Vancouver Canucks v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Four

Blackhawks hope that Dave Bolland can produce his best (and healthiest) regular season yet

Stanley Cup champions often have their fair share of unsung heroes and Dave Bolland qualified as one during the Chicago Blackhawks’ impressive 2010 championship run. Bolland hounded top forwards such as Joe Thornton and the Sedin twins while scoring an impressive 16 points in 22 games during the 2010 playoffs, including two big shorthanded goals. He didn’t get Conn Smythe hype, but Bolland did the dirty work to open things up for Chicago’s stars to dominate on the game’s biggest stages.

It seemed like a “coming out party” for the defensive center, but injuries keep stopping him from showing his true value over the long haul. Off-season back surgery limited him just to 37 games during the 2009-10 regular season while concussions issues kept him out for months last season, even forcing him to miss the first three games of Chicago’s up-and-down series with the Vancouver Canucks.

While it’s probably a bit much to attribute the Blackhawks’ near-come back from a 3-0 series deficit to the return of Bolland, he made an undeniable impact from Game 4 and on, tallying six points in four games as the Hawks fell just short of an incredible comeback.

Some might wonder if Bolland simply saves his best for the biggest games, but the fact of the matter is that Blackhawks have only enjoyed one true regular season with the two-way center (a 19-goal, 47-point output in 81 games in 08-09). Bolland and the Blackhawks hope that next season is healthy, breakout campaign for Bolland – and he’s certainly putting in the work to make that happen.

Bolland’s return in Game 4 sparked an impressive comeback from a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7 – which the Hawks lost in overtime on a goal by the Canucks’ Alexandre Burrows. It was just enough of a taste to keep Bolland hungry all summer for the upcoming season, which will start with training camp in about three weeks.

“That was probably the worst sports injury I’ve ever had, because some guys say it’s a week or two weeks (out) … and the next thing you know I’m out for a month or a month-and-a-half and we’re in the playoffs,” Bolland said before playing in the recent Blackhawks Alumni Golf Outing at Medinah Country Club. “It was something that really dragged on. For me, going into the season it is motivation after coming out of the Vancouver series and losing. I got a strong series with them and coming into this season will be great.”

Preliminary indications are that he’ll be slotted in a third line, checking center type role. Bolland’s solid defensive play, agitating style and occasionally offensive outbursts make him ideal for that job.

It’s expected that he’ll fall behind Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp down the middle, but Joel Quenneville is known for at least two things: singing poorly and mixing up his line combinations on the fly. Bolland might not be ideal as the second center, but there might be times when he’s placed in that spot.

Wherever he shows up, the Blackhawks just hope that he’ll be healthy enough to be out there – which isn’t a guarantee considering his troubles during the last two seasons. Ultimately, the Blackhawks’ goal of rising back to elite contender status might hinge on the health and performances of Bolland and other lesser known contributors.

Looking to make the leap: Daniel Sprong

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 15:  Daniel Sprong #41 of the Pittsburgh Penguins handles the puck in front of Kyle Turris #7 of the Ottawa Senators during the game at Consol Energy Center on October 15, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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This is part of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT…

Daniel Sprong was stuck in a difficult position during the 2015-16 season.

He ended up being just one of eight players from the 2015 draft to play in the NHL, spending the first two months of the season in Pittsburgh after earning a spot on the roster thanks to an impressive training camp and preseason performance. But once there the Penguins really didn’t seem to know what to do with him. He showed flashes of the talent that earned him a spot on the roster, but it was also clear that his play away from the puck needed work and that he never completely had the trust of then-coach Mike Johnston.

If he was not a healthy scratch, he was only playing limited minutes.

But because he was only 18 years old, he was not eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the regular season due to the AHL-CHL transfer agreement.

That meant if he wasn’t going to play in Pittsburgh, a league that was probably a little too advanced for him at the time, he had to return to the QMJHL to play for his junior team, the Charlottetown Islanders, in a league that he was probably too good for. It’s an agreement that works great for the CHL, but doesn’t really give prospects the best chance to develop that season because their only options are a league where they are overmatched or a league where they are probably the best player on the ice every time they go over the boards.

Eventually, the Penguins were left with little choice and did in fact return him to the Q where he, quite predictably, dominated the competition and recorded 46 points in 33 games.

At the conclusion of Charlottetown’s season, he was able to play for the Penguins’ AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the playoffs where he scored five goals and added two assists in only 10 games.

The problem he is going to face this season is that the Penguins’ forward group is already mostly locked in at the start as they are returning everybody from their Stanley Cup winning roster, which is going to make things tight for somebody new to break into the lineup.

But Sprong is clearly the team’s best forward prospect at the moment and one of the few players in the system that seems to have top-six potential. Whether it’s through his own play forcing his way into NHL action or an injury, he should have an opportunity to be a factor at some point this season.

‘He’s earned it’ — Jets name Wheeler new captain

CALGARY, AB - MARCH 16: Blake Wheeler #26 of the Winnipeg Jets in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on March 16, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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It was widely assumed that Blake Wheeler would inherit Andrew Ladd‘s captaincy in Winnipeg and, on Wednesday, the club made it official.

Wheeler, 30, will become the second player to captain the Jets since the franchise moved from Atlanta in 2011, with Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Scheifele serving as alternates.

The Wheeler decision was something of a no-brainer, as he’s one of the club’s longest tenured player (seven seasons and counting), spending the the last three as one of Ladd’s alternate captains.

In the summer of ’13, Wheeler inked a six-year, $33.6 million extension with the Jets and has since established himself as one of the clubhouse leaders. He was a prominent voice during the Evander Kane saga, mincing no words when explaining what was expected of Jets players.

“There’s a standard that everyone needs to live up to,” Wheeler said, per the Sun. “We’re professionals, we make a lot of money. And we’re expected to uphold a certain standard. That’s the code we live by.

“If you don’t like it then there’s other places to go. This is the way we do things.”

Flyers unveil golden 50th anniversary jerseys

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It might seem inappropriate to release Flyers news on Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT but, given the immediate backlash to said news, maybe it’s appropriate after all.

On Wednesday, the Flyers unveiled their commemorative 50th anniversary jerseys, which are basically regular Flyers jerseys, but with some gold on them.

Not sure what else to say. They’re gold. Guess it’s worth mentioning the inside collar of each jersey is emblazoned with “EST. 1967,” an homage to the year the Flyers entered the NHL as an expansion franchise.

Oh yeah, Philly will wear the new third jersey 12 times this season, per TSN.

Shortly after the release, the Internet went ahead and did what it does:

For more on the jerseys, click here.

Stars promote White, Janko to assistant GM roles

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25: Jim Nill of the Detroit Red Wings works the draft floor during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Dallas Stars made some front office adjustments on Wednesday.

Longtime executive Les Jackson, 63, has been “elevated” from his role as Jim Nill’s assistant GM to “senior advisor to the general manager” while Scott White, the GM of Dallas’ AHL affiliate in Texas, has been promoted to AGM.

White will work alongside fellow new AGM Mark Janko, who was promoted from his role as the club’s director of hockey administration.

What does it all mean?

Not a ton, though it’s interesting to note the club is shifting Jackson’s role after he was close to taking the Arizona gig earlier this year.

Jackson was believed to be the original frontrunner to replace the outgoing Don Maloney but, after he and the Coyotes were unable to strike a deal, the club proceeded to hire 26-year-old John Chayka, the youngest GM in NHL history.