Stan Bowman

Blackhawks fire team president McDonough in surprising move

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Blackhawks fired team president John McDonough on Monday, cutting ties with a key figure in the most successful decade in team history and raising questions about the direction of one of the NHL’s marquee franchises.

The surprising move, coming with the season suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, could have a domino effect on Chicago’s leadership structure. Stan Bowman has served as general manager for almost 11 years, but the Blackhawks haven’t made the playoffs since 2017 – a painful drought for a franchise that hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

The Blackhawks announced McDonough’s dismissal in a news release. Owner Rocky Wirtz pointed to the coronavirus crisis and the pause in play as an opportunity to assess the team’s direction.

”While we can reassure our fans there will be hockey again, no one knows what that will look like,” Wirtz said in the statement. ”What we do know is that it will take a new mindset to successfully transition the organization to win both on and off the ice.”

Danny Wirtz, Rocky’s 43-year-old son and a vice president with the team, is replacing McDonough on an interim basis.

”I take this interim role with the utmost responsibility to the team and will focus on resetting the framework for the next generation of the Chicago Blackhawks,” Danny Wirtz said in the release. ”I look forward to working with Rocky to identify our next leader.”

The 66-year-old McDonough is one of the most respected figures in sports business. He was president of baseball’s Chicago Cubs before he was hired by Rocky Wirtz in 2007 to take over the Blackhawks.

McDonough was a big factor in Chicago’s rise to the top tier of the NHL on and off the ice. The team has an active sellout streak of 531 games. The organization is well known for its fan experience and marketing abilities, one reason why it has been a regular participant in the NHL’s outdoor games.

”Thirteen years ago, I recruited John to the Blackhawks because of his leadership, direction and vision. John brought all of that to the table and more,” Rocky Wirtz said. ”His contributions went well beyond leading the team to three Stanley Cup championships. He rebuilt the front office and helped guide the organization toward a winning vision.

”As difficult as this is, we believe it was the right decision for the future of the organization and its fans.”

Long-term outlook for Blackhawks: salary cap, prospects, and more

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Both at age 31 with matching $10.5 million cap hits through 2022-23, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews remain the headliners of the Blackhawks’ core.

While Toews in particular isn’t what he once was, the biggest problem is shaky support.

Duncan Keith is far removed from his prime at age 36, yet his contract ($5.54 through 2022-23) lingers. Quite a bit of this structure has broken down, to the point that it would be preferable for both Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw to stay planted on LTIR.

Credit Stan Bowman with trying to improve a shabby defense. Unfortunately, Bowman whiffed with Olli Maatta, Connor Murphy, and Calvin de Haan to varying degrees. Those three contracts stay on the books through 2021-22.

To Bowman’s credit, he’s experienced significant successes finding forward talent, sometimes off the beaten path. While the Blackhawks galaxy-brained themselves out of Artemi Panarin, they locked up Alex DeBrincat to a team-friendly extension.

One key question remains: can the Blackhawks find the cash to re-sign Corey Crawford? Actually, that folds into other questions. Being that Crawford is 35, should they?

Also, will Dominik Kubalik and/or Dylan Strome become core members, or stay in limbo with “bridge” deals. Can Alex Nylander cement himself? The supporting cast continues to go through auditions as if they’re in Chicago’s Broadway.

Long-Term Needs for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks face plenty of long-term needs.

Still, sometimes the biggest needs go deeper than “scoring depth” and “some actual, above-average NHL defensemen.” The Blackhawks organization needs to let go of the past, even if it means some extra suffering in the present. Otherwise, the future could be plagued by half-measures.

It would be understandable if the Blackhawks struck a short-term deal with Corey Crawford. He quietly put together a surprisingly strong 2019-20, particularly down the stretch.

Yet, how many times should Chicago really go to that nostalgia well? (To say nothing of how tough it might be to fit Crawford under the cap, as Mark Lazerus discussed here [sub required].)

This team needs more difference-makers. Adam Boqvist and other prospects figure to boost the competence of Chicago’s crummy defense, but how much?

Ultimately, the Blackhawks need to add “blue chip” talent, and hope that Boqvist, Kirby Dach, and others fall in that category. By trying to enjoy the best of both worlds of competing while getting some young talent, Chicago risks falling short of both marks. They’ve seemingly accrued good-but-not-great talent, and were moderately competitive but not legitimate contenders.

Pull off the Band-Aid already.

Long-Term Strengths for Blackhawks

As mentioned with Panarin and DeBrincat, the Blackhawks have shown some ability to unearth talent even when they didn’t have no-brainer picks like they did with Kane and Toews. (Panarin was a Euro free agent, DeBrincat went 39th overall in 2016). Dominik Kubalik looks like he could be the latest hidden gem.

Such successes have been a bit of a double-edged sword, as referenced in the long-term needs section. By finding ways to be semi-competitive, the Blackhawks have sometimes added good where a “tank” season may have provided great.

Still, there’s decent talent to work with. DeBrincat, Strome, Kubalik, and maybe Nylander can help on offense. Dach’s development is crucial.

Boqvist ranks as vital on defense, too, but he’s not alone. In ranking Chicago’s prospect pool 12th overall (sub required), The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler frequently listed defensemen. Wheeler highlighted Ian Mitchell almost as much as Boqvist, so help could be coming there. Wheeler’s Athletic colleague Corey Pronman placed Chicago’s under-23 core at a respectable 13th, so it’s not as if there’s nothing beyond Kane and Toews.

Lately, “almost” has been in painful supply for Chicago. An optimist might squint and see how things could break the Blackhawks’ way, but improving this long-term outlook will require more long-term thinking.

MORE BLACKHAWKS:
2019-20 season summary
Surprises and disappointments

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.

PHT Morning Skate: ‘No easy fix’ for emergency backup goalie situations like Ayres’

David Ayers NHL tries to fix emergency backup goalie situations EBUGS
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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.

• Bill Daly told reporters that there “are no easy fixes” for the NHL regarding emergency backup goalie situations like David Ayres suiting up for the Hurricanes. Ah yes, the league definitely must do something about the scourge that is getting a feel-good story that landed on outlets such as “Today Show” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Why would any league want scores of cheap attention if it comes with even an ounce of embarrassment? Preposterous! (Sportsnet)

• You’d think hockey people didn’t need to hear this, but stories like Ayres’ is why we love sports. (The Portage Citizen)

• Great stuff from William Douglas on memorable former NHL player Mike Grier, who ranks among four black assistant coaches in the NHL. Grier explains that his father Bobby Grier inspires his work ethic, as the elder Grier once was an assistant coach for the New England Patriots. (NHL.com celebrates Black History Month)

• Plenty of big names for the U.S. roster heading into the women’s world championship, including Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield, and Brianna Decker. If a familiar face isn’t there, it might be due to them having children. (Olympic Talk)

• Great news for the Blues, and really for hockey: Vladimir Tarasenko may return sooner than expected. As in, before the end of the regular season. (NHL.com)

• Blues GM Doug Armstrong explains why the team was quiet at the trade deadline. Frankly, Armstrong’s made enough splashes over the years that it’s understandable to sit one out. Plus, the Blues can make people roll their eyes by saying Tarasenko is their “trade deadline acquisition.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• If you only look at points, John Carlson ranks as the next Erik Karlsson when it comes to seemingly easy Norris Trophy calls. That said, the Capitals experienced a high-scoring blueliner getting downgraded before when Mike Green was at his fauxhawk’d peak. Could it happen again? Kevin Klein went into deep, fascinating detail on that question. (Japers Rink)

• Speaking of Capitals-related no-brainers, what about Alex Ovechkin playing a game in front of a Russian crowd? Daly says the league is working on it. (NBC Sports Washington)

• Adam Gretz argues that Conor Sheary can score enough to stick with Sidney Crosby on the Penguins’ top line. Pittsburgh showed off its new look in a narrow loss to the Kings on Wednesday. (Pensburgh)

• When Viktor Arvidsson is rolling, the Predators often roll with him. Amid a turbulent season, it seems like Arvidsson is finding his way. That’s extremely promising for Nashville’s chances. (A to Z Sports Nashville)

• Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman lays out his plan, explaining that the draft and young players are “the lifeblood of your team.” (NBC Sports Chicago)

• Senators fans waved goodbye to key players in multiple trades now, from Karlsson to Mark Stone to now Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Could Pageau be the end of that line? (TSN)

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.

Winners and losers of the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline

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A busy day of movement around the NHL has come to an end. There were plenty of big names who were dealt today, as well as a number of draft picks heading to teams hoping to be a club adding pieces at this time of year in the future.

It was a record day of trades, according to the NHL. There were 32 deals made on Monday involving 55 players, breaking the record of 31 trades set at the 2010 deadline. The 2018 and 2019 deadlines combined only saw a total of 38 trades.

So now that the 3 p.m. ET deadline has passed, who are the winners and losers?

Let us know in the comments who you think had the best and worst day.

NHL Trade Deadline tracker
PHT Trade Deadline Live Blog

WINNER: Rob Blake

Already with a strong prospect pool, the Kings GM added to it with a bevy of deals as the franchise retools for the future. Blake turned Jack Campbell, Kyle Clifford, Tyler Toffoli, Alec Martinez, and Derek Forbort into two 2020 second-rounders, a 2020 third-rounder, a 2021 second-round pick, a conditional 2021 third-rounder, a 2022 conditional fourth-round pick, Trevor Moore, and the rights to Tyler Madden. Let’s also not forget he sent Martinez to the Golden Knights and managed to not have to retain any salary for a player whose contract expires after next season.

Canucks strengthen up front by acquiring Tyler Toffoli

LOSER: Joe Thornton

Maybe he didn’t want a trade, or maybe there wasn’t an option that intrigued GM Doug Wilson enough. But while long-time teammate Patrick Marleau gets to chase after a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh, Thornton remains in San Jose on a team that is going nowhere, wasting what might be one of his last chances at a championship. — Gretz

WINNER: Embarrassing photos from your youth

Thank you, Christina Marleau.

LOSER: Calgary Flames

With a banged up defense group, GM Brad Treliving added Erik Gustafsson and Derek Forbort. But when you see how wide open the Pacific Division is and how the Oilers attacked the deadline, wouldn’t it have been wise for Calgary to bolster up front as well?

WINNER: Don Waddell

Vincent Trocheck, Sami Vatanen and Brady Skjei will strengthen their center position and blue line. The Skjei addition, however, is a curious one when you remember that he’s signed for four more years with a $5.25M cap hit and the Hurricanes will need space to re-sign Dougie Hamilton and Andre Svechnikov in the summer of 2022. But for a team that wants to build off last year’s run, they’re certainly better than they were on Sunday.

• Hurricanes send package featuring Haula to Panthers for Trocheck

LOSER: Dale Tallon

Florida is chasing a playoff spot and they send Trocheck out and bring in Haula, Lucas Wallmark and two prospects. Oh, and they made the deal with a team also in the wild card mix. Haula can be a UFA this summer, while Trocheck still has term on his deal. If this was an attempt at a wake-up call by Tallon it’s a weird one. We won’t know if the two prospects will make an impact for years, but for the now there’s a lot of hope that Haula can stay healthy and be productive as he once was.

WINNER: Ilya Kovalchuk and Marc Bergevin

It’s been quite a few months for the Russian forward. After a failed stint in LA, Kovalchuk landed in Montreal, found his passion again and played well and now goes to a Cup contender. Due to that, the Habs GM brought him in for practically nothing and flipped him for a third-round pick. Nice bit of business.

Capitals land Ilya Kovalchuk from Canadiens

LOSER: Everyone hoping for a blockbuster

Since the Coyotes remain in the playoff hunt, it was clear that Taylor Hall was going to stay put. But when rumors started surfacing that the Islanders and Wild had discussed a Zach Parise for Andrew Ladd swap that perked everyone up. Talks between Bill Guerin and Lou Lamoriello, which began about this deal in the summer, never led to anything solid, unfortunately. It would be a complicated deal to make given the salary cap hits for each player, but both reportedly waived their movement clauses to make it happen. Guess we’ll just have to wait until the summer to see if something can be done here.

WINNER: Draft pick hoarders

The climb is too steep, so Bergevin saw the writing on the wall and began looking toward the future. In dealing Kovalchuk, Nate Thompson, Matthew Peca, and Nick Cousins the Habs now have 14 picks in the 2020 draft — a draft they host — and 10 more in 2021. That’s a good amount of assets to stock a prospect cupboard or add some bodies through trades. Or, maybe, through another summer offer sheet?

Same goes for the Senators, who are in a full-on rebuild. GM Pierre Dorion has accumulated 13 picks in the 2020 draft and already has four in the first two rounds in the 2021 draft. Considering how Eugene Melnyk spends his money — sorry, doesn’t like to spend his money — Ottawa will only be able to get to where they want to be by building through the draft.

The Devils have the possibility of owning three first-round picks in 2020 if certain conditions are met following the Taylor Hall and Blake Coleman trades. Detroit has six in the opening three rounds this June, and we already mentioned LA above.

LOSER: Colorado Avalanche

Joe Sakic’s two moves Monday were adding Vladislav Namestnikov and goaltender Michael Hutchinson. With the injuries they’re currently dealing with and the cap space they own to add some pieces, it’s a surprise they were relatively quiet. Maybe Sakic went all-in on Kreider and that was shot down once he re-signed with the Rangers, or the price set was too much for his liking.

You’d think if Sakic was going to give up a prized prospect like a Bowen Byram it would be for a player with term, but no deal of that nature came to fruition or was even rumored to be a possibility. In his eyes, when Nazem Kadri, Matt Calvert, and Mikko Rantanen return, those will be considered Colorado’s additions. We’ll find out in a few months if standing pat was the right move here.

WINNER: Ken Holland

He didn’t complete a massive blockbuster, but the additions of Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Ennis, and Mike Green are strong additions for a team that already has two MVP candidates and is playing in a very winnable division. Depth was their big concern, and they addressed it for a decent price — Gretz

Oilers get Athanasiou from Red Wings; Ennis from Senators

LOSER: Jacob Markstrom

The Canucks goaltender, who has been the team’s MVP this season, is expected to miss the next several weeks after suffering a knee injury over the weekend. That explains why GM Jim Benning went out and acquired Louis Domingue from New Jersey for Zane McIntyre.

Markstrom has played his way into the Vezina and Hart Trophy conversations with what he’s done in Vancouver, and set himself up for a nice raise after July 1.

WINNER: Robin Lehner

He may not get as much playing time as he did in Chicago, but he goes from a sinking ship to a Chicago team that should be a bonafide Stanley Cup contender in Vegas. — Gretz

LOSER: Stan Bowman

He had the right idea, I just don’t know that it worked out the way he thought it would. The Blackhawks absolutely had to trade Lehner and Gustafsson. It would have been nonsensical not to. But everyone in Chicago had to be expecting more than a disappointing young goalie, a prospect, and a second-and third-round pick. Did he overplay his hand? Did he just mess it up? Whatever it is, it was the right idea just seemingly a poor execution of it. — Gretz

WINNER: The Ovechkins

The couple announced their own acquisition on Monday:

LOSER: Overthinking every little thing on Trade Deadline day

Johnny Gaudreau left the ice early on Monday prompting a flurry of speculation that the Flames were about to trade him. Sorry, turns out he just had to pee.

WINNER: New York Rangers

They didn’t trade Chris Kreider and kept him for seven years at a reasonable $6.5M cap hit. GM Jeff Gorton also freed up some cap space for the summer (Tony DeAngelo extension?) and added a first-round pick by sending Brady Skjei to Carolina.

LOSER: New York Rangers

At the same press conference where team president John Davidson announced the Kreider extension he also revealed that Pavel Buchnevich and Igor Shesterkin were in a Sunday night car accident. Buchnevich is considered day-to-day but Shesterkin suffered a rib injury and will be out for the next several weeks. Welcome back to the fold, Henrik Lundqvist.

WINNER: Boston Bruins

GM Don Sweeney added Ondrej Kase and was able to rid himself of 75% of David Backes’ contract in one move. Kase, when healthy, is a productive forward and signed for $2.6M through the end of next season.

LOSER: Dallas Stars

Jim Nill was in on Joe Thornton, but it was a quiet day in Big D. We know they Stars are strong defensively, but their biggest need was help on offense as they sit in the bottom five in the NHL in goals per game. The pressure is on to win in Dallas and taking an inactive approach to the deadline is a gamble. Defense wins championships, sure, but other contenders around them in West look a step ahead of them up front at the moment.

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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.

The 6 coaches and general managers that will impact NHL playoff race

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With the NHL All-Star break wrapping up and the second half of the 2019-20 season ready to begin, we are taking a look at some of the players, coaches, and general managers that could have the biggest impact on the Stanley Cup Playoff races and which teams make the postseason.

Here, we focus on six general managers and coaches that could stand out.

For 10 players that could impact the Stanley Cup Playoff races, click here.

1. Ken Holland (General manager), Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are outstanding. They are the best offensive duo in hockey and there probably isn’t anyone even all that close to them. For the second year in a row they are on track to finish among the top-four scorers in the league (literally top-two at the moment) while they carry an overwhelming majority of the Oilers’ offense. But two players on their own can only take an NHL team so far.

They need help, and it’s going to be up to Holland to provide it. He has some big decisions to make over the next few weeks and months, not only when it comes to the tricky situation regarding a new contract for Zack Kassian (this seems like an overpay waiting to happen) but also adding more depth to a team that can not continue to waste two superstars in the prime years of their careers.

2. Stan Bowman (General manager), Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks’ roster moves this past summer were the actions of a team and general manager that still believed it had a window to compete with its veteran core. So far, it’s hard to argue that it’s really worked. For as hot as they have been over the past few weeks they are still only on pace for 87 points this season and are currently three points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Hardly an insurmountable deficit, but probably not as easy as it may seem.

The first problem: The defense is still lousy and a lot of their improvement has simply been from the goaltending performances of Robin Lehner (mostly him) and Corey Crawford. The second problem: Both goalies are UFA’s after this season, and Lehner in particular wants to be paid his fair market value. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson is also a UFA.

How does Bowman play this? His offseason makes it look like he’s not ready to punt on the remaining prime years of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. But the team also still has flaws and has a couple of pending UFA’s that might have some value. Trading Lehner and/or Gustafsson would be putting up the white flag on the season. But is the team as currently constructed good enough to truly add to for a run? The middle-ground between Stanley Cup contender and rebuilding lottery team is a terrible place to be for an NHL team.

3. John Hynes (Head coach), Nashville Predators. This might be a long-shot, but the Predators are not totally out of this yet. Yes, they still have a six-point gap between them and a wild card spot, but they also have multiple games in hand on every team they are chasing, including FIVE on the second wild card team as of Sunday. Games in hand are not wins in hand, but it helps. The two biggest things holding Nashville back this season have been goaltending and special teams. The goaltending might be out of his hands, but special teams are one area where a coach can make a noticeable impact and special teams were the one area his recent Devils teams had the most success. Let’s see what he can do here.

4. Lou Lamoriello (General manager), New York Islanders. Lamoriello hasn’t been very active since taking over as the Islanders’ general manager, with his only noteworthy trade being the acquisition of Matt Martin before the start of the 2018-19 season. The time might be here for him to do something because this team just looks like it could use something different. They are closer to the playoff bubble than you might realize, they are still a bottom-10 team offensively, and they are just 13-12-3 in the 28 games since their 17-game point streak ended. They need another scorer (maybe two?) if they are going to be a serious Stanley Cup contender.

5. Peter DeBoer (Head coach), Vegas Golden Knights. Based on what we have seen over the first half of the season the goaltending will probably be the biggest factor in Vegas’ second half, but all eyes are going to be on DeBoer given the circumstances around his hiring. Not only did he change sides in what has quickly become one of the NHL’s fiercest rivalries, but he is replacing a coach in Gerard Gallant that had taken an expansion team to the playoffs in each of its first two seasons and was only point out of a playoff spot in year three when he was fired. Gallant helped set a high bar already in Vegas, and now Golden Knights’ management is betting that DeBoer is the person to get them a Stanley Cup.

6. Joe Sakic (General manager), Colorado Avalanche. Sakic is worth a mention here because he has one of the league’s most talented teams, plenty of trade chips to deal from, and more salary cap space to play with than every team but Columbus. He could add pretty much anyone he wants to a team that is already a Stanley Cup contender.

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.