Chicago GM Stan Bowman planned all along for post-season fire sale

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Thumbnail image for stanbowman1.jpgIf you haven’t noticed, this summer has been pretty tough on Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman. After the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in June, it wasn’t long after that that the dismantling of a championship team began. Their moves have been high profile and roundly criticized by many people, questioning Bowman’s ability to keep a team together in the salary cap era. What fans and critics alike don’t realize is that Bowman knew all along the situation Chicago was in and that, as the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh tells us, the Blackhawks’ plan was to do it this way all along.

Turns out the 2010 Stanley Cup champions’ tricky winning equation depended on spending slightly more than $60 million when last year’s cap was set at $56.8 million. The roughly $4 million overage came in the performance bonuses paid to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, money the Hawks chose to count against next season’s cap, as league rules permit, instead of affecting the go-for-it-all 2010 season.

Had Bowman decided to apply the anticipated $4 million hit to last season, the Hawks likely would have attempted to win the Cup without, say, Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager.

“Perceptions are, ‘Geez, the Blackhawks mismanaged the salary cap,’ but I’d say we did the opposite — we managed the hell out of it,” Bowman said. “We exploited it in a way.”

While so much of this summer’s other news has involved finding ways to make the salary cap work for a team instead of against it (Ilya Kovalchuk’s disputed contract with New Jersey for example), the way the Blackhawks managed to do it was completely within the confines of the rules, as the salary cap punishment to the Blackhawks this year proves. After all, if you’re going to go for broke, doing it while winning the Stanley Cup is the most fun way to do it.

Had the Blackhawks lost in the finals to the Flyers, the same thing would’ve happened this summer anyhow. Picture the heartache and anger that would’ve resonated around the Blackhawks had they failed to win it all last year. Imagine how well dealing Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager and losing Antti Niemi would’ve gone over. Well, getting rid of a Cup-losing goalie might’ve gone over a little easier but it’s safe to say that disaster was completely avoided in Chicago through Bowman’s gutsy (and risky) move to go push all in, salary cap be damned.

Will this be a model for other teams desperate to win the Cup to follow? Possibly. Some teams might find themselves trapped against the cap thanks to bad contracts, but having the ability to bring in a big name to be the missing piece like Marian Hossa while having younger talent blossom and come together all at once is the kind of chemistry experiment that is hard to make work when your window for success is so short like it was for Chicago. Whether this sort of thing pan out for teams like Vancouver or Boston that are in similar cap positions remains to be seen, but the Blackhawks have at least provided a very high-risk blueprint for success in the meantime.

WATCH LIVE: Edmonton Oilers at St. Louis Blues

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It’s not even December and the St. Louis Blues (31 points) almost have double the standings points as the Edmonton Oilers (16).

One could have predicted the Blues – a team that just keeps unearthing talent and competing, even if the deep playoff runs remain frustratingly rare – would be a good team. Some might have seen the Oilers slipping. But both of these factors, particularly with the Blues’ bevvy of injuries? It’s quite the mind-number.

While Connor McDavid absorbs some heat and the Oilers already wonder if they can make the playoffs, the Blues get Jay Bouwmeester back and some wonder if St. Louis has just about locked up a spot.

With all this in mind, it’s still not out of the question to imagine this being a playoff series, and my, is there a lot of talent involved. McDavid’s joined by the likes of Leon Draisaitl, while the Blues throw out a line that must be considered among the best in the NHL in Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, and a rising Brayden Schenn.

It should be a fascinating game to check on NBCSN. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

For an in-depth preview, check out this post.

Canucks’ Dorsett returns to Vancouver for precautionary reasons

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Derek Dorsett’s remarkable comeback story has taken an unfortunate turn.

Dorsett won’t play on Tuesday in Philadelphia against the Flyers and may be sidelined for some time after the Canucks revealed Dorsett is dealing with complications that appear to stem from last season’s spinal surgery, which forced him to miss 68 games last season.

Via the Canucks Twitter account:

Derek Dorsett returned to Vancouver today for precautionary reasons to be evaluated by medical staff. His rehab following a cervical fusion procedure last year progressed well, consistent with expectations, and resulted in his fitness to play.

Recently, symptoms of neck and back stiffness presented. Given the nature of the injury and surgery, it was determined the best course of action is for a specialist to review his status. Derek will be assessed to determine cause and treatment of the symptoms before any further action is taken.

Dorsett’s surgery, according to Sportsnet, was a brutal procedure of getting “cut through the front of his neck, pull his vocal chords aside, remove a damaged disc between his C5 and C6 vertebrae, replace it with a washer and chunk of bone from his hip, then screw the vertebrae together so the tissue could fuse.”

Canucks head coach Travis Green spoke to the media prior to Tuesday’s game.

“I think the symptoms just slowly came around the last week or so,” Green said. “He’s been kind of dealing with it the past several days, week.”

Playing in a fourth-line checking role, Dorsett had also found his scoring touch with seven goals and nine points playing with Brandon Sutter and Sam Gagner.

Green didn’t want Tuesday’s setback to take away from Dorsett’s comeback this season.

“I don’t want to talk like it was a remarkable comeback. It still is,” Green said. “He’s had a great start to the year, he’s been a big part of our team. Hopefully, he’s joining our group again soon.”

Green said it was too early to talk about when Dorsett would play again.

“I think we just call it wait and see… that’s all there is right now,” he said.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

NHL awards: Handing out hardware at the season’s quarter mark

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Almost every NHL team has hit the 20-game mark, which means it’s time to look back at the first month and a half of the season and see who’s ahead of the pack for some of the league’s top hardware.

A lot will change between now and June, but certainly some of the players named below will still be in the mix come awards season while others will tail off after hot starts.

HART TROPHY

Who is the most valuable to their team? That’s a tough choice as you look at some of the performances so far this season. Nikita Kucherov (17-16—33) can’t stop scoring and Steven Stamkos (10-25—35) is averaging 1.75 points per night for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Jaden Schwartz (10-16—26) is powering the St. Louis Blues. Johnny Gaudreau (10-21—31) is leading the Calgary Flames. Meanwhile, Sergei Bobrovsky it tops among all goaltenders with a .941 even strength save percentage.

There are a number of strong candidates for the Hart at the quarter mark. If voting took place now, how many votes would Kucherov and Stamkos split? And would that allow Bobrovsky to sneak in and steal it? Or does Bob have enough love right now to surpass the Lightning duo?

Our vote:
1. Bobrovsky

2. Kucherov
3. Schwartz

NORRIS TROPHY

Alex Pietrangelo and John Klingberg are all tied for the scoring lead among blue liners with 19 points, but lookie here, it’s Erik Karlsson, he of five games missed this season, lurking behind them at 17. He also has the best Corsi (56 percent, via Corsica) out of the top scoring defensemen and is averaging 1.21 points per game. Victor Hedman is also just behind with 15 points and 25:18 of ice time a night.

Our vote:
1. Karlsson

2. Pietrangelo
3. Hedman

VEZINA TROPHY

Outside of Bob, you have Andrei Vasilievskiy’s play helping the Lightning to a ridiculous start. He has a .931 ESSV and has played the seventh-most minutes (1,024:24). There’s also Connor Hellebuyck (.938) and Corey Crawford (.932) to consider; both have been key reasons for why their teams currently reside in playoff positions.

But in the end it’s hard to top what Bobrovsky is doing in Columbus. And it goes to show, as we’ve seen the last few years, just how good he is when healthy.

Our vote:
1. Bobrovsky

2. Hellebuyck
3. Crawford

CALDER TROPHY

In October, Clayton Keller (11-9—20) of the Arizona Coyotes appeared to have one hand on the rookie of the year award. But then a few other names entered the picture, like Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders, who sits second in rookie scoring with 4 goals and 19 points. Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks (7-10—17) is a bright ray of hope for the franchise. New Jersey Devils blue liner Will Butcher has been an assist machine with 14 of his 16 points recorded as helpers.

Speaking of rookie defensemen, Charlie McAvoy has 10 points for the Boston Bruins, but just as impressive is the fact that he’s averaging 23:16 a night next to Zdeno Chara. No other freshman skater is over 20 minutes a night.

One goaltender of note is Charlie Lindgren (.929), who has played well filling in for Carey Price. But that’s not going to last once the Montreal Canadiens get their franchise goaltender back from injury very soon.

Our vote:
1. Keller

2. Barzal
3. McAvoy

JACK ADAMS AWARD

Who had the Vegas Golden Knights sitting in a playoff spot and not a lottery spot this season? Well, through the quarter mark, Gerard Gallant’s men have used a strong home record (8-1-0) to get off to an historic start.

There’s also plenty of praise for the jobs that Jon Cooper and Mike Yeo are doing in Tampa and St. Louis, respectively, but typically this award ends up going to a team that exceeded expectations or made a huge turnaround from either the current season or previous year. That’s why if they keep up the pace, John Hynes of the New Jersey Devils and Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets will find themselves getting some coach of the year love in June.

Our vote:
1. Gallant

2. Cooper
3. Hynes

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BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT – TEAM

The Edmonton Oilers were a trendy Stanley Cup pick before the season after a nice playoff run last spring. But it’s all come crashing back down to earth as they sit out of the Western Conference playoff picture and three points ahead of the league-worst Arizona Coyotes. The Montreal Canadiens have been an interesting mess and we’re waiting on the Philadelphia Flyers to take that next step with some exciting young players. The Dallas Stars seem to have issues living up expectations, while Bruce Boudreau’s penchant for winning division titles could take a hit for a second straight season with the Minnesota Wild.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT – PLAYER

It took until game No. 18 for Ryan Johansen, owner of a new $8 million cap hit, to score his first goal of the season for the Nashville Predators. Steve Mason (.879 ESSV) was handed a nice $8.2 million deal over the summer but has watched as Hellebuyck has taken the No. 1 job for the Jets. Martin Hanzal was given a three-year, $14.25 million deal by the Stars and has one goal through 17 games. Ben Bishop also hasn’t quite lit it up for the Stars with a .904 ESSV. Carey Price is injured, but sure wasn’t playing like his old self before he left the Canadiens lineup. His .877 ESSV is downright ugly.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Dallas Stars head coach fed up with injury rigmarole

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Now here’s a trend we could all get behind.

Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock told members of the media on Tuesday that he wants to “stop the dance” when it comes to revealing information about his injured players.

Via Marc Antoine Godin of The Athletic:

“I think we collectively hate playing the game. What I mean by that is we say ‘upper body,’ then you go on the phone, and then you look up things or you go to the doctors, find out what part of the upper body. We try to make your work easier, quite frankly, and so we just don’t like going through the dance.

“It’s just easy to tell you what it is and let’s move forward. It’s just the whole game. It’s an injury, and within two hours after we tell you it’s ‘upper body,’ you know exactly what it is, so why not just tell you? And the players don’t go out and say, ‘He has a broken left pinky and we’re going to go after the pinky.’ Nobody thinks like that. Our feeling is just tell them what the injury is and move it forward and just stop the dance.”

Perhaps Hitchcock, who has been coaching in the NHL since 1995, is just tired of the same old rigmarole he’s dealt with for the past 20-plus years. Reporters everywhere are too.

It’s also likely that most fans would also appreciate a higher level of transparency from the team they spend hundreds on for tickets each night.

Right, Montreal?

Given the mayhem that has ensued for the Canadiens over the status of Carey Price’s lower body, perhaps more teams will alleviate future headaches before they set in by adopting this route.

What is certain is that hockey scribes everywhere just became the biggest Hitchcock fans.

For now, if you’re looking for some of the Stars’ state secrets, they can be had on their official Twitter account:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck