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

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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.

It’s Philadelphia Flyers day at PHT

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The Philadelphia Flyers missed the playoffs last season, but the disappointment probably didn’t last too long after the events of the draft lottery a few weeks later.

The Flyers entered the lottery with a 2.2 per cent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick. That selection eluded them, but they still moved up to the second overall pick in June’s Entry Draft. The Devils decided to take Nico Hischier first, leaving Philly to select fellow top prospect Nolan Patrick.

Philly has since signed Patrick to his entry-level contract. The biggest question for Patrick is his health, following a 2016-17 WHL season interrupted by injury. His aim was to resume skating in the middle of July.

Philly traded forward Nick Cousins to Arizona prior to the expansion draft. But the biggest shake-up this offseason in Philly was a draft-day trade that sent Brayden Schenn to St. Louis in exchange for Jori Lehtera, the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft and a conditional first-round pick in 2018.

Philly didn’t bring back goalie Steve Mason, who has signed with the Winnipeg Jets. The Flyers’ goaltending duo heading into next season has Michal Neuvirth alongside Brian Elliott, who left Calgary and signed for two years at $5.5 million in Philadelphia.

After three years with the Flyers, defenseman Michael Del Zotto has moved on to the Canucks, while Roman Lyubimov has returned to the KHL.

Today at PHT, we’ll discuss the key storylines facing the Flyers heading into next season.

Report: Red Wings RFA Athanasiou could sign in Russia

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With training camp approaching, Andreas Athanasiou is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old forward and restricted free agent posted 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season in the final year of his entry-level contract with an annual average value of $902,500.

Based on a report Tuesday afternoon, traveling overseas to play next season could be an option for Athanasiou, one of the bright young forwards in the Red Wings organization.

Earlier this month, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the organization has made a “number of offers” to Athanasiou.

One of the issues facing Detroit right now is the salary cap, which the Red Wings are currently over by almost $4 million, according to CapFriendly.

Report: ‘We … are not dealing with this issue as of now,’ says Iginla’s agent of Olympics

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National Hockey League players will not be going to the 2018 Olympics. However, it appears Team Canada has taken another step in expressing interest in a pair of unrestricted free agents — Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

That’s according to the Canadian Press on Tuesday, as it reported Team Canada general manager Sean Burke contacted representatives for both Doan and Iginla, inquiring about possible availability.

Both players are 40 years old and have represented Canada at previous Olympics when NHL players participated. Iginla set up Sidney Crosby‘s famous overtime winning goal during the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

From the Canadian Press:

Burke, who’s building the first Canadian Olympic roster without NHL players since 1994, suggested that both former Olympians would have to be playing somewhere if they were to be considered. He reached out to their representatives on Tuesday morning.

“We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to very intense (at the Olympics) and it’s going to be great hockey and guys are going to have to have a plan for the year,” Burke said on a conference call, which also included the team’s head coach Willie Desjardins.

Whether or not the two veterans would be interested is another question.

“We really are not dealing with this issue as of now,” Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

The report also indicated that Team Canada’s roster should become more clear by November.

Doan played his entire career with one franchise until this June, when Coyotes management informed the veteran forward that they would not be bringing him back for another season. He’s appeared in 1,540 NHL games throughout his career, but scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games this past season.

Iginla, a two-time Olympic champion for Canada, split this season between Colorado and L.A. He had only eight goals and 18 points in 61 games with the Avalanche before getting dealt to the Kings. He then posted six goals and nine points in 19 games with L.A., although that club missed the playoffs.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.