Mike Kitchen

Day 1 of NHL training camps: Uncertainty about Blackhawks’ Crawford, and more

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Monday, July 13 represented a big day in the NHL return-to-play plan, as formal training camps began — naturally there was plenty of news.

To little surprise, such training camp news also brought uncertainty. This post won’t hit on all 24 NHL teams involved in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, but let’s take a look at some of the rumblings from around the league:

Blackhawks’ Crawford, other absences lead to speculation

At the moment, the NHL elects not to name players or teams while announcing positive COVID-19 tests.

The bright side of that is that players gain at least a modicum of privacy. The downside is that fans and others are left to speculate about the nature of absences. To some extent, this follows the NHL’s clear-as-mud transparency when it comes to injury updates already, only turned up to 11.

Rank Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford as one of the players people are speculating about during this first day of NHL training camps. If you’re looking for more from the Blackhawks on Crawford, you were largely out of luck.

“For now, he’s just unfit to play,” Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. “I think the NHL has been pretty clear that’s going to be the policy going forward as far as how we’ll announce all injuries. So, that’s all I have for you.”

Blackhawks fans are probably used to uncertainty regarding Crawford, being that his career was threatened by concussion issues. Such issues, and Chicago’s mediocre overall play, might have pushed Crawford’s strong work under the radar. During the last three months of the truncated season, Crawford’s save percentage didn’t sink below a splendid .927. For a team as porous defensively as the Blackhawks, they must hope that Crawford will eventually be fit to play — particularly after trading Robin Lehner.

It would be a sad way for Crawford to end his Blackhawks career, too, as he’s a pending UFA.

Now, other goalies sat out day one of NHL training camps, too. Marc-Andre Fleury joined Crawford with that distinction. But while the Blackhawks shared few Crawford details, the Golden Knights deemed MAF’s absence a maintenance day.

Though not a comprehensive list, here are a few other notable absences from day one of NHL training camps:

Noteworthy names attending NHL training camps on day one

Going over every single player who participated would be a fool’s errand. Consider a few names that stood out, though.

Assorted bits, including Gritty

Now, for some quick random bits.

Matt Niskanen said it right:

“The world is pretty bonkers right now,” Niskanen said, via Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Nothing is normal … But as hockey players, we just want that (Cup) chance.”

Actually, (Niskanen’s … Flyers’ colleague?) Gritty also got it right:

The first one to the rink? Well, the name Gritty makes sense then, I guess.

If you’re looking for the best gesture of them all, it’s probably the Oilers’ tribute to Colby Cave.

Although, the Maple Leafs also made quite a statement by wearing “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts as a group:

If news and other bits from day one of NHL training camps are any indication, there will be a lot of stories to sort through. At least some of them will involve Gritty, too, so that’s nice.

More on NHL return to play, CBA extension, COVID-19:

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’ Quenneville on staying: “I love everything about what we have here”

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The Chicago Blackhawks have come a long way since hiring head coach Joel Quenneville. That fact might not be clearer in the fact that there were murmurs about a potential departure after two “disappointing” first-round exits following the team’s resounding Stanley Cup run in 2010. You can put those rumors to bed, however, as Quenneville told Chris Boden and others “that was never in the cards.”

“I love everything about what we have here,” Quenneville said. “I have two more years left (on my contract) and I’m happy here. Nothing gave me an indication that [a departure] was on the horizon.”

That doesn’t mean that everything will be the same next season, however. The Blackhawks decided to part ways with one assistant (Mike Haviland) and keep Mike Kitchen in the mix. Adam Jahns and others note that Quenneville is very close with Kitchen but Coach Q made two stern claims: this wasn’t a matter of cronyism and he’s calling the shots as far as his assistants go.

On “dysfunction” in the coaching staff: “I knew it could be better but there was dysfunction” and Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman “provided opportunity for change.”

Haviland’s the one out of a job, but Quenneville told the press that much of the failures were on his head.

“I feel like I should be absorbing as much as anybody,” Quenneville said. “I take ownership for what happened this year.”

It’s not surprising that the Blackhawks are sticking with a coach who won them a recent Cup and navigated some choppy post-cap-purge waters, but the calls for his head will get louder if Chicago doesn’t make good on its talented core again. If that happens, he’ll at least go down fighting with “his guys.”

Blackhawks changes begin with firing of assistant Mike Haviland

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The Chicago Blackhawks had an up-and-down 2011-12 season, yet their power play was mostly down. It looks like that flaw won’t cost head coach Joel Quenneville’s job, but assistant Mike Haviland is out of a top after four years as a helper.

(Quenneville is currently holding an informative press conference that we’ll break down pretty soon.)

Haviland was primarily in charge of the power play for some time before making way to Mike Kitchen. CSNChicago.com’s Chris Boden points out that unit started off in the bottom of the league with Haviland, received a nice boost when Kitchen took it over and then flat-lined again. Not taking advantage of the man advantage reared its ugly head on the largest scale in Chicago’s six-game series defeat at the hands of the surging Phoenix Coyotes.

Here’s your totally random question to chew on for a moment, then: would the Blackhawks’ power play have struggled so much if Brian Campbell wasn’t traded? Keeping his hefty cap hit on the docket would have been a challenge in itself, but one cannot help but wonder if it’s something that Haviland (and Kitchen too, to some extent*) might ponder as he searches for his next coaching gig.

* – Kitchen probably will keep his job, so he’ll lose less sleep.