Jonathan Toews

Toews goal

Video: Toews’ shorthanded shot barely crosses the line


The Blackhawks and Wild were great defensively in the first half of Game 2, but someone had to score eventually and in the end it was captain Jonathan Toews that broke the scoreless tie.

While Chicago was shorthanded, Marian Hossa stole the puck from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter and charged into Minnesota’s zone with Toews. Hossa feed the puck to his captain and Toews fired it at goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

Dubnyk made the initial save, but the puck flew up and hit his stick before heading to the line. Suter knocked it away just a moment too late:

Just before the second period ended, Patrick Kane gave Chicago some breathing room and once again Suter found himself on the wrong end of the play:

Duncan Keith is a ‘freak’

Duncan Keith

The disparity is huge. Duncan Keith is averaging 32:03, Kimmo Timonen just 10:22. The most ice time among Blackhawks defensemen, versus the least.

Partly by design and partly by necessity, Keith has been a workhouse for Chicago in these playoffs.

“He’s a freak,” Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said, per “He’s one of those athletes you don’t see every day. He’s as physically fit and prepared as they come, and he’s a guy that obviously loves playing hockey.”

Keith had three points in Game 6 versus Nashville, including the winning goal on a play that perfectly illustrated the 31-year-old’s ability to walk (dance?) the line and open shooting lanes:

Don’t expect the Blackhawks to lean any less on Keith in their series versus the Wild. Chicago’s defense has been under the microscope a lot this season, with inconsistent play from veterans Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival. The addition of 40-year-old Timonen has not done anything to quell concerns.

Said captain Jonathan Toews of Keith: “It’s huge for him to be as dynamic as he is offensively. But the minutes and the style that he plays, he means a lot to our team.”

On the difference between ‘good’ and ‘big-time’ players

2012 NHL Winter Classic Announcement

Let’s forget for just one second that Mike Babcock has a big decision to make about his future. This post isn’t an attempt to handicap where he’ll end up. We’ve already done plenty of that this season.

This post is applicable to fans of all 30 teams, not just those of the Detroit Red Wings. Because, for me, the one thing that Babcock said last night that really stood out was, per Yahoo Sports, the following:

“In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we’ve been winning too much (in the regular season to get high draft picks). That’s the facts.”

When the Wings last won the Cup, they had two “big-time” centers in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and one “big-time” defenseman in Nicklas Lidstrom.

Not just “good,” but “big-time.” As in, future Hall of Famers. Elite. Best of the best.

Since Lidstrom retired, the Wings have not been past the second round of the playoffs.

In a related story, the Philadelphia Flyers never recovered from losing Chris Pronger and the future of the Boston Bruins is in question with an aging Zdeno Chara.

The last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Chara, Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty. All three are future Hall of Famers.

As for “up the middle,” Babcock asked last night, “Who’s going to replace Pav?” That’s a good question, because Datsyuk will turn 37 in July. A winner of three Selke Trophies, he’s one of the best two-way forwards in the history of the game.

Another related story: the last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, or Anze Kopitar. Again, all three are future Hall of Famers.

Meanwhile, there’s a reason there’s so much excitement in Edmonton about Connor McDavid, a center. Yet equally important will be the development of d-man Darnell Nurse.

Ditto for Buffalo, where there’s plenty of excitement for Jack Eichel; just don’t overlook the development of Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.

And for all the strife we’ve seen in Toronto, Leafs fans can at least be hopeful about Morgan Rielly and William Nylander. Toronto hasn’t had a “big-time” center since Mats Sundin. And did you know the Leafs, an Original Six franchise, have never had a Norris Trophy winner? The closest any Toronto blue-liner has come in the modern era is Borje Salming. The Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup in the modern era.

Look, nobody’s saying a team absolutely has to have a Norris Trophy winner on defense and a Selke Trophy/Hart Trophy winner at center. There are always going to be exceptions. The 2006 Hurricanes didn’t have an elite d-man, though people sometimes forget they had Rod Brind’Amour, a two-time Selke winner.

The thing is, you don’t build a team based on the exceptions. Otherwise, every NFL team would be looking for the next Trent Dilfer.

“We’ve got lots of good young players, no question about it, and ideally we’ve got some good ones coming,” Babcock said.

But are any going to be “big-time” centers or defensemen?

Not just good.


Report: KHL star Panarin close to signing with Chicago

Canada v Russia: 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship - Day One

With the unrestricted free agent market expected to be thin, Chicago is doing a great job of recruiting talent outside of the NHL. The Blackhawks lured one of this year’s top college free agents in forward Kyle Baun and now they are close to inking KHL star forward Artem Panarin, according to CBC’s Elliotte Friedman.

Panarin, 23, had 26 goals and 62 points in 54 regular season contests with St. Petersburg in 2014-15. To give those numbers some context, his teammate Ilya Kovalchuk had 55 points in 54 games. Panarin was great in the playoffs too, adding another five goals and 20 points in 20 games.

There has reportedly been a number of teams interested in his services, including Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto, but he felt the Blackhawks would be his best fit. It’s possible that’s a reflection of what he sees this team doing over the summer.

The Blackhawks will need to get creative from a cap perspective because Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will come with $10.5 million annual hits starting with the 2015-16 campaign. That’s a big chunk of their payroll tied to two players, especially with the ceiling now projected to be about $71.5 million, down from the $73 million estimate in December.

There’s lots of speculation that Chicago will be looking to lessen that burden by trading Patrick Sharp, who comes with a $5.9 million cap hit. Bryan Bickell ($4 million cap hit) might be dealt too while others like defenseman Johnny Oduya ($3.4 million) might simply be allowed to walk as unrestricted free agents.

Bettman projects 2015-16 cap will be $71.5 million

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith

Throughout the regular season, the salary cap for 2015-16 has been a subject of speculation due to the decline in the Canadian dollar. We’ve become used to dramatic annual jumps in the ceiling, with the obvious exception of the new CBA resulting in a rollback. From 2013-14 to 2014-15 for example, the cap went from $64.3 million to $69 million.

Those climbs have been important for teams that spend to the ceiling as it gives them critical maneuvering room. For those squads, the good news is it is expected to go up again — but not by as much as originally hoped.

With the season and most of the first round done, Gary Bettman is projecting that the salary cap will end up being around $71.5 million, per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. That’s in contrast to the December estimate of about $73 million.

The modest increase is particularly problematic for the Chicago Blackhawks as Patrick Kane’s and Jonathan Toews’ matching eight-year, $84 million contracts are set to kick in next season. Although they aren’t the only squad that will have some difficulty finding a way to stay under the ceiling.

This could lead to more trades like the New York Islanders’ acquisition of defensemen Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk from Chicago and Boston respectively prior to the start of the campaign. Those trades gave the Islanders a significant boost and likely only happened because the Bruins and Blackhawks were in a tough cap position.