Gustav Forsling

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Blackhawks tweaks include putting DeBrincat with Toews

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Even in October, it’s tough to deny just how long an 82-game NHL season can be. (Especially when you check back in January.)

Sometimes you need to shake things up, and that’s especially true when the results aren’t coming. The Chicago Blackhawks’ offense has been a little hit-or-miss lately, so as NBC Sports Chicago’s Tracey Myers and others report, Joel Quenneville is getting out the fabled line blender.

As you can see from this eye-friendly set of lines via Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times, this marks an interesting opportunity for Alex DeBrincat, while Ryan Hartman gets bumped down to the fourth line:

(The defense is also seeing tweaks, as Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith won’t be attached at the hip for a while. Keith looks primed to roll with Jan Rutta while Seabrook’s partner is Gustav Forsling.)

It’s also intriguing that, despite having some success with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad, Richard Panik gets a look with Patrick Kane. But it’s especially fascinating to ponder how pint-sized wonder DeBrincat could fare with Toews and Saad.

If talk of line blenders didn’t make it clear enough, it’s unclear how long this might last.

“We’re just looking for some change, some excitement,” Quenneville said, according to Lazerus.

Fantasy hockey types might cringe after hopping on the Hartman bandwagon. The 23-year-old has nine points in 10 games, although half of those points came when the Blackhawks rampaged against the Pittsburgh Penguins to start the season with a 10-1 win. Hartman hasn’t generated a point in three straight games and only has a goal in his past five.

DeBrincat has been awfully quiet in his own right, too, as he adjusts to the NHL game. So we’ll see if these changes stick for a while; even if they do, these forwards probably shouldn’t rely too much on a specific combination, although coaches do tend to prefer at least keeping certain pairings together these days.

The Blackhawks host the Predators on Friday and face the Avalanche in Colorado on Saturday, so getting a little burst from these tweaks could be helpful during a back-to-back set.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blackhawks squeeze Franson, DeBrincat, Forsling under salary cap ceiling

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If you’re a team-building nerd, the Chicago Blackhawks’ ongoing rivalry with the NHL’s salary cap is almost as entertaining as their often-blistering on-ice product.

GM Stan Bowman & Co. finalizing their shimmying under the salary cap ceiling with the season set to begin, and these tweaks make things fairly tantalizing.

For one thing, the Blackhawks recalled dazzling young forward Alex DeBrincat and defenseman Gustav Forsling after demoting them entirely for cap reasons. The excitement surrounding DeBrincat, 19, continues to build; now fans get to see how the undersized forward can handle NHL competition. It’s easy to forget that, while his OHL numbers are stellar, they also came in the OHL.

Personally, it’s also heartening to see the occasional PTO turn into a real contract.

Now, Cody Franson seems too worthwhile to need to go through the song and dance of a tryout, but still. The Blackhawks can sorely use the veteran blueline presence that Franson, 30, may very well provide.

Franson may not be the 30-point man he once was with the Maple Leafs any longer, but it’s clear that he’s earned his status as a subtle analytics darling. This HERO chart makes you wonder if the Blackhawks have pulled off another steal.

via Dom Galamini

Franson could be very helpful if, say, Connor Murphy really struggles. It’s reportedly a one-year, $1 million deal for Franson.

There’s still some uncertainty for a Blackhawks team that’s become a chic choice to regret. Final moves like Wednesday’s could keep the train on the tracks.

Report: Blackhawks sign Franson to PTO

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Two years ago, Cody Franson didn’t get a contract signed until Sept. 10,  finally inking a deal with the Buffalo Sabres.

On Thursday, with the summer once again almost completely over and one week remaining until training camps open up, the 30-year-old defenseman signed a professional tryout with the Chicago Blackhawks, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, which added that Franson turned down offers from other clubs in favor of this opportunity with the Blackhawks.

Playing on a two-year deal worth a total of $6.65 million for the Sabres, Franson had three goals and 19 points in Buffalo last season. He had 17 points the previous season.

With the losses of Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Johnny Oduya, there has been significant change to the Blackhawks blue line throughout this offseason.

That said, there will be competition for spots on defense.

Prospect Gustav Forsling looks to maintain a full-time position on the roster after impressing during camp and splitting his time last season between the NHL and the minors. Same goes for Jan Rutta, who has spent the last few years playing professionally in the Czech Republic before he made the decision to come to North America.  He signed with Chicago in June.

Plenty of opportunity on revamped Blackhawks defense

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For almost a decade, Niklas Hjalmarsson was a mainstay on the Blackhawks’ back end, quietly providing some of the most effective defense in the league.

But with Hjalmarsson in Arizona now, traded to the Coyotes for the younger-though-less-proven Connor Murphy, it remains to be seen how Chicago’s blue line will roll out next season.

In addition to Hjalmarsson, the ‘Hawks also bid adieu to Brian Campbell, Johnny Oduya, and Trevor van Riemsdyk this offseason.

Add up all the good-byes, and that’s a lot of minutes to replace.

“We’re going to see when we’re putting the pairs together, whether we’re going to reunite [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook] or look for some balance,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per CSN Chicago. “There are a lot of options. We’ll look forward to that and sorting it out.”

The way it looks right now, the top four will be comprised of Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, and Michal Kempny. That’s two left shots — Keith and Kempny — and two righties — Seabrook and Murphy.

Read more: After major changes, Bowman thinks Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

The bottom pairing, though, is anyone’s guess. Newly signed Czech defenseman Jan Rutta is in the mix. But so too are Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Forsling, Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, and possibly even Luc Snuggerud.

Once training camp starts, it’ll be up to those young players to prove themselves.

“Just the amount of opportunity that is in front of me just drives me even more,” said Oesterle, whom the ‘Hawks signed July 1. “I want to be here and force their hand to keep me here.”

Veteran Michal Rozsival is also under contract for next season. However, he turns 39 in September, and with all that youth champing at the bit, the Blackhawks will be hoping they won’t need him much, if at all.

Chicago’s defense in 2016-17, ranked by total time on ice

After major changes, Bowman believes Blackhawks are in ‘good spot’

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CHICAGO — Stan Bowman received a lot of kudos for getting the old Blackhawks defense together for another kick at the can.

But the way it played out, bringing back two aging veterans in Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya was a mistake by the general manager. The magic just couldn’t be recreated, and Chicago was swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators.

Then came the offseason changes. Not just on the blue line, either. Brandon Saad is back, while Artemi Panarin is gone. Marian Hossa is gone, too — a huge loss for the ‘Hawks, even if he can be put on LTIR.

So the forward group is going to look quite different next season.

The blue line could look very different, though. Oduya and Campbell are both unrestricted free agents and may not be back. Trevor van Riemsdyk was lost in the expansion draft. And last but not least, Niklas Hjalmarsson is a Coyote now, traded to Arizona for d-man Connor Murphy.

In other words, of the six defensemen who lost to the Predators, only Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are still under contract in Chicago.

“A lot of stuff going on,” Bowman said Friday at United Center. “Sometimes, change is good. You have to make some tough decisions. But at the same time, we’re really excited about our team next year.”

Much will be expected of Murphy, a 24-year-old who’s been toiling in Arizona anonymity since being drafted 20th overall in 2011.

“Connor’s a little bit of a different player (than Hjalmarsson),” said Bowman. “Obviously, he’s a bit bigger, he plays probably a more physical game. But he’s a good skater and he’s six years younger. It’s really hard to find young defensemen like that. He’s got a great contract, too. He’s a guy we’re going to have for a long time.”

Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling will also be expected to take on bigger roles in 2017-18.

“It’s up to them to take hold of it, but I think the opportunity is going to be there for them,” said Bowman. “It’s time to give these guys a chance to grow and take on bigger responsibilities.”

Speaking of young defensemen, the Blackhawks added another to their stable Friday, drafting Henri Jokiharju with the 29th overall pick.

“Henri’s a player we’ve been high on all year,” said Bowman. “A right-shot defenseman. Those are a commodity in today’s game. It’s hard to find them. He plays a modern style of hockey. Great skill-set, good skater, can handle the puck, make plays. I guess what you would term the modern-day defenseman.”

As for Bowman, he believes his big moves have been made. He promised changes, and changes he delivered.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” he said.

Related: Blackhawks sign Czech defenseman Jan Rutta