Duncan Keith

Adam Boqvist ‘going with the flow’ to start Blackhawks career

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It’s been a whirlwind week for Blackhawks defenseman Adam Boqvist, as the eighth overall pick from the 2018 NHL Draft has had a trio of firsts.

On Oct. 30, Boqvist recorded his first professional goal during a 6-2 win with the AHL Rockford IceHogs. The following day he was recalled by the Blackhawks, made his NHL debut on Saturday and scored his first goal during Sunday night’s overtime win over the Ducks.

The Blackhawks are currently in the midst of a youth movement — as best as they can given their salary cap situation — and Boqvist has been looked at as a cornerstone on the blue line. Through two games he’s been paired heavily with Duncan Keith at even strength and showed enough in his NHL debut Saturday against the Kings to have head coach Jeremy Colliton put him on the ice for three shifts as the lone defenseman in overtime, playing a little over two minutes of the extra frame. His puck-moving abilities has also allowed him to quarterback the second power play unit.

“He’s been really good,” said Colliton. “Obviously, he does bring that dimension to the power play. He can finish, he’s got a great release. His movement is fantastic back there. He could have scored in overtime [against Los Angeles], too, so clearly he’s having an impact on the game, but I think defensively he’s been quite good. We feel pretty comfortable with him out there. Obviously, we’re trying to protect him when we can, but he’s made a really good impression so far.”

[COVERAGE OF BLACKHAWKS-SHARKS BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The 19-year-old London Knights product played only six games in the AHL before being called up. He wasn’t impressed with his own play in Rockford, but he was put in a strong situation in Chicago being paired with a two-time Norris Trophy winner.

It wasn’t the best of starts, however. Boqvist logged 12:57 of even strength ice time against the Kings, and saw a minus-seven shot differential (11-18) when he was on the ice at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick. But possession was a team-wide issue Saturday night. The rookie improved mightily in that department against the Ducks with a 16-7 shot advantage at even strength when the Falun, Sweden native hopped over the boards, which led to a team-best 69.57 Corsi on the evening.

Improving his stick work, working on gap control, and adjusting to the rigors of the NHL will take time for Boqvist. But for the moment he’s just doing what he knows best.

“I don’t think so much out there,” Boqvist said. “It’s happened so quick and everything. There’s so much in my head right now. I got called up four days ago. So I’m just going to go with the flow.”

Kathryn Tappen will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. Randy Hahn and Jamie Baker will call the Blackhawks-Sharks matchup from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.

NBC Sports will premiere “The Russian Five” documentary, a feature on the first five Russians to play hockey together in the NHL, Wednesday, November 6, following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Red Wings and Rangers. The documentary tells the story of how Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were able to defect from their homeland and transform the Detroit Red Wings into perennial contenders and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

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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.

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.

What DeBrincat’s new deal means for Blackhawks’ cap outlook

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The Chicago Blackhawks took care of some pretty important business on Thursday when they announced a three-year contract extension for one of their top young players, Alex DeBrincat.

Since he still has one more year remaining on his entry-level contract there wasn’t a huge rush for the Blackhawks to get this deal done now, but doing so helped them get ahead of the game when it comes to constructing next year’s roster.

Let’s take a quick look at what it means for both DeBrincat and the Blackhawks.

It eliminates a headache for the Blackhawks next summer

The storyline that dominated the NHL offseason this past summer was the way the RFA signing process dragged on for months with pretty much every significant player remaining unsigned until well after training camps began. It didn’t result in any meaningful player movement, but it did see a shift in the way RFA contracts are constructed with nearly every player opting for shorter term bridge deals.

Three year deals that increased in salary each year (the biggest salary is in year three, which impacts the qualifying offer on the next contract) became the new normal. Even though everything eventually ended up getting done, it still seemed to be a headache for every team that had to deal with it. Given the new bridge contract trend the Blackhawks probably figured they might as well just get right to it and take care of it now.

[Related: DeBrincat signs three year bridge deal with Blackhawks]

The won’t have to worry about it with their best young player next summer, and that is probably a relief because they still have five restricted free agents to deal with next summer, including Dylan Strome who is entering a massive year in his development.

He may have done the Blackhawks a favor

There was no rush or incentive for DeBrincat to re-sign right now when he still has this season ahead of him. By doing so he may have really helped the Blackhawks’ short-term salary cap outlook because he may have undersold himself a bit financially.

The $6.4 million cap hit is on the lower end of some of the recent RFA deals, and that makes some sense. He has just two years in NHL and while he has been outstanding, especially when it comes to putting the puck in the net, I don’t know that he is as impactful all over the ice defensively and as a possession driver as, say, a Brayden Point or a Mathew Tkachuk.

So to get a deal in their price range is probably a fair one for him.

But again, DeBrincat still has another year on his entry-level contract and if he repeats what he did a year ago (scoring 40 goals) or even improves his overall game (and there is no reason to believe he will not) he could have been looking at a much bigger deal for himself next summer, which could have complicated things for the Blackhawks and their salary cap outlook.

His contract expires the same time as the Blackhawks’ veteran core

DeBrincat’s deal will expire in the summer of 2023 when he will still be a restricted free agent. Because his base salary in the final year of the contract is $9 million, he will be looking at a huge qualifying offer from the Blackhawks and, as long as he continues to be a productive goal-scorer, a huge contract. That same summer the Blackhawks will have a ton of salary coming off the books as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith will all have their contracts expiring at the same time. Brent Seabrook‘s deal comes off the books one year later. It is pretty much a given that Keith and Seabrook won’t be re-signed beyond these current contracts given their ages, so the Blackhawks should have plenty of salary cap room to get a new deal for DeBrincat. In the short-term, the Blackhawks’ at least know what they have to work with regarding DeBrincat’s deal within their core as they try to squeeze another championship window out of the Kane, Toews, and Keith era.

MORE:
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

DeBrincat signs three-year bridge deal with Blackhawks

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The Chicago Blackhawks won’t have to worry about any Alex DeBrincat contract extension drama as the 21-year-old forward inked a three-year, $19.2 million extension on Thursday. The deal carries a $6.4 million average annual value.

“From the beginning, it was apparent they wanted to get the deal done and I think it was a deal that works both for us and for him and rewards him for his performance and it sets us up well for where we’re headed,” said Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman.

According to Pierre LeBrun, the contract pays DeBrincat $5.1 million in the first two years and then jumps to $9 million in the third year. He’ll still be a restricted free agent when the deal expires following the 2022-23 NHL season (the same summer that the contracts of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith expire), so $9 million would be his qualifying offer if another extension isn’t hammered out by then.

DeBrincat had a breakout sophomore season in 2018-19, scoring 42 times and recording 76 points. He clicked playing alongside his former junior teammate Dylan Strome and learned a lot alongside Kane.

“Those are two good players,” DeBrincat told NBC Sports last month. “For me, I’m just trying to find open space when I’m with them. All three of us are pretty creative in the offensive zone. You’ve got one of the best players in Patrick Kane on your line and he’s going to get you the puck and he’s going to control play. That’s definitely a fun line to play with; a lot of offense there.”

His second NHL season built off of a strong rookie campaign that saw him net 28 goals and reach 52 points.

“Experience helps a lot,” he said. “For me, it was just coming in feeling more comfortable with everything. It’s hard to be on a new team and meet a bunch of new guys so, first year is a little bit different and coming back it was a lot easier.”

DeBrincat is a huge piece of the Blackhawks’ future and while the team was encouraged by their second half under Jeremy Colliton last season, they’re in a tough Central Division where points will be tough to come by. There’s still some roster reshaping for Bowman to do over the next several years to navigate the salary cap in order to get younger, but this is a good start and the young star is a great building block to move forward with.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

Salary cap economics squeezing out NHL’s middle class

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Stanley Cup-winning experience isn’t worth what it used to be. Neither is experience of any kind.

As NHL teams move toward paying their stars more money and relying on young players to fill the gaps, hockey’s middle class is being squeezed out. Veterans like 2018 Washington Capitals playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly are finding it increasingly difficult to land guaranteed contracts and are often forced to go to training camp on professional tryout agreements, which cover potential injuries at camp and not much else.

Hockey perhaps more than any other professional sport has put a premium on veteran players over the years. Guys who have been there before, have some grey in their beards and are valued at least as much for team chemistry in the locker room as they are for what they do on the ice.

Adding the salary cap in 2005 began the process of devaluing these so-called ”glue guys” because there is only so much money to go around. This year, that cap is $81.5 million for a team and there is no wiggle room – teams are not allowed to play if they are over the limit.

”It’s sad because these veteran players are monumental to the team,” St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. ”Especially these guys that have won, too, like Devante Smith-Pelly. He’s been in every situation. He’s a guy that you’d want to have because he’s going to help and he’s been in these situations. When it comes around again, it’s not going to faze him.”

Smith-Pelly and Andrew MacDonald in Calgary, Troy Brouwer in Florida, Matt Read in Toronto and Drew Stafford in Minnesota are among the experienced NHL players on camp tryouts this year. Even more are settling for one-year, prove-it contracts like 2019 Cup winner Patrick Maroon (31 years old) and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (30) with Tampa Bay, Derick Brassard (31) with the New York Islanders, defenseman Ben Hutton (26) with Los Angeles and forward Riley Sheahan (27) with Edmonton.

Shattenkirk went from making $7 million last season with the Rangers to a one-year contract worth $1.75 million.

”There’s something for me to prove,” Shattenkirk said. ”I think I have a huge chip on my shoulder right now.”

This is all related to how the salary cap is managed.

Across the league, there are 32 players who chew up 10% or more of his team’s $81.5 million salary-cap space – with more potentially on the way when Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen and Winnipeg’s Patrick Laine sign deals. For example, Connor McDavid accounts for over 15% of Edmonton’s cap space.

It is a trend that shows the value of elite talent but it means there is less money to go around for complementary players who are not on entry-level contracts. A handful of players also have expressed concern that restricted free agents are making more out of their entry-level contracts than ever before, further scrambling available money for support players.

”Teams, they want to take a shot on a young guy that has got an upside they see,” O’Reilly said. ”It’s tough because there’s so many good players out there that aren’t getting jobs because of it.”

Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, 31, and Patrick Kane, 30, eat up almost 26% of the Blackhawks’ cap space. They combined to win the Stanley Cup three times, but their deals and rich ones given to defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook tend to be blamed for a lack of depth in Chicago, which has missed the playoffs the past two seasons.

Toews said he understands the economics of the league aren’t getting any easier for players as they get older.

”It’s tough,” Toews said. ”It just goes to show you can’t take anything for granted, even though you’ve been in the league or you’re a proven player at this level. You start getting into your 30s … you realize that the league’s only going to get younger, it’s only going to get stronger, it’s only going to get better.”

It’s not just older players, either. Smith-Pelly is 27, Joe Morrow is 26 and trying to make the Rangers and fellow defenseman Alex Petrovic is 27 as a long shot to get a contract with Boston.

Grinding forward Garnet Hathaway played the past two seasons on one-year deals in Calgary making under $1 million each year. He went into free agency a bit nervous but was able to land a four-year, $6 million contract and some security with the Capitals, who also signed Brendan Leipsic to a one-year deal and Richard Panik for four years after each player had bounced around the league.

”Contracts are hard to come by in this league,” Hathaway said. ”It’s such a competitive league. Guys I know personally that have gone through it, they’re some of the most competitive guys. It’s guys who have played in this league a long time and have great careers. You wish them the best of luck, but it’s competitive.”