Patrick Kane

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U.S. adds Bruins’ McAvoy, Blackhawks’ Trevor van Riemsdyk for Worlds

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After a whirlwind of an NHL debut suiting up for the Boston Bruins in the playoffs, defenseman Charlie McAvoy is staying busy this summer.

McAvoy and Chicago Blackhawks blueliner Trevor van Riemsdyk are the latest additions to the U.S. roster for the upcoming World Championship.

This comes a day after a tough day for USA Hockey, as both Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews were ruled out from the competition.

Neither of these young defensemen can match that star power, but tournaments like these can be interesting showcases, particularly for McAvoy (who’s already shown great promise at just 19).

The Bruins threw McAvoy right into the deep end against the Senators; only Zdeno Chara‘s average time on ice of 28:46 exceeded McAvoy’s 26:12.

It’s understandable that Matthews and others may opt for rest, particularly after a season made more hectic thanks to the World Cup. In McAvoy’s case, the Worlds represent another chance for him to get his feet wet against NHL-level competition.

MORE:McAvoy shines in debut.

No Patrick Kane for U.S. at Worlds

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Tough day for USA Hockey.

After learning that prized Toronto rookie Auston Matthews was skipping the World Hockey Championships, the organization was informed Chicago star Patrick Kane would also be passing on the event.

Kane hasn’t often been able to participate in the Worlds, given he and the Blackhawks have advanced past the first playoff round in five of the last nine years. In fact, the last time Kane played at the Worlds was in 2008, when Chicago missed the playoffs entirely.

(Kane had 10 points in seven games for the Americans that year, en route to a sixth-place finish.)

Matthews cited fatigue as one of the main reasons he passed on this year’s tourney, and it’s safe to assume Kane did the same. He appeared in all 82 games for the ‘Hawks this year, four more in the playoffs, and also represented the U.S. at the World Cup of Hockey.

USA Hockey did manage to secure the services of two important players last week, however. Both Calgary sniper Johnny Gaudreau and Buffalo sophomore Jack Eichel agreed to come aboard.

Are the Leafs getting into ‘go for it’ territory?

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Two years ago, Mike Babcock came to Toronto and predicted there would be “pain.”

He was right for one year. The Maple Leafs finished dead last in 2015-16, then got Auston Matthews as a reward.

But the pain didn’t last long, in large part thanks to Matthews. The Leafs made the playoffs in Babcock’s second season as head coach, and they even gave the Washington Capitals a good scare in the first round.

Now the question has to be asked — should the Leafs start going for it?

Your first instinct may be to laugh. But it is not such a ridiculous question when you consider Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar, and Drew Doughty were all in their early 20s when they won the Stanley Cup for the first time.

Mathews turns 20 in September, and he’s already one of the NHL’s best centers. Wingers William Nylander, 20, and Mitch Marner, 19, aren’t too bad either, and neither is 26-year-old center Nazem Kadri.

All four of those forwards are under club control for years to come. Also locked up long term is starting goalie Frederik Andersen.

If there’s a weakness, it’s the back end. Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, and Nikita Zaitsev can all move the puck well, but defensively they’re still suspect. What the Leafs could really use is a top-four defenseman who can match the Leafs’ pace while also killing penalties and shutting down the opposition’s top players. And if he can play the right side, even better.

Of course, you know who else could use a defenseman like that? The other 30 teams. Top-four defensemen are not cheap to get on the trade market. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers.

Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello met with the media Tuesday to reflect on the season, and also give his thoughts on the future. He said the Leafs have to be careful not to get complacent, that it only gets harder now. He was asked about the market for defensemen. He said it’s hard to gauge because of the expansion draft.

But Lamoriello also said, “There’s a five-year plan that changes every day.”

Which would suggest the Leafs are willing to accelerate their schedule — that they may, in fact, see an opportunity to compete for the Cup a lot sooner than they originally thought possible.

Consider:

The Penguins went from out of the playoffs in ’06, to losing in the first round in ’07, to the Stanley Cup Final in ’08, then won it all in ’09.

The Blackhawks went from out of the playoffs in ’08, to the conference finals in ’09, to a championship in ’10.

The Kings went from out of the playoffs in ’09 to winning the Cup in ’12.

So… if you were the Leafs, wouldn’t you see an opportunity, too?

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.”

Toews, Kane, Blackhawks feel emptiness, shock after sweep to Predators

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Even those who picked the Nashville Predators to upset the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t anticipate a clean sweep and a 13-3 goal differential. Who anticipated the series opening with two shutouts and the Blackhawks getting so little from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews?

The Blackhawks aren’t immune to the emptiness and disappointment that came with being absolutely dominated by the Predators.

Jonathan Toews described it as “falling flat on your face,” even if he also praised the “relentless” Predators. The Blackhawks captain said the only feeling that would be worse would be falling short of the playoffs while Patrick Kane admitted it would be a long summer. Especially when you see stats like these, which hit you more bluntly than any possession stats (which look great for many Predators) would do:

Yikes.

This was the first sweep in Predators’ franchise history and the first time the Kane – Toews – Joel Quenneville Blackhawks suffered such a fate. Things sounded truly dour, with Kane wondering if the Blackhawks were lulled into a false sense of security by close wins and Coach Q … well:

Sheesh.

The Predators humbled the Blackhawks in this series. There are few ways to gloss over how one-sided things were at times.

Give Chicago credit for acknowledging that, even if many of their comments would mix well with an emo soundtrack.