It’s Chicago Blackhawks Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team?  The Chicago Blackhawks.

For more entries in this series, click here.

If you woke a Chicago Blackhawks fan up from a coma that began in 2007, they’d be stunned by this new reality: any season where the Blackhawks don’t hoist the Stanley Cup is now at least a mild disappointment or a flat-out failure (depending upon the perspective of the person you ask).

The Blackhawks enjoyed another nice regular season, although the shocking rise of the Colorado Avalanche and the logical next step of the St. Louis Blues left them in third place in the brutal Central Division … which may even be tougher top-to-bottom in 2014-15. Chicago got the last laugh against its division rivals in the playoffs, however, as the Avs fell in the first round while the Blackhawks dispatched the Blues in a first-round series that seemed more like a deeper postseason bout.

The funny thing about Duncan Keith winning the 2014 Norris Trophy is that the Blackhawks struggled to limit scoring more this season than in their dominant 2012-13 run. Keith was as dominant as advertised but others – even Brent Seabrook – had trouble, although Corey Crawford might be the easiest target since the ‘Hawks were still a dominant puck possession team.

Either way, their dazzling offense out-scored most of their problems … at least until the Los Angeles Kings showed that they were better at out-scoring their problems in a thrilling shooting gallery of a series.

That’s where the “loss that would be a proud year for most other franchises” bit comes in: if Chicago wants to evoke dynasty chatter, they need to thwart the Kings. It didn’t work out this time.

Offseason

The franchise-shaping offseason moves came in locking up Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to mammoth contract extensions. Those two deals will have far-reaching consequences that could force a trade or two as the 2014-15 season goes on (if not even a trade if the mood strikes before October rolls around).

Ultimately, the best news is that this team is largely intact and slightly-to-quite-improved, depending upon how well Brad Richards and Teuvo Teravainen fit into the mix. By most accounts, Michal Handzus long passed the point of usefulness, so potentially finding an improvement at the oft-cited second-line center spot could be a boon.

With players like Brandon Saad needing new deals soon, Patrick Sharp being the target of trade speculation and Marian Hossa breaking down a bit from all that mileage, one gets the feeling that the Blackhawks might be forced to make some tough decisions soon.

Whether it’s fair to the other contenders or not, many likely believe that the road to the Stanley Cup goes through Chicago and Los Angeles.

Report: Stars make more changes in goal, hire ex-Detroit coach Bedard

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Suspect netminding has plagued Dallas for two straight years, and GM Jim Nill is switching things up accordingly.

On the heels of acquiring Ben Bishop and signing him to a long-term contract, Nill has reportedly hired veteran goalie coach Jim Bedard, per In Goal Magazine.

Bedard will replace longtime Dallas employee Mike Valley, who has been with the club since 2009 in a goalie coach/director of goaltending development role. In Goal reports that Valley told the club he wouldn’t be returning.

Bedard, 60, was with Detroit from the mid-90s to last summer, when he was relived of his duties. His unemployment didn’t last long. Within weeks of being dismissed, Bedard caught on as the goalie coach for OHL Windsor,

The connection to Dallas is quite obvious. Nill and Bedard worked together for years in Detroit, and won three Stanley Cups together.

Related: Bishop has ‘good relationship’ with Hitch, and that’s important

 

 

Penguins prepare for another Game 7, this time as favorites

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Two weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins played a Game 7 that the oddsmakers expected them to lose.

But the Penguins didn’t lose. They went into Washington and shut out the Capitals to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

Which brings us to tomorrow, and another Game 7.

This time, the game is in Pittsburgh. And this time, it’ll be the Penguins as favorites. 

At online sportsbook Bovada, the Ottawa Senators are +170 underdogs, meaning a $100 bet on the Sens to win Game 7 would pay out $170. Conversely, to make $100 on a Penguins win, a bettor would have to risk $200.

This is not to suggest that betting on Ottawa is the savvy move. It might be, given the potential payout, combined with the fact hockey games are often decided by a lucky bounce or hot goalie.

But just remember: the Penguins beat Tampa Bay in Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference Final. The defending champs have proven their worth in these winner-take-all games.

“It’s not something that’s new to them,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “These guys have been involved in these experiences on a number of occasions, and they have those experiences to draw on. You know, I think they know what to expect, and now it’s a matter of going out and earning it and controlling what they can and doing your very best to get the result that we’re looking for.”

Veteran forward Matt Cullen added, “We’ve been there before. We’ve gone through this. We know what to expect out of our group. We have a comfort level with our plan and the way that we need to play. These are the fun games to play. So as a group, we go into it with a lot of confidence, knowing that we’re going to need our best game and expecting that we’ll bring it.”

For the record, Sens coach Guy Boucher has also experienced a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. It came in 2011 when he was coaching the Lightning, who fell to the eventual champs from Boston by the score of 1-0.

Though it wasn’t the result he wanted, Boucher felt privileged to have had the experience.

“It was a tough game,” he said. “It was 0-0 with seven minutes left in the game. It was quite a game and a lot of pressure. What I remember most is the excitement of an opportunity that very few people get in their lives, and I’m part of that. I can’t be blessed more than that.”

Related: The modern-day Sens have never won a Game 7

Weight ‘not afraid’ to say he wants ex-NHLers behind Isles bench

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With the interim tag dropped, Isles head coach Doug Weight is in the midst of retooling his staff.

It began last week, when Weight added longtime NHL defenseman — and former Oilers teammate — Luke Richardson as an assistant coach. That was followed by reports the Isles were interested in hiring another of Weight’s old teammates, Kelly Buchberger, as well as two-time Stanley Cup champion Scott Gomez.

Buchberger was playing as recently as 2004, in Pittsburgh, where he was teammates with the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury and Brooks Orpik. Gomez suited up for 13 games in Ottawa last season.

Clearly, there’s a trend at play here. Weight wants guys like him, veteran NHLers not far removed from their playing days (Weight hung ’em up in 2011). And he isn’t shying away from addressing it.

“I’m not afraid to say it, it’s something I’m looking for and chasing,” Weight said, per the Post. “But that being said, I’m not just hiring guys who play 15 years or 20 years.

“You have to sit with them, you have to see how they view the game, how they are, how they view the players, how I view the game.”

Bob Corkum, a holdover from the Jack Capuano era, won’t be brought back as an assistant. The status of Greg Cronin, another holdover — and who never played in the NHL, it should be said — is still up in the air.

Weight said he’s interviewed eight to 10 candidates to join his staff.

 

Detroit signs Czech d-man Sulak

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The Red Wings have added some depth on defense.

On Wednesday, the club announced it has signed Czech rearguard Libor Sulak to a two-year, entry-level deal. Sulak, 23, is fresh off representing the Czechs at the World Hockey Championship and, prior to that, spent the last two years playing for Znojmo Orli of the Austrian League.

There, he was named the league’s rookie of the year in 2016, and followed that up with a career-high 10 goals and 28 points in 54 games last season.

It’ll be interesting to see if he can push for minutes in Detroit next season. Currently, the club has six d-men under contract — Mike Green, Danny DeKeyser, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Nick Jensen and Ryan Sproul. Xavier Ouellet is also in the mix, but a restricted free agent.

The Red Wings also signed ’16 first-rounder Dennis Cholowski to his ELC last month, and he played one game for their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.