Looking at the Chicago Blackhawks’ lousy start

Chicago Blackhawks
Mike Stobe, Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks’ fall from grace has been swift and brutal over the past four years both off the ice (the lawsuits they are facing and who knew what, and when they knew it, and what they did about it) and on the ice (the lousy team).

This offseason they attempted to throw a bunch of money at their problems, seemingly abandoning their initial rebuild plans in the process, by acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights, giving Seth Jones a bank vault full of money, and acquiring Tyler Johnson from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Add all of that to the return of Jonathan Toews after he sat out the entire 2020-21 season and there was an expectation that the team could at least be more competitive than it had been.

They have not won a single playoff series since their Stanley Cup victory in 2015, while their only playoff appearance in the previous four seasons was the 2019-20 Return To Play bubble appearance when they snuck in as the league’s 23rd ranked team. In a normal year, in a normal playoff, they would have never sniffed the playoffs that season.

Maybe when this season is all said and done they will be more competitive. Maybe even grab a legitimate playoff spot if some things go their way. It is a long year and a lot can happen over the next 79 games. But the early returns are less than ideal, and quite frankly, more of the same from what we have seen from this team the past couple of seasons.

Right now it is a pretty lousy start. In more ways than one. Not only did the Blackhawks lose their first three games of the season, but they have continued their concerning habit of seemingly not being ready to play at the start of games.

In each of their first three losses they have found themselves in early deficits that they have never been able to dig out of. How bad has it been? At the 10-minute mark of their first three games they have already faced deficits of 3-0, 1-0, and 3-0. In the latter game, Saturday’s 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh, they allowed a fourth goal in the 12th minute. All of this while head coach Jeremy Colliton keeps talking about placing an emphasis on getting off to better starts.

The past two games have seen them give up goals within the first 20 seconds of games. Going back to last season they have faced a deficit within the first 10 minutes in seven of their past 12 games. In four of those games it has been a multi-goal deficit. Spotting teams an early lead — or a multiple goal lead — is not really an ideal to win games.

The problem for Chicago this offseason is that the changes were only a band-aid on a team that has a lot of weak spots and problems, while those band-aids also came with their own question marks.

Let’s start with Jones and his eight-year contract with the $9.5 million salary cap hit. Jones’ name still carries a lot of clout around the league because he was an outstanding player for a lot of years in Nashville and Columbus. Statistically speaking his play regressed dramatically the past two seasons, and there were at least a few red flags for what that meant going forward. Through the admittedly small sample size of the first week of the season the on-ice results for Jones and the Blackhawks have been dreadful, and the eye-test has not been any kinder.

Chicago is getting pummeled when Jones’ pairing is on the ice from a shot and scoring chance perspective, while it has been outscored 4-0 during 5-on-5 play. Ideally you want to be patient here because, again, it is three games. But given the trajectory of Jones’ career the past two years it is at least a little bit alarming to see that bad of a start.

Then there is Fleury, probably the focal point of the offseason. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner was acquired for nearly nothing and figured to be a substantial upgrade to a goalie position that has been a significant weakness the past couple of years. But even that had some concerns. Not only was Fleury’s 2020-21 season a dramatic improvement from the previous year, but he is also a soon-to-be 37-year-old goalie with a LOT of mileage on the tires. Eventually even the greats start to break down. That does not even get into the reality that he would be going from playing behind one of the league’s best teams in Vegas to one of the leagues absolute worst defensive teams.

That has no doubt been a rude awakening over these first three games as the Blackhawks bleed chances against. Maybe a couple of those goals against, especially early in Pittsburgh on Saturday, were the result of some tough luck. A weird bounce on the first goal. A turnover by Fleury on the second. But the bottom line is the first goal was the result of Chicago’s defense giving up a 2-on-1 to Teddy Blueger‘s line 12 seconds into the first period. Eight minutes later they gave up a third goal where a Chicago breakaway resulted in no shot on goal at one end, and then seamlessly turning into a 2-on-1 for Drew O'Connor and Brock McGinn the other way (and McGinn easily burying an uncontested shot).

Colliton will talk about better starts, and simplifying the way they play to cut down on mistakes, and a lot of other coaching cliches for when a team is struggling. The harsh reality for Chicago is this: It was never a team that was one or two players away from contending. The problems run far deeper than that (organizationally, coaching, just the overall structure of the roster and its many shortcomings defensively) and no offseason band-aid was going to fix that.

Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

“Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

“We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

“It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

“Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

“Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

“I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

“You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

“He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

canadiens sabres
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

“Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.