Antti Niemi

Bowman vows to keep Saad in Chicago ‘for years to come’

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Don’t bother putting an offer sheet in front of Brandon Saad.

That’s the message Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has been sending, with a little help from the media, to his counterparts around the league.

Moments after the ‘Hawks won the Stanley Cup on Monday, Bowman told reporters: “I just talked to [Saad] right after we won. We gave a hug and I said, ‘This is the first of many; we’re going to win a lot together.’ He gave me a big hug and said, ‘Let’s go.’ So, no, he’s going to be here. I don’t think he would want to leave after this scene here.”

Today, Bowman reiterated that message, all but guaranteeing he’d re-sign the 22-year-old pending restricted free agent who scored so many big goals for the ‘Hawks during these past playoffs:

While Saad wasn’t quite as certain as his GM, he clearly does want to be back:

In 2010, the ‘Hawks matched the four-year, $14 million offer sheet that defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson signed with San Jose. Chicago had the option to receive the Sharks’ first- and third-round draft picks in the 2011 draft as compensation. The decision to match ultimately led to the departure of free-agent goalie Antti Niemi (to San Jose, interestingly).

If the Blackhawks do end up signing Saad, they’ll likely need to trade at least one of their veteran forwards. Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell have each had their names come up in speculation.

It’s also not clear which, if any, pending unrestricted free agents will be back. Johnny Oduya, Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards, Andrew Desjardins and Michal Rozsival are all without contracts for next season.

Related: Let’s all remember why offer sheets are rarely signed

With three Stanley Cups in six years, let the ‘dynasty’ debate begin

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CHICAGO — It’s hard to believe now, but in 2007, when John McDonough was named president of the Blackhawks, the franchise had devolved into an afterthought in the Windy City.

Monday at the United Center, right before Jonathan Toews hoisted the Stanley Cup for the third time in the last six years, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman proclaimed to the fans, “I’d say you have a dynasty.”

Funny what assembling a core of four future Hall of Famers — Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Marian Hossa — can do for a franchise’s fortunes.

Add secondary stars like Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, get a good coach, a smart general manager, draft well, develop well, throw in a little luck, and the result is the first team worthy of the “dynasty” label in the salary-cap era.

“We’ve had to fight through some things, but it was worth every second of it,” said McDonough, speaking to reporters at center ice while the players and their young families celebrated around him.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

“To see these guys mature into young adults, into grown men. Most of our guys when I started here were single. Now there’s babies all over the place.”

There will be those who question whether these Blackhawks are truly a dynasty. They haven’t won four straight Cups, like the Montreal Canadiens did from 1975-79, or the New York Islanders from 1980-83. They haven’t won five in seven years like the 1980s Oilers. Twice in the past six years Chicago has been eliminated in the first round.

When asked to weigh in on the dynasty debate, Kane replied, “I don’t know what that means. We’ve got three in six years. I know that’s pretty good.”

Similarly, general manager Stan Bowman deferred to others.

“I don’t think that’s really for me to say,” he said. “That’s really for other people to make those proclamations. All I know is that we’ve got an amazing group here, they’ve accomplished a lot together, and I’m really proud of the effort they’ve given year after year. It doesn’t always go your way, but they’ve accomplished quite a bit and we’re not finished.”

Bowman has another tough summer ahead. The Blackhawks won’t be back in their entirety next season. Some will be forced out due to the salary cap. That’s the “reality” of the situation, as Johnny Oduya put it. That reality is why the likes of Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, and Antti Niemi are playing elsewhere now.

“I think we’re going to enjoy this one for a bit,” said Bowman. “I’ve been thinking of that stuff for a long time. It’s not like it’s going to surprise me. We’ll make it work. We’ve got a plan in place. That’s really for another day. Right now we’re pretty thrilled with this whole scene in here.”

Fair enough.

A decade ago, the Blackhawks were playing games before a half-empty arena, an Original Six franchise ignored.

Monday, they kicked off one of the great sports celebrations in this city’s history.

They deserve to enjoy it.

Neuvirth’s agent and Isles had ‘positive conversation,’ will resume in late June

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There’s been some traction between the New York Islanders and pending UFA goalie Michal Neuvirth.

“Garth [Snow, Isles GM] and I had a positive conversation regarding Michal coming back next season to play for the Islanders,” Neuvirth’s agent, Patrik Stefan, told PHT on Friday. “The Islanders are a well built young team with a bright future. Although it was for short time, Michal enjoyed playing there and was impressed with the organization.

“Garth is well aware of what the UFA’s market for goalies this summer and he and I agreed to continue our conversation at the end of this month.”

This development is interesting on two fronts. One, in mid-May, Stefan said he hadn’t heard anything from the Islanders about his client.

Two, Stefan continued to insist his client is gunning for a No. 1 job.

“The bottom line is Michal wants to and is ready to be a starter next season,” Stefan said of the 27-year-old, adding that Neuvirth “will be one of the top goalies on the UFA list July 1st.”

If Neuvirth (.914 save percentage between Buffalo and New York last year) really wants a starting gig, it’s hard to see him going back to the Islanders. Jaroslav Halak seems firmly entrenched as the starter, coming off a year in which he finished fifth in the NHL with 38 wins, made the All-Star team and helped the Isles get back into the playoffs.

In an opening-round loss to Washington, Halak finished with a .926 save percentage and 2.30 GAA.

If Neuvirth does decide to go elsewhere, he’ll dive into a goalie market that’s flush with options.

RELATED: Need a goalie? No shortage of options out there

Fellow (projected) UFAs include Antti Niemi, Karri Ramo and Jhonas Enroth. Devan Dubnyk doesn’t figure to get to market, but stranger things have happened.

On the trade front, several names are out there. Ottawa’s shopping Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson, and Vancouver GM Jim Benning revealed he’s getting calls on Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. The Blackhawks have three goalies under contract; what could Antti Raanta fetch them? Would the Leafs trade James Reimer?

All this could have a major impact on Neuvirth’s goal of being a No. 1 next season.

Need a goalie? No shortage of options out there

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Don’t underestimate the importance of the backup goalie. In today’s NHL, where parity reigns, it can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

Think that’s overstating things? Give Jim Nill a call in Dallas. The Stars’ GM gambled on Anders Lindback this season, and it cost his team big time. With a capable backup, the Stars wouldn’t have had to lean so heavily on a struggling Kari Lehtonen. Dallas went on to finish with the NHL’s second-worst team save percentage (.895). Also, seven points back of a playoff spot.

Meanwhile, remember what Andrew Hammond did for the Senators? And Eddie Lack for the Canucks when Ryan Miller went down with an injury? Do either of those teams make the playoffs without such solid play from their backups?

Having one capable goalie is nice. Having two is even better. Heck, in the Senators’ case, it was three.

Remember that on July 1 when unrestricted free agents are expected to include Antti Niemi, Karri Ramo, Michal Neuvirth, and Jhonas Enroth. (As of today, Devan Dubnyk can become unrestricted as well, but it would be a surprise if he doesn’t re-sign with Minnesota.)

And then there’s the trade market. The Senators are trying to trade Craig Anderson or Robin Lehner. The Canucks are expected to deal one of Lack or Jacob Markstrom. The Blackhawks have three goalies under contract; what could Antti Raanta fetch them? Would the Leafs trade James Reimer? They’d listen to offers, that’s for sure.

So yeah, lots of options out there.

In spite of all the supply, Canucks GM Jim Benning is confident there’s enough demand that he’ll be able to recover something for either Lack or Markstrom.

“I think there’s enough teams that need goalies that if we decide to move someone that we won’t have a problem doing it,” he said recently in a radio interview.

And according to a report in the Ottawa Sun, there are seven teams interested in the Senators’ goalies.

The Edmonton Oilers are probably one of those seven teams. They finished the season with the NHL’s worst team save percentage (.888).

“I’ve had discussions on teams with goalies,” GM Peter Chiarelli said yesterday. “We’ve got a goalie under contract in Ben Scrivens.”

We’ve speculated that the Oilers may have interest in a veteran like Anderson, but Chiarelli refused to get into specifics.

“Obviously I’m not going to comment on any discussions with specific teams,” he said.

So, expect plenty of goalies to change clubs this summer. And when the 16 playoff teams are finalized for 2016, don’t be surprised if we’re looking back at one or two moves that made a difference between making and missing.

Related: If Anderson is available, should the Oilers be interested?

‘Five or six teams have called’ on Sens goalies, says Murray

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In the wake of signing Andrew Hammond to a three-year deal — creating a three-headed goalie monster in the process — Ottawa GM Bryan Murray acknowledged on Monday that he’s already fielding calls for Robin Lehner and Craig Anderson.

“Five or six teams have called and there has been some discussion and there will continue to be,” Murray said, per the Ottawa Sun. “We’ll see what comes of it.”

Technically speaking, Ottawa has a four-headed goalie monster, having signed Boston University standout Matt O’Connor earlier this month, though O’Connor is expected to spend next season in AHL Binghamton. Regardless, Murray still needs to figure out what to do with Anderson, 33, who’s signed through 2018 at $4.2 million per and Lehner, 23, who has two more years left at $2.25M per.

It’s no surprise Murray’s already working the phones. This summer’s goalie market could have plenty of NHL-caliber netminders available with the likes of Antti Niemi, Karri Ramo, Michal Neuvirth and Thomas Greiss all possibly going unrestricted. The trade market could be flush as well; Vancouver has floated the idea of flipping Eddie Lack and there appears to be interest in Kings backup Martin Jones.