Blackhawks plan to "stay the course"


Blackhawks plan to "stay the course"

General Manager Stan Bowman answered questions for 25 minutes Wednesday at the United Center. The impression he left was more "stay the course", rather than "shake it up."

Blackhawks fans, columnists, and Twitter accounts are already in debate on whether that's the right course of action after a second straight first-round playoff exit -- this time without the short summer or before opening up salary cap space that allowed him to shape this past season's roster as he saw fit.

The remainder of the week will include coaching and management skill sessions about the areas that need shoring up, either from the outside or from within. But as I wrote in my Blackhawks Talk post back on March 28th, a lot of what you've seen is probably what you'll get. Sure, this week's meetings may end up determining from within that there's more that needs fixing than Bowman shared on Wednesday, but unless there's a taker out there for a few of the Hawks' more inconsistent players who have yet to reach the organization's projections, there's a lot of money already committed within the present roster. If not, they need to gamble with packaging some promising youth for veteran pedigree and production.

It sounded as if it's been already been decided that Patrick Kane's a center next season, that he can reach his full potential in that role, rather than staying on the wing with Jonathan Toews or an imported second-line pivot. If that's the case, Kane's summer should be spent preparing himself for eight months of more defensive responsibility, and trying to make the opposition adjust to his speed and quickness over any adjustments he'd need to make against bigger opponents in a 200-foot game. But as my pre- and post-game colleague Steve Konroyd has pointed out several times, Kane loves a challenge, and has spent 23 years proving people wrong. If that's his assignment, and his immediate future, he'll try to do that yet again.

I asked Duncan Keith about the toll of all the hard minutes he and Brent Seabrook play as their careers go on, and whether they would benefit from more consistently reliable blueliners behind them to pick up at least some of the slack. I'm with him when he calls Nick Leddy reliable -- as long as Leddy uses the summer to bulk up. But he also called Hjalmarsson and Montador reliable. I wasn't about to get into a public argument with him about his teammates to his face, but there's a contractual commitment to those two to fill out the defensive corps, and they'll need to have better seasons next year. Whether the size they need for a sixth defenseman is served by Dylan Olsen or an import, the second and third pairings need more positive consistency to make Keith and Seabrook even better, not to mention Corey Crawford.

That brings us to an interesting observation by Bowman that brought some perspective about the secret to success of this year's Western Conference final four. Everyone can't help but see the keys for St. Louis, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Phoenix: Great goaltending and solid defense surrounding the net. Those four teams finished in the top ten in regular season goals-against average. After Corey Schneider in Vancouver (hellooo, Bobby Lu?), Elliott, Quick, Rinne and Smith own the next four GAA's and save percentages among the regular starters through round one. So, obviously, the Hawks need to go out and acquire an elite goaltender, right?

Said Bowman:

"It really is something that changes year-to-year, or every couple years. Styles change. Two years ago, we won the Cup, and two unheralded goaltenders went to the Finals in Niemi and Leighton. Everyone was saying, 'I guess goaltending's not that important. You don't need to have a supposed great goaltender to win the Cup.'

"Here we are, two years later, and it's shifting back the other way. Whatever's happening that season, people put emphasis on. This year, goaltending had really ruled the league. Is that the way it's going to be, going forward? It's tough to predict. You can't be too re-active to what other teams do. You have to look at your strengths and play to what they are. We have a lot of talented offensive players, and you don't want to take away from the strengths of this team. I think getting them to play responsible hockey, and not giving up too many opportunities is something we want to focus on."

Based on the tone of that, as well as other comments Wednesday, it's how the Blackhawks intend to move forward. If they do, indeed, "stay the course," we'll know a year from now whether that call turns out to be the right one. It sounds like that's what Bowman's banking on.

PHOTOS: Blackhawks hit the road sporting Cubs attire

PHOTOS: Blackhawks hit the road sporting Cubs attire

The Blackhawks hit the road on Thursday, and they did so in style.

In support of the Cubs participating in the World Series for the first time since 1945, each member of the Blackhawks sported a Cubs jersey and World Series hat as they hopped onto the plane and traveled to New Jersey.

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It may not have been as whacky as Joe Maddon's themed road trips, but it's still a perfect excuse for breaking the dress code just this once.

Check out the photos below:

Together again: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane reunite on top line vs. Devils

Together again: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane reunite on top line vs. Devils

When coach Joel Quenneville has put Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane together it’s usually been during the postseason.

It’s rare when it happens in the regular season and when it does, it seems like an in-case-of-emergency move. But in this case, it may be more of a get-the-captain’s-production-going move.

The Blackhawks made a few more line changes on Thursday, including combining Toews and Kane, as they prepared for Friday night’s game at the New Jersey Devils. Marian Hossa moved to right wing on the second line with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov. Marcus Kruger and Nick Schmaltz flip-flopped as third- and fourth-line centers. Tyler Motte and Ryan Hartman were the third-line wings while Dennis Rasmussen and Jordin Tootoo were on the fourth line.

Coach Joel Quenneville said the line changes, including Kane’s move to the first line, were because the Blackhawks continue to look for balance. To a point, that’s true; the Blackhawks still haven’t come close to getting that four-line rotation with which they’ve found so much success. But considering how successful the Toews and Kane combination has been for each, you’d have to think it’s to help bolster Toews’ point totals. Toews has just two assists through the first seven games.

“Right now I think Jonny, his production isn’t where you look at his play – we still always like the way he plays, he’s so useful in so any different ways,” Quenneville said. “I think maybe we get more balance on both lines. We’ve been trying a number of different looks in our top two groups there. over seven games we still need to be better in a lot of ways. hopefully we can find it.”

Still, if you can get your top players producing points, it’s worth a try. And Kane and Toews, regardless of how long they’ve been apart, usually click immediately upon reuniting.

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“Yeah, I guess change can be good in this sense. We can probably produce a little bit more offense and have the puck a little bit more throughout the game,” Kane said. “I’ve played with Jonny a bunch before. Obviously, not as much lately. But I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a fun way to play hockey. Obviously he’s one of the best players in the game, and probably in my mind, the easiest player to play with. It’ll be fun to get back out there with him and try to create something, try to produce and have some fun with it.”

As for that usual second line of Panarin, Anisimov and Kane, remember: as we’ve seen before, it can be put together again fast.

“They get a lot of shifts and a lot of looks. It’s not like we’re too far away from going back to it at any time. It’s always close and available,” Quenneville said. “Maybe we get more balance and a little more scoring across the board.”


- Defenseman Gustav Forsling (upper body) did not skate on Thursday and will not travel to New Jersey. Quenneville is still hoping Forsling can play on Sunday vs. the Los Angeles Kings.

- Forward Andrew Desjardins (lower body) continues to improve. Quenneville said Desjardins could be skating in the next day or so.

- Corey Crawford will start vs. the Devils.