Cam Tucker

AP

It’s Chicago Blackhawks day at PHT

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A disappointing — and very sudden — exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs led to a number of changes for the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason.

The Blackhawks finished first in the Western Conference standings at the end of the regular season, posting 50 wins and 109 points. But then they ran into the Nashville Predators in the opening round of the postseason, couldn’t score enough on Pekka Rinne and were swept, while the Preds surged to the Stanley Cup Final.

That ushered in massive change to the roster.

Gone from the Blackhawks:

Scott Darling, traded to Carolina.

Artemi Panarin, traded to Columbus.

Marcus Kruger, traded to Vegas.

— Brian Campbell, retired.

Niklas Hjalmarsson, traded to Arizona.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, selected by Vegas.

Marian Hossa, skin disorder.

Acquired by the Blackhawks:

Patrick Sharp, signed as a UFA.

Tommy Wingels, signed as a UFA.

Lance Bouma, signed as a UFA.

Brandon Saad, acquired from Columbus.

Anton Forsberg, acquired from Columbus.

Connor Murphy, acquired from Arizona.

Jan Rutta, signed as a UFA.

As you can see, general manager Stan Bowman has been very busy over the past few months following the playoffs.

Today at PHT, we’ll get into the big storylines surrounding the Blackhawks as training camp approaches.

Could Scott Hartnell see an increased role in Nashville?

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This post is part of Predators Day on PHT…

It won’t be long now until Scott Hartnell gets back on the ice with the team he started his NHL career with.

After being bought out in Columbus, Hartnell signed for one year in Nashville. For a tidy $1 million, too. It’s a nice deal for a proven player that still may have something to add to a team in its window to win.

Yes, he is getting older, at 35 years of age. His production dropped quite a bit in 2016-17. But Hartnell is only one year removed from a 23-goal campaign and two years from scoring 28 goals in a season. He also recorded 34 of his 37 points this past season at five-on-five, despite being 22nd on the Blue Jackets at even strength ice time.

The Blue Jackets might’ve reduced his role in his final year in Columbus, but it sounds like Nashville has bigger plans for Hartnell in the upcoming season.

From The Tennessean:

“He’s probably used to playing up and down in the lineup and actually on both sides,” Predators general manager David Poile said of Hartnell. “He’s got that versatility. …  I think maybe my best way of saying it is that (Hartnell) might be kind of a utility, fix-it type of guy. I certainly see him being used on the power play (with) the net-front presence. That could be a big difference for us this year with the guys that we’ve got on the point.

“Whatever amount of ice time that he got in Columbus last year, I think there would be a good chance that he’ll get more ice time with us.”

When he was bought out in Columbus, Hartnell was hopeful it would be a “mutually beneficial” situation for both the Blue Jackets and himself.

For Hartnell, it’s a chance to play for a coach he’s familiar with in Peter Laviolette, on a team coming off a Stanley Cup Final berth, and with perhaps an increased role.

It certainly has the chance to work out in his favor.

Report: Slovakia hires Craig Ramsay to coach Olympic team

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Another hockey nation has named its coach for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.

According to John Shannon of Sportsnet, Slovakia has tabbed former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to be the bench boss for its national team and Olympic squad.

Ramsay was last an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers in 2014-15. His coaching experience in the NHL, which includes three stints as a head coach, dates all the way back to 1986-87 with the Buffalo Sabres.

Four years ago, Slovakia was defeated by the Czech Republic in the qualification playoff and failed to make it to the quarter-final round.

Despite impressive young core, Predators need Rinne to step up again next season

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This post is part of Predators Day on PHT…

Pekka Rinne wasn’t unbeatable in the first round of the 2017 playoffs. But by the time Nashville completed its sweep of the Blackhawks, his opponents from Chicago may have felt that way.

He gave up only three goals in four games versus Chicago, and while he didn’t maintain that torrid puckstopping pace throughout the playoffs, he was an integral member of the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final.

It was great for Rinne, who has been with Nashville since his selection in the 2004 NHL Draft.

It was in the final series where he struggled with consistency.

He was excellent in Games 3 and 4 in Nashville, as the Predators evened the series. He was good again in Game 6 but was unlucky on what would be the Stanley Cup winning goal to Pittsburgh. It was in Games 1, 2 and 5 that Rinne struggled, allowing a combined 11 goals against on 45 shots faced and getting the hook early in the fifth game. It was a strange, up-and-down way to end the playoffs during a two-month stretch when Rinne was otherwise excellent.

The Predators certainly have the makings of a team that can compete for the Western Conference title again next season, with an impressive young core group of forwards and a dangerous blue line, particularly with their top four.

Where things could get interesting is in goal.

Rinne turns 35 years old in November and has two more years remaining on his contract, with an annual $7 million cap hit.

He’s been the workhorse in Nashville for years. Since the 2010-11 season, Rinne has on five occasions played 60 or more games in a single season, reaching 73 games played in 2011-12. He’s averaged almost 64 games played over the last three years, and even during the lockout shortened year, he played in almost 90 per cent of the Predators’ regular season games.

It’s been well documented in the analytics community (check out some pieces here and here) that goalies start to decline through their 30s.

Goalies like Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller — all in their mid to late 30s — have all been relied on heavily earlier in their careers and their respective teams certainly benefited. Luongo had four consecutive seasons with 70-plus starts, as did Lundqvist. That’s a lot of mileage. The days of such usage appear to be in the rear view mirror, according to Habs goalie coach Stephane Waite last month when he discussed the need for a capable back-up in order to give the starter some rest, to keep them refreshed.

These playoffs put the Predators right in the spot light, revealing to a greater audience just how good this team was and could still be over the next few years. It revealed that, when at the top of his game, Rinne could be spectacular. Nashville is still going to need him to help the franchise in achieving its goals next season.

But he also isn’t getting any younger.

Last season, 22-year-old Juuse Saros played in 21 games, posting a .923 save percentage in that time.

It may benefit the Predators in the long run to give their back-up an increase in playing time to keep Rinne refreshed throughout the season.

Stars ‘strongly opposed’ to Texas ‘bathroom bill’ (Updated)

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The Dallas Stars on Wednesday issued a statement, publicly opposing the controversial “bathroom bill” in Texas, becoming the first professional sports team in the state to do so against the proposed legislation, according to reports.

The proposed bill would restrict transgender people to using restrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate, per the AP.

“When the Stars moved to Dallas in 1993 we were fortunate to encounter success early on, and we’ve cultivated what we consider to be the best fan base in the National Hockey League. Dallas was warm and welcoming when we came to this great city 25 years ago, and it remains so today,” said Stars president and CEO James Lites in a statement.

“The Dallas Stars stands strongly opposed to any legislation perceived as discriminatory, including proposed bathroom legislation. We welcome fans from all over the globe, and our roster boasts players from half a dozen countries. Dallas welcomes all, and we welcome all.”

Updated: The NHL has also responded to the proposed legislation through an email to Sportsnet.

“We strongly oppose the bill in its original form,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sportsnet. “We hope and expect that bill in that form will not be passed into law. We would obviously have to reassess the situation in the event that happens.”

The Stars will host the 2018 NHL Draft. The You Can Play Project, which advocates for equal treatment of athletes regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, praised the Stars following their announcement.