Patrick Sharp

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Blackhawks need a push from young forwards Hartman, Schmaltz

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This post is part of Blackhawks Day on PHT…

The Chicago Blackhawks got an injection of youth into their group of forwards last season, with Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman cracking the roster out of training camp.

Having prospects challenging for and earning roster spots is critical for every team across the league, especially with the speed of today’s game.

The Blackhawks have three Stanley Cup championships since 2010, all won with a core group of players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

But that group, which hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2015, is getting older, which highlights Chicago’s need for its young players like Schmaltz and Hartman to further their offensive contributions this upcoming season and beyond, and for someone like Alex DeBrincat to show well at camp and perhaps earn a spot in the NHL.

There is added pressure on a player like Toews heading into next season, after the lowest goal total of his career. How will Patrick Sharp perform back with this group at age 35? The Blackhawks also won’t have Marian Hossa, which, despite his age, is a huge loss.

That should highlight the need for Hartman, 22, and Schmaltz, 21, to take another step forward in their development.

In 76 games, Hartman had a nice 19-goal, 31-point campaign, his first full season in the NHL. His production dried up in the playoffs, though in fairness to him, the Blackhawks as a team were ultimately outmatched as Pekka Rinne played sensational in goal for Nashville and the Predators completed the sweep.

The 20th overall pick in 2014, Schmaltz played in 61 games for Chicago. His season included a stint in Rockford, where he had a productive six goals and nine points in 12 games before getting recalled to the NHL.

From the time of his recall until the end of the regular season, Schmaltz was able to put together a couple of extended hot streaks, with 12 points in nine games during a stretch from Feb. 8 to March 1, and seven points in six games from March 19-29. Again, Chicago’s brief time in the playoffs was a struggle and Schmaltz wasn’t immune.

There was a point late in the season, however, when coach Joel Quenneville believed Schmaltz made the proper steps forward. Of note, Quenneville has the option of using Schmaltz either on the wing or up the middle, he said earlier this summer.

“There’s definitely a learning curve when you first come into the NHL. Expectations are higher for some guys than others. But him getting down and getting some games [in Rockford], getting more confident offensively and with the puck, he added a little pace and another dimension to his game, we like how he’s playing during this recent stretch,” Quenneville told CSN Chicago.

“We like how he’s handled himself in a situation where, as the season’s gone on here, he’s gone to a different level.”

It would be one less thing for the Blackhawks to worry about if Schmaltz and Hartman took their games to a different level beginning in October.

Hitch talks up Radulov-Seguin-Benn line in Dallas

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Given it’s only July 5, talk of who will play on what lines next year is a tad premature.

That said, it’s also kind of exciting.

Especially in Dallas, where head coach Ken Hitchcock suddenly has a wealth of options at his disposal following the acquisitions of forwards Tyler Pitlick, Brian Flynn, Martin Hanzal and Alexander Radulov.

With all apologies to the first three, the real excitement in Texas is for Radulov, who came aboard on Monday courtesy a five-year, $31.5 million pact. Hitchcock doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself, but has already envisioned Radulov playing on the club’s top line next to Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.

“I’ve coached against Radulov both in the NHL and internationally, and he brings an intensity to the game,” Hitchcock said, per the Dallas Morning-News. “You notice him and you have to account for him. Now, put Jamie Benn on the other wing, and you have the same thing. You know he’s there, and you know you have to account for him. Same with Seguin.

“I just think they will all feed off of each other if that’s the line we come up with.”

Riding shotgun with Benn and Seguin has been beneficial for a number of guys over the years. Last season, Patrick Eaves enjoyed a terrific offensive campaign while serving partial duty on the line. Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp and a flurry of others have also received minutes alongside the dynamic duo, and produced well.

Radulov brings some interesting attributes to the line. He, along with Benn, are both left-handed shots, which will give the Stars some unique looks in the offensive zone. There’s also his style of play. Despite not being overly large — listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds — he plays a big man’s game. The 31-year-old has terrific upper-body strength, is effective in winning board battles and knows how to leverage his body to protect pucks.

As an example, this wonder goal against the Rangers in the playoffs:

Between Radulov and Hanzal alone, the Stars will be a “heavier” team — at least stylistically — than they’ve been in previous years. It’ll be fascinating to see how that plays out with Seguin and Benn, and under Hitch’s watchful eye.

The Stars are winning another offseason, but will the results follow on the ice?

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“Watch out for the Dallas Stars this season” is a sentence you have probably heard — or maybe even said! — once or twice every summer for the past five years.

It is because if there is one thing the Jim Nill era has been known for in Dallas since he took over as the team’s general manager, it is big, franchise altering, blockbuster moves pretty much every offseason.

The list is an extensive one.

In 2013 it was Tyler Seguin in what has turned out to be a laughably one-sided trade with the Boston Bruins and the hiring of coach Lindy Ruff.

In 2014 it was Jason Spezza (in another laughably one-sided trade in Dallas’ favor) and Ales Hemsky.

In 2015 it was Patrick Sharp (another steal), Johnny Oduya and Antti Niemi.

Coming off of a 50-win season he took last summer off in the blockbuster moves department but has jumped right back in this summer by getting pretty much every major free agent and available player under the sun. So far he has acquired Alexander Radulov, Ben Bishop, Martin Hanzal and Marc Methot with Ken Hitchcock returning to run the show behind the bench.

They have, once again, created more buzz for what might be coming this season.

They are not shying away from that buzz, either.

As nice as all of that sounds, there is definitely cause for some skepticism here because in previous years the results on the ice have not always matched the preseason hype that comes with all of their major moves.

They have made the playoffs twice in the past four years, topped 92 points in the standings just one time during that stretch, and have managed to win just a single playoff round.

Will this current group of additions produce a different ending and actually justify all of the praise and hype?

For Nill’s sake, it better because there is going to come a point where simply winning every trade and topping the summer’s “winners” list isn’t going to be enough.

The Stars have two more years of Spezza before his contract expires, two more years of Seguin at a below market rate before he really cashes in with a mega contract and they just invested $75 million over the next seven years in three players (Radulov, Bishop, Hanzal) that are all already 30 years old.

Given all of that you have to think these next couple of years are the window for the Stars to make some noise.

The ingredients, for the most part, are there.

Seguin and Benn are as good of an offensive duo as there is in the league and the type of cornerstone players a team needs to win, and one of them is still signed at a bargain rate. Plus just added Radulov into that mix.

There is no doubt injuries and goaltending played havoc on their season a year ago, so simply having a healthier season with some fresh blood might help. And if they get the Vezina Trophy finalist version of Bishop that will certainly help fix the goaltending mess that has plagued this team for a few years now.

It’s understandable that there is hype and excitement after so many big additions and a new direction behind the bench.

But we have seen this movie before, and it’s not like all of these moves are completely foolproof. Given the season Bishop had last season and his recent injury history there has to be some concern as to what he is going to be capable of this season. Hanzal is a nice player and Radulov was the best forward on the open market, but again, they are all on the wrong side of 30 and that always brings a risk with long-term contracts.

What I am trying to say here is: The best way to approach this Stars team should be with cautious optimism. There is reason to believe they can re-write the script this season, but until they actually do it there should still be a little doubt as to how good they will actually be.

PHT’s 2017 free agent frenzy tracker

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Welcome to Thunderdome!

Come embrace the madness with us. Throughout the weekend, we’ll be keeping tabs on all the UFA signings across the NHL, so check back regularly for all the biggest signings, trades and other acquisitions.

July 2

Patrick Marleau signs in Toronto: three years, $18.75 million (link)

— Steve Oleksy signs in Anaheim: two years (link)

Evgeny Kuznetsov re-signs in Washington: eight years, $62.4 million (link)

July 1

Justin Schultz re-signs with Pittsburgh: three years, $16.5 million (link)

— Tom Sestito, Frank Corrado, Casey DeSmith, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi, Zach Trotman, and Greg McKegg also signed with Pittsburgh.

Joe Thornton re-signs in San Jose: one year (link)

Chris Kunitz signs in Tampa Bay: one year, $2 million (link)

Darcy Kuemper signs with Los Angeles: one year, $650K (link)

Radim Vrbata signs in Florida: one year, $2.5 million (link)

Kevin Shattenkirk signs with New York Rangers: four years, $26.6 million (link)

— Brian Strait signed a one-year, two-way deal with New Jersey. Brian Gibbons and Bracken Kearns also signed two-way contracts.

— Zac Rinaldo signs a one-year, two-way deal with Arizona. Also signing with Coyotes: Andrew Campbell, Joel Hanley, and Michael Sislo.

— Ryan Stanton signs in Edmonton: two years, $1.4 million

— Mike McKenna signs in Dallas: one year, $650,000

— Paul Carey signs with New York Rangers: one year, $650,000

— Buddy Robinson signs in Winnipeg: one year, $650,000

Dominic Moore signs in Toronto: one year, $1 million

Patrik Nemeth re-signs in Dallas: one year, $945,000

Kyle Quincey signs in Minnesota: one year, $1.25 million

Nick Cousins re-signs in Arizona: two years, $2 million

— Cal Petersen signs in Los Angeles: two year, $1.85 million (link)

— Kyle Rau signs in Minnesota: one year, $700,000

— Tyler Randell signs in Ottawa: one year, $700,000

— Niklas Svedberg signs in Minnesota: one year, $700,000

— Kenny Agostino signs in Boston: one year, $875,000

— Anthony Peluso signs in Washington: one year, $650,000

— Ty Rattie signs in Edmonton: one year, $700,000

— Anders Lindback signs in Nashville: one year, $650,000

— Matt O’Connor signs in Nashville: one year, $650,000

— Dennis Robertson re-signs in Carolina: one year, $650,000

Luke Witkowski signs in Detroit: one year, $750,000

Jean-Francois Berube signs in Chicago: two years, $1.5 million

— Jordan Osterle signs in Chicago: two years, $1.3 million

— Derek Grant signs in Anaheim: one year, $650,000

— Michael Sgarbossa signs in Winnipeg: one year, $650,000

Anton Rodin re-signs in Vancouver: one year, $700,000

Cam Fowler re-signs in Anaheim: eight years, $52 million (link)

Jeremy Smith signs in Carolina: one year, $750,000

Scott Hartnell signs in Nashville: one year, $1 million (link)

— Seth Griffith signs in Buffalo: one year, $650,000

— Evgeny Dadonov signs in Florida: three years, $12 million (link)

— Dan Girardi signs in Tampa Bay: two years, $6 million (link)

— Cal O’Reilly signs in Minnesota: two years, $1.4 million

— Landon Ferraro signs in Minnesota: two years, $1.4 million

Ron Hainsey signs in Toronto: two years, $6 million (link)

Ryan Miller signs in Anaheim: two years, $4 million (link)

Christian Folin signs in Los Angeles: one year, $850,000

— Patrick Wiercioch signs in Vancouver: one year, $650,000

Mike Cammalleri signs in Los Angeles: one year, $1 million (link)

Adam Clendening signs in Arizona: one year, $775,000

Ryan Murphy signs in Minnesota: one year, $700,000

Chris Thorburn signs in St. Louis: two years, $1.8 million

Oskar Sundqvist re-signs in St. Louis: one year, $675,000

— Beau Bennett signs in St. Louis: one year, $650,000

— Antti Niemi signs in Pittsburgh: one year, $700,000

Paul Postma signs in Boston: one year, $725,000

Josh Jooris signs in Carolina: one year, $775,000

Martin Jones re-signs in San Jose: six years, $34.5 million (link)

Marc-Edouard Vlasic re-signs in San Jose: eight years, $56 million (link)

Justin Williams signs in Carolina: two years, $9 million (link)

Martin Hanzal signs in Dallas: three years, $14.25 million (link)

Tyler Pitlick signs in Dallas: three years, $3 million

Jonathan Bernier signs in Colorado: one year, $2.75 million (link)

Chad Johnson signs in Buffalo: one year, $1.25 million (link)

— Brian Elliott signs in Philly: two years, $5.5 million (link)

Steve Mason signs in Winnipeg: two years, $8.2 million (link)

— Alexander Burmistrov signs in Vancouver: one year, $900,000 (link)

Anders Nilsson signs in Vancouver: two years, $5 million (link)

Michael Del Zotto signs in Vancouver: two years, $6 million (link)

Sam Gagner signs in Vancouver: three years, $9.45 million (link)

Dmitry Kulikov signs in Winnipeg: three years, $13 million (link)

Trevor Daley signs in Detroit: three years, $9.5 million (link)

Patrick Sharp signs in Chicago: one year, $1 million (link)

Matt Hunwick signs in Pittsburgh: three years, $6.75 million (link)

Nick Bonino signs in Nashville: four years, $16.1 million (link)

Benoit Pouliot signs in Buffalo: one year, $1.15 million

Brian Boyle signs in New Jersey: two years, $5.1 million (link)

Alex Petrovic re-signs in Florida: one year, $1.8 million (link)

Nate Thompson signs in Ottawa: two year, $3.3 million (link)

Ondrej Pavelec signs with New York Rangers: one year, $1.3 million (link)

— Garrett Wilson re-signs in Pittsburgh: two years, $1.3 million

— Garret Sparks re-signs in Toronto: two years, $1.35 million (link)

Curtis McElhinney re-signs in Toronto: two years, $1.7 million (link)

Karl Alzner signs in Montreal: five years, $23.125 million (link)

Previous deals of note

Michael Stone re-signs in Calgary: three years, $10.5 million (link)

Dmitry Orlov re-signs in Washington: six years, $30.6 million (link)

Jordan Weal re-signs in Philly: two years, $3.5 million (link)

Kris Versteeg re-signs in Calgary: one year, $1.75 million (link)

Keith Kinkaid re-signs in New Jersey: two years, $2.5 million (link)

Magnus Paajarvi re-signs in St. Louis: one year, $800,000 (link)

Chandler Stephenson re-signs in Washington: two years, $1.3 million (link)

— Dylan McIlrath re-signs in Detroit: two years, $1.3 million (link)

— Brian Lashoff re-signs in Detroit: two years, $1.3 million (link)

Brock McGinn re-signs in Carolina: two years, $1.775 million (link)

Sven Andrighetto re-signs in Colorado: two years, $2.8 million (link)

— Cory Conacher re-signs in Tampa Bay: two years, $1.3 million (link)

Brendan Smith re-signs with New York Rangers: four years, $17.4 million (link)

Mike Condon re-signs in Ottawa: three years, $7.2 million (link)

— Jacob De La Rose re-signs in Montreal: one year, $725,000 (link)

— Pheonix Copley re-signs in Washington: two years, $1.3 million (link)

Noel Acciari re-signs in Boston: two year, $1.45 million (link)

Jordan Schroeder re-signs in Columbus: two years, $1.3 million (link)

Eric Gryba re-signs in Edmonton: two years, $1.8 million (link)

— Max McCormick re-signs in Ottawa: two years, $1.3 million (link)

Brett Connolly re-signs in Washington: two years, $3 million (link)

Tomas Jurco re-signs in Chicago: one year, $850,000 (link)

Anton Forsberg re-signs in Chicago: two years, $1.5 million (link)

Tom Pyatt re-signs in Ottawa: two years, $2.2 million (link)

Zack Kassian re-signs in Edmonton: three years, $5.85 million (link)

Esa Lindell re-signs in Dallas: two years, $4.4 million (link)

Yanni Gourde re-signs in Tampa Bay: two years, $2 million (link)

Andrej Sustr re-signs in Tampa Bay: one year, $1.95 million (link)

Derek Ryan re-signs in Carolina: one year, $1.425 million (link)

Korbinian Holzer re-signs in Anaheim: two years, $1.8 million (link)

Andy Andreoff re-signs in L.A.: two years, $1.355 million (link)

Reunited and deals are good: Williams, Sharp, Hartnell return via free agency

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Usually, when it comes to the first day of free agency, the patterns tend to revolve around deals teams will eventually regret. On July 1, 2017, there was instead the best kind of nostalgia: reuniting successful players and the cities they once called “home.”

Remarkably, in just about every case, the contracts were solid-to-huge steals for those old teams. Let’s look at some of the biggest examples.

Come back … for $1 million

Even if skills diminished, it’s remarkable that Patrick Sharp returned to the Chicago Blackhawks, Scott Hartnell made his long-waited comeback for the Nashville Predators, and Michael Cammalleri reacquainted with the Los Angeles Kings, all on the same day.

And all three of those deals were low-risk with potentially significant rewards: they all signed for one year and $1 million.

The Blackhawks seemed to “bring the band back together” in the most obvious ways this summer, as they also regained Brandon Saad in that surprising trade that sent Artemi Panarin away. Maybe Panarin will be back in the Windy City in the future, too, then?

Finally getting paid, kind of

If you want to chart the history of a – relatively – underpaid forward, look no further than Justin Williams.

Even at his advanced age, a two-year, $9 million deal to return to the first team he won a Stanley Cup with (the Carolina Hurricanes) is a pretty sweet bargain.

It’s remarkable that a renowned two-way player who earned the nickname “Mr. Game 7” took until 2017 to pass the $4 million per season mark, as this new deal carries a cap hit of $4.5M per season. Previously, the highest cap hit he carried was $3.825M; he actually took a discount to join the Washington Capitals.

That comfort level and familiarity definitely factored into Williams’ decision.

Personal reasons

There were other signings that might not be the purest reunions, yet they still fit with the growing theme of the day.

Kevin Shattenkirk never played for the New York Rangers, but it’s believed that he left money (and possibly years) on the table to live the dream. He’s a “New Yorker at heart,” after all.

Beyond Shattenkirk, Nate Thompson reunites with former Lightning head coach Guy Boucher. There’s an anecdote that Thompson adhered to Boucher’s advice so well that other Bolts teammates ribbed him by calling him “Nate Boucher.” One figures that played a big role in bringing Thompson to the Ottawa Senators.

Chad Johnson didn’t have a hallowed run with the Sabres, yet he’ll be a welcome backup in Buffalo once more. Anders Lindback is back in the Predators’ fold after netting the franchise some nice picks from the Lightning a few years back, though he’d likely need some luck to get reps with Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros ahead of him.

***

In just about every case, these reunions represented rare mutual benefits: teams get a familiar player back at a reasonable price. Said players may have already made big money elsewhere (or by getting bought out), and now they get to return to places they might not have ever wanted to leave.

Everyone wins, at least until teams start accruing W’s and L’s.

Click here for the full list of free agent moves. Also, check out who’s left (and thus could also make for more reunions).

Now, without further adieu, the official song of this free agency.