2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six

Pressing Question: Can the Blackhawks avoid the Stanley Cup hangover?


One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

The Chicago Blackhawks are the hunted in these Stanley Cup playoffs, which is really no different from their position throughout the regular season.

That’s what happens when you win the silver chalice, hockey’s Holy Grail, the previous season. Not only did they win it all, they enjoyed a record-breaking regular season, too. But that was last year.

Now, the question becomes: Can the Blackhawks avoid the Stanley Cup hangover as they look to defend their championship?

It should help Chicago’s cause that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are expected to be ready for when the post-season begins, as the Blackhawks open up against the St. Louis Blues in the first round. This best-of-seven series begins Thursday in St. Louis.

‘‘They’re going to play the way they play, and we’ll play the way we play,’’ said forward Ben Smith, as per the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘In a best-of-seven series, we’ll see who comes out on top.’’

True enough.

But while discussing the Blackhawks and that whole element of the championship hangover, it’s worth pointing out Chicago’s struggles following their last Stanley Cup victory, which came back in 2010.

That was also the year of the Vancouver Olympics, which surely put added burden on the likes of Toews and Kane, as well as Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith.

The next year, the Blackhawks barely made it into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference and were eventually beaten in the opening series in seven games by the Vancouver Canucks.

This season looked to be on a similar path to the 2013 lockout-shortened campaign. The Blackhawks were on top of the Central Division with 84 points and a 35-11-14 record heading into the Sochi Olympic break. But since then, they’ve been hardly above average or of championship caliber.

Their record since the NHL schedule resumed: 11-10-1. Some of that had to do with injuries to key players.

And now, they have a date with the Blues, losers of six straight but a team that challenged for the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best regular season team right up until the final days of the schedule.

“That’s what everybody wants to talk about, but we’re not going to think that we have an easier team to play against,” Toews told ESPN Chicago.

“That’s definitely not going to be the case. They’re a team that loves to play physical against us, and we’ve got to expect that. There’s no reason why we can’t return that as well. We’ll be ready to bring that type of effort.

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.

After reportedly trying to trade him, Rangers put McIlrath on waivers

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 25:  Dylan McIlrath #6 of the New York Rangers takes the puck as Matt Moulson #26 of the Buffalo Sabres defends at Madison Square Garden on January 25, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The New York Rangers are rolling the dice that Dylan McIlrath won’t get claimed. They’ve put the 24-year-old defenseman on waivers, not long after reportedly trying to trade him.

McIlrath was the 10th overall draft pick in 2010, a selection that many felt was a reach by the Rangers. Six years later, he’s yet to establish himself as a regular in head coach Alain Vigneault’s lineup.

The big blue-liner has appeared in just one game this season, and he only logged 9:14 in it. Vigneault seems to have chosen offseason trade acquisition Nick Holden over McIlrath.

Despite the Rangers’ inability to trade him, it would not be a huge surprise if McIlrath gets claimed. His possession stats were solid last season, and defensemen with size and toughness are still coveted in today’s faster NHL.

McIlrath’s cap hit is $800,000. He can become a restricted free agent this summer.

Blues put Paajarvi on waivers

Magnus Paajarvi
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The return of Jori Lehtera was a welcome development in St. Louis — well, welcome for everybody but Magnus Paajarvi.

With the Blues needing to clear a roster spot for Lehtera, Paajarvi was placed on waivers on Thursday, per Sportsnet.

The decision comes after Paajarvi appeared in three games for St. Louis this season, scoring once while averaging just over nine minutes per game.

He has not dressed since an OT loss in Vancouver back on Oct. 18, though, as the team has recently opted to play Dmitrij Jaskin up front.

(Ty Rattie, who’s also been out of the lineup since the Vancouver game, is apparently sticking around St. Louis for the time being.)

Paajarvi has been down the waiver road before, getting exposed by the Blues on a few occasions. Even though he’s still relatively young (25 years old), on a cap-friendly contract ($700,000) and has nearly 300 games of NHL experience, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he gets claimed — especially since teams have had the opportunity to snag him before, and passed.

Not long after news of the Paajarvi waiving broke, the Blues announced Lehtera was officially activated from IR. He’ll be available for selection tonight when St. Louis hosts the streaking Red Wings, who’ve won five straight.

A group wants to build an arena in Scottsdale, but the Coyotes don’t seem interested

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  Fans line up outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Jets defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes still don’t have a place to play next season, and based on a report, they don’t seem very interested in working with a group that wants to build a new arena in Scottsdale.

From Arizona Sports:

Multiple sources said the developer group working with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community had a meeting scheduled with the Coyotes the day after the team’s Faceoff Luncheon and the day before the season opener on Oct. 15 to discuss the possibility of the Coyotes playing there, but the Coyotes cancelled the meeting at the last minute for unspecified reasons. No make-up date has been scheduled.

When reached Wednesday evening, Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc had this to say: “Throughout this process we have had a number of groups solicit our involvement. This particular group and site are not one with which the Coyotes are working.”

Why the Coyotes don’t have interest in this particular project isn’t clear. It may be they’re 100 percent focused on another site, or it may be the deal just isn’t right for them.

But they’ll need to figure something out soon. Their lease at Gila River Arena expires after this season, and while they could probably extend that for a few years while a new arena gets built, they’ve been adamant that they’ll be leaving Glendale as soon as possible.

Certainly, this week’s news out of Seattle won’t quell the speculation that the Coyotes could be on the move, even if ownership has insisted over and over that the team has a bright future in the desert.

Sens: Lazar will ‘benefit’ from AHL stint, no timetable for return to Ottawa

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 11: Curtis Lazar #27 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Colorado Avalanche during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on February 11, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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This probably isn’t the way Curtis Lazar saw things going.

Lazar, who Ottawa took 17th overall in 2013, is currently plying his trade for the Sens’ AHL affiliate in Binghamton, after missing extensive time during training camp and the preseason with mono.

He was sent down on Oct. 11, and he might as well get comfortable.

Despite the fact he’s played nearly 150 career games at the NHL level, there’s no plan to bring Lazar back anytime soon.

“We’re not going to make any immediate decisions on Curtis,” Sens GM Pierre Dorion said, per the Citizen. “the best thing for Curtis is to go down there and play, and play as well as he can play.

“He can play in all situations, and I think it’s the right thing to do. Let him get confidence and when the time comes we’ll call him back up, but there’s no timetable to call up Curtis.”

Dorion acknowledged the club had previously toyed with the idea of sending Lazar down to the minors.  The 21-year-old was drafted to be an “impact” player for the Sens but, through his rookie and sophomore campaigns, played in more of a complimentary role, scoring just six goals per season while averaging 12:54 and 13:52 TOI per game.

So far, the plan of growing Lazar’s presence and role in Bingo seems to be working. He has two goals through four games, and scored the game-winner against Utica earlier this week.