Duncan Keith

Could a full summer of rest help the Blackhawks rise to the top again?

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When you compare how the last two summers have gone for the Chicago Blackhawks, you’d start to wonder just how dramatic it is to play in the Windy City. You go from a summer filled with parades, parties, and cost-cutting moves last year to one that sees more in the way of additions and maintenance for major players in an effort to have another celebration-filled offseason in the near future.

While the Blackhawks had such a busy summer last year, this year it’s been more about adding support players (Steve Montador, Sean O’Donnell, Jamal Mayers, Sami Lepisto, and Dan Carcillo) and helping their stars get better through modern medicine. With Patrick Kane out of action for the next 6-8 weeks with a broken wrist, that part isn’t always so easy to pull off but for guys like former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, the rest one can get after a disappointing first round playoff loss can be turned into a huge benefit.

As Keith tells CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers, he’s hoping that the time off will be the sort of thing both he and the Blackhawks need to get back to winning the Stanley Cup next summer.

“Looking at the minutes, they were a lot of minutes. I’m playing my best when they’re not as much as that,” he said. “I enjoy playing a lot of minutes. Everybody will tell you that. But there probably comes a point when you reach your peak and at a certain point, at a certain number where does the play drop off when you go over that?”

Keith said he’ll focus on taking shorter shifts this season, and the Blackhawks’ offseason acquisitions should help him do that. General manager Stan Bowman got deep on the blue line again, getting Steve Montador, Sean O’Donnell and Sami Lepisto before and during free agency.

“It’s been talked about a lot that you can never have too much depth on defense,” he said. “It’s tough when you get six defensemen, you’re missing one and have to plug someone in who isn’t as comfortable back there as they could be. We’ve got a lot of experience from top to bottom now.”

That depth on the blue line will be huge for Chicago as they were forced to press youngster Nick Leddy into action sooner than they’d hoped and also made Chicago rely more upon depth guys like Jordan Hendry, Nick Boynton, Jassen Cullimore, and John Scott. While those guys were useful when used sparingly, they each saw more than 30 games played last season cycling in and out of the third defensive pairing.

By adding veterans like O’Donnell, Montador, and Lepisto and cutting ties with Chris Campoli, a restricted free agent that GM Stan Bowman said he’s not bringing back, the Blackhawks are not just deeper, but tougher as well. That toughness is something Patrick Kane says he appreciates more than anything citing it as something last year’s team was lacking compared to their Stanley Cup team.

With the Blackhawks forward lines being essentially unchanged from last year and with high hopes that everyone can stay healthy, they shape up to be a more dangerous team with the defensive help. With Corey Crawford getting his second season under his belt as the #1 goalie in Chicago and having every assurance he’ll be “the man” going into the season, things are looking up once again for Chicago. While every team has it’s question marks heading into a new season, for Chicago they’ve gotten things patched up on their end.

If they can overcome the other beasts in the West in San Jose, Vancouver, and Detroit they’ll be right in the mix to challenge for the Stanley Cup once again and that’s say something considering all the gutting moves they had to make after winning the Cup. Having guys like Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Keith recharged for the new season, however, that might be the best thing to happen to them all summer.

Penguins’ Rutherford would prefer to keep Fleury this season

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 11:  Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a pad save on a shot from the Arizona Coyotes during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on February 11, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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For the better part of the past year it has always been a matter of when, and not if, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to part ways with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Matt Murray has taken over as the starter, and given his age, salary, and the fact he has simply outplayed Fleury since the end of the 2015-16 season he is going to continue to be the starter for the long-term.

But through months of speculation and rumors Fleury has remained with the Penguins. With the NHL trade deadline less than a week away, general manager Jim Rutherford addressed the situation on Thursday and said that it continues to be his preference to keep Fleury with the team through the rest of the season.

“I’m going to say what I’ve said all along. I’d prefer to keep him,” Rutherford said, via NHL.com “We play a lot of games in March. You don’t know when players are going to get hurt. He’s handled the situation very well. I’m going to have some communication with him in between now and the [deadline] and see exactly where he sits and how he feels. That will play a part in the final decision. But I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself because he very well could be a part of our team going down the stretch.”

That all very well could be true.

Fleury is a great safety net to have on the roster in case something happens to Murray (Murray has been injured on more than one occasion in the early part of his career), but he still carries a significant salary cap hit and the Penguins, pressed right up against the cap, would probably still like to make another addition or two before the deadline.

Even though it is almost certainly not on the Penguins’ radar at the moment, there is also the expansion draft issue over the summer.

Trading him sooner, rather than later, would clear out a lot of potential headaches and give them some short-term flexibility when it comes to adding to a team that is already a Stanley Cup contender.

But even if the Penguins would want to go in that direction right now the biggest obstacle in actually completing a trade before the deadline is just how soft the market is for starting goaltenders. Looking at the teams that are in a position to be buyers there are really only one or two that would be in the market for a starting goalie — Calgary, and maybe St. Louis. Pretty much every other playoff team — or potential playoff team — is set in net.

It takes two teams to make a trade, and right now there might not be another out there that makes sense as a partner.

Ducks prospect Max Jones suspended 10 games in OHL for cross-check

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Max Jones celebrates with the Anaheim Ducks after being selected 24th overall during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Anaheim Ducks prospect Max Jones is in some trouble in the OHL once again.

The league announced on Thursday that Jones, selected by the Ducks in the first round (No. 24 overall) of the 2016 NHL draft, has been suspended 10 games for a cross-checking incident that occurred during Friday’s London Knights-Owen Sound Attack game.

He has already served two games of the suspension.

The incident happened in the third period of the the Knights’ 6-1 loss just after the Attack’s Jonah Gadjovich scored his third goal of the game. Jones ended up getting ejected from the game along with a five-minute major for cross-checking.

Here is a look at the incident.

This is not the first time Jones has been hammered with a double-digit game suspension in the OHL. He was also suspended for 12 games during last year’s playoffs for a nasty head shot on Justin Brack in a game that was also against Owen Sound.

Jones is a talented player that has averaged close to a point per game the past two years in the OHL (including 32 points in 29 games this season) but he has also shown a tendency to cross the line when it comes to physical play. Along with these two suspensions that have totaled 22 games the past two years he has also been assessed 166 penalty minutes. During the 2014-15 season when he was a member of the U.S. National Under-17 team he picked up 112 penalty minutes … in 21 games.

Pre-game reading: Clayton Keller tops a good list to top

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— Up top, Bob McKenzie explains how the bye week is going to work next season, and why it’s going to be changed.

— Who are the best prospects who have yet to graduate to their NHL teams? TSN’s Craig Button has put together his list of the top 50, and it’s headed by Coyotes draft pick Clayton Keller. Writes Button: “Keller’s sleight of hand is matched by a creative mind that allows him to be dangerous every time he’s on the ice. The Arizona Coyotes prospect is an electrifying player who is highly productive.” (TSN)

— In which Mike Babcock admits he’s “said lots of dumb things and handled situations fairly poorly at times.” The Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach also shares his philosophy on the job, and talks about how to handle the pressures of being a bench boss. (Sportsnet)

— What is the market for Ottawa’s Curtis Lazar? At first glance, it doesn’t seem all that strong. The 22-year-old former 17th overall draft pick has no goals and just one assist in 32 games for the Senators this season. Hence, all the trade rumors. But as noted by TSN’s Travis Yost, Nino Niederreiter went through a similar year with the Islanders, and he’s turned out pretty well since being dealt to the Wild. (TSN)

— Why the Vancouver Canucks need to be sellers at the trade deadline, by Postmedia’s Jason Botchford, who writes: “For another season, the retool has been exposed a fraud, and there aren’t any options left this week. The Canucks have to rebuild their player base, and the next step in doing it has to be trading veterans for assets — preferably draft picks.” (National Post)

— What’s it like to be a general manager on deadline day? Here’s how Flames GM Brad Treliving puts it: “The trade deadline is like five lanes merging into one. … With each hour that goes by there’s an excitement level building, but you have to block all of that out and be methodical in your approach and then have a sense of when it’s the right time to strike.”  (Yahoo Sports)

Enjoy the games!

Goalie nods: Khudobin makes second start in as many months

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 6:  Anton Khudobin #35 of the Boston Bruins stretches in the warm-up prior to playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 6, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs 5-2 to take a 2-1 series lead. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Back on Dec. 23, Anton Khudobin stopped 20 of 23 shots in Boston’s 3-2 OT loss to his former team, the Hurricanes.

Since then, he’s had exactly one start.

That came back on Feb. 11 — a 4-3 win over the Canucks — and tonight, Khudobin get another look as the B’s play the second of a California back-to-back in L.A.

Tuukka Rask played and lost last night in Anaheim, allowing four goals on 25 shots, so it’s little surprise Boston’s making a switch. Rask has been one of the NHL’s busiest netminders this season — starting 48 games, tied for fourth-most in the league — and there have been concerns about potential fatigue.

The problem, of course, is that neither Khudobin or AHLer Zane MacIntyre have earned much trust. Former head coach Claude Julien didn’t have faith either could provide consistency, and Bruce Cassidy appears to be of the same mind. Cassidy has started Rask in four of five games since taking over from Julien behind the bench.

On this note, we should mention GM Don Sweeney did say the B’s could add a goalie at the deadline.

For the Kings, Peter Budaj is in goal.

Elsewhere…

Carey Price, who’s played well in his last two games (58 stops on 62 shots, a .936 save percentage), gets the call as Montreal hosts the Isles. Thomas Greiss is in net for the visitors.

— The streaking Henrik Lundqvist gets a big test tonight, as the Rangers take on the high-flying Leafs in Toronto. Frederik Andersen will be in goal for the Buds, after allowing four goals on 20 shots in a OT win over Winnipeg on Tuesday.

— It’s Brian Elliott versus Ben Bishop as the Flames take on the Bolts in Tampa.

Pekka Rinne appears ready to start in Nashville, after allowing four goals on 13 shots (and getting pulled) in Tuesday’s loss to Calgary. No word yet on an Avs starter, but Calvin Pickard has started four straight.

Mike Smith is playing well lately, have won four of five while posting a .936 save percentage, so he’ll draw back in tonight in Chicago. The ‘Hawks are countering with Corey Crawford, who has won five of his last six.