Chris Kunitz

It’s Chicago Blackhawks Day at PHT

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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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Chicago Blackhawks.

2018-19
36-34-12, 84 points (6th in the Central Division, 10th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Olli Maatta
John Quenneville
Calvin de Haan
Andrew Shaw
Robin Lehner
Alex Nylander
Zack Smith

OUT
Dominik Kahun
John Hayden
Anton Forsberg
Gustav Forsling
Chris Kunitz
Cam Ward
Marcus Kruger
Henri Jokiharju
Artem Anisimov

RE-SIGNED
Slater Koekkoek

2018-19 Season Summary

For the second year in a row, the Blackhawks missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After years of consistent winning, the ‘Hawks have had to pay their star players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook some big money. All those big contracts have forced them to move some other key players like Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen, Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, Artemi Panarin and so many others.

These forced moves have chipped away at the Blackhawks’ depth and have made them weaker and weaker every year. Injuries also haven’t helped their situation either.

Over the last two seasons, starting goalie Corey Crawford has been limited to just 67 games. In 2018-19, he played in just 39 contests and the Blackhawks were never able to get themselves on track with the tandem of Cam Ward and Collin Delia in goal.

The team’s struggles led to them firing head coach Joel Quenneville on Nov. 6. He was eventually replaced by Rockford head coach Jeremy Colliton. Although his tenure as head coach didn’t get off to the greatest start, things eventually got a little better for Colliton. A lot of Chicago’s success was thanks to franchise forwards Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. All three players surpassed the 76-point mark (Kane had 110, Toews had 81 and DeBrincat had 76).

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

Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, the offensive output from their three offensive leaders wasn’t enough to put them back into the playoff picture. One of the other big things that held them back was their abysmal penalty kill, which ranked dead last in the NHL at 72.7 percent. The other big issue was their lack of quality depth on defense and the inability to keep the puck out of their own net. Of all the teams in the league, only the Ottawa Senators allowed more goals (301) than Chicago (291).

So with all those issues, it’s only normal that general manager Stan Bowman made several changes to his roster. He brought back Shaw, who was a heart-and-soul piece for the Blackhawks during their successful years, he added Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta to his blue line, and he added Robin Lehner as an insurance policy to Crawford. Youngsters Alex Nylander and John Quenneville will add some more depth up front to a team that needs scoring beyond their top contributors.

Will all these changes be enough to get them back into the playoffs? Colliton has a lot of work to do to make that happen. The youngest head coach in the NHL has to find a way to integrate these new players into the lineup while making the chemistry work with a lot of the veterans that are still on the roster. Improving the special teams would also go a long way.

Thankfully for the Blackhawks, Colliton can lean on Kane, Toews and DeBrincat to lead the way offensively. Many coaches on re-tooling teams don’t have that luxury.

MORE:
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.

PHT Morning Skate: Neal’s history with Tippett; Chiarelli in Wild GM mix?

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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.

• This can only end in disaster. (Edmonton Journal)

• Where are the 30 players taken in the Vegas expansion draft now? (Sportsnet)

James Neal‘s history with Dave Tippett is fueling optimism after his move to Edmonton. (NHL.com)

• The NHL salary cap is here to stay. (Featurd)

• Senators won’t be competitive until they prioritize talent over finances. (Sportsnet)

• Why the Toronto Maple Leafs should be Stanley Cup favorites. (Editor in Leaf)

• Lafreniere laughing all the way to the NHL. (Featurd)

• Are the latest Jake Gardiner rumors about the Montreal Canadiens? (A Winning Habit)

• It’s a made-for-Hollywood story, and NHL nails it with video showcasing Cup champion Blues. (St. Louis Today)

• Can you make a competitive lineup solely out of the Leafs’ draft picks? (Pension Plan Puppets)

Chris Kunitz reflects after announcing retirement. (Penguins)

• ‘I paved the way’: The story of Fred Sasakamoose’s historic rise to the NHL. (The Daily Press)

• Arizona Coyotes captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson attacked by family dog, hospitalized. (AZ Central)

• The Andrei Vasilevskiy contract is risky business. (Raw Charge)


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

Four-time Stanley Cup winner Chris Kunitz announces retirement

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Chris Kunitz announced his retirement on Tuesday after a 1,022-game NHL career that saw him win four Stanley Cups and Olympic gold in 2014. He finishes with 268 goals and 619 points

In retirement, the 39-year-old Kunitz will join the Chicago Blackhawks hockey operations department as a player development adviser role which will see him helping the the organization’s coaching staffs at both the NHL and AHL levels.

Kunitz released a statement via the Blackhawks:

“I feel very fortunate to have been a part of four amazing organizations over the last 15 years. First and foremost, I’d like to sincerely thank the Anaheim Ducks, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks. Every one of these organizations was the ultimate example, not only to me, but to my children, on what true professionalism should be.

Secondly, I’d like to thank the owners, coaches, trainers, management. Your love for the game, the team and the community was exemplified daily. I am very fortunate to have worked with every one of you.

Finally, to my teammates, thank you for everything. As a young player you taught me to give my very best. Your leadership helped mold me into the player I knew I could be. I was given the opportunity to play with the very best teams and the very best players and I’m grateful for the laughs and the friendships that we shared together. Thank you for making my childhood dream come true.”

Undrafted out of Ferris State, Kunitz signed as a free agent with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003 and four years later won his first Cup. In 2009, he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 where he would capture his second championship in three seasons. It was with the Penguins where he would spend most of his career playing 569 games and recording 388 points. The 2013-14 season would be his most productive with 35 goals and 68 points, both career highs. That success would see him be named to Canada’s Olympic team where they would win gold in Sochi.

The titles would continue a few years later when the Penguins won back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017. It was Kunitz’s goal in overtime of Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators that would send Pittsburgh to another Cup Final.

That goal would be his last with the Penguins. Following the 2016-17 season, Kunitz moved on to the Tampa Bay Lightning and then joined up with the Blackhawks this past season.

“Chris had an outstanding professional career,” said Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton. “His four Stanley Cups and Olympic gold medal speak for themselves. While coaching him last year, I recognized what an asset he would be for our staff and the organization. I’m very pleased to have him a part of our coaching group and, also, use him as a development resource for our young players in Rockford.”

————

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.

The Buzzer: Eberle rallies Islanders, DeBrincat scores 40th, another McDavid highlight

AP

Three Stars

1. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders. It has not been Jordan Eberle’s best season, but wow did he come through in a big way for the New York Islanders on Thursday night. He scored two goals in the third period to help the Islanders storm back for a 5-4 win against the Winnipeg Jets. Eberle’s second goal, with less than two minutes to play in regulation, came just 33 seconds after Casey Cizikas tied the game. He is now up to 17 goals and 34 total points on the season as the Islanders took a significant step to securing their first playoff appearance since the 2015-16 season. Read more about tonight’s game here.

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets. The Columbus Blue Jackets looked awful in the first period on Thursday night in what was perhaps the biggest game of their season. Then they rebounded over the next 40 minutes to storm back for a massive 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, thanks in part to a pair of goals from Oliver Bjorkstrand. He is now up to 19 goals on the season and helped the Blue Jackets get back into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Read more about tonight’s game here.

3. Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks. In hindsight it is absolutely insane that Alex DeBrincat had to wait until the second-round to get selected in his draft year. He is on his way toward stardom in the NHL and reached the 40-goal mark on Thursday night in the Blackhawks’ 5-4 win over the San Jose Sharks with a pair of goals. He is now the youngest player in Blackhawks history to score 40 goals in a season, eclipsing the mark that was previously set by Steve Larmer. He and Patrick Kane also became just the second set of American-born teammates to score 40 goals in the same season, joining Joe Mullen and Kevin Stevens who did it as members of the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins.

Other notable games and performances from Thursday 

  • The San Jose Sharks’ late season woes continued on Thursday night with their seventh loss in a row, this time against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks fell behind 3-0, eventually rallied to tie the game 4-4, and then ended up losing on a late Chris Kunitz goal. They are six points behind the Calgary Flames for first place in the Pacific Division, a deficit that seems almost insurmountable this late in the season.
  • The Washington Capitals are back in the playoffs and will continue their defense of the Stanley Cup. They were 3-2 winners over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, spoiling the Hurricanes’ plans for their final Storm Surge celebration of the season. Read more about tonight’s game here.
  • The Dallas Stars overcame a two-goal deficit against the Edmonton Oilers and picked up a 3-2 shootout win. Alexander Radulov scored another goal, Miro Heiskanen continued his incredible rookie season with the equalizer, and Jamie Benn scored the deciding goal in the shootout.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau scored two goals for the Florida Panthers in a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. He has been one of their bright spots this season.
  • Dylan Larkin scored two goals for the Detroit Red Wings to reach the 30-goal mark in their 5-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Highlights of the Night

Connor McDavid is always worth watching. Every. Single. Game.

Warren Foegele continued his impressive season for the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night with what is almost certainly his most impressive goal of the year. It was not enough for the Hurricanes as they fell 3-2 to the Washington Capitals. Still an amazing goal though.

The reason for optimism in Vancouver is the young core of players centered around Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and now Quinn Hughes. Hughes recorded his first career point on Thursday night, setting up Boeser, and it was an absolutely incredible play.

Factoids

  • Aleksander Barkov joins Pavel Bure and Olli Jokinen as the only Florida Panthers players to ever record 90 points in a season. [NHL PR]
  • Leon Draisaitl reached the 100-point mark on Thursday night, joining teammate Connor McDavid. They are the first set of Edmonton Oilers teammates to both score 100 points in a single season since Jari Kurri and Jimmy Carson during the 1988-89 season. They won the Stanley Cup that year. The McDavid-Draisaitl Oilers are going to miss the playoffs for the third time in four years. The supporting casts are little bit different [NHL PR]
  • Dustin Brown became the Los Angeles Kings’ all-time leader in games played on Thursday night. [NHL PR]

Scores

Detroit Red Wings 5, Buffalo Sabres 4 (OT)

Washington Capitals 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 6, Montreal Canadiens 2

Florida Panthers 5, Ottawa Senators 2

New York Islanders 5, Winnipeg Jets 4

Dallas Stars 3, Edmonton Oilers 2 (SO)

Vancouver Canucks 3, Los Angeles Kings 2 (SO)

Chicago Blackhawks 5, San Jose Sharks 4

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.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks face Avalanche on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Avalanche head into Sunday in a solid position, as they hold a one-point lead and game in hand on the closest teams behind them vying for the West’s second wild-card spot. That rosy outlook can change in a big way if the Avs can’t beat the Blackhawks, though.

Looking at The Push for the Playoffs, things don’t look very good — at all — for Chicago, but this proud team likely isn’t waving the white flag on the 2018-19 season just yet. Beating the Avalanche (particularly in regulation) would certainly improve their odds of making an unlikely run, too.

With the stakes in mind – not to mention the star power in Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews – this should be a fun one at the United Center.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Sunday, March 24, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Avs-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

AVALANCHE

Derick Brassard — Nathan MacKinnon — J.T. Compher

Colin WilsonCarl SoderbergAndrew Agozzino

Alexander KerfootTyson JostMatt Calvert

Gabriel BourqueSven Andrighetto

Samuel GirardErik Johnson

Ian ColeTyson Barrie

Nikita ZadorovPatrik Nemeth

Ryan Graves

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[More: check out this preview for Sunday’s game.]

BLACKHAWKS

Dylan Sikura — Jonathan Toews — Patrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatDylan StromeBrendan Perlini

Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovDominik Kahun

Chris KunitzDavid KampfMarcus Kruger

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook

Carl DahlstromErik Gustafsson

Gustav ForslingConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

Gord Miller (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick.

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.