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Under Pressure: Joel Quenneville

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Chicago Blackhawks.

You don’t hear it mentioned often enough, but since becoming the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville’s been one of the best in the NHL. Maybe the best head coach.

He doesn’t always have the same recognition to show for it. Much like Phil Jackson in the NBA and other coaches of perennial contenders, Coach Q isn’t piling up coach of the year awards. His lone Jack Adams came (wait for it) with the St. Louis Blues in 1999-2000.

Yes, that really happened. Indeed, it’s kind of hard to believe in 2018.

Thanks to Mike Babcock, Coach Q hasn’t been “the guy” for Team Canada, not on the same level, nor did he draw a bidding war for his services.

Walking the tight rope

Of course, there’s never been a bidding war because the Blackhawks and Quenneville managed to stick together through thick and thin. With three Stanley Cups and plenty of other impressive runs, you’d think that would be a no-brainer, yet there have been rumblings about possible changes during drier periods.

Elliotte Friedman referenced rumors in “31 Thoughts” back in January, there were reports about Coach Q being quite upset about moves such as trading Niklas Hjalmarsson in the 2017 off-season, and he admitted publicly that he wasn’t happy about assistants getting fired.

There was a fair share of drama when the Blackhawks were pumping out their best work, while sometimes falling short of the mark, but missing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs really revved up those concerns. You could make an argument, even, for an amicable split; after all, the Blackhawks also haven’t won a playoff series since winning it all in 2014-15.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Where does Toews rank? | Building Off a Breakthrough]

It was no surprise, then, that the team needed to address such questions after deciding to bring both Bowman and Quenneville back for 2018-19. Team president John McDonough did just that in early April.

“I believe in continuity [and] they’ve had an incredible body of success,” McDonough said via the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’re not tethered to the past. This has been a very disappointing year and our expectations are incredibly high. We’re not going to deviate from those expectations. But I believe both Stan and Joel are the guys that are going to bring this back.”

To put things mildly, Quenneville faces an uphill battle when it comes to squeezing another run or two out of this declining crew.

Cooking with ingredients beyond their expiration date?

One of the biggest concerns comes in net, as Corey Crawford‘s health is a mystery for 2018-19. The Blackhawks claim they addressed that by adding Cam Ward. There’s no denying that Ward is “experienced,” yet you nearly need to observe the last decade of “experiences” for the Carolina Hurricanes to understand why people question if he can hold down the fort.

Coach Q will be asked to support whoever’s in net with his system, which won’t exactly be propped up by stellar defensive talent.

Brent Seabrook ranks as the latest Blackhawks contract that stands as a burden for the team, while as great as Duncan Keith is, you wonder if a big nosedive is looming considering his age (35) and the massive minutes he’s accrued between these NHL runs and international competition. The support beyond those guys is, erm, limited, and it probably doesn’t help that Chicago sent a decent depth defenseman in Jordan Oesterle to Arizona as a sweetener in the Marian Hossa trade.

(Sorry, but Brandon Manning probably isn’t the answer.)

You have to think that Q looks at that roster and hopes that Bowman has a trick up his sleeve, as Cap Friendly does show that Chicago boasts about $5.5 million in cap space.

Getting some sort of talent would certainly make Quenneville’s life a little easier. Could they swing a deal for a much-needed defenseman in Justin Faulk? Getting Artemi Panarin back is plausible considering his manageable cap hit ($6M), although it would be interesting to see how Chicago would entice Columbus. Heck, the Blackhawks could do worse than to gamble on a rental (who might stick around) such as Erik Karlsson or Max Pacioretty.

Even if there aren’t major improvements, there are some things that could go better.

Not all bad

As much of a concern as Crawford is, there’s always the chance that he can be fine and play in more games than he did last season. He’s been a huge reason why it took longer than some expected for the Blackhawks to hit the wall.

Chicago also boasts some nice offensive talent. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine things going better for Toews and Brandon Saad (who, in “NBA Jam” parlance, couldn’t buy a bucket last season), and Patrick Kane might return to Art Ross contention if the Blackhawks landed a gem or maybe elevated Alex DeBrincat.

It’s up to Quenneville to make the most of whatever Bowman gets him. Generally speaking, Coach Q’s done that. Can the coach with a cop-friendly mustache get any more jelly out of that donut, though? It won’t be easy.

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.

Blackhawks can use cap space in quest to return to playoffs

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Blackhawks enjoy an uncustomary luxury with space under the NHL’s $79.5 million salary cap.

So general manager Stan Bowman hinted Saturday on the second day of the team’s annual convention he could be in the market for a veteran player who might help the Blackhawks return to the playoffs.

Chicago’s roster is built on big-name stars including Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford who are locked into hefty long-term contracts. Those deals usually have forced Bowman to scramble to get his team under the cap.

But this year, the Blackhawks have between $5.5 million and $6.5 million of wiggle room according salary cap tracking websites CapFriendly.com and spotrac.com.

”This is the first year that I can remember where we’ve had this much cap room,” Bowman said. ”We have a bit more flexibility than we have had in the past.”

Most of that space opened when Bowman traded Marian Hossa and his $5,275,000 cap hit to Arizona earlier this month. The 39-year-old forward didn’t play last season because of severe side effects from medication to treat a progressive skin disorder. Hossa isn’t expected to play again, but he’s signed through the 2020-21 season.

Bowman didn’t mention players he might pursue, but he did specify a scenario.

Another team might have a young player who surprises with terrific training camp, earns a roster spot and makes an impact. As a result, that team might want to unload a veteran.

”If you want to get in the game there, you have to be under the cap and have some breathing room to add a player,” Bowman said. ”I’m not sure if that will materialize. It might, so that’s something that’s different for this upcoming season.”

The Blackhawks missed the playoffs last spring for the first time after qualifying for nine straight seasons and winning three Stanley Cup during that run. Team president John McDonough emphasized on Saturday that missing the postseason again is not acceptable.

Moreover, he expects the Blackhawks to bounce back and cement their place as an elite franchise over the long term.

”What we target every year is the Stanley Cup Final,” McDonough said. ”We were off the map for a pretty long period of time.

”The Blackhawks are not necessarily going to be measured in three-to-five year increments, or three Cups in eight or nine years, but we’re going to be measured in decades and decades.

”We want to keep moving forward as an organization.”

Beyond immediate help from three free agents signed earlier this month – goalie Cam Ward, defenseman Brandon Manning forward Chris Kunitz – Bowman expects young prospects to blossom and lift his team this season.

Bowman projects more output from speedy 22-year-old center Nick Schmaltz and 20-year-old winger Alex DeBrincat, both of whom the GM said just scratched surface in 2017-18. Schmaltz had 21 goals and 31 assists in his second NHL season. DeBrincat had 28 goals and 52 points as rookie.

Bowman told fans he expects three Swedes who spent parts of the 2017-18 season in Chicago to make bigger contributions. Defensemen Gustav Forsling, 22, and Carl Dahlstrom, 23, should compete for regular jobs. He called out Victor Ejdsell, a 6-foot-5 center, as ”someone to look out for” because of his great scoring touch.

Bowman also predicted 23-year old center Luke Johnson, who spent the last two seasons at Rockford of the AHL, would play in Chicago at some point.

Crushing hit forces Bruins’ Backes from Game 5

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Boston Bruins forward David Backes won’t return to Sunday’s Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning after a big hit in the second period.

Backes was stood up by Tampa forward J.T. Miller at the Lightning blue line as Backes was trying to get the puck into the zone.

The hit seemed to stiffen up Backes as he fell to the ice, where he laid for several minutes before having to be helped off it by two Bruins and then helped down the tunnel by members of Boston’s training staff.

There was no penalty called on the play. Miller scored the go-ahead goal later in the period and the Bruins trail 2-1 in the third period with their playoff lives on the line.

Backes is no stranger to the concussion.

He was concussed on this hit by William Carrier:

And there was the Brent Seabrook hit:


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

No change in Chicago: Blackhawks bringing Quenneville, Bowman back

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The Chicago Blackhawks won’t be overreacting to one bad season after a decade of success. On Thursday, team president John McDonough announced that both head coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman will return for the 2018-19 NHL season.

“I believe in continuity [and] they’ve had an incredible body of success,” McDonough said via the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’re not tethered to the past. This has been a very disappointing year and our expectations are incredibly high. We’re not going to deviate from those expectations. But I believe both Stan and Joel are the guys that are going to bring this back.”

[Which NHL teams will make a coaching change after the season?]

The Blackhawks will finish last in the Central Division and miss out on the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The biggest blow to their hopes was losing Crawford, who has been out since December with an upper-body injury. “We expect him to be fine” was the line from Quenneville this week about the goaltender’s status.

Quenneville still has two years and $12 million left on his contract, and if he would have been canned his unemployment wouldn’t have lasted very long considering the number of potential coaching changes that could happen around the league. Bowman, meanwhile, will have a busy summer with plenty of decisions to make. Chicago doesn’t have many contracts to deal with in the off-season, but Bowman’s focus could be trying to find ways to get out from some heavy contracts to bring in some new faces and hope it’s a different outcome next season.

Alex DeBrincat, Vinnie Hinostroza, Dylan Sikura and Nick Schmaltz represent some of the fresh blood that’s been productive this season, and the hope is they can be part of that next core in Chicago. In the meantime, the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brandon Saad and Crawford are taking up nearly $40 million cap space. Those seem like the safest bets to remain on the roster. So will Brent Seabrook and Artem Anisimov find themselves available? Are there any untouchables beyond Kane and Toews?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Wednesday night as the St. Louis Blues host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

St. Louis Blues
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Tarasenko
Patrik BerglundKyle BrodziakAlex Steen
Dmitrij JaskinVladimir SobotkaTage Thompson
Ivan BarbashevOskar SundqvistChris Thorburn

Joel EdmundsonAlex Pietrangelo
Vince DunnColton Parayko
Chris Butler – Roberto Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

[NHL on NBCSN: Blues need to pick up valuable points against Blackhawks]

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET]

Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon SaadNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane
Dylan SikuraVictor EjdsellAlex DeBrincat
Tomas JurcoArtem AnisimovAndreas Martinsen
Patrick SharpDavid KampfVincent Hinostroza

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook
Erik GustafssonConnor Murphy
Jordan Oesterle – Blake Hillman

Starting goalie: J.F. Berube

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.