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A ‘long summer’ awaits the Blackhawks, who went out with a whimper

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For the second straight year, the Chicago Blackhawks couldn’t survive the first round of the playoffs.

This year’s elimination was much worse, though.

The ‘Hawks were swept by the Nashville Predators, by far the better team in the series. At least last year it was a fight with the St. Louis Blues, who needed seven games to oust the then-defending champs.

“It was a major disappointment across the board,” coach Joel Quenneville said last night, per CSN Chicago. “I don’t think anybody exceeded their expectations. We don’t compete to the level that’s necessary. I take that personally, as a coach, that we didn’t find the all-out button, didn’t get the job done.”

In hindsight, perhaps the Blackhawks overachieved during the regular season, when they won 24 one-goal games, the most in the NHL.

“Maybe we won a couple close games that might have made us feel like we were better than we really were,” said Patrick Kane, per the Chicago Sun-Times.

But the ‘Hawks were still a good team. They were the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. It’s not like they were lucky to make the playoffs.

“I think the switch just didn’t turn on,” said captain Jonathan Toews. “I’m not going to sit here and try and come up with those reasons right now. We’ll have some thinking to do in the next few days and we’ve got a lot of time before next season.”

What the ‘Hawks really need is for their youth to step up and become impact players. Nick Schmaltz showed flashes this year, but not when it counted. Ryan Hartman scored 19 goals in the regular season, but none in the playoffs.

Blackhawks rookies against the Preds

 

On the back end, the ‘Hawks should move on from veterans Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya, both pending unrestricted free agents. They need Gustav Forsling and Michal Kempny to play bigger roles, and soon.

A consequence of all their success, the ‘Hawks are not blessed with a pile of top-end prospects. The last two years they haven’t drafted in the first round, and they haven’t picked in the top 10 since 2007 when they got Kane. Their most intriguing prospect is Alex DeBrincat, a 19-year-old winger who averaged two points per game for the Erie Otters this season. However, it remains to be seen how his game will translate to the NHL. And if it does, when.

It is too soon to throw dirt on these Blackhawks, who still boast a core that’s won three Stanley Cups. But there will be plenty of soul-searching in the weeks and months ahead. This loss to the Predators was a shock to the system.

“Coming into the playoffs, I think we felt pretty confident,” said Kane. “So yeah, I mean, disappointing, shocked. I don’t know. Yeah. It’s going to be a long summer, for sure.”

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.