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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    We asked David Poile if he’d trade a defenseman, and you won’t believe what he said…

    David Poile

    “I’m supposed to tell you the answer to that?”

    I was hoping he would. But I guess David Poile didn’t want to tell me all his plans for the Nashville Predators. How disappointing.

    The question I’d asked him, in a phone interview Wednesday, was one he’d been asked before, and one he’ll surely be asked again — would he trade one of his star defensemen for help up front?

    “We are very happy with our defense corps,” Poile said, like a politician repeating the party line. “It gives us a chance to be competitive and have a chance to win every game, along with our goaltending.”

    But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t consider it.

    “You’re always trying to improve your team. That’s what a manager’s job is,” said Poile.

    “When the right time is there, when the deal is there. Whether it’s today, tomorrow, the trade deadline, whether it’s in the summer, trade or free agency situation, we’ll do whatever we can to improve our team.”

    Start the trade rumors! Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen? Now you come up with one.

    I mean, who hasn’t looked at the Preds’ roster and not wondered? All those defensemen. No young, elite center. Teams that win the Stanley Cup always have an elite center. Right now, Nashville’s top center is 35-year-old Mike Ribeiro. Its second-line center is another 35-year-old, Mike Fisher.

    And what’s worth remembering about Jones is that the Preds never expected to get him.

    “In the draft three years ago, there were four outstanding players, three of which were forwards,” said Poile. “We had the fourth pick. I think everyone thought Seth Jones was going to go either one, two, or three. And we were very comfortable taking one of those three forwards, because that’s what we needed.”

    But then Colorado took Nathan MacKinnon, Florida went with Aleksander Barkov, and Tampa Bay called Jonathan Drouin‘s name.

    “There’s no regrets with that,” said Poile. “That just made a good defense even stronger.”

    The Preds did manage to get some promising forwards in the next two drafts, including 19-year-old Vladislav Kamenev, currently with Nashville’s farm team in Milwaukee. Perhaps he’s a future number-one center.

    “In our system, we have three or four pretty good potential forwards coming,” said Poile. “I think before you look outside the organization, you always want to look inside the organization.”

    OK, fine, fair enough.

    P.S. — Shea Weber to the Oilers?

    Related: Nobody’s got a better blue line than Nashville

    Calgary waives second goalie of the year — this time, it’s Ortio

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    Many people — your author included — thought it was a bad idea when Flames GM Brad Treliving entered this season with three goalies on the roster.

    Now we’re starting to see why.

    On Tuesday, Calgary exposed another goalie to waivers — Joni Ortio has been placed on the wire, per TSN.

    The move comes just over a month after the Flames put Karri Ramo on waivers, with no takers — and since being recalled from AHL Stockton, Ramo inherited the No. 1 gig from Jonas Hiller and ran with it, starting each of Calgary’s last 11 games while playing every minute.

    Ortio, meanwhile, hasn’t seen any action since allowing six goals to Montreal on Oct. 30.

    Today’s transaction likely means that Hiller is ready to return from the hip injury that’s kept him out since late last month. He skated with the club on Monday and could soon reconnect with Ramo to form the combo that backstopped Calgary to a surprising playoff appearance a year ago.

    Of course, many wonder if that duo will still work.

    The numbers on both goalies are pretty bad this year. Ramo’s 6-8-2 with a 3.12 GAA and .898 save percentage, while Hiller is 2-3-0 with a 3.67 and .861.

    Things also don’t promise to get any easier for the Flames in the near future. They have back-to-back road games in Arizona and San Jose this weekend, then return home for three games against three of the NHL’s highest-scoring clubs: Dallas (most goals for in the league), Boston (fourth-most) and the Sharks (11th-most).

    As for Ortio, it’ll be interesting to see if anybody takes a flier. He’s young (24), cheap ($600,000) and has shown very well at the American League level, earning a spot on the All-Rookie team in ’13-14.

    Missing McDavid: Yakupov’s goalless drought now at 15 games

    Cononor McDavid, Nail Yakupov
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    When Connor McDavid went down with a broken collarbone, many expected his linemates — Benoit Pouliot and Nail Yakupov — to be adversely affected.

    But probably not this affected.

    Yakupov — who, prior to McDavid getting hurt on Nov. 3, had 10 points in 12 games — has gone in the tank offensively since losing his running mate.

    The Russian’s goalless drought (which, to be fair, began while McDavid was still playing) is now at 15 games, and he’s failed to score a point in seven straight — all of which is a cause for concern for head coach Todd McLellan.

    From the Edmonton Journal:

    When does [McLellan] say “he’s got to score a goal.”

    “We’re at that point now,” the coach said.

    “He’s had some great looks,” said McLellan.

    There are a few issues at play here.

    Chief among them is that Yakupov’s gone from skating with Pouliot and McDavid to Mark Letestu and Matt Hendricks — and no offense to Letestu and Hendricks, but that’s a significant downgrade in offensive talent.

    So when Yakupov does get time with the likes of Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl, it’s usually on the power play — which only ratchets up the pressure to score (because who knows when the next power play will come?)

    McLellan acknowledged the team needs to set up Yakupov more — “we’ll work with his linemates to help him, we’ll get him out on the power play where his strengths are,” he said — but, like any coach, stressed that the player needs to help himself out, too.

    Video: Gaudreau, Ryan, Orlov star in Goals of the Week

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    Three stellar individual efforts in our latest offering.

    First up, it’s red-hot Ottawa forward Bobby Ryan, with his third-period goal in an eventual OT loss to Detroit. Ryan now has 20 points in 21 games this season, and six in his last five.

    Next, it’s Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, who walked off what was arguably the Flames’ best win of the year — a 2-1 OT victory over the defending champion Blackhawks.

    Finally, it’s Caps blueliner Dmitry Orlov, with one of the weirdest-looking goals in recent memory.

    From the Washington Post:

    “No one knew where the puck was,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said.

    “Houdini,” goaltender Braden Holtby said.

    “I had no clue,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought it was in the stands. I had no idea.”

    The goal was also Orlov’s second of the season, meaning he’s just one shy of matching his career best.