Five Q’s: Blackhawks-Wild series preview

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1. Is Corey Crawford a Stanley Cup-caliber goalie?

Most of the time, people don’t question a goalie tandem that just won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals during the regular season. But 28-year-old starter Corey Crawford is 0-for-2 in career playoff series and really struggled last season, so people are bound to question this one. Crawford, along with backup Ray Emery, combined to give the Blackhawks a .923 save percentage in 2013, the second highest in the NHL. There were a couple of hiccups in March, but April was solid again. If Crawford isn’t up to the challenge, it will be interesting to see how quickly Joel Quenneville is willing to switch to Emery. It’s been a while, but Emery did backstop the Senators to the finals in 2007. That “what if” scenario, of course, assumes Emery is healthy enough to play. He’s been ruled out for Game 1 with a lower-body injury.

2. Can the Blackhawks get the power play going?

This might’ve been a bigger issue if Chicago hadn’t been so dominant five-on-five this season. Even with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, the ‘Hawks finished with the 19th-ranked power play, scoring on just 16.7 percent of their man-advantage opportunities. It’s a bit perplexing given all the top-end offensive talent they have, but the PP was a problem last year, too.

3. Will Dave Bolland be able to play? (And if he can, will he play well?)

Bolland missed the last three games of the regular season with a groin injury and has been ruled out for at least the first game against the Wild. The 26-year-old center has had a tough season, scoring just 14 points in 35 games despite opportunities to play with talented forwards. It appears the Blackhawks will enter the postseason with veteran Michal Handzus as their second-line center, which — no offense to Handzus — is hardly ideal. Bolland has proven himself in past playoffs and has 37 points in 49 games while playing well defensively and getting under the opponents’ skin. Chicago needs him to be that player again.

4. Can the Wild build on the last game of the season?

The pessimist may file this under “congratulations for not choking against a terrible team,” but Minnesota’s playoff-clinching victory Saturday in Colorado showed resolve, especially after Friday’s disaster against the Oilers. The Wild head into the playoffs with a 6-9-1 record in their last 16 games. Obviously, that’s not good. But head coach Mike Yeo — who may have been looking for a new job if the Wild hadn’t beaten the Avs — was feeling positive about his team after getting it done in Denver. “Let’s make it clear: We’re not done,” Yeo said. “We’re not going to sit on cloud nine and say this is a huge accomplishment. This is a step, a big step, a difficult step for us. Now that confidence is there.”

5. Can Ryan Suter shut down Chicago’s top guns?

OK, maybe “shut down” is unrealistic. How about “somewhat contain”? No NHL defenseman played more minutes than Suter did this season. The 28-year-old Norris Trophy candidate who (along with forward Zack Parise) signed for big money in the summer has so far been all his new team could ask for. Suter averaged 27:17 in ice time, scoring four goals and adding 28 assists. The rest of Minnesota’s defense will have to overachieve if the Wild have any hope of pulling an upset. Younsters Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin have zero playoff experience, so it’ll be up to Suter to lead the way.

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

For Oilers, trading Eberle was about ‘long-term thinking’

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CHICAGO —  Peter Chiarelli was there to talk about one thing, and one thing only.

That was today’s big trade that sent Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in return for Ryan Strome.

Not surprisingly, the Oilers’ general manager liked a lot of things about the deal — starting with Strome.

“He’s got some things to his game that we feel can help us in our division,” Chiarelli said Thursday. “He’s got good size, a terrific wrist shot. Very, very cerebral player. He can play center or the wing. Very good on the half wall.”

Not that Eberle doesn’t offer a few good things himself. Like scoring goals. That’s pretty important, right? Eberle’s scored 165 goals in his NHL career.

But with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl requiring extensions soon, the Oilers needed to be wary of their cap situation. In Chiarelli’s estimation, Eberle’s $6 million hit had to go.

“This is about cap management, and this is about replacing good players with good players, and this is about long-term thinking,” said Chiarelli.

When he’d finished selling the trade, reporters naturally took the opportunity to inquire about the rest of his team.

Does he want to get Kris Russell re-signed?

Yes, he does. Still hoping to get that one done.

How would he characterize negotiations with McDavid and Draisaitl?

“Not going to characterize.”

What about Patrick Maroon? Could he get an extension this summer?

“This isn’t the state of affairs for who I’m signing, who I’m not signing.”

Fair enough. Onto the draft then.

Friday at United Center, the Oilers will have the 22nd overall pick. It’ll be the first time since 2008 that they don’t make a top-10 selection.

“Certainly not as high a pick,” said Chiarelli. “We’ve got a cluster of four players and we think we’re going to get one of them.”

That pick in 2008, by the way?

Jordan Eberle, 22nd overall.

Related: Strome pumped for opportunity to play with McDavid and Draisaitl

Ryan Strome pumped at prospect of playing with McDavid, Draisaitl

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Ryan Strome seemed to feel he took a positive step with the Islanders when Doug Weight took over behind the bench in January.

He had a five-game point streak (seven points in that time) and a pair of three-point performances for the Islanders before a broken wrist ended his regular season. On Thursday, he was dealt to a new team, as the Oilers and Islanders made a trade. Going the other way to New York is Jordan Eberle.

“He was great for me,” said Strome of Weight following today’s trade. “Little disappointed I got hurt but I was starting to feel really good and that’s the best I’ve felt in a couple of years.”

Selected fifth overall in 2011, Strome is two years removed from a 17-goal, 50-point sophomore season in the NHL. But he’s never reached more than 30 points in each of the past two years, and the frustrating times continued when he was made a healthy scratch earlier this season with Jack Capuano behind the bench.

Eberle called this trade a fresh start for himself. The same can be applied to Strome.

From an Oilers perspective, the motive for today’s deal, based on the comments of Edmonton’s general manager Pete Chiarelli, was to free up cap space. Strome has one more year left on a two-year, $5 million deal that has an annual cap hit of $2.5 million. The priority is to get pending restricted free agent Leon Draisaitl, as well as the organization’s phenom and Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid, a pending RFA at the end of next season, under contract.

A fresh start for Strome could mean an opportunity to play alongside McDavid or Draisaitl.

A number of times during his media availability, Strome mentioned how excited he was to go to Edmonton. Playing on a line with one of — or both — McDavid or Draisaitl is a valid reason why.

“I remember sitting in my basement a couple of months ago watching the playoffs. I was like, ‘Holy, these guys are good players,'” said Strome.

“I played with (John Tavares) a little bit, so I kind of know how those great players are. John’s a very one-on-one type player, but Connor and Leon, just the way they distribute the puck and how they can skate, their skill is just exceptional.”

Habs ‘have holes in many positions,’ and Bergevin’s busy trying to fill them

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Consider, for a moment, what’s currently on the plate of Montreal GM Marc Bergevin.

Last year’s second-leading scorer, Alex Radulov, is an unrestricted free agent that might go to market. Trade calls are coming in on Alex Galchenyuk, who also needs a new contract. The Habs would like to keep Andrei Markov, but he’s a UFA as well. There’s still no clear answer as to who the team’s No. 1 center will be next year, or what the defense will look like.

Needless to say, Bergevin has lots of balls in the air.

“We have holes at many positions,” he said Thursday. “I don’t think many teams could walk in and say, ‘We’re all set, we’re not taking calls.’

“We’ll try to address those needs. But it’s not easy. People who have good assets, they usually keep them. It has to be a match, put it this way.”

The center position, one that’s long been an issue in Montreal, remains in flux. Bergevin said he was unsure if Jonathan Drouin could play the middle, which has been an ongoing debate with Galchenyuk over the last few years. Tomas Plekanec and Philip Danault remain on the roster, but neither are No. 1 caliber.

Given that pressing need down the middle, Bergevin might need to allocate some cap space for a solution. And if that’s the case, it could hamper his ability to re-sign Radulov, who’s rumored to be angling for a big payday.

“We have limits, we have price,” Bergevin said of Radulov. “He’s got the right to test the market, if that’s what he decides.”

In addressing Radulov, Bergevin added he’d like to retain the services of Markov, who’s 38 and coming off a deal that paid $5.75 million annually. The Habs GM said there hasn’t been much in the way of negotiations with the veteran Russian rearguard, though.

On top of all this — oh yes, there’s more — is the looming contract extension for Carey Price. The star goalie is heading into the last year of his deal and eligible to sign an extension on July 1, which promises to be a monster contract. Price is currently the NHL’s fifth highest-paid netminder at $7 million per, but could join Sergei Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist as the only goalies to earn more than $8M annually.

But before that happens, Bergevin needs to upgrade the players in front of Price.

“I need help everywhere,,” he said. “It’s not that easy.”

Two fewer defensemen means Canucks less likely to trade Tanev

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CHICAGO — Three months ago, Jim Benning might’ve considered trading defenseman Chris Tanev.

But after the Vancouver Canucks lost Nikita Tryamkin to the KHL and Luca Sbisa in the expansion draft, their general manager no longer enjoys the depth on defense that he used to trumpet.

“I’m going to look at all our options, but for us to move [Tanev] off our blue line, we’d have to get a good defenseman back,” Benning said Thursday.

Among Vancouver d-men, only Alex Edler logged more ice time than Sbisa in 2016-17.

“He provided physicality on the back end,” Benning said of Sbisa. “He was a good penalty killer for us. I thought last year, on a game-to-game basis, he was one of our better defensemen. So we’re sorry to see him go. It’s going to be a new opportunity for him and it gives us a chance to kind of reshape our blue line.”

Of course, Benning’s reluctance to deal the 27-year-old Tanev is bound to make people wonder if the Canucks are truly committed to a long-term rebuild. When they traded veterans Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows, that appeared to be the direction they were finally headed.

Shouldn’t a rebuilding team be less concerned about next year, and more concerned about four or five years down the line?

“That’s a good point,” Benning said, “but I think we’re going to have a lot of young players in our lineup next year, and we want to be competitive in the games. Chris Tanev is still a relatively young player for a defenseman. We’re going to have him for the next seven or eight years. But like I said, if something makes sense and we can get a player back that can play on our blue line, we’ll look at it.”

The Canucks will draft fifth overall tomorrow at United Center, and most expect them to select a center like Cody Glass, Gabriel Vilardi, or Casey Mittelstadt.

But don’t be shocked if they go for a power-play defenseman like Cale Makar or Timothy Liljegren.

“Anytime you can get a high-end offensive defenseman in today’s game, that drives the play for your team, I think that’s something we’re going to look at,” said Benning.