Jonathan Toews

Jonathan Toews

Blackhawks ’15-16 Outlook

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Despite the plethora of changes made to their roster this summer, the Chicago Blackhawks should once again be contenders in this season. Immediately following their third Stanley Cup victory in six years, oddsmakers chose Chicago as the favorite to win the cup again.

Chicago’s success this season will depend on how newcomers fair. The Blackhawks lost four key pieces of their team in the offseason with Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Brad Richards all finding new homes.

Salary cap constraints will force the Blackhawks to rely on younger players such as Teuvo Teravainen this season. The 20-year-old appeared in 34 games with the ‘Hawks last season, scoring four goals and nine points.

Artem Anisimov, acquired in the Saad deal, will likely slot in behind Jonathan Toews as the ‘Hawks second line center. Newcomers Ryan Garbutt and Marko Dano will also fill holes in the Blackhawks roster this season.

Rookies Kyle Baun, Ryan Hartman and Artemi Panarin could also challenge for roster spots.

“I think change is good, and I think we’ve embraced that in the past and been able to bring in some players that now are household names … but at one point they were new,” GM Stan Bowman told NHL.com. “It’s going to be the same thing for some of the new guys that are part of this group next year. They might be new to the fans and media, but as you’ll see in time, I think we’re really going to fall in love with some of these guys.”

Chicago will also have new regulars on the blue line with the likes of Trevor van Riemsdyk and David Rundblad vying for roster spots behind Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor Daley. Erik Gustafsson and Ville Pokka will also battle for spots on the back end.

In goal, Corey Crawford is the clear cut No. 1 while Scott Darling beat out Antti Raanta for the backup role. Raanta was dealt to the New York Rangers during the offseason.

One wild card for the Blackhawks is, of course, Patrick Kane. The 26-year-old is currently the subject of a police investigation. Kane would’ve challenged for the scoring title last season, if a shoulder injury hadn’t forced him to miss the final 21 games of the regular season.

Chicago will once again be a threat in the Western Conference, but how deep they go will depend on how well the newcomers fit.

It’s Chicago Blackhawks day at PHT

2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six
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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Chicago Blackhawks.

The Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in June.

Defenseman Duncan Keith, who recorded 21 points in 23 playoff games while averaging over 31 minutes a night in ice time, was the recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

After missing the final 21 regular season games due to a broken left clavicle, Patrick Kane returned for the playoffs and finished with a team-leading 11 goals and 23 points.

Despite a slow start to the postseason, Corey Crawford finished with a 13-6 record in 20 appearances while posting a 1.46 G.A.A. and a .924 save percentage.

Chicago finished the regular season with a 48-28-6 record – good for the third seed in the Central Division.

Jonathan Toews led the Blackhawks in scoring with 28 goals and 65 points in 81 games. Despite playing in just 61 games, Kane was right behind Toews in team scoring with 27 goals and 64 points.

Off-season recap

Following the cup win Toews admitted the 2015 win felt a lot like 2010. With new contracts for Toews and Kane set to kick in, and the Blackhawks up against the salary cap, GM Stan Bowman was forced to trade away key pieces.

To get things started, Bowman dealt Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a seven-player trade. Chicago received Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp and a 2016 fourth round pick in return.

Brad Richards left for Detroit signing a one-year, $3 million deal.

Then Bowman dealt Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars along with Stephen Johns in exchange for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt.

Five days later, Johnny Oduya joined Sharp in Dallas signing a two-year, $7.5 million deal.

Antoine Vermette returned to Arizona signing a two-year contract with the Coyotes.

Chicago also dealt goaltender Antti Raanta to the New York Rangers for Ryan Haggerty.

There are still question marks surrounding the Blackhawks’ roster as training camp gets set to open next month. Kane’s situation remains uncertain, as he is the subject of a police investigation.

Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom remain restricted free agents while Dan Carcillo is pondering retirement, as he remains unsigned.

Under Pressure: Brandon Saad

Brandon Saad
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Brandon Saad has won the Stanley Cup twice and he deserves recognition for his role in that, but when he was in Chicago, he wasn’t the player people expected to step up when it mattered most. He was a valuable forward for the Blackhawks, but not one of the team’s biggest stars.

Columbus is a decidedly different situation for him. The Blue Jackets provided Chicago with a significant package to get Saad and made a serious commitment by inking him to a six-year, $36 million contract. His $6 million annual cap hit will place him second on the team next season, behind goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Even factoring in the two titles he’s been involved in, it seems fair to say that he’s getting paid based on potential rather than past accomplishments. His 23 goals and 52 points in 82 contests last season, taken by itself, wouldn’t typically warrant that kind of payday. That’s especially true when you remember that his most common five-on-five linemates by a wide margin last season were Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, per Hockey Analysis, so while playing alongside Ryan Johansen will be a luxury, it’s not as if he wasn’t sharing the ice with highly skilled forwards already.

Of course, it’s not unreasonable to assume that a 22-year-old forward (23 in October) still has some untapped upside and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t continue to improve and become a player that looks more than worthy of that contract. But for the first time in his life, someone has bet tens of millions of dollars on the idea that will happen and a city is putting their faith in him being a player that can lead the charge.

It’s a big opportunity for him and if he lives up to expectations, then there could be quite a few more serious playoff runs in his future.

Under Pressure: John Carlson

John Carlson, Nicklas Backstrom
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We wrote yesterday about how most teams that win the Stanley Cup have an elite center, like Jonathan Toews.

Well, most teams that win the Cup also have an elite defenseman, like Duncan Keith, the 2015 Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

Can John Carlson be that guy for the Washington Capitals?

The 25-year-old is coming off his best season as a professional. In 82 games, he had 12 goals and 43 assists, his 55 points ranking fifth among NHL defensemen, behind only Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, P.K. Subban and Dennis Wideman.

And with the departure of Mike Green, the Caps will need Carlson more than ever to provide offense from the back end, while also continuing to improve in all the other areas of his game.

“I think with Carly, there’s been areas of his game that sort of would lag, and I think he’s done a really good job of focusing on those areas, so he can have that consistency,” coach Barry Trotz said in February, per the Washington Post. “He’s maturing as a player. He’s still a very young player who’s now entering the front end of the prime of his career. There’s lot of good things to see from him.”

Related: ‘It took him a few years, but Victor Hedman’s arrived’

Blues’ biggest question: Are they good enough down the middle?

New York Rangers v St. Louis Blues
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Jonathan Toews. Anze Kopitar. Jeff Carter. Patrice Bergeron. Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Pavel Datsyuk. Henrik Zetterberg.

Teams that win the Stanley Cup almost always have an elite center. As you can see, some of them even have two.

Do the St. Louis Blues?

The answer to that will depend on your definition of elite. If it’s a generous one, then maybe Paul Stastny gets the nod. Otherwise, it’s hard to answer yes.

Next season, the Blues’ top two lines could look something like this:

Alex Steen – Paul Stastny — David Backes
Jaden Schwartz — Jori Lehtera — Vladimir Tarasenko

If one of Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie or Robby Fabbri can step into a top-six role, coach Ken Hitchcock has said that Backes could be moved to the third line.

Regardless of how the lines shake out, it’s no surprise that the Blues were left wanting more from Stastny, their big free-agency signing from last summer.

“Paul Stastny needs to be a bigger part of our group,” GM Doug Armstrong said. “We need him to be a bigger and better part of our team.”

Stastny had 46 points in 74 games last season. He then managed just one goal, with no assists, in the Blues’ six-game playoff loss to the Wild.

Not enough from a player who was supposed to be a difference-maker in the tough Western Conference.

“I think in every sport if you’re strong up the middle you’re usually a strong team,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, per Yahoo Sports. “The center icemen seem to be the catalyst, usually offensively. They’re the guys who have the puck the most and make maybe the most decisions on the ice based on the number of touches they have in a game.”

Which is why there’s so much excitement in Washington about young Evgeny Kuznetsov.

But we digress.

The Blues are obviously a strong team. Their regular-season record is proof of that. But they haven’t been able to win that elusive Cup, so it’s only natural to pore over their roster in search of why.

Their lack of a truly elite center — and this goes for good teams like the Wild, Predators, Canadiens, Rangers, and Jets — may be as good an answer as any.

Related: Doug Armstrong is under pressure