Andrew Shaw

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Injuries, salary cap crunch will force Blackhawks to play shorthanded

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Times are tough for the Chicago Blackhawks right now.

They enter the week having lost five of their past six games and were completely embarrassed by the Colorado Avalanche over the weekend, being outscored by a 12-5 margin in back-to-back losses on Friday and Saturday.

Now they have to play the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Monday night, and will have to do so with a shorthanded roster that will include only 11 forwards due to an unfortunate combination of injuries, an illness, and a salary cap crunch.

It is not uncommon to see teams play with 11 forwards, but it is usually done because they are dressing a seventh defensman.

The Blackhawks do not even have that going for them on Monday.

Here is the situation:

  • Duncan Keith, Andrew Shaw, Dylan Strome, and Drake Caggiula will all miss Monday’s game due to injury.
  • Keith, Strome, and Caggiula were all already sidelined and did not play in Saturday’s ugly 7-3 loss to the Avalanche, while Shaw’s injury (undisclosed) was revealed on Monday morning. The official word from the team is that he is currently being evaluated.
  • Adding to the issues is the fact goalie Robin Lehner (by far their best goalie so far this season) will not be available on Monday due to illness, forcing the team to recall goalie Kevin Lankinen from the American Hockey League. The problem is that move puts the Blackhawks against the salary cap, preventing them from calling up another forward to fill the open spot that all of the other injuries created.

This all paints a very bleak picture for the Blackhawks because it not only illustrates just how tight the team’s salary cap situation is, but it also serves as a reminder that they are spending a ton of money on a team that simply is not very good.

After they play the Blues on Monday, they have a few days to get healthy again and get some players back before they have to go on the road for a back-to-back that will take them through Boston and New Jersey.

While this type of shorthanded lineup is extremely uncommon, it is not completely unheard of. During the stretch run of the 2014-15 regular season the Pittsburgh Penguins were facing a similar situation when they were forced to play with only five defensemen in the lineup because of injuries and a salary cap situation that prevented any additional call-ups from the American Hockey League.

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blackhawks have plenty of problems right now

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Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman took a big gamble this offseason that after consecutive non-playoff seasons his core was still good enough to compete and was only in need of a couple of tweaks.

He brought in Robin Lehner to give them some insurance in goal behind Corey Crawford, he traded for defenders Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta to try and fix what had become a terrible blue line, and brought back two-time Stanley Cup winner Andrew Shaw because, well, he has never been able to let go of the people that he won with.

So far, there is not much to suggest that gamble is paying off.

At least not yet.

After dropping a 4-0 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon the Blackhawks are now riding a four-game losing streak and remain near the bottom of the league standings with just two wins in their first nine games. (Remember, they were 5-2-2 after nine games in each of the past two non-playoff series — they have two wins now.) It is their worst start through nine games since 2000-01, and if franchise history is any indicator it has already made a return to the playoffs a real long shot. The only times they have really been able to overcome a start like this were in the Original Six days or the old Norris Trophy days when they could sneak in with a losing record. Neither one of those days are coming back to the NHL anytime soon.

The other problem right now is there isn’t any one particular problem holding them back. It is everything.

The offense has gone cold

The one thing the Blackhawks had going in their favor last season was that the offense went through a bit of a resurgence and was once again among the best in the league. Jonathan Toews bounced back, Patrick Kane was still elite, and Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome looked like they were on the verge of becoming cornerstone players. There were still serious depth concerns, but the top players were still making an impact. Right now, nobody is scoring goals. The Blackhawks have just two goals in their past three games and for the season are 26th in goals per game. They needed Toews to show his rebound wasn’t a fluke (he has been invisible so far), Kane to remain elite (he has only been okay), and DeBrincat and Strome to take big steps forward (they have three goals between them in nine games) while also finding secondary scoring somewhere. None of it is happening.

The defense doesn’t look any better

Maatta and de Haan were intriguing additions, but the biggest problem with this group as constructed is the complete lack of mobility. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are franchise icons, but they are 36 and 34 years old respectively and have absolutely lost a step (or more) from where they were when they were foundation players for a dynasty. Maatta is a solid defender, but is also probably one of the slowest defenders in the league. After being one of the worst teams in the league in preventing shots the past few years they have again opened this season near the bottom of the league. They are a bottom-10 team in shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances against during 5-on-5 play, and are also giving up more than 32 shots per game in all situations. None of that is close to good enough. Especially when…

Corey Crawford still doesn’t look right

The big wild card for the Blackhawks this season was going to be the goalie duo of Lehner and Crawford because there was always the possibility they could mask a lot of flaws on defense and steal some games. They have split the starts so far this season, and Lehner has mostly done his part. He has a .922 save percentage in his four starts and has probably stolen points for the team in two of them (he stopped 37 of 39 shots in a 3-2 win against Columbus; then stopped 33 out of 34 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss against Vegas). Crawford has been a different story, posting a sub-.895 save percentage in four of his five starts and now carrying around an .887 mark for the season. He has struggled to stay healthy the past two years, he was not particularly good a year ago when he was on the ice, and he has been even worse so far this season and is turning 35 in a couple of months. Not a promising start.

Put it all together, and you have what is now looking like a bad hockey team.

It is also a team that has missed the playoffs two years in a row and has not won a playoff series in four years. With the three-time Stanley Cup winning coach already gone all of the focus for that is going to start going in the direction of the general manager.

MORE: Brent Seabrook to be healthy scratch Sunday for second time in NHL career

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Shaw looking to help Blackhawks return to playoffs

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CHICAGO — Andrew Shaw started chirping right away. A few lines for Jonathan Toews. A few more for a couple new teammates.

It was like he never left.

Trying for a turnaround after two down years, the Chicago Blackhawks once again dipped into their past as part of a flurry of offseason moves. General manager Stan Bowman reacquired Shaw in a trade with Montreal in June, looking to add more grit and energy to a lineup that seemed like it needed a spark at times last year.

The 28-year-old Shaw returns to Chicago a married father, with another child on the way. But the pesky forward said his game remains very similar.

”Maybe just a little less reckless,” he said. ”Still physical, still hits, but just try not to lead with my head anymore.”

Shaw was selected by Chicago in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. He helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015 before he was dealt to the Canadiens three years ago.

The addition of Shaw gives coach Jeremy Colliton another versatile piece. He could grab a spot on one of Chicago’s top two lines, or provide some offense on the third or fourth group. Shaw set career highs with 28 assists and 47 points in his final season with Montreal. He scored a career-best 20 goals during the 2013-14 season with the Blackhawks.

”Whether he’s top six or he could be on the fourth line, he’s still going to contribute,” Colliton said. ”We want to have that sort of personality throughout our lineup. I think we have a bunch of guys who can move up and down.”

Shaw became one of Chicago’s most beloved players during his first stint with the team, and he said he has been greeted warmly since he came back this summer.

”Love. I mean pure love. It’s awesome,” he said. ”People coming up to you, recognizing you, glad to have you back, saying they missed you. It feels good. It feels good to be loved.”

WHO’S HERE

The Blackhawks acquired Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta in a pair of June trades to help bolster their defensive pairings. But de Haan is coming back from right shoulder surgery and Maatta has struggled with injuries over the years, in addition to concerns about his skating ability.

WHO’S NOT

Chicago traded promising young defenseman Henri Jokiharju to Buffalo in July for Alex Nylander, a talented forward who hasn’t lived up to expectations since he was selected by the Sabres with the eighth overall pick in the 2016 draft. The progress of the 20-year-old Jokiharju and 21-year-old Nylander will be closely watched in Chicago and Buffalo over the next couple seasons.

KEY PLAYERS

The addition of Robin Lehner gives Chicago one of the best goaltender situations in the league. Lehner agreed to a $5 million, one-year deal in free agency after he went 25-13-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average last season with the New York Islanders. Corey Crawford was sidelined by a concussion during each of the past two seasons, but showed flashes of his stellar form last year. If Lehner or Crawford goes down, the Blackhawks have Collin Delia waiting in the minors.

OUTLOOK

Chicago allowed a whopping 291 goals last season, second worst in the league behind Ottawa, and finished with the NHL’s worst penalty kill at 72.7%. Bowman made several moves this summer to address those issues. If they don’t work out, it could be another long year.

PREDICTION

Life is tough in the rough-and-tumble Central Division, home of the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues and the loaded Predators and Jets. But if de Haan and Maatta can stay healthy and Chicago gets more secondary scoring from its bottom two lines, it could return to the playoffs after a two-year absence.

Previewing the 2019-20 Montreal Canadiens

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Maybe slightly worse, but largely the same.

Montreal brought in Ben Chiarot and Keith Kinkaid while letting Antti Niemi and Jordie Benn walk. They also traded away Andrew Shaw.

Aside from a Sebastian Aho offer sheet that had little chance of succeeding, it was a very quiet offseason for Marc Bergevin.

Strengths: Depth, five-on-five play, and possibly strong starting goaltending if Carey Price continues getting back on track.

Claude Julien really had this group firing on all cylinders last season, which had to make missing the playoffs extra-painful. Still, it’s generally easier to reproduce even-strength success than it is to shoot or stop pucks at a high level, so that’s nice. This team can send wave after wave of forwards at you, and their top four of Shea Weber, Brett Kulak, Victor Mete, and Jeff Petry is better than a lot of people realize.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, the Canadiens had to be dominant at even-strength last season because their power play was so putrid.

You might be able to chalk it up to the larger feeling that the Canadiens have some very nice forwards, especially Brendan Gallagher, but seem to lack that super-duper-star. The power play might be better in 2019-20 by sheer luck, but personnel-wise, they didn’t really address the problem during the offseason.

It sure looks like Montreal will need to lean heavily on Price, as Kinkaid doesn’t strike me as that much of an upgrade over Niemi, if he even is an upgrade.

(Nice use of emojis, though.)

[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Canadiens front office members (especially Bergevin, but also Julien) have weathered some of the bigger storms, as while Montreal missed the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they generally exceeded expectations in 2018-19. Even so Montreal’s missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and hasn’t won a series since 2014-15. Julien is an excellent coach, but professional sports aren’t always fair to coaches, and things could really heat up if a lot of Canadiens follow career years by plummeting back to their lesser, past selves. A rating of 7 feels about right.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Max Domi, and Carey Price.

If Kotkaniemi ends up not being worthy of the third overall pick of 2018, it looks like that will only come down to people merely having a preference, for say, fourth pick Brady Tkachuk — and so on. The point is that Kotkaniemi was brilliant as a rookie, and considering limited usage, could be capable of even more than an already-solid 34 points in 79 games. Honestly, Julien owes it to this team to experiment with just how quickly Kotkaniemi can grow. He aced his first test in the NHL.

Entering 2019-20, a big question is: will the Max Domi we see look more like the 2018-19 sensation, or the 2017-18 Coyotes forward who needed four empty-netters to reach nine goals? Domi’s entering a contract year, so if he can show last season wasn’t a fluke, he can go from a healthy raise from his $3.15M AAV to a huge jump.

Price is basically always fascinating in Montreal: the franchise, $10.5M goalie in a city that’s watched some of the best netminders to ever play the game. Can Price be dominant at 32? The Habs are counting on it.

Playoffs or Lottery: Montreal was unlucky that the East was pretty stout at the playoff-level in 2018-19, and figure to face big obstacles again this coming season. Not only will the Atlantic’s top three figure to be tough (Lightning, Bruins, Maple Leafs), but the Panthers made investments to be hugely improved, too. For all we know, it may all come down to the Panthers vs. the Canadiens, especially if the Metropolitan Division isn’t a total flop in providing wild-card competition.

There’s quite a bit to like with this team, so playoffs seem more likely than the lottery — although we also know that this tough market can also turn the volume up on any slump.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Previewing the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: After failing to make the playoffs again, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman had to shake up his roster. He didn’t really add a core player, but that’s fine considering he already has Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat on his roster. Instead, he decided to surround those players with some more quality depth. He was able to bring Andrew Shaw back into the fold in a trade with Montreal and he also improved his defense by acquiring Calvin de Haan from Carolina and Olli Maatta from Pittsburgh. With all the uncertainty surrounding the health of goaltender Corey Crawford, he also signed Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner to a one-year deal. It’s hard to argue that Chicago isn’t better on paper heading into this season.

Strengths: There’s no denying that the Blackhawks have a lot of high-end talent up front. Kane posted a 110-point season last year, while Toews added 81 points in 82 contests during a bounce-back season. They also have DeBrincat, who found the back of the net 41 times last year and Brandon Saad, who can do more than he did a year ago (23 goals and 47 points). It’ll also be interesting to see if Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini continue to improve at a rapid rate. The Blackhawks shouldn’t have much trouble generating offense this year.

Weaknesses: Even though they’ve added Maatta and de Haan this summer, their defense still has to be considered a question mark. How much will they be able to get from veterans like Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith? Both players are in their mid-30s and you have to wonder how many minutes they’ll be able to log on a Chicago blue line that has to be better this year than it was in 2018-19. The goaltending situation, which was weak once Crawford went down last year, has been shored up by the addition of Lehner.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): 2. It’s hard to imagine the Blackhawks getting rid of Jeremy Colliton during or after his first full year behind an NHL bench. Of course, if things get really ugly for them this season, anything is possible, but it’s tough to envision them dropping deeper into the standings than they have been over the last couple of seasons. Colliton had success with Chicago’s AHL affiliate and although that doesn’t necessarily guarantee he’ll do well in the NHL, it should buy him some time when it comes to putting his team together.

[MORE: On Blackhawks’ goalie duo | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Three Most Fascinating Players: Strome, Lehner and Shaw are the players to keep an eye on this year. Strome is a former third overall pick that couldn’t seem to put it all together with Arizona. After he got traded to Chicago, all he did was score 51 points in 58 games after being reunited with DeBrincat, his teammate in junior. Can he continue producing at that rate? Can the 22-year-old actually improve his scoring clip? He could develop into a real difference-maker for this Blackhawks team.

As for Lehner, it’ll be interesting to see if he can build on the strong season he had with the Islanders in 2018-19. Can he produce similar results to last year now that he’s away from Barry Trotz’s smothering defense-first system? Will he play well enough to earn himself a long-term extension with a team that was only willing to give him a one-year deal? There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered in this situation.

Shaw is back where it all began. He had a solid season with Montreal last year, as he scored 19 goals and 47 points in just 63 games. Those are significant numbers for a player that plays with an edge. The only question surrounding Shaw is whether or not he can stay healthy. He’s a small player that plays a physical style. The 28-year-old also has a long history with concussions.

Playoffs or Lottery: As much as the Blackhawks have added to their roster, it won’t be easy for them to sneak into a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They’ll likely be battling with St. Louis, Dallas and Colorado for the final Wild Card spots and that’s a battle they might not win. In the end, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them finish in ninth spot in the West. They’ll be in the race until the end though.

MORE:
Blackhawks encouraged by strong second half under Colliton

ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.