be a huge decision. Also keep in mind that Stan Bowman isn’t likely going to talk about guys that are outside of the organization either. This reads like a guy who is prepared for just about any sort of scenario and is, indeed, ready for anything.

What is Chicago’s plan remains to be seen and the options are many. Chicago can accept the contract and then start shuffling players around or out of town to help fill out a complete roster, they can walk away from the award and make Niemi an instant unrestricted free agent or they can trade Niemi himself after signing him to his contract.

If you’re looking for a hint or a guiding light as to what Chicago will do, good luck finding it right now. Things appear to be especially tight-lipped at the moment which lends itself to speculation that plans to let Niemi go free and sign Marty Turco for a smaller contract get to linger on a little longer. About the only thing that seems to be certain is that Cristobal Huet doesn’t factor into Chicago’s plans at all because of his massive salary. At least he’ll have a Stanley Cup ring and the treat of bringing the Cup to the Eiffel Tower in Paris to celebrate winning it. That and lots and lots of money.

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    The Buzzer: Job of the Hutton

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    Players of the Night

    • Carter Hutton has quietly been playing well when used (sparingly) by the St. Louis Blues, but he stepped into the spotlight on Saturday, guiding his team to a 2-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

    The high-powered Jets fired 48 shots on goal in this one, yet none beat Hutton, who nabbed the ninth shutout of his solid career. The 31-year-old bumped his save percentage up to a whopping .949 so far in 2017-18. He set a Blues record in doing so.

    • On Friday, Jack Eichel collected a hat trick and an assist in a losing effort. Gabriel Landeskog upped the ante one night later – literally – by scoring three goals and two assists in a game his Avalanche managed to lose anyway.

    As much attention as Nathan MacKinnon is grabbing (rightfully, as he added two goals to his impressive season so far), this marks the second hat trick of the season for Landeskog. Not bad with it still being 2017, and all.

    This was a pretty nasty game between the Avalanche and Lightning, at least at times.

    Some key highlights

    Technically, you can spell overtime without Alex Ovechkin

    (Ovechkin’s already in select GWG company.)

    Shayne Gostisbehere scored both of Philly’s goals, but the antics between Wayne Simmonds and Ben Bishop were the real highlight here:

    Speaking of Nathan MacKinnon, this is something else:

    Mathew Barzal to Jordan Eberle a combination that torments Darcy Kuemper in overtime and Peter Chiarelli, always:

    Finally, Jonathan Gibson flashes the glove in defeat:

    Factoids

    The Lightning keep piling up different milestones and accomplishments, with Mikhail Sergachev ranking among those today (as Tampa Bay won its seventh in a row):

    The cold weather didn’t slow Erik Karlsson down (more on that outdoor game here):

    Pekka Rinne‘s really been rattling off some milestones lately.

    Scores

    Oilers 3, Wild 2
    Rangers 3, Bruins 2 (OT)
    Blues 2, Jets 0
    Islanders 4, Kings 3 (OT)
    Hurricanes 2, Blue Jackets 1
    Flyers 2, Stars 1 (OT)
    Senators 3, Canadiens 0
    Capitals 3, Ducks 2 (OT)
    Penguins 4, Coyotes 2
    Lightning 6, Avalanche 5
    Predators 2, Flames 0

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Fight video: Brouwer makes Watson pay for Hathaway hit

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    Austin Watson nodded with recognition after landing a questionable hit on Garnet Hathaway on Saturday, as he understood why Troy Brouwer demanded immediate retribution.

    And, as you can see from the video above the headline, Brouwer got that bloody payback after beating Watson in a fight.

    Watson (who isn’t that far removed from a two-game suspension) was ejected for his hit. It wasn’t the only nasty moment between the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames, either, as the toxic exchanges included Anthony Bitetto‘s ugly cross-check on Sam Bennett.

    (Video or a GIF of Bitetto’s hit will be added if it becomes available.)

    Some other penalties reduced some of the advantage for the Flames, but they ultimately still received serious man-advantage opportunities amid all of the violence, and they weren’t able to convert.

    The best news is that Hathaway might end up being OK after a scary-looking check. He returned to the game during the third period.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Should Erik Johnson be suspended for ugly play on Namestnikov?

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    Vladislav Namestnikov has been the Mikael Renberg equivalent on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Legion of Doom with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov for much of this season, complimenting those two scorers with strong work of his own.

    The Lightning were lighting up the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, perhaps frustrating Erik Johnson and others. Whatever the explanation might be, it was a pretty ugly sight when Johnson slashed and then boarded Namestnikov, earning those two penalties plus a game misconduct.

    Plenty of people believe that supplemental discipline would be merited for Johnson’s actions. For what it’s worth, “Names” did return to action in the third period. We’ve seen instances where players return only to be hurt anyway, so we’ll see if the nifty winger sees any delayed issues.

    Johnson, 29, was suspended for two games by the NHL back in 2014, but has a generally clean history otherwise.

    The Lightning ultimately ended up beating the Avalanche 6-5, as Nathan MacKinnon almost led a rally with two power-play goals.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Senators blank Canadiens in NHL 100 Classic

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    One win, even in the frosty outdoors for the NHL 100 Classic, only means so much.

    Still, the Ottawa Senators probably experienced some ice-cold relief on Saturday, beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 during a tightly defended outdoor bout.

    It was 0-0 for much of the game until Jean-Gabriel Pageau tipped an Erik Karlsson shot for the first goal with about five minutes remaining in the second period. Bobby Ryan then capitalized on a rough Jonathan Drouin turnover to make it 2-0, while an empty-netter iced the icy evening for Ottawa.

    For a night, it was a fun time, and Karlsson reminded us what all the fuss is about, as he logged a ridiculous 32:55 of ice time. And he seemed to be having a good time doing it.

    This night laid the “Canadian” on thick, with Bryan Adams performing during the event, and Gary Bettman posing for photos with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

    via Getty

    Weird, but OK then.

    Generally speaking, things haven’t been that OK for the Senators lately. Such headaches did surface during this frosty-mug-on-ice event, as owner Eugene Melnyk inspired a #Melnykout hashtag on Twitter, not to mention icy barbs like these.

    Fair criticisms about the Sens’ bigger picture aside, Ottawa looked nice tonight, with Karlsson shining and Craig Anderson pitching a rare shutout outdoors (shutoutdoors)?

    Carey Price generated some nice saves of his own, but couldn’t will Montreal to win in his 10th consecutive start. The Habs rarely got things going against the Senators, seen most easily in Ottawa’s 38-28 advantage in shots on goal.

    Nights like these make a bigger impact on fans’ memories and bottom lines, but this marks consecutive wins for the Senators either way. Considering the fact that the Senators hadn’t put back-to-back wins together since they faced the Avalanche in two contests in Sweden, it might not be a big deal, yet it’s far better than the nothing they’ve been coming up with far too often lately.

    Also

    In other news from the event, Mario Lemieux’s “five goals, five different ways” was named as the NHL’s greatest moment, voted by fans:

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.