Boden: Blackhawks know their potential

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Boden: Blackhawks know their potential

Ken Hitchcock and the Blues had been, deservingly, receiving league-wide praise for how the teams performed the past month since he took over behind the bench. Hes the Point-B-to-Point-C Cup-winning coach brought in to mold a young, talented group of Blues into realizing their potential. So far, hes been doing just that. And quickly. Without being totally healthy.

But Saturday night, Hitchcock could only praise the team that cooled off his up-and-comers.

They (the Blackhawks) treated it like a playoff game, Hitchcock told reporters. Because that was as hard and competitive a game as weve had since Ive been here. They really came to play.

While St. Louis is still discovering its potential, the Blackhawks know theirs. And so do fans. The core, and all the pieces around it, should still be in the Stanley Cup discussion deep into next May. This was confirmed in their fast start, but it was a pace no team can realistically keep up for six months. Every game they dont look that way brings another dose of panic outside the locker room, wondering why they cant copy their best games, night in and night out.

Theres no perfect team in this league thats as competitive as its ever been. The Blackhawks are still among the best, but figuring out what itll take to get as close to that as possible. Theyve swallowed some medicine the past three weeks by underestimating opponents, and not being as ready for the puck-drop as guys in the other sweaters. The times they do, they can only hope it doesnt make them even more uncomfortable when its time to count points the first weekend of April.

But Saturday in St. Louis was Exhibit A of what this teams capable of doing. Joel Quenneville will keep tinkering. Stan Bowman will be tweaking when he senses he needs more than what he has in place. Itll happen sooner if he senses there are more efforts like last Tuesdays than the one he saw Saturday night. It could be a hungry kid from Rockford wholl add some energy, or a veteran or two, now that the GM enjoys some salary cap flexibility. And hell probably know a lot more based on how his team responds to the heavy home schedule these next six weeks. Monday could be a nice barometer about how long their memory is, since that same Phoenix team they looked so bad against pays a return visit, just six days later.

Ripple Effects in Pebble Beach
Elliotte Friedman of the CBC shared an interesting nugget Saturday night about NHL Realignment options thatll be discussed, perhaps proposed, at the Board of Governors meetings that begin Monday in Pebble Beach. I like the idea, but its unbalanced and probably wont stand a chance of surviving.

In it, the Blackhawks get to keep all their big rivals in an eight-team division thatll also include Detroit, St. Louis, Nashville, Columbus, Minnesota, Winnipeg, and Dallas. The other eight-team division includes all the other teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. But the top four in each division would advance to the playoffs, and with the two other Eastern time zone divisions containing just seven teams each, you can hear the yelling now from those fifth-place finishers in the eight-team divisions. What if the Blackhawks wound up fifth in that division in the future? On top of that, the only way to balance it geographically would be the same scenario thats being discussed now sending Detroit, Nashville or Columbus to the East. And that still leaves unbalanced divisions. Itll be interesting to see if they reach a final decision on it as soon as this week, with the most likely scenario being Detroit to the East, Winnipeg to the West. And probably no one except those two teams real happy.

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade rumors abound

Blackhawks mailbag: Trade rumors abound

We interrupt this mid-January Blackhawks mailbag for an important announcement:

We are reaching that time of the season when trade rumors abound. There will be names galore, some that could make sense, some that will make absolutely no sense. Unfortunately, the latter will get as much attention in some circles as the former. That's the way this time of year goes.

One more note: On any name that's bandied about right now, check where his team is in the standings. If it's close to reaching a postseason spot, tap the brakes until things shake out a little more. I know, kids, I know: patience is not a virtue for many people, let alone Twitter. It'll all be OK.

With all that said onto the mailbag which, as you can imagine, asks a few trade-centric questions.

I agree on not trading the first-round draft pick. The Blackhawks have done that in the past but, with the draft in Chicago this summer, they’re going to want to hold onto that as well as a good amount of draft picks. This is their showcase.

I agreed with Jamal Mayers on CSN's latest podcast that the Blackhawks will likely look for someone with no term left on his contract past this season. I know there's been mention of guys with several years and big cap hits remaining on their deals, but how do the Blackhawks do that, especially with Artemi Panarin's new contract also kicking in next season? They'd have to get rid of a big contract and most of their big contracts also have no movement clauses.

Piggybacking off the last question, I do believe the Blackhawks have to do something to bolster their forward depth. They need someone who has some experience but won't cost them a lot (easy for me to say). Who that guy is right now, I'm not sure (don't worry, I'll be doing one of these in February, too). I wouldn't go for a Jarome Iginla or Shane Doan, as much as I like both of those guys. The Blackhawks don't have the forward depth to take a chance on a player who, while he may have been great several years ago, may not have much left now.

I've got three thoughts on this one.

First, the Dallas Stars fall into the above-mentioned category regarding potential playoffs. Despite a slew of injuries and inconsistent play, the Stars are 11th in the Western Conference but are just two points out of a playoff spot.

Second, Sharp has struggled with his health this season, as concussions have led to two lengthy absences.

Third, and this is my biggest question: Can you go home again? The Blackhawks have brought back Cup winners a few times, from Kris Versteeg to Andrew Ladd to Brian Campbell. Versteeg’s return here was up and down, Campbell's has been OK (there have been a few healthy scratches in there) and Ladd's didn’t work at all. Yes, six years passed from when Ladd left to when he returned; a lot changes over six years. But the bottom line is the attempt to rekindle line magic between Ladd and Jonathan Toews failed. Just wonder if this would go the same way.

We talked to Jonathan Toews on Tuesday morning and he said the back is not the issue. I don't believe it's another injury. The problem is, I don't know what the problem is. Toews has snapped out of these slumps before but this one seems to be lingering. I'm sure the confidence is shaken; how can it not be? We're all human, and even the best question themselves at times. I still think Toews will find the offense again but I don't think his current performances have anything to do with an injury.

Let's address Toews’ faceoff percentage first: it's fine. For the season, he's winning 57.5 percent of his faceoffs, good for sixth in the NHL. Outside of that awful Washington game, he's been around 50 percent or better in recent games.

Regarding Kruger, it's tough to say. The Blackhawks are looking for more balance and more scoring, and if those two categories don't improve the changes will continue regardless of who's in the lineup. Does coach Joel Quenneville go back to the third line that was working before Kruger was hurt (when he was with Dennis Rasmussen and Richard Panik)? He could. Just depends on how the Blackhawks are trending when Kruger does return.

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They could. Whether or not they do, I'm not sure yet. The Blackhawks did that with Brandon Saad back in the spring of 2012 once the Saginaw Spirit’s season ended. He played in two postseason games. My opinion, if the Blackhawks did it with anyone it would be DeBrincat. Even if he doesn't play, it’s a good chance to be around and practice with the team.

I know what you're referring to and all that article said was Vanek could be a possibility. As of Wednesday, the Red Wings are 14th in the Eastern Conference with 46 points. Sounds like they’re out of it, until you see they’re only four points from eighth place. As I said above, some of these teams are going to want to see where they are in a few weeks. As for cost, I wouldn't give up much past a pick, maybe two, but not high ones.

As of now, according to Cap Friendly, Hartman is eligible for the expansion draft. As far as the likelihood that Las Vegas takes him, it’s possible. It depends on what Vegas wants and needs. The Blackhawks, like everyone else, will lose one (and only one) player. Will Vegas want defensemen? Will they want a two-way player? But absolutely, Hartman would be available.

I'm guessing I've had a few of those and, to my recollection, I didn't dislike them. Honestly, I'm not as much of a wine aficionado as I've led the Twitter world to believe. Pinot noirs aren't my favorite (pretty light), love Malbecs, most French and Italian wines and you really have to talk me into a Chardonnay (I do like the ones that are out of steel drums now; just not a fan of the oak taste). Cheers!

Which current Blackhawks would Jeremy Roenick like to play with?

Which current Blackhawks would Jeremy Roenick like to play with?

Is there anyone who wouldn't want to play with Patrick Kane?

Jeremy Roenick joined In The Loop on Wednesday to discuss which current Blackhawks he would like to play with, and naturally, the reigning MVP topped his list.

"He would be my No. 1 choice," Roenick said. "There's no question about it."

But Roenick said there are two more Blackhawks he would like to lace them up with.

"I wouldn't mind playing with (Artemi) Panarin also," he said. "I would love to play with Jonathan Toews. I think I'd play well with all three of them."

Roenick also gave high praise to coach Joel Quenneville, saying he is one of the best coaches in all of sports. Roenick even compared Quenneville to "the Bill Belichick of hockey."

See what else the Roenick had to say in the video above.