Plenty of salary cap headaches remain for the Blackhawks

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Thumbnail image for hjalinaction.jpgDespite moving players such as Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Brent Sopel and Andrew Ladd, the Chicago Blackhawks are still in a salary cap mess right now. Matching the San Jose Sharks’ offer sheet for Niklas Hjalmarsson won’t help things, either, even if it was a good move for their on-ice product.

One thing to take into account, though, is that it seems rather clear that the Blackhawks are going to bite the bullet and send Cristobal Huet’s $5.6 million cap hit to the minors, KHL or … some frozen outpost? Ryan Classic did a nice job when he took a look at what Chicago’s roster would like if they took their current players (minus Huet) and filled the rest of the mandatory spots with minimum wage contracts.

In Ryan’s study, the team would have three minimum wage forwards, one minimum wage defenseman (plus near-minimum wage guy John Scott) and two minimum wage goalies. Most NHL teams carry at least 22 players, though, so one would assume that Classic’s estimated $2.738 million in cap space would be closer to $1.7 million.

The biggest question remains: what will happen with Antti Niemi? It’s unclear how much the Blackhawks can stomach (or how much they value Niemi compared to an average NHL goalie).

Joe is going to break down some of the team’s options, trade-wise, but it’s actually not … impossible for them to go with a top-heavy design. I’m not saying I’d recommend it, but then again, the Blackhawks haven’t done many things I’d recommend (cap-wise, at least).

Kane9.jpgIn the top-heavy current setup, Chicago would be pretty threadbare once you got past its top two offensive and defensive lines. Can Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer carry their offense? Will Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson be so good that the team could camouflage a weak bottom third on the blueline? Would the high-end make up for those deficiencies and possibly a middle-of-the-road netminder who may or may not be Niemi?

There are a lot of questions for the team in its current state. Perhaps it’s still too early to panic, but at some point, the Blackhawks are going to have to accept reality. I thought they’d do that by letting Hjalmarsson go, but apparently the team isn’t ready to make more tough decisions just yet.

What would you do if you were GM Stan Bowman? Are the Blackhawks hopeless? Will someone save the day by taking in Brian Campbell’s horrendous contract? It should be interesting to see how different Chicago’s roster will look in October compared to today. It won’t be easy; it won’t be pretty. But at some point, the Blackhawks will have to put 20 players on the ice under the cap for next season. We’ll keep you informed as that deadline rapidly approaches.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Jonathan Toews is back

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After seeing his production dip in under 60 points in each of the last three seasons, many believed that we’d already seen Jonathan Toews‘ best days. Last season, Toews posted 0.70 points-per-game which was a career-low for him in his NHL career.

Picking up 20 goals and 52 points in 74 games is far from a terrible year for most players, but Toews isn’t most players. He’s the captain of the Blackhawks and his contract comes with a cap hit of $10.5 million dollars. To make matters even worse, Chicago ended up missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2017-18.

It’s no secret that Patrick Kane has been the team’s MVP this season, but Toews hasn’t been too far behind.

The 30-year-old has picked up 28 goals and 60 points through 60 games and he’s picked up at least one point in 19 of his last 22 contests. He’s also scored in three straight games and he’s amassed 18 points in his last 11 contests. He hasn’t been a point-per-game player since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when he had 48 points in 47 games.

“I guess you’re always looking to be better, no matter what,” Toews said, per the Chicago Tribune. “So if I’m comparing this season to my previous two years, yeah, things are better. But I still have a higher expectation for myself. Things are falling into place for our team and the power play’s looking better, so I feel I can relax and focus on my game and not worry about doing every single little thing right and maybe take some offensive risks and try to create some offense when our team game’s pretty solid.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“I always want to create more offense, and even though I’m on the board here and there, I can do a better job of just being more dynamic and offensive every time I get on the ice.”

When taking a deeper look at the numbers, it’s easy to see why Toews has been more successful, especially in the goal department. In the previous two seasons, he had shooting percentages of 10.6 and 9.5 percent. This year, he’s up to 17.2 percent, which is his highest percentage since 2007-08 (17.4 percent).

Interestingly enough, a lot of his advanced numbers have taken a dip this season. Here’s what his advanced metrics look like from last year to this year:

CF%: 56.07 to 48.73
FF%: 53.16 to 47.06
HDCF%: 52.05 to 41.75

(All stats via Natural Stat Trick)

With Toews and Kane leading the way, the Blackhawks have found a way to get themselves back in the playoff hunt. Heading into tonight’s game, the ‘Hawks are just one point behind the Minnesota Wild for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The only problem, is that three other teams also have 59 points.

For the first time in his career, Mike Tirico will call play-by-play for an NHL game on Wednesday when the Red Wings host the Blackhawks. He’ll be joined in the booth by Eddie Olczyk and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Brian Boucher. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Bruins look to extend winning streak vs. Golden Knights

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Things have been going well for the Bruins lately. Really well. Heading into tonight’s clash against the struggling Vegas Golden Knights, Boston has won each of their last six contests. They also haven’t suffered a loss in regulation all month (their only loss came in a shootout against the New York Rangers).

This recent surge has allowed them create some space between themselves and the teams in Wild Card spots. As of right now, the Bruins have a two-point lead on Toronto, who is sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division. They’re seven points ahead of Montreal, who is in the first Wild Card position.

The Bruins have also found a way to start scoring with a lot more regularity. They’ve scored at least three goals in seven of their last eight games. The most impressive thing about this recent offensive surge, is that they’ve done it with David Pastrnak on the sidelines for the last four games. They’re 4-0-0 without Pastrnak and they’ve scored 19 goals without him. That’s impressive.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Even though his team has been filling the net, general manager Don Sweeney would still like to add a significant piece or two before Monday’s trade deadline.

“My feeling is that we would like to try and add without necessarily giving up what we know is a big part of our future,” said Sweeney. “We committed assets last year to take a swing where we felt we needed to address an area of need and we will try and do a similar thing this year. I can’t guarantee that’ll happen. This time of the year, prices are generally pretty high, but we’re going to try. We’re going to try because I think we still need it.”

The Bruins have been linked to names like Wayne Simmonds, Mark Stone or Artemi Panarin. If they could land one of those players, it would make a world of a difference. They still wouldn’t be as good as the Tampa Bay Lightning, but it would certainly close the gap between themselves and the Bolts.

Will Sweeney be able to pull off a move of that magnitude? We’ll find out by Monday at 3 p.m. ET. For now, the Bruins just have to worry about finishing off their Western swing as well as they started it.

Dave Goucher (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Worst deadline trades; How Blues almost got Kessel

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• NHL.com takes a look at who will be buyers and who will be sellers at the upcoming trade deadline. (NHL.com)

• A breakdown of the 20 worst deadline trades in NHL history. (ESPN)

• The Vegas Golden Knights and Vienna Capitals have entered into a collaborative partnership. “Our ambition is always to learn from the best. The Vegas Golden Knights are an outstanding benchmark in the hockey world and this partnership enables us a tremendous amount of opportunities to learn from this club. We are very proud to get the chance for this collaboration,” said Vienna Capitals General Manager Franz Kalla. (NHL.com/GoldenKnights)

• As part of Black History Month, P.K. Subban explains what it’s like to be a role model. (Sportsnet)

• A group of priests are trying to bring back the Flying Fathers, who are the hockey equivalent to the Harlem Globetrotters. (New York Times)

T.J. Oshie plays an energetic brand of hockey and he’ll probably never change. (Washington Post)

• Jaromir Jagr is back after a long absence. (CBC.ca)

• Robert Tychkowski can’t believe the Oilers are in the mess than they’re in. (Edmonton Journal)

• Dave Eastham is the trainer that helped Kevan Miller become a regular on the Bruins blue line. (WEEI)

• Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist isn’t letting the trade chatter bother him. (MLive.com)

• Remember that time the St. Louis Blues almost traded Keith Tkachuk and David Perron for Phil Kessel? (St. Louis Game-Time)

• NBC’s Pierre McGuire could learn a thing or two from John Tavares:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Miller, Ducks win again; Josi on a tear

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Three stars

1. Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks

A night after becoming the winningest American-born goaltender in NHL history, Miller produced a fantastic performance in a 31-save shutout against the Minnesota Wild.

The shutout was Miller’s first of the season and 44th of his career. The Ducks have now won two straight and are three points back of the Wild for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

The Wild, meanwhile, lost their fifth straight, including their second straight game being banished from the scoresheet. The Ducks are faring well without John Gibson.

2. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators 

Josi scored twice in the third period, including the game-winner, and added an assist in the game for a three-point night

The elite defenseman now has four goals and 11 points in his past eight games for the Predators, who needed a win after going 1-3-1 over their past five games.

The Preds are now just a point back of the Winnipeg Jets for first place in the Central Division although Winnipeg has three games in hand.

3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

Huberdeau scored twice and added an assist in a 4-2 win for the Panthers against the struggling Buffalo Sabres.

Huberdeau hadn’t scored in eight games prior to Tuesday’s contest and had just one goal in his previous 14.

Florida is nine points back of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference.

Highlights of the night

Barkov with another dirty move:

Windmill:

Broke all the ankles:

Factoids

https://twitter.com/PR_NHL/status/1098065651539865601

Scores

Panthers 4, Sabres 2
Penguins 4, Devils 3
Lightning 5, Flyers 2
Rangers 2, Hurricanes 1
Canadiens 3, Blue Jackets 2
Blues 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)
Ducks 4, Wild 0
Predators 5, Stars 3
Coyotes 3, Oilers 2 (SO)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck=